New Jersey was almost a finalist for some of the millions in Race to the Top education grants. Almost. But an error in one of the questions cost the state five points, which put it behind 10 other states. And so the Garden State lost out.
Heads are rolling, of course, Gov. Chris Christie angry and the state’s Assembly Speaker has called for an inquiry. But what the N.J. ranking really shows is that, like standardized tests and kickball, one innocent human error can lose the game for everyone. Only in kickball, well, who cares, right?
Race to the Top was supposed to encourage states to get it together and also provide an impetus for ignoring America’s long tradition of local rule when it comes to education and, instead, get everyone on board with nationwide standards. Problem is, there are winners and losers — the winners are those leaders who can claim they secured the money for their states children. The losers? Well, theirs and the non-winning states children. As we can see with the loss in N.J., time and resources will be spent trying to figure out why they won’t get money. Where will the money come from? Who will take the time to produce the documents? This is starting to sound rather distant from education itself.
While I applaud the Education Secretary Arnie Duncan’s attempt to encourage states and schools to improve education in the U.S., the competitive Race to the Top strategy means 40 losers and only 10 winners. And, in the end, not a lot of innovation if a single error — the wrong year — can cost a state so dearly.