Race to the Top

So earlier this week, I had my first opportunity to see my employer in action outsideof the actual office. It was not only a great change of pace from the [awesomely] bright orange walls of the building but it was also a reminder of how our work affects policy, policy makers and other think tanks. Even though Third Way is just over 5 years old, it has already made its mark within a variety of key domestic policy issues and helped to push a general move towards civility.

Within our Domestic Policy Program, Third Way deals with a variety of major issues, including education. The Education Program held its first event this past Wednesday on the hill entitled Race to the Top: State Perspectives. Moderated by Fawn Johnson of the National Journal, the event hosted four states who participated in the national Race to the Top initiative but finished in very different places: Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland. In addition, Jackie Gran of the Department of Education was present in order to provide a federal perspective to complement the state ones.

A breakfast event in the Rayburn building, the panel gathered a good number of guests from a variety of Congressional offices, as well as other education think tanks. The goal was to provide a variety of perspectives on the same national program. First, Colorado Department of Education Associate Commissioner Richard Wenning spoke from the point of view of a state who ‘lost’ the race to the top. Attributing the outcome to newly passed and “aggressive” legislation regarding teacher tenures and evaluations, Mr. Wenning frankly pointed out that he felt that the previously passed bills essentially hurt his state’s application for the federal program.

Next to speak was North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction’s Adam Levinson who provided a point of view from a state who finished in the ‘middle of the pack’. Along with key insights to the time and manpower needed to complete the application, Maryland’s State Department of Education’s Dr. James Foran echoed the sentiment that it was much more difficult to complete in rural areas. For the next round of Race to the Top, rural school districts will be provided with a special, and separate, application.

Finally, from the perspective of a winning state, Tennessee’s Director of Technical Assistance for SCORE, Sylvia Flowers, discussed the application as well as some major obstacles faced. She agreed with the other panelists stating that there were major man-hours required to complete the application and sympathized with Colorado regarding the fact that rural areas face a disproportionately higher amount of burden when filing the application.

Overall, the event was well attended and garnered very intelligent questions upon conclusion. The moderator allowed each panelist to speak equally, asked probative questions and moved the conversation forward to touch upon a variety of key points. As I said before, not only was it a great change of pace from the office, it was really rewarding to see my colleague’s hard work pay off in a big way!