State of the Union

Obama Should Shut Up About Race to the Top Already

Every year in the State of the Union, the president brags about the same small ed reform victory-because there's nothing else to say.


This year in the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touted a success in reforming K-12 education in America:

Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance.  Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  

And it's true that Race to the Top has been a pretty good program. For a little under $5 billion, the president was able to nudge states to report out more information about teacher quality and lift caps on the number of charter schools. The promise of federal cash for reform even nudged state legislators and governors to risk some union wrath in making those changes. But it was ultimately a pretty small reform and the effects have petered out. 

But that hasn't stopped the president from filing almost the entire K-12 portion of the education sections of his State of the Union addresses with a brag on Race to the Top.

Every. Single. Year.


And 4 years ago, we started Race to the Top, a competition that convinced almost every State to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. …


For less than 1 percent of what our Nation spends on education each year [with Race to the Top], we've convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning, the first time that's happened in a generation….


Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 States to raise their standards for teaching and learning. 


Now, this year, we've broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. And the idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.

Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform, reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.


This budget creates new teachers—new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. 

All right already. We get it. 

There's a much more to be done. Race to the Top funds are a drop in the $500 billion bucket of education spending in this country. And our K-12 system is deeply dysfunctional. Spending has skyrocketed, more than doubling over the past three decades, while test score remain stagnant. Yet the president seems content to rest on his laurels.

If the president needs some ideas, we've got him covered.

The 50 million of kids in elementary, middle, and high school right now deserve a lot more than warmed over speech text about a small experimental reform program.