The problem, as I reported in a book (Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools) published last summer, was that to avoid charges of conflicts or favoritism, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff chose a group of mostly academic vetters, rather than experts experienced in education reform, to evaluate the states’ 500-to-800-page proposals. This may have made the process above reproach, but it also resulted in having many vetters who were clueless about the practical issues involved in implementing reform.
Thus, some of the evaluators’ winning picks, such as New York and Ohio, and some of their rejections, particularly Colorado and Louisiana, were hotly debated in education circles, with critics arguing that these were emblematic misfires in an evaluation process in which the vetters had been bamboozled by the applicants’ promises of reform. But the $75 million award to Hawaii—where the teachers’ union is the state’s most powerful Democratic interest group and where the state’s promises in its application had been filled with gaping loopholes—wasn’t really debated at all. No one outside of Hawaii tried to defend it. It was broadly dismissed as a fiasco. In fact, Duncan and his staff couldn’t believe it when they saw Hawaii on the winners list.
However, when I asked Duncan just after Hawaii got the nod what he would do if states failed to keep their promises, he vowed he would cut off the money, which is to be awarded in eight increments over four years—or even sue to get money back where checks had already been written.
Twenty months later, the Hawaii state teachers’ union has refused to agree to the evaluation and accountability reforms that were the core of the state’s winning application. And so far, Hawaii has requested 31 amendments to its application, all involving delays in its promised schedule or a watering down of its promises. Duncan’s office has approved 27 of them, but he has reiterated his vow to hold Hawaii accountable. He has even formally placed Hawaii on “high risk” status, meaning he might revoke its funding if he doesn’t see progress soon.
Crunch time on fulfilling many of the Race to the Top promises should be early this fall. That will mark the second anniversary of the original award and would supposedly mark the half-way point in the four-year program. Yet it’s likely that Hawaii will have done little, if anything, even to begin implementing the key reforms it promised.
Duncan has been a straight arrow when it comes to keeping politics out of the Race to the Top contest. Then again, the $75 million Hawaii grant is lot of money for a state this small, and the failure of Governor Abercrombie to deliver on his state’s reform promises has gotten a fair amount of local press. So, if there’s a tight Senate race in Hawaii this fall that might even determine control of the U.S. Senate, will Duncan stick to his guns and undercut the Democratic candidate, not to mention embarrass the Democratic governor, by lowering the boom?
3. Who’s getting what at the oil pump?
With all the frenzy over oil prices, I’d like to see a simple but definitive story that takes a gallon of the gasoline Americans buy and breaks down exactly who gets how much of the $4.00 (or whatever the price is), starting with owners of the oil fields and including drillers, shippers, refiners, distributors, retailers, and, of course, the tax collectors. And which of these parties benefits the most when the price goes up?