Will Colorado "Race to the Top" of the Class? Would That Be a Good Thing?

Update, 8/26: The witty voice of experienced education reformer Checker Finn eloquently notes that “the country’s most powerful education organization has fired a big grumpy shell across the bow of the country’s earnest and determined education secretary. This battle is joined.” I invite you to read his perspective.

When it comes to the U.S. Department of Education doling out money to states for reform and innovation, is Colorado like the nerdy kid at the front of the class who sucks up to the teachers? That’s the colorful metaphor Education Week blogger Alyson Klein crafts to explain our state’s approach to getting Arne Duncan‘s “Race to the Top” money:

If the competition for a slice of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund were a K-12 class, Colorado would be the kid sitting right up front, wearing gigantic glasses, furiously taking notes, and leaping up to answer every single one of the teacher’s questions.

The latest effort? A petition, sent to folks in Colorado, urging them to endorse the state’s bid.

Hidden beneath the surface are concerns that Colorado might not meet the early expectations and be one of the top finalists. The New Teacher Project only rates us “somewhat competitive” for Race to the Top money. The moneyed and influential Gates Foundation is bothering to help 15 other states, but not Colorado, in filling out RTTT applications. Some say the process itself is getting too bogged down with seeking public input to determine how much we put into the RTTT application and will we even meet the USDOE deadlines.

And maybe a precursor? Denver Public Schools fell short of receiving a top-tier grant from the Gates Foundation “to improve teacher effectiveness” (but they did win a $10 million consolation prize).

The question remains whether the money here in Colorado and elsewhere will do any real good for school reform. If “Race to the Top” actually is used to do things like streamline costly and harmful tenure provisions, then it might be a force for good.

But if Duncan pays much heed to the NEA’s complaints, or the powerful union tangles up the bureaucratic process, we may be looking forward to more of the same magical money tree problem.

I hope we don’t mortgage my future for the status quo in education. I hope Duncan holds the line on demanding real evidence of successful reform innovations. And if that’s the case, I hope Colorado comes to the head of the class. We shall see.