Race to the Top: Whether to Go Through Local Districts


Written by Jake Murray

To go through local districts or not to go through local districts, that is the question!

With an influx of $550 million dollars for a new round of Race to The Top funding, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and DOE leaders seem to have decided to award most of this funding directly to districts, rather than through Governors’ offices.  But is that the right policy move?

On the one hand, districts and school-level leaders know the needs of  their students and the best strategies to address these needs.  Awarding districts directly would likely streamline the funding process, reduce overhead, and fast-track strategy implementation, by eliminating –or at least reducing—state-level control and administrative processes.  And the DOE may gain more of an ability to hold districts accountable for results on the ground, with schools and students.

On the other hand, districts have their own priorities. Their focus is squarely K-12, and not necessarily early childhood or young adult learners, for example.  Many districts are facing large and growing budget deficits, and thus the need to plug existing short-falls and stave off significant lay-offs may outweigh efforts to innovate, partner across service systems, or implement promising reforms.  Whereas Governors and state leaders may be more inclined to promote comprehensive birth through post-secondary approaches, mandate collaboration across education, human service and health systems, and require innovation.

The best policy decision, therefore, is the middle-road, with some funding going to states and some to districts.  And regardless of which entity receives funding, both should be required as stipulations of funding to think and act comprehensively and innovatively, partnering and sharing resources with early child education and youth development programs and other education and service organizations.   At the same, the US DOE must ensure they have the oversight capacity to monitor whether states and districts actually deliver on these comprehensive approaches.

Response to:
Flush with $550 million in new Race to the Top money, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he intends to use most of it to design a new competition just for school districts.



Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as a program leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.