Alaska Opts Out Of Race To The Top
Alaska is not participating in the federal Race to the Top program, unlike many other states. The state could potentially compete for grants worth up to $75 million, but the Education Commissioner, Larry LeDoux, has stated that Alaska will not be applying for these grants. The reason behind this decision is that the grant structure requires extensive education planning and policy changes, which LeDoux believes will infringe on the state’s sovereignty and demand too much change too quickly. Alaska has had a negative experience with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated the use of standardized testing and led to consequences and improvement plans for schools that failed to meet testing goals. LeDoux sees similarities between Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, describing both as top-down, inflexible, and focused on urban areas. Alaska has its own ongoing education reforms and believes that the goals of Race to the Top are valid, but disagrees with the approach being taken.
Despite Alaska’s decision, U.S. Senator Mark Begich has urged Governor Sean Parnell to apply for the grants and pursue the reforms. He believes that Alaska should take advantage of any opportunity to bring resources to improve education. However, applying for Race to the Top is a significant commitment and requires financial investment. The bid to secure a grant facilitator alone came with a price tag of $300,000. In the first round, only Delaware and Tennessee received awards out of the 40 states that applied. Kansas and Indiana have already announced that they will not participate in subsequent rounds.
One aspect of the Race to the Top program is the push for national education standards. States can earn points on their grant applications by adopting or making progress towards adopting these standards. Alaska, along with Texas, declined to participate last year but has been monitoring the development of the standards. Some elements of the national standards may be incorporated into Alaska’s own standards.
The establishment of national education standards aims to create a common benchmark for American schools and students in comparison to the rest of the world. The standards have been developed with input from education experts, state officials, and education policy organizations. The draft standards are currently being finalized and are expected to be completed soon.
Dane Linn, director of education from the National Governors Association, stated that while the association encourages voluntary adoption of the standards, the decision to link Race to the Top funding to the standards was made by the Obama administration, not the authors of the standards. The education standards set expectations for knowledge and skills at each grade level, but it is still up to state and local officials to determine the specific curricula and lesson plans.
Race to the Top is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and discussions are underway about allocating $1.35 billion for a potential third round of grants.