Criticisms with 'Race to the Top'

Although the vast majority of states have competed to win the grants, Race to the Top has also been criticized by politicians, policy analysts, thought leaders, and educators. Teachers' unions argued that state tests are an inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness, despite the fact that learning gains on assessments is only one component of the evaluation systems. Conservatives complained that it imposes federal overreach on state schools, and others argued that charter schools weaken public education. In explaining why Texas would not be applying for Race to the Top funding, then Governor Rick Perry stated, "we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington."

Critics further contend that the reforms being promoted are unproven or have been unsuccessful in the past. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, for example, commented that empirical evidence "shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working." In her argument, Ravitch did not specify the "empirical evidence" she referenced. A coalition of civil rights organizations, including the Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition released a statement that "Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965." The Economic Policy Institute released a report in April 2010 finding that "the selection of Delaware and Tennessee was subjective and arbitrary, more a matter of bias or chance than a result of these states' superior compliance with reform policies." Finally, the American Enterprise Institute released a report in September 2010 finding disparities in Race to the Top scores versus the education reform track records and ratings of states from outside, independent sources. This report finds that states' political circumstances may have influenced states' final scores.

On May 26, 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew the state from the second round of the competition. Virginia finished 31st out of 41 states in the first round, but McDonnell said that Virginia would not continue for the second round, believing the competition required the use of common education performance standards instead of Virginia's current standards. The use of common performance standards is required. Although McDonnell supported the Race to the Top program during his campaign for governor, he claimed on his June 1 appearance on MSNBC that the Race to the Top rules precluded participating states from adopting more rigorous standards in addition to whatever multi-state standards they join. However, in some cases, "Race to the Top" regulations award the points even if states adopt standards more rigorous than the optional, common standards