Scorecards Reveal Cause for Wisconsin’s Race to the Top Failure

After months of lauding the state’s improvement in the second round of the federal Race to the Top competition, an analysis of the grant reviewers’ scorecards shows Wisconsin actually performed worse in the national rankings. Wisconsin’s application finished 27th out of 36 applicants this summer, dropping from 26th in the last iteration and putting the state in the bottom 25% of all candidates. The Badger State placed behind regional rivals such as Iowa (22nd), Illinois (15th), Michigan (23rd), and Ohio (10th).

Despite the promise of drastic improvement from Governor Jim Doyle and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s overall score only increased by 27 points, allowing other states to jump ahead. Many of the problems that reviewers had with the state’s application stemmed from teacher involvement and qualification.

Sticking points on Wisconsin’s latest application included:

  • A refusal to tie student performance to teacher and administrator evaluations;
  • The inability to use this performance data to inform administrative decisions;
  • Tepid Local Educational Agency (LEA) buy-in to race to the top reform efforts; and
  • The inability to train effective teachers and place these teachers where they are needed most.

Wisconsin lost more than 70 points in these areas, essentially disqualifying the state from consideration. With these deductions in place, even a perfect score across the rest of the rubric would have put this application in 15th position – barely in the top 50 percent. These drawbacks from personnel issues essentially stripped the state of its chance to earn a piece of a $4 billion federal education fund.

Aside from teacher and administration issues, reviewer comments frequently touched on common themes of discord, including limited innovative reform to turn around urban schools, an insufficient presentation regarding methods to measure student growth, and a weak centralized testing program that made state standards difficult to interpret. Vague language and insufficiently detailed planning left reviewers skeptical over the adoption of many of the processes that Race to the Top funding was meant to ensure. Other significant grading deductions can be tied to problems such as issues with the achievement gap between student groups, as well as innovation of charter school laws and advancement.

While the state’s application actually scored slightly higher in its second attempt, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the progress of competitors. States that had been in the same boat as Wisconsin – and even those who scored significantly worse – were able to either close the gap in the rankings or pass the state entirely in their second applications. Amongst the bottom 50% of RTTT applicants from Phase One, Wisconsin’s improvements placed them just 10th out of 13 qualifying states for Phase Two. Only Michigan, Missouri, and Alabama had a lower rate of progress between the two iterations.

States Ranked 20th or Worse in the ‘Race to the Top’
Round 1 Round 2 Comparison
State Score Rank State Score Rank Score Change % Change Rank Change
Minnesota 375 20 Minnesota n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Michigan 366.2 21 Michigan 381.6 23 15.4 4.21% -2
Hawaii 364.6 22 Hawaii 462.4 3 97.8 26.82% 19
Indiana 355.6 23 Indiana n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Iowa 346 24 Iowa 382.8 22 36.8 10.64% 2
Connecticut 344.6 25 Connecticut 379 25 34.4 9.98% 0
Wisconsin 341.2 26 Wisconsin 368.4 27 27.2 7.97% -1
California 336.8 27 California 423.6 16 86.8 25.77% 11
Idaho 331 28 Idaho n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Kansas 329.6 29 Kansas n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
New Mexico 325.2 30 New Mexico 366.2 28 41 12.61% 2
Virginia 324.8 31 Virginia n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Wyoming 318.6 32 Wyoming n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Missouri 301.4 33 Missouri 316.4 30 15 4.98% 3
Oklahoma 294.6 34 Oklahoma 391.8 20 97.2 32.99% 14
Oregon 292.6 35 Oregon n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
West Virginia 292.4 36 West Virginia n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Alabama 291.2 37 Alabama 212 36 -79.2 -27.20% 1
New Hampshire 271.2 38 New Hampshire 335.2 29 64 23.60% 9
Nebraska 247.4 39 Nebraska 295.8 31 48.4 19.56% 8
Arizona 240.2 40 Arizona 435.4 12 195.2 81.27% 28
South Dakota 135.8 41 South Dakota n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

As a result, states that Wisconsin had previously outperformed, such as California and Arizona, earned spots as Finalists while residents here were forced to wonder what went wrong for a second straight competition.

Despite having a solid presentation at face value, Wisconsin’s Race to the Top application failed thanks to a lack of accountability and support from local teachers, an inability to tie student performance to administrative decisions, a lack of recent innovation and reform, and a vague application that left questions about how successfully changes could be implemented.

As a result, the state missed out on $250 million in proposed funding that would have changed education in Wisconsin and helped local and state entities keep up with the rest of the country. A timid approach, governed by a reluctance to commit to meaningful reform, left the state in the back of the pack in this national grant competition. Thus, Wisconsin’s race to educational innovation ended nowhere near the top.

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Educational Policy Analyst