Rethinking What Went Wrong in Race to the Top

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 17 Dec 2011 04:53pm | comments
Mississippi kids lost out on federal Race to the Top dollars.

The announcement that early education for Mississippi's youngest kids won't be funded with federal Race to the Top dollars has left many wondering why the state's application didn't make the cut  - and asking where we go from here. MPB's Southern Education Desk reporter, Annie Gilbertson, reports.

Student 1: Circle!

Student 2: I have circles too!  It’s yellow. 

Just because it's a holiday party at Prep Company Tutorial School Inc, doesn't mean there isn't early learning happening.  Four-year-olds color and cut circles and triangles to arrange into a Christmas tree. 

Owner Deloris Suel says her goal is to have all kids at Prep ready for kindergarten, and she was hoping Race to the Top dollars could help.

Suel: One way it could help is to provide training for my staff and work to get other staff members where they need to be.

But Race to the Top was a competitive grant program so only states with the highest-rated proposals won. Last Friday Mississippi was not among the nine winning states.  In fact, Mississippi’s application was ranked 35th out of the 37 that applied.

As a member of the Childcare Advisory Committee for the Health Department, Suel was called upon to review the application before submission.  Even then, she wasn't confident the proposal was competitive.

Suel:  The application I saw… no.  I didn’t not have the faith in it.  I was extremely concerned about the reorganization.

Many skeptics like Suel worried the application proposed a disproportionately high number of administrator positions as opposed to funding more education for early ed providers.  These administrative positions would have been used to integrate the Head Start, public school, childcare and the many piecemeal early education programs Mississippi now has in place.

And experts say it's Mississippi's historically uncoordinated approach to early ed that really undercut the state's Race to the Top application. In addition, analysts such as  Rachel Canter of the education policy group Mississippi First say the state does not stack up well against the competition when it comes to devoting adequate resources to early ed.

Canter: Several of these states are leaders in the field of education in general and have, in the past, invested in their education systems pre-K through 20 in making sure they were excellent.

Canter says in order to be competitive in the next Race to the Top Challenge, Mississippi will first have to put its money where its mouth is and show a better track record of investment at home.

From the Southern Education Desk, for MPB news, I’m Annie Gilbertson.

Mississippi kids lost out on federal Race to the Top dollars.

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