States Most Likely to Receive Race to the Top Funds

Since 2009, the US Department of Education via its Race to the Top initiative has given literally billions in federal, taxpayer funds to incentivize states to adopt its various educational policies, as based on many non-research-based or research-informed reforms. As pertinent here, the main “reform” being VAMs, with funding going to states that have them, are willing to adopt them, and are willing to use them for low- and preferably high-stakes decisions about teachers, schools, and districts.

Diane Ravitch recently posted a piece about the Education Law Center finding that there was an interesting pattern to the distribution of Race to the Top grants. The Education Law Center, in an Education Justice article, found that the states and districts with the least fair and equitable state school finance systems were the states that won a large share of RTTT grants.

Interesting, indeed, but not surprising. There is an underlying reason for this, as based on standard correlations anybody can run or calculate using state-level demographics and some basic descriptive statistics.

In this case, correlational analyses reveal that state-level policies that rely at least in part on VAMs are indeed more common in states that allocate less money than the national average for schooling as compared to the nation. More specifically, they are more likely found in states in which yearly per pupil expenditures are lower than the national average (as demonstrated in the aforementioned post). They are more likely found in states in which students perform worse, or have lower relative percentages of “proficient” students as per the US’s (good) national test (i.e., the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). They are more likely found in states that have more centralized governments, rather than those with more powerful counties and districts as per local control. They are more likely to be found in more highly populated states and states with relatively larger populations of poor and racial and language minority students. And they are more likely to be found in red states in which residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party.

All of these underlying correlations indeed explain why such policies are more popular, and accordingly adopted in certain states versus others. As well, these underlying correlations help to explain the correlation of interest as presented by the Education Law Center in its aforementioned Education Justice article.  Indeed, these states disproportionally received Race to the Top funds as their political and other state-level demographics would have predicted them to, as these are the states most likely to climb on board the VAMwagon (noting that some states had already done so prior to Race to the Top and hence won first-round Race to the Top funds [e.g., Tennessee]).

Please note, however, that with all imperfect correlations found in correlational research, there are outliers. In this case, this would include blue states that adopt VAMs for consequential purposes (e.g., Colorado) or red states who continue to move relatively slower in terms of their VAM-based policies and initiatives (e.g., Texas, Arizona, and Mississippi). (Co)related again, this would also include states with relatively fewer and relatively more poor and minority students and English Language Learners (ELLs), respectively.

For more about these correlations and state level research, please see: Collins, C., & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2014). Putting growth and value-added models on the map: A national overview. Teachers College Record, 16(1). Retrieved from:

One thought on “States Most Likely to Receive Race to the Top Funds

  1. Pingback: More (This Time Obvious) Correlations between Race to the Top and State Policies | VAMboozled!

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