The Short-Circuiting of Micromanagement

Oftentimes, pro-Common Core advocates act like they are sailing along with near-consensus towards inevetable nationwide success.  The more ugly and messy reality of micromanagement is highlighted in an EdWeek article this week:

Through the end of March, the 11 states and the District of Columbia had spent just 14 percent of their Race to the Top money, with New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii spending the least as the midpoint of the four-year grants approaches, anEducation Week analysis of federal spending reports shows.

And so far, the reports show, the bulk of the early money that states have spent outside their own education departments—which are still reeling from severe budget cuts prompted by the recession—has gone to consultants.

Top-level spending, confusion, and a whole lot of consultants getting wealthy.  It doesn’t sound like the kind of smooth sailing envisioned by Arne Duncan as he bends the states to his will.  Of course, the PR machines of the federal Department of Education and the state Departments of Education have showered the bad news described in the article with a peppering of sunny quotes.  But the reality is not so chipper:

The program’s first-year spending pace was slow as states struggled to hire people and find vendors to help carry out their plans.

New York state, for example, planned to spend $151 million in the first year to get its projects off the ground, but instead spent just under $1.5 million. Hawaii, which has encountered so many implementation problems with its $75 million grant that federal officials have placed restrictions on its grant, spent just 6 percent of its first-year budget.

The story, reflecting EdWeek pro-Common Core biases attempts to downplay the clunky messy reality by unscrupulously buying into statements by the Department PR people that everything is still on track.  But the details on the micromanagement are telling:

States can’t make significant changes to their Race to the Top budgets on their own. Any changes by a recipient in grant spending of more than $500,000 must be approved by the Education Department as part of its official amendment process.

The Department of Education, blissfully ignoring the cost of its ambitious micromanagement (and unambitious standards for American students) is running headlong into reality:

The difficulties Race to the Top states face in delivering on their improvement agendas reflect a problem across state education departments: Budget cuts have strained most of those agencies.

A February study by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy found that many of the states that responded to a survey—including several Race to the Top states—don’t have the staff or fiscal resources to carry out changes around teacher evaluations, data systems, low-performing schools, and common standards begun in the time of recent federal economic-stimulus aid. Such aid includes the Race to the Top grants.

The complex legal and regulatory micromanagement has also required enormous spending on legal and education expertise:

Those constraints are likely why so much early Race to the Top spending outside state departments of education is to buy expertise.

Through the end of 2011, Tennessee, which won $500 million, reported spending about $2 million on consultants from Vanderbilt University, in Nashville; Seattle-based Education First Consulting; and the U.S. Education Delivery Institute, in Washington, to help with implementation and evaluation of Race to the Top programs, according to more-detailed spending reports filed with the federal government.

Since the Race to the Top is funded through the 2009 economic-stimulus package, detailed reporting requirements exist that are separate from what the Education Department also requires.

So we at least know that even though precious little money has made its way into American classrooms, education consultants are definitely benefiting.

The article concludes with some reassuring quotes from the President’s cheerleaders at the Center for American Progress.  It serves to once again emphasize the discord between the sobering facts of the over-matched state and federal bureaucracies and the sunny predictions of future success that all the quoted “experts” make.