Tag Archives: Olympic Games

Race to the Top a Mixed Bag

After Delaware and Tennessee were awarded funds from the newest federal aid to education program, Race to the Top (RTTT), many states are still competing in an attempt to be awarded funds in the second round.

RTTT has several advantages over the former federal education program, No Child Left Behind, in that Race to the Top encourages innovation and competition at the state level rather than prescribing one top-down solution for all schools.

However, RTTT suffers from the problems that will plague any top-down education reform, in that it exponentially increases the bureaucracy of education. Because federal regulators do not have the local knowledge necessary to evaluate programs in individual schools, they must rely on statistics to evaluate school performance. A Washington Post blogger opines:

Part of the problem for D.C. may have been the trouble it has had in developing a data information system. Millions of dollars have been spent over the years but still no real system exists. And using “data” to drive reform is one of Duncan’s core principles, even though we all know that data is vulnerable to manipulation.


Duncan uses a lot of jargon too, but it is easy to understand what he is trying to do with education: expand charter schools, increase student standardized testing, link teacher pay to test scores and close down the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Unfortunately, what is not easy to understand is why President Obama’s education secretary is pushing those initiatives. This administration was supposed to bring some reason back into education reform after the failed era of No Child Left Behind.

Furthermore, the lack of local knowledge regarding schools at the federal level forces federal officials to allocate RTTT funds based on metrics that may not reflect the actual quality of state and local education reforms. The lack of transparency behind the allocation of federal funds led Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to consider dropping out of the second round of the competition. The New York Times reports:

Colorado, which had hoped to win $377 million, ended in 14th place. Now Mr. Ritter says the scoring by anonymous judges seemed inscrutable, some Coloradans view the contest as federal intrusion and the governor has not decided whether to reapply for the second round.

“It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Mr. Ritter said.

Colorado is not the only state where the initial results of the Obama administration’s signature school improvement initiative, known as Race to the Top, have left a sour taste. Many states are questioning the criteria by which winners were chosen, wondering why there were only two that won and criticizing a last-minute cap on future awards.

RTTT’s emphasis on accountability and competition between schools offer some improvement over No Child Left Behind’s focus on multiple-choice standardized testing. However, RTTT’s failures so far demonstrate the reasons that education policy should not be managed at the federal level.

Harrison N.J. and the Red Bull Arena

Major League Soccer has a new stadium. The 25,000 seat Red Bull Arena opens today in Harrison, New Jersey. Home to New York’s Red Bulls,the $200 million stadium was launched 13 years ago.The project was envisioned as a way to spur redevelopment in the former manufacturing town of Harrison. The 250 acres around the arena was to be developed into 6500 housing units, with commercial and retail space. But the recession changed that. So far a hotel and a 313-unit condominium complex have been completed. More construction is slated to follow this year.

Harrison, like the rest of the nation, is facing a budget crunch and drop in revenues. Their immediate worry is how to pay back the $40 million bond it floated to buy the land for the stadium. The town’s  first payment of $3.2 million is due in December. Will it payoff? Economists generally agree public investment to spur stadium construction doesn’t stimulate economies.

Using the public purse to boost economic activity owes its origin to John Manyard Keynes. This notion has been used to justify government involvement in any number of projects, including the Olympic Games.The costs of development tend to far outweigh the potential profits.Vancouver is a recent example. The city is $1 billion in debt from bailout of Olympic Village.

For more on the economics of sports check out Playbooks and Checkbooks by economist Stefan Szymanski.