This article offers an analysis of the origins, evolution, and impact of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program and places it in the broader context of the debate over the No Child Left Behind Act and the shifting intergovernmental relations around education. RTTT is fundamentally about two things: creating political cover for state education reformers to innovate and helping states construct the administrative capacity to implement these innovations effectively. The program has had a significant impact on the national political discourse around education and pushed many states to propose or enact important policy changes, particularly around charter schools and teacher-evaluation processes. However, we should remain realistic in our expectations about what RTTT can accomplish; although the program’s approach may be different from that of earlier federal education programs, many of the political and institutional obstacles to sustaining meaningful reform at the federal and state levels remain largely the same. RTTT will struggle to surmount these obstacles in the short term, even as it hopes to transform them over the longer term.
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