Since the U.S. Department of Education named Tennessee and Delaware as the only winners in the first round of the Race to the Top, a battle has raged about the importance of stakeholder buy-in. Since these states, unlike other strong applicants such as Rhode Island and Florida, were able to secure the support of all of their school districts and virtually all of their unions, the consensus is that these establishment groups have a veto over state proposals.

That reading is not wholly true. States can win with bold applications even if their stakeholders withhold their benediction. Secretary Duncan helpfully weighed in on the matter recently, confirming that he will make grants to states that push hard for reform, not those that water down their proposals in order to generate consensus. So states should focus on substance, but how do they actually translate this general guidance into winning plans?

Enter the excellent “Race Smarter” issues briefs from Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project, and Education Reform Now. These organizations thoroughly analyzed first round applications, state scorecards, and reviewer comments and came up with a number of important conclusions related to the importance of the teachers and STEM sections, oddities in certain reviewers’ assessments, and much more. They’ve translated these findings into a set of state-specific briefs that provide a roadmap for winning in round two.

For example, in the Louisiana report, the groups note that STEM, data systems, and “state success factors” were the Pelican State’s undoing. Reviewers wrote that STEM appeared to be a minor consideration and that overall achievement targets were entirely too modest. The brief then provides suggestions for improving the application prior to the June 1 deadline.

By diving into these details, DFER, EEP, and ERN have not only done a major service for a number of states, they’ve also helped counter the “union veto” narrative by showing how content matters most. These briefs are a significant contribution to the RTTT story. If you’re interested in this important program, federal policymaking, or state reform, you ought to give them a look.

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