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Originally published Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:11 PM

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Race to the Top: a halfhearted attempt by Washington state

In the Race to the Top federal education competition, Washington state started out behind and offered less. It doesn't take an athlete to know that's not the way to win, or even stay in the game.

WASHINGTON state's failure to make the cut in the Race to the Top federal education competition was predicted from the day the application was sent off to D.C.

For months, The Seattle Times editorial board has asked lawmakers, educators and others whether this state had a shot of winning a $150 million to $250 million grant to implement school reforms. The response was nearly always a pitying shake of the head.

The federal competition did not ask for anything Washington educators and lawmakers were not already thinking about. Improving education's use of data to better inform what is taught and how it's taught was already on the radar. Calls to raise academic standards, improve tests and provide more-effective teachers were part of the reform efforts.

But Washington stumbled when it came to making bold and innovative changes.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, defined the strategy to go for buy-in rather than real reform.

Legislative efforts to ratchet up school accountability, strengthen evaluations for principals and teachers and tackle the achievement gap were weakened as they went through the process of passing muster with the teachers union and other powerful interests.

The result was a well-intended but halfhearted effort. The feds saw through it and us.

Washington started out behind, weighed down by a public distrust of the most-talked-about reforms: charter schools, and evaluating teachers and principals partly on student performance. Throw in a less-than-robust education-reform bill and an application that must have appeared halfhearted when compared with other states, and the recipe spelled failure.

Race to the Top is a lost opportunity but one from which the state can rebound. Fiscal and legislative priorities must now fall in line behind ongoing work improving schools.

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