Macro Changes in a Minute Amount of Time: How Race to the Top is Changing Education Policy in Tennessee
Finch, Maida Alice
Race to the Top is a new policy lever in the struggle for authority in educational governance among various levels of government, and it provides an opportunity to examine the state-level policymaking context. Tennessee passed comprehensive education reform legislation in an effort to win the competition. This effort was successful: the Volunteer State was one of two winning state in the first round. I conducted a two-part case study of the events surrounding the state’s application and the development of an educator evaluation policy as required by the legislation. Interviews with key actors in the policymaking process reveal that the legislation was not an isolated attempt to improve education, but part of a series of steps led by the governor. His proactive leadership and inclusive style were crucial factors in the legislation’s successful passage. The legislation established a 15 member committee of diverse backgrounds to develop policy recommendations for an annual educator evaluation system. Interviews with these committee members and an analysis of pertinent documents show the institutional challenges the committee faced and the ways in which the process was open to public input. This study presents an examination of rapid, fully supported policy change in one state, including a description of how non-traditional actors developed policy. It is a story of how democracy worked – cooperation, coercion, or backroom deals – in one Southern state as it tries to improve education for its youngest citizens. Implications for policy and practice are discussed as are steps for future research.