Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education issued first-year progress reports for 12 states that received $4 billion in federal funds through an Obama administration pet project, Race to the Top. Not one had followed through on the promises they’d made to secure these grants. For three states—New York, Hawaii, and Florida—their progress was so lax Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened yesterday to pull their grant money if not accelerated soon.

Anyone who had read the states’s applications would have predicted this outcome (except, clearly, the Department of Education evaluators who approved them). States promised wildly optimistic outcomes in five years for money that required mounds of paperwork and only composed small percentages of their education budgets.

Tennessee, for example, promised to move its students’ proficiency levels on state tests in math and reading from less than 50 percent to 100 percent, reduce minority achievement gaps, and increase college enrollment, all for approximately 6 percent of its annual education budget. In Delaware, educators complained federal mandates created a third of their paperwork for contributing a tenth of their funding. (The ratio is actually worse nationally.)

In its latest last-minute budget composting for fiscal year 2012, Congress approved an extra $550 million for new rounds of Race to the Top. Despite decades of similar experience with large programs like Head Start and No Child Left Behind, it apparently still hasn’t learned the federal government isn’t good at a great many things—particularly education.

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