As encouraging as it is to see California in the running to win a Race to the Top grant for its schools, we can't help wondering how great a price the state will pay for the possibility of receiving as much as $700 million.

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that California is one of 19 finalists in the second round of grant applications. Should it succeed — and the odds are decent, because officials say that more than half the finalists will receive grants — many of California's neediest schools will receive infusions of new money. Even so, we see this potential win as mixed news.

It's impossible not to celebrate the prospect of extra funding when the schools are in such bad straits. Only a third of students in California are represented by the state's application, but they are among the most disadvantaged — including those in the Los Angeles Unified School District — and thus the most in need of both reform initiatives and extra funding.

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The worrisome part of the Race to the Top program is reflected in its very name — it is indeed a race to reform, quickly and dramatically, with inadequate attention to conducting pilot studies or discerning what research shows to work or not work in schools. California is among dozens of states that have scrambled to reinvent their education policies along the lines called for by Education