Today the US Department of Education announced ten winners of the second round of the “Race to the Top” federal grant competition. Nine states and the District of Columba will each be awarded a portion of the $3.4 billion available for this round, however, the amounts going to each winner have yet to be announced. The nine states are: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for this second round of the competition.
Round one and round two involved competitions amongst the states for grants based on their comprehensive plans to reform their schools and the statewide support for those plans. Reform plans include items such as adopting rigorous standards, elevating the teaching profession to reward excellence, turning around low-performing schools, and building better data systems to inform reform, among many others. In Mach, Tennessee and Delaware won round one and split $600 million.
Another round of competition for another $350 million will be forthcoming, bringing the program’s grand total to $4.35 billion. The third competition will be based on creating new academic assessments. Race to the Top is part of Obama’s economic stimulus plan.
Between both rounds of the competition, a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia applied, and the competition has instigated a wave of reforms across the country. A number of states that did not win the competition said they still planned to proceed with the reforms they had proposed. More than a dozen states have already started implementing the plans, with over a dozen areas changing laws to more actively foster charter schools, and at least 17 reformed teacher evaluation systems to include student achievement. Dozens also adopted Common Core State Standards, the uniform math and reading benchmarks developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. “The change unleashed by conditioning federal funding on bold and forward-looking state education policies is indisputable,” the Democrats for Education Reform said in a statement.
While the program has been highly praised, it is not without controversy. Many civil rights groups complain that the competition involved for the grant money makes it difficult for the schools most in need to get funds. Education advocates, including some teachers unions, complain the programs set unfair standards for teachers. Some local leaders worry that if they win, they may have to give up too much local control.
Christi Grab is Parentella’s Editorial Director and author of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia. She is currently working on book two of the series.