Sixteen Finalists in Race to the Top

The Associated Press reported today that the finalists in the first round for federal funding under the Race to the Top program are: Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Incentives of $4.35 billion

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion incentive program created by the Department of Education to encourage progressive reforms in state and local district K-12 education. Much, much larger than the largest possible instant cash loan, and larger even than a whole boatload of payday loan companies, $4.35 billion is a large sum of money.

Funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the program was announced by President Obama in July, 2009. Forty states and the District of Columbia applied for funding under Phase 1 of the program. The winners selected from the finalists listed above will be announced next month. Winners under Phase 2 will be announced in September.

Selection criteria

In descending order of weighted importance, selection criteria for funding under the program include:

  • Techniques to improve the quality, distribution, support and effectiveness of teachers
  • Articulation of reform agendas, capacity to implement reforms, and progress in raising achievement levels
  • Development of common standards, transition to enhance standards, and implementation of assessments
  • Cultivation of high-performing charters and prioritization of education funding
  • Intervention in and turn-around of lowest-achieving schools
  • Implementation and use of statewide longitudinal data systems
  • Prioritization of science, technology, engineering, and math

Voluntary changes at state levels

According to Bloomberg.com, many states took immediate action in connection with their applications for funding to improve their educational systems. Illinois, for example, removed the cap on the number of charter schools the state allows. Although it failed to make the cut, and despite growing concerns about tying teacher compensation to student performance under high-stakes testing laws, West Virginia proposed a merit-pay system for teachers based in part on student achievement. Massachusetts cleared the way for children attending low-performance schools to enroll in charter schools.

Stern opposition

Despite the fact that many states have made significant changes in an attempt to satisfy application guidelines, Race to the Top has met with stern opposition. Texas Governor Rick Perry summed it up when he told news sources that Texas would not be applying for Race to the Top funding, saying “We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.” Teachers unions have also opposed what they view as unwarranted interference by the federal government in matters of education.

A tight race, as promised

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had said all along that fewer than half the states applying for under the program will receive grants because their proposals are not stringent enough. That promise has is now corroborated by today’s narrowing of the race to 16 states.

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