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Department of Education Announces Race to the Top Finalists

by Michael Higham, published

Race to the Top and Arne Duncan

The US Department of Education announced the 61 finalists in the 2012 Race to the Top District (RTTT-D) competition on Monday, November 26. There was a total of 372 applicants for the $400 million which will be split proportionally among the winners.

Race to the Top is an education grant program initiated by President Barack Obama to incentivize schools to perform highly under Common Core standards. The program encourages schools to adopt reform measures and implement them effectively. In this current round of Race to the Top, school districts are competing as opposed to states competing.

T.H.E. Journal summed up the reforms required of schools to qualify for the federal funding:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most
  • Turning around persistently lowest-performing schools

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented Race to the Top's impact:

These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom. This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.

However, some applicants who fell short of being finalists are not taking the decision lightly. Those involved in Michigan public schools are speaking out against the announcement that included the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) as the state's only finalist.

Michigan's public school stakeholders, including Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Telford, wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan and President Obama. They contend that the EAA does not have sufficient evidence of success and its chancellor is implementing measures that have failed in the past. In the letter, Michigan's education activists stated:

We ask that this yet unproven EAA campaign not be funded by Race to the Top dollars. What would truly help Michigan is for the funding to be used to enfranchise our families, schools, and communities to engage in real reforms that benefit Michigan’s children and that reflect the will of her citizens.

Many school districts did not apply for RTTT-D because of several changes to district operations that were required. RTTT-D also requires, "a commitment to implement an evaluation system for teachers, principals, and superintendents by 2014-2015, as well as sign-offs from stakeholders like the school board and the teacher's union."

Some districts may have experienced a lack of cost-effectiveness by complying with RTTT-D implementation. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) did not provide a signature for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) application.

A UTLA spokesperson told the Huffington Post, "It would cost more than $43.3 million to implement the $40 million RTTT grant, resulting in a net loss of more than $3 million dollars." Regardless, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy submitted the application, but was not among the finalists.

The Department of Education will be selecting 15 to 25 winners out of the 61 finalists. Grant totals will range from $5-$40 million depending on district size and will be allocated over four years. Winners are expected to be announced by the end of December. The original Race to the Top competition was between states and the prize totaled $4.35 billion.

Here is the list of applicants and district who were selected as finalists for this round of Race to the Top:

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