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Race to the Top Insights: Part 2

By Michele McNeil — December 10, 2009 2 min read
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After listening to the second half of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top technical seminar, it’s clear that there are many, many state-specific circumstances for which state teams want answers. South Dakota asked if Indian-chartered schools count as charter schools. Hawaii officials had a few questions about how the application applies to them since they have a single state-run school district. New Hampshire wanted to know if its existing New England consortium on common standards counts as much in earning points toward a grant as the larger Common Core effort.

Such are the challenges for Race to the Top Director Joanne Weiss and crew in running a single national competition that applies to every state, which is unique in its own education right.

Here are some other insights I took away from this seminar, as a continuation of my earlier post:


  • As we’ve blogged before, many folks aren’t happy with the range of awards that the education department has given as a guide for Race to the Top. Tennessee Commissioner Timothy Webb told me this morning that his state is going to “ignore” those estimates, treat them merely as examples, and ask for more money. (Tennessee was in the category in which the maximum award is $150 million.)
  • Significant means significant. The RttT regulations say student growth must be a “significant” factor in teacher and principal evaluation. What does “significant” mean, an Arkansas rep asked. “We mean significant factor. We don’t like magic numbers here,” said the department’s Josh Bendor.
  • Other terms states wanted clarification on: “tenure,” “or,” “annual.” (Seriously.) These state folks are very detail-oriented.
  • Best advice the Education Department gave to states: Don’t make up data if you don’t have it. Just explain that you don’t have it and why.
  • Most thought-provoking question of the day: You keep saying there’s going to be a very, very high bar in Round 1. Does that mean the criteria are going to change in Round 2? (The answer was no--that this “high bar” talk is to assure states there will be plenty of money left in Round 2.)
  • I do not envy the folks who have to fill out the application. Between the actual application, all of the tables, and the gobs of information that needs to go in the appendices (e.g. all of the letters of support from stakeholders), these applications are going to amount to hundreds and hundreds of pages. In fact, the Education Department advises states to keep the application and appendix to 350 pages. That’s why the Education Department wants paperwork submitted on CD or DVD. Nor do I envy the peer reviewers who will have to comb through this paper.
  • Applications are due at the Education Department on Jan. 19 at 4:30 p.m. Not one second later. And they mean business.