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7 Runners-Up Finally Share (Much Smaller) Race to Top Prize

By Michele McNeil — December 23, 2011 5 min read
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Seven states that were runners-up in last year’s $4 billion Race to the Top competition will share a $200 million consolation prize that will fund small pieces of their original plans, with many choosing to focus on implementing common standards and improving teacher evaluation systems.

The seven winners are: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Their grants range in size, based on each state’s student population, from $17 million for Colorado, Kentucky, and Louisiana to nearly $43 million for Illinois.

“These states are absolutely ready to do great things,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a conference call with reporters yesterday evening.

The announcement comes as the U.S. Department of Education has begun to raise the pressure on the 12 winners of last year’s competition. On Wednesday, federal officials cited Hawaii for “unsatisfactory performance” on its Race to the Top grant and placed the state on “high-risk” status. That means the state will have to ask the department for permission before spending any more of its $75 million, will face an extensive on-site review, and increased reporting requirements. The department’s letter to Hawaii clearly telegraphed that the state is in danger of losing its grant.

Duncan said during the conference call that Hawaii’s progress was “nowhere near” where it should be. “I’m less concerned about time frames and more concerned about momentum.”

He said he talked to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Thursday, and that the state needed to ramp up its momentum in the early part of 2012 to make good on its Race to the Top promises.

“They are in danger of losing their resources,” Duncan said. “This hasn’t been a great year for Hawaii.”

Hawaii aside, Duncan said he was still “extraordinarily pleased” with the progress of Race to the Top states in general.

The announcement of the latest, $200 million in awards was surrounded by little suspense. The department made all nine runners-up from last year eligible to win this time around so long as they agreed to stick to the reform agenda they pitched last year, and demonstrated how the piece of their plan that they chose to highlight also benefited the STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math, subjects.

Two other runner-up states did not get a piece of this smaller prize: South Carolina was ineligible, and the department determined that California submitted an “incomplete” application.

With just $200 million to be split this time around—far less than the $4 billion up for grabs last year—the fact that two states did not participate bumped up everyone else’s prize.

The department has now awarded all of its fiscal 2011 Race to the Top money, and can turn to figuring out what to do with the nearly $550 million Congress set aside to extend the brand during fiscal 2012. Duncan has said no decisions have been made on how that money will be awarded. However, during last night’s call, he made clear that he does want to use at least some of the money for districts, saying that Congress’ decision to open up Race to the Top to the local level was a “great opportunity.” He also said the money is an opportunity to focus more on early learning and STEM.

Awarding Race to the Top money to an additional seven states enhances the reach of President Obama’s signature education-reform initiative. Duncan can say (as he does in the press release announcing the seven winners): “These seven states are now among 22 Race to the Top winners spread out across the country that are investing in key education reforms to prepare more students for college and careers.” He also says that Race to the Top money now reaches 59 percent of the nation’s students and 69 percent of all low-income children.

In addition to today’s seven winners and the 12 winners of the original $4 billion Race to the Top, there were nine winners of the Race to the Top early learning competition (including three new states).

Details on how each state will use the Race to the Top winnings can be found in this department document. Among the highlights:

Arizona: Plans to establish five regional education centers, support the transition to Common Core State Standards, and improve data systems to inform educational decision-making.

Colorado: Plans to transition to college- and career-ready standards, improve educator effectiveness by providing statewide training to implement its new teacher-evaluation system, and continue with STEM integration.

Illinois: Plans to create a group of “reform exemplars” among participating districts that will agree to meet a high bar for implementing a comprehensive set of reforms, build systems and processes to continue and sustain improved student outcomes for all participating school districts, and build state capacity to extend reforms statewide.

Kentucky: Plans to focus on its “one-stop shop” technology support system for Kentucky educators and to scale up the AdvanceKentucky project, which is aimed at engaging underserved and underrepresented student populations in advanced STEM courses.

Louisiana: Plans to implement a performance-management system statewide to measure teacher and leader effectiveness and increase professional development resources available for STEM teachers, and develop and deliver professional development modules aligned with the Common Core in mathematics, among other things.

New Jersey: Plans to develop model curricula that will assist teachers and leaders in the transition to Common Core assessments; launch its newly created teacher evaluation system statewide and pilot a new evaluation system for principals; and enhance its charter school application review and renewal processes.

Pennsylvania: Plans to expand student and teacher access to quality courses and instructional resources to improve student achievement, particularly in STEM subjects, and refine and implement teacher and principal evaluation systems that incorporate student performance results as a significant factor.

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