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Education Funding

District Race to the Top: Big Promises, Challenges, New Report Finds

By Michele McNeil — August 20, 2013 1 min read

The American Institutes for Research has published a new analysis of the common threads—and challenges—woven through the 16 winning applications in last year’s first Race to the Top contest for districts.

The potentially game-changing nature of these grants (worth $400 million in all) has been detailed before, and includes the promise of individualized college and career plans for every student, mobile devices for take-home use, and a blended-learning environment in every classroom. The goal of the Race to the Top for districts—a contest whose second round is underway now—is to bring personalized learning to more students.

But the AIR report takes its analysis a step further, and articulates the challenges that will confront these and future grant winners:


  • Merely buying technology isn’t the same as integrating it well into daily lessons.
  • Merging personalized learning with the demands of the Common Core State Standards could be tricky.
  • Asking students to identify their college and career plans too early could pose problems, such as tracking them into programs when their interests may change.
  • Districts should thoughtfully examine whether a passing score should allow a student to miss an entire year’s worth of a course, and all of the in-depth lessons and enriching activities that go with it.
  • While some students may be academically ready to attend college before they turn 18, they may not be socially ready.
  • Many of the winners are relying on teacher mentors and professional development coaches; good ones might be hard to find.
  • Teachers are already burdened with managing a transition to common standards and tests, so tacking on grand expectations that they will personalize learning for every student might be overwhelming.
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