When the U.S. Department of Education begins sifting through the hundreds of applications for district Race to the Top grants, it will be looking for one item that hasn’t been a part of any previous iteration of the contest.
Districts will be able to earn up to 10 bonus points if their applications for a piece of the $400 million in education redesign money include plans to collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. Considering that nearly 900 districts have informed the department of their intention to compete, and only 15 to 25 grants will be awarded, that component could be critical to a district’s chance of winning.
Districts can earn up to 200 points in other required areas of the grant application, including plans for how they will use personalized strategies, tools, and supports to improve teaching and learning. The social-, emotional-, and behavioral-needs component should work in conjunction with the rest of a district’s application, an Education Department official said. The partnerships that districts can include may exist or be ones they plan to form, the official said.
The requirement is welcomed by the Alexandria, Va.-based ASCD, said Molly McCloskey, the managing director of that leadership organization’s “whole child” initiative.
“We’ve seen this department begin to integrate a belief [Secretary of Education Arne Duncan] talks about a lot,” Ms. McCloskey said. “We’re pleased to see the policies are starting to walk that talk.”
Districts must pay some attention to students’ physical and mental health regardless of whether they shoot for the bonus points. Districts must, for example, propose measures of age-appropriate growth in other areas, including at least one health or social-emotional indicator for students in grades 4-8 as well as a similar indicator for high school students.
Generally, districts that apply must have at least 2,000 students and implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year. The awards will be worth $5 million to $10 million each for small districts and up to $40 million for the largest districts. Applications are due Oct. 30.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2012 edition of Education Week as New RTT Twist: Nonacademics