As states consider whether to apply for the first or second round of Race to the Top Fund grants under the economic-stimulus program, the U.S. Department of Education is emphasizing that they shouldn’t worry about being first in line to win a piece of the $4 billion being awarded.
“We promise there will be plenty of money left in phase two,” Joanne Weiss, the department’s Race to the Top director, told states gathered in the Baltimore area for a department-sponsored technical seminar on the competitive-grant program.
With the Jan. 19 deadline for the first round of applications looming, the Dec. 10 event was part of an effort by the department to make sure states understand what is being asked of them.
A South Dakota official asked if American Indian-chartered schools count as charter schools even though the state doesn’t have a law authorizing such schools.
Hawaii officials had a few questions about how the application applies to them since they have a single, state-run school district.
In the area of common standards, New Hampshire officials wanted to know if that state’s participation in the New England Common Assessments Program counts as much in earning points toward a grant as the larger Common Core State Standards Initiative. The NECAP consortium involves four states; the Common Core initiative includes 48 states. The Race to the Top competition doesn’t explicitly say that the Common Core effort is the only consortium available.
States also wanted clarification on some details in the Race to the Top guidelines. The regulations say student growth should be a “significant” factor in teacher and principal evaluation for the maximum possible points. A representative from Arkansas asked what is meant by “significant.”
“We mean significant factor. We don’t like magic numbers here,” said Josh Bendor, who works on the department’s Race to the Top team.
There were also a number of questions from states about buy-in from teachers unions, with many state representatives making clear that they have concerns about how willing unions will be to support their education reform initiatives. (“Two State Unions Balking at ‘Race to Top’ Plans,” this issue.)
A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2010 edition of Education Week as Queries Abound On RTT Process