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Race to the Top Winners Hit D.C.

By Alyson Klein — September 16, 2010 2 min read
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Officials from the lucky dozen states that snagged a slice of the $4 billion Race to the Top fund came to Washington today to hammer out their budgets, talk about implementations issues, and get that keepsake photo with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Duncan said the department is aiming to change the way it works with states to make the technical assistance process more collaborative and focused on states’ needs.

“I want our department to support your work and not to direct it,” he said. He said he hoped state officials would “look forward to calls from the department. .... We’re committed to establishing a very different relationship with states ... starting with Race to the Top.”

He opened the floor for questions, but it wasn’t a tough crowd. No one asked anything. Duncan got only one glowing comment, from Eric J. Smith, the Florida education commissioner, who commended Duncan for “assembling a great team,” including staff who “respond to e-mails on Sunday nights.”

In an interview after the speech, Nancy Grasmick, Maryland’s state schools chief, told me that Duncan is making good on his word.

“It’s a wonderful relationship,” she said. “I truly sense this idea of collaboration.”

Despite the upbeat tone of the event, state officials acknowledge that implementation isn’t going to be easy. Hawaii, for instance, will be moving to get its data system up to snuff, said Kathryn Matayoshi, the superintendent of schools.

In Tennessee, which just implemented new, more rigorous standards and assessments, schools are absorbing the “shock and awe” of their first round of student results, Timothy Webb, the education commissioner, told me. The state moved from “D-plus” standards to “B” standards, he said, so there was bound to be some adjustment.

At least six of the Race to the Top winners also will have new governors soon. And one, the District of Columbia, will have a new mayor.

Some departing governors are closely identified with their state’s winning bids.

For instance, Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, was on the panel that presented his state’s plan to the U.S. Department of Education. But he is term-limited out, and neither of the candidates vying to replace him has specifically endorsed the state’s Race to the Top plan.

“It’s obviously going to be a transition,” said Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education. “I have to hope whoever our governor is is going to understand” the importance of the program.

Ohio’s governor, Ted Strickland, a Democrat, also participated in his state’s Race to the Top presentation. He’s running for re-election, and his Republican challenger, former U.S. Rep. John Kasich, hasn’t signed off on the plan. But Deborah Delisle, the state’s schools chief, said she is optimistic that Ohio will be able to implement its plan, since it relies partly on legislation backed by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.

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