Race to the Top: A Road Map
When President Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017, the No. 1 phrase that’s likely to be associated with his education policy is Race to the Top.
The competitive-grant program has flooded states and districts with federal aid and has expanded to about a dozen variations, including proposed competitions that still need the congressional seal of approval.
Here’s a one-stop guide to keeping all the various versions of Race to the Top straight. Follow the twists and turns of who has gotten the money so far, and what the grantees are supposed to be doing with it.
This is the original Race to the Top, the administration’s signature education-redesign competition, first created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the economic stimulus). To get a piece of a $4 billion pie, states had to agree to embrace policies the administration favored, including teacher evaluation based in part on student outcomes, beefed-up state data systems, and aggressive school turnarounds. States also got an edge for adopting rigorous, common standards. (In practice, only the Common Core State Standards counted, which got the Obama administration into some major political hot water down the line.)
The administration took a piece of the first Race to the Top money in the stimulus, and distributed it to two consortia of states charged with creating tests that would match up with the common-core standards. The consortia, called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, have hit some major roadblocks since then, with a handful of states deciding to quit the groups. And the administration has taken some heat for funding the tests in the first place.
Seven non-winning states with high-scoring Race to the Top Classic applications split an additional $200 million. States got to choose smaller elements of their original proposals to move forward on.
States competed for $500 million to improve the quality of their early-learning programs, in part by crafting rating systems, developing appropriate standards and assessments for children, and establishing state standards for teachers.
States that had strong showings in the initial Race to the Top Early Learning Competition split $133 million. Since the total was so small, each state received only a portion of its overall request.
A year later, the U.S. Department of Education distributed another $89 million to the Race to the Top Early Learning Competition silver medal winners, plus first-round winner California, which wasn’t fully funded initially. Ultimately, each state wound up with about 75 percent of its application funded.
Under this round of Race to the Top, districts were required to come up with plans to customize instruction to particular students’ abilities and interests, using technology and other tools. Popular strategies included use of mobile devices and individualized learning plans for students, personalized learning coaches for teachers, and data dashboards that collect all student-learning information in one place.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan passed over higher-scoring urban districts to give the majority of this round of Race to the Top district awards to rural applicants, which many argued had been overlooked in previous rounds of Race to the Top. Just one of the winners—Houston—was urban. As in the earlier round, winners were expected to “personalize” learning for their students.
A total of $281 million went to six states that had never won a Race to the Top early-learning grant. That brought to 20 the total number of Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant winners.
The Obama administration proposed $1 billion for a Race to the Top program to help states improve higher education outcomes, including graduation rates, while keeping tuition in check. Congress wasn’t interested.
After Congress rejected a new Race to the Top for higher education and a proposed $75 billion, 10-year federal matching program to expand pre-K to more 4-year-olds, the administration settled simply for new money for early education through Race to the Top. The Education Department hasn’t yet said how the new competition would work, only that it will differ from previous early-learning rounds.
For Equity (Plus Teacher Distribution, School Climate, and Everything
But the Kitchen Sink)
Under the administration’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, districts and states vying for the grants would have to develop data systems that track information on subjects ranging from district-level finances to human resources and student academic achievement. They would also have to come up with plans for attracting and retaining effective teachers in the neediest schools. Winners could use the grants to help beef up their coursework and to improve school climate and culture.
Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island,
and Washington state
Oregon, and Wisconsin
California, Colorado, Illinois,
New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin
Miami; Charleston, S.C.; New Haven, Conn.; and Carson City, Nev.
Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 2014 edition of Education Week