With $4.35 billion on the line, 40 states and the District of Columbia turned in applications for the first round of the Race to the Top competition on Jan. 19. Some of the other states - the ones that didn't apply - aren't too excited about the strings attached to the federal education grants.
Peer reviewers will now evaluate what each state is doing to improve education, and while they're using a point system, there won't be any specific point cutoffs that winning applicants have to make, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. They also haven't locked themselves into a certain number of states to choose, but they will set a high bar for them to hurdle.
"We want to fund as many great proposals as we can," Duncan said, "and we don't want to fund those that we think are good or have potential, but aren't great yet."
To become eligible for the race, a dozen states have amended or maintained their charter school laws, and several states eliminated barriers that prevented teacher performance and student assessment data from being linked, including California.
"When Race to the Top was announced last July, California was immediately counted out of the race - but you should never count California out," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. "President Obama issued a challenge, and we have responded with strong leadership and bold action to ensure California cannot only apply but be highly competitive in the Race to the Top."
These are the states that applied in round one:
If states do not enter or win in the first round, they are eligible to apply for the second round by June 1. Awards for the first round will be announced in April, and the awards for the second round will be announced in September.
Just because the Education Department is offering money, that doesn't mean every state wants it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry refused to apply for Race to the Top. In a letter to Duncan, he said that his state did not want to give up local control over curriculum, legislation and budgets to the federal government.
He stressed that Texas was one of the first states to adopt college and career-ready standards and assessments. While the state has already done many things that the competition has emphasized, it accomplished reforms "in the interest of providing Texas students a bright future, not due to mandates from the U.S. Department of Education."
"Texas is well positioned to continue progressing under the watchful eyes of Texas citizens, and we will build upon our successful record of education reform," Perry said. "I firmly believe that states like Texas, working with local educators, employers and citizens, are best suited to determine the
curriculum standards for their students, not the federal government.
"I also believe that Texas citizens, not federal employees, are best suited to set the education agenda and spending priorities that are right for Texas and our future."
For the states that have applied for the race, their applications will be scored based on these standards:
A. State Success Factors (125 points)
Create a statewide plan to change education. Implement, scale up and sustain the proposed plan. Demonstrate significant progress in raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps.
B. Standards and Assessments (70 points)
Develop and adopt common standards and high-quality assessments. Support the transition to higher standards and assessments.
C. Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)
Implement a statewide longitudinal data system and use the data to improve instruction.
D. Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
Provide high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals. Based on performance data, improve teacher and principal effectiveness. Enhance teacher and principal preparation programs.
E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)
Intervene and turn around the lowest-achieving schools and local education agencies.
F. General Selection Criteria (55 points)
Prioritize education funding, create successful environments for high-performing charters and other innovative schools; demonstrate other significant improvements.
The Education Department reviewers will post all the applications, comments and scores on its Web site for those who want to see how they made their decisions, said Joanne Weiss, director of Race to the Top.
In other Race to the Top news, President Obama plans to extend funding for the program into next year through his fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. If his budget passes, states may have a shot at winning $1.35 billion, and the Education Department may also expand the race to include school districts.