The Obama administration announced 10 winners today in the second round of the "Race To The Top" stimulus grant competition for education reform: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
The announcement comes after months of heated debate among educators across the country, internal strife in state legislatures, and local disputes with teachers' unions.
"The creativity and innovation in each of these applications is breathtaking. These states show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call this afternoon.
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for a portion of the $3.4 billion remaining in the competition. That list was then winnowed down to 19 finalists last month.
States were judged on their proposals to adopt the department's reform goals. Those goals include: embracing common academic standards, improving teacher quality, creating educational data systems, and turning around their lowest-performing schools.
Common threads among the 10 winners announced today include their bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools and their teacher evaluations systems. All of the winners also adopted common academic standards.
The 10 winners were decided based on the scores they received from peer-review panels. All the winners received a score of more than 440 out of a possible 500. In the first phase of the competition, only the two winners, Delaware and Tennessee scored above 440.
The decision to limit the winners to 10 states was based on the amount of funding available.
"We had many more competitive applications than money available to award," Duncan said. "We're very hopeful there will be a Phase 3 of Race to the Top and we have requested $1.35 billion dollars in next year's budget. ... In the meantime, we will partner with each and every state that applied to help them find ways to carry out the bold reforms they've proposed in their applications."
Education experts, however, question why certain states did not make the final cut.
"I think it's a disaster for the administration that Louisiana and Colorado are not on the list. Some very mediocre states got funded and some of the leading states for education reform did not," said Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
He said that the Education Department should have overruled the scorings of the peer review panels when it came to these two states, both of which were announced as finalists.
Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute agreed.
"I think the exclusion of Louisiana and Colorado suggest legitimate concern over the way the program was conceived, the criteria that was designed and the judging that was executed," he said is a written statement.
Although Colorado and Louisiana are often praised for their reform and innovation, both states failed to get widespread union support for their proposals.
"The dynamic here is the unions are going to be able to claim that they beat this in Colorado and they won a victory," Petrilli said.
Duncan reiterated this afternoon that he wished he could have funded more states, but that he trusted the process.