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."
'Race to the Top': Education Experts Question Why Colorado and Louisiana Didn't Make the Cut
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.
"There are a number of states that I would have loved to have funded, and we just simply didn't have the resources to do that. That's why it's so important that we continue to come back and have a round three and a round four," Duncan said. "We did not take anyone out of rank order. It's been a very fair and impartial process. I give our peer reviewers great, great credit."
The education secretary also made clear that the department will withhold funding from any winners who do not follow through with their proposed reforms.
"These are your dollars and my dollar. These are taxpayer dollars, and every single dollar we want spent extraordinarily wisely. ... If at the end of the day we have a feeling that a state is not acting in good faith or simply doesn't have the capacity or the will or the courage to implement their plans, we're absolutely prepared to stop funding a state where we don't think that's a good investment of scarce taxpayer dollars," Duncan explained.
Competition Uses Cash Incentive to Encourage States to Reform
In the first round of the competition, announced in March, Delaware was awarded $100 million and Tennessee $500 million. In the second round, the Education Department is limiting the amount that a state can receive based on its student population. For example, large states like New York could be awarded as much as $700 million while smaller states like Hawaii are limited to $75 million.
According to Duncan, overall funding for the winners in both rounds will impact 13.6 million students and 980,000 teachers in 25,000 schools.
By using cash as the ultimate carrot, the competition has given states incentives to make dramatic changes to better compete.
For example, after failing to win the first time around, legislators in New York recently raised the cap on charter schools in the state, doubling the number to 460. Other states, including the District of Columbia, approved plans to allow teacher evaluations based on student test scores, a practice that teachers' unions have long opposed.
Duncan praised the change occurring nationwide as a result of Race to the Top.
"We've unleashed this amazing creativity and innovation at the local level," he said. "The amount of reform we saw before round one was amazing, but then again to see so much movement between round one and round two, the average state improving their score by more than 30 points."
Over the course of the competition, 35 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous common academic standards in reading and math, and 34 states have changed laws or policies to improve education.
However, critics question the long-term impact of these legislative changes.
"Throughout the process, states got much credit for making changes to laws that actually, in most cases, will have little to no impact as long as teacher contracts control the classroom and quality school choices are limited or nonexistent. While there is no question that Race to the Top has been the administration's positive bully pulpit on education, the dramatic need for laws to change remains largely undone," Jeanne Allen, the president of The Center for Education Reform, said in statement.