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 bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools and teacher evaluations systems. All 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.
New Jersey's not the only state excluded from the top 10 that has some people asking questions.
"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.
At the official announcement yesterday Duncan reiterated 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.