ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: The Obama administration announced 15 states and the District of Columbia as finalists in the first phase of the “Race To The Top” stimulus grant competition.
Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee made the cut.
States competing for the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” funds were asked to document past reform successes, as well as outline plans to: embrace common academic standards; improve teacher quality; create educational data systems; and turn around their lowest-performing schools. The first round of winners will be announced in April.
“These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “I salute all of the applicants for their hard work. And I encourage non-finalists to reapply for phase 2.”
Notably absent from the list are several states that took legislative action or made policy changes to better compete, including Indiana, California, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Michigan. Not surprisingly, Rhode Island made the cut – the state has gained a lot of attention recently for its decision to fire every teacher at a struggling high school, a turnaround model embraced by the Obama administration.
Despite the higher than expected number of finalists, Duncan told reporters this afternoon that the number of winners will likely be in the single digits. The department expects to award no more than $2 billion in the first phase of the competition.
“We are setting a high bar and we anticipate very few winners in phase one. But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn. I feel that every state that has applied is a winner – and the biggest winners of all are the students,” Duncan said.
Applications from 41 states and the District of Columbia were judged by 60 anonymous peer reviewers from across the country, including policy experts, former teachers, and lawyers. To determine the finalists, the Department arranged the applications in order from high to low scores and determined the strongest competitors based on “natural breaks” – i.e. scoring gaps in the line-up. In the coming weeks, finalists will present their applications in person in a series of closed door meetings.
Although the Education Department plans to make videos of the presentations and all of the reviews available online once the winners are announced, questions are being raised about the transparency of the process.
“They’ve been saying how transparent they are going to be and then there are 60 people deciding how $4 billion are going to be spent and we don’t know who they are?” said Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordhman Institute.
Based on competition’s early effect on national education reform, President Obama requested $1.35 billion in the FY 2011 budget to continue the program next year.