After receiving more than 1,000 public comments on its draft requirements for the competitive “Race to the Top” grants, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) published its final requirements in the Federal Register on November 12, 2009. Although the final requirements reflect some new flexibility in response to some of the comments received, the standards remain stringent for receiving a grant from the $4 billion Race to the Top fund which was established by the 2009 stimulus bill.
Comments on the draft requirements were reportedly received from educators, union leaders and state governors. Among other things, commenters objected to the provisions of the draft that emphasized the expansion of charter schools, tied teacher and principal performance evaluations to students’ test scores, and limited flexibility for thousands of turnaround schools where at least 50% of the schools’ staff must be replaced. In the final requirements, USDE continues to emphasize the importance of high-performing charter schools, but also recognized that there are other “innovative schools” that can be considered in education reform. USDE clarified that teacher effectiveness would not be determined solely by student test scores and that other determiners could be included as long as student growth is a significant factor. The final document retains the provision for mandatory replacement of at least 50% of turnaround school staff, but adds that a Principal of a failing school will have the operational flexibility to select staff and implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improving student achievement outcomes.
USDE will award Race to the Top grants to states based on the number of points, or the score, the state receives on its grant application. The highest possible score is 500 points. States can receive up to 138 points based on its proposal to ensure great teachers and leaders and up to 125 points for the various components of its education reform agenda. A state can earn up to 50 points for turning around its lowest achieving schools and up to 47 points for implementing a statewide longitudinal data system.
The Race to the Top grant application and supporting information is posted on USDE’s website at www.ed.gov. USDE plans to award the grants in two phases. Applications for Phase 1 are due January 19, 2010 and awards will be announced in April 2010. Applications for Phase 2 are due June 1, 2010 and awards will be announced in September 2010.