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Eastern States Dominate in Winning School Grants

More surprises from the Feds. Colorado finished in 17th place. Louisiana also not in the running.

from Denver Post:
Colorado, which this year adopted what were described as some of the nation's most ambitious education reforms, was nonetheless left out in the "Race to the Top" for education funding.

The U.S. Department of Education this morning announced 10 winners who will get a share of the $3.4 billion education funding to support reforms. Colorado, which was a finalist in the first round, again failed in its second bid that would have given the state as much as $175 million.

Gov. Bill Ritter said he "believed all along we would be funded" and that the state would press forward with a spate of education reforms now left without funding.

By Sam Dillon & Jennifer Medina

New York, eight other states and the District of Columbia were named winners Tuesday in the second round of a national competition for $3.4 billion in federal funds for school improvement and education innovation.

The other winning states in the Race to the Top grant competition were Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.

Of the states that won major grants in the Race to the Top competition that is the Obama Administration's signature education initiative, most of them are east of the Mississippi, and most hug the East Coast, including New York, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Hawaii was the lone exception.

Many educators in the states that did not win or even participate in the competition -- which includes every state from Tennessee west to the Pacific-- said they were hamstrung from the outset.

They said the competition's rules tilted in favor of densely populated eastern states, which tend to be subscribe more to the ideas that Washington currently considers innovative, including increasing the number of charter schools and firing principals in chronically failing schools.

In small towns, for example, there is just one school, so setting up a parallel charter school may not be feasible. It can also be hard to attract principals to such communities. Finally, many of these states don̢۪t have the resources or manpower to write sophisticated grant applications.

"This whole effort had more of an urban than a rural flavor," said Armando Vilaseca, commissioner of education of Vermont, whose state did not participate in either round of Race to the Top.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan selected the winning states, after judges reviewed the 36 proposals submitted in the second round (from 35 states and the District of Columbia).

"The creativity and innovation in each of these winning applications is breathtaking," Mr Duncan said.

Congress appropriated more than $4 billion for the competition, which aims to promote educational innovation in areas President Obama considers crucial to education reform.

After Delaware won $100 million and Tennessee $500 million in the first round in March, $3.4 billion remained. Mr. Duncan distributed all but about $75 million of that to Tuesday's winners, and was still deciding what to do with that remainder, he said.

Mr. Duncan apportioned awards according to the number of students in each winning state.

New York and Florida each won $700 million; Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio won $400 million; Massachusetts and Maryland won $250 million; and Rhode Island and the District of Columbia won $75 million.

In the first round, New York placed 15th out of 16 finalist states. But in the months since, Gov. David Patterson, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Legislature worked together to build a stronger educational blueprint.

New York State has won as much as $700 million, federal officials said Tuesday. New York's prize was the fruit of The money comes after months of wrangling in the State Legislature and fights with the state and city teachers̢۪ unions.

This year, state lawmakers passed legislation to double the number of charter schools in the state to 460 to improve the state's chances at securing the federal money.

Like other states, New York approved a plan to allow local school districts to use student test scores in teacher evaluations, a practice teachers̢۪ unions have bitterly opposed for years. But local school officials will still have to negotiate with the union over the details of the evaluations.

The state is also expected to use the money to improve tracking systems to better measure how students improve from kindergarten through college. Officials have also vowed to improve state tests, which have become steadily easier to pass in the last several years.

Mr. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in a statement that the awarding of the money was a vindication of their efforts.

"This win is a testament to what we've accomplished in the New York City schools over the last eight years, and we are going to work with our teachers and schools to raise the bar once again," Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Klein said: "Race to the Top has been a tremendous catalyst for precisely the kind of education reform we've supported and implemented in New York City; now it is up to all of us to live up to this commitment and continue the important work that got us here."

Six other winning states -- Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island — were also first round finalists that strengthened their proposals in recent months.

Two states vaulted from long shots to winners. Hawaii, which has a state-run school system with no local school districts, was ranked 22nd in the first round. Maryland did not even participate in the first round.

States that are likely to be disappointed include Colorado and Louisiana, both of which endured divisive political battles that tied up legislative business for weeks this year as they sought to make changes to education laws in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.

The choice of winners raised questions about the criteria among some experts.

"I'm astonished that Louisiana and Colorado finished out of the money," said Frederick M. Hess, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research policy group, who has followed the competition closely. "Colorado passed the single most important piece of education legislation of any state, changing their system for teacher evaluations and tenure. And Louisiana has carried out some of the nation's most amazing reform efforts, including making New Orleans a laboratory for charter schools."

The competition was designed to reward what Mr. Obama considers exemplary educational ideas and practice in a few states, in hopes of inspiring the remaining states to adopt similar practices.

But critics, especially educators in rural states, said the practices encouraged by the competition, like creating more charter schools and firing principals in low-performing schools, were designed for urban systems, not schools in small towns or across the sparsely populated West.

All the winning states, except Hawaii, lie east of the Mississippi. Ten of the 11 states that did not compete in one or both rounds of the competition were rural or western states.

One result of the competition could be to widen the divide between school systems in the big cities and suburbs of the Eastern Seaboard, which tend to be more engaged with ideas considered to be at the cutting edge of reform, and those of the Great Plains and the rural West.

The president's goals in the competition included expanding the number and quality of charter schools, updating the way school districts evaluate teachers' classroom effectiveness, improving student data-tracking systems to help educators know what students have learned and what needs to be retaught, and turning around thousands of the lowest-performing schools.

— Sam Dillon & Jennifer Medina
New York Times


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