Tuesday, July 27, 2010

18 States and District of Columbia Are Finalists for Education Grants

July 27, 2010
18 States and District of Columbia Are Finalists for Education Grants

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were named as finalists on Tuesday in the second round of a national competition for $3.4 billion in federal financing to support an overhaul of education policies.

The much-anticipated decision by the federal Education Department eliminated almost half of the 35 states that entered the competition, called Race to the Top.

The finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Winners will be announced in September, and federal officials say they expect 10 to 15 of the finalists to receive financing.

The contest is intended to give financial rewards to states that show a willingness to innovate. States are judged on a scale of zero to 500, with points awarded based on educators’ support for charter schools, for incorporating student performance in teacher evaluations and for intervening in the lowest-performing schools.

“We want to change the accountability system and stop labeling so many schools as failures,” Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said in Washington in a speech announcing the finalists. “We want to recognize and reward high-achieving and high-growth schools, offering them the carrots and incentives that we know drive reform and progress.”

All the finalists have made teacher quality a high priority, according to Van Schoales, the executive director of Education Reform Now, a policy organization.

“The determining factor for these states has been what’s called the Great Teachers and Leaders section of the contest,” Mr. Schoales said. “These are states that are addressing teacher quality in terms of changing how we evaluate teachers, how we train the best and brightest and how we get rid of low-performing teachers.”

In the first round of awards in late March, only 2 of the 16 finalists received grants: Tennessee was given $500 million and Delaware $100 million. New York was a finalist that time, but its score lagged behind most others, placing 15th. In response, the State Legislature passed a package of measures in May intended to improve New York’s chances in the second round, including doubling the number of charter schools permitted and allowing student performance data to be used in teacher evaluations.

New York also tightened and rewrote its application, removing items from its proposed budget, like expensive office furniture, that had been criticized by the first-round judges. The state is now asking for $696 million, down from $830 million initially.

Education officials in the second-round finalist states celebrated the announcement on Tuesday, but said they were focused on the next step. Officials of the finalist states will make presentations in August to a panel of outside experts in education.

“While, like the Oscars, it is an honor to be nominated, we look forward to celebrating a win in this race,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, which narrowly missed being selected in the first round.

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