Race to the Top

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By the Jan. 19 deadline, 40 states and the District of Columbia had submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) for Phase I of Race to the Top competitive grant funds. On March 4, 2010, USDOE announced that Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee will compete as finalists for Phase I grants. By April 2010, USDOE will announce Phase I grantees from these finalists.

Leading up to the Jan. 19 deadline, a handful of states changed their laws, or put new policies in place, to better align with Race to the Top selection criteria—all in hopes of edging out competition. A few states even met in special session to make necessary policy changes before the January deadline.

Race to the Top  selection criteria include:
  • Development of high-quality standards;
  • Equitable distribution of effective teachers;
  • Linking statewide data systems with instruction;
  • Turning around low-achieving schools; and,
  • Allowing charter schools to flourish.

Below are samples of policy changes state legislatures enacted to better align with these selection criteria.

Senate Bill X5 1 changes state law making California eligible for the federal Race to the Top money. This bill addresses the four Race to the Top policy reform areas of standards and assessments, data systems to support instruction, great teachers and leaders, and turning around the lowest-achieving schools. (Legislative staff summary.)
Senate Bill X5 2 establishes a process, beginning July 1, 2010, for reviewing and responding to requests for individual student data housed in the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. (Legislative staff summary.)
Senate Bill X5 4 establishes an Open Enrollment Program, which allows a pupil enrolled in a low-achieving school to attend any higher achieving school in the state; and establishes a Parent Empowerment Program that authorizes parents of specified schools to sign a petition requiring a local educational agency to implement a school intervention model. (Legislative staff summary.)

SB 315 ties student performance data to teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations. (NCSL staff summary.)
SB 616, Amendment 1 allows for expanded alternative certification programs for teachers and administrators. It also raises the cap on charter schools. (NCSL staff summary.)

Senate File 2033 relates to the approval and revocation of charter schools, the establishment of innovation zone schools by a consortium of two or more school districts and an area education agency, and allows interventions for the lowest achieving schools. (State Net summary.)

House Bill 176 sets forth intervention options for persistently low-achieving schools; specifies the responsibilities of audit teams; specifies timelines for the Commissioner of Education to act upon an audit team’s recommendations; directs the State Board of Education to schedule a special meeting to act upon any appeal by the school council or local board of education of an action by the Commissioner of Education; provides intervention options for persistently low-achieving schools. (State Net summary.)

House Bill 519 removes the limit on the number of charter schools and addresses the fee that a chartering authority may charge a school for certain administrative overhead costs incurred by the authority. (Legislative staff summary.)

Senate Bill 2247 relates to education reform to turnaround underperforming schools, collective purchasing, public purchases, competitive bidding and vendor payments; relates to charter schools, school programs of member school committees, educational collaboratives, investment authority, required teacher certification, student performance data, English language proficiency, special education, workforce development services, health and mental health screenings and law enforcement services in the school community. (State Net summary.)

House Bill 4787 provides for certain measures to identify and restructure failing schools; authorizes the organization and administration of turnaround schools under contract with a state reform/redesign school district; requires the contract to contain the educational goals of the school and the curricula to be offered and methods of assessment to be utilized, an admissions policy, a school calendar and school day schedule, staff responsibility descriptions, and the school's governance structure. (State Net summary.)
Senate Bill 926 identifies the lowest achieving public schools, places them under the supervision of a state school reform/redesign officer, and then employs various intervention models to improve student achievement in those schools; allows for the modification of collective bargaining agreements; creates new charter schools referred to as schools of excellence and cyber schools aimed at serving at-risk students online; relates to teacher certification and evaluation; allows for flexibility in high school curriculum. (State Net summary.)

House Bill 290 permits the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, upon approval of the State Board of Education, to establish a longitudinal student data system (Ohio Revised Code Sec. 3301.94). Currently, the Ohio Department of Education has its own system up to 12th grade, but it is not linked with any data maintained for higher education students. (Legislative staff summary.)

Senate Bill 7005 provides for the establishment of an achievement school district; revises present law regarding restructuring schools; creates a 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee; revises present law regarding the evaluation of teachers and principals; revises present law regarding when and in what manner a teacher, having received a notice of charges, may demand a hearing; and, makes other revisions to present law regarding education. (Legislative staff summary.)

Senate Bill 370 allows Milwaukee Public Schools to directly apply to the Department of Public Instruction for annual grants to help improve student achievement. It also allows the state superintendent to have more control over this program to help turn around struggling schools. (NCSL staff summary.)
Senate Bill 371 requires the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Department of Public Instruction to establish a system to share and track student achievement data from preschool through postsecondary education. The bill allows agencies to use data to evaluate the success of education programs and improve student achievement. (NCSL staff summary.)
Senate Bill 372 allows student test data to be used in developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation plan that evaluates teacher performance to improve student achievement. The student test data may not be used to dismiss or discipline teachers. The bill reinforces the importance of linking teachers to longitudinal student data to help evaluate program effectiveness, close achievement gaps and improve overall education. (NCSL staff summary.)
Senate Bill 373 requires school boards to consider standards established by the National Association of Charter Schools when creating a charter school. These stronger standards will help to ensure that all Wisconsin charter schools provide high-quality education. (NCSL staff summary.)

States applying for Phase II must submit their applications to USDOE by June 1, 2010; USDOE will announce winners in September 2010. For more information on Race to the Top, visit the  U.S. Department of Education. Or, for more information on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.