Now districts can “Race to the Top”?
This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced his plans for a new round of Race to the Top funding targeted to school districts. Although the specifics have yet to be fleshed out, Secretary Duncan made it clear that he feels more innovation can be and is being realized at the local level, especially in states he calls “less-functional,” or those that haven’t be awarded any federal competitive grants. With $550 million up for grabs, districts that are currently doing or planning significant reforms to improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness should be pleased with this news. Whether the district competition will mirror the state application requirements is unclear; the Department will likely gather stakeholder input before making any decisions. It is safe to assume that with the new funding, districts will be under the same tough scrutiny as states to follow through with their plans. The Department has taken a hard stance on accountability, and is not planning on softening it any time soon. So, districts already instituting or planning to institute some aggressive reforms in a non-Race to the Top state might be awarded nicely in the near future. However, districts should expect to back up promises with results. Leaders should expect to: set and justify high academic standards, track individual and collective achievement data, and demonstrate the impact of improvement efforts.