Racing Locally

This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education formally announced the latest round of the Race to the Top competition.  After directing significant dollars to states to drive wholesale school improvement efforts and to assessment consortia to develop new tests around Common Core State Standards, ED is back focusing on individual buildings and classrooms.

The latest Race is a competition for $120 million in new funding “to support bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement.”  Full details can be found here.
The local focus is an important one, with ED reminding key decisionmakers that reform and innovation requires local buy-in and classroom-based leadership.  We saw some state RttT apps fall short because of failures in collaboration, but there are strong districts in those states that can and should benefit from an injection of competitive dollars to support their reform efforts.
Right now, ED is casting a large net, stating “The Department plans to support high-quality proposals from applicants across a variety of districts, including rural and non-rural as well as those already in a State with a Race to the Top grant and districts that are not.”
Of course, the devil is always in the details.  With Congress resistant to expand RttT, the $120 million pool can be limiting.  ED officials say the grants will be for four years and will range in value from $4 million to $30 million.  That means two large districts who win the big one could knock out half the pool’s value.  Ain’t that what competition is all about, though?
But the real challenge is giving districts the full four years to use grant dollars appropriately and effectively.  With the average urban superintendent on the job for less than three years, that means we likely will have districts that will have two different supes governing the administration of this award.  While we all know, in theory, that one needs four or five years of good longitudinal data to know if a new program is working, how many districts may look to scuttle their RttT grant when a change comes in the big district chair?
Then again, there are worse things than worrying how you will spend your $4-$30M and if you will do so with fidelity or not.  
As the saying goes, you need to be in it to win it.  Districts planning to apply are asked to submit a letter of intent by August 23.  Final apps are due to the Feds by October 3, with decisions coming in December before we close the books on 2013.

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