COMET • Vol. 10, No. 16 (Special Edition) – 24 July 2009


“Race to the Top” Announcement

President Obama joined U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan in announcing the draft application for the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” Fund. The announcement was broadcast live earlier today.

Other speakers included Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers; Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association; Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation and the Superintendent of KIPP Houston; Eric Smith, Commissioner of Education for the state of Florida; and Matthew Austin, a student at Washington D.C’s Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

This largest-ever federal investment in education reform will reward eligible states for past accomplishments and create incentives for future improvement in four critical areas of reform: adopting rigorous standards and assessments; recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they are needed most; turning around low-performing schools; and establishing data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

View the archived Webcast here:


Press Release: “President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan Announce National Competition to Advance School Reform”


President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that states leading the way on school reform will be eligible to compete for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants to support education reform and innovation in classrooms. Between the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), more than $10 billion in grant money will be available to states and districts that are driving reform.

“This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principle–whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform–and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant. Not every state will win and not every school district will be happy with the results. But America’s children, America’s economy, and America itself will be better for it,” President Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington.

The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s education reform efforts is the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, a national competition which will highlight and replicate effective education reform strategies in four significant areas:

* Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
* Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;
* Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
* Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

“The $4.35 billion Race to the Top program that we are unveiling today is a challenge to states and districts. We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence and dramatically improve our nation’s schools,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the event.

In addition to the Race to the Top Fund, over the coming months the Department plans to award more than $5.6 billion in additional grants through several other federal programs that support the Administration’s reform priorities, making available dollars that have been allocated by Congress under the FY 2009 budget and the ARRA. The Department of Education will be publishing draft regulations on each of the programs in coming weeks. In releasing the documents, Secretary Duncan is calling on state officials to intentionally prepare to use money from all of these programs in an integrated way to advance these essential areas of reforms.

The additional programs include the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund. Like Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation Fund is part of the ARRA. It will support local efforts by school districts and partnerships with nonprofits to start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.

With $297 million in the Teacher Incentive Fund, states and districts will create or expand effective performance pay and teacher advancement models to reward teachers and principals for increases in student achievement and boost the number of effective educators working with poor, minority, and disadvantaged students and teaching hard-to-staff subjects.

With $315 million from the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems program, states will expand their data systems to track students’ achievement from preschool through college and link their achievement to teachers and principals. Applications for these funds are being posted today.

With $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants, the Department will support states in efforts to reform struggling schools, and focus on implementing turnaround models in the lowest-performing schools. Secretary Duncan has set a goal of turning around the bottom 5 percent of schools in the next five years. In addition, $919 million in State Educational Technology Grants to help bring technology into the classroom will be made available. These funds are distributed to states by formula but states must deliver at least half of the money to districts on a competitive basis. States can make all of the money competitive.

Within Race to the Top, $350 million has also been set aside to help fund common assessments for states that adopt common international standards. Draft guidelines and criteria for the Race to the Top competition as well as the second round of grants from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund are being published today.

An application for the state data system grants also is being published today. In the coming weeks, the Department will release guidance on the Investing in Innovation Fund, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Title I School Improvement Grants, and the State Educational Technology Grants.

The Department will finalize the regulations and start accepting applications for the Race to the Top competition this fall. The first round of grants will go out early next year. The second round of applications will likely be due in June 2010 and final awards will be made in September.

“States will have two chances to win,” Duncan said. “They have plenty of time to learn from the first-round winners, change laws where necessary, build partnerships with all key stakeholders, and advance bold and creative reforms.”


= Race to the Top Executive Summary:

= Race to the Top Funding Website:

= “Education Reform’s Moon Shot” (Washington Post article by Arne Duncan)

= California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell’s Reaction to “Race to the Top” Announcement


Related articles:

Common Core State Standards Development Work Group and Feedback Group Announced
Also see

“Administration Takes Aim at State Laws on Teachers” by Sam Dillon

Source: The New York Times – 23 July 2009

The Obama administration took aim on Thursday at state laws–adopted after heavy teachers’ union lobbying–barring the use of student achievement data to evaluate teacher performance.

The federal Department of Education proposed rules to prevent states with such laws from getting money from a $4.3 billion-educational innovation fund.

Money from the Race to the Top Fund is to be distributed in two stages, late this year and in 2010, by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to a handful of states with positive records of what the department considers school reform as well as plans for additional improvement.

Legislatures in New York, California and some other states have enacted laws that limit, to one degree or another, use of student achievement data in teacher performance evaluations.

Both national teachers’ unions oppose the use of student testing data to evaluate individual teachers, arguing in part that students are often taught by several teachers and that teacher evaluations should be based on several measures of performance, not just test scores.

“This is poking teachers’ unions straight in the eye,” Mike Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group that studies education policy, said of the proposed fund eligibility requirement dealing with student data…

In recent weeks, Mr. Duncan has delivered speeches to…unions, urging them to rethink their positions on issues like seniority and teacher tenure to help improve public education at a time when thousands of schools are chronically failing.

“You must be willing to change,” Mr. Duncan told teachers at a meeting of the N.E.A. this month in San Diego.

Relations between the administration and the two unions, both of which worked for President Obama’s election, remain cordial. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have benefited from $100 billion in stimulus money designated for spending on public schools in 2009 and 2010.

But Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan have repeatedly urged changes in the way public schools work, including how teachers are trained, hired and evaluated.

“This administration is challenging unions on some issues that are at the core of the union agenda,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group that studies teachers’ union contracts.

Proposed rules for the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition say that states must show they are carrying out education innovation and reform, improving student achievement, adopting higher standards, recruiting effective teachers and principals, building educational data systems, and turning around low-performing schools.

To be eligible to apply for money, a “state must not have any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation,” according to a summary of the proposed rules.

New York’s Legislature last year prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. In a speech last month to Department of Education researchers, Mr. Duncan singled out data laws in some states for ridicule.

“Believe it or not,” Mr. Duncan said, “several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why”…


California Budget Notes:

“Lawmakers Approve Budget Fixes after Marathon” by Steve Wiegand

Source: The Sacramento Bee – 24 July 2009


After nearly 20 hours in session, lawmakers this afternoon completed work on a plan to close a giant hole in California’s budget by slashing billions of dollars from almost all state programs, borrowing heavily from local governments, reducing state workers’ pay through furloughs and reforming some of the ways the state does business.

The Assembly approved the final bill in the package about 3 p.m. The Senate finished voting about 6:30 a.m. after a long night that saw almost no speeches but plenty of earnest lobbying by leaders of both parties to secure the necessary votes. Both houses have adjourned until Aug. 17.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger probably will not act on the bills until next week, his office said, and state finance officials say it may take weeks before the completed budget can be translated into an end to state-issued IOUs…


= See for links to press releases from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell’s office regarding the impact of the budget crisis on school funding in California. The latest link (July 21) is entitled, “Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Issues Statement on [State] Budget Deal.”