COMET • Vol. 10, No. 27 – 16 November 2009


This issue of COMET focuses on the Race to the Top Fund and the newly-released final application guidelines for states.



(1) U.S. Department of Education Opens Race to the Top Competition

URL (RttT Executive Summary):
URL (RttT Fund):

Last Thursday (November 12), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released the highly anticipated final application for more than $4 billion from the Race to the Top Fund, which will reward states that have raised student performance in the past and have the capacity to accelerate achievement gains with innovative reforms. Details can be found on the Race to the Top Web site:

An informative Executive Summary can be downloaded from  This summary includes an overview of the program and the points assigned to each of the components of the selection criteria. Perhaps surprisingly, the “Competitive Preference Priority: Emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)” is only worth 15 points (“all or nothing”) — 3% of the 500 possible points. See page 3 in the Executive Summary for the points breakdown.

A recording of Secretary Duncan’s 35-minute conference call with reporters available as an MP3 file on this Web page:
Reporters from numerous major newspapers (e.g., Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribute, Cincinnati Inquirer, Miami Herald, and the Honolulu Advertiser) asked questions on a number of topics of concern to their states and to clarify some of the eligibility criteria. In response to the Los Angeles Times reporter’s question, Secretary Duncan said that “California has every chance to compete vigorously” despite the state’s severe budget challenges.

In announcing the final application, Duncan said, “The president said last week that Race to the Top will require states to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. We will award grants to the states that have led the way in reform and will show the way for the rest of the country to follow.”

The U.S. Department of Education is asking states to develop comprehensive and coherent plans built around the four areas of reform outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The application requires states to document their past success and outline their plans to extend their reforms by (a) using college- and career-ready standards and assessments, (b) building a workforce of highly effective educators, (c) creating educational data systems to support student achievement, and (d) turning around their lowest-performing schools.

Secretary Duncan will reserve up to $350 million to help states create assessments aligned to common sets of standards. The remaining $4 billion will be awarded in the national competition.

To qualify, states must have no legal barriers to linking student growth and achievement data to teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation. They also must have the department’s approval for their plans for both phases of the Recovery Act’s State Fiscal Stabilization Fund prior to being awarded a grant.

The final application includes significant changes to the proposal released by the U.S. Department of Education in July. After reviewing responses to the draft proposals from 1,161 people (who submitted thousands of unique comments, ranging from one paragraph to 67 pages), the U.S. Department of Education restructured the application and changed it to reflect the ideas of the public.

“The public’s input on this application was invaluable to us,” Duncan said. “The comments helped us clarify that we want states to think through how they will create a comprehensive agenda to drive reform forward.”

The final application also clarifies that states should use multiple measures to evaluate teachers and principals, including a strong emphasis on the growth in achievement of their students. But it also reinforces that successful applicants will need to have rigorous teacher and principal evaluation programs and use the results of teacher evaluations to inform what happens in the schools.

In Race to the Top, the department will hold two rounds of competition for the grants. For the first round, it will accept states’ applications until the middle of January, 2010. Peer reviewers will evaluate the applications and the department will announce the winners of the first round of funding next spring.

Applications for the second round will be due June 1, 2010, with the announcement of all the winners by Sept. 30, 2010.


(2) “Rules Set for $4 Billion ‘Race to Top’ Contest” by Michele McNeil

Source: Education Week – 11 November 2009

For a good shot at the $4 billion in grants from the federal Race to the Top Fund, states will need to make a persuasive case for their education reform agenda, demonstrate significant buy-in from local school districts, and develop plans to evaluate teachers and principals based on student performance, according to final regulations [released] Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education…

At stake for states is a slice of the biggest single discretionary pool of education money in the economic-stimulus package passed by Congress in February… Each winning state’s share…will depend on its population of children ages 5-17, according to nonbinding estimates provided by the department.

At the high end, the four biggest states–California, Florida, New York, and Texas–could get between $350 million and $700 million each. At the low end are the smallest student-population states, such as New Mexico, Delaware, and Vermont, which could get between $20 million and $75 million each.

To win funding, states will have to do much more than lift their charter school caps, or remove data firewalls between student and teacher data, said Mr. Duncan, who pushed those two issues in recent months to get states ready for the competition, which he has described as America’s education “moonshot.”

“This is not about getting in the game, this is about winning,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “There will be a lot more losers than winners”…

Teacher quality looms large in the department’s thinking, as reflected in the number of points to be awarded for various education reform priorities under the 500-point scale that will be used to weigh states’ applications.

The single biggest, and thus most important, category for states is improving teacher and principal effectiveness, worth 138 points. To put that in perspective, it’s more important than improving data systems (47 points possible), and turning around the lowest-achieving schools (50 points possible), combined.

Reform Agenda

States’ reform agendas take on a more prominent role in the final regulations.

A new category requires each state to clearly articulate its education reform agenda and prove that it has the capacity to carry it out. This entire section, which also asks states to demonstrate local school district support and buy-in from state teachers’ unions, is worth the second-most points possible, just behind the category on teacher effectiveness…

As to why the department is placing such a premium on local school district support, look no further than the statewide elections of 2010.

Next year, a number of governors and chief state school officers will be up for election-and a state’s governor, chief state school officer, and state school board president must all sign a Race to the Top application for it to be considered. Undoubtedly, grants will go to some states that will subsequently see a turnover in those high offices, and federal officials are concerned about continuity.

“This is not a governor’s plan, this is not a chief’s plan. We’re trying to reward systems, and systems are bigger than any one individual,” Mr. Duncan said in the interview. “You invest in the management team. This is not about investing in charismatic leaders.”

Local school district support is so important that in the event of a tie in states’ scores, and if there isn’t enough money to fund all of them, then the strength of districts’ commitment is the tiebreaker.

Successive Rounds

The awards will be given out in two rounds, with the first applications due in mid-January. A second round of applications, for those who didn’t apply or win the first time, will be due June 1. The department must make all awards by Sept. 30, 2010.

About 125 judges will be selected from a pool of 1,400 applicants who will go through rigorous training and be supervised by department staff and other monitors to ensure the grades are being applied as evenly as possible.

For all of the complexity of the scoring rubric, the final awards process will be relatively simple. The scores of all of the applications will be ranked in order and will be funded in that order until the money is gone. Although Mr. Duncan will have the final say, Ms. Weiss said, he will have to make a strong case if he decides to deviate from the scores. The winning and losing applications, along with their scores, will be made public.

Based on the grading scale, it’s already clear that some states will start out at a disadvantage.

Texas and Alaska each will lose up to 40 points for not joining the Common Core State Standards Initiative led by the Washington-based National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers…

And 11 states stand to lose up to 32 points each for not having a charter-school law: Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia…

The regulations also clarify how the money will be distributed down to the district level.

According to the stimulus law, at least 50 percent of the funds must be directed to local school districts via the formula for Title I aid for disadvantaged students. The department has made clear that states only have to send money to districts that have agreed to participate in Race to the Top reforms. In addition, states will also be able to use their award money to help turn around persistently failing high schools. The other 50 percent of the money, states can use at their discretion…

[Access the full article at for more information.]


Related articles:

(a) “After Criticism, the Administration is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants” by Sam Dillon
Source: The New York Times – 11 November 2009

(b) “Scoring System for School Aid” by Nick Anderson
Source: The Washington Post – 12 November 2009


(3) Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, on Federal ‘Race to the Top’ Regulations


“We applaud Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his efforts to make schools better for students–a goal we [(the American Federation of Teachers)] share.

“The Department of Education worked hard to strike the right balance between what it takes to get systemwide improvement for schools and kids, and how to measure that improvement. (One example of the effort to achieve this balance is in the Race to the Top criteria for teacher evaluation. As we wrote in our comments on the draft regulations, “RTTT is an unprecedented opportunity to…develop meaningful and effective teacher evaluation systems that can measure teacher performance and inform decisions in a way that helps students and is fair to teachers.” We are pleased the department heard our call for greater teacher involvement in evaluation systems.) Clearly, the department recognizes that schools succeed only where there is a culture of collaboration and all stakeholders work together to improve teaching and learning.

“We know that many states have begun the application process, but that not all are involving teachers and their unions in a meaningful way. We take Education Department officials at their word when they say they will look for meaningful collaboration in the state Race to the Top applications.

“Teachers and principals are central to any effort to improve schools, but they can’t do it alone. The best Race to the Top grants will develop specific supports for students and staff, such as early childhood education, professional development, and community schools that provide wraparound services for students and their families.

“Policy is made in Washington, but reform happens where students are taught–in the classroom. Race to the Top creates a real opportunity, but it will work only if all stakeholders come together to make it work. We are looking forward to what we learn–not only about what works but about what doesn’t–as a guide for federal education policy, including the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [(NCLB)].”


(4) National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel on Race to the Top Final Application


The U.S. Department of Education…unveiled the final regulations and application governing its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, which is designed to enable states to enact education reforms that improve student achievement.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“We applaud Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for taking the right steps to put a spotlight on what needs to happen in our classrooms–principally, for America’s schoolchildren.

“If done right, we believe Race to the Top grants will accelerate education reform at the state and local levels, and they will go a long way toward ensuring great public schools for every student in the long run.

“We are pleased that Race to the Top embraces the spirit of collaboration among education stakeholders needed to achieve systemic and sustainable reform efforts. In reading the final application, it is obvious that the Obama administration listened to educators, and we applaud them for recognizing the role teachers play in transforming education and preparing students by requiring states to involve teachers and principals in designing and implementing evaluation systems. This is necessary to make sure that what happens in Washington works in schools and communities across America.

“The final application rewards states that use student growth and multiple measures, and use data to improve instruction to increase the focus on professional development for teachers and continual instructional improvement rather than to only hold schools accountable. This is a solid reaffirmation of our belief that a student, like a teacher, is more than a test score.

“We are disappointed that the administration continues to focus so heavily on tying students’ test scores to individual teachers. The continuing eligibility requirement that states must not have any barriers to linking data on student achievement or growth to teachers and principals for evaluation purposes misses the mark.

“Educators are willing to accept responsibility for student learning and for being evaluated based on criteria they help develop, and we look forward to working with the administration to ensure that its goal of true multiple measures in teacher evaluation systems is realized.”


(5) California State Senator Romero Responds to Final Race to the Top Guidelines


California State Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and lead author of SB X5 1, released the statement below in response to the release of the final guidelines for Race to the Top grants.  SBX5 1 is the only bill that has been passed by the State Senate and endorsed by Governor Schwarzenegger to ensure California’s Race to the Top application for a Phase 1 grant is not only eligible, but highly competitive.  The bill has bipartisan support and now waits to be heard in the state Assembly. (See for more information on the bill.)

“I have said from day one this is a race, not a stroll,” said Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  “Now is the time for California to deliver our promise of a Golden Opportunity for all children.”

“I continue to urge my colleagues in the Assembly to proceed with a sense of urgency and enact the reforms proposed in SB X5 1.  California must again lead the nation in educational achievement from ‘cradle to career.'”

“My staff, the bill’s coauthors and our stakeholders will continue to carefully review the final regulations to ensure California’s Race to the Top application for a Phase 1 grant is the most competitive and innovative so we can improve public education and secure the most money possible for our public schools.”


(6) Assembly Speeds up Work on ‘Race to the Top’ Reforms

Source:  The Sacramento Bee “Capitol Alerts” – 16 November 2009

The California State Assembly Education Committee is picking up the pace on its effort to ensure California schools qualify for “Race to the Top” federal stimulus funds.

Days after the Obama administration released the final application requirements for states seeking a piece of the $4.35 billion in competitive grants, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass announced that a Dec. 16 hearing on proposed changes to California schools will be moved up to Dec. 2.

Bass said the Assembly would come back before the new year if necessary to act on legislation in time for the state to meet the Jan. 19 deadline to apply for the first round of funding.

“We will continue to do whatever we need to do to put California schools in the best possible position to be competitive for this funding,” Bass said in a statement.

In August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special session to ask the Legislature to make sweeping changes to the California education system so the state could be eligible for up to $700 million through the awards. One bill aimed at ensuring California’s eligibility for the funds–SBX5 1–was approved by the Senate earlier this month. The Assembly is still working on its own legislation.

“We are reviewing regulations as quickly as possible and we are continuing to work with all education stakeholders and holding hearings,” Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring this application is competitive and successful.”


(7) “States Slow Standards Work Amid ‘Common Core’ Push” by Mary Ann Zehr

SourceEducation Week – 11 November 2009

As they wait to see how the latest push for common national standards plays out, some states are putting off or slowing the revision of their own academic standards to avoid wasted effort and spending.

At least four states–Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania–have halted revision of their standards for mathematics or English/language arts, the subjects that standards writers for the national initiative are turning to first. At least three other states have throttled back similar efforts until the grade-by-grade, K-12 common standards are made final in the coming months.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which are overseeing the “Common Core” effort to develop more-uniform expectations for the nation’s students, have already released a draft of college- and career-readiness standards for math and English/language arts.

Experts writing the standards are also drafting grade-by-grade K-12 standards for math and English/language arts that are expected to be put in final form early next year. That’s the document that many states are waiting to see before proceeding with work on their own standards.

Scott Montgomery, the deputy executive director of the CCSSO, said state schools chiefs were shown a sample of those grade-by-grade standards at a meeting in Chicago at the end of October.

“They like what they see,” said Mr. Montgomery. “The discussion isn’t about whether the standards are right or wrong. The discussion is about how do we adopt, implement, and get them into the hands of the teachers in our states so students can be competitive around the world.”

Mr. Montgomery said that, based on a CCSSO survey, he expects that at least a dozen states will adopt the common standards within six months of their release. He said 16 participating states have the capacity to adopt them within six months and another 15 within a year; the rest would likely need more time.

Forty-eight states–all but Alaska and Texas–have pledged to adopt the whole package of common standards, and that package will constitute no less than 85 percent of what the states ultimately have committed to adopt and implement, Mr. Montgomery said.

It’s prudent for states to put the revision of their standards on hold, said Michael L. Kamil, an education professor at Stanford University and a member of the feedback group for the common standards in English/language arts.

For one thing, the U.S. Department of Education has announced it will provide $350 million for joint assessments that align with the common standards as part of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, a program under the federal economic-stimulus law…

Cathy L. Seeley, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, also sees prudence in a go-slow approach.

“It would be foolish for states to be implementing major standards revision right now when they have something looming [nationally],” she said. “That doesn’t mean that those involved in the Common Core standards should be rushing ahead. They need to get lots of feedback and input from people in the various states”…


On a related note:

A National Forum on Common Core State Standards will be held on Wednesday, December 2nd from 1:30-3:00 p.m. at 101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC. [There have been many requests to Webcast this event, but a final decision has not been announced yet.]

The purpose of this meeting will be to (a) provide an update on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, (b) discuss the process for developing the K-12 standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, (c) outline elements of state adoption of the common standards, and (d) gather input and feedback on initiative. A graphic display of the standards development process is now available at

Please contact with any questions or visit  (This message was originally sent from Gene Wilhoit ( and Dane Linn (DLinn@NGA.ORG).)