The next round of the Race to the Top competition opened this Sunday, inviting school districts all over the country to apply for a chunk of almost $400 million in federal grants. The competition is aimed at identifying and funding the best plans to shrink or eliminate the income achievement gap.
The Department of Education unveiled the final criteria for the district-level competition four months after publishing the draft and inviting the public to comment on it. Only districts that service at least 2,000 students of whom 40% or more qualify for the federal reduced and free lunch program are eligible to participate. The selection committee will evaluate the submitted applications and disburse between 15 and 25 grants to the winners.
Applicants from all districts are invited to apply. 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 participating in a Race to the Top state grant and districts not participating. These 4-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. The Department is expecting to make 15-25 awards.
The first Race to the Top competition, which was held in 2009, motivated states to undertake ambitious education reforms to qualify for a portion of the $4 billion prize pool. Many overhauled their teacher assessment systems, changed laws to make be more favorable to charter schools, and even altered funding formulas to become eligible to receive grant money.
Congress approved about $550 million for Race to the Top this year, and the Education Department expects to use about $383 million of it for grants to districts that propose ambitious reforms to personalize learning, narrow the achievement gap and prepare students for college. The rest will go toward the department’s early learning competition.
Even prior recipients of a Race to the Top grant are eligible to apply in this round of competition. Plans that cover several districts are also welcome, as are plans that target specific grade levels or only select subjects. Before submitting, districts must reaffirm their commitment to the four core reform areas: adoption of a curriculum aimed at preparing students for college-level work after graduation; taking steps to improve accountability via data systems that track and measure student achievement; developing human resources techniques that are aimed at recruiting and retaining effective teachers; and focusing on turning around underperforming schools.
Applicants who submit plans that hinge on partnerships between the school and other private or public entities will get a leg up during the selection process. The selection committee is looking for proposals that combine efficient use of resources with a detailed road map to accelerating student achievement.
Plans will focus on transforming the learning environment so that it meets all students’ learning abilities, making equity and access to high-quality education a priority. Teachers will receive real-time feedback that helps them adapt to their students’ needs, allowing them to create opportunities for students to pursue areas of personal academic interest – while ensuring that each student is ready for college and their career.