District-Level Race to the Top Grants Announced

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week a proposal for the next Race to the Top round, which unlike previous state-level rounds, is for individual school districts or consortia of districts. Districts will submit applications that include information about their current policies and practices as well as their goals and how they plan to meet them. The Department of Education has around $400 million to award about 20 grants ranging from $15-$25 million to applicants that best demonstrate a commitment to education reform and innovation in the classroom.

The Race to the Top program was first announced in 2009 by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It began with three rounds of state-level competitions in which about $4 billion in grants was awarded to 19 states and the District of Columbia. Alabama was not among the states awarded a grant.

This year’s Race to the Top program is targeted at individual classrooms and the relationships between teachers and students. It aims to challenge school districts to show how they are working to ensure an individualized educational experience for every child, meeting his or her specific needs. The program hopes that through novel approaches such as creative use of technology, parent partnerships, and new teaching schemes, districts can propel education beyond a one-size-fits-all model.

This vision of a more individualized educational system is part of a larger effort to promote four core reform areas. These areas are:

  • Implementing standards to increase college and career readiness
  • Building data systems to help measure student improvement as well as help educators improve instruction
  • Recruiting, training, retaining, and rewarding high-performance teachers and principals; and
  • Turning around the most low-achieving schools

To have successful applications, districts must collaborate with teachers, principals, parents, and outside organizations to provide a smooth transition into the proposed reforms.

To be eligible to apply, districts or groups of districts must serve at least 2500 students, and at least 40% of the students must come from low-income households. Rural districts or other districts that serve less than 2500 students are still eligible to apply; however, they must apply as part of a collective group of districts that serves at least 2500 students.

The program is set up so that districts in states that have already received funding from the state-level Race to the Top program, districts in states that did not receive funding, and rural districts all have an equal chance to receive funding through this program. The Department of Education expects to begin accepting applications in October and awarding grants in December.