This afternoon Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the finalists for Round 2 of Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion federal competitive grants program that hands out money to states who adopt the Obama education reform agenda.
Eighteen states and D.C. made this second round of cuts, and there will likely be 15 winners when the results are announced later this summer. The finalists were: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.
All of these finalists scored above 400 out of a possible 500-point scale, and beat out 17 other states. There were another ten states that chose not to re-apply this time around; conforming to the Obama reform agenda led to many state fights with teacher unions.
The only big surprise among the finalists was Arizona, which finished 40th in Round 1. But education policy bloggers suspect that their application this time around was strengthened by involvement from the Gates foundation---Bill and his wife Melinda have become key players in the education reform world, guiding the agenda with their millions of foundation dollars.
Part of that reform agenda has involved putting teacher accountability front and center; both Delaware and Tennessee adopted pay-for-performance models that tie teacher salaries and their very job security to their students' test scores. D.C. school chief Michelle Rhee whose already the model in place for two years announced on Friday that she fired 241 teachers. Their students' test scores didn't pass muster.
States who want this federal funding are encouraged---nay, forced---to ease requirements for charter schools to move in to their school districts. Critics argue that these models place too much expectation on charter schools as an alternative strategy for reform when charter schools themselves are untested and inconsistent in performance.
The Obama administration has also succeeded in alienating teachers around the country by blaming them for the country's education woes and instituting a punitive accountability system tied to standardized tests. Yesterday, a group of seven civil rights groups led by the National Urban League demanded an end to Race to the Top and a re-evaluation of the entire Obama education reform agenda.
The two winners from the first round, Delaware and Tennessee, shared a pot of about $600 million, which left $3.6 billion for this round. Money is disbursed partially on the size of each state. Education Week notes that if New York, Florida and California all win the maximum amount possible, there will be just $1.5 billion left for the other winners.
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson