Photo from U.S. Department of Education
On May 22, the Obama Administration announced the new criteria for the 2012 Race to the Top program. This newest phase invites school districts to compete for $400 million in federal grant money. School districts that apply for funding are expected to present comprehensive plans for individualized and personalized classroom instruction that focuses on closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college or a career. The new program aims to address education problems at the classroom level. In order to receive funding, districts must develop personalized education methods, based on a student’s own pace and interests. “With this competition, we are inviting districts to show us how they can personalize education for a set of students in their schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We need to take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century.”
The Department of Education is seeking public comment on the proposed competition rules through June 8. These comments will be used to revise the proposed program criteria. Official applications will then be made available to school districts in July. The administration plans to announce 15 to 20 winners in December. Each winning school district will receive a four year grant worth between 15 and 25 million dollars.
President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative started in 2009 and has provided 46 states with more than $4 billion in federal funds to overhaul their public education systems. Proposed changes that have been funded have sought to authorize more charter schools and rate teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores. This year’s competition is different from past years in that school districts are being asked to apply instead of states.
The program has had mixed results thus far, and it has been criticized by lawmakers and teachers alike. Many of the states that have been funded in past years have postponed their reform commitments. Republicans have criticized the program for being an unnecessary expansion of the federal role in education policy. In addition, teachers’ unions have argued that many of the strategies promoted by the Race to the Top initiative are unfounded and can be disruptive. Currently, the National Education Association supports the new focus on personalized learning, but is cautious about how this strategy will be evaluated. Despite criticism, school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, and Newark have expressed interest in applying to the new program.