Nation & World

Not every state is running in Obama's Race to the Top

WASHINGTON — Not all states are beneficiaries of the Obama administration's Race to the Top education initiative. Here are snapshots of how four states have dealt with the program:

Texas: Whether Texas, one of four states yet to apply for Race to the Top money, will do so in the program's third round remains to be seen. But given the state's track record, it's doubtful.

The Texas Classroom Teachers Association, along with Gov. Rick Perry, opposed the program because it didn't want teacher evaluations to rely too much on student test scores. Plus the group thought it was an example of the federal government overstepping its boundaries.

"We felt the Race to the Top competition was really an unprecedented federal intrusion into areas of education that had always traditionally been a function of states and local school districts," said Holly Eaton, a spokeswoman for the teachers association.

Eaton said that part of the reason the Lone Star state decided not to apply for Race to the Top was a tradition of homegrown innovation in education.

"Texas has traditionally been on the forefront of education reform," Eaton said.

Washington state: After opting not to apply in round one of the program, Washington finished 32nd in round two, near the bottom. The problem? The state doesn't have any charter schools, and therefore state education officials said it was a long shot to receive federal dollars.

"We haven't moved close enough to the Obama-Duncan agenda," said Washington Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke, referring to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The state's teacher evaluation system also didn't match up to what federal education officials asked for. In short, the state was "not as aggressive" as the Department of Education wanted it to be, Burke said.

Washington is more optimistic about its chances in the next round of the money chase, which focuses on early childhood programs. The state is home to Thrive by Five Washington, a public-private partnership funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that supports early education, particularly for needy families.

In March 2010, the state enacted legislation that aims to improve teacher assessment. Burke said Race to the Top's emphasis on assessments was "a launch pad" for the state law.

Illinois: President Barack Obama's home state has been narrowly shut out of the program so far, but Mary Fergus of the Illinois State Board of Education said the state "has moved on with the education reform we have promised."

Along with seven other states that missed out, Illinois is applying for a leftover $200 million from the second-round purse. The state recently passed legislation that calls for more thorough teacher evaluations and more authority for local school districts to hire and fire staff.

The law also allows Illinois schools and districts to extend school days. Several individual schools in Chicago, whose public school system has the shortest school day in the country, have decided to extend the day.

Alaska: With some of its schools accessible only by plane or boat, Alaska's school districts aren't exactly common. So state officials say it wouldn't make sense for them to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to create a consensus on education basics that's a priority in evaluating Race to the Top applicants.

That's the primary reason the state has opted out of the competition, officials said.

But Mike Hanley, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, said the state hadn't written off the education contest. The third phase of the program, which focuses on early childhood education, might be a better fit for Alaska.

"I've seen the list of absolute priorities and I would anticipate, if it's feasible for us, we will be applying," Hanley said.

Hanley said he thought that the third round also would be less urban-focused, making it more applicable to the majority of Alaskan school districts.

(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)


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