U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan today announced the winners in the second
round of the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” federal grant competition program.
WASHINGTON—“We congratulate the nine states and the District of Columbia on their selection today as federal Race to the Top program grant recipients. We are particularly pleased that Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island prevailed—their proposals were first-rate and the products of true collaboration among stakeholders—all focused on student achievement.
“Take Florida for example: After being shut out of the discussion in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, teachers fought for and won a seat at the table, where they played a key role in keeping the focus on what students need and what works in their classrooms. Similarly, the New York and Rhode Island proposals have built upon the teacher evaluation work started under the auspices of the AFT Innovation Fund—work so promising it was awarded an i3 grant by the U.S. Department of Education.
“The most important aspect of these grants is not who won today, but how those selected will implement their proposals as we move forward. This has always been the difference between success and failure in school reform—the one who finishes the race is not always first out of the starting gate. The burden is squarely on education officials in these states to work with teachers and others to make sure their Race to the Top plans succeed and to take all the other steps necessary to support good teaching and student achievement.”
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted the key to that success back in March when he announced the finalists in the first round. “It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders—including administrators, educators, unions, parents and elected officials,” he said then. “It’s about building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve student learning.”
The AFT has stressed that kind of cooperation since the very beginning of the Race to the Top program. In a letter to the Department of Education last year, as the rules for the competition were being written, we welcomed the commitment of funding represented by Race to the Top. However, what we said then remains just as certain today: “True reform requires more than funding alone; it requires valid, reliable, sustainable and fair policies, thoughtful implementation and the collaborative approach necessary for success.” Over the long term, real innovation works only with the support of the educators who must implement it.
Given those principles, something is wrong with the process if Florida, New York, Rhode Island and Ohio, where teachers helped shape the proposals funded today, and the District of Columbia, whose proposal includes an evaluation system developed and implemented without any input from teachers, can simultaneously win grants. The common denominator for all good schools must be a professional atmosphere in which the adults work together on behalf of the students.
AFT members, who work every day on the frontlines of education reform and innovation, while happy for the winners, continue to be concerned that the Race to the Top competition by design excludes millions of public school students across the country. Rather than creating a contest that picks winners and losers, our education policies and programs should offer all students the quality education they need to succeed in college, career and life.