Starting Bell in RTTT District Competition Sounded
The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) kicked off the $400 million Race to the Top competition for districts earlier this week, amidst significant rule change spurred by comments to the draft rules released in May.
The USDE made several changes in response to the 475 comments they received in response to the draft rules released in May. Among the changes was an elimination of a requirement for competing districts to implement performance evaluations of school board members. The finalized rules also raised the maximum grant amount for the largest districts to $40 million, from $25 million. In a nod to rural districts, the department lowered the number of students that must be served to 2,000 from 2,500 and is allowing a group of 10 districts to apply regardless of the number of students.
According to final contest rules, awards will start at $5 million for the smallest districts up to the $40 million cap. From 15 to 25 awards are expected to be made in December. Applications are due Oct. 30.
In addition to meeting the 2,000-student threshold, to be eligible to compete a district must also implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year.
Districts must also address how they will improve teaching and learning using personalized "strategies, tools, and supports." In fact, this personalized learning component makes up 40 points on the 200-point grading scale. The rest of the grading scale is:
Prior academic track record and how transparent the district is (such as if it makes school-level expenditures readily available to the public), 45 points;
"Vision" for reform, 40 points;
Continuous improvement (having a strategy and performance measures for long-term improvement), 30 points;
District policy and infrastructure (such as giving building leaders more autonomy), 25 points;
Budget and sustainability, 20 points.
Ten bonus points are available for districts that collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students.
After districts firm up their applications, states and mayors must be given 10 business days (up from 5 days in the proposed rules) to comment on the proposals. However, the contest rules don't require districts to make any changes with the feedback they're given.
A Mix of Awards
The department wants to ensure that not just districts within existing Race to the Top states win. Federal officials also want to ensure that not just large, urban districts win - so districts will be entered in different categories depending on whether they are rural or not, and whether they are in a Race to the Top state or not. The department will make awards to top scorers in each category as long as the winners hit some to-be-determined bar for high quality. This means it's possible that a high-scoring district may lose out because the department wants to spread out the winners.
But what remains unclear is how many districts will ultimately apply for this complex grant, particularly given the large number of comments received in response to the draft rules. Districts must express interest in applying by August 30.
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