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Race to the Top winners: How did Delaware and Tennessee succeed?

In announcing the Race to the Top winners, Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that both states had strong buy-in from almost all districts and teachers unions.

By Staff writer / March 29, 2010

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Ala., on March 8. Mr. Duncan announced the Race to the Top winners on Monday.

David Bundy/AP

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The Department of Education decided to limit the number of Race to the Top winners to just two states in the first round of the competition, awarding the proposals from Delaware and Tennessee.

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The $4.35 billion competition was designed to spur states to develop innovative education-reform plans. The education world has been closely watching the competition to see just how high the bar for awards would be set and which states would clear it.

Monday’s announcement surprised many – both with the small number of winners and with the states failed to win. (Florida and Louisiana had been considered by some to have the most ambitious proposals.) Forty states and the District of Columbia applied for the grant, and 16 were declared first-round finalists earlier this month.

“They are signaling that three things are critical: data systems, linking teaching evaluation to student gains, and buy-in from the districts around the state,” says Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Delaware will receive about $100 million and Tennessee will receive about $500 million to implement their proposals over the next four years. Another $350 million will go toward supporting states as they try to improve the quality of student assessments.

This means that most of the grant money – about $3.4 billion – will be available for the second round of the competition, which has an application deadline of June 1. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that more states – probably 10 to 15 – will receive grants in that round.

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