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Race to the Top losers: Why did Louisiana and Colorado fail?

Louisiana and Colorado, two states lauded for education reform, didn't make the cut in Round 2 of the Department of Education's Race to the Top grants. Some experts were puzzled.

By Staff Writer / August 24, 2010

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks about the federal 'Race to the Top' school reform grant competition, July 27, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Drew Angerer/AP

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Nine states and the District of Columbia have emerged as winners in Round 2 of the closely watched Race to the Top competition, the Department of Education’s innovative – and controversial – competition to reward reform efforts.

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Together, they were competing for $3.4 billion available in federal funds.

In order of their rank, the winners are Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, D.C., Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“We funded as many states as we could [until we] ran out of money,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a press call with reporters, noting that just a few points separated some of those states who failed to make the cut from the winners. “I can’t overstate how strong the applications were in the second round.”

Still, the big news among many education experts was who lost – particularly Louisiana and Colorado, widely considered leaders in education reform with priorities that are strongly aligned with those favored by the administration. And some of the winners – including Maryland, Ohio, and Hawaii – raised eyebrows, as well.

“What’s really going on in these states and the degree of sincerity of their reform convictions, I don’t think has made it through these review decisions,” says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. “I don’t think there’s a truly reformist bone in the body of the Hawaiian public education system.… You’ll find more going on in Nebraska.”

Mr. Finn, like others, was glad to see reform leaders like Florida, which has imposed tough accountability measures, and D.C., which has implemented a controversial teacher evaluation system, be rewarded. But was stymied by the omission of Louisiana and Colorado. A Fordham study of reform-minded cities released Tuesday ranked New Orleans – widely regarded as a hotbed of reform with its Recovery School District – as No. 1, and had Denver as No. 4.

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