Friday, March 5, 2010

Tennessee is finalist for Race to the Top

State delegation will make pitch in D.C. for Race to the Top funds By Jaime Sarrio • THE TENNESSEAN • March 5, 2010 Tennessee lawmakers came a step closer Thursday to learning whether their massive education reform efforts will earn the state's schools a $501 million federal grant. The state was one of 16 selected as front-runners in the Race to the Top competition, a federal initiative offering the chance to win a slice of $4.35 billion in exchange for making significant changes to public school policy. The winners will be announced in April. Forty states and Washington, D.C., applied for the money, but fewer than 10 will be chosen to split the final prize, said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Only the best proposals will win, and we expect winners to blaze the path for the future of school reform for years, and even decades to come," Duncan said. "They will make education reform America's mission." Duncan said all of the finalists scored more than 400 points out of a possible 500 points in an evaluation of their grant applications, but he did not release individual scores. Up next — finalists will send teams to Washington to defend the applications. "It's important we not make these decisions based on a piece of paper," Duncan said. "Looking people in the eye and having heart-to-heart conversations will make me more confident when we pick the actual winners." If Tennessee doesn't win in this round, there's another in the summer. And if President Barack Obama's proposed education budget passes, Duncan said, there will be a third round of money to hand out next year. Tennessee, which requested a half-billion dollars in its application, is favored to win the competition by local and national education experts. Its sophisticated student tracking system can predict academic progress over time, and the application process put a premium on data-driven decision-making in education. Gov. Phil Bredesen said a K-12 reform bill passed in January also gives the state an edge. It requires teachers to be evaluated on student test scores and makes it easier for the state to take over low-performing schools. "A lot of the things they're looking for are things that we've already done, not that we're promising to do," Bredesen said. Bredesen will be one of five team members defending the state's 1,000-page application later this month. He said state Education Commissioner Tim Webb is likely to join him, and the two will begin meeting today to develop their strategy. "We're going to put our best foot forward," Bredesen said.

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