States with the biggest committment to 21st century skills are finalists in the $4.35 billion program.

States with the biggest commitment to 21st-century skills are finalists in the $4.35 billion program.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has named 16 finalists in the first round of its Race to the Top competition, which will deliver $4.35 billion in school reform grants.

Selected March 4 from a pool of 41 applicants were Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The winners will be chosen in April.

The grants are designed to reward 21st-century initiatives and spur states to lift student achievement by developing strong standards, getting high-quality teachers in the classroom, and turning around low-performing schools.

A second round of applications will be accepted in June.

States competing for Race to the Top funds were asked to document past education reform successes, as well as outline plans to extend reforms using college and career-ready standards and assessments, build a workforce of highly effective educators, create educational data systems to support student achievement, and turn around their lowest-performing schools.

“These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Click below to watch Duncan’s address on eSN.TV


“Everyone that applied for Race to the Top is charting a path for education reform in America,” Duncan continued. “I salute all of the applicants for their hard work. And I encourage non-finalists to reapply for phase two.”

The 16 finalists were chosen from among the 40 states and the District of Columbia that submitted applications for phase one. Winners for phase one will be chosen from among the 16 finalists and announced in April. Applications for phase two will be due on June 1, with finalists announced in August and winners in September. The only states prohibited from applying in phase two are those that receive awards in phase one.

Duncan did not say how many states are likely to be selected as winners, but he said it was fair to estimate that winners would number in the single digits.

Panels of five peer reviewers independently read and scored each state’s application. The panels then met in February to finalize their comments and submit scores. Each state’s score is the average of the five independent reviewers’ scores. Each state’s application went before its own panel, and fewer than 50 peer reviewers served in all, with some reviewers serving on multiple panels.

ED arranged the applications in order from high to low scores and determined which applicants were the strongest competitors to invite back based on “natural breaks”—scoring gaps in the lineup. The top 16 applications then were selected as finalists. All 41 applicants from phase one will receive their peer reviewers’ comments and scores after the winners are announced in April. ED will post the scores and applications on its web site.

The finalists will be invited to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to present their proposals to the panel that reviewed their applications in depth during the initial stage, and to engage in question-and-answer discussions with the reviewers.

The finalist stage will let reviewers confirm that the states have the understanding, knowledge, capacity, and will to truly deliver what they propose. The presentations will be recorded and posted for viewing on ED’s web site at the end of phase one.

At the conclusion of the presentations, the reviewers will meet again to discuss each application, finalize scores and comments, and submit them to ED. The final score for each application will be an average of the five peer reviewers’ scores. The scores will be arranged in order from high to low and presented to Duncan for final selection.

The number of phase one winners will be determined by the strength of the applications. While the department does not have a predetermined amount of money to award in each phase of the competition, Duncan said no more than $2 billion will be awarded in this first phase—and the amount could be significantly less.