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Race to the Top finalists announced

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.

“We are setting a high bar, and we anticipate very few winners in phase one. But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn,” Duncan said.

Of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds provided under the Recovery Act, ED will distribute approximately $4 billion directly to states to drive education reform and $350 million to consortia of states that compete in a separate competition to create new college and career-ready assessments. The assessment competition is still in the design phase.

Duncan encouraged non-winning finalists and non-finalists to reapply in June.

The competition’s winners’ “bold blueprints for educational reform for states all across America will all be implemented over time,” Duncan said. “We expect the winners to lead the way and to blaze the path for the future of school reform for years, and even decades, to come.”

Based on Race to the Top’s early influence on national education reform, President Obama proposed to continue the program next year by requesting $1.35 billion in his FY 2011 budget.

Some of the reforms the program has encouraged have drawn criticism from education groups and teacher unions, such as spurring the growth of charter schools and using student test scores as an indicator of teacher effectiveness.

In a statement released March 4, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the list of finalists in phase one “includes states that could have—and should have—done better to work in true partnership with teachers, their unions, and other stakeholders. … As the process moves forward, we hope that every state will work to ensure that teachers’ participation and input is not simply sought but actually incorporated as an integral part of every stage of this process.”

She added: “In these tough economic times, the infusion of grant funds offered through Race to the Top will be seen as help for states and school districts facing budget shortfalls. However, this money is not intended to be, nor should it be, a substitute for adequate and sustained funding to support all our students and schools.”


Race to the Top

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