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State wins ‘Race to the Top’ Grants

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week that Delaware and Tennessee have won grants in the first phase of the Race to the Top competition.
“We received many strong proposals from states all across America, but two applications stood out above all others: Delaware and Tennessee,” Duncan said in announcing the winners. “Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”
Tennessee is set to receive approximately $500 million to implement comprehensive school reform plans over the next four years with the funds being distributed as the state meets established benchmarks.
“This is a landmark opportunity for Tennessee,” said Bredesen. “Our success in Race to the Top speaks to the commitment we’ve made to meaningful and significant improvement in public education, and the funds provided by the grant will carry us forward in a dramatic and positive direction.”
The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund is an unprecedented federal investment in reform. The program includes $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million to support states working together to improve the quality of their assessments. The Race to the Top state competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas: adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace; building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction; recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and turning around their lowest-performing schools.
Both Delaware and Tennessee have strong existing data systems, which they have said they plan to use for teacher evaluations and for key recruitment, compensation, and tenure decisions. Also, Tennessee will allow the state to intervene in failing schools through a new “Achievement School District,” which will group together the lowest performers.
 The state, which will begin receiving its Race to the Top funds in July, plans to distribute half the money to school districts and use the rest for other programs. According to Bredesen, every single school in the state will receive a share of the money.
As far as Johnson County schools go, Race for the Top funds are to be allocated according to the same formula the state uses to distribute Title I funds to the school systems.
Johnson County Director of Schools Morris Woodring said the much-needed funds will likely allow for around $825,000 to be piped into the Johnson County school system’s budget. “The Johnson County School System is very excited to begin the work of increasing performance for our students with the help of Race to the Top funds,” he said.
“The school system will be submitting a ‘Scope of Work’ in coming months to outline what the school plans to do with the funds they will receive,” said Mischelle Simcox, Supervisor of Secondary Instruction. “Some of those reform efforts will include supporting the transition across the state to new standards and assessments, improving teacher effectiveness and improving school performance.”
Although the $825,000 is a “very early estimate,” Johnson County school administrators are excited about the funds and are anticipating great things ahead for Tennessee students.
For more information, including how each individual state faired, visit the United States Department of Education site at http://www.ed.gov.