Georgia was selected as one of 19 finalists by the U.S. Department of Education for the second round of federal “Race to the Top” stimulus grants. Georgia stands to receive up to $400 million over four years to implement its plan if selected. Rockdale County Public Schools is one of the 26 school districts signed up as partners to implement Race to the Top if granted.
Georgia missed the cut in the first round of Race to the Top funding, coming in third. Only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, were awarded in Round 1 out of 40 states and the District of Columbia that submitted applications. Georgia received the highest score by a single judge of any state in the competition and was the only state to receive at least 80 percent of available points in each scoring section. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that phase two winners will be announced in late August or early September 2010.
“While like the Oscars it is an honor to be nominated, we look forward to celebrating a win in this race,” said Governor Sonny Perdue, in a released statement. “This grant is an opportunity to further align funding and state education policies with our desired outcome of improved student achievement. Georgia has again demonstrated our credentials to be a Race to the Top winner and we are ready to begin implementing these reforms with our partnering school districts.”
The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion stimulus fund, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), to support new approaches to improve schools. The fund is available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing ambitious plans in four education reform areas:
• Adopting common standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
• Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
• Recruiting, preparing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
• Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
“While some have called this federal intrusion into state education policy, the goals of Race to the Top are well aligned to the direction Georgia is moving,” Governor Perdue added. “As the third place finisher in Phase One, I believe Georgia is in an incredibly strong position to win this phase of the competition. We look forward to the interview process where I am confident the review team will find that Georgia has a clear and compelling plan for improving student achievement.”
Georgia’s application was prepared through strong partnership between the Governor’s Office, the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and education stakeholders. More than 20,000 educators responded to a survey on a variety of topics which shaped the proposals in Georgia’s application. Four working groups and a fifth critical feedback team consisting of teachers, principals, superintendents, higher education faculty, non-profit and informal education organizations, state policy makers, and members of the business and philanthropic communities also worked on aspects of the proposal.
Recommendations focus on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively in the classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria that inform instruction, and rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based monetary bonuses.
Georgia has already achieved a major part of the application. The State Board of Education has approved the Common Core State Standards, a curriculum developed by the states that is internationally-benchmarked to ensure our students are graduating with the ability to compete within a globally-connected economy. Governor Perdue co-chaired the state-led initiative for common-core state standards through the National Governors Association.
“I am pleased that Georgia has been named a finalist again for Race to the Top funding,” said State Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant. “Our selection validates the great work Georgia has been engaged in for many years. These funds will enable us to continue implementing the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, providing more focused school improvement strategies and developing a Longitudinal Data System to ensure that our students will be globally competitive.”
Twenty-six local school districts have signed on to partner with the state in implementing Georgia’s Race to the Top plan. These districts, which make up more than 41 percent of public school students in Georgia, include: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrollton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jones, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Valdosta and White. The participating districts include 46 percent of Georgia's students in poverty, 53 percent of Georgia’s African American students, 48 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of the state’s lowest achieving schools. As part of its Phase II application Georgia added Dade, Peach and Pulaski to the 23 districts that applied in the first round. The three new districts were chosen to align federal School Improvement Grants with Race to the Top.
The state will work closely with these systems to implement the ideas contained in the application. Fifty percent of the funds awarded to Georgia will be distributed to the local partners to meaningfully enact the Race to the Top reforms. The state will study the effectiveness of these practices to identify and scale up those that prove to be effective.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation selected 15 states, including Georgia, to benefit from technical assistance for RT3 application development. The states were selected based on how well poised they are to win Race to the Top based on progress in education policy and reform. Georgia partnered with The Parthenon Group, a consulting firm based in Boston, which specializes in part in education reform.
Georgia’s application, along with all the states that applied in Round 2, can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase2-applications/index.html .