Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Here’s DFER’s press release:

Now That's A Race!

With the selection of only 2 states – Delaware and Tennessee – today as first round winners, the U.S. Department of Education removed any lingering doubt as to whether the Race to the Top would be about real and fundamental education reform.

Or as Vice President Joe Biden might say, this is a big F-ing deal!

No one can question that these two states were among only handful that passed laws, implemented new regulations, and built strong grass roots coalitions in support of their efforts.

 "This is a landmark day in federal education policy, no doubt about it," " said Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy.

"None of us was completely sure that policy would triumph over politics, that the interests of students would trump those of adults," Barone said. "By keeping the bar high, and by resisting enormous political pressure to spread race to the top funds around, the Administration has sent a clear message that adults will have to put the interests of children first if they want federal school reform funds."

Democrats for Education Reform has made no secret that we consider Tennessee and Delaware to be among our favorites as Race the Top worthy applicants (see our widely-read RTTT summaries over the last year at

Tennessee held two special legislative sessions, first in June to remover its charter schools caps, and next in January to pass into law a rigorous teacher evaluation system that makes student achievement count for at least 50%, and to take decisive action in low performing schools.

Delaware came in with a strong reform coalition and a record as one of the states with the most success in closing achievement gaps over the last decade. Its application took its reforms to the next level by requiring teachers and principals to show growth in student achievement as a condition for being evaluated as "effective," and requiring states to implement "Partnership Zones" to intervene decisively in chronically failing schools.

There are at least three lessons for those states that did not compete successfully this round. In states like Florida and Louisiana, which had incredibly strong applications with bold reforms, but weak stakeholder support, the message is primarily to special interests: you are what stands between the good ideas your state put forward, and real change coupled with real resources in your state. Join in that effort, or at the very least, get out of the way.

For states with promising applications that need work, the message is this: you are going to have to redouble your efforts and respond to the areas that raters felt fell short.

And, finally, if there was any doubt, whether you applied or not, that you might be able to do the bare minimum and still get hefty package of federal school reform funds, the message couldn't be clearer: time to suit up, get in shape, and hit the ground running for Round 2. It's not enough to fake it. You're going have to make it.

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