Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Georgia Racing to the Top

Governor Sonny Perdue yesterday announced that Georgia has submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Education for the second round of federal “Race to the Top” grants. As part of its Phase II application Georgia added three school districts, 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 stands to receive up to $400 million over four years to implement its plan if selected.

“Georgia’s performance in the first round of Race to the Top shows that we are in an incredibly strong position to compete and win,” said Governor Sonny Perdue.  “Race to the Top would continue the direction the state has already been moving in education policy.  Through strong partnerships with diverse districts around the state, we will continue to improve student achievement.”

The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant opportunity provided in 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 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.
Georgia’s application was prepared through a partnership between the Governor’s Office, the Office of Student Achievement, the Georgia Department of Education and education stakeholders. 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 developed the ideas for inclusion in the state’s application.

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 salary increases.

The application also calls for Georgia to adopt and implement common curricular standards and internationally-benchmarked assessments that indicate Georgia’s ability to compete within a globally-connected economy.

26 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 41 percent of public school students in Georgia, include: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, 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.

The state will work closely with these systems to implement the ideas contained in the application. 50 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 U.S. Department of Education estimates that phase two winners will be announced in late August or early September 2010.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation selected 15 states, including Georgia, to benefit from technical assistance for Race to the Top 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.

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