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Race to the Top

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President Barack Obama promoting the competitive grant program at a November 2009 event in Madison, Wisconsin

Race to the Top (R2T, RTTT or RTT)[1] was a $4.35 billion United States Department of Education competitive grant created to spur and reward innovation and reforms in state and local district K–12 education. Funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009. States competing for the grants were awarded points for enacting certain educational policies, instituting performance-based evaluations for teachers and principals based on multiple measures of educator effectiveness (tied to targeted professional development and feedback), adopting common standards (though adoption of the Common Core state standards was not required), adopting policies that did not prohibit (or effectively prohibit) the expansion of high-quality charter schools, turning around the lowest-performing schools, and building and using data systems.[2]

Criteria for funding[edit]

State applications for funding were scored on selection criteria worth a total of 500 points. In order of weight, the selection criteria were:[3]

  • Great teachers and leaders (138 total points)
    • Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
    • Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
    • Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
    • Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)
    • Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
  • State success factors (125 total points)
    • Articulating state's education reform agenda and LEAs' participation in it (65 points)
    • Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans (30 points)
    • Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)
  • Standards and assessments (70 total points)
    • Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
    • Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments (20 points)
    • Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
  • General selection criteria (55 total points)
    • Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools (40 points)
    • Making education funding a priority (10 points)
    • Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)
  • Turning around the lowest-achieving schools (50 total points)
    • Turning around the lowest-achieving schools (40 points)
    • Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
  • Data systems to support instruction (47 total points)
    • Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system (24 points)
    • Using data to improve instruction (18 points)
    • Accessing and using State data (5 points)

In addition to the 485 possible points from the selection criteria above, applicants were assessed based on six priorities, including the prioritization of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education which is worth another fifteen points for a possible total of 500.[3]

  • Priority 1, absolute priority: comprehensive approach to education reform
  • Priority 2, competitive preference priority: emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (This priority was worth 15 points, bringing the "selection criteria" total to 500 points)
  • Priority 3, invitational priority: innovations for improving early learning outcomes
  • Priority 4, invitational priority: expansion and adaptation of statewide longitudinal data systems
  • Priority 5, invitational priority: P-20 coordination, vertical and horizontal alignment
  • Priority 6, invitational priority: school-level conditions for reform, innovation, and learning

The applications for Race to the Top were bolstered by local involvement: states were incentivized to get buy-in from school district superintendents and teacher unions; applications required signatures from the states' education chiefs, governors, and attorneys general in order to qualify.[3]


Several states changed their education policies to make their applications more competitive. For instance, Illinois increased the cap on the number of charter schools it allows from 60 to 120; Massachusetts passed legislation to "aggressively intervene in [its] lowest-performing schools", and West Virginia proposed, but did not establish, a performance-based salary system that would have included student achievement in its compensation calculations.[4][5] In order to be eligible, states couldn't have laws prohibiting the use of measures of student achievement growth in teacher evaluations. Some states had banned the use of value-added modeling in evaluations, but changed their laws to be eligible.[6]

Race to the Top is one contributing factor to 48 states that have adopted common standards for K-12.[7] Adoption was accelerated by the August 1, 2010 deadline for adopting common standards, after which states would not receive points toward round 2 applications. In addition, the White House announced a $350 million federal grant funding the development of assessments aligned to the common standards.[8][9] The Common Core State Standards, one set of standards adopted by states for Race to the Top, were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and others.[10] Adoption of the Common Core State Standards, however, was not required by Race to the Top.


Phase 1 applications for funding were due on January 19, 2010. 40 states applied for funding, as did the District of Columbia. Phase 1 finalists were announced on March 4, 2010, and phase 1 winners were announced on March 29, 2010.[11][12] The deadline for submitting Phase 2 applications was June 1; Phase 2 decisions were announced on August 24, 2010.[13] Phase 3 applications were split into two parts. Part I was due November 22, 2011 and Part II was due December 16. Awards were announced on December 23. Winners of Phase 3 included: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.[14] Only Phase 2 finalists who did not earn money were eligible.[15] Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge, jointly conducted by the Department of Education and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, applications were due October 20. On April 9, 2012, the Department of Education announced there would be a second round of the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge. The five states that were close to winning in the first round (CO, IL, NM, OR, WI) would compete for $133 million.[16] On May 22, 2012, the Department of Education proposed draft criteria for a district-level Race to the Top program. On December 19, 2013, six additional states (Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont) were awarded a total of $280 million from the 2013 Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) fund.[17]


States were eligible for different funding award brackets depending on their share of the federal population of children between the ages of 5–17. Phase 1 award bands ranged from $20–75 million up to the highest phase 1 award range of $350–$700 million. Only the four largest states, by population, (California, Texas, Florida, and New York) were eligible for this highest bracket. Over three rounds, 18 states plus the District of Columbia were awarded grants totaling $4.1 billion (not including RTTT-Early Learning Challenge grants). These awardees in aggregate serve approximately 22 million students making up approximately 45% of the all K-12 students in the United States.[18]

Race to the Top results[19][20][21]
State Round 1 score (place) Round 1 result Round 2 score (place) Round 2 result Round 3 score Round 3 result
Alabama 291.2 (37th) 212.0 (36th)
Arizona 240.2 (40th) 435.4 (12th) Finalist Awarded $25 million
Arkansas 394.4 (17th) 389.2 (21st)
California 336.8 (27th) 423.6 (16th) Finalist
Colorado 409.6 (14th) Finalist 420.2 (17th) Finalist Awarded $18 million
Connecticut 344.6 (25th) 379.0 (25th)
Delaware 454.6 (1st) Awarded $100 million
District of Columbia 402.4 (16th) Finalist 450.0 (6th) Awarded $75 million
Florida 431.4 (4th) Finalist 452.4 (4th) Awarded $700 million
Georgia 433.6 (3rd) Finalist 446.4 (8th) Awarded $400 million
Hawaii 364.6 (22nd) 462.4 (3rd) Awarded $75 million
Idaho 331.0 (28th) Did not submit
Illinois 423.8 (5th) Finalist 426.6 (15th) Finalist Awarded $43 million
Indiana 355.6 (23rd) Did not submit
Iowa 346.0 (24th) 382.8 (22nd)
Kansas 329.6 (29th) Did not submit
Kentucky 418.8 (9th) Finalist 412.4 (19th) Finalist Awarded $17 million
Louisiana 418.2 (11th) Finalist 434.0 (13th) Finalist Awarded $17 million
Maine Did not submit 283.4 (33rd)
Maryland Did not submit 450.0 (6th) Awarded $250 million
Massachusetts 411.4 (13th) Finalist 471.0 (1st) Awarded $250 million
Michigan 366.2 (21st) 381.6 (23rd)
Minnesota 375.0 (20th) Did not submit
Mississippi Did not submit 263.4 (34th)
Missouri 301.4 (33rd) 316.4 (30th)
Montana Did not submit 238.4 (35th)
Nebraska 247.4 (39th) 295.8 (31st)
Nevada Did not submit 381.2 (24th)
New Hampshire 271.2 (38th) 335.2 (29th)
New Jersey 387.0 (18th) 437.8 (11th) Finalist Awarded $38 million
New Mexico 325.2 (30th) 366.2 (28th)
New York 408.6 (15th) Finalist 464.8 (2nd) Awarded $700 million
North Carolina 414.0 (12th) Finalist 441.6 (9th) Awarded $400 million
Ohio 418.6 (10th) Finalist 440.8 (10th) Awarded $400 million
Oklahoma 294.6 (34th) 391.8 (20th)
Oregon 292.6 (35th) Did not submit
Pennsylvania 420.0 (7th) Finalist 417.6 (18th) Finalist Awarded $41 million
Rhode Island 419.0 (8th) Finalist 451.2 (5th) Awarded $75 million
South Carolina 423.2 (6th) Finalist 431.0 (14th) Finalist
South Dakota 135.8 (41st) Did not submit
Tennessee 444.2 (2nd) Awarded $500 million
Utah 379.4 (19th) 379.0 (25th)
Virginia 324.8 (31st) Did not submit
Washington Did not submit 290.6 (32nd)
West Virginia 292.4 (36th) Did not submit
Wisconsin 341.2 (26th) 368.4 (27th)
Wyoming 318.6 (32nd) Did not submit

Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, and Vermont did not submit Race to the Top applications for either round.

After both rounds, the Department of Education released the complete scoring of each application, with the intention of making the scoring process more transparent and helping states revise their applications to be more competitive for the second round of competition.

Round 1 (a.k.a. Phase 1) winners were announced on March 29, 2010.[22] Round 2 (a.k.a. Phase 2) Winners were announced on August 24, 2010.[23] Round 3 (a.k.a. Phase 3) Winners were announced on December 23, 2011.[24]


As an parts of Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education puts out an Annual Performance Report (APR), cataloguing the grantees' progress in implementing reform plans and meeting goals for student outcomes.[25]

APR's are created for each state to document the progress toward the annual and four-year targets set forth in the grantees' applications. Because the performance measures included in the applications are indicators of success in improving student outcomes, the APR is one way to hold states accountable for meeting targets in improving student outcomes. An APR also includes reports and updates on laws, statutes, regulations, and/or guidelines that impact reform plans, as well as progress in meeting the "absolute priority" and "competitive preference priority", which emphasize a comprehensive focus on reform and an emphasis on STEM education. The APR includes updates on progress in meeting the invitation priorities in the approved plans (innovations for improving early learning outcomes; expansion and adaptation of statewide longitudinal data systems; P-20 coordination, vertical and horizontal alignment; and school-level conditions for reform, innovation, and learning).[26]

The APR measures things like graduating rates. Graduation rates for the states that received grants (grants were awarded in 2010 and late 2011):

Graduation rates for grant-winning states[27]

State 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15
Delaware 87.0% 78.0% 80.0% 80.4% 87.0% 85.6%
Washington DC 76.0% 59.0% 59.0% 62.3% 61.4% 68.5%
Florida 78.0% 71.0% 75.0% 75.6% 76.1% 77.9%
Georgia 81.0% 67.0% 70.0% 71.7% 72.5% 78.8%
Maryland 87.0% 83.0% 84.0% 85.0% 86.4% 87.0%
Massachusetts 82.0% 83.0% 85.0% 85.0% 86.1% 87.3%
New York 76.0% 77.0% 77.0% 76.8% 77.8% 79.2%
North Carolina 74.0% 78.0% 80.0% 82.5% 83.9% 85.6%
Ohio 84.0% 80.0% 81.0% 82.2% 81.8% 80.7%
Rhode Island 76.0% 77.0% 77.0% 79.7% 80.8% 83.2%
Tennessee 89.0% 86.0% 87.0% 86.3% 87.2% 87.9%

Race to the Top states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida successfully integrated multiple data systems to provide a range of tailored resources and information for different audiences (e.g., teachers, students, parents). In such integrated systems, students can access their assignments, grades and learning activities; parents can view the academic expectations of their child, and his or her school attendance and grades; and teachers and principals can access their students' data and find strategies and resources (e.g., sample lesson plans) to meet their instructional needs. Access to data and training that help teachers improve instruction to meet their students' needs.[28]

Race to the Top states provided extensive training opportunities for teachers to increase their data analysis skills and use student performance data to customize learning for individual students. Teachers are using new data and tools to effectively and quickly check on students' progress and understanding in the course of a single session or over a few weeks.


Although the vast majority of states have competed to win the grants, Race to the Top has also been criticized by politicians, policy analysts, thought leaders, and educators. Teachers' unions argued that state tests are an inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness, considering the fact that learning gains on assessments is only one component of the evaluation systems. Conservatives complained that it imposes federal overreach on state schools, and others argued that charter schools weaken public education.[29] In explaining why Texas would not be applying for Race to the Top funding, then Governor Rick Perry stated, "we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington."[30]

Critics further contend that the reforms being promoted are unproven or have been unsuccessful in the past. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, for example, commented that empirical evidence "shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working".[31] A coalition of civil rights organizations, including the Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition released a statement that "Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965."[32][33] The Economic Policy Institute released a report in April 2010 finding that "the selection of Delaware and Tennessee was subjective and arbitrary, more a matter of bias or chance than a result of these states' superior compliance with reform policies".[34] Finally, the American Enterprise Institute released a report in September 2010 finding disparities in Race to the Top scores versus the education reform track records and ratings of states from outside, independent sources. This report finds that states' political circumstances may have influenced states' final scores.[35]

On May 26, 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew the state from the second round of the competition. Virginia finished 31st out of 41 states in the first round, but McDonnell said that Virginia would not continue for the second round, believing the competition required the use of common education performance standards instead of Virginia's current standards. The use of common performance standards is required.[36][37] Although McDonnell supported the Race to the Top program during his campaign for governor,[38] he claimed on his June 1 appearance on MSNBC that the Race to the Top rules precluded participating states from adopting more rigorous standards in addition to whatever multi-state standards they join.[39][40] However, in some cases, "Race to the Top" regulations award the points even if states adopt standards more rigorous than the optional, common standards.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Race to the Top Fund". www2.ed.gov. 2016-07-19. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  2. ^ "Race to the Top District (RTT-D)". www2.ed.gov. 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2022-01-04.
  3. ^ a b c "Race to the Top Program Executive Summary" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  4. ^ "Race to the Top Program: States' Applications for Phase 2". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  5. ^ "Vermont sits out first round in Race to the Top competition". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved February 1, 2010. [dead link]
  6. ^ Dillon, Sam (August 31, 2010). "Method to Grade Teachers Provokes Battles". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  7. ^ "Virginia's stance against national standards is a blow for students". The Washington Post. June 5, 2010. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  8. ^ "Higher Standards, Better Tests, Race to the Top". U.S. Dept. of Education. June 15, 2009. Archived from the original on July 7, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
  9. ^ "Race to the Top Assessment Program". U.S. Dept. of Education. June 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
  10. ^ Anderson, Nick (March 10, 2010). "Common set of school standards to be proposed". Washington Post. p. A1.
  11. ^ King, Neil Jr.; Martinez, Barbara (March 5, 2010). "Race to the Top Finalists Are Named". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 8, 2010.
  12. ^ "Tennessee, Delaware schools to get Race to the Top funds". CNN. March 30, 2010. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  13. ^ "Nine States and the District of Columbia Win Second Round Race to the Top Grants". US Dept. of Education. August 24, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  14. ^ "Department of Education Awards $200 Million to Seven States to Advance K-12 Reform". US Dept. of Education. December 23, 2011.
  15. ^ "Phase 3 Overview Webinar" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. November 16, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  16. ^ Klein, Alyson (April 9, 2012). "New $133 Million Available for Race to Top Early Learning Grants". Education Week.
  17. ^ "Six States Awarded Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grants to Build Statewide Systems of High-Quality Early Learning". U.S. Department of Education. December 19, 2013.
  18. ^ "A Report on Race to the Top in Its Fourth Year" (PDF). whitehouse.gov – via National Archives.
  19. ^ "Race to the Top Phase 1 Final results" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  20. ^ "Race to the Top Phase 2 Final results" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
  21. ^ "Race to the Top Phase 3 Final results". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  22. ^ U.S. Dept of Education (2010-03-29). "Delaware and Tennessee Win First Race to The Top Grants".
  23. ^ U.S. Dept of Education (2010-08-24). "Nine States and the District of Columbia Win Second Round Race to the Top Grants".
  24. ^ U.S. Dept of Education (2011-12-23). "Department of Education Awards $200 Million to Seven States to Advance K-12 Reform".
  25. ^ "Race to the Top: About the APR". U.S. Department of Education. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  26. ^ "Race to the Top Annual Performance Report". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  27. ^ "ED Data Express". eddataexpress.ed.gov. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  28. ^ "Fundamental Change Innovation in America's Schools Under Race to the Top" (PDF). ed.gov. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  29. ^ "Obama offers 'Race to the Top' contest for schools". The Guardian. London. January 23, 2008. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  30. ^ "Press Releases - Gov. Perry: Texas Knows Best How to Educate Our Students, Texas will not apply for Federal Race to the Top Funding". Office of Governor Rick Perry. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
  31. ^ Ravitch, Diane (March 14, 2010). "The Big Idea -- it's bad education policy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
  32. ^ Darby, Seyward, Defending Obama's Education Plan New Republic
  33. ^ McNeil, Michelle, Civil Rights Groups Call for New Federal Education Agenda, Education Week
  34. ^ "LET'S DO THE NUMBERS: Department of Education's "Race to the Top" Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line" (PDF). Economic Policy Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 22, 2010. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
  35. ^ Bowen, Daniel. "Politics and the Scoring of Race to the Top Applications" (PDF). American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  36. ^ Nick Anderson and Rosalind Helderman (May 27, 2010). "Virginia Withdraws from Obama's Race to the Top". Washington Post. p. B4.
  37. ^ "Race to the Top Program Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions" (PDF). US Department of Education. May 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-11. Race to the Top does not endorse any particular consortium or set of standards. Criterion (B)(1) specifies characteristics of consortia and standards that earn States points under this criterion.
  38. ^ Kumar, Anita (June 1, 2010). "McDonnell on MSNBC: Race to the Top too burdensome". Washington Post.
  39. ^ Garofalo, Pat (June 1, 2010). "McDonnell Falsely Claims That Race To The Top Would Force Virginia To Lower Its Academic Standards". Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  40. ^ "McDonnell on MSNBC: Race to the Top would bring "burdensome" federal standards". Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  41. ^ "Overview Information: Race to the Top Fund". Federal Register. November 18, 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-11. A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State's total standards for that content area.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]