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Ed. Department Solicits Ideas for District Race to Top Competition

The requirements for the $550 million federal Race to the Top competition for school districts are still under development, but a U.S. Department of Education official offered a few clues today on how the program might look.

Speaking at a legislative and policy conference in Washington sponsored by the Council of the Great City Schools, Ann Whalen, the Education Department's director of policy and implementation, said the money will be distributed by the end of the calendar year, and that draft rules governing the competition should be out in the spring for comment. However, federal policymakers are interested in hearing from districts now, before those proposed rules come out, she said.

"We do know that we're not going to take the state criteria and do a find-and-replace, changing 'states' into 'districts,'" said Whalen. She said the criteria for the district competition would have to be different from the previous competitions because districts don't have the power to make sweeping changes such as adopting new academic standards or new assessments.

The department does not plan to abandon its focus on student achievement and closing achievement gaps, Whalen said. And it is considering allowing consortia of districts to apply for the funds—possibly even district groups that cross state lines.The four-year grants will be distributed regardless of whether the district is located in a state that did or did not win one of the previous competitions, she said.

A member of the audience asked how the department would guard against a district submitting an application that was somehow in violation of state policy. Whalen turned that question around, asking the district representative what he would like to see. After the presentation, she said the education department was "trying to figure out the right way to put those checks and balances in."

The email address for submitting comments to the department is [email protected]

Update: At the same meeting, Michael Yudin, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said that the Education Department is considering No Child Left Behind waivers for school districts, similar to the waivers that have been granted to some states. You can read more about this proposal at the Politics K-12 blog.

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