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Race to the Top District Finalists Announced

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki @jzubrzycki

Sixty-one applications have been selected as finalists for the Race to the Top district competition, the federal department of education announced yesterday.

Finalists included districts in urban centers, including Boston, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, and Baltimore; charter management organizations like KIPP-DC; the state-run Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; and groups of smaller districts, like the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative. The awards will range from $5 million to $40 million. The contest aimed to encourage districts to personalize students' education and provide them with the technology necessary to do so. It will be interesting to see what kinds of proposals were picked as finalists and are ultimately rewarded.

"These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. "This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists."

The department has not posted full versions of the applications, but some districts' pitches have been made public. Here's the Dallas proposal, which was selected as a finalist, as posted on the Dallas Morning News website.

Here's the selection process described in the education department press release:

Race to the Top-District applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each application, with independent reviewers' scores averaged to determine an applicant's score. The Department arranged the applications in rank order from high to low scores, and determined which were the strongest competitors to invite back based on "natural breaks"—i.e. scoring gaps in the lineup. The top 61 applications were then selected as finalists.

This round of the Race to the Top competition was notable for provoking some strong reactions between unions and districts in a number of cities. Many of the districts that wound up submitting applications after particularly heated talks or without all of the requirements did not make the finalist list.

In California, which was the site of a lot of the drama, the bigger school districts are likely less-than-pleased. School districts in Los Angeles and Glendale submitted applications without the requisite signature from the union president, and did not make the cut. Yesterday's press release specifically says that the list of applicants (not finalists) "includes all districts that applied and does not indicate their eligibility for the competition." A bit pointed, perhaps?

The union president in the Central Unified School District in California wound up resigning after union members were unhappy that she'd signed on; Central Unified is also not on the finalist list. Here's some more information about the four California districts that DID make the cut from EdSource.

School districts in Clark County, Nevada and Fresno, California also did not make the cut, despite reaching dramatic and well-publicized last-minute agreements with their unions.

Between 15 and 25 districts will ultimately be selected to receive four-year awards from a $400 million pot. Winners will be announced by the end of this year.

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