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Is Race to the Top an Urban Game?

Some state officials have a sneaking suspicion that Race to the Top is an urban state's game and that has made some question whether they should apply, at least in Round 1.

For instance, Vermont had originally planned to apply for Round 1 of the competition, but is now going to hold off for Round 2, Rae Ann Knopf, the deputy commissioner of education transformation and innovation, told me. That's why you won't see Vermont's name on the U.S. Department of Education's list of states planning to apply in the first round.

The state decided to sit out the first round because of the competition's rules on charter schools. Vermont, a largely rural state, doesn't have them, but it does have some other innovative public schools, Knopf said. But, under the RttT regulations, the state can only get up to eight points for its innovative schools, out of a possible 40, since it doesn't have a charter school law. Vermont may seek written clarification from the department on that point, Knopf said.

Vermont applied for a Gates grant to help fund its application process but didn't get one, in part because it doesn't have a statewide plan for rewarding effective teachers. But Knopf said the state already has a good distribution of highly qualified, highly experienced teachers. Being denied a Gates grant has Vermont wondering whether they'll fare well in the federal competition, Knopf said. (Michele reports that Maryland shares in thinking the same thing).

"Most of the federal grants are organized around concentrations of poverty, we don't have really have concentrations," Knopf said. Knopf, who previously worked with the Philadelphia City School system, appreciates the need for helping urban centers, but added "there are states in other rural areas that really would like to do some good work" with these funds.

In North Dakota, state education superintendent Wayne Sanstead told Michele that it can't move quickly enough to make the Jan. 19 deadline for Round 1. Still, when the state applies in Round 2, it will develop a North Dakota-kind-of-plan, he said, which will probably be a lot different than other states' plans because of the rural nature of his state. He doesn't envision North Dakota will pass a charter school law anytime soon, for instance.

For North Dakota, though, the stakes aren't that high. As things go, the state is doing relatively well economically speaking, and isn't in desperate need of the money. So Sanstead said they'll submit their own vision for education reform in their state, and see what happens. If they win, that's great, he said, if they don't, then that's okay too. They'll still have a reform plan in place.

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