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In Race to the Top District Competition, Implementation Begins

Now that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded $400 million to 16 winners in the first district-level Race to the Top competition, the victorious districts have just over three months to spell out how they're going to achieve their promises.

These "scopes of work," which serve as a contract of sorts between the department and each winner, will establish timelines, key deliverables, and detailed budgets for the four-year grant period.

A department program officer will work with each district to come up these scopes of work, which were also required of the dozen winning states in the original Race to the Top. The scopes of work are critically important, as they are how the department will hold districts accountable for grant implementation. (When Hawaii, as one example, didn't hit key milestones in its scope of work, its grant was put on high-risk status, and remains there.)

Department officials say that, also like the original Race to the Top, there will be an amendment process by which districts can make changes to their plans.

The list of amendments is quite long for state Race to the Top winners, which are still struggling to keep up with all of their promises. Many had trouble finding enough qualified staff members to jump-start their plans, and capacity within budget-strapped state departments of education remains an issue.

And the same capacity issue that faces states will face these winning districts, said Bellwether Education Partners' Andy Smarick. Since the list of winners includes many medium- or even small-sized districts, many may need to hire additional staff or consultants to execute their plans.

"I think this is going to be the biggest issue," he said. "It's not only about hiring enough people but the right people."

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