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Is District Participation in Race to the Top Waning?

With last week's decision by the Christina school district in Delaware to stop fighting for the rest of its Race to the Top funding, a key urban district has dropped out of the state's education reform plans.

Christina and the state were at odds over its compliance (or lack thereof) with Delaware's Race to the Top plan. Delaware wants the district to use money for large teacher bonuses for the most-effective teachers, which was part of the promises the state made when it won its $120 million federal grant. Christina disagreed, sparking a months-long feud that has finally ended. The district is no longer participating in Race to the Top, and loses $2.3 million in remaining federal grant money. (The district was to receive about $10 million in total.)

Remember, half of the $4 billion in Race to the Top grants went directly to states, and the other half to participating districts.

The fallout in Delaware comes a couple months after several districts in Ohio were poised to drop out of that state's grant because they decided that the costs just weren't worth any federal grant money.

Are these isolated, state-specific incidences or part of a broader, worrisome trend?

Right now, it seems they are isolated, sporadic events.

Recently, I asked the other Race to the Top states how their district participation was faring—and they all said they are on very solid ground. (I didn't bother with the District of Columbia and Hawaii, which operate a single state-run each.) North Carolina had seven of its 33 charter schools drop out (but all 115 traditional districts remain). Massachusetts lost 42 districts just after it won the grant, but has kept the remaining 234 since then. The other states have kept their participating districts on board.

That said, the very difficult implementation work in Race to the Top states is ongoing, from common core to teacher evaluations tied to test scores. More than halfway through the grant period, district participation in the coming year will be worth keeping an eye on.


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