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What Race to the Top Could Hold for High Schools

The draft guidelines for applications for federal "Race to the Top" dollars are out, as you probably know. And they have implications for the types of high school policy and practice the feds will look kindly upon when being asked for a chunk of that $4.35 billion pie.

For a great refresher on what the heck we're talking about here, read my colleague Michele McNeil's story today. You'll see that the new guidance lays out Ed Secretary Arne Duncan's five priorities—some more binding than others—for how this money should be spent, and 19 criteria the department will use in deciding which states get it.

The themes laid out here repeat what Duncan has been saying for months, so no huge surprises. It's a tidy recap of things he has been saying about making high school work better.

As you flip through the guidelines, take a look at page 12, for example. It notes that the department is placing a high priority on plans to integrate data systems from the pre-K level through postsecondary, a vision with obvious potential for—and impact on—middle and high schools. Page 13 outlines a priority on vertical alignment from pre-K through college.

Further on, the guidelines note the importance of a state's move toward high, common college-and-career ready standards and assessments (page 26), and of its having "ambitious yet achievable targets" for improvement in its high school graduation rate (page 37).

Page 14 notes that in considering applications, the department will smile warmly upon plans to award credit to students based on their performance, rather than on the amount of instructional time they've had. (This one surprised me. The other secondary school things were much more general; this one was pretty darn specific.)

It will be interesting sport to see what sorts of middle and high school work are rewarded or sparked by this money.

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