When the U.S. Department of Education begins sifting through applications for winners in the $400 million district Race to the Top competition, they will be looking for one item that hasn't been a part of any previous iteration of the contest.
Districts will be able to earn up to 10 bonus points if their applications include plans to collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional, and
behavioral needs of students. Considering nearly 900 districts have informed the Education Department of their intent to apply, and only 15 to 25 grants will be awarded, this component could be critical to a district's chance at winning.
Districts can earn up to 200 points in other required areas of the grant application. Districts are asked how teaching and learning will be improved using personalized strategies, tools, and supports. Other factors that will be considered include a district's prior academic track record and how transparent it is—for example, whether a district makes information such as school-level expenditures readily available to the public. A district's vision for reform will be considered, along with district policy and infrastructure, budget and sustainability.
The social, emotional, and behavioral needs component should work in conjunction with the rest of the district's application, an Education Department official said.
"This is a very deliberate attempt to recognize the whole child," the official said. When the department circulated this as a proposed component of the application, it was very well received. "Especially with a lot of our district-level competitions and programs we are really encouraging both academic and nonacademic support for students."
The partnerships districts can include may be existing or ones they plan to form, the department said.
The requirement is welcomed by the Alexandria, Va.-based ASCD, said Molly McCloskey, the managing director of the leadership organization's Whole Child initiative.
"We've seen this department begin to integrate a belief the [Education] Secretary [Arne Duncan] talks about a lot," McCloskey said. "We're pleased to see the policies are starting to walk that talk."
Districts must pay some attention to students' physical and mental health regardless of whether they shoot for the bonus points. Districts must propose measures of age-appropriate growth in other areas, including at least one health or social-emotional indicator for students in 4th through 8th grades as well as a similar indicator for high school students. For its youngest students, a district must propose at least one age-appropriate non-cognitive indicator of growth—for which the department offers physical well-being and motor development or social-emotional development as hypotheticals. These indicators are worth five points and are just a few of about a dozen performance measures districts must define.
Generally, districts that apply must have at least 2,000 students and implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year. The awards will be worth $5 million to $10 million for small districts and up to $40 million for the largest districts. Applications are due Oct. 30.