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Race to Top: Gates Backs a Bunch of Winners

Several of the states that won grants in the federal Race to the Top competition received financial help from a well-known source: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nine of the 12 winning applicants from a field of 47 over two rounds of the competition were given $250,000 apiece by Gates to support the crafting of their proposals, foundation spokesman Chris Williams confirmed. The contenders that benefited from that largesse were Massachusetts, New York, Florida, the District of Columbia, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island in round two of the competition, and Tennessee in round one. The other three winners —Delaware, Hawaii, and Maryland—landed in the winners' circle without money from Gates.

Gates chose to help states that were in "good strategic alignment" with the foundation on key issues, Williams explained. The philanthropy has been a big supporter of charter schools, the adoption of common academic standards, and new approaches to evaluating and compensating teachers, among other goals. Williams noted that Gates was not involved in the process of actually crafting state Race to the Top proposals; the money instead helped states seek the technical assistance they needed to do that from outside providers.

Overall, Gates' record of wins and losses in the competition was mixed. The foundation provided financial support to a total of 24 of the Race to the Top applicants, according to a count Gates provided to me today. Fifteen of them didn't make it into the winners' circle. The losing Gates-funded contenders were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania,West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Of course, a lot of those losing states, as EdWeek has reported, are vowing to push ahead with major education policy changes anyway, even without multimillion-dollar cash infusions from the feds. So depending on your perspective, a loss is not always a loss.

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