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Race to the Top: A Primer from Delaware and Tennessee

How will the Race to the Top program play out in states and school districts around the country?

A new paper offers a sort of advance showing, by examining the planning and implementation that's gone on in Delaware and Tennessee, the two states that were awarded money in round one of the federal competition. Ten second-round winners have been named since then, and they're busy working with local schools and districts to hammer out the details of their Race to the Top programs. Chances are, they'll take good advice where they can get it.

Officials in Delaware and Tennessee have worked hard to build state and local support for their plans, and reach out to as many constituencies as possible, according to the paper, published by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media. Their efforts involve staging town-hall meetings, working directly with unions and asking them to take on responsibilities in working on teacher-evaluation issues, and reorganizing state agencies to cope with Race to the Top.

In Delaware, the paper explains, the state's education department has asked about 400 teachers to help with a tricky task: crafting a plan for evaluating teachers whose subjects aren't part of the state's standardized tests, such as art and PE. Tennessee officials have asked a group supported by businesses and foundations to help the state spread the Race to the Top message. One piece of that message is explaining the potentially controversial consequences of raising standards—such as lower test scores and grades.

State officials "worry about communicating the urgency of education reform, both near-term as new tests produce lower scores against much higher academic standards and ineffective teachers are let go, and long-term so that reforms aren't lost in political transitions or smothered by bureaucrats," writes author June Kronholz. "After all, most governors change every four or eight years; bureaucrats are forever."

Other observations and lessons follow. So it's possible round-two winners won't be starting from square one.

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