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Race to Top: Two Ohio Districts, Two Different Stories

In a story this week, I look at the experiences of two Ohio school districts, one of which is taking part in the state's Race to the Top plan, the other of which is not.

The first district, Huber Heights, will be using its $605,000 award to make a series of improvements, most notably to technology, though it also faces big questions, such as how it will craft a new teacher evaluation system, as required by Ohio's Race to the Top plan.

The other school system, in nearby Brookville, is not taking part, because it could not get its union to sign on. It's one of several hundred schools and districts in Ohio to not sign up. It would have picked up $100,000—not a ton of funding, but nothing to sneeze at, in a district with 1,500 students.

One thing I found is that the decision to sign up for Race to the Top, or not, was affected by myriad local factors in districts, and both participants and non-participants are likely to face their own distinct challenges, in either attempting to meet the dictates of their state's plan—or trying to make do without the federal money.

These dynamics were illustrated by a point that Huber Heights Superintendent William Kirby made to me, which I didn't have space for in my story.

Kirby explained that he told his local teachers' union that he has worried that if the district rejected the federal cash, local voters might not look kindly on the school system's future requests for tax money.

"We discussed what would be the impact in our community to tell them that we couldn't come together, and [that we] refused these federal funds to help us improve," Kirby told me. "We knew that would be a negative impact. It was one of those motivators to bring us together."

What advantages or disadvantages do you think districts and schools that opted in, or opted out of Race to the Top will face, going forward?

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