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Race to the Top: Competition Within a Competition

This coming week I'll have a story examining some of the lesser-known projects funded through the federal Race to the Top program. But I thought I'd preview one piece of the story—an interesting effort being tried in Georgia, which walked away a $400 million winner in the federal competition and is using a slice of its award to create its own mini-competition.

Georgia was one of 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, to receive a grant through the $4 billion federal program.

State officials there are setting aside $19.4 million of their grant for what they're calling the Innovation Fund, which invites districts and charter schools in the state to apply for grants of $50,000, $100,000, or $350,000, to pay for programs to improve schools.

The state competition invites local applicants to compete for money in different categories. One area of emphasis is district and school programs to nurture applied learning among students—in problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills. The competition is also inviting bids for creative efforts to mentor teachers and recruit them into the profession. Additionally, it's paying to support the development of charter schools focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called "STEM" areas).

Schools and districts aren't supposed to being doing these things on their own. A major goal of the fund is to encourage partnerships between schools and businesses, higher education institutions, or nonprofits, who can help them create and sustain their projects.

There are probably a lot of advantages for a state creating a mini-competition within Race to the Top. One person I spoke to for the story, for instance, said the a competition could nurture buy-in for the federal program in schools and districts, who might otherwise be ambivalent or skeptical of it.

If you're in one of the winning Race to the Top states, do you know of similar mini-competitions in the works?

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