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15 States Plus D.C. Are Named Race to the Top Finalists

And the highly anticipated Round One finalists are...

Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The Final 16 beat out 25 other states and earned the highest scores from the peer reviewers, who awarded points based on a 500-point grading scale that judged states' commitments to improve teacher effectiveness, data systems, academic standards, and low-performing schools.

The list of finalists is supposed to reflect U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's promise that he would set a very high bar for this education-reform competition, which has become one of the Obama administration's most high-profile policy levers. At stake is $4 billion from the economic-stimulus package approved by Congress last year, not to mention bragging rights.

We'll have more analysis on the winners—and losers—later, but our first take on the list of finalists is that many of them are Southern, right-to-work states. New York is a surprise because many argue its student-teacher data law is weak, and its attempt to loosen restrictions on charters failed. Kentucky made the list, but has no charter law. Also, Colorado is the only Western state to make the cut.

Now, these finalists will each assemble a five-person team that will come to Washington the week of March 15 to make a presentation to the peer reviewers, who can then adjust their grades before coming up with a final score. Duncan will have the final say—especially when it comes to how many awards are given out in this first round—but the general idea is that the scores will be ranked in order, with the highest-scoring states winning.

Winners will be announced in April. Losers can reapply by June 1 for Round Two; the final awards will be given out in September.

UPDATE: So the early reaction is in. Flypaper's Andy Smarick thinks there are too many finalists, and Edspresso agrees. Eduwonk is scratching his head over Ohio and New York, but says South Carolina's inclusion shows this wasn't political. Eduflack isn't nearly as surprised and notes that the list encompasses a wide range, in terms of actual student outcomes.The Des Moines Register blog says Iowa isn't a finalist partly because it's rural and urban schools are expected to be a focus of Race to the Top.

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