Finalists Named in ‘Race to the Top’ Education Program

BY John Merrow  March 4, 2010 at 5:24 PM EST

A big story in education news Thursday is that the Department of Education has selected 16 finalists, out of 41 applicants, for the first round of what it’s calling “Race to the Top,” a competition for $4.35 billion.

Seven of the 16 are from the South, where teacher unions are weaker. A key pillar of Race to the Top is the idea of paying teachers based in part on how their students perform academically.

The special 16 are Colorado, Delaware, Washington, DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Neither Kentucky nor New York were expected to make it this far. Kentucky has not been supportive of charter schools, another key issue for Duncan, and New York has a law forbidding the use of student test scores in tenure review, seen by some as a disqualifier.

The number of finalists comes as a surprise, because some observers were expecting the Department to be tougher, in order to send a message for Round Two, later this year. However, being a finalist does not guarantee winning, we are told. The finalists were not publicly ranked, so there’s no easy way to handicap the eventual winners.

Finalists now must come to Washington the week of March 15 to present in person. Joanne Weiss, who is running the competition for Secretary Duncan, has said that she wants to look people in the eye.

The Department has said it plans to release the scores in April after the RTTT winners are announced. The current scores are subject to change based on the presentations of the finalists. Final determination of the winners, however, is the judgment of Secretary Duncan, which means he could overrule his independent judges.

Here’s the official video announcement from the Secretary:

The applications are not particularly intriguing reading but will give those interested a good idea of what the judges had to wade through. Some run over 1,000 pages. Many can be found here. Narrative portion of applications are here. Full applications are typically on state sites.

And you can watch my January report on the Race to the Top program right here.