In the four years since the Obama Administration announced its first Race to the Top grants, the President’s signature education initiative has helped spark a wave of reform across the country, according to a new report released today by the White House and Department of Education.
Since the Obama administration announced the first Race to the Top grants to Tennessee and Delaware four years ago – many state and local leaders, educators, and communities are deep in the hard work of education improvement, and the nation is seeing progress.
Today, the innovations unleashed by Race to the Top are touching nearly half the nation’s students and 1.5 million teachers in schools across the country – for an investment that represents less than 1 percent of education spending.
Amid that climate of positive change, America’s educators, students and families have made major achievements. The high school graduation rate is now at its highest on record (80 percent). Student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are the highest since the test was first given 20 years ago. And there have been double- digit gains on state tests at some of the lowest-performing schools – many of which had not seen any improvement for decades.
Today’s report highlights examples of the most innovative and effective reforms that are taking place in states across the country to prepare students for college and careers, support educators, and spur innovative educational strategies. Below are five ways Race to the Top is supporting teachers and students.
1. Race to the Top Has Provided More Students with Access to Challenging Classes
Under Race to the Top, states have spearheaded efforts to create plans tailored to their students’ needs. For example, Massachusetts provided more students with access to AP classes by training more than 1,100 middle and early high school teachers to prepare their students for new, high academic standards. Initial findings from the external evaluation of Massachusetts’ college- and career-readiness initiatives indicate patterns of increased AP course-taking, exam-taking, and exam performance.
Under Race to the Top, schools and districts are making sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and skilled teachers who inspire students. In Rhode Island, the state had more than 400 first-year and 40 second-year teachers engage with the state’s new teacher induction program, which includes weekly coaching and professional development.
Delaware launched the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which provides retention awards – between $2,500 and $10,000 over two years – to highly effective educators and leaders willing to work and stay in schools with the highest needs.
3. Race to the Top Has Provided More STEM Opportunities to Students
Maryland developed and translated five STEM curriculum modules for use in language programs statewide, and in Florida, Race to the Top funds have helped hundreds of students from rural communities get new STEM opportunities through the STEM Scholars initiative.
4. Race to the Top is Helping Educators Transition to New Standards
With the help of Race to the Top, Ohio expanded alternative certification pathways for teachers and principals; developed 800 curriculum resources aligned to higher standards; and trained 24,000 teachers to use those resources. And in an ambitious and comprehensive effort, Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive summer training as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.
5. Race to the Top is Supporting States in Turning Around Lowest-Performing Schools
Under Race to the Top, states have designed plans to turn around some of their lowest-performing schools using new ideas that engage students and transform school culture. In Georgia, the state created two non-traditional schools to accommodate high school students at risk of dropping out. And in Tennessee, the state awarded grants or provided Tennessee Academic Specialists to address performance gaps at the 167 schools identified as Focus Schools based on significant achievement gaps in school year 2011-2012. Based on 2012-2013 state assessment results, the state made progress closing achievement gaps in these 167 schools.
Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education