Race to the Top–Game-Changing Reforms
Aligned to goals:
- 1.4: Increase the transparency of the grant application and award process.
- 1.5: Maintain up-to-date information on the Department's website about Department offices and key programs.
- 1.6: Foster more transparency in the larger educational community.
- 2.1: Provide more insight into the agency's decision-making process.
- 2.3: Collect and use input from the public and other stakeholders in decision-making.
- 3.1: Enhance collaboration with other federal and non-federal agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities.
The Race to the Top program, a $4.35 billion fund created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is the largest competitive education grant program in U.S. history, warranting unprecedented transparency and participation to ensure the best possible results. The $4 billion for the Race to the Top State competition is designed to provide incentives to States to implement large-scale, system-changing reforms that improve student achievement, close achievement gaps, and increase graduation and college enrollment rates.
From the beginning, the Department has made it a priority to conduct the historic Race to the Top competition with the utmost transparency, participation, and collaboration. When the Department issued the original criteria for the competition, the Department could have waived the requirement to solicit comments from the public because it was the first competition under the program, but the Department decided instead to take public comment, believing that input from stakeholders across the country would strengthen the program.
The notice of proposed priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria (NPP), published in July 2009, prompted an outpouring of public comments. Over 1,160 commenters submitted thousands of unique comments, ranging from one paragraph to 67 pages. Parents submitted comments, as did professional associations. Scores of public officials and educators, governors, chief State school officers, teachers, and principals weighed in with suggestions and critiques. Individuals from all 50 States and the District of Columbia, including over 550 individuals and 200 organizations, commented on the notice. The extensive and thoughtful public commentary on the NPP was invaluable in helping the Department revise, improve, and clarify the priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria for the Race to the Top program.
When we published the final application in November 2009, we included—in addition to the criteria—the detailed scoring rubric that we had decided to give RTT reviewers to help them judge the extent to which applications met the selection criteria. [ 1 ] The purpose was to be absolutely transparent with the public and with applicants about how the peer reviewers would judge applications for this historic competition.
In an effort to help States understand the application, we hosted two technical assistance planning workshops before the Phase 1 deadline, in Denver, Colorado, and Baltimore, Maryland, and one workshop before the Phase 2 deadline, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the Phase 2 workshop, representatives from Delaware and Tennessee, the Phase 1 winners, discussed their plans and laws, talked about their approaches to building statewide collaboration, and answered questions from other States. All the workshops were open to the public, and the Baltimore and Minneapolis workshops included a conference call to facilitate attendance for interested parties who otherwise could not participate. A total of 216 participants attended the two Phase 1 workshops, including participants from 49 States and the District of Columbia, and 131 participants attended the Phase 2 workshop, including participants from 40 States and the District of Columbia. As part of this effort, and to further promote transparency, we posted on our website the slides and transcripts from the workshops, as well as evaluations from attendees. This information is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/technical-assistance.html.
We also formed a cross-functional team within the Department that met regularly to respond to the many questions sent to our e-mail inbox or left on the dedicated phone line that the Department established for Race to the Top. Since November 2009, we have received over 1,000 inquiries. Based on the questions we received from the public, we made frequent updates to our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. [ 2 ]
When we issued the original notices, we committed to publishing every State's application—together with the final scores each received and the transcript and/or video of each finalist's presentation—on our website at the conclusion of each phase of the competition. [ 3 ] After we received the Phase 1 applications, there was tremendous public interest in the applications, and so we decided to publish them even earlier. After we announced the Phase 1 awards, we published all reviewer's scores and comments (without the reviewers' names), as well as the videos of the finalists' presentations. We will do the same for Phase 2. This information is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase1-applications/index.html.
We have conducted the peer review process with as much public transparency as is appropriate given the competitive nature of the grant process. This began when the Secretary issued an open call for reviewers; in response, we received about 1,500 nominations and applications. We have also published our reviewer training materials, the evaluation of the training by reviewers, a detailed description of how the reviewers were selected, a summary of the application review process for the public, and, at the conclusion of Phase 1, the reviewers' names and biographical information. This information is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/application-review.html.
It is worth noting that the Race to the Top selection criteria themselves also have a substantial focus on transparency (e.g., the criteria in Section C, Data Systems to Support Instruction, and criterion (D)(4), which rewards States for plans to publicly report data on teacher and principal credentialing programs) and on collaboration (e.g., criterion (A)(1), which encourages collaboration between school districts and the State, and criterion (A)(2), which rewards States for achieving broad stakeholder support). The full Race to the Top criteria are available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/executive-summary.pdf [PDF, 460K].
Finally, as the Department embarks on providing an unprecedented level of flexible, collaborative technical assistance for grantees, we will continue to work not only to support our grantees but also to share their lessons nationwide.
Open Licensing Requirements
As part of their grants, States are required to make any work developed with the funds freely available to others. States may do this by posting their work on a website that we identify (unless the work is otherwise protected by law or agreement as proprietary information).
Forty States and the District of Columbia answered the challenge in Phase I. With their leadership, stakeholders in their States sat down together, looked hard at what is and is not working in education, and developed bold and creative reform plans that give us great hope for the future of America.
On March 4, 2010, we announced that 16 applicants advanced as finalists:
Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
On March 29, the Department announced that Delaware and Tennessee were the winners in Phase 1 of the Race to the Top competition.
Find the complete applications, scores, and reviewers' comments for all applicants in their entirety online at Resources - Race to the Top Fund.
 The scoring rubric can be found starting on page 75 of the application, which is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/application.doc.
 The deadline for Phase 1 of Race to the Top was Jan. 19, 2010, with awards announced March 29, 2010. States that did not receive funding, or that did not apply in the first phase, could apply for funding in Phase 2, with applications due by June 1, 2010.