The Race to the Top District Competition

Archived Information

The Race to the Top District Competition

Remarks by Arne Duncan

May 22, 2012

We all know that the real work of educating children happens in the classroom among teachers and students in partnership with strong principals and involved parents.

When a good teacher has useful information about a child's particular needs—has support from his or her principal—a real partner at home—a quality curriculum aligned with college and career-ready standards—and the tools and the time to do the job—that child is going to learn and achieve.

Too often, however, these supportive conditions have not existed in our schools or communities—and the results are painfully predictable: children fall behind or drop out; achievement gaps widen; teachers get frustrated and leave the field; stakeholders become polarized and divided under pressure to perform.

That is why—for more than three years—we have supported bold reform at the state and local level that reduced barriers to good teaching and helped create the right conditions for learning.

Race to the Top supports states that raise standards, build better data systems, evaluate and support principals and teachers, and dramatically transform their lowest-performing schools. It also supports the development of new and better assessments aligned with high standards.

The Early Learning Challenge supports states that strengthen the quality of their early learning programs.

Investing in Innovation, The Teacher Incentive Fund, Promise Neighborhoods, and School Improvement Grants—are bringing needed change and new approaches to schools and communities across America.

Today, we're taking the next step forward. We're announcing a new Race-to the Top competition for school districts that is aimed squarely at the classroom level and the all-important relationship among teachers and students.

With this competition, we are inviting districts to show us how they can personalize and individualize education for a set of students in their schools. We must take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century.

Speaking personally and for so many parents, we all want a school that meets the unique needs of our children. All teachers want a way to inspire and challenge those students who are furthest ahead, provide targeted help and assistance to those furthest behind, and engage fully and effectively with the students in the middle.

For a typical classroom teacher with 20 to 30 students, personalized education is a very ambitious goal—but it is possible. In fact, I have seen it in schools all across America—where great teachers are able to divide class time between lectures, small group work and one-on-one support.

For some teachers it involves technology. For others, it's about partnering with parents and folding non-school hours into a particular child's learning strategy. It might also involve teachers in training or other adults in the classroom. It might be all of the above or something altogether different. We are wide open to new strategies and approaches.

There are great teachers, principals, and whole schools all across America who have figured out how to personalize education and we are asking our districts to identify them and amplify their reach and impact.

All told we have nearly $400 million for this competition—which will fund about 20 grants in the range of $15 to $25 million dollars. We will design the competition so that rural areas and districts in states that did not win Race to the Top state-level grants are not at a disadvantage.

But every district in America is eligible to apply—either alone or in a consortium of districts—and we encourage collaboration so schools and districts can learn from each other instead of attempting this in isolation.

While the total amount of money less than previous rounds of Race to the Top funding, the amount of change it can support is infinite because some of the most important work happens in the application process itself.

Districts and schools must rethink teaching and learning. They have to scour their ranks to identify great teachers and define their most flexible and forward-thinking methods of instruction. They have to develop plans to bring personalized learning to every classroom and student over time.

And they have to build a team to execute—superintendents, school boards, principals and teacher and union leaders—as well as community leaders and local elected officials.

Just as with the original Race to the Top competition, we are asking much of the applicants because there is so much at stake. America's economic recovery is stymied by the lack of skilled workers. Today, something like three million American jobs are unfilled. In fact, I talked this morning with a group of small business owners. Their biggest concern is a lack of talent for them to hire. We in education have to take that challenge very, very seriously.

Meanwhile, state and local governments are overwhelmed by social costs directly linked to our shortcomings in the classroom—whether it is prisons, welfare, other social services or simply the lower lifetime earnings of people who lack the education needed to compete in the global economy.

We must educate our way forward to a stronger and brighter future and our very best teachers and school leaders must forge the path. It is our absolute hope and expectation that this competition will help bring that about. Finally, this is a draft, and we welcome your feedback.