Massachusetts is a finalist in the second phase of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program for school improvement. If successful, the state stands to gain $250 million, half for participating districts and half for statewide initiatives.
The money will support reform efforts in four areas: standards and assessments; statewide data systems; effective educators; and turning around low-performing schools. These priorities are consonant with those of AIM in its ongoing advocacy for education reform.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, half the applicants, advanced to the final round and will make their cases to evaluators in Washington this month. About half of their total dollar requests will be funded; the number of winning states to be announced in early September will depend on the size of the higher-ranked states.
Massachusetts was also a finalist in the first phase of RTTT, when only two states (Delaware and Tennessee) emerged as winners. The most serious weakness in the earlier submission, failure to commit to the Common Core standards developed by state-based national groups, has now been addressed. The revised application focuses on expected results and on educator excellence, in response to evaluators’ comments.
AIM has worked with the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education to ensure that the commonwealth submits a competitive RTTT application that reflects the priorities of the employer community. We advocated for legislative enactment of a bill raising the charter school cap and facilitating state intervention in low-performing schools, and for adoption of the Common Core standards by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Our participation in the application process included hosting meetings of business leaders with Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. We urged our members to work in their local communities for district approval of the RTTT memorandum of understanding (276 signed on).
“Massachusetts has, by some measures, the best public schools in the country – but in education as in business, complacency is the enemy of success, and competition is increasingly global,” said Richard C. Lord, AIM’s President and CEO. “We hope to win, of course, but win or lose this contest has already produced constructive debate, better plans, important policy changes, and new alliances that will help maintain and reinforce our position of leadership.”