Washington area vies for Round 2 of Race to the Top funds

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010

With a proposed teacher contract that includes performance pay, the District aims to strengthen its case for a share of $4 billion in President Obama's Race to the Top school reform program.

Maryland hopes to become competitive through a plan to link student achievement growth to teacher evaluations. But Virginia is considering whether to pull out after a weak showing in the first round.

Obama launched Race to the Top last year to encourage states to take steps toward performance pay, expand public charter schools and improve low-achieving schools. The funding, provided through the stimulus law, is being distributed through a competition that the Education Department designed. Most states, officials say, will not get any money.

The Washington region's competitors, like states elsewhere, are poring over contest entries, voluminous written comments from judges, videotaped interviews and other records compiled in the round won last month by Delaware and Tennessee.

The District finished 16th and Virginia 31st out of 41 initial competitors. Maryland sat out the first round. Bids for the second round are due June 1. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there might be 10 to 15 winners this time.

Will one of them be local?

"On the merits, D.C. has the best case of the three," said Andrew J. Rotherham, an education policy analyst and former member of the Virginia Board of Education. "D.C. has a fairly good chance. Maryland got a bit of a wake-up call. Virginia's application wasn't strong, and so its finish wasn't surprising."

The contest puts a premium, Obama administration officials say, on bold innovation as well as buy-in from teachers unions and local school boards. Analysts say those goals are often incompatible.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told Duncan in a budget hearing last week that her state had been penalized in the first round for proposing an overhaul of teacher pay and evaluation that many union affiliates and local districts would not support. She said that obtaining statewide backing would force officials to water down the plan.

"There are obviously many entrenched interests," she said. "This is a battle. It's not a waltz."

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist's veto Thursday of a bill that would have abolished core tenure protections for new teachers and expanded performance pay showed that the reform movement Obama has unleashed might be hitting political limits.

Florida, with a Republican governor and legislature, is widely regarded as one of the most aggressive states in defining the effectiveness of teachers on student academic performance. The state finished fourth in the first round of Race to the Top, with a plan that union leaders assailed. Now the question is whether teachers will have more influence in Florida's reforms.

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