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

These national currents are shaping how officials in the Washington region approach the second round. The District could win $20 million to $75 million. At stake for Maryland and Virginia are potential prizes of $150 million to $250 million each.

D.C. officials face two challenges. They must whittle their initial $112 million grant proposal to $75 million. And they hope to obtain endorsement from the Washington Teachers' Union, which had withheld backing for the city's reform plan in the first round during contract talks with Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

The announcement this month of a long-awaited labor agreement, pending ratification from teachers, could smooth the way. The deal includes a voluntary performance-pay program, with bonuses tied to growth in standardized test scores and other academic measures.

"We're hopeful that we'll get union support this time around," said D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs.

That might not be easy. Debate continues over whether teacher layoffs in the fall were justified. Union leaders asked a judge last week to reopen a lawsuit that seeks to reinstate 266 teachers who lost their jobs.

Maryland could benefit from its decision to skip the first round. The state released a draft proposal last week for Race to the Top in an effort to obtain local endorsements. In addition, the legislature approved a bill backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to extend probation for new teachers to three years from the current two.

The Maryland plan does not appear to go as far on performance pay as proposals in the District, Florida, Louisiana and other states. But the plan indicates that the State Board of Education is expected next month to approve a rubric that would link teacher evaluations to gains in test scores.

The rubric would be tried in four to eight school systems in 2011 and launched statewide the next year. State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick wants half of the evaluations to be based on growth in student learning and half on teacher skills and knowledge.

"We have to be competitive," Grasmick said. "We'll never get [a grant] if we're not bold."

She said the state must flesh out recent legislative action that calls for student achievement growth to play a "significant" role in evaluations.

Grasmick said Maryland could be penalized if contest judges ask what "significant" means and if state officials are forced to reply that interpretations vary from place to place. "That isn't strong," Grasmick said. "We have to be more precise."

However, state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) said that elements of Grasmick's proposal appear to conflict with the legislation. "My feeling is that some sections of it have to be redone," he said.

Like Maryland, Virginia ranks highly on national student achievement measures.

But Virginia's first-round bid was panned by contest judges who found its reform proposals too modest. The state's application received 325 points on a scale of 500, placing it ahead of Wyoming (319) and behind New Mexico (325).

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) pushed the Virginia legislature for changes in the law to promote expansion of charter schools, but the measure lawmakers approved was not far-reaching. There also appears to be reluctance in Virginia to replace the Standards of Learning with academic standards common to many states. That position also could hurt Virginia's chances.

State officials are weighing whether to reapply. "We have not made a determination yet on how we're going to proceed with Race to the Top," said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

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