Maryland, District join second round of Race to the Top education initiative

Gov. Bob McDonnell explains why Virginia pulled out of President Obama's Race to the Top school reform derby.
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maryland and the District joined 34 states Tuesday in competing for a share of $3.4 billion in federal aid for school improvement efforts such as stronger teacher evaluation. But Virginia stayed on the sidelines.

Race to the Top, President Obama's signature education initiative, has spurred states to rewrite laws and regulations long considered untouchable. Some states made it harder for teachers to get tenure. Some eliminated barriers to linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. Others eased limits on independent public charter schools.

Delaware won about $100 million and Tennessee about $500 million in March in the first round, placing just ahead of Florida and Georgia, which are among the second-round favorites.

"This money has energized coalitions around plans," said Charles Barone of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that supports Race to the Top. "Some have succeeded amazingly, some have succeeded modestly, and some did not succeed. But the people that want change are a lot better leveraged now in the public debate."

For the District, as much as $75 million is at stake. Its bid reflects the policies of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the city's charter-school leaders.

For Maryland, the award could be $250 million. The state proposes to expand a "breakthrough center" to focus on helping low-performing schools. It pledges an overhaul of teacher evaluation, giving more weight to student achievement, and adoption of common academic standards. Maryland Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard said 22 of the state's school systems have endorsed the bid, with Montgomery and Frederick counties the only holdouts.

Reinhard said the Prince George's County Educators' Association, a teachers union in the state's second-largest school system, agreed over the weekend to back the bid. The Montgomery teachers union did not endorse the bid.

Virginia, which had finished a disappointing 31st out of 41 competitors in the first round, bowed out last week. Other states expected to sit out the second round include Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Virginia would have been eligible for up to $250 million. But state officials said the contest criteria hindered Virginia's chances. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said the program, while well-meaning, creates "too many burdens and mandates." He cited federal incentives for states to adopt common academic standards.

"We've had a great set of standards here in Virginia for 15 years, and we think that common set of standards ought to be a floor not a ceiling," McDonnell said on the "Morning Joe" show on MSNBC Tuesday. Changing to common standards, he said, "would require us to reduce the quality of Virginia standards, and we just can't do that."

Obama officials have said there is no federal mandate for common standards. Governors and state schools chiefs have led the development of the standards, with a final version due to be released Wednesday. Many states and the District are expected to adopt them in coming months.

Staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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