Pa. loses in 1st round of Race to the Top funding

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While only the top two states won money in the first round of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program, Pennsylvania placed seventh, giving officials hope the state still could win up to $400 million in the next phase.

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan Monday praised first-place Delaware, which will receive about $100 million, and second-place Tennessee, which will receive about $500 million, as having the "courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students."

That leaves the bulk of $4.35 billion allotted to Race to the Top up for more competition, not only by Pennsylvania and the other 13 remaining finalists but other states that didn't make the finals or enter. About $350 million of it will go to help states work together to improve assessments.

Gov. Ed Rendell said he was "slightly disappointed," but he believes Pennsylvania has a good chance in the second round. Applications are due June 1, with winners to be announced in September.

"We will reapply because we are committed to making every effort to access every resource to the fullest benefit of Pennsylvania's children," Mr. Rendell said.

James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, also was optimistic about the state's chances, giving the state an A for "extra effort."

He said the union and state officials worked "in the best spirit of cooperation, and we will continue to work with the state and federal government as the process moves into the second phase."

Mr. Duncan anticipates there will be more strong applications than there is money, estimating that the next round will produce 10 to 15 winners.

Mr. Duncan has already declared Race to the Top an "extraordinary success" as a catalyst for states thinking "deeply about how we prepare our students for success."

The U.S. Department of Education released scores and reviewers' comments of all applicants on its website at www.ed.gov.

State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said the feedback will be used to strengthen the state's application.

Of a possible 500 points, Delaware earned 454.6, and Tennessee scored 444.2 points. The third-place finisher, Georgia, netted 433.6 points.

In seventh place, Pennsylvania had 420 points. Ohio, in 10th place, had 418.6 points, while West Virginia, in 36th place, had 292.4 points.

At the bottom of the list was South Dakota with 135.8 points.

As one of 16 finalists, Pennsylvania was required to give an in-person presentation. Its score of 420 reflects a 7.8-point increase after the presentation.

The scoring was done across six categories, with some worth more than others: state success factors; standards and assessments; data systems to support instruction; great teachers and leaders; turning around the lowest-achieving schools; and a general category.

Additional points were awarded for an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM fields.

In his news conference, Mr. Duncan said no single criteria was make-or-break, but he praised both Delaware and Tennessee for plans that involve 100 percent of the children throughout the state.

He said Race to the Top isn't intended for pilot programs but is designed for systemic change.

Pennsylvania's application included 120 of the state's 500 school districts with schools and 59 charter schools, all of which submitted memos of understanding signed by the superintendent, school board president and teachers union president where there is a union.

The signatures signaled agreement to foster certain practices and meet student achievement targets. One controversial point was using data on student growth in teacher and principal evaluations.

Even so, Dr. Zahorchak said the plan would have an impact on all students because tools would be available for all and all would be expected to improve achievement.

Federal reviewers gave the state credit for the comprehensive memos of understanding, but it was noted that those who signed accounted for just 28 percent of all the local education agencies in the state and 58 percent of the students in poverty.

The state ended up losing 4.2 of 15 possible points for translating local participation into statewide impact.

However, Pennsylvania lost its largest number of points -- 31.8 of a possible 138 -- in the category on teachers and leaders, which looks at the pathways for aspiring teachers and principals; ways to improve teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance; equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals; improving teacher and principal preparation programs; and providing support to teachers and principals.

Asked whether the state will move forward with the plan, with or without Race to the Top money, Dr. Zahorchak said, "I believe a lot of people are committed to the plan."


Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes contributed. Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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