BY JESSICA WEAVER The State of Florida has won $700 million in grant money in phase 2 of President Obama’s “Race to the Top”...


The State of Florida has won $700 million in grant money in phase 2 of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program, which was created to improve schools across the country.

‘Race to the Top’ is a $4.35 billion education plan implemented to motivate school systems to improve themselves, by creating a competition funded by the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan first announced the competition on July 24, 2009.

“Race to the Top has helped lead the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform across the nation,” Broward County School Board member Kevin Tynan said.

In Race to the Top, each school system is graded based on specified criteria. The criteria focuses on five main areas including improving ways to assess critical knowledge and higher-order thinking skills, recruiting creative and innovative teachers, supporting data systems that inform decisions and improve instructions, finding new and effective ways to help and turn-around struggling low-performing schools, and demonstrating and sustaining changes in education to raise student achievement.

Each criterion has a certain point value. Individual schools that followed the criteria would receive points. These points, combined with the points of other schools in the state, determined how large the grant would be that the states would receive.

Great teachers and leaders can equal a total of 138 points. State success factors can equal a total of 125 points. Standards and assessments can equal a total 70 points. General selection criteria can equal a total of 55 points. Turning around the lowest-achieving schools in a school system can equal a total of 50 points. And having data systems to support instruction can equal a total of 47 points.

“Race to the Top has created a system where the winners will share best practices of effective reforms and provide examples for other States and local school districts throughout the country to follow,” Tynan said.

In phase 1, only Delaware and Tennessee won grants. In phase 2 however, nine states and the District of Columbia won grants. One of the nine states that won in phase 2 was Florida.

In phase 1, Florida only received a score of 431.4 points. By phase 2, Florida had a scored 452.4 points, pushing Florida into the top 10, and becoming eligible to win grant money. By being one of the winning states, Florida received a grant of $700 million. That grant money will go towards improving various aspects of Florida schools.

According to Tynan, half of the funds granted will be used by the Florida Department of Education to benefit every student in the State.

A portion of the funds will be used to develop high-quality assessments; increase access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses; increase access and use of a State-wide data system to improve classroom instruction; provide training to teachers and administrators in the State’s lowest performing schools; provide regional Reading Coordinators and STEM Coordinators; recruit teachers for hard-to-staff subject areas; and many other initiatives targeting the four areas of Race to the Top.

The other half of the money, approximately $350 million, will be distributed to local school districts to implement initiatives around the four areas of Race to the Top. Specifically, Broward County School District is expected to receive $37.4 million.

Race to the Top has not been without criticism. Many educators fear that Race to the Top program is merely a re-authorization of former President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The National Education Association said in a letter to the Department of Education that they found the “top-down approach disturbing.”

“We have been down that road before with the failures of the No Child Left Behind, and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success, and that usurp state and local governments’ responsibilities for public education,” the group’s letter said.

Despite these apprehensions, many state officials are hoping for a Phase 3. $1.35 billion in next year’s federal budget have already been requested to fund the competition.