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Outlook 2010: Federal Race to the Top contest provides incentives for school reform

One highly publicized element of the economic recovery package for schools is the Race to the Top Fund, a school reform measure that is enticing districts with $4 billion that the U.S. Department of Education will award to states in a national competition.

The funding, the department says, will go to states "that have raised student performance in the past and have the capacity to accelerate achievement gains with innovative reforms."

States are expected to craft their reform plans to address four areas: documenting their past success and outlining plans to extend reforms by using college- and career-ready standards and assessments; building a workforce of highly effective educators; creating educational data systems to support student achievement; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

To qualify for the funding, states must have no legal barriers to linking student growth and achievement data to teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation, the education department says, and that has prompted lawmakers in California and other states to revamp their education regulations to meet the Race to the Top criteria.

In addition, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a strong supporter of charter schools, has said that states that prohibit the establishment or limit the number of charter schools will be at a disadvantage in the funding competition. This has spurred states such as Alabama, which does not allow charters, to consider lifting its restrictions on the schools.

"By passing a charter school law, Alabama can better serve our students and compete with other states for hundreds of millions of education dollars," says Gov. Bob Riley. "Especially at this time, we would be foolish not to even try."

The education department will announce the first round of Race to the Top winners in the spring, and the second-round awards are scheduled to be announced in September 2010.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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