How Are Race to the Top States Doing in Year Two?

In only two years, the 12 states with Race to the Top grants continue to show improvements in teaching and learning in their schools. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released state-specific reports for the 12 Race to the Top states, providing detailed, transparent summaries of each state’s accomplishments and challenges in year two, which covered the 2011-12 school year.

Race to the Top logoThe 12 states—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee—reached a number of benchmarks in year two, as they implemented unique plans built around Race to the Top’s four assurance areas:

    • Implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments,
    • Building robust data systems to improve instruction,
    • Supporting great teachers and school leaders, and
    • Turning around persistently low-performing schools.

Some of the exciting new investments states are making include development of new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools or programs, new pipelines for teachers and leaders, and building robust data systems to improve instruction.

“Race to the Top has sparked dramatic changes, and in only the second year of the program we’re seeing those results reach the classroom,” Secretary Arne Duncan said about the reports. “Comprehensive education reform isn’t easy, and a few states have faced major challenges in implementing their plans. As we reach the halfway point, we need to see every state show results.”

Learn more about Race to the Top, and read the reports.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education


  1. Our company comes into close contact with young adults just finished with their high school and university education, and I agree with the precept that smaller classrooms help attain better results. we work as executive coaches in NYC and we support additional investment in education.

  2. my experience as an executive coach in NYC provides me with a framework to form a good opinion on the topic. While smaller class sizes and closer proximity to the teacher may certainly provide a better atmosphere for learning, where does the money come from to increase the teacher salary basis by the factor of 4 or 5 that the paradigm scenario would cost us?

  3. 5 students per teacher. Period.

    1) More children come from living situations where there seems to be less quality time spent with consistent caregivers i.e. two-income families, one-parent families, early day-care, etc.
    2) Teachers are expected to assume behavioral coach identities in the classrooms.
    3) Children need more proximity to teachers who are becoming their primary daily caregivers.
    4) People learn best when the education comes directly from the teacher with real eye contact, proximity, and tailored lessons.

    Imagine if you will: 5 students seated around a semi-circular table with teacher at the middle across from all of them. Students could really see what the teacher presented, the teacher could really see their work and immediately tailor it to student needs throughout the hour/day, depending on the grade level, without a lot of talk about the planning and implementation of such personalizing. More eye contact would be made among the teacher and students. The size of class would lend itself to partnered and small group activities, as well as more opportunities for student leadership, without a daunting audience. Fewer resource teachers and discipline measures would be needed as students could be in true proximity to their instructors, i.e. not feeling like the teacher left them in some way, and explore real options for knowing each other and the responsible adult better, thus furthering better communications among teachers and students. Fewer physical transitions from room to room might deter discipline issues too. Differently-abled students would also benefit from the stronger relationships evolved in a smaller setting. Teachers could have more time to contact primary caregivers in student living situations to further continued learning on the homefront. Classrooms could be smaller with a window and a skylight for natural lighting, plus an external door that would enable the teacher and students to leave the premises in a dangerous situation. One way mirrors at eye level into the classrooms from the main hallways could allow unlimited observations by administrators, staff, other teachers, and primary caregivers, without disrupting the learning process.

    It is hard to imagine because our system is already physically set – large banks of sturdy lights adorn 12ft high ceilings in most classrooms. Ceiling high windows sitting above the heavy metal heaters give more light, until shaded by large expensive screens. Children look and sound picturesque seated in rows of desks, chanting in unison, to a teacher who stands at a board decorated with brightly colored learning materials, several feet from the children. For dangerous situations, children are taught to hide or pretend that they are not there, while threats may roam the building.
    In the higher grades, teachers often stand behind transparency machines, or again at a board, several feet away from the students, teaching in voices that overcome all of the whispers and rustling of 25 students, offering proximity to only those who ask for help or misbehave, while trying to ensure that 24 other students don’t act up while the attention is diverted.
    If we ask ourselves who our best teachers are or were, we almost always remember the ones who have given us personalized attention. Why not ensure that for our future generations and give them better safety plans as well?

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