Watch Live: Duncan and Sebelius Make Major Announcement About Race to the Top and Early Learning

Join Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at 10 a.m. ET today for a town hall meeting where the secretaries will make a major announcement about Race to the Top and early learning.

Duncan and Sebelius will be joined by George Kaiser, Founder of The George Kaiser Family Foundation as well as Chairman of BOK Financial Corp. and GBK Corporation; Brigadier General (Ret.) Clara L. Adams-Ender; Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams; and Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President, Annie E Casey Foundation.

In addition to the major announcement, Duncan and Sebelius will discuss Race to the Top and early learning initiatives and the importance of their collaboration on early learning to improve the health, social, emotional and educational outcomes for young children from birth to age 5. The other guest speakers will discuss the importance of early childhood investment in building strong and safe communities, developing leaders who can strengthen our national security and developing an educated workforce we need to win the future.

Click here to watch the archived version of the town hall, and click here for more information on today’s announcement.

Invitation to June 10 Race to the Top Assessment Public Meeting on Automated Scoring

On Friday, June 10 in Chicago, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) will host the second in a series of public meetings related to the Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA) grants. This meeting will bring together representatives from the two RTTA consortia and a panel of experts to discuss automated scoring of assessments.

The RTTA program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, awarded grants to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which together comprise 45 states and the District of Columbia. The consortia are developing comprehensive assessment systems in English language arts and mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and high school aligned to the Common Core State Standards to measure whether students have the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate from high school ready for success in college and careers. For more information on the assessment systems design, please see the approved RTTA applications at

Both consortia’s planned assessment designs use a mix of scoring by educators and automated scoring systems. The purpose of the meeting is for PARCC, SBAC and the Department to better understand the reliable and valid use of automated scoring of various formats and types of items. The information shared at this meeting will help inform the use of automated scoring in the new assessment systems that will be administered for the first time in school year 2014-15.

The meeting is open to the public and an opportunity will be provided for members of the public to provide input. Space is limited, however, so registration is required and we encourage each organization interested in attending to limit itself to no more than two representatives. The meeting will be held on Friday, June 10, 2011, at the Hilton Suites Chicago/Oak Brook from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. CDT. To register, go to If you experience problems accessing the registration site, contact

In addition, the Department will hold a third public meeting on the RTTA program in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. That meeting will focus on the inclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners in the assessment systems. More information about this meeting, including how to register, will be made available when details are finalized.

Future meetings on the RTTA program will include such topics as achievement standards setting and performance level descriptors, and selection of a uniform growth model consistent with test purpose, structure, and intended uses. Funding to support these meetings is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

ED Releases FY 2011 Budget Tables

The Department of Education posted new budget tables today showing final program funding levels for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The Obama administration had to accept some very difficult budget cuts in the continuing resolution that Congress passed in April to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, and ED faced one of the toughest budget environments in recent history.

The Department of Education sought to make the necessary cuts in order to meet President Obama’s goal of reducing the deficit, while also making critical investments in programs that will help our country out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.

Despite the need to make cuts, the Obama administration successfully fought for, and received, a $5.5 billion increase in funding for Pell Grants, ensuring that more than 9 million college students will continue to receive Pells up to a maximum of $5,550.

The Department also received funding for several of President Obama’s top education priorities, including $700 million for Race to the Top, $150 million for the Investing in Innovation program, $30 million for Promise Neighborhoods, as well as funding to maintain levels for key formula programs such as Title I and IDEA.

Click here to find the FY11 budget tables.

Announcing the Commencement Challenge Finalists

Click here to watch a video of the announcement.

The finalists in the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge are:

  • Bridgeport High School (Bridgeport, Washington)
  • Wayne Early Middle College High School (Goldsboro, North Carolina)
  • Booker T. Washington High School (Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Science Park High School (Newark, New Jersey)
  • Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, School for Creative and Performing Arts (Pittsburgh, PA)                   
  • High Tech High International (San Diego, CA)

Congratulations to all the finalists!  Stay tuned for more details on the next steps in the Commencement Challenge.


The Commencement Challenge invites public high schools across the country to demonstrate how their school best prepares them for college and a career, helping America win the future by out-educating our competitors and achieving President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

The application includes essay questions and statistical information that illustrate how schools are promoting college and career readiness for all students while establishing a culture of student success and academic excellence.  The winning school will host President Obama as their 2011 commencement speaker.

The White House has partnered with Viacom and the Get Schooled Foundation to launch the 2011 Commencement Challenge.  In a video launching the challenge, Simon Boehme, the salutatorian from last year’s winning school – Kalamazoo Central High – and current freshman at the University of Michigan, came to the White House to discuss the Commencement Challenge with President Obama. Watch the video above and check out the expanded version here.

2010 Commencement Challenge

On June 7, 2010, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the winner of the 2010 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. During the course of the Commencement Challenge, we received more than 1,000 applications that which were narrowed down by the White House Domestic Policy Council and Department of Education to six finalists. Between April 26th and April 29th, over 170,000 people weighed in on short videos and essays from these finalists. President Obama then selected a winner from the three high schools with the highest average ratings.

Check Out the 2010 Commencement Challenge Finalist Videos

Read the 2010 Commencement Challenge Finalist Essays

Celebrating Collaboration and Race to the Top

Image of Secretary Duncan visiting a classroom at Howard High

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visit a classroom and talk to students at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, March, 21, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Secretary Duncan joined Vice President Joe Biden earlier today in Wilmington, Del., to celebrate the first anniversary of Race to the Top, and to highlight the importance of collaboration between labor and management.  Delaware received $100 million in Race to the Top funding one year ago, and the grant has helped the state make significant progress in improving its education system.

Race to the Top is the most meaningful education reform program in a generation. It rewards states that have comprehensive plans to adopt college- and career-ready standards, build data systems, create policies to support great teachers and leaders, and turn around low-performing schools.  Read Delaware’s Race to the Top application for more information on their plan to implement positive reforms. The Department awarded Race to the Top grants to 10 other states and the District of Columbia to support their bold reform plans.

Today’s visit also highlights Delaware’s successful labor and management collaboration, and follows on the success of the U.S. Department of Education’s recent Labor-Management Collaboration Conference in Denver, which brought together leaders from over 150 school districts.  Secretary Duncan recently noted that he and President Obama “are convinced that labor and management can collaborate to solve many of our nation’s enduring educational challenges. And we believe that progress more often follows tough-minded collaboration than tough-minded confrontation.”

More background information on today’s visit can be found through the White House, and don’t forget to subscribe to ED’s blog to keep up-to-date on all education matters.

Race to the Top Has Unique Role to Play in Reforming Schools for the Future

Cross-posted from the

The Race to the Top program has fundamentally redefined the education landscape in America. With less than 1 percent of the annual K-12 education spending in our country, the program has given states the incentive to lead reform in a comprehensive and collaborative way. Race to the Top has helped advance reform more in the past 18 months than any other program in the history of the Department of Education.

To sustain the momentum established in other states, President Obama has proposed $1.35 billion for Race to the Top in fiscal year 2011. The money would continue to support reforms in deserving states that were not funded in the first two phases of Race to the Top. It also could create a grant program that could drive reform at the local level by inviting districts to create their own roadmaps for reform. 

This money is absolutely essential to sustain the momentum created over the past year and a half. Race to the Top and other federal reform initiatives have unleashed an avalanche of pent-up reform activity in states and communities across the country. We need to continue to support that important work by extending funding for Race to the Top.

With the $4 billion available to support statewide reforms under Race to the Top, the Department of Education has funded 12 exemplary applicants. But these grants haven’t satisfied states’ desire for reform. A total of 46 states submitted bold, comprehensive plans for reform. With hard work and collaboration, governors, state education chiefs, state and local lawmakers, unions and other stakeholders worked together to advance reform. Like the 12 applicants that won grants in the first round, many of these states are ready to move forward. They are ready to put their bold plans to work to support student success. 

Even before Race to the Top made its first grant, states showed their commitment to reform. Starting early last year, 48 states worked together to create standards that prepare students for success in college and careers. In a few short months since those standards were finalized, 35 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them. Forty-four states have formed two consortia to create the next generation of assessments that will measure student progress toward those standards. These tests will give teachers the data they need to help students succeed and will give parents the information they need to understand if their students are on track to graduating high school ready for college or the workplace. Race to the Top is supporting this work under its $350 million assessment competition. 

Under Race to the Top, states are advancing other areas of reform. They are creating models of how to recruit, train and evaluate teachers and principals. North Carolina will provide incentives to draw teachers to the schools where they are most needed — offering to pay for graduate education and housing. Other states are doing the tough work of turning around their lowest-performing schools, and they are developing data systems to track and report progress. The District of Columbia is expanding access to high-quality early learning programs. All Race to the Top states have created comprehensive plans to prepare students for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the fields that will be vital for success in the 21st century economy. 

While the first round of Race to the Top has focused on statewide reforms, I also am seeing unprecedented commitment to reform from school districts and community groups. The department has received unprecedented response to other reform competitions. More than 1,700 districts, higher education institutions and nonprofits submitted applications to the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, and more than 300 communities applied for planning grants under the Promise Neighborhoods programs. The president has requested additional funding for i3 and Promise Neighborhoods to support these efforts. 

But Race to the Top has a unique role to play for local reforms. It can support districts that are dedicated to creating comprehensive plans for reform that raise standards, improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals, use data and turn around schools. Just as the Race to the Top state competition has created 12 models for how to create statewide reforms, a local competition could create local examples of districts leading the way with bold comprehensive strategies. 

We are committed to promoting reform for the long haul. Race to the Top has laid the foundation to turn around our economy and ensure our country’s prosperity for decades. We must sustain that momentum and continue to provide the financial incentives and support for reform through Race to the Top and other programs. 

Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education

Education Status Quo Unacceptable

This op-ed by Secretary Arne Duncan appeared in the Denver Post.

If education reform was easy, we would have done it long ago and, like the mythical Lake Wobegon, all of our children would be performing above average. In the real world, reform happens when adults put aside differences, embrace the challenge of educating all children, and work together toward a common vision of success.

The theory behind the Race to the Top competition is that with the right financial incentives and sensible goals, states, districts and other stakeholders will forge new partnerships, revise outmoded laws and practices, and fashion far-reaching reforms. Despite the fact that the $4 billion Race to the Top program represents less than 1 percent of overall K-12 funding in America, it has been working.

Since the competition was announced last summer, more than a dozen states changed laws around issues like teacher evaluation, use of student data and charter schools. Meanwhile, 48 governors and chief state school officers raised learning standards, and a number of school districts announced progressive, new collective bargaining agreements that are shaking up the labor-management status quo.

In the program’s first phase, we received 41 applications. Two states, Delaware and Tennessee, won $600 million in grants based on the strength of their proposals in each area, their broad stakeholder buy-in and their statewide impact on children.

Now, 48 other states and Washington, D.C., have an opportunity in phase two to win a share of the remaining $3.4 billion. We urge every state to apply — not just for the chance to secure funds that can drive reform, but because the Race to the Top review process is driving a deep rethinking of education at the state and district level.

Regardless of whether states win, a bold reform plan with participation from school boards, superintendents, educators, unions and elected officials sets the foundation for progress. It positions states to better compete for other federal funds; it outlines needed legal changes; it offers a template for forward-thinking labor agreements; it establishes a common agenda; and, to be frank, it provides the political cover some stakeholders need to stretch outside their comfort zones.

In response to this unique opportunity, educators and lawmakers are engaging in open, spirited debate around a host of issues, from teacher evaluation and compensation to school governance, curriculum, testing, academic rigor and turning around under-performing schools. Those robust conversations are both healthy and necessary, but as the phase two deadline approaches, relationships are fraying. A handful of states have indicated they will not apply. A small minority of stakeholders have threatened to withhold support.

Still others have misread our intent in designing Race to the Top, believing that watered-down reforms with broad buy-in is the best strategy, although nothing could be further from the truth. Only the best and boldest plans will win. We are challenging all elements of the education system to get better, not in one or two areas that can lead to incremental improvements, but in every area simultaneously. Above all, we will reward political will, leadership and the courage to make the best choices for students.

When our children and our future are at stake, there is no excuse for walking away from the table. Someone once complained to French philosopher Voltaire that “life is hard.” Voltaire responded: “Compared to what?” Education reform is also hard, but compared to the status quo — with more than a quarter of our students dropping out of high school, and more than a third of our high school graduates unprepared for college or a career — America has no choice.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Huffington Post Op-ed: Using Education to Cope With a Complex Economy

The following op-ed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and Obama White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett appeared on the Huffington Post website. See also the April 28 press release.

While Americans from Wall Street to Main Street focus on much-needed financial reforms that will set and enforce clear rules across the financial marketplace, we also need to recognize that most Americans don’t have the knowledge and skills they need to make the right financial decisions for themselves and their families.

Last year, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study, conducted in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, found that too many Americans are giving away their hard-earned dollars to bank and credit card fees. Most don’t maintain a rainy-day fund for emergencies.

Few are able to perform basic interest calculations necessary to compare the cost of a loan or to figure out how much to try to save. On just about all measures, the study found young adults are the least money-savvy.

In December, the administration announced the National Financial Capability Challenge, a partnership between the Departments of Treasury and Education focused on promoting financial education among high school students and assessing their knowledge of personal finance. The results are in. More than 2,500 teachers and 76,000 students in all 50 states participated in the voluntary exam, which shows interest is strong. But the scores were disappointing. The average student is just squeaking by with 70% correct. Students failed to answer basic questions about credit cards, car insurance, and compound interest. This shows we have a lot of work to do.

Luckily we have important models to follow. For example, at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, VA, teacher Terri Carson helps students manage the student-run credit union and includes a financial literacy boot camp in all her classes. She had over 100 students take the Challenge. Over half of them scored in the top 20% nationally; 17 had perfect scores. Those results are commendable, and Carson is working to replicate them. She is hoping to work with her school and the Prince William County School District to make sure that all students demonstrate a basic understanding of personal finance in order to graduate.

Today we are recognizing Carson and many teachers and students who participated in the National Financial Capability Challenge, for their commitment to financial education. We hope to see more locally driven efforts to make youth financial education a priority in schools across the country. At the same time, we’ll be doing our part at the federal level. In our schools, we will promote a well-rounded education that includes financial literacy. We will give consumers the information and education they need to make smart financial choices. And we will work to provide all American families with access to the bank accounts they need to manage their daily finances.

The agenda is clear. Let’s pass serious financial reform. Let’s promote financial access. And at the same time, let’s make sure that we are providing all Americans — especially our youth — with the financial education they need to succeed in this increasingly complex, fast-moving economy. Their futures — and ours — depend on it.

Secretary Arne Duncan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett

Conference Call on Race to the Top

Secretary Arne Duncan held a 30-minute conference call with education grantmakers on April 13 about the Race to the Top Fund. The Secretary made a brief introductory statement and then answered questions from the grantmakers about the part philanthropy can play in supporting states as they prepare applications for Round 2 of the Race to the Top competition.

Listen to the call.

ED Staff

Race to the Top – Integrity and Transparency Drive the Process

On January 19th, 40 states and the District of Columbia submitted applications to the Department of Education to compete in our Race to the Top grant program. Because this historic $4 billion program is unlike anything we have ever done, we enhanced our discretionary grant process to ensure maximum integrity and transparency.

Here’s how the process works.

As with any federal program, Congress spells out the overall goals, but the Department establishes regulations and guidance.  We developed a competitive system for applicants showing exactly how many points each applicant will receive for every measure of progress a state has achieved, every reform implemented, and every commitment made.  For example, states get five points for identifying their lowest-achieving schools and 35 points for turning them around.  The point system, along with everything else about the program, was published in the Federal Register and is on our website.

There are 20 different components of the award system, which totals 500 points.  In many cases, there is little discretion involved in deciding how many points to award for a particular component.  For example, reviewers award two points for each of 12 required elements in a statewide data system for a total of 24 points.  However, some components require a more critical eye.  For example, the 35 points associated with turning around schools requires an expert reviewer to assess strategies and plans and determine their potential impact on these schools.  Reviewers decide how many of the 35 points that a particular applicant’s turnaround plans merit.

To help us make these judgments in an impartial and informed way, the Department issued a nationwide call for peer reviewers – professionals with experience in the field of education with the expertise to evaluate school, district and state-level reform activities.  Over 1500 people were nominated or applied to be peer reviewers.  Our staff rigorously reviewed every applicant for experience and expertise.

The Department’s legal ethics team also eliminated any applicant with existing or potential conflicts of interest, including people currently employed by a state department of education or school district.  In the end, we chose 58 highly qualified and distinguished peer reviewers, each of whom will receive an honorarium of about $5000 for their work.  They include retired teachers, principals and superintendents, college professors and scholars, business leaders and education advocates.  Their names will be kept confidential until the winners are announced so as to shield them from undue outside pressures.  The education world is relatively small so it is quite possible some names will emerge, but the Department will not confirm the names of any of the peer reviewers until the first round is over.

On Saturday, January 23rd, the 58 peer reviewers came to Washington, D.C. for an all-day training session.  The training session focused on three areas:

  • Understanding the Race to the Top program and its components.
  • Writing comments and scoring applications.
  • Spotting conflicts of interest.

We talked at length with the reviewers about the purpose of their comments which will support and provide rationales for their scores.  Their comments will also be made public at the end of the competition to help unsuccessful applicants improve their applications when they resubmit for Phase 2 of the competition. Hopefully, the comments will also engage the public in an important conversation about our nation’s goals, aspirations, and pathways to becoming a global education leader.

Despite the extensive vetting that occurred prior to the selection of the reviewers, we recognize that in the process of reading an application, a reviewer may spot a potential conflict that had not been considered. If such conflicts occur, applications will be reassigned among reviewers.

The reviewers returned home with up to five applications each – carefully assigned by our staff so that none of them would be reviewing applications from their home state or states where they had any potential conflicts.  Every application will be reviewed by five different people.  Reviewers will independently read and score the applications assigned to them. They will return to DC in mid-February for a week of meetings to discuss their reviews, challenge each other’s thinking, and ensure that each application has received a deep and fair appraisal.  Reviewers will finalize their comments and submit scores. Each application’s score in this initial tier will be the average of the five independent reviewer scores.

Once all applications have been scored, the Department will arrange the applications in order from high to low and we will determine which applicants to invite back as finalists. We have not pre-determined a “cut score” for finalists.  Instead, we will look for “natural breaks” in the line-up and invite back only the strongest competitors.  Finalists will be publicly announced in early March.

The finalists will also be invited to DC in mid-March to present their proposals to the same five people who reviewed their applications in depth during the initial stage, and to engage in deep Q&A discussions with the reviewers.  The purpose of the finalist stage is to allow reviewers to get under the hood and ensure that the state has the understanding, knowledge, capacity, and the will to truly deliver on what is proposed. The presentations will be videotaped and posted for viewing at the end of Phase 1.

At the conclusion of the presentations, the reviewers will meet again to discuss each application, finalize scores and comments, and submit them to the Department.  Again, we will average the five scores to get a final score for each application, arrange them in order from high to low and present them to me for final selection.

The number of first-round winners will be determined by the strength of the applications and the size of the proposed budgets included in the winning applications.  We provided suggested budgets ranging from as little as $20 million for states with smaller student populations to as much as $700 million for states with more kids, although applicants were not required to stay within the suggested ranges.   If large states are among the winners, the number of first-round winners could be smaller.  If small states are among the winners, the number could be larger.  If the proposals are weak, there will be few winners in the first round.

In my view, however, every state that applied is already a winner because of the hard work and collaboration required.  Each of these states now has in place – win or lose – a blueprint for how they would like to move forward, statewide, on education reform.  Although the prospect of  receiving significant federal funding to support education reform certainly provides an incentive for states to compete, Race to the Top is ultimately not about the money.  Rather it is about adults working together on behalf of children.  Under the best circumstances, all of the key stakeholders – parents, educators, unions, administrators, and elected officials – came together, put aside their differences, and produced a strong and united application.  The point system rewards this kind of collaboration and partnership.

As for the applications themselves, most states have already posted them online.  While the Department typically releases to the public only winning applications at the end of the selection process, for this competition, we will be releasing all applications – both successful and unsuccessful – together with every reviewers’ comments and score sheets (though reviewers’ names will not be associated with individual score sheets).  Before we publish applications, privacy laws require us to redact any personal information that may have been included, such as names, private phone numbers, addresses or birth-dates.  With an estimated 30,000 pages to review, that process could take some time.  We have a large team in place working to complete it as soon as possible, starting with the narrative responses to the application criteria and concluding with the appendices.  The narratives will be posted by early February and the appendices in the weeks that follow.

Last week, President Obama proposed making Race to the Top a permanent program, largely because of the important reforms already triggered at the state and local level even before we have issued any awards.  With each year, we will strengthen the criteria to accelerate the pace of reform and refine the process to bolster the core principles of integrity and transparency.  We deeply appreciate the efforts of everyone involved and we look forward to the positive impact this program will have in classrooms across America.

Secretary Arne Duncan

Race to the Top: 41 Applications Submitted for Phase 1

40 states and the District of Columbia submitted applications to compete in Phase 1 of Race to the Top. Those 41 applicants are listed below. (Today was the deadline for submitting those applications.) See the press release.

Also today, President Obama announced plans to expand Race to the Top and request $1.35 billion for the program in his FY 2011 budget. See the transcript or video of the President’s remarks during a visit at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia. See the White House press release and blog post about the announcement. Listen to a conference call during which Secretary Duncan discussed Race to the Top with reporters, or read the transcript. See the applications.

Read More