Five Ways Race to the Top Supports Teachers and Students

In the four years since the Obama Administration announced its first Race to the Top grants, the President’s signature education initiative has helped spark a wave of reform across the country, according to a new report released today by the White House and Department of Education.

RTT States and AwardsSince the Obama administration announced the first Race to the Top grants to Tennessee and Delaware four years ago – many state and local leaders, educators, and communities are deep in the hard work of education improvement, and the nation is seeing progress.

Today, the innovations unleashed by Race to the Top are touching nearly half the nation’s students and 1.5 million teachers in schools across the country – for an investment that represents less than 1 percent of education spending.

Amid that climate of positive change, America’s educators, students and families have made major achievements. The high school graduation rate is now at its highest on record (80 percent). Student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are the highest since the test was first given 20 years ago. And there have been double- digit gains on state tests at some of the lowest-performing schools – many of which had not seen any improvement for decades.

Today’s report highlights examples of the most innovative and effective reforms that are taking place in states across the country to prepare students for college and careers, support educators, and spur innovative educational strategies. Below are five ways Race to the Top is supporting teachers and students.

1. Race to the Top Has Provided More Students with Access to Challenging Classes

Under Race to the Top, states have spearheaded efforts to create plans tailored to their students’ needs. For example, Massachusetts provided more students with access to AP classes by training more than 1,100 middle and early high school teachers to prepare their students for new, high academic standards. Initial findings from the external evaluation of Massachusetts’ college- and career-readiness initiatives indicate patterns of increased AP course-taking, exam-taking, and exam performance.

RTTAP2. Race to the Top Has Supported Hard-working Educators in New Ways

Under Race to the Top, schools and districts are making sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and skilled teachers who inspire students. In Rhode Island, the state had more than 400 first-year and 40 second-year teachers engage with the state’s new teacher induction program, which includes weekly coaching and professional development.

Delaware launched the Delaware Talent Cooperative, which provides retention awards – between $2,500 and $10,000 over two years – to highly effective educators and leaders willing to work and stay in schools with the highest needs.

3. Race to the Top Has Provided More STEM Opportunities to Students

Maryland developed and translated five STEM curriculum modules for use in language programs statewide, and in Florida, Race to the Top funds have helped hundreds of students from rural communities get new STEM opportunities through the STEM Scholars initiative.

4. Race to the Top is Helping Educators Transition to New Standards

With the help of Race to the Top, Ohio expanded alternative certification pathways for teachers and principals; developed 800 curriculum resources aligned to higher standards; and trained 24,000 teachers to use those resources. And in an ambitious and comprehensive effort, Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive summer training as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

5. Race to the Top is Supporting States in Turning Around Lowest-Performing Schools

Under Race to the Top, states have designed plans to turn around some of their lowest-performing schools using new ideas that engage students and transform school culture. In Georgia, the state created two non-traditional schools to accommodate high school students at risk of dropping out. And in Tennessee, the state awarded grants or provided Tennessee Academic Specialists to address performance gaps at the 167 schools identified as Focus Schools based on significant achievement gaps in school year 2011-2012. Based on 2012-2013 state assessment results, the state made progress closing achievement gaps in these 167 schools.

Read the entire report: Setting the Pace: Expanding Opportunity for America’s Students under Race to the Top.

Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education


  1. RaTT is fundamentally and fatally flawed as are any educational malpractices that are based on educational standards and standardized testing. To understand why read and comprehend Noel Wilson’s seminal work that destroys those two educational malpractices: “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at:

    Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine. (updated 6/24/13 per Wilson email)

    1. A quality cannot be quantified. Quantity is a sub-category of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category by only a part (sub-category) of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as one dimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing we are lacking much information about said interactions.

    2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

    3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

    4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

    In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.

    5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. As a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.

    6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

    7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

    In other words it measures “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?

    My answer is NO!!!!!

    One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

    “So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

    In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

  2. Race to the Top is why “I no longer have Obama’s back”. When I receive the almost weekly bumper stickers and requests for donations I cringe and deposit all of my Obama ephemera into an envelope. I will one day look back and remember that this was one President who managed to break my trust in the role of government. RttT is no more than Economic Blackmail in an attempt to micromanage education from the federal government at the behest of the 1% who will dictate terms of what should be local, public, education. Philanthropy at its most manipulative, Obama has surrounded himself with neo-liberals who call the shots. Please read the history of the United States from 1870 through the Progressive era which include the Gilded Age, the era of the Robber Barons and you will find we are reliving that era.

  3. What propaganda. I am not a teacher or a union member, but I have served on my local school board for 23 years. If have seen, up close, the damage wrought by NCLB and intensified by RttT. And, education policy aside, I am an Obama supporter. But this policy has been a disaster. As only a few educational outcomes that can be reduced easily to numbers have been prioritized, everything else has been devalued and pushed aside.
    We need adult citizens who can research issues, evaluate the information they find, synthesize that information into ideas and policy, work collaboratively in teams, communicate findings and recommendations to diverse audiences, take initiative and responsibility for their own lives, and contribute meaningfully to their communities. The teachers and classroom activities that have produced such outcomes are now straitjacketed. The curricula are narrowed to what is tested. Way too much time and energy is wasted on preparation for tests that are remarkably obtuse. Have you looked at the sample CCSS tests on line? They are bizarre! They do not evaluate actual math or reading or writing skills so much as one’s ability to conform to odd and unjustifiable rubrics. I do not object to the Common Core, mind you, just to these horrible excuses for assessments.
    Meanwhile, in conformance with RttT requirements, my state (Michigan) and most others have enacted laws requiring the evaluation of educators largely on the basis of these ridiculous assessments. Look at the results in Florida, where a newspaper FOIA request exposed the VAM rankings of every teacher in the state. Of the Top Ten “most effective” teachers, eight (8!) were evaluated on the basis of test scores for subjects they DO NOT TEACH. The “ineffective” teachers, with negative ratings, are overrepresented by those who teach gifted students (who aced the too-easy pretests and could not notch enough growth) or students with disabilities (many of whom will never make “adequate yearly progress”). In accordance with RttT mandates, Florida law will require most of the special education teachers in the state to be fired as ineffective within a few years.
    Exactly how is that a good thing?
    High-stakes testing is destroying public education — and I am passionate about the value of public education. I consider it vital to the success of our experiment with representative democracy. You are putting that experiment at risk with this ridiculously invalid, dangerous, and damaging policy.
    PLEASE consult some actual, experienced educators in developing education policy.

  4. RTT is destroying teachers, students and schools, which is the purpose of the Gates USDOE manned by the automaton basketball buddy of Obama. Get out of our classrooms, schools, towns, cities and states. Let us teach and take a job with Pearson. Good riddance

  5. My perspective, based on my time teaching and mentoring in public school classrooms, is that RTTT:
    – privileges corporate charter schools over public schools
    – created a mess by making the adoption if common core a prerequisite for funding
    – worsened the obsession with standardized testing.
    The only ones happy with RTTT must be the USDOE, Pearson, ETS…not students, parents, or teachers. People are waking up to this.
    What a huge disappointment for this Obama supporter.

  6. RTTT has only taken No Child Left Behind and increased the inappropriate demands on students and teachers! It has taken assessments that teachers could use to drive instruction and turned them into high-stakes testing that take one day in a child’s life to determine their and their teachers’ futures! Teachers, parents and students never see the results, so they don’t know what was done wrong or right. It doesn’t help anyone except the owners of the companies that are providing the materials for Common Core. School closings, privatization of public schools are the result with the richest profiting on the backs of the poorest and middle class. It is AWFUL!!!

  7. Just because they’re graduating doesn’t mean they learned anything. Except how to fill in a scantron sheet

  8. Race to the Top along with the Common Core could possibly be the worst thing to happen to public education. Teachers do NOT support it.

  9. Race to the Top has sadly helped those who are trying to turn public education into another way for very rich people to make more money. It will be at the expense of our children. Where I teach the standards are not higher, the classes only have names that sound more accelerated, morale among teachers is very low, and I am very disappointed in the President, for whom I voted.

  10. In Boston Public Schools “Race to the Top” has created a two-tiered segregated system of “haves” and “have not’s.” It did not fund anything that was “sustainable” and did nothing but bloat our District Office. 12 schools in Boston Public Schools were closed, the Special Education and English Language Learners were placed in schools targeted for the next wave of “Race to the Top,” while regular ed students from closed schools were “strategically placed” in turnaround schools making those turnaround schools appear successful at test time! Case in point “Orchard Garden!”

    Now that the money has run out, those people that were funded by “Race to the Top” are being “absorbed” in the District Office, while Teachers and Paraprofessional, in direct service to Boston’s neediest children are being let go. Race to the Top created more problems than it solved, thanks for nothing!

  11. RTTT is just NCLB on steroids. Terrible law enacted by people who know nothing about education. The ingredients of RTTT – competition, testing, data collection and common core standards make up a recipe of disaster that will take decades to correct. This could all be corrected of course if RTTT were scrapped and Arne Duncan replaced with a REAL EDUCATOR.

  12. RTTT is an abomination and should be ended along with the immediate removal of Duncan and the installation of an educator, and one who believes in PUBLIC Education and will lead the fight against the lie that our schools are failing and privatization schemes with all the trimmings of CC$$, High Stakes Testing and truly byzantine teacher evaluation systems and their junk science VAM engines. Sara Gast, shame on you for shilling this drivel!

  13. Race to the Top “supports teachers” like committing crimes supports police officers. For the truth about Race to the Top and how Tennessee teachers feel about it, please visit the Tennessee Education Association’s website.

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