Three Questions on Race to the Top 2.0

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The U.S. Department of Education announced yesterday an additional $200 million would be up for grabs in a new competition among the nine finalist states that lost out on funds in the first two rounds of Race to the Top. With the new grants ranging in size from $10 to $50 million, ED has promised to work with states on refining their applications to reflect "a more limited scope of work." While we know the department had some tough choices to make and are confident we'll learn a lot more about this competition in the coming weeks, here are three things we're left wondering after yesterday's announcement:

1) What criteria will the department use to compare state programs with different, more limited focuses? While the first two rounds of RTTT allowed reviewers to compare all states against common but specific criteria, this new round will require reviewers to judge proposals against each other on more general terms. With all of the parsing of scores in the first two rounds, there have to be concerns about how it will all shake out with what a more generic rubric. The finalists will be eager to learn what these new criteria are as they figure out which element of their reform plan to pick.

2) How does this new competition reflect on the Race to the Top brand? The program began as a comprehensive intervention designed to promote holistic revamps of state policies, with astonishing success before a single application was ever submitted. Some extensions of the brand—competitions for state assessments and education schools, for example—are natural follow-ons. But a menu approach is a lot closer to traditional ed discretionary grants.

3) Is ED prepared for the outcome of this competition to be different from Round II? It may be a hard pill to swallow if certain states are three-time losers. The opportunity for states to revamp their applications combined with the need to ace only one section of what was once a four-part exam brings with it the possibility that states on the bottom tier of the finalist list last time could take a considerable portion of the new awards. Having released the scores of every state who participated, the department's decision not to award the new money to the last round's runners up will likely create some controversy in state policy circles.

We look forward to seeing how the terms of this new competition develop.