Duncan Lauds Progress of Race to Top Program for Schools

President Barack Obama’s $5 billion Race to the Top education-grant program has sparked “dramatic” change over the past year, though some states’ progress lagged, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The program, designed to raise academic standards, provides federal grants to states that tie teacher evaluations to student performance and turn around failing schools. The Education Department today released state reports for the program’s second year, evaluating Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

The reports showed most states making “tremendous strides,” even as they struggled with bureaucratic delays. The Education Department criticized Georgia for a flawed execution of a teacher-evaluation system and the District of Columbia for leadership and staffing changes interfering with school turnarounds.

“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,” Duncan said in a statement. “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.”

In the spring of 2010, the Obama administration made its first Race to the Top awards, which run for four years. In all, 24 states and the District of Columbia have received money under the program.

2020 Target

Today’s reports cover states receiving grants in the first two rounds of funding. The reports cover performance in the 2011-2012 school year.

In an interview for Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg EDU with Jane Williams” program to be broadcast today, Duncan said the department’s efforts to change the education system are intended to help Obama meet his target of having the U.S. lead the world in college graduation rates by 2020.

Demonstrating progress, government data released last month showed that the U.S public high school graduation rate -- at 78.2 percent in 2009-2010 -- had climbed to the highest level since the 1970s, Duncan said.

“We have to continue to drive” kindergarten to 12th-grade reform, Duncan said. “We’ve seen some real progress there, but a long way to go.”

interview will air Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. New York time, Feb. 2 at 5 a.m., 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., and Feb. 3 at 12 a.m. and 7 p.m. Podcasts of the program can be found on bloomberg.com, iTunes, and Edweek.org.)

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