State wins funds for education

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Georgia joined eight other states and the District of Columbia Tuesday in winning the second round of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top competition, which has spurred a wave of education reform across the country.

The 10 applicants were chosen along with two first-round winners for grants totaling about $4.35 billion. Georgia is projected to receive $400 million over four years to implement its plan.

"Georgia's selection as a Race to the Top grantee is a tremendous plus for education in the state and, consequently, the nation," said Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who was part of a team of professionals who traveled to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago to present Georgia's application to a panel of evaluators. "It will allow Georgia to jump start four initiatives that will impact the quality of education provided to the state's students."

The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant opportunity provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to support new approaches to improve schools, according to a news release. The fund is available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing plans in four reform areas:

* Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the work place and to compete in the global economy;

* Building data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;

* Recruiting, preparing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and

* Turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

The 10 winning applicants in the second phase were the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. In the first round of competition, Delaware and Tennessee won grants.

"These states show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "Every state that applied showed a tremendous amount of leadership and a bold commitment to education reform. The creativity and innovation in each of these applications is breathtaking," Duncan said. "We set a high bar and these states met the challenge."

Georgia's plan focuses on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively in the classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria that inform instruction, and rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based salary increases, the news release states.

"Going for Race to the Top has never been about just the money, but more about further development of our foundation to drive increased student achievement," said Brad Bryant, the state superintendent of schools. "But now that we have the additional resources, we can put an even greater focus on implementing that foundation for the benefit of Georgia's students."

Gwinnett County Public Schools was one of 26 school districts that signed on to partner with the state in implementing Georgia's Race to the Top plan. The districts, which make up 41 percent of public school students in the state, include Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Hall, Henry, Jones, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Valdosta and White.

"Specifically for Gwinnett County Public Schools, (Race to the Top) will allow us to accelerate our work on the three most important initiatives to improve student achievement -- teacher effectiveness, leader effectiveness and personnel evaluation," Wilbanks said.

Half of the money awarded to Georgia will be distributed to the 26 partners to enact the Race to the Top reforms, the news release states. The state will study the effectiveness of these practices to identify and scale up those that prove to be effective.