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OUR VIEW: Georgia's race to the top is just beginning

Georgia learned Tuesday that it was one of nine states that managed to “race to the top” to claim a share of $4 billion in grants to bolster the state’s educational system.

Now, it’s back to the starting gate for the next phase.

“While this has seemed more like a marathon at times, now the real race begins,” Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday. “I want to thank our Race to the Top teams, including teachers, principals, superintendents and other education professionals, for their hard work in preparing a great application. This is truly a unique opportunity to implement a Georgia-created plan that will accelerate our work in improving student achievement.”

The federal Race to the Top program is a $4 billion grant paid for through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Georgia should get $400 million over four years to implement the plan that a team of five education professionals from our state presented two weeks ago to the team of evaluators who determined the winners in this second round of the grants.

The U.S. Department of Education also chose eight other states — Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island — and the District of Columbia to receive the grants.

All scored more than 440 points out of a possible 500, department officials say.

The nine states and D.C. join Tennessee and Delaware, who were the only states named in the first round in which Georgia placed third, but was out of the running at the time.

The governor’s office said the fund uses the competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform. Four education reform areas are emphasized:

• Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace 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 our lowest-achieving schools.

Twenty-six local school districts in Georgia have agreed to partner with the state in implementing the state’s plan, including Gwinnett County Public Schools. State officials say the participating districts comprise 41 percent of public school students in Georgia, 46 percent of the state’s students in poverty, 53 percent of Georgia’s black students, 48 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of the state’s lowest-achieving schools.

“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,” said GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

In that respect, for both Gwinnett and Georgia, the race is still on.

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