Race to the Top Criteria: The RPM Analysis

Last Updated: December 29, 2009

This article appeared in the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters. 

Race to the Top (RTTT) grants will be made to states to implement specific education reforms spelled out in the following criteria. Each criterion is weighted to reveal its relative value to the overall proposal.

The following chart identifies the six categories and 19 criteria on which RTTT grant decisions will be made. The specific RTTT language for the categories and criteria are listed in the left two columns followed by the points assigned to each criterion. The fourth column is RPM’s attempt to put the criterion in plain language. The final column interprets the criterion and its likely impact on rural school districts.

In order to clarify which criteria are most valuable in the RTTT rating system, those criteria worth 30 or more points are indicated with red.

Selection Criteria as Described in RTTT
RPM interpretation
A. State Success Factors -
125 total points
Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEA’s participation in it
The state’s “comprehensive and coherent” reform plan (worth 5 points); commitments (worth 45 points) from Local Education Agencies/LEAs (school districts); the proposal's evidence that LEA participation will translate into broad statewide impact (15 points).
This is the single largest criterion and seems to emphasize district compliance with a reform plan developed and directed by the state. Is not clear that criteria will weight equal representation of rural districts or a reform plan that is appropriate for sparsely populated places or high poverty rural districts.
Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans
The state’s capacity to implement and sustain the plan (20 points), and support from other stakeholders (10 points).
Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps
The state must demonstrate how its plans will translate into broad statewide impact overall and among subgroups by increasing graduation rates, improving achievement, reducing the achievement gap in math and English/ Language Arts as measured on NAEP and the state’s No Child Left Behind Tests, and increasing college enrollment.
Without specific strategies targeted to rural schools and programs to link rural students and colleges, rural schools will remain at a disadvantage in connecting students to college.
B. Standards and Assessments
70 points
Developing and adopting common standards
States are required to be involved in creating uniform, internationally benchmarked curriculum standards within states for English/Language Arts and Mathematics. State must participate in a consortium of states with common standards.
These criteria continue the NCLB emphasis on standards and testing. However, they seem to respond to the charge that some states have high standards and tough tests and other states have weak standards and easy tests making it impossible to compare achievement levels in different states. It is not clear whether this provision will force a common approach to curriculum or whether local schools (especially traditional, non-charter schools) will be allowed to develop localized or culturally-based pedagogies for meeting the standards. This is important because curriculum approaches that relate to the cultural backgrounds of students and the local community are especially important in improving achievement of groups of students who have traditionally been served poorly in school.
Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments
State must participate in a consortium of states with common assessments.
It is unclear whether more emphasis on testing will improve achievement.
Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments
The extent to which the state has a high-quality plan for supporting a statewide transition to and implementation of common standards.
C. Data Systems to Support Instruction
47 points
Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
Requires tracking significant amounts of personal and academic data for every student (specific data requirements are defined in the America COMPETES act) for the purposes of policymaking, program development, evaluation, etc. Individual numerical identifiers are required to protect confidentiality of individual student data.
This is the data that will be used to evaluate and pay teachers, among other things. Data tracking will follow students throughout their pre-K–20 career. Provisions for privacy seem secondary to providing data to a variety of school personnel and other organizations involved in teaching and assessing students, planning programs, preparing students for college or work force, and coordinating services across agencies and through the pre-K–20 educational system. Safeguards to prevent data from being used in punitive or inappropriate ways are not mentioned in RTTT criteria.
Accessing and using State data
State must have a plan to make data easily available to a variety of users and data must support decision-makers.
Using data to improve instruction
States must implement with LEAs an instructional improvement system and use data from the system to improve instruction, plan professional development, etc. Data must be made available to researchers.
Whereas longitudinal data is intended to track students through their school career, this data seems intended for use by teachers, school staff, and researchers to alter and tailor instruction at the school and classroom level and to evaluate programs.
D. Great Teachers and Leaders
138 points
Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
This provision specifically requires states to provide alternative certification opportunities apart from traditional college-based programs. Requires these programs to be selective in admissions. Also requires the state to identify and address areas of teacher and principal shortage.
The only provision for measuring “high-quality” pathways is the test scores of K–12 students (required in a separate criterion). There is no requirement for “pathways” to train teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools, to improve their cultural competencies, or to insure that teachers are placed equitably in schools where they are most needed. The term "shortage area" seems to mean subject-area shortages rather than schools with teacher shortages. 
Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
Requires states to tie teacher evaluations, tenure decisions, compensation, and professional development programs to the test scores of individual students. Defines effective teachers and principals as those whose students make at least one year’s worth of “growth” as measured on standardized tests. 25 possible points awarded for teacher evaluations using student data; 28 points for using student data to make decisions about teachers related to pay, tenure, promotion, removal, and professional development and support.
This is the second most weighty criterion in the RTTT program. When combined with the longitudinal data requirement(worth 24 points), which provides the data on which teacher evaluations, etc. will be based, the two create the most important provision in RTTT.
Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
Requires states to track the distribution of effective and ineffective teachers and principals so that high-poverty/high-minority schools have equal access to effective teachers (15 points). Effectiveness is defined as students who make at least one year’s worth of progress.

Also included in this provision is increasing the number of effective teachers in hard-to-staff subjects (10 points).
The only thing states are actually required to do, it seems, is track whether “ineffective” teachers are more likely to be teaching in high-poverty/high-minority schools. As a matter of practice, this provision would seem to require states to label teachers as effective or ineffective based on student test scores. Not clear whether this designation would follow teachers on their permanent record. The provision does nothing to encourage teachers to work in challenging schools or with students facing significant obstacles to achievement. Therefore, it seems to push teachers into school settings where students are already well-advantaged to make significant progress regardless of what happens at school or in the classroom.
Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
Requires states to track the test scores of K–12 students to their teachers and back to their teachers’ certification program.
This provision seems to create incentives for teacher preparation programs to place their graduates in the most advantaged schools where student progress is virtually guaranteed rather than in struggling schools or classrooms. Would seem to disadvantage those programs that target teachers to the hardest to staff schools.
Providing effective support to teachers and principals
Using student data to plan professional development, induction, and other supports.
E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools
50 points
Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAS
This provision refers to the state’s legal authority to intervene in schools or districts.
Turning around the lowest-achieving schools
The state must identify lowest-achieving schools and implement one of four intervention models: turnaround, restart, school closure, transformation model.
The new guidelines removed opening a charter school as a primary response to low-achievement.
F. General Selection Criteria
55 points
Making education funding a priority
Total revenues for education for FY 2009 are at least as high as FY 2008 and state policies lead to equitable funding between and within LEAs.
Emphasis on equity is important, but this is a small number of points for both aspects of the funding criteria.
Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools
Requires states to have a charter law and to fund charters, including facilities, at rates comparable to traditional public schools. Enables LEAs to operate “innovative, autonomous public schools” other than charters.
The bulk of the “general” category is actually support of charters. Not clear how innovative, autonomous schools are different from charters or if these schools will meet the charter requirement.
Demonstrating other significant reform conditions
Extent to which state has created conditions favorable to education reform or innovation.
 Seems to imply that favorable conditions are those support reform as defined in RTTT.
Competitive Preference Priority
15 points
Emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
15- all or nothing
States that incorporate a high-quality STEM emphasis can receive 15 points toward their overall score
Some of the requirements for this priority, specifically, a requirement for “industry experts, museums, universities, research centers, or other STEM-capable community partners to prepare and assist teachers in integrating STEM content across grades and disciplines…” will be difficult to achieve in many rural communities where other approaches to make STEM subjects relevant are needed.