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Race to the Top lessons

By the time nine states and the District of Columbia were awarded more than $3.3 billion for school reform in the U.S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” competition in August, Delaware and Tennessee had already been hard at work for six months. What early lessons did leaders in those two states learn that might make it easier for states that won in the second round?

Answering that question was the goal of a new case study written for the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media by June Kronholz, a longtime reporter and editor formerly with the Wall Street Journal. As former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, who is deeply involved in his state’s RttT plan, told Kronholz: “Nobody wants to go through the learning curve twice.”

For the case study, titled “Out of the Starting Blocks: Delaware and Tennessee Begin Their Race to the Top,” Kronholz interviewed the governors and education secretaries of both states, as well as political, business, union and community leaders; superintendents; school-board members; and education consultants. Their observations—what they said were their states’ successes and challenges in getting RttT off the ground—were remarkably similar, whether the speaker was the education advisor to the governor or the teachers-union chief.

That suggests second-round winners may face the same concerns, however dissimilar they are in size, demographics or political leadership. Here’s Kronholz on five areas that these states should attend to:

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