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Race to the Top winners for round two were announced this morning by the U.S. Department of Education. The ten winners were Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

There were many more surprises today than in the annoucement of finalists on July 27th. For those who worked from round-one scores to predict round-two finalists, as I did, it wasn’t hard to seem prescient. The only real surprise in the annoucement of round-two finalists was that Arizona, California and Hawaii had made the cut. (They had fared poorly enough in round one – all finishing outside the top 20 — that it seemed they had little chance in round two. But Arizona woke up from the dead, and California — perhaps because of extra encouragement from Education Secretary Arne Duncan – didn’t give up despite its failure to secure teacher-union support.)

Now the biggest surprise isn’t just that Hawaii won, securing for itself $75 million, but that it finished a very respectable third overall. In round one, Hawaii finished a distant 22nd, its application garnering only 364.6 points out of 500. Its second-round application was given 462.4 points, which was the biggest improvement by far of any winning state.

Secretary Duncan said Hawaii’s extraordinary jump was a result of the fact that its first-round application was incomplete, so its low score didn’t reflect its true potential. In her May 27th cover letter to Secretary Duncan, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle pointed out that “Hawaii is in a unique position to demonstrate that the reforms embodied in ARRA and the education agenda of President Obama’s Administration can be implemented statewide” because the Aloha State is alone among its peers in having a single state-wide school district. Whether this argument helped sway Duncan or Race to the Top reviewers is difficult to know, but it was one of many new aspects to Hawaii’s round-two application.

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Justin Snider is a contributing editor at The Hechinger Report. He is an assistant dean at Columbia University, where he also teaches undergraduate writing. Previously, Snider taught high-school English...

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