Hoping to spur innovation and boost student achievement, the US Department of Education today awarded Massachusetts $250 million under the Obama administration's Race to the Top program.
Massachusetts is among 10 recipients to win money in the second round of the $4.35 billion competition. Massachusetts was the top scorer in this round.
In a telephone call with reporters this afternoon, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the state showed considerable improvement in its application between the first and second rounds of funding. He said the state's decision to adopt national standards for the teaching of English and math was one of several factors that helped to propel the state to the top of the list, calling it a "well deserved" accomplishment.
"Massachusetts has long been an extraordinary leader" in education, Duncan said.
The program aims to reward states aggressively pursuing innovative educational programs and overhauls of failing schools.
The other winners in the second round of the competition were: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.
A beaming Governor Deval Patrick celebrated the news at a State House press conference with Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston Schools Superintendent Carol R. Jonson, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan, state education officials, several business leaders, and the House and Senate chairs of the Education Committee.
Patrick said the said the $250 million would go a long way to closing the achievement gap between white students and students of color, students with special needs and students who do not speak English as their first language, which has persisted since passage of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act in 1993.
“It’s an educational and economic issue to have an achievement gap at all, but to let it go for 17 years – that’s a moral question,” said Patrick, who is seeking re-election. “Those are our children, too. And now we have some tools to be able to reach that part of our Commonwealth-wide family.”
Tennessee and Delaware were named winners in the first round, sharing $600 million. This time, recipients will share more than $3 billion in the coveted grants.
Massachusetts had been rejected in the first round of grants in March. The rejection sent shock waves through the state, which has long been regarded as having one of the most rigorous academic standards in the country, and which Obama has held up as a model of educational excellence.
Massachusetts lost points during the first round because a review panel doubted that the state would replace its homegrown academic standards, widely considered among the most rigorous in the nation, with a new set of national standards.
The panel also faulted the state for giving teacher unions too much say in developing plans to overhaul failing schools and for not committing to tying teacher evaluations to their students' test scores.
Since then, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has voted to create a task force to examine ways to include student test performance as part of a teacher's evaluation, and last month the board adopted the national standards. The latter move sparked considerable debate. Many educators supported the switch, while many Republicans and some groups that work on education issues opposed it.
Yet even as state officials tried to strengthen their application for the second round they also experienced an erosion of support. The American Federation of Teachers of Massachusetts, which supported the first application, reversed its position for the second round, outraged that hundreds of teachers in Boston were asked to reapply for their jobs at underperforming schools in Boston -- a school overhaul tactic pushed by the Obama administration.
State and local officials praised the announcement. Here is a sampling of their remarks:
Senator John Kerry: “The hits keep on coming, and we’re keeping our eye on the prize which is winning more resources for Massachusetts to support reform.”
Senator Scott Brown: “I’m pleased to see that Massachusetts is being recognized for being a national leader in education. Though I have concerns about Massachusetts adopting the Common Core Standards, I’m confident this funding will enable the Commonwealth to close achievement gaps and increase the ability of our students to compete on a global scale.''
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino: “Folks, all the stars are aligned. We’ve got to continue to stay focused. This is about the future of Massachusetts, the future of America …There’s no excuses. We’re all going to have our resources.''
Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson: "This is a real win for Boston and a real win for the Commonwealth. This money will go directly into the work that we’re carrying out…
State Education Secretary Paul Reville: “We’re thrilled to be here and you’ll pardon us if some us are just getting our feet back on the ground after the announcement. ... We always said this is work we are morally obligated to do, whether or not we actually got this award.''
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more