Charter and Innovative Schools: Emerging Trends Reflected in the State Phase 1 Race to the Top Applications

Race to the Top Competition

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, a significant amount of funding has been targeted to improve state and local education systems. The Race to the Top Fund in particular is providing $4.35 billion in competitive grants for states.

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2009), the Race to the Top Fund is:

A competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers; and implementing ambitious plans in four core education reform areas:

  • 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, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools. 

The U.S. Department of Education designated two phases for the Race to the Top grant competition. Phase 1 applications were due January 19, 2010. For Phase 1, the Education Department received a total of 41 applications—from 40 states and the District of Columbia. In March 2010, the Education Department selected 16 applications as finalists and then awarded grants to two states: Delaware and Tennessee. During the next four years, Delaware will receive $100 million and Tennessee will receive $500 million to implement their comprehensive school reform plans.

Phase 2 applications are due June 1, 2010, and the Education Department will announce awards in September 2010; $3.4 billion is available for Phase 2 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

Review of Phase 1 Applications

Learning Point Associates and the Council of Chief State School Officers have paid close attention to the current emphasis on charter schools and the developing conversation related to innovative schools. Staff recently conducted a review of the 41 Race to the Top applications, with a specific focus on charter and innovative schools. The goal of this report is to provide a snapshot of the status of charter and innovative schools in states. There are limitations to the findings in the report, due to the nature of the research. The data presented in this report come from language found in the state applications; additional information was retrieved from the website of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.