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Highlights

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress required the U.S. Department of Education (Education) to make education reform grants to states. Education subsequently established the Race to the Top (RTT) grant fund and awarded almost $4 billion to 12 states related to developing effective teachers and leaders, improving the lowest-achieving schools, expanding student data systems, and enhancing standards and assessments. This report, prepared in response to a mandate in the act, addresses (1) actions states took to be competitive for RTT grants; (2) how grantees plan to use their grants and whether selected nongrantees have chosen to move forward with their reform plans; (3) what challenges, if any, have affected early implementation of states' reform efforts; and (4) Education's efforts to support and oversee states' use of RTT funds. GAO analyzed RTT applications for 20 states, interviewed state officials, visited 4 grantee states, analyzed states' planned uses of grant funds, and interviewed Education officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education 1. To ensure that the lessons learned from RTT are shared with all states, and not only grantees, the Secretary of Education should facilitate grantees' sharing of promising practices on key topics of interest that the department has not yet addressed, such as the design and implementation of data systems to improve instruction.
Closed - Implemented
Education has taken steps to facilitate Race to the Top grantees' sharing of promising practices on key topics of interest the department had not addressed at the time of our report. Since our report was issued, Education has established Communities of Practice to address multiple topics, such as turning around low-performing schools and stakeholder communications and engagement. According to Education, the department established these Communities based on feedback grantees provided in a survey as well as on-going discussions with grantees. Each Community engages in activities, such as webinars or publications, to share promising practices. The department oversees the activities of each Community by managing a workplan that includes the target dates for each activity. In addition, the department communicates these activities to members of each Community of Practice via emails and calls as well as a monthly update to all grantees with upcoming dates and events.
Department of Education 2. To ensure that the lessons learned from RTT are shared with all states, and not only grantees, the Secretary of Education should provide nongrantee states with information from the department's existing mechanisms, including the secure grantee Web site and communities of practice.
Closed - Implemented
The Department, working with Race to the Top grantees, has created several resources, including guidance documents, webinars, policy briefs, and case study reports, and made them available to all states, including non-grantees, on a departmental website. For example, the Department issued a brief on aligning college- and career-ready content standards with frameworks used to observe educators, as part of a teacher evaluation system. The resources address multiple topics including teacher effectiveness, turning around low-performing schools, and developing instructional improvement and data systems. As a result, lessons learned from Race to the Top may benefit all states in their efforts to implement similar reforms.

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