The Race to the Top offers educational grants to States willing to adopt and meet certain education standards, in an effort to provide higher education opportunities. This article explains the selection criteria for Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards Initiative.

What Is the Race to the Top?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009, aimed to promote education reform by $4.35 billion to fund the Race to the Top.  The Race to the Top is a competitive grant program that aims to reward states for creating conditions in which educational innovation and reform flourish, while improving student achievement and outcomes, increasing high school graduation rates, closing achievement gaps, and preparing students for success in the workplace and higher education.

Requirements for Race to the Top funding included four key areas of educational reform:

  • States are required to adopt standards and concomitant assessment that ensure the readiness of students for the workplace and higher education when they complete high school.
  • States must implement data systems to provide measurements of students' growth, as well as feedback to educators about how instruction can be improved.
  • States must create circumstances that allow them to recruit, develop, retain, and reward effective educators, with an emphasis on placements where there is the greatest need.
  • States must find ways to transform the poorest-rated schools.

The plan included making the states that succeeded in securing Race to the Top funding serve as models for other states.

The Race to the Top was rolled out in two phases of applications, with states not receiving grants in Phase 1 able to reapply for Phase 2.  The awards for Phase 1 were announced in April 2010, and the awards for Phase 2, in September 2010.

Selection Criteria for the Race to the Top

The criteria for selection for a Race to the Top grant included six overarching criteria, each assigned a number of points:

  • State Success Factors (125 points)
  • Standards and Assessment (70 points)
  • Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)
  • Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
  • Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)
  • General Selection Criteria (55 points)

You can see that these align with the goals of the program explained above.  Each criterion has at least two subcategories with points assigned to them. Two subcategories had only 5 points each, while "Articulating State's education reform agenda and LEAs' [Local Education Authorities'] participation in it" is the most highly rewarded subcategory, worth 65 points.

In addition to the selection criteria, priorities were also used, with the top priority being "Comprehensive Approach to Education Reform" and the second being "Emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)."

Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards Initiative

The second section, "Standards and Assessment," requires states to be involved in "adopting a common set of high-quality standards" as part of a consortium of a significant number of states that are internationally benchmarked and provide for workplace and higher education readiness. Although this seems clearly to be a requirement to buy into the Common Core State Standards Initiative, it is interesting to note that the Executive Summary never once mentions the Common Core State Standards Initiative or the standards or the words common core. 

Reading the executive summary, this seems disingenuous. At the time, education pundits expressed surprise that states that had insisted on the condition of local control were so easily swayed to adopt the Common Core Standards, pointed to the Race to the Top funding as a key factor in the adoption, and wondered if the standards would be subsequently abandoned by states that did not receive funding. Educators in Massachusetts were particularly disappointed by the adoption because the Massachusetts state standards were considered by many to be higher than the Common Core standards, so that adopting the Common Core diminished the requirements in that state.

States that Received Grants Through the Race to the Top

In round 1 of the Race to the Top, Delaware received $100 million in funding and Tennessee received $500 million.  In round 2 of the race to the top, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Rhode Island received $75 million grants; Maryland and Massachusetts each received a $250 million grant; Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio received $400 million grants; and Florida and New York received $700 million grants.  Alaska and Texas did not accept the Common Core State Standards and did not apply for grants. Virginia is an initiative member, but has not (and will not) adopt the standards.


Race to the Top Program Executive Summary.