Race to the Top and the ARRA

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Race to the Top is an assessment program authorized as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This assessment functions as a counter-balance to the dwindling focus on standardized tests. Educators hope this assessment will be more accurate and informative, while still giving educators the insight on how students can be better supported. This is one of the many new reforms implemented under the Obama administration seeking to address the many faltering aspects of systemically low performing schools and racial inequity in education. 

Motivation Through Competition

Opposed to the outdated and relatively chance-reliant standardized testing methodology, the Race to the Top assessment methodology has made strategic changes to improve the rates of successful data management. These changes entail:

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. (U.S. Department of Education)

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), this education aspect seeks to focus on the most specific needs of American students, much like charter schools do. While ARRA provides $100 billion for education, it also provides a “historic opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of jobs, support states and school districts, and advance reforms and improvements that will create long-lasting results for our students and our nation including early learning, K-12, and post-secondary education” (U.S. Department of Education). This change was created out of a desperate response to the fact that too many Americans are not college ready when they graduate high school.


1. Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;

2. Establishing pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;

3. Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;

4. Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools. (U.S. Department of Education)

The readiness gap has continued to grow, as shown below rates can reach as high as 60%. 

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download).

Race to the Top helps to end this consistent dips in preparedness through early intervention. This is accomplished through three phases of assessment and grant giving. So far it has been highly successful, as “This program is significant not only because of the of funds made available for competitive grants to states but also because it pushes them to radically change the way they think about educational improvement” (Miller and Hanna). One of the key elements of this change is that utilizing the data in this new non-standardized way does not penalize teachers for rates of success. 

Independently states are encouraged to create their own unique approach to improving their core standards, and those with the most effective approach are those with the fastest Race to the Top. In the first few year of the program 45 states applied for funding in the three phases, and

(Figure 2 omitted for preview. Available via download).

All “states have four years from receiving their grants to use the new funds, but the U.S. Department of Education has granted some states ‘no-cost extensions’ based on their progress with implementing their plans” (Miller and Hanna). While the long term effects of the program are not yet known, short term data is promising. Three main findings have been emphasized in relation to the success of Race to the Top:

Many of the lowest-performing schools in RTT states have achieved impressive results in a short period of time. Over the past few years, states reported on the progress of implementing reform models in their lowest-performing schools. Many states described schools where educators and students had improved performance to such an extent that their schools could move out of the ranks of the “lowest-performing.”

(Figure 3 omitted for preview. Available via download).

Four RTT states are at or near full implementation of their educator evaluation systems, and all other states are in the process of implementing their systems. Implementing new, more rigorous educator evaluation systems is technical and arduous work. 

All RTT states have adopted college- and career-ready standards and are making progress toward implementation of assessments aligned with those standards. States provided educators with professional development opportunities and training on new, more rigorous standards. (Miller and Hanna). The success of these schools goes a long way to encourage other institutions to confidently apply their on-site wisdom to the needs of their students. 


So far the innovative approach of Race to the Top has proven a successful invigorating force in America’s schools. The dedication to innovation that the Obama administration has brought to education is considerable, and no doubt the impact will only begun to be felt while he is in office. Systemic and growing under achievement in America does not reflect the potential or skill inherent in the population. The stigmatization of standardization inhibited the empowerment of educators who are the prime force for supporting and inspiring the youth. One can only hope the damage of standardization will not be forgotten, and that American educators will reinvest in their profession with growing dedication in their new freedom.


1: Chart Retrieved from: http://w http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/rttfinalrptfull.pdf 

2: Chart Retrieved from: http://educationnext.org/results-president-obama-race-to-the-top-reform/

3: Chart Retrieved from: http://educationnext.org/results-president-obama-race-to-the-top-reform/

Works Cited

Miller, Tiffany D., and Robert Hanna. “Four Years Later, Are Race to the Top States on Track?” American Progress, 24 Mar. 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/report/2014/03/24/86197/four-years-later-are-race-to-the-top-states-on-track/

U.S. Department of Education. “Race to the Top Fund.” Ed.gov, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html

U.S. Department of Education. “Fundamental Change: Innovation in America’s Schools Under Race to the Top.” Ed.gov, Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/rttfinalrptfull.pdf