Getting Ready for Race to the Top III

John Mooney | September 21, 2011 | Education
The competition is leaner but New Jersey still faces tough challenges

After all New Jersey went through with the federal Race to the Top competition last year, the next round may seem anticlimactic. And that’s even if it wins.

The federal Department of Education has released the initial guidelines for the third round of the competition — and it’s a distant third to its predecessors.

For one thing, after New Jersey barely missed out on receiving close to $400 million last time, the prize money for this round will be a maximum of $28 million. For another, the competition is definitely leaner, with only the nine previous finalists eligible to apply.

The federal department will do its own reviews and decision-making as well, eliminating outside teams of judges that tripped up New Jersey last time out. It was before the judges that former Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler and his team were caught in an error in the application, ultimately leading to his firing by Gov. Chris Christie.

Still, New Jersey has some challenges ahead to meet the new requirements, many of them similar to the last ones. For instance, the competition requires states to have the formal pieces in place for improved evaluation of teachers and the expansion of quality charter schools.

New Jersey fared well with its proposals last time, but it has yet to put any statutory changes in place. It has launched a pilot program of a new teacher evaluation system, but a bill that would revamp tenure using that system has yet to pass. Charter school legislation that would both expand the opportunities for the experimental schools and place more accountability on them has also stalled, at least until after the November elections.

The initial guidelines were posted earlier this month in the federal register, with the public invited to comment until October 11. Final guidelines will be issued afterward, along with the new deadlines for applications.