It was disappointing to learn that Pennsylvania did not make the cut in the first round in the $4 billion federal grants competition known as Race to the Top. The federal Department of Education announced last week that out of 16 finalists, only Delaware and Tennessee were the first-round winners of the unprecedented competition.
Tennessee will get about $500 million and Delaware will receive $100 million, said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The Obama administration created Race to the Top as a way to get state and local school district officials working together to improve education standards. The idea behind the competitive grants program is to reward states that show effective plans for reforming failing schools.
If Pennsylvania had been selected, the state could have received up to $400 million.
Though Pennsylvania did not win, it can still compete for the more than $3 billion still available in funding from the second round of the competition in August.
The commonwealth has a good chance considering that in the first round, Pennsylvania made a strong showing, coming in seventh out of 41 contenders.
However, education officials should consider what Tennessee and Delaware did to win and how Pennsylvania could have hurt its chances.
Both Tennessee and Delaware had reform plans that had broad political and civic support and nearly all of the district union leaders had signed on to the application.
By contrast, only one-fourth of Pennsylvania school districts had all its superintendents, school board presidents and teachers unions sign the application. Pennsylvania lost the greatest number of points in the category of promoting teacher effectiveness.
If Pennsylvania expects to do better in the second round of Race to the Top, it needs to get broader support for school reform and develop a better plan for teacher effectiveness.