Maryland school districts to vie for new Race to the Top grants

A dozen Maryland school districts have stated their intent to vie for up to $40 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education, which has launched a new phase of its Race to the Top competition, started in 2010 to infuse $4 billion into radical educational reforms.

The Baltimore-area public school systems that plan to apply for the grant are Baltimore city, Baltimore County and Howard County, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Nearly 900 school systems from across the country will compete for district-based grants that the federal department says will focus on providing resources for innovative and individualized instruction and fostering teacher-student relations in the classroom. The original program awarded grants for state-level reforms. You can read more about the district-level competition here.

According to a press release, the department expects to award between 15 and 25 grants, which range from $5 million to $40 million, by the end of December. Districts have until Oct. 30 to apply.

The applicants, the department said, will have to "demonstrate how they can personalize education for all students" and would "encourage transformative change within schools, providing school leaders and teachers with key tools and support in order to best meet their students’ needs."

In Baltimore, which intends to seek between $30 million and $40 million, officials said the grant would "ratchet up and round out current priority reform initiatives," as it begins rolling out the new common core standards that will raise rigor in literacy and math.

"The work focuses on personalization of learning for students — making learning meaningful to individual students, based on their individual needs, while also moving an entire community of students forward," Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer, said in a statement.

Under Santelises' tenure, for example, the district has implemented a diagnostic tool that allows teachers to have access to real-time assessments of individual students.

"The grant allows us to take this work to scale — reaching more students in less time — in a way we could not otherwise do," she said.

Baltimore County is also planning to seek between $30 and $40 million, while Howard is applying for $20 million to $30 million.

In 2010, Maryland received $250 million in the original Race to the Top competition to further efforts like developing a new teacher evaluation system that based 50 percent of a teachers' performance on student test scores.

Officials in Baltimore, which received $52.7 million of the state's Race to the Top funds, said in a presentation last year that more than half of their federal funds would be used to develop a teacher evaluation and compensation system. Money also went to professional development, technology, and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

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