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State officials savor winning ‘race’

August 25, 2010

The mood at the state house Tuesday was one of elation as state officials celebrated winning a Race to the Top grant.

“How sweet it is, how sweet it is,” said Governor Don Carcieri to thunderous applause.

Rhode Island finished fifth out of 19 finalists in the competition, which rewarded states for embracing reforms like expanding charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations. State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist called it validation for the work her staff has already begun, along with teachers and state and local leaders.

“Now the hard work really, really begins,” Gist said. “We’re going work tirelessly, relentlessly, collaboratively to make sure our public schools are the best in the country because our state demands that and our students deserve it.”

Rhode Island will receive close to $75 million dollars, although federal officials have not named the exact dollar amount. The money will fund a host of reforms including controversial teacher evaluations linked to student test scores and an overhaul of teacher compensation and certification systems. Millions will also be spent to create new statewide assessments and computer systems to help teachers use data in the classroom. The focus on testing and test scores worries some parents and teachers.

“So many people are so enthusiastic about Rhode Island getting a win, they might not be looking at just what we won,” said Bob Walsh, head of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, one of the state’s two teachers’ unions.

The NEA did not sign onto the Race to the Top proposal, although it did garner support from the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, the state’s other teachers’ union.

Walsh says his members are willing to work with state officials, but he says he’d like to see more money go to areas like early childhood education and afterschool programs.

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