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Race to the Top

ORAU helps Tennessee become one of the first two states to win ‘First to the Top’ federal funding for education reform

K-12 teacher and students

The State of Tennessee was announced as one of two winners in the first phase of the Race to the Top competition—a U.S. Department of Education program designed to spur education reform. ORAU’s Science Education Programs (SEP) was a key partner in the State’s winning proposal, which is expected to bring in more than $500 million in federal grants.

Funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the competition is grounded in the assumption that the status quo in our schools is no longer acceptable. American students are increasingly falling behind their student-counterparts in emerging nations such as India and China. Race to the Top seeks to reinstate America’s global competitiveness by better preparing students for success in college and the workplace; supporting effective teachers and principals; improving evaluation of student success; and turning around low-performing schools.

Tennessee’s plan to reform education, aptly titled First to the Top, demonstrated significant, statewide buy-in, including a strong cross-section of support from state leaders and commitment from every single school district.

“Tennessee’s application included examples of excellence from its cities, suburban towns and rural areas. Tennessee’s plan truly is a statewide effort,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during a press conference call announcing Delaware and Tennessee as the first two winners. “In particular, it will reach rural areas with the STEM initiatives to increase high school rigor and has a specific plan to recruit teachers into rural areas.”

For its part in the application, ORAU partnered with Battelle Memorial Institute to support the development the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network—a system of interconnected educators, schools and districts that will help teachers like Jordan Haney (pictured above) benefit from shared learning experiences and professional development. ORAU is also partnering with the Tennessee Department of Education to create a STEM Training Academy where 150 lead STEM teachers from across the state will receive in-depth professional development.

“The world outside the classroom is changing much faster than what’s going on inside. In fact, today’s students will need skills for positions that don’t even exist yet,” said SEP Vice President and Director Wayne Stevenson. “Race to the Top is an unprecedented opportunity to position Tennessee as a national leader in K-12 STEM education and help bridge the gap between our nation’s school system and the break-neck speed of the global economy. We’re glad to be a part of the team.”