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US States Will Compete for School Reform Aid

This is the VOA Special English Education Report, from The Obama administration is launching a national competition called Race to the Top. States will compete for more than four billion dollars in grants to support the best plans for improving schools. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the details in July. The president said this competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the wishes of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works. President Obama wants the United States to regain the world's highest college graduation rates, especially in math and science. His target date is two thousand twenty. But he says the education system is "falling short" and "countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow." The United States is one of thirty countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD has the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Every three years PISA measures the performance of fifteen-year-olds. In two thousand six, the United States had lower scores in mathematics than twenty-three of the other twenty-nine OECD countries. Sixteen countries did better in science. The Race to the Top competition will look for states and local school systems with effective reforms in four areas. One area is meeting international standards for preparing students for college and jobs. Another is developing better ways to hire, keep and reward effective teachers and school leaders. A third area is building information systems that not only measure student success, but also inform teachers how to improve. President Obama supports linking teacher pay to student performance. Teachers unions have resisted that idea. States that want to take part in the Race to the Top cannot have rules that bar performance-based pay for teachers. That requirement could make it difficult for several states to receive money from the fund. Among them are California and New York. Finally, to win grants, states must show they are improving the lowest performing schools. The Education Department will award the first grants early next year. States will get two chances to win. Also, the department plans to award almost six billion dollars through other federal programs in the coming months to support reform efforts. And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 23 July 2009)
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