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US States Will Compete for School Reform Aid

The Obama administration launches Race to the Top, offering $4 billion in grants to improve education. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

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 last week.

BARACK OBAMA: "This competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best evidence available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform. And states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant."

The president wants the United States to regain the world's highest college graduation rates, especially in math and science. His target 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 data 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, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.