Race to the Top Winners Promise High School Innovations

Race to the Top (RTTT) round two award winners were released yesterday, and the news is good for the nine state winners and the District of Columbia.  Though we’ve devoted previous blogs to round two finalists’ applications, we’re now taking a closer look at high school-specific proposals in the winning states.  Though many states have exciting and successful high school initiatives already up and running, we are primarily highlighting new innovations that states will develop using RTTT funds.

All RTTT applicants were required to focus on several Department of Education priorities that have potential implications for high schools:

College- and Career-Readiness: All states had to develop plans for ensuring college- and career-readiness, and most did so by committing to use the Common Core State Standards.  Some states, such as Hawaii and Massachusetts, plan to implement additional supports, such as web-based data systems to help students, parents and school staff plan college and career pathways.

Though all states must work towards aligning high school exit exams with college entry requirements, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia’s applications include explicit plans to establish partnerships with local colleges to aid in this pursuit.   This alignment may help Hawaii and the District of Columbia, which both set goals to increase college attendance.

Finally, many states focused on post-secondary tracking.  Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, and Massachusetts plan to build on longitudinal data systems to help track students’ career or college enrollment.  Florida intends to use these data to hold high schools accountable for their ability to place students in colleges or careers.

Graduation Rates: Winners of round two set goals to increase graduation rates by an average of 7.8%[1], though states have drastically different plans to meet their goals.  Ohio intends to focus on closing the graduation rate gap between under-represented and majority students, while other states intend to focus on student engagement and retention.  Massachusetts will be implementing programs that prepare 8th grade and high school students to pass state exams, while providing internships and work-based learning experiences, and Georgia will expand its Life and Learning Academies, which are dropout prevention programs that target students beginning in middle school.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM):  Though all states were required to discuss STEM in their applications, a number demonstrated a high school-specific focus in their STEM priorities.  Maryland plans to provide STEM-based internships, co-ops, and lab experiences to give students opportunities in the field and accelerate their transition into careers in STEM fields.  Both Maryland and Hawaii will be providing “STEM-ready” endorsements for students’ diplomas.  Both Massachusetts and North Carolina will be funding STEM-targeted schools.  Massachusetts will focus on Early College High Schools, while North Carolina is putting its efforts into schools that will target industries that are relevant to the region’s economy.

In addition to these required components, many RTTT winners also prioritized other high school-directed initiatives in their applications:

Early Warning Systems:  Many RTTT round two winners, including the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island plan to implement an Early Warning System.  Some states will focus on a stand-alone Early Warning System, while others plan to incorporate a set of early warning indicators into a larger longitudinal data system. Regardless of the system selected, each of these states seeks to aid teachers and schools in identifying and targeting students that are at-risk of dropping out.

Assessments: As part of RTTT guidelines, all states will be working to better align high school exit exams with college entrance requirements.  Several will also work to implement end-of-course examinations in staple subjects like Algebra and Biology.  Though a number of states already have end-of-course examinations in place, Florida, Georgia and Hawaii will use RTTT funds to develop these tests and ensure they are aligned with college- and career-ready standards.

Professional Development: While all of the states emphasize improved school staff effectiveness, a handful of states will focus these efforts on high school-level improvement.  Florida will be funding a leadership preparation program in an effort to train principals to work at struggling high schools and their feeder schools.  Massachusetts will be emphasizing pre-AP professional development for English, math and science teachers at the high school level, and will also seek to expand The Massachusetts Model for Comprehensive School Counseling Programs to help train school counselors to better advise students for college and postsecondary careers.

Non-Traditional Curriculum:  Several states’ applications included initiatives focused on non-traditional schooling for high school students.  Both Georgia and North Carolina plan to develop virtual courses.  North Carolina will focus on math and science graduation requirements, targeting coursework for students who are at risk of failure, while Georgia will partner with Georgia Tech to develop a calculus program that can be targeted to students in rural communities with limited access to advanced math.  Massachusetts and Florida will both use RTTT funds to focus on Career and Technical education (CTE).  Florida will work to create or improve CTE programs in 24 of its lowest performing high schools, with the goal of setting higher academic standards.  Massachusetts will expand its Vocational Technical Competency Tracking System to help teachers track students’ mastery of both academic and technical standards.

We look forward to tracking these initiatives and their impact on high school success as states put their RTTT funds to use in the future.  


Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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