Race to the Top Winners Reveal Strong East Coast Bent

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, would divvy up nearly $3.4 billion as winners in the second round of the Race to the Top competition. The states that are getting the much-coveted cash are: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Sometimes looking at things visually changes your perception, and this illustration from Rob Manwaring over at the Education Sector's Quick and the Ed blog shows a striking phenomenon: Combining the second round winners with first round victors Delaware and Tennessee, there are no states west of the Mississippi (save Hawaii, the huge outlier) that have garnered any Race to the Top grants.

Questions regarding the distribution of the funds were posed to Duncan this afternoon during a press conference call that I listened in on. The states that won, Duncan said, were those with the highest scores on evaluations by peer reviewers. (Duncan has the authority to overrule these scores, but he did not.) When asked by a New York Times reporter why the list of winners seemed to favor more "urban" states, the secretary called out specific rural initiatives included in the applications of North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida, which he said helped them secure funds.

Ultimately, he admitted: "We had many more competitive applications than money to fund them in this round." First out of luck, by the way, was New Jersey. Duncan hopes that the program can get $1.35 billion next year to continue the program. Based on the sizes of the awards, which are as large as $700 million, that's probably only enough money to fund three or four more states.

Reporters and education experts, such as Manwaring, were shocked that Colorado was shut out, after it moved to make huge changes to its teacher evaluation policies. Also a surprise loser was Louisiana, which completely revamped many of its school districts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One final point I thought was interesting: At the end of round one, Massachusetts had the 13th best application of the states that applied for Race to the Top. It finished this round in first place. The biggest move it made in the intervening months was to accede to the national Common Core Standards that the Obama administration supports—but that many in the state were against because it already had its own, higher standards in place.

Duncan said that Massachusetts signing onto the standards was a "small piece" of why it moved up in the rankings. And I hope this is true. Because, while national standards will raise expectations in the majority of states, it'd be unfortunate if Massachusetts was essentially being rewarded for lowering its bar.

Photo via Ron Manwaring for Education Sector.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

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She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

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Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


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Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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