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July 27, 2010 at 12:10 PM

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Can Washington win Race to Top without charter schools?

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- Washington state on Tuesday failed to advance in the competition for $3.4 billion in education grants under Race to the Top, a performance that could not been helped by voters' rejection of charter schools that are a key -- albeit not mandatory -- part of the Obama administration's reform agenda.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan named 19 states as finalists in the second round of Race to the Top at a luncheon at the National Press Club. Washington was among the 35 states and the District of Columbia to enter the second round. Washington sat out the first round, which was won by Tennessee and Delaware.

Federal education officials have not detailed the reasons for dropping Washington from the competition. But Peter Cunningham, an assistant secretary, noted that scoring for Race to the Top gives points to states that encourage taxpayer-funded charter schools to compete with public schools.

"It's for sure a handicap" for Washington, Cunningham said. "We want people to be open to charter schools."

Voters in Washington have rejected charter schools three times. Many state officials, including Gov. Christine Gregoire, have not pushed the issue aggressively, citing voters' will.

Duncan has said previously that states could provide first-rate education without charter schools. But he also has said that charter schools could offer better alternatives to public schools, and that the federal government wants to encourage states to explore all options for improving education.

In his speech Tuesday, Duncan hailed what he called a "quiet revolution" underway to challenge "defeatism and inertia that has trapped generations of children in second-rate schools."

Duncan noted that 99 percent of teachers around the country are rated satisfactory on performance -- while "most evaluations ignore the most important measure of a teacher's success, which is how much their students have learned."

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