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Another Race to the Top begins

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Kai Ryssdal: The Obama administration’s signature education program Race to the Top added another leg today. The Education Department actually calls it the third heat of the competition for federal school funding. The first two were for the states; this one will let individual school districts compete for a share of $400 million in grants.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: The latest contest will reward districts that move away from teaching everybody the same thing at the same time, so students can learn in their own way at their own pace. Here’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan at an event announcing the details today.

Arne Duncan: For a typical classroom teacher, personalized education is absolutely a very ambitious goal, but it is possible.

How? By getting more adults to help in the classroom, using technology to customize lessons and free up teachers to work with individual kids, or taking students outside the classroom.

Jonathan Caines also spoke at the event today. He graduated a few years ago from a high school in Providence, R.I., that creates individual learning plans for students.

Jonathan Caines: That’s the only thing that’s going to make it interesting. This is coming from a teenager, you know what I mean?

Caines was interested in business, so he got some real world experience working with entrepreneurs.

Caines: When you interact with students and you show them something that they like and how it relates to their education that they’re learning and what they’re interested in learning, it makes me want to work that much more hard for it.

He’s now a junior in college. The early rounds of Race to the Top doled out $4 billion to states that created teacher evaluation systems and lifted caps on charter schools.

Marguerite Roza researches public education policy at the University of Washington. She says $400 million for the latest contest isn’t a lot of money, but it could lead to change.

Marguerite Roza: What you might end up with are some viable models around the country that different districts could adopt.

Applications are due in October, and the Education Department expects to announce winners in December.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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