Top Tips for the Race to the Top-District Competition

By Rachel Vessey Gibson and David DeSchryver, Whiteboard Advisors

We see a lot of great ideas and groundbreaking instructional solutions in our role at Whiteboard Advisors, working with education innovators, non-profit organizations, and investors in the education arena. At the same time, we all live in a hurried, multi-tasking culture. It is far too easy to make mistakes. When it comes time to submit your Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) application, slow down and avoid the simple mistakes. Here are three that you must avoid.

First, review all of the guidance the U.S. Department of Education (ED) puts out on its RTT-D website. The guidance changes over time. For example, it has been updating the FAQs on a regular basis. ED also just published a useful Application Tips document. It contains valuable advice such as:

  • Do ensure your application is received on time.
  • Do include a detailed table of contents at the front of your application.
  • Do not scan the application to create a .PDF file. Instead, create the file electronically.
  • Do not use color in your application (including charts).

Second, don’t get lost in the weeds. The personalized learning narrative is paramount. This must be woven throughout the entire documents and clearly described under Absolut Priority 1.* At the same time, don’t lose sight of the other program priorities. The Notice Inviting Applications is a key document here; if you read it you’ll notice that there is a focus not only on personalized learning but also on the four “core educational assurance areas,” which include (a) Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy; (b) Building data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; (c) Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and (d) Turning around the Nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

Third, be realistic when you estimate time and monetary amounts for the budget section of the application. Your budget document should clarify and support the narrative. Do not inject confusion into the process by introducing suspect (or incorrectly calculated) numbers.

Finally (and this is bonus tip four), number your pages! Seriously. Number your pages. No joking. The little things matter!

* A personalized learning environment is one that, according to the application, “will use collaborative, data-based strategies and 21st century tools such as online learning platforms, computers, mobile devices, and learning algorithms, to deliver instruction and supports tailored to the needs and goals of each student, with the aim of enabling all students to graduate college- and career-ready.”

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