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One of the signature items in this week’s fiscal year 2015 education budget is the Race to the Top–Equity and Opportunity competition. Although we’ve heard a lot more about equity lately (“50-state strategy” anyone?), this voluntary do-equity-if-we-give-you-some-additional-money proposal is the only overarching approach we’ve seen by this administration to address long-standing educational inequities between low-income students and students of color and their peers.

But it doesn’t mean it’s the best.

The budget proposal offers $300 million in funding to states that are willing to identify and address gaps in, among other things, funding teacher and leader effectiveness and access to rigorous coursework among their districts, schools, and student groups. States would do this, in part, by linking data systems so they can see and take action where gaps exist and by developing plans that revolve around attracting and retaining effective teachers in schools with high poverty or large percentages of students of color.

This new iteration of Race to the Top gives those that are inclined to move forward a path, a push, and a little financial support. That’s a good thing. But this isn’t a crazy, new reform. Paying attention to whether all of the effective teachers are in one or a few schools, noting how funding gets spread among  schools, and checking whether any students of color or low-income students are taking AP/IB courses are things that states and districts should already be doing in the ordinary course of their business as educators. And they’re things that all Department of Education activities — and all federal policy — should expect of states and districts.

While Race to the Top–Equity and Opportunity seems like as good a lever as we’ve seen from this administration to start moving states and districts on the path toward equity, the department has missed opportunities to require that everyone focus on equity — not just those who want additional grant dollars. So we’ll be watching for the details of this proposal — and of the 50-state strategy — to see if any of this comes to fruition. It would also be better if Congress could move legislation that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with a focus on equity.

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