Funding, Grants & Awards

Race to the Top Turns Arkansas 4th Graders Into 'Biologists'

A $26-million Race to the Top-District grant two years ago to the Springdale Public Schools means a class of fourth-grade "biologists" at Monitor Elementary School can pick out which animals would be best for a fictitious exhibit they are planning for the Little Rock Zoo.

After being one of 25 school districts in 2013 to share $120 million in Race to the Top-District grant funding, the Springdale district has spent $12.7 million on technology alone, including $8.7 million for Chromebooks, iPads and cabinets to hold the devices. More than 16,000 Chromebooks have been distributed to students in grades 3-12 and 5,100 iPad minis to younger students.

The grant also helped the district upgrade its wireless connectivity to power all those devices and $845,000 to fund teacher training organized by the University of Missouri College of Education.

Race to the Top is a federal program focused on driving changes in public schools through competitive grants to states, with an eye toward reforming academic standards, investing in teachers and education leadership, improving achievement in schools whose students have performed poorly on standardized tests and developing data systems that follow students from "cradle to career." Race to the Top–District is a program within the Race to the Top initiative that is designed to support "local reforms that will personalize learning, close achievement gaps and prepare each student for college and their careers."

The project in the Monitor Elementary classroom requires every student to research certain animals online, write a report on its diet and habitat and then prepare a digital presentation with a picture and key facts about the animal. At the end of the project, the students will vote on which animals to place in their "zoo."

"Technology is the underlying guide," said their teacher, Sara Kennedy. "It's engaging all of them. The kids will want to do these high-quality lessons."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.