Transforming and growing all the time, the education landscape is reaching new heights. Here are some great examples of events and effective practices happening nationwide.

Race To The Top Competition Opens To School Districts For New Grants To Close Achievement Gap

Hoping to build on state-level reforms aimed at closing the education achievement gap, the Education Department opened its Race to the Top competition to school districts on Sunday, inviting the poorest districts across the country to vie for almost $400 million in grants.

Following four months of public comment on a draft proposal, the Education Department unveiled its final criteria for the district-level competition, which will award 15 to 25 grants to districts that have at least 2,000 students and 40 percent or more who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches – a key poverty indicator.

Grants will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the size of the district.

Indiana Overhauls Education

If Indiana has been a leader in education reform in the United States, then Tony Bennett has been its facilitator. From expansion of charter schools and vouchers to awarding merit pay and requiring annual evaluations for teachers, Indiana has made sweeping changes in education in the past two years. Philosophically, the more choices in a pluralistic society, the better opportunity to prepare children, said Bennett, Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

“We can never lose sight of the fact that those choices must be held accountable to maintain a high level of quality,” he said. “It’s very, very important that we not forget that. With our belief that children should have more choices also involves the belief that those choices must maintain a level of quality. I don’t want more bad schools.”

The Indiana Legislature has passed several measures including creating merit pay, tying teacher evaluations to student performance, providing that education dollars follow the student, promoting more charter schools, providing for state scholarships to private schools and limiting teacher-contract negotiations to monetary items only.

In addition, the new A-through-F letter grading system for schools under Public Law 221 replaces the No Child Left Behind progress goals known as Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. That measure was part of the state’s waiver application submitted and approved by the federal government.

YES! National Student Writing Competition

The YES! National Student Writing Competition demonstrates how teachers can use YES! Magazine stories as the basis for thought-provoking writing, and gives students an opportunity to voice their opinions and show off their exemplary writing. Each quarter, students will have the opportunity to read and respond to a selected YES! Magazine article.

This fall, students will read and respond to the YES! article, “Living Large in a Tiny House,” by Dee Williams. Dee’s story is about why she chose to move from her 3-bedroom bungalow to an 84-square-foot house—a place where she keeps no more than 300 items and has never been happier.

Prompt: Your students should write an essay of up to 700 words answering the question, “If you had the choice, what size house would you live in? What are important features your house would have, and what would you intentionally avoid?”

The deadline for registration is October 19, 2012. Essays must be submitted no later than November 21, 2012.