I applaud the U.S. Department of Education for allowing local districts and consortiums of districts to join to compete for the new, local version of Race to the Top.

Here locally, we have already been working very hard as a region, so it makes sense for us to compete. We have a strong head start since we started up the Road Map Project in 2010 and have been going pedal-to-the metal ever since. We have a big goal that just so happens to line up with what Arne Duncan wants for the whole country — a big boost in college degrees and closing the achievement gap.

Our region is sort of a poster child for the trends nationally, which make this work so important. Much has been written about our export-oriented, knowledge-intensive economy. We need the talented, well-educated workers, and we need them in all industries: on shop floors, in tech jobs ranging from nanotech to biotech, in video and game creation, in green industries, in the health fields and service industries, also. We need talent for new types of occupations and to replace the waves of retiring workers.

We are also emblematic of the suburbanization of poverty and of profound demographic transformation. The 2010 census showed that, as did the recent redistricting process.

As a state and region, we are a leader in importing talent and many of our industry leaders pound the D.C. pavement lobbying for an expansion of H-1B.  We have great institutions like the University of Washington, which leads the country in research grants awarded, but we have failed the low-income kids growing up here — their educational attainment seriously lags.

Fortunately, that sad reality will be changing with the enormous collective-action effort known as the Road Map Project, now under way in the region.

All the districts are pulling together for the benefit of the region’s kids. There is a growing sense that the students belong to all — not just to their current political jurisdiction. Districts are working with community colleges and with early learning providers as never before. Data is being shared and analyzed so that results can be improved. Fingers are not being pointed so much as hands are being joined together. There is a sense of team. Witness the fabulous team effort to get the low-income kids of the region signed up for the state’s College Bound scholarship — 93 percent sign-up rate achieved two years running.

Districts are sharing their best practices and stepping up their game. Housing authorities are asking what they can do to help improve education, so too are myriad nonprofits. Parent engagement work is accelerating and private funders are aligning their investments to the Road Map Project goal and indicators of student success.

The Race to the Top application will ask for key investments in areas we know can help us build stronger systems and accelerate progress  in student achievement. Stakeholders across the region will be asked for their input and to help.  No more siloed efforts and players acting in isolation. The kids and families are too mobile. The region can and will make some bold moves across jurisdictional lines — putting kids first.

Mary Jean Ryan is the Executive Director for the Community Center for Education Results.

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