Projects and Programs

As a part of Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, 50 percent of the funds awarded were retained at the state level to execute a variety of initiatives, as outlined in the state’s application. These projects support the four focus areas of Race to the Top: transitioning to high-quality standards and assessments, using data to improve instruction, supporting and developing great teachers and leaders, and turning around the lowest performing schools.

Within these four priority areas, the state’s initiatives are intended to achieve the following objectives:

  • Building statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain the Race to the Top work
  • Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments
  • Using data to support instruction
  • Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
  • Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
  • Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
  • Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
  • Providing effective support to teachers and principals
  • Turning around the lowest-achieving schools and districts
  • Supporting the expansion of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives across the state

Read about Tennessee’s various Race to the Top initiatives below.

Grant Oversight & Administration

The First to the Top Oversight Team oversees the coordination and implementation of all FTTT initiatives.  First to the Top staff serve as a liaison among various state agencies to ensure collaboration and promote regional efforts.  This team is also responsible for working with the U.S. Department of Education to report on FTTT implementation. The goal of the Oversight Team is to ensure effective and efficient implementation of the state’s First to the Top grant.

In addition, the state contracted with an external researcher to evaluate the effectiveness of some of its key initiatives. The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development (TN CRED) leads and engages in research studies, program and policy evaluations, and development activities to promote results-oriented decision-making. The Consortium and its research and practitioner based partners also work to disseminate lessons learned, and inform policies, programs, and practices with research‐based evidence to help build Tennessee’s research capacity.

Standards and Assessments

Academic standards provide a common set of expectations for what students will know and be able to do at the end of a grade. The college and career ready standards adopted by the state and supported through professional development through Race to the Top are rooted in the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in post-secondary study or careers. The state’s Race to the Top grant supports the following initiatives in the area of standards & assessments:

Tennessee Academic Standards Professional Development

This project supports teachers, schools and districts as the state transitions to the Tennessee Academic Standards.   The Tennessee Department of Education has provided summer training to more than 50,000 educators through the Race to the Top grant, and is offering additional courses throughout the school year for school administrators and classroom teachers. See the Tennessee Academic Standards for additional information and resources.

Integrating Tennessee Academic Standards into Pre-Service

To ensure the successful transition to the Tennessee Academic Standards, training must be integrated into teacher pre-service training.  This project will ensure that teacher preparation faculty will be fully trained and informed on the Tennessee Academic Standards through information sessions and training programs. 

Data Systems

As a part of its Race to the Top application, Tennessee committed to supporting educators in accessing and using data to make instructional decisions in their classrooms. The state is executing the following projects towards achieving this goal:

Data System Development

The state’s Teacher Dashboards are designed as a practitioner-based tool that will provide easy-to-use dashboards to educators.  The dashboards are populated with data that is already collected by districts but has not been accessible to teachers in a usable format. The state is also making additional enhancements to other data resources with these funds, such as the SAS TVAAS website to provide tools to make the data more user-friendly.

Integrating TVAAS into Pre-Service

Through coordinated efforts with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and SAS this project has developed a training model explaining the use of TVAAS data.  The project’s goal is to ensure that faculty members in teacher preparation programs are fully trained on TVAAS data, including using the site, and finding, evaluating, and interpreting the data to improve instruction.  Faculty members are then able to fully train pre-service teachers on TVAAS usage, including the use of this data to alter instruction.

Teachers & Leaders

The department fundamentally is committed to continuous improvement in everything that we do. Because all students deserve great teachers, we hold these same expectations of excellence for Tennessee's teachers through preparation and licensing requirements, annual evaluations based on multiple measures, professional learning and leadership opportunities, and more. To this end, Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant outlined a variety of initiatives to support the growth and development of its educators.

Competitive Supplemental Fund (CSF)

The Competitive Supplemental Fund will competitively distribute $1.5 million over four years to the 20% of LEAs receiving the smallest share of formula funds through Race to the Top. The eligible LEAs may apply to use these funds for three purposes:  to develop alternative compensation plans, to develop job-embedded professional development plans linked to educator evaluation, and to turn around low performing schools, in order to increase educator effectiveness and student achievement in their districts.

Teacher and Principal Evaluation Development

This project is responsible for developing and implementing a new system for teacher and principal evaluation in accordance with state law. The new state evaluation system will reflect the legislative requirements that 50% of an educator’s evaluation be tied to student outcome measures, while the other 50% will be based on qualitative measures including observation.  The new evaluation system was implemented statewide during the 2011-2012 school year. More information can be found on the Teacher Evaluation page.

Innovation Acceleration Fund (IAF)

The Innovation Acceleration Fund is a competitive grant for districts to develop and implement performance-based compensation plans.   Districts receiving the competitive grant are expected to develop and implement a performance-based compensation system that encourages and rewards educators for contribution to student learning, evidence of professional skill, ongoing professional learning, contribution to ongoing school development, and evidence of professional leadership.

Integrating Data to Improve Instruction

This project provides educators and school leaders with a variety of training models on how to best use and integrate data to inform instruction.  The training models, developed in collaboration with the department and Battelle for Kids, include a variety of work streams:  

  1. Maximizing the Usage of Value-Added Data;
  2. Implementing Formative Assessment Practices;
  3. Introducing and Implementing a Successful Strategic Compensation Model;
  4. Ensuring Accuracy when Using Data Systems;
  5. Providing Research and Innovation Expertise;
  6. Supporting Rural and Urban Educators Statewide.

These work streams can be accessed at the Tennessee Student Progress Portal.

Leadership Development

Through its leadership project, Tennessee is executing a variety of initiatives aimed at increasing the number of highly effective school leaders in Tennessee. Initiatives focus on both school leader and teacher leader support and development. For example, through this project Tennessee has awarded nearly $4 million to eight organizations, including institutions of higher education and school districts, as well as partnerships between the two, to develop and replicate successful leader development programs. It is also providing hiring tools and resources to schools and districts.

Oak Ridge STEM Training Academy

The department, in coordination with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, developed and is managing a STEM Leadership Academy, designed to build a cadre of lead liaisons to the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN).  The Academy is recruiting a total of 150 teachers and/or administrators from across the State, representing all 136 public school districts, to participate in a summer residency program designed to introduce the liaisons to the Network and to the innovative practices, communications’ technologies, and pedagogical approaches that the platform schools, regional hubs and the network itself will promote to expand active STEM learning environments across Tennessee. 

Public Broadcasting System (PBS)

With this project, Tennessee teachers and administrators will have access to the PBS Digital Learning Library, and customized professional development modules created by PBS to support teachers in the transition to the Tennessee Academic Standards.

Teacher and Leader Residency Program

The Teacher and Leader Residency Program offers a competitive grant project for interested LEAs to develop and/or expand teacher and principal residency programs.  Teacher and principal residency programs are need-based and designed to fit a variety of purposes, including pre-service recruitment and preparation.  Grants can also be awarded for residency programs that provide advanced training/focused professional development, or programs that utilize proven veteran professionals as exemplars/mentors. Through this initiative, the state awarded four-year grants to four residency programs.

Rural Literacy Programs

The Rural Literacy project partners with Save the Children to expand literacy programs, including tutoring, formative assessments, extended learning, and professional development opportunities for rural elementary schools in Tennessee. These programs will be implemented during school, after school, and in the summer to supplement other literacy programs. Technical assistance and regular reports will be provided by Save the Children personnel.  Additionally, schools hire literacy coordinators to assist struggling readers in their endeavors to achieve success in the area of literacy.

School Leader Study

The School Leader Study is structured as an annual report card.  The report will include both quantitative and qualitative data analysis. The data will be used as a measure of effectiveness for the state’s principal preparation programs, as well as program changes and improvements stemming from the Learning Centered Leadership Policy. 

Strengthening Instruction in Tennessee Elementary Schools; Focus on Mathematics (SITES-M)

The FTTT SITES-M Project is an expansion of the original SITES-M project, which was designed to address the achievement gap among K-4 minority students in mathematics achievement by partnering high-need elementary schools with that community’s Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to provide professional development aimed at increasing their teachers’ mathematics content and pedagogical knowledge for teaching. The FTTT grant expanded the partnership to include middle schools. When both the original SITES-M program and the expanded program are operating at full capacity, approximately 150 teachers from 17 of the state’s lowest performing elementary and middle schools will receive this professional development.

Teacher Preparation Program Effectiveness Report Card

The Report Card on Teacher Preparation Program Effectiveness is a statutorily required report.  This report measures effectiveness through retention and placement rates of teacher preparation program graduates, Praxis II pass rates, and teacher effectiveness utilizing TVAAS data.  Through First to the Top, the report will be expanded to include other quality indicators and to provide feedback to the teacher preparation programs. The report card is released on November 1st each year.

Teach Tennessee

FTTT also includes the expansion of the Teach Tennessee program by providing more opportunities for teachers to be licensed in the high-need subject areas of math, science and foreign language.  A  Commissioner’s Fellows program has been created to recruit between 30-35 additional highly qualified teachers for math, science or foreign language in grades 7-12.  This project also focuses on continued support to ensure the retention of these new educators.

Teacher Working Conditions Survey

The department, in coordination with The New Teacher Center (NTC), worked to administer a statewide TELL Tennessee Survey: Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning.  The survey was administered in 2011 and 2013.  The survey is designed to assess, understand, and improve teaching conditions in TN schools.  NTC will also analyze and report survey results and provide specific tools and trainings to TDOE for data utilization.  Together the department and NTC will provide technical assistance to schools for interpreting survey data to improve teaching and learning conditions. Survey results can be found at


The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) is contracting with the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and the University of Memphis to replicate the UTeach program at each institution.  The UTeach program originated at the University of Texas and facilitates pathways for math and science majors to obtain teacher licensure.  The replication of the program will increase the number of math and science teachers produced annually in Tennessee.

School Turnaround

In conjunction with the vision outlined in the state’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver, Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant supports priority schools (the bottom 5 percent of schools in terms of overall proficiency), focus schools (the 10 percent of schools with the largest within-school achievement gaps), and the development of the Achievement School district. These initiatives are aimed at ensuring improved student achievement outcomes in these schools and ensuring effectives coordination of state and district efforts.

Achievement School District (ASD)

The ASD works to move Tennessee’s lowest achieving schools from the bottom five percent to the top 25 percent in the state over five years.  In its second year of operation, the ASD consists of 16 schools, six that are run directly by the ASD (Achievement Schools) and 10 that are run by highly successful charter management organizations. For more information visit

Focus Schools

This project provides competitive grants to Tennessee’s Focus Schools to implement researched-based tools and strategies to focus on closing achievement gaps.  Schools not receiving a grant are assigned an academic specialist who works with the school to implement initiatives aimed at closing achievement gaps.

Reward Schools

Through Race to the Top, Tennessee has created a Reward School Ambassador Program. Ambassadors are highly effective teachers from the state’s top schools. They were nominated by their schools and selected for this year-long, paid position through a competitive application and interview process. Through this program, the state aims to leverage the talent of our top teachers, spark the development of robust partnerships between schools, and spread best practices. The state currently has 15 Reward Ambassadors.

College Access Network

The purpose of the Tennessee College Access and Success Network (TCASN) is to connect college access and success programs with like-minded organizations.  The goal of the project is to increase the number of Tennesseans participating and succeeding in postsecondary opportunities. The Network creates a college-going culture in communities across the state by expanding college access and success programs, creating new programs, educating professionals, ensuring statewide advocacy, and cultivating organizational and Network development.

Charter Fund

Through this project, Tennessee has partnered with two organizations to expand high-quality school options for students and families: The Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) and KIPP. CSGF is working to support charter management organizations (CMOs) in Tennessee as they expand their networks, and to recruit high quality CMOs to Tennessee. KIPP Nashville and KIPP Memphis are both growing their networks and are partnering with the Achievement School District to operate schools.


Tennessee will support a significant expansion of STEM education opportunities through the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN). The TSIN is a unique public-private collaborative between the Tennessee Department of Education and Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle) designed to promote and expand the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in K-12 public schools across Tennessee. The TSIN will bring together existing, emerging and new STEM education partners and stakeholders in a learning network intentionally designed to share best practices, enhance critical start-up efforts and boost student achievement. Through this unique partnership and the sharing of STEM education practices throughout the state, Tennessee will not only expand educational opportunities and outcomes, but also create new STEM teaching and learning models that can be shared with the rest of the country. The Race to the Top STEM Projects are as follows:

Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN)

The TSIN is made up of eight STEM platform schools and six STEM regional hubs established with grant funds. The STEM schools and hubs are tasked with identifying, executing, and spreading best practices across their regions as well as expanding student access to high-quality STEM opportunities. Through this project, the state has also provided a grant to Battelle Memorial Institute to manage the network and coordinate STEM stakeholders from the k-12, higher education, business and community arenas. More information about the TSIN can be found at

STEM Professional Development

As part of the STEM priority in Tennessee’s RTTT application, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) will develop and issue sub-grants to Tennessee’s higher education community to provide professional development in the STEM fields to K- 12 educators.

Performance Goals

Tennessee outlined a variety of performance measures and student achievement goals in its Race to the Top grant application. The U.S. Department of Education tracks states’ progress towards their individual goals and performance targets through an “Annual Performance Report,” or APR. The APR can be viewed here.Additional information about academic data in Tennessee can be found in the Data section of this site.



Last Update: January 15, 2015