Race to the Top: Hawaii Department of Education Promises Comprehensive Reform

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    By Laura Brown –Whether or not the Hawaii Department of Education wins $75 million from the federal Race to the Top funding competition, the mere fact that Hawaii is participating in the federal competition has moved the discussion about reform and accountability in the system forward, Lt. Governor James ‘Duke’ Aiona said today at the Smart Business Hawaii Thursday event.

    Aiona, who is running for governor, has advocated for a complete management and fiscal audit of the DOE  – it is an agency the administrative branch does not oversee. The application itself lays out for the first time in the Department’s history a plan for better record keeping, a data system to track goals, and a plan for accountability, Aiona says.


    “The DOE put all this in writing and it is on the record. We can hold their feet to the fire. Even if they don’t get the award, they are indebted to and still have to meet the goals,”

    On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the 19 finalists, including Hawaii, in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, calling the Race to the Top part of “a quiet revolution” in education reform.

    And Hawaii’s plan for reform is no small matter, weighing in at about 1,200 pages.

    Hawaii’s Department of Education receives more than $255 million in federal aid each year and last year received an additional $78 million in funding for existing federal grants, such as Title 1, as well as $110 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

    But it is the prospect of receiving an additional $75 million under the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competitive grant that is pushing Hawaii’s lawmakers and education officials towards reform.

    The plan contains everything from plans for College & Career Ready Diploma’s by 2018, the development of a new Office of Strategic Reform, headed up by a Special Assistant and 4 Educational Officers, new teacher evaluations and merit pay, standards, curricula and assessments that align nationally and increasing the percentage of the State’s operating budget for K-12 schools from 35.5 percent in 2005 to 41.2 percent in Fiscal Year 2009.

    Gov. Linda Lingle responded to Duncan’s announcement, “Whether or not Hawai‘i receives Race to the Top funds, we are committed to implementing the initiatives detailed in our application plan. The goals laid out in our application are achievable and the strategies for meeting these goals will give our schools the tools and resources to help students be successful in the classroom while preparing them for their future careers.”

    The Hawaii State Legislature and governor worked together to pass legislation this year to move education reform forward.

    Those initiatives included changing the kindergarten entrance age to conform to other states, improving data sharing among the Department of Education and University of Hawaii to improve the State’s longitudinal data systems and forming a task force to recommend ways to strengthen Hawaii’s early education system.

    The DOE failed to qualify under Round I of the grant completion, but achieved additional points in Round II by adding assurances, such as equal student funding for charter schools.

    Act 144 states that the non-facility general fund per pupil amount for charter school students will be the same as the general fund per pupil amount, excluding special education, adult education and after school funds as long as the DOE provides those services.

    The law raises the cap on charter schools from 1 new start-up charter school for every accredited charter school to 3 new start-ups for each accredited charter school. It also allows the DOE or charter schools to apply to use vacant school facilities before they are sold.

    Congresswoman Mazie Hirono says, “The most important factor in student achievement is the teacher in front of the classroom, and Hawaii’s plan will provide teachers with better training and support.”

    The Hawaii State Teachers Association agreed, and included in the grant application was a memorandum of understanding with the Board of Education that would allow teachers to be evaluated based on student performance and experienced teachers to be relocated to poor performing schools.

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided the U.S. Department of Education with a total of $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top grant. Tennessee and Delaware won the first round. Hawaii and 17 other states and Washington, D.C. are competing for the remaining $3.4 billion.

    The U.S. Department of Education will review applications, with final Phase II results to be announced in September 2010.

    Laura Brown is a capitol reporter for Hawaii Reporter. Reach her at Laurabrown@hawaii.rr.com