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Feds Want 'Clear, Compelling' Race to Top Progress in Hawaii

What happens in Hawaii this week will help determine whether the state gets to keep its $75 million Race to the Top grant.

Today begins a four-day inspection by a team of reviewers from the U.S. Department of Education, who will be examining documents and interviewing state and local officials about how much progress is—and is not—being made in implementing the state's four-year Race to the Top plan.

The review team comprises: Ann Whalen, the director of the implementation and support unit, or ISU, which is monitoring Race to the Top implementation; Melissa Siry and Monika Bandyopadhyay, both ISU program officers; and Jane Hess, an official with the department's office of general counsel.

In December, the federal department took the rare step of putting Hawaii's grant award on "high-risk" status for significant performance issues. It found that the state had failed to hit key milestones in every part of its application, but particularly in its promises to secure a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers' union so it can pilot and implement statewide a new teacher-evaluation system based, in part, on student performance.

It's important to note that this is not a special trip federal officials are making to the Aloha State. They would have visited Hawaii eventually this year as part of the on-site review process—which takes them to all winning states each year of the grant. Hawaii just got moved up in the queue. And, of course, the federal review team will scrutinize the state more heavily than it will most other winning states.

The stakes for this trip are high. The state must provide "clear and compelling evidence" that it has made substantial progress across its Race to the Top plan. In addition, the review team will be evaluating the state for whether it should be allowed to alter its plan, and timeline, per the outstanding amendments outlined in the department's December letter to the state.

In the weeks after the trip, we'll learn in some fashion (whether it's via a letter or a report or something else, probably depending on what the team finds) just how Hawaii is faring.

Spokesman Liz Utrup said yesterday: "Our team on the ground is there to listen and learn from state and local officials. After the visit and over the next several weeks, the team will follow up with the Hawaii Race to the Top officals to ensure we have a full understanding of where the state stands in meeting the commitments outlined in their plan."

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