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Hawaii Completes Most Race to Top Work, Without Teachers' Contract

Now well past the midway point of the original $4 billion Race to the Top grant program, Hawaii is still officially in trouble with the U.S. Department of Education over its struggles in implementing its teacher- and principal-evaluation plans. But save for that one big thing, the state has made enviable progress in delivering on the promises it made to win its $75 million grant back in 2010.

In fact, the state has completed 90 percent of the tasks outlined in its grant contract with the federal Education Department, according to its latest progress report. And in an interview, Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said she feels Hawaii's work improving its data system and implementing the Common Core State Standards is particularly strong.

Hawaii was in the unenviable position of front-loading its Race to the Top proposal, which meant that the vast majority of its work had to be done with lightning speed in the first two years. But that also means that in the last half of the grant period, the focus changes.

"We are really focusing now on implementation in the classroom," Matayoshi said. "These next two years are about how are we supporting teachers and principals with all of these different initiatives. It's about really scaling it up and really doing the work."

She said one priority going forward is getting the "complex-area" superintendents for Hawaii's single, state-run district more professional development to help implement the Race to the Top plan. She said this is especially challenging since professional development days are scarce to nonexistent.

But of course, the big missing piece in Hawaii's Race to the Top plan is an approved teachers' contract, which is needed to put teeth into a new teacher-evaluation system that's being expanded from a small pilot phase to include all schools. Although the state feels it has the authority to implement these new evaluations, it needs an approved, long-sought contract—which is mired in negotiations that resumed this month—to tie those evaluations to such things as salaries.

Will a 90 percent completion rate be enough, though, to get at least part of Hawaii's Race to the Top grant off of the Education Department's "high-risk status"? A site visit federal officials are scheduled to make in April will help determine that.

"I don't diminish the importance of the contract," Matayoshi said. "It's still the rock in the middle of the road we're driving around."

To be sure, Hawaii is not alone. Maryland has become the latest state to run afoul of federal officials over its struggles implementing new teacher evaluations.

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