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In the Race to the Top, Will Hawaii Get There First?

When it comes to crossing off significant policy actions and program development from its Race to the Top to-do list, Hawaii is nearly done with its work.

Transition all grades to common core by 2013-14: Check.
Provide intensive teacher professional development aligned to the common core: Check.
Improve and complete longitudinal data system: Check.
Get agreement on new teachers' contract: Check. (This was a big one!)

What's left? Doling out some more academic achievement awards to successful schools, nailing down the fine details of Hawaii's new teacher-evaluation system, and completing a study on what alternative models of compensation linked to the new system might look like.

More importantly, as Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi points out, the hard work of implementation at the classroom level is just beginning. The Race to the Top work is now embedded in the state education department's strategic plan, and the state is talking less about its education efforts in terms of the "race," and more in terms of its work in general.

"We would have never embarked on all of these changes at once if it weren't for Race to the Top," Matayoshi said in an interview yesterday in Washington. "Now it's time we keep moving foward."

As a sign of just how far Hawaii has come since winning a $75 million grant in 2010, it's unlikely the state will need any "no-cost extensions" for its work—or at least for any significant piece of its work. The U.S. Department of Education is offering these extensions for states that need an extra year of time for some of their projects. Already, states including New York are filing for and getting approved for extra time.

The Aloha State has come a long way since it was given the black mark of "high-risk" status in December 2011 for failing to make "adequate progress" across most of its Race to the Top plan. In February, the department reinstated Hawaii's good standing for part of its grant, but three areas still have that black mark.

It all stems from the state's long, long road to getting a new teachers' contract, which was critical to so many of Hawaii's Race to the Top plan. Now, the state has that contract—and is preparing to present the final details of the evaluation system, such as the weighting of various elements in an evaluation, to the state board of education next week. Once that's done, it will present the details to federal officials for another review.

"We're feeling really positive," Matayoshi said, of getting off high-risk status.

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