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After Major Race to Top Setback, Hawaii Ponders Next Steps

Fresh off a stunning blow to Hawaii's Race to the Top efforts, Gov. Neil Abercrombie pledged to make good on his state's education reform promises—with or without the help of the state teachers' union.

In his state of the state address yesterday, Gov. Abercrombie, a Democrat, promised that the state will adopt a new teacher-evaluation system that complies with its Race to the Top promises.

Last week, the state appeared to be making significant strides in getting itself out of the doghouse with the U.S. Department of Education, which had placed Hawaii on "high-risk status" and threatened to take away its $75 million award. The state and the governing board of the Hawaii State Teachers Association had reached a tentative agreement creating a new teacher-evaluation system based in part on student achievement, a key milestone that the state had missed, placing its award in jeopardy. But the rank-and-file members were not on board, and resoundingly rejected the contract.

"We wanted to cross the Race to the Top finish line side-by-side with the HSTA. Make no mistake we will cross that finish line," the governor said in his speech. "We will be using all management, administrative, legislative, and legal tools we have at our disposal to implement an evaluation system that not only measures, but achieves student growth; turns around low-performing schools; and supports teachers in increasing their effectiveness."

Does that mean we could be seeing strong legislation from Hawaii that would put such an evaluation system into law, rather than just putting it into a contract? That seems likely.

For Hawaii, the clock is ticking. The U.S. Department of Education plans to send a team to Hawaii to closely examine its Race to the Top progress. That visit is expected in late March, state officials said.

"Our goal is to have clear and compelling evidence for the U.S. DOE that shows we have the legal authority to implement these reforms," Stephen Schatz, the assistant superintendent for strategic reform at the Hawaii education department, said in an interview Jan. 23.

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