Race to the Top plan a winner for new decade
This commentary is part of a series of articles prepared by Voices of Educators, a nonprofit coalition designed to foster debate and public policy change within Hawai'i's public education system, in partnership with The Advertiser. It appears in Focus on the first Sunday of the month.
Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education nationwide competition, has captivated the attention of officials in nearly every state. Hawai'i is no exception. Seizing this unprecedented and historic opportunity, Hawai'i educators representing preschool through graduate school (P-20), along with policy makers, business representatives and government officials, have been meeting and planning for the past two months preparing an application for funding, to be submitted by the governor by Jan. 19, 2010.
The Hawai'i application describes a comprehensive integrated plan that systematically and rigorously addresses all four federal requirements: common standards and assessments, great teachers and leaders, turning around low-performing schools and data systems in support of instruction.
Hawai'i is one of a consortium of states committing to a common core of college and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts (soon to include science) being developed with support of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Hawai'i Race to the Top plan includes adopting the common core standards; developing and implementing common core assessments to replace the Hawai'i State Assessment; shifting to a single standard curriculum aligned with college and career ready outcomes; holding teachers and principals accountable for implementing curricula and assessments; providing professional development to all educators in support of improving literacy; and connecting, integrating, or abandoning if necessary the myriad separate educational initiatives currently being implemented in Hawai'i's schools. Achieving such a vision will require full state support for early childhood education programs with clear expectations for students entering kindergarten and better connecting K-12 outcomes to post-secondary and workplace expectations.
The second (and most complex) area, great teachers and leaders, focuses on better preparing and retaining highly effective teachers and principals. Among other elements, plans call for creating and providing alternative routes to teacher and principal licensure and employment, including pathways outside traditional higher education programs.
Teachers and principals will be held accountable for student learning by determining their effectiveness, at least in part, on improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. Such performance evaluations will be based on a common statewide curriculum and assessments, and will be accompanied by incentives tied to performance. Likewise, higher education teacher preparation programs will be held accountable by evaluating the K-12 student performance of their graduates and making the results public. Existing policies and collective bargaining agreements will need to be rethought to address the equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals to schools in most need.
The third area focuses on turning around low-performing schools, which will require committing additional resources both human and financial to these schools, ensuring they are staffed with highly effective teachers and leaders, and have adequate instructional materials and facilities such as science laboratories. The goal is to dramatically increase student performance scores, and to do so relatively quickly.
The U.S. Department of Education identifies four types of intervention that may be used in turning around low-performing schools, including replacing principals and teachers, reconstituting or restarting schools, or closing them altogether and enrolling students in other existing schools. For Hawai'i, the focus will be on schools that are consistently in the lowest-performing 5 percent among all schools on student achievement, approximately 14 schools.
The fourth area, data systems, requires building the tools to measure results, guide decision making and investments, and stimulate debate about what works and what needs fixing. A comprehensive data system is the glue that binds all other parts together.
Hawai'i already has met or is developing eight of the 10 elements of data quality recommended by the national Data Quality Campaign. Essential elements in Hawai'i's efforts include a P-20 longitudinal data system that tracks student performance and includes data that are vertically scaled, meaning that the educational value added at each grade can be determined. New state assessments will soon be online with opportunities for students to take them several times within a given year. They are being developed to include items that can be benchmarked to compare student performance on international measures, and more valid comparisons with other states.
Other parts of the data system include performance test items that are aligned with standards and benchmarks and will align with a common statewide curriculum once adopted. An important element of the data system is that indicators will be more relevant and readily available at the school level, enabling teachers to assess how well their students are performing in real time and providing data to inform instruction.
For the first time we are seeing planning and policies regarding public education that are connected, integrated and systemic. Such a systems approach will require community involvement and support, commitment to priorities by policy makers and funding agencies, changes in existing laws, policies, and collective bargaining agreements, and a realization that these efforts must be sustained for at least 10 years to achieve the desired results.
The Hawai'i plan represents sound educational policy. Let us commit in this new year and new decade to have the courage and political will to realize these changes, regardless of whether Hawai'i is selected for Race to the Top funding.