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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010

To Race runners: Just stay on track

Show of hands: Was anyone surprised Hawai'i missed the cut on Round 1 of federal Race to the Top funds? Anyone?

Hardly a shock. Nobody really could have been waiting to exhale where Race to the Top money was concerned. Only about a third of the states made the final cut in the competitive grant program, so the simple odds were tough to start with.

And then there was the shame of furlough days for Hawai'i kids, which have already caught the attention of federal education chiefs.

That's the basic assessment by Kathryn Matayoshi, interim schools superintendent, although she's waiting for the comments explaining why Hawai'i fell short before deciding whether or how to refine the Department of Education's application for about $78 million.

If there is a new and improved application for Round 2 money, it's due with the feds by June 1.

But it's not too soon to reap a few take-away messages from this rejection:

• Lawmakers should feel the heat to allot funds to offset furlough Fridays, just in case all the parent marches haven't done the trick.

• Management and labor must prove they can depart from conventional thinking, even if it's many months too late, and finally come to terms on returning insructional days on the 2010-11 school calendar.

• Those who run our school system need to reckon with the fact that furloughs aren't the only impediment to overcome. A willingness to change DOE's business-as-usual approach has been missing. Officials should watch carefully what the winning finalists do.

• And the "Race to the Top" money, although like a welcome splash of water in a drought, is a nice incentive to improve but not the only reason.

The Hawai'i proposal is to create "zones of innovation" encompassing lower-achieving schools to attract better teachers and provide longer instructional days.

That's still a worthy goal to pursue, whether or not the money comes in.