Isle schools ran a close 'Race'
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Hawai'i's public school system was just short of becoming a finalist in the first round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition, according to an evaluation of the state's application by the U.S. Department of Education.
Only two states — Delaware and Tennessee — emerged as winners in the first round of the competition for some $4 billion in federal education grant money.
Hawai'i officials noted earlier this month they didn't expect the state would make the final cut in the first round, but they said yesterday they were pleased to see that the state's application was ranked 22nd out of 41, just shy of making it into the pool of finalists. Sixteen states and jurisdictions were selected as finalists earlier this month.
State applications were evaluated under an elaborate system of eight broad categories with a total possible 500 points. Hawai'i lost the most points because of an apparent lack of a longitudinal tracking system of students, and linking student achievement to teacher performance.
Hawai'i received a total of 364.6 points, less than 40 points off the necessary 400 to be named a finalist.
Federal reviewers made no mention of the public school system's furlough and budget woes. In fact, the U.S. DOE gave Hawai'i full credit in the area of "making education funding a priority," contrary to the beliefs of state officials, including Gov. Linda Lingle herself, that furloughs of public school teachers may have bogged down the state's application.
"There was always the back-of-our-mind concern about furloughs and would that impact," said Kathryn Matayoshi, interim schools superintendent. "Yet many of the comments were positive about the direction that we're going."
Hawai'i had been eligible for as much as $75 million in the first round of the Race to the Top program, which will distribute $4.35 billion to a handful of states this year. The state has until June to resubmit an improved application for the second round of competitive grants. A third round also is possible next year.
AREAS TO WORK ON
In the area of implementing a statewide longitudinal data system, Hawai'i received only 14 of a possible 24 points, and only partial points in the area of using the data to improve instruction.
Robert Campbell, director of federal compliance for the DOE, said Hawai'i has the elements of a longitudinal data system to track its students, but the state's application did not do a good job of articulating that those elements are in place.
"The question was do we really have a statewide longitudinal data system. We have the parts. But it was not clear to the readers that we had all of the parts and how they function together," Campbell said.
The state also lost more than 60 points in the "great teachers, great leaders" category, which requires the state to show how student achievement data is being used to improve teacher effectiveness and the evaluation of teacher and principal performance.
One federal reviewer pointed out that negotiations with the teachers and principals unions may prove to be a barrier to changing the way school-level educators are evaluated.
"The constraints described in the collective bargaining agreements cast doubt as to whether these plans might ultimately be implemented," a federal reviewer wrote.
The state's application also lost a significant number of points in the area of charter schools, but not for the reasons that some initially thought.
Earlier this month, Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, said she believed the state's cap on the creation of new charter schools may have been a factor. But according to federal reviewers, issues surrounding accountability of charter schools and charter school funding played more of a role.
According to a federal reviewer, the state neglects to hold charter schools responsible for student achievement, particularly when determining whether a charter school should be renewed.
"To date, there haven't been any charter schools closed down for poor performance. We lost points there," Campbell said.
In regard to Hawai'i's cap on charter schools, Campbell said the U.S. DOE still gave Hawai'i points because of its high percentage or charters in the state.
Regardless, Matayoshi said the DOE plans to join with the state's charter school administration in support of proposed legislation to lift the cap on charters.