Race to the Top: What Have We Learned from the States So Far?
Evaluation of Hawaii’s Race to the Top Performance
by Jeremy Ayers, Center for American Progress
• Hawaii increased the rigor of its graduation requirements to make the state’s college and career diploma the default requirement for all high school students.
• Hawaii hired coaches to help educators use data to improve instruction and created a bank of test items that allows every educator to create their own classroom assessments, aligned with standards, to measure student progress.
• State budget cuts and teacher contract disputes delayed implementation of several RTT promises, including lengthening the school year, rewarding teachers who improve student learning, and securing teacher buy-in for evaluation reforms.
• The U.S. Department of Education labeled the state a “high-risk” grantee for making inadequate progress. This limits the state’s access to funds.
• The Center’s evaluation: not meeting expectations.
Few observers thought that Hawaii would win a Race to the Top grant. When the Aloha State proved to be a winner, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was reportedly “surprised and upset” and his staff was in a “near panic.”
But Duncan stood by the recommendation of his peer reviewers and the state received $75 million in funds, beating out other well-known reform states such as Louisiana and Colorado. Now, a year into the program, the state can point to some clear and important victories. Using federal dollars the state has improved graduation requirements, broadened access to early childhood programs, and boosted the ability of educators to use student data. “Race to the Top has ensured our state keeps moving and that we keep our promises,” says Stephen Schatz, assistant superintendent for strategic reform at the Hawaii Department of Education.
But the state has struggled to deliver on all of its promises, leading the Department of Education to put Hawaii on “high-risk” status, limiting the state’s autonomy over funds until greater progress is made.
The problems largely stem from a labor dispute over state budget cuts, not RTT per se. Still, the dispute has delayed or diminished RTT reforms, including expanding the school day or year, rewarding teachers who improve student achievement, and securing union support for a new teacher-evaluation system.
The most recent development occurred on January 19, 2012, when teachers rejected a proposed new contract, the second contract to be rejected. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) responded by pledging to use “all management, administrative, legislative, and legal tools we have at our disposal to implement an evaluation system….”
He has since introduced legislation to do so and has worked with the state board of education to pass policies that help execute Race to the Top plans.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, for its part, embarked on a statewide listening tour, but at the time of publishing this report has not yet submitted a counteroffer to the state. State officials claim that a collective bargaining agreement is not required to implement most of the reforms, like a new evaluation system, but it is required for instituting others such as a new performance pay program.
In late February teachers finally ratified a contract to extend learning time in low performing schools, touted as a breakthrough by state officials.
Despite highly visible setbacks, the state rightfully claims some key policy successes. Most notably, Hawaii increased the rigor of graduation requirements, mandating all students earn a college and career diploma beginning with the class of 2016—two years earlier than planned.
And every school now has access to an online bank of classroom assessments aligned to Common Core standards.
Teachers and principals can pull questions from the bank to measure student progress and they receive customized data reports of the results.
Hawaii has also taken a number of important steps to improve teacher quality. Using RTT funds, the state has created recruitment incentives to increase the number of highly qualified teachers in hard-to-staff subjects like math and science. It adopted new teacher induction standards, albeit one year late, that are considered “high-quality” by the New Teacher Center, a national teacher organization.
And every school in the state has a data coach that works with educators to improve instruction.
Further, the state has taken some steps to implement a next-generation teacher evaluation system. According to state officials, all twelve low-performing schools in the state have adopted a new teacher-observation system as part of evaluation reforms. Hawaii has also trained school leaders to administer the observation forms and teachers are beginning to be observed. Almost 50 new schools will join the pilot in the 2012-13 school year, which is more than the state anticipated.
The truth is that Hawaii has fulfilled many of its Race to the Top commitments that do not require a collective bargaining agreement to move forward, including piloting the new evaluation system. “In some ways we are behind schedule, but we are not off track,” says Tammi Chun, education advisor to Gov. Abercrombie.
Yet Chun acknowledges, as do all observers, that reforms are only sustainable when they have widespread support by teachers and administrators. For their part, teachers appear to have mixed feelings about many of the reforms, including the new evaluation system. “I think evaluations can help us improve,” says one teacher coach in a low-performing school, “but not all of my fellow teachers agree.” Other teachers, the coach says, are concerned about the fairness of the evaluations, especially if there is no statewide test for their grade or subject.
Despite early successes, Hawaii has had issues implementing other aspects of its Race to the Top plan, which led the U.S. Department of Education to place Hawaii in “high-risk status.”
The state must now receive federal approval for future RTT spending decisions, and federal officials will visit Hawaii in late March for an onsite review. “They are in danger of losing their resources,” Duncan says. “This hasn’t been a great year for Hawaii.”
The controversy between the state and the union is not about Race to the Top necessarily but teacher compensation, which has been complicated by steep budget cuts. “The contract dispute is separate but related to Race to the Top,” says Alvin Nagasako, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, or HSTA. “I want to know when teachers will receive the supports, mentoring, and assessments they need to implement these new evaluations systems.”
The labor dispute is not to blame for all delays, however. The state has the ability to connect student achievement data to graduates of teacher-preparation programs, but it has not shared that information with programs or made it public. Hawaii planned to finance alternative certification programs that would provide clinical, residency-based training to candidates coming into the profession through nontraditional routes. But the state teacher policy board did not approve the original plan, setting the state back nearly a year. And the state failed for several months to gain teacher support for universally increasing learning time in low-performing schools.
Critics have alternately criticized and praised Hawaii for its implementation of the Common Core standards. Last year, Hawaii introduced the new standards in grades K-2 and a few courses in high school, waiting for a full roll out until the 2014-15 school year when new college- and career-ready assessments are in place. Chun reports that Hawaii’s progress is “ahead of other states” when it comes to the new standards. But Nagasako disagrees, saying teachers need more time and training to familiarize themselves with the standards before being evaluated on them.
In addition, Hawaii’s challenges have been further complicated by a lack of communication, a problem acknowledged by state officials. One community advocate expressed desire for more proactive communication from the state education agency. “A lot of their work is not visible to the public, and they have historically had a problem with community outreach,” says Cheri Nakamura, director of the Hui for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit coalition of parent and community organizations. Others say that the state has not done enough to change classroom practice or share information with educators. “I know very little about Race to the Top,” said one charter school teacher, “I was hoping you could tell me more about it.”
In the end, only time will tell if Hawaii will meet all of its RTT obligations. For now state officials, union leaders, and educators express commitment to keep their promises. “We wanted to cross the Race to the Top finish line side-by-side with the HSTA,” claims Gov. Abercrombie, “Make no mistake we will cross that finish line.”
From the union perspective, Nagasako offers, “I think we can reach an agreement, and we want to move forward on Race to the Top.”
Of course, the difference between wanting and doing is what makes the work of reform an uphill climb. “We know that transformation work is hard,” says Kathryn Matayoshi, the state superintendent of education. “We need to run a little faster and push a little harder.”
If desire is any indication, the state is headed in the right direction. But clearly there are still significant promises to keep—and challenges to address—in the months and years ahead.
CAP: Race to the Top: What Have We Learned from the States So Far?
Link: Hawaii Report is on pages 35-38
AP: Report echoes concern about Hawaii schools reforms
Ed Week: Florida and Hawaii Get Dinged Again for Race to Top Woes