Five of Hawaii’s education leaders are in Washington, D.C. today to present their best case for the state’s proposed education reforms, in hopes of earning $75 million in Race to the Top funds.
To be considered for the competitive education grant, states must demonstrate a collaborative effort driving “bold” system reform. This is the second round of applications that the U.S. Department of Education has considered for the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion program to promote education reforms nationwide. Hawaii failed to make the cut in the first round, but two weeks ago was named among 19 finalists for the second round, thanks to a revised application.
If Hawaii is among the possible 10-15 winners, up to $75 million would be distributed to the state’s education department over the next four years and would be earmarked for implementing education reform proposals outlined in its application. A huge effort has gone into the application, which if successful would bring in about 1 percent more revenue for the school system annually.
The program appears to be driving education reform nationally and in Hawaii. But it’s not without its own controversies — not the least of which is the lingering question about whether the reforms it encourages will have positive results. The National Education Association, one of the most prominent national teachers unions, has denounced the program for, among other things, “an unhealthy focus on standardized tests as the primary evidence of student success.”
Civil Beat decided to take a closer look at Race to the Top — both what it says it entails, and what Hawaii is committing itself for in the event it wins the $75 million it seeks.
The federal program focuses on four core areas for reforming the nation’s education system, state by state:
Even without federal incentives, the state faces pressure to reform its schools from a number of quarters. Those urging change include grassroots parent organizations who rallied together to protest last year’s Furlough Fridays, and three former Democratic governors who formed Hawaii’s Children First to urge greater accountability. Many are critical of the state’s consistently low rankings in national assessments. So regardless of whether the state wins one of the coveted Race to the Top grants, Hawaii will continue to address these and other education concerns by making realities out of the proposals outlined in its grant application, Gov. Linda Lingle said in a news release last month.
In its second Race to the Top application Hawaii promises it will:
Among the things the department says it will be do to achieve those goals are:
The other mechanics of how Hawaii plans to achieve its education reform goals are the focus of the team’s presentation this week in D.C. The team members are:
The group will deliver a 30-minute explanation of the state’s application to a panel of education experts, said Bob Campbell, executive assistant for school reform at the Hawaii Department of Education. (Campbell’s current position was created in conjunction with this latest Race to the Top application.) The group will then field questions from the experts for an hour.
“They’re not allowed to add any more information, but just to explain what is already in the application,” Campbell said, adding that the state’s centralized education department may prove a boon in the final stages of the grant competition.
“The fact that there’s a centralized management approach to making sure we get done these things we say we’re going to do will probably resonate well with the people reviewing.”