Hawaii’s exemption from key aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act will continue under a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Education.

The state announced today that the federal government has extended the Hawaii Department of Education’s waiver from some components of the 12-year-old program, a controversial George W. Bush-era education reform initiative that ties student performance to testing. Hawaii is one of 43 states with flexibility from No Child Left Behind.

As part of its waiver agreement, the Hawaii DOE has been using its own system for gauging student achievement and growth: a new accountability system known as Strive HI in which expectations and measurements are customized to specific student populations.

Hawaii first applied for the waiver in September 2012 and received conditional approval for one year in May 2013. Extension of the waiver for a second year was contingent on whether the state complied with certain conditions. In particular, the Hawaii DOE had to demonstrate that schools were making substantial progress under its federal Race to the Top grant, President Barack Obama’s signature education reform initiative.

The feds in 2011 threatened to cut Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant because the state was demonstrating “unsatisfactory performance.” The USDOE was concerned that the state wouldn’t be able to fulfill commitments it made under the grant, in large part because of issues surrounding the teachers contract. Hawaii was the first of 11 Race to the Top states to be placed on “high-risk status.”

The state was removed entirely from its “high-risk status” a year and a half later, in July 2013.

“The extension validates our work thus far in our efforts to transform public education in Hawaii,” said Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi in a statement. “Additionally, it recognizes our strategic plan moving forward as we work tirelessly to elevate student achievement, and prepare all of our students for post-secondary success.”

The decision to extend Hawaii’s waiver comes just as the USDOE is releasing details on its efforts to ramp up expectations under the No Child Left Behind waivers related to teacher distribution.

The requirements stipulate that poor and minority students have access to as many great teachers as their more-advantaged peers — a mandate that has gone largely unenforced until now.

The new strategy is requiring that states develop plans to improve teacher distribution by next spring, shortly before the USDOE starts reviewing states’ applications to renew their waivers.



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