Nation's education chief praises Hawaii's progress during visit

Nation's top education official visits Hawaii
Published: Mar. 31, 2014 at 9:55 PM HST
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WAIPAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's $75-million Race to the Top grant is ending this fall, and the nation's education chief wants to make sure that schools keep improving after the money runs out. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan toured Waipahu High School on Monday during his visit to Hawaii to track the state's progress. Students shared their love of learning, showing him their science fair projects and aquaponics system. Duncan said that if Hawaii could sustain recent improvements, much of what was being done in locals schools could be used as a model for the rest of the nation.

"No one's declaring victory, a long way to go, but the progress has been extraordinary," said Duncan. "To say that now Hawaii, by any objective measure, is one of the fastest-improving states in the nation, that's amazing!"

Hawaii won the four-year grant in 2010, but the funding was soon in jeopardy, with the state placed on high-risk status. After making changes, Hawaii was back in good standing last July. One hurdle was implementing teacher evaluations that tied pay to performance. Secretary Duncan also sat down with representatives from the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Department of Education on Monday for an update on the system that launched statewide last year.

"There are some concerns and some issues, but HSTA is committed to getting the evaluation system right. I think that was the general message from both sides," said HSTA president Wil Okabe.

"We've begun to really evaluate how we're going to deal with it once the full year is done. We don't want to prematurely start to change things until we can see the data," said DOE superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

Education leaders are looking for ways to keep up the improvements since the federal funding ends in September.

"That's our challenge now, given that we've got a lot of things in place. How do we sustain it and how do we continuously evaluate it and improve it?" said Matayoshi.

Among the 12 Race to the Top winners, Hawaii is the only one that is not asking for extra time to implement reforms through a no-cost extension. Matayoshi said the state would spend all the money and complete its work by the deadline.

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