Hawaii praised for education reform efforts


HONOLULU — The U.S. Department of Education is holding Hawaii’s public schools system up as an example of achieving successful progress toward ambitious reforms.

In a conference call with reporters nationwide Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Hawaii has made “huge progress” implementing reforms that won the state a $75 million “Race to the Top” grant.

He noted that this time last year, Hawaii’s grant was on “high-risk” status for unsatisfactory progress and there was talk of withholding the money.

The department on Tuesday night released third-year progress reports for the District of Columbia and the 11 states that won grants in the first two rounds of the program.

Duncan highlighted Hawaii for launching tougher diploma requirements two years ahead of schedule and for focusing on science, technology, engineering and math — fields known collectively as STEM.

Hawaii’s report notes challenges, including new education evaluations that some teachers have complained about.

Teacher evaluations were implemented this school year after a bitter contract dispute between the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association over the issue. Starting in July, only teachers who receive a rating of “effective” or higher will be eligible to receive pay increases.

The report also says Hawaii fell short of its high school graduation rate target for the 2012-13 school year, but exceeded its college enrollment target by more than 10 percent for the same school year. Hawaii set a 90 percent graduation rate goal, but the state’s graduation rate of 81 percent exceeds the national average of 78 percent, said state Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. “This is a high expectation, however, Hawaii is determined to take the steps needed to eventually reach this goal,” she said.

When Hawaii won the grant in 2010, people doubted the department’s judgment and thought it wouldn’t be successful, Duncan said.

In December 2011, the federal education department admonished Hawaii for unsatisfactory performance in delivering on the reforms. Then, about a week before the start of this school year, Hawaii was cleared from its “high-risk” status.

This isn’t the first time Duncan has showered Hawaii schools officials with praise for rebounding. In November, he lauded Hawaii’s results on a national math and reading report card for fourth- and eighth-graders, saying the results helped prove skeptics wrong.

The third-year report touts Hawaii’s 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress results that indicate an eight-point increase in average scores in mathematics for grades four and eight, a four-point increase in the average score for reading in grade four and a five-point increase in the average score for eighth-grade reading, when compared with 2009 results.

Hawaii’s grant officially ends in September. The U.S. Department of Education says that of the 12 that won grants, Hawaii is only one that has yet to request more time to accomplish reform goals. Dela Cruz said there are no plans to apply for an extension.

“As Secretary Duncan noted, the department and our schools have made tremendous progress over the course of the grant,” Dela Cruz said. “We are on track to go above and beyond satisfying the requirements of the grant, on time.”