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Hawaii teachers overwhelmingly rejected the terms of a contract approved unanimously by their leadership last Thursday. The vote was two to one against, with approximately 9,000 out of the state's 12,500 teachers turning out for the vote.

While local media have characterized the massive rejection as a split with union leadership (which may be accurate) and steered discussion along that line, in fact the teachers were giving the finger to Obama's Race to the Top bribery program. The proposed contract was unfavorable to teachers economically, but perhaps equally important, it wouldn't protect teachers against a law enacted last year that takes away their collective bargaining rights. Yes, Hawaii, a state with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, has enacted legislation that might be the envy of a Republican governor of Wisconsin.

National media gave the teachers credit for rejecting an unfair contract due to the fundamentals that motivated it: an attempt by the state to score $75 million offered by the US Department of Education in exchange for union-busting reforms that the state has already put into motion.

A Washington Post story headlined Hawaii teachers reject contract in ‘blow’ to Race to the Top (1/21/2012) got it right.

Democracy Now’s headlines for Monday include a useful reframe of Hawaii teachers’ vote rejecting the proposed state contract.

Hawaiian Teachers Reject Obama’s "Race to the Top" Contract

In education news, the Obama administration’s "Race to the Top" education initiative has been dealt a setback after public school teachers in Hawaii rejected a contract that called for a move to a performance-based evaluation and compensation system. The vote came shortly after the U.S. Department of Education threatened to sanction the state for not implementing enough educational reforms.

[Democracy Now, Hawaiian Teachers Reject Obama’s "Race to the Top" Contract , 1/24/2012. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License]

Teachers are aware that the state has enacted SB1485 into law in the 2011 session as Act 148: Schools; Reconstitution—Allows the Superintendent of education to reconstitute a public school, except for charter schools. Allows the superintendent to recommend actions to the Charter School Review Panel, including the revocation of a school's charter.

Unlike Wisconsin, in Hawaii there were no massive protests at the State Capitol even though the bill clearly wipes out collective bargaining rights in numerous Hawaii schools:

§302A- Reconstituting schools. (a) Notwithstanding collective bargaining agreements, memorandums of agreement, or memorandums of understanding, the superintendent may  reconstitute a public school, except a charter school, that has been in restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Public Law 107-110, for four or more school years

[SB1485, Act 148, 2011 session]

Only 38 percent of Hawaii’s public schools their AYP targets in 2011, down from 51 percent the year before. As the requirements for NCLB become more stringent, more and more schools will find themselves “eligible” for reconstitution under this law, and teachers know it. In those schools, union contract or not, teachers could find themselves kicked out with nowhere to go (Hawaii has only one school system). The ultimate goal of 100% conformance with NCLB is impossible to achieve, so the resulting school "failures" will effectively nullify collective bargaining protections due to Act 148.

While the Act should be read in its entirety, “reconstruction” is defined to include:

(b) In reconstituting a public school, the superintendent  may take actions that include:

    (1) Replacing all or most of the staff, including
    teachers, principals, and other support staff;

    (2) Entering into a contract with a private entity to
    manage the school; and

    (3) Changing the membership of the school community.

This Act falls in line with what were originally Republican initiatives to privatize public education. It is unabashedly aimed at satisfying the US DOE requirements for “Race to the Top” funds, which is an Obama-administration policy amplifying Bush’s No Child Left Behind. Superintendent Katherine Matayoshi, who was appointed without a background in pedagogy, admitted this objective in her testimony to the 2011 Legislature:

Passage of this bill will further demonstrate the support and commitment of the Hawaii State Legislature for transformative educational reform outlined in the Hawaii Race to the Top application.

Community opposition to this bill during its course through the Legislature was outspoken. The very next item in the testimony was from OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs), which stated, in part,

SB 1485 seeks to define the superintendent’s authority within the context of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). This bill partially mimics section 1116, Title I of NCLB. Unfortunately, SB 1485 fails to include the essential elements of the federal school improvement model: (a) prompt notification and involvement of parents; (b) school choice options; (c) corrective action procedures; and (d) evidentiary procedures.
The SB 1485 model of educational reform lacks context because it ignores the socioeconomic status of the community the school serves. One key finding of a study of 262 Hawai`i public schools was that school characteristics like free/reduced lunch, enrollment, percentage of special education students, percentage of “Limited English Proficient Students,” number of principals and teachers at the school for five years or more affect student achievement and outcomes. A school cannot be reconstituted without attending to this significant finding.

Looked at this way, teachers are rejecting a contract that does not provide them with significant advancement or protections in a state that has caved in to Republican privatization initiatives without even being Republican.

NCLB has been widely criticized both by educators and by concerned parents across the country—and now, it can be interpreted, by concerned teachers in Hawaii.

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