With one set of reforms undergoing major changes and another set due to kick in despite widespread opposition, teacher evaluations are becoming an issue in the Hawaii governor’s race.

Civil Beat poll numbers show a surprising shift toward David Ige, the teachers union-backed gubernatorial candidate, in the Democratic primary race against sitting Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who aggressively pushed for the new evaluations as part of a 2013 contract deal that soured many educators on him. Abercrombie now appears to be backing out of the debate over evaluations, recently telling Civil Beat it’s up to the state Department of Education to clear things up.

Ige and Republican candidate Duke Ainoa, meanwhile, are openly skeptical of the current system.

McKinley High School journalism teacher Cindy Reves prepares for her class last April.

McKinley High School journalism teacher Cindy Reves prepares for her class last April.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said the candidates are “very conscious” that the evaluations have become a political leverage point. The HSTA for its part has come under fire for failing to address teachers’ concerns about the evaluations.

The DOE recently announced sweeping changes to the system after receiving feedback from teachers and principals, some of whom said they felt so disempowered and overworked by the evaluations that they were considering abandoning their profession. Still, the evaluations are tied to the pay of all 12,500 teachers starting this school year.

And then there are the Common Core standards, new universal math and language arts learning benchmarks that are going live this fall across the country. In Hawaii, plans call for them to be used as a factor that determines teachers’ evaluation scores.

The Gates Foundation, the very organization that bankrolled the development of the Common Core standards, made national headlines earlier this month by calling for a moratorium on their use in evaluating teachers.

Hawaii’s multifaceted evaluation system is already based largely on new assessments aligned to these rigorous learning standards — despite the intensifying debate over whether they should be used. And so far the Hawaii DOE has shown no indication that it’s joining the growing number of states — including New York, Colorado and Florida — that have decided to hold off on using Common Core tests as an accountability measure.

Go To Civil Beat

Photo Credit: PF Bentley of Civil Beat