Class Action

How to Fix Hawaii's Public Schools

March, 2002

This is a time for hope and opportunity in the area of public education. Sure, money is tighter than usual. The name “Felix” is more widely associated with special education than the cat or the character in The Odd Couple.

Schools have a greater number of alphabet-soup configurations to contend with: SCBM (School Community Based Management), SID (Standards Implementation Design), HCPS II (Hawaii Content and Performance Standards State Assessment.) And Edweek slammed Hawaii recently with a grade of D-minus for standards and accountability (although part of that was a function of timing.)

But hope can be found in the fact that many from the federal government on down are focused on and demanding accountability – a sticky concept that’s been missing for quite a while. 2002 is an election year and state legislators are paying particular attention to our schools, as they should be. Now is the time for all of us to move forward – to get cooking, so to speak. It’s our responsibility to our children, our economy, and our state.

In the upcoming pages, people who care passionately about education in Hawaii share their strategies for elevating our schools. They were required to limit their suggestions to steps that could reasonably be taken within the next five years. Kudos to the participants who were able to move beyond the name-calling and finger pointing in presenting real solutions. Their solutions can be found on pages 22-27.

(Bring the flour. He’ll measure. She’ll mix it.)
It’s all about accountability. That buzzword translates into clear areas of responsibility, measurable outcomes and appropriate consequences. Measurements need to be applied to student performance, teacher performance and overall school performance. Each student, teacher and principal must be held accountable. Ways must be found to hold parents accountable too. To move in this direction, we have Act 238, which established a collaborative to design an accountability system by focusing on three areas: academic achievement, safety and well- being and civic responsibility.

The 30-plus-person collaborative, along with facilitators from the Accord Group LLC, went through a six-month development process last year that included soliciting input through public meetings. The Act 238 collaborative’s report, “What the State of Hawaii Must Be Held Accountable for in Public Education,” released in January, makes a number of broad recommendations that make good sense. Student academic performance will be measured in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics, in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10, through the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards State Assessment (HCPS II) and newly designed state test.

The new federal “No Child Left Behind Act” makes some kind of annual testing more likely and bills supporting this endeavor will have been introduced this legislative session. The collaborative recommends rewards, such as savings bonds, scholarships, off-campus privileges and credit by examination for students who exceed the standards. There are consequences for underperformers, ranging from retention to expulsion.

One glaring problem with the accountability system (and this is recognized by the collaborative) is that it doesn’t hold teachers and principals accountable as individuals. Although it makes some general recommendations, the collaborative maintains that the detailed work will have to be done by the principals and teachers and their respective unions (Hawaii Government Employees Association and Hawaii State Teachers Association).

Notes the collaborative: 
‘“Collective’ accountability involves the systemic performance of all 189,000 students, 240 + schools and 35,000 employees. ‘Individual’ accountability involves the performance of each person alone.”

But there are some recommendations for evaluating teachers and principals. For instance, the collaborative is suggesting using both subordinates and superiors in evaluations. The critique of a teacher would include input from parents and students as well as the principal. Each supervisor would be given a per-employee dollar amount to use for rewards and recognition and would determine the types of supports and sanctions.

There are also suggestions for “other stakeholder accounting,” for other groups that contribute to student success including:
Parents: Data collection for attendance, tardiness, parent organization membership and attendance for conferences and open houses.
Business: Business organizations doing annual reporting on dollars donated, internships, reward programs for students and educators and pro bono hours.

But the bottom line should be continuous student improvement as an indicator of what’s happening in the classroom. Test scores aren’t the only measurement, but they are a start.

(We ran out of flour. There’s not enough sugar.)

You keep hearing there aren’t enough resources, but who’s got the data? The governor says that he can’t spare the department from budget cuts this round. It is his responsibility to balance the state budget. He thinks he’s been good for teacher pay. Ask the union and salaries may never be high enough. Know any dedicated public school teacher, and you know they don’t get paid enough.

Hawaii Business Roundtable Chair Roger Drue says it best, “We are going to get what we pay for. We have to go and compare ourselves nationally. … Not everybody is motivated by money, but it helps.”

Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto knows that resources should ultimately support and enhance what goes on in the classroom. She’s made some changes below the radar without additional funds, but, still started out the legislative session with a $52 million supplemental budget request, and is now dealing with budget-cutting scenarios.

In our whacked-out system of educational governance, the legislature (and the governor’s line-item veto power) will ultimately decide what gets funded. After Sept. 11, needed budget cuts will create pain across the state, but the schools are already writhing in agony or quietly gasping amid the apathy. An unbiased study of teacher and administrator pay must be done, and, if need be, more money found. In the short term, credit must be given for life and professional experience to those outside the education system who are willing to serve in shortage areas. They may not be credentialed teachers or principals, but still have much to offer. Let’s also make sure that there are enough safe, clean, adequately equipped classrooms for all the kids, not just the Felix ones, so that learning can take place.

More money can be found through a combination of cuts in other state spending (while a strong DOE administration is vital for proper classroom support, Hamamoto must take a good, hard look at all positions, job descriptions, salaries and programs in the bureaucracy to eliminate inefficiency), raising taxes (we ALL are accountable, remember?) and public-private partnerships. The Hawaii 3R’s initiative is a great example of how businesses can partner with the schools. The aim of the project is to match private contributions and professional volunteers with schools to attack the $640 million repair and maintenance backlog. Kamehameha Schools’ proposal to partner in developing charter schools deserves careful consideration.

Beyond Politics 
(Too many cooks …)
Education must transcend self-interest to move ahead. There are way too many people involved in affecting what really goes on in the classroom. Different solutions are being bandied about this year including an appointed Board of Education, or the elimination of that body. As the statewide teachers strike last year showed, public-sector unions are another significant part of the mix. Cayetano makes a valid point when he talks about the superiority of merit vs. seniority as a measurement. Why are principals and vice principals, the key managers of every one of our 240-plus schools, even HGEA members? That’s not likely to change, but HGEA must be more engaged in looking at ways to develop effective education leaders and administrators, especially with a principal shortage looming. It surely must not want “crabs in a bucket” any more than we do.

A look at successful schools will almost always reveal a skillful chief executive (read “principal”) who is the school’s chief financial officer, chief mentor, director of sales and marketing and head cheerleader. The good ones know how to leverage limited resources and work through our state system’s idiosyncrasies. Principals are also key to mentoring and developing classroom teachers. The DOE’s new complex system of management (a complex is a high school and all its feeder schools) is designed to better develop and support principals, but 20 principals per complex superintendent is still a lot of schools to keep track of.

After last year’s strike, we all have heard HSTA’s well-crafted message on behalf of teachers many times. Let’s find a way to make sure that every classroom teacher is “well-qualified.” HSTA must agree to both objective and subjective ways of measuring teacher effectiveness. National certification is a step in the right direction. And the $5,000 pay boost is a good motivator. A 360-degree annual review process tied to rewards and sanctions is another. But teachers and principals also need to be supported with guidance and resources in order to succeed. To many of them, standards implementation is a pain in the butt. If the DOE could develop several types of model curricula that meet the new standards and have proven effective, it would save a lot of grief at the school level that might be taking time away from actual learning, as well as provide a nice K through-12 continuum.

Ask not how much pie is in it for you. Ask what you can do to help bake it.

Actually, the future of our state is what’s in it for you. Almost everyone you talk to about education will flip it on its head toward economic-development and economic-diversification speak. We must do more than applaud the efforts of the Act 238 Collaborative and the Hawaii 3R’s initiative. We need to roll up our sleeves, wade in and do. Insist on accountability, but be accountable yourself. If we want our children to grow to be an engaged citizenry, then we should be. Volunteer time in the classroom or fixing a school. Talk up your local legislator. Celebrate the success stories and the learning taking place everyday that doesn’t get as much ink or airtime. It has the potential to be a mile-high coconut cream pie. If only we would quit getting distracted and burning it every time.

Mahalo to Mrs. Paula Sekiguchi and the children of B-2 at Noelani Elementary School, a 2001 National Blue Ribbon School, for letting us into the classroom for a day.

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