Sunday, December 5, 2004

Reinventing education

Act 51 is the state Legislature's latest
attempt to reform Hawaii's maligned
public education system. Will this
radical approach finally repair
our broken system?

When it comes to schools, we
have to cut the apple a new way

Education reform in Hawaii is on the move. And move it must because we can't afford to fail, not this time. Fifteen years ago, Gov. John Waihee said, "Nowhere is the need for a change of mindset so poignant than in the way we govern our schools." Today, Gov. Linda Lingle describes the school system as "broken;" the Legislature concludes "significant changes need to be made;" and Superintendent of Education Pat Hamamoto says "Hawaii public education is not working as it should."


Ruth Tschumy

About this column

This is the first in a series of columns by education consultant Ruth Tschumy following the progress of Act 51 that will appear the first Sunday of every month on the Star-Bulletin editorial page.

About the author

Ruth Tschumy, a former administrator at La Pietra -- Hawaii School for Girls, has been an educator in Hawaii for nearly 30 years, teaching at the junior and senior high school and college levels, serving as academic dean and working as a teacher/consultant with the Hawaii Writing Project. A winner of the prestigious Klingenstein Fellowship, she has written extensively for educational journals and magazines and is now working as a consultant for the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization operating out of the Research Corporation at the UH-Manoa .

Reform experts brought to Hawaii generally express concerns about the system's ability to transform itself because ours is an unwieldy, statewide system. They conclude that "extraordinary steps that go beyond the existing patterns" are needed.

The Reinventing Education Act of 2004 (Act 51) is the latest attempt, to the tune of $11.7 million, to reform public education in Hawaii. Is this the fix that will repair a broken system?

Hamamoto says "the intent of Act 51 is to force a change in the delivery of services." In other words, she believes "business as usual" is no longer an option for the Department of Education. How does Act 51 change the way the DOE operates?

A major reform cluster in Act 51 centers around the allocation of funds to individual schools, around the mechanism for academic and financial decision-making at schools and around the expenditure of funds at the school level.

Weighted Student Funding is an approach to allocating funds to schools based on the unique characteristics of each student enrolled at the school. This differs significantly from current funding to schools based on the school's total enrollment.

A Committee on Weights, whose composition is divided almost equally between DOE employees and community participants, is working to define which student characteristics will be given greater emphasis and the relative value or weight assigned to each of these characteristics.

For example, a student requiring special education services or English as a Second Language instruction will be assigned a greater weight, and hence the school will receive more funding than it would for a student without this characteristic. Weighting will follow students to whichever public school they attend. The committee's recommendations on weights is scheduled to go to the Board of Education for final action at the start of the new year.

Once a school receives its funding based on WSF, who will decide how the resources will be allocated? Elected boards called School Community Councils will replace the School/Community-Based Management teams and help principals develop their schools' academic and financial plans, the roadmap to how the school will use its funding. These councils will consist of an equal number of community stakeholders and school staff, including at least one teacher, parent, staff person and community member, each selected by their peers, a student representative selected by the student council, and the school principal.

Beginning with the 2006-2007 school year, principals and the SCC at local schools will decide how 70 percent of the total DOE operating budget (excluding debt service and capital improvement programs) will be spent. Under consideration is a 58 percent-12 percent plan. That means 58 percent of the 70 percent will be allocated in a lump sum by weights to schools, and 12 percent will be in other school funds, such categorical, federal, special and trust funds. Categorical funds, some legislatively mandated, provide money for specific programs such as safety managers. Principals will not have discretionary authority over how to expend these funds.

Twenty-two schools are participating in the Phase I pilot program to provide models for all other schools, excluding charter schools, to establish School Community Councils by the 2005-2006 school year and adopt weighted student funding by the 2006-2007 school year.

Other mandates in Act 51 require the DOE to de-link from state agencies that provide services to the DOE. New autonomy will bring greater accountability to the DOE. For instance, by July the DOE must separate itself from the Department of Accounting and General Services, which currently performs repair and maintenance and capital improvements for schools. Also included in the act is the establishment of a Hawaii Principals Academy to help principals grow into their new and expanded roles, funding to reduce class size in grades K-2 by hiring 75 new teachers, funding to purchase mathematics textbooks, and funding to encourage Hawaii teachers to obtain National Board Certification.

Is Act 51 the remedy our ailing schools need? Though it's too early to tell, it seems promising, and future articles will assess the implementation and impact of these and other Act 51 reforms. A listing of Board of Education community meetings to discuss Act 51 reforms and other matters can be found at www.boe.k12.hi.us and DOE reform updates are at reach.k12.hi.us

Ruth Tschumy is under contract with the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a non-partisan and independent research organization, to observe and write about the implementation of Act 51.

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