State public education reform proceeding much as planned under Act 51
WHAT'S up with Act 51? It's been almost two years since enactment of the most sweeping education reform initiative the state has ever undertaken. How's it going? Here's a status report in a nutshell.
» Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto weighs in on the Weighted Student Formula in a "Gathering Place" column.|
» Twelve-month contracts for principals: implemented.
This provision changes principals' term of service from 10 months to 12 months. It acknowledges that schools are multimillion-dollar operations and principals, like other CEOs, need to be "on the job."
» Principal Performance Contract: in active discussion.
Challenging talks are continuing between the Department of Education and the Hawaii Government Employees Association (the principals' union) concerning a system of rewards and sanctions for principals based on job performance. Act 51 intends that principals will be held accountable for their performance and will be given the training and support they may need.
» Weighted Student Formula: partial implementation in 2006-'07 school year.
Controversy swirls around this Act 51 mandate. While roughly half of our schools will gain funding under WSF, just as many will lose. Losing schools include small and rural schools and schools under No Child Left Behind sanctions. Several bills now before the Legislature allocate additional funds to losing schools, and one states it is the "legislative intent that no school suffer a loss" under WSF.
Under the weights, additional funds will go to schools whose students are "English as a second language" learners, economically disadvantaged or transient students. A new Committee on Weights has been convened by the DOE to review the current weights and weighting formula. In addition, the Board of Education has mandated the committee to look at the unintended effects WSF might have on losing schools. Further, the BOE is seeking a vendor to revisit the formula and look at issues of equity, adequacy and transparency.
UNFORTUNATELY, principals of schools losing funding under WSF might have to make decisions that come down to the best of bad choices. Trimming staff or running out of money is not much of a choice. Do we really want elementary schools without school librarians? It doesn't seem like a good idea to me. Could two or more smaller schools share a librarian? Interesting question.
In '06-'07 a school's budget loss or gain will be limited to 10 percent.
» Unified school calendar: starts in '06-'07.
All public schools (except multitrack and charter schools) will be on a single schedule with a one-week break in the fall, three weeks over the holidays and two weeks in the spring (1-3-2 schedule). The summer break of seven weeks might make it difficult for schools, teachers and students to attempt a six-week summer school. This might have promotion and graduation consequences for students lacking credits. The important question is whether remediation, enrichment and tutoring services will be offered students when classes are not in session.
» School Community Councils: implemented.
SCCs are operating at all public schools (excluding charter schools). Council members are elected by their constituencies -- teachers, school staff, parents, students and community. As advisory groups, SCCs help principals "act locally" to benefit their students. A major task for the SCC has been a review of their schools' academic and financial plan that aligns projected resources (the gain or loss under WSF) with identified and prioritized school needs. In current practice, the role of the SCC differs from what was envisioned in Act 51. Some believe there should be a role for SCCs somewhere between advisory and co-decision-making.
» Seventy-percent control of expenditures by principals: Starts '06-'07.
Act 51 requires 70 percent of the DOE's operating budget of about $2 billion be expended by principals. This provision seeks to give schools the authority to make decisions about how to use and leverage money to best serve their students.
A total of 72 percent is what the DOE has recommended to the BOE, and this is a good start in shifting resources down to schools. Much of this will go to salaries. In addition, 24 percent must be spent in specified ways, limiting principals' discretionary control.
However, the important question is not whether 70 percent or 80 percent or 90 percent is the desired number, but whether and to what extent principals will be able to think outside the box (and be allowed to do so) to find new ways to improve student achievement.
» Delinking: substantially implemented.
This Act 51 provision gives the DOE authority over services currently being provided to schools by other state agencies and holds it accountable for results. The transfer of repair and maintenance and design and construction of schools from the Department of Accounting and General Services to the DOE has been accomplished.
NOW THAT R&M is housed in one state agency rather than two, the important question is whether repairs are being accomplished faster and more efficiently. Plainly speaking, will toilets flush and ceilings stay in place at our schools? The new streamlined and responsive DOE service center seems to be getting the job done.
The DOE has invested time, energy and hard work in implementing these Act 51 provisions. Kudos to Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, the Board of Education, Governor Lingle and the Legislature. Imagine what could be accomplished if these important leaders put differences aside, respected each others' views and came together to reform a beleaguered education system.
Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.