DOE strains to address long list of priorities
THE Board of Education is focusing on seven priorities this year. They are weighted student formula, or WSF; teacher recruitment and retention; repair and maintenance; bullying/teasing/violence; current initiatives; charter school administrative rules; and library staffing. Let's look at several of these.
For most education stakeholders, WSF continues to be a major concern. Some support WSF because they hope it will bring greater transparency and fairness to school funding. Others worry it might be the death knell for small schools and will force all schools losing money to reduce staff or programs.
The BOE is concerned about the unintended consequences WSF might have on schools. What will happen to art and music classes and library services at schools losing funding?
The Department of Education says the WSF discussion should not be about gains and losses, but, rather, about how schools can do things differently with the budgets they will have.
I agree the important discussion is about thinking outside the box, but is the DOE doing enough to help principals find new ways of operating within a tight framework of union rules and DOE requirements? A "Frequently Asked Questions" handout about WSF given to principals last summer says, "Ultimately the Department will need to assist principals and school communities in reallocating resources, rather than seeking additional resources ... "
A "losing school" simulation/demonstration project showing creative approaches to coping with reduced resources might be helpful, as would a published list of principals' "worst case" best ideas and practices for when WSF is fully implemented. Rather than stifling creativity, these and similar "assists" might prime the pump as many principals struggle to learn how to do more with less.
What does the BOE mean by its fifth priority -- current initiatives?
Some board members would like to see a moratorium on new DOE initiatives (projects) and better monitoring and assessment of roll-outs. They think resources should support existing projects and not be scattered among new ones.
It's true the DOE is beset by initiatives that are self- or other-imposed and the subsequent need to "roll out" these initiatives. Recently the launch of standards-based report cards was fraught with difficulties. Why were these new cards rolled out at the same time the DOE was grappling with WSF and other major issues?
A standard of excellence rather than a rush to get the job done should be the bottom line for the DOE, and often it is. But we also see past decisions producing present-day consequences.
A new single school calendar is making it difficult for students, teachers and schools to participate in summer school programs. Some say overly high standards set a few years ago by the DOE in response to No Child Left Behind might result in all public schools being labeled "failing." Now the DOE is hoping federal education officials will allow Hawaii to switch to a NCLB "Growth Model" to forestall this consequence.
We hear anecdotal stories of teachers moving here from other states or Hawaii-born- and-raised young adults returning to teach but unable to penetrate the DOE hiring practices. Yet 1,400 to 1,600 new teachers are needed each year to replace those who leave or retire. The state DOE must now petition the federal DOE in the hopes of receiving an exemption from the requirement that by year's end all classroom teachers must be "highly qualified."
All too often it seems the DOE is under siege. The Legislature and the BOE must be aware of the heavy demands they place on the department for new initiative roll-outs and the preparation of dozens of reports and studies. It might be a good idea just to let the DOE catch its breath.
Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.