More Hawaii schools will get ‘restructured’
The cost will be less with consulting firms now well established
More poor-performing public schools plan to submit to top-to-bottom reform by mainland education firms in the coming school year, but likely at a lower cost to the state than in the past.
Despite the addition of more schools, the Department of Education appears to be making good on its vow to find alternatives to the expensive school takeovers.
The number of schools to be "restructured" by private firms will grow to 23 in 2006-07 from the current 20, according to school contracts now awaiting approval.
However, that's a relatively small increase considering that there are 29 new schools facing the possibility of restructuring in the coming year.
The rest will bring on outside help from education specialists for weak areas such as math or reading, while others will be reformed internally by the department, pending contract approval, said Sharon Nakagawa, the department official overseeing contract negotiations.
"We had a lot of schools that decided they didn't need wholesale change, but maybe just help in certain areas," she said.
Restructuring, which entails broad changes to how a school operates, is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law for schools that repeatedly fall short of state test score targets.
Twenty of the first batch of 24 Hawaii schools now being restructured are doing so under one of three mainland firms -- Edison Alliance, America's Choice, and ETS Pulliam -- at an annual cost of around $400,000 per year.
The private firms provide schools a range of professional development, data systems and instructional help.
However, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto promised last year to lessen the department's future reliance on such companies.
The price of full reform will drop in the coming year now that the three firms have established a presence here, mitigating start-up costs at each new site, Nakagawa said.
Costs would slip to the $300,000 range per school generally, but will go as low as $125,000 for a small elementary, she said. Nakagawa withheld details for individual schools until contracts are approved. However, schools are signing contracts even though they might not technically need to.
Several schools that have shown improvement recently could avoid restructuring if the results of this spring's testing results -- due just before school starts on July 27 -- are high enough. But the department had no choice but to proceed with contracts for all the schools, Nakagawa said.
"What if a school doesn't make it out of restructuring, but a contract is not in place by the time school starts, and we can't provide the services they need?" she said, adding that the draft contracts took months to work out.
Schools now being restructured by outside firms also need continuity even if they officially "graduate" from restructuring, said Maui District Superintendent Ken Nomura.
"Continuity is good," he said. "My schools have adjusted and adapted to (Edison's) strategies and we've seen a lot of growth in the classroom. You don't just pull the rug out."
Nakagawa said schools that ink a private restructuring contract but manage in the end to avoid restructuring status will honor the contracts, but principals will have much more say in how the process is carried out.
Nine of the 23 schools that will pursue full, private restructuring in 2006-07 will be new to the process, suggesting that several of the 20 schools currently going that route are seeking alternatives.
The mainland firms aren't always a perfect fit, said Susan Alivado, principal of Paia Elementary, which is restructuring under Edison Alliance.
The school has a Hawaiian immersion program that proved a stumbling block for the company.
"Could we have (restructured) on our own? Maybe, but it would have been challenging," she said. "It's hard to say (whether it's been worth the money spent). But it's definitely helped."
A total of 53 schools face possible restructuring in the coming year. In addition to the 23 going private, four will be reformed internally by DOE personnel, while 26 will seek targeted help in specific areas from various private or non-profit education service providers or from the department itself, Nakagawa said.