MIKE BURLEY / MBURLEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Uepa Tripp, 8, raised his hand Friday as Dan Haiola conducted his fourth-grade class during a writing exercise at Kaala Elementary. Kaala was among seven Hawaii schools that exited restructuring.
Struggling to succeed
Out of reach: More isle schools fall into restructuring phase
STORY SUMMARY »
A record number of Hawaii public schools are being restructured after failing to meet goals under the No Child Left Behind law.
Restructuring is imposed on schools that miss escalating targets -- from test participation and results to graduation and retention rates -- for four or more years, triggering wide reforms to help raise student achievement at state expense.
A total of 81 of 283 isle schools are being restructured. That's up almost 70 percent from the 48 schools that were in that status last year.
Educators say while it's important to have high goals for students, they complain the law is unfair because it penalizes schools if just one student group scores below federal expectations.
"As policy makers, they have a responsibility to pass good policy," said Moanalua High School Principal Darrel Galera, whose school entered restructuring after white students missed math benchmarks.
"I think good policy would include realistic, and fair and attainable goals," Galera added.
FULL STORY »
Public school principals Ted Fisher and Lehua Veincent used different tactics to lift their failing campuses out of federal sanction.
Struggle to succeed
The number of Hawaii public schools being restructured under the No Child Left Behind law has steadily risen over the years. Those schools -- some of them carried over from year to year -- failed to meet federal progress benchmarks for four years or more and now face intervention by outside education agencies or other forms of support to help struggling students.
|| Schools being restructured
|| 28 (10%)
|| 41 (15%)
|| 50 (18%)
|| 48 (17%)
|| 81 (28%)
Source: Hawaii Department of Education
Fisher hired a private consultant and had teachers at Kaala Elementary spend more time in reading and math than in subjects like arts and sciences. At Keaukaha Elementary, Veincent relied on support from businesses and community groups and kept reading and math coaches free from unrelated tasks.
Fisher limited field trips; Veincent increased them. In the end, both succeeded.
Kaala and Keaukaha were among seven Hawaii schools that turned out enough proficient students in reading and math this year to exit restructuring, the stiffest penalty of the No Child Left Behind law.
But their stories are overshadowed by the growing number of schools that fell or remained in restructuring, or 81 of the state's 283 schools, compared with 48 that were in that bottom status a year ago, a nearly 70 percent increase.
State education officials had predicted more schools would enter restructuring after missing testing targets that rose for the first time in three years. The law requires a greater percentage of students to be proficient each year, culminating in 2014, when every child should be able to read and solve math problems at grade level.
Restructuring is imposed on schools that miss escalating benchmarks -- from test participation and scores to graduation and retention rates -- for four or more years, triggering wide reforms to help raise student achievement at state expense.
Hawaii's surge in restructuring schools is not rare.
Nationally, more schools are expected to face government sanctions as the law's deadline nears. In fact, only about a third of states are making enough headway to ensure all students are proficient six years from now, according to the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.
California saw a 150 percent jump in restructuring schools since 2006, or 300 schools per year.
Educators have complained the law is unfair and punitive because schools do not get credit for overall improvements if groups of students fail. They say schools should be rewarded for gains by poor and minority students, especially those who are learning English as a second language or have learning disabilities, even if they place below federal expectations.
Not recognizing schools for advances, even if small, lowers morale of students and staff, educators note.
MIKE BURLEY / MBURLEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kaala Elementary School fourth-grader Devin Cabison-Tugaoen, 9, raised his hand Friday morning during a writing exercise at the Wahiawa school.
"It doesn't matter if you are a school or a sports team, if you've always been the loser, then you are demoralized," said Joe Yamamoto, principal of Maunaloa Elementary, which got out of restructuring after working with consultant Educational Testing Services.
Kapolei Elementary Principal Michael Miyamura said his school is performing well as a whole, but it missed so-called Adequate Yearly Progress because of lower scores posted by special needs students. Now, teachers will partner with Edison Alliance, a mainland firm, to target instruction to struggling students and hopefully pull out of restructuring.
"We are in the process now of analyzing the scores and seeing which children need some help," Miyamura said.
Moanalua High School has been on the road to restructuring ever since the law took effect in 2002, mostly because special education students have been unable to pass math exams. This year, white students fell behind in math.
Principal Darrel Galera said while it's important to grade all students equally, he questioned whether test results of special education kids should be lumped with those of other children. He noted that the government acknowledges the unique challenges of special education students by requiring schools to develop individual education plans for them.
"I think its actually hypocritical from the federal government," Galera said. "They are all required to take this very difficult test. You are grouping them all together, and you are forgetting about their individual needs."
ANOTHER concern is that schools are cutting non-core subjects. Most school districts nationwide, 62 percent of them, have increased time for math and English for elementary students, and many did so at the expense of science, art, music, recess and lunch, among other areas, a study done last year by the Center on Education Policy revealed.
Fisher, of Kaala Elementary, said staff spent less time on social studies, physical education and field trips to turn the school around.
"To some degree, it was teaching toward the tests," he said. "I would say 3/4 of our day was just reading and/or math."
Besides exams, schools are graded on graduation and retention rates.
Isle schools had to graduate at least 80 percent of its students this year, up from 75 percent last year.
McKinley High School, which entered restructuring this year with a graduation rate of 71 percent, will file an appeal because it suspects some students who transferred to the mainland may have been counted as not having earned a diploma.
"We are trying to clean that up," said Principal Ron Okamura. However, McKinley also flunked in two other areas, reading and math for English language learners, meaning the sanction would remain even if it wins the appeal.
Across the country, educators have employed an array of approaches to get restructuring schools back on track -- from replacing staff to hiring private consultants and even closing schools.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, criticized the law for waiting until schools repeatedly miss goals to place them in restructuring and order strict reforms. He said proposals in Congress would give states more flexibility to assist schools as soon as problems develop.
"Let's use the data that we are developing ... and immediately identify the problem and go in and fix it," he said. "If I go to a doctor and the doctor tells me, 'I'm beginning to see some trouble spots,' I don't say, 'Well, let's wait five years and then see if we need to do a total restructuring.'"
And as states deal with tightening budgets, it's key for districts to research which schools need the most support, as well as in what areas, to ensure money is spent wisely, said Daria Hall, assistant director of K-12 policy development with the Education Trust. She praised a government pilot program that allows states to target money for reforms at campuses in the worst shape.
"There is a pretty sound consensus among both policy makers and educators that a system that identifies individual school needs and has responses and interventions that are tailored to those needs is what's necessary," Hall said. "However, it's also very important that we keep pressure on schools to serve all students, so it's not OK to say, 'Well, we are a great school, except for our low-income students.'"
Hawaii spent $5 million in taxpayer money toward restructuring schools in the last academic year, but the state Department of Education is not planning to ask lawmakers for additional funds even though more schools are in trouble.
Assistant Superintendent Daniel Hamada noted that a large portion of restructuring schools won't require too much intervention because they missed goals by just one or two student groups or separate requirements.
Veincent recognized it will be tough to keep up with the law's mounting progress goals, but he said, "As long as you can see that light at the end of the tunnel, or when you are in a canoe and you can see that island, it is something to strive for."