Sacrifice administration, not teachers, to save money


POSTED: Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Thank you for the series of articles in the Star-Bulletin over the last few months noting our students' difficulties on standardized tests and describing several Department of Education proposals.

Of course, the No. 1 objective of the DOE, really its purpose for existence, is improving the education of our children, as cost-effectively as possible.

Some of the articles mention the idea of closing some schools because current demographics and projected population estimates indicate that some school areas could be combined with others. They also mention that our schools still do not have a sufficient number of qualified teachers. Still other education-related articles mention the idea that increasing class size could reduce the need to hire more qualified teachers and reduce costs overall for DOE.

Tying these articles together, it would seem that the DOE has forgotten the hard-learned lesson that larger class sizes hurt student learning. Closing schools combined with proposed increases in class size and a reduction in qualified teachers to reduce costs associated with teaching students is exactly the wrong direction for the DOE in these difficult financial times. Reducing costs associated with administering the DOE - while keeping class sizes manageable and hiring more qualified teachers to improve student learning and meet national standards - is more consistent with the No. 1 goal of the DOE, which is improving student learning.

A recent article indicated that the DOE could save $9 million or so by increasing class size and thus reducing the ratio of teachers to students. It would seem obvious that the more appropriate step - with the goal of increasing student learning and reducing costs - would be to reduce the number of nonteachers, not the number of teachers.

The goal of closing some schools might be appropriate. The plan of increasing class sizes is not appropriate. The suggestion of reducing teachers as a way to save money, which ignores achieving learning goals, is most inappropriate.

If costs must be cut, cut costs associated with nonteachers, looking first at cutting the costs of administrative staff not physically located in schools. Reduce the ratio of administrative staff to students, not the ratio of teachers to students. If learning is to be increased, focus on smaller, not larger, classroom sizes. Focus on hiring qualified teachers, not dodging new hires under the cover of not being able to manage the budget or the hiring process.

Remember, our students' education is the sole purpose of the DOE. All steps, even steps to cut cost, must consider how they help improve education, not weaken it. That the DOE is considering fewer teachers, fewer qualified teachers and larger classrooms shows clearly that improved student learning is not its primary concern.


Bill Zwick lives in Kaneohe.