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StarBulletin.com

DOE should develop its own programs for improving schools


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The state Board of Education has a legitimate concern about the escalated spending for public schools that have failed to reach standards as decreed by federal law.

As the benchmarks keep rising from year to year and more schools are unsuccessful in meeting goals are forced to restructure, costs will continue to spiral.

At least half of the $27.2 million the Department of Education has spent on failing campuses in the 2008-2009 school year has gone to private companies. Another $12.3 million has gone to school complexes that are attempting to make improvements on their own.

So far, the department has pumped in a total of $65.6 million over three years. However, while spending has gone up, only a small number of schools improved enough to be freed of the restructuring sanction under the No Child Left Behind law.

With state revenues in a steep tumble, the department cannot expect to maintain the spending levels, particularly when results don't get better. The Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva reported that two years ago, when the state spent $16.1 million at 51 schools, only four passed the law's requirements and that last year, 14 schools made improvements while 31 didn't.

If it hasn't done so already, the department should begin developing its own programs for getting schools back on track. It should put together strategies that incorporate the best successful practices, as board vice chairwoman Karen Knudsen has suggested.

Though troubled schools probably have different sets of problems, the department should be able to gather the basic components that have been effective in improving schools. Those models could then be tailored for an individual campus.

In some cases, private companies have been valuable in identifying methods to boost student test scores and help teachers and administrators target problems. But like at Waialua High and Intermediate, which has improved enough to reach its goals, the objective should be for the school to stand on its own.

It has become increasingly evident that the goal of the federal law - to have every student proficient in grade level math and reading by 2014 - is unrealistic. There are too many children with different skills and whose backgrounds and social standings can affect their learning abilities.

The law should be changed to acknowledge these factors, not to abandon students, but to adapt education to fit their needs. It also should make allowances for circumstances, such as absences during testing, and not punish a school for circumstances beyond its control.