Parents fear furlough's effects


POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

Waipahu resident Brenda Paahana is worried about how cutting 17 days of public school instruction in Hawaii will affect her teenager's hope of getting a college education.

“;The kids are going to suffer. I know that already,”; said Paahana, who is the guardian for a ninth-grader at Waipahu High School.

“;My feeling is, 'Why education?' ... You don't have to touch education. We're no longer the strongest nation when it comes to education. We're way down the ladder.”;

As Hawaii education officials and teachers revise public school schedules, parents are beginning to ask questions about the effects of a shortened instructional year on students.

Some with children in special education are considering litigation.

The United States as a whole ranks lower than a number of industrialized nations in days children spend in school, and the elimination of 17 days of instruction lowers the state in the standings, critics note.

With an average of 180 days of school, the U.S. already ranks lower than Japan, Germany, and England.

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In Hawaii State Assessment tests, 65 percent of public school students were ranked proficient in reading and 44 percent proficient in mathematics—an improvement over last year.

But only 34 percent of the Hawaii's public schools met the adequate yearly progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

With 17 percent of students using English as a second language and nearly 11 percent in special education, Waipahu High School is under restructuring after failing to meet the No Child Left Behind standards.

At Waipahu, about 25 percent of the students in 10th grade were proficient in mathematics, compared to 34 percent statewide, and 66 percent of the 10th graders were proficient in reading, compared to 67 percent statewide, according to the state Department of Education Web site.

The national average for proficiency was 77 percent in mathematics and reading.

Keith Hayashi who became Waipahu High's principal this year said the 17 furlough days will have an impact on instruction.

“;We'll just have to deal with what we have,”; Hayashi said. “;Our teachers work extremely hard to meet the needs of our students.”;

Daniel Hamada, the department's assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum, said in light of the 17 furlough days, teachers will have to figure out how they can cover study materials the students need to know by the end of the school year.

Options include more homework or assigning independent study projects to be completed outside of the classroom.

“;There's ways you can tweak it to support the student,”; he said.

Critics point out that students in special education will have more difficulty adjusting to the 17-day furlough.

“;This is going to keep them back. It's going to be hard catching up,”; said Naomi Grossman, vice president of the Autism Society of Hawaii.

Grossman said the simple disruption of scheduled services can present a problem for some autistic children.

“;One of the worst things you can do with a kid with autism is to change the services without them understanding it. What we're trying to do ... is to remove distractions and be consistent so they're open to learning,”; she said.

Grossman said when there is a break in learning for three days, the children sometimes need psychological counseling to readjust to school.

Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, a lead attorney in a landmark case requiring the state to provide special services for students with learning disabilities, said he and his clients are still deciding if they will file a lawsuit.

“;We haven't decided what we're going to do, and we're going to make a determination by ... (early this) week,”; Seitz said.

State Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Housing, said he'd be willing to take a look at restoring the public education budget.

Bu he said support for it would have to come not just from parents and teachers but from the broader community, including businesses.

Sakamoto said money from the state's hurricane emergency fund could also be released to fund education.

Paahana said she supports restoring the funds.

“;I think, in the end, the kids will suffer and the teachers, too,”; she said.