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Saturday, January 15, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

Schools chief
pushing plans for

Legislators will consider
proposals to improve
public education

By Crystal Kua


Rewards for academic excellence.

Sanctions for continuous poor performance.

Assistance and time given to improve things.

Legislature 2000 That's the basic framework under which schools, teachers and administrators would be held accountable for student performance -- if Superintendent Paul LeMahieu gets his way.

But the details of what LeMahieu wants and what the Legislature and the public worker unions are willing to give could make for one of the more lively and important issues of this year's session.

"I think one of the main issues will be the superintendent's plans for accountability," said Rep. Ken Ito, chairman of the House Education Committee. "When he talks about sanctions, what is he going to do? Rewards -- what form is that going to take? Yes, I'm looking forward to specifics."

LeMahieu said the Department of Education has "some challenging and landmark ideas."

The department has revised content standards and already has begun improving performance standards and devising tests to measure performance.

The next step in LeMahieu's plan to improve Hawaii's public schools is to be able to reward or sanction schools based on how well they meet the standards. To accomplish that he will bring several proposals before the Legislature, including exempting his plan from collective bargaining and being able to mandate professional development for teachers.

LeMahieu said having accountability set in stone or in a flow chart or in a union contract will not give the department the flexibility it needs.

"I don't want to set up a system that's mechanical without valuing human judgment," he said.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association says it's interested in accountability, but the union believes accountability should be negotiated at the bargaining table.

HSTA President Karen Ginoza said that if teachers are going to be required by law to get additional professional training and be evaluated based on that training, the department should be required to make sure that courses and classes will be available for all teachers in all areas. Without the contract, teachers would lose due process rights, she said.

"Right now, we have made a decision that we would work on accountability but we are not convinced that a bill is necessary," Ginoza said. "The details should be left up to the department."

Instead, she said the union will be pushing for more funds to reduce class size at all grade levels, especially at middle schools and high schools where she said one teacher can be responsible for 180 students.

Accountability in other parts of the country has meant extreme measures to get schools back on track such as placing schools in receivership or transferring principals and teachers.

But LeMahieu said that while these kinds of ideas should be discussed, it's not what happens in most cases because the goal of accountability is not to fall short but to gain.

"It's done very rarely. The fear is much too widespread given the reality," he said.

When LeMahieu brought his accountability proposals before the Board of Education, the board approved the overall plan but without language exempting his proposal from collective bargaining.

LeMahieu knows the Legislature may not approve everything he wants. But he hopes his lobbying efforts will result in some accountability.

Education Chairman Ito said he's open to hearing LeMahieu's proposals.

"I want to see good schools rewarded, good students rewarded. The ones that are not rewarded, I want to see how to get them up to par," Ito said.

Besides accountability, LeMahieu also is pushing for more autonomy.

He said establishing an accountability system cannot occur unless the Department of Education is released from certain fiscal, administrative and statutory constraints.

For example, LeMahieu said he had to seek the approval of other executive departments when he was trying to reorganize his own department.

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