Friday, May 11, 2001

Teachers doing
other jobs are
needed back in class

The issue: The governor has asked
the Board of Education to find ways
to return teachers to the classroom
from other positions.

Governor Cayetano wants the state Board of Education to find ways to return qualified teachers in the classrooms rather than letting them hold other jobs in the public school system. Because of the shortage of teachers in Hawaii, the board ought to listen to the governor and to seek reasonable ways to do as he proposes.

In a letter to board chairman Herbert Watanabe, Cayetano contends that current personnel policies have led teachers to take jobs as resource teachers, student service coordinators, librarians, registrars, school counselors and administrators. His numbers show that 324 resource and 267 service positions are now held by qualified teachers.

During the teachers' strike, the Hawaii State Teachers Association asserted that 69 classrooms were without teachers and that 55 teachers who lacked certification were instructing classes, raising "serious concerns about the quality of our public education system," the governor's letter said.

School officials and the HSTA agree that qualified teachers should be teaching, but they also point out that having classroom experience can be an asset in other jobs.

Many student service coordinators are teachers assigned to special education. Resource teachers help new teachers adjust to their jobs. A registrar with teaching skills may be well qualified to set curriculum levels and goals for students.

Still, there likely are positions held by teachers that could be done as well or better by others. Some positions may not be necessary if programs are streamlined.

Although the teachers' strike last month was painful, it shook up what some viewed as an entrenched system that wasn't working as well as it should. Governor Cayetano and the HSTA have acknowledged that they must strive for improvements.

Much of the responsibility lies in the hands of the board and the Department of Education. Reevaluating personnel practices to encourage teachers to remain in the primary role of their profession would be a good start. Officials should look for ways to improve working conditions to entice teachers to stay in the classroom.

The governor is right to seek better public schools as Hawaii's citizens have made clear that they want this. It is equally important that the board take action to assure that student learning is its priority.

Legislature should
fund more school

The issue: A survey shows
public schools are improving
students' access to computers.

DESPITE a troubled economy, Hawaii has been able to perform fairly well in equipping public schools with computers, an essential element of education in today's high-technology world. While Hawaii's pupil-to-computer ratio remains slightly below the national average, the latest figures indicate an upward trend and success in placing computers in schools with high percentages of low-income students.

The Legislature could have added to the improvement by adopting an initiative by Governor Cayetano to buy more computers for schools but instead chose to address other concerns, including teachers' pay increases and other Board of Education priorities. Legislators should authorize more computer purchases next year.

A survey by Education Week found that Hawaii's public schools are equipped with one computer for every 5.8 students, a significant increase over the ratio of 6.7 students per computer a year ago. Meanwhile, the national average also went up in the past year, from 5.7 to 4.9 students per computer.

Students in low-income areas of Hawaii have greater computer access than those in higher-income areas, with a ratio of five students to one computer compared with 6.4 students per computer. The reverse is generally the case in schools on the mainland, where school districts rely on property tax revenues that vary greatly from county to county; Hawaii's statewide school district results in a more equitable distribution of general revenues. This is particularly important because students from poor families are less likely to have computers at home.

Cayetano proposed that the Legislature authorize an expenditure of $21 million to buy 18,000 additional computers for schools. He said that would have reduced the ratio to four students per computer. However, schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and the Board of Education gave priority to other programs.

That should not prevent the state from encouraging private businesses to contribute used computers to schools, a tactic that Cayetano launched four years ago with the Detwiler Foundation. It also may want to buy computers being used in this week's Asian Development Bank meeting and being offered for sale afterward at bargain-basement prices by Compaq, the computer manufacturer.

The governor blamed the teachers' pay raise following their strike for the rejection of his plan to buy more computers and textbooks. He complained after the legislative session that teachers "have been talking about needing these things for years, and we give them a pay raise, and the pay raise costs us that opportunity."

That opportunity will return next year, when LeMahieu and the school board will have less reason to deny their full support for improving Hawaii's computer education.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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