Schools Under Stress

Curstyn Kalahiki-Salis holds a literature book. Castle High received the books as hand-me-downs from Kamehameha Schools.


Taking care of basics

Sometimes the shortages are even more basic. Many schools report not enough toilet paper and other supplies to keep bathrooms stocked. But some schools are trying to fix the problem themselves.


Getting the job done

Only two of the state's 100-plus high-poverty schools have reached their goals for student achievement four years in a row. We look at a unique program those two schools have in common.



Still not enough
textbooks, and too many
that are obsolete

Administrators consider book sharing,
buying books in bulk and even using
computers more instead of textbooks

By Susan Essoyan


When Mitch D'Olier, president of Kaneohe Ranch, volunteered to teach ninth-grade English at Castle High School for a day, he says he "fell in love with the kids" and found their teacher "fabulous." But something was missing.

There were only 30 textbooks for 100 students enrolled in the course.

"The textbooks went from kid to kid, class to class," he lamented afterward. "I don't think it's fair to expect our kids to learn or do their homework if they don't have their own textbooks."

Schools under stress
Why teaching and learning at Hawaii's public schools can be more difficult than it should be.

Unlike most private schools, where students shell out money for their own textbooks every year, public schools in Hawaii cover that cost for their students. The state Department of Education has pumped up spending on textbooks and other reference materials in the last several years, but with prices heading up as well, some schools still come up short.

And even if there are enough texts to go around, they can be way out of date.

"Last year, I had a biology book written in 1985, which is 17 years old. That's older than I am," said Chelsea Yagong, a sophomore at Honokaa High School on the Big Island. "Subjects like science do change. We hardly worked out of the book because it was not accurate enough to match our lesson plan."

The last time the state Board of Education conducted a survey on the issue, in 2000, it found that only two of 71 intermediate and high schools that responded said they had enough textbooks. The rest reported being short 134,000 books.

The school system has been putting more money into instructional material since then, so the situation may have improved, but costs have been going up as well. Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto estimated it would cost $45 million to start fresh and buy each child a new copy of every textbook in the public schools.

Spending on textbooks topped $7.6 million in each of the last two school years, up from $5.8 million in 1999-2000 and $4.2 million the year before. Overall spending on the category that includes classroom supplies, instructional materials, textbooks, reference materials and computer software has grown to $34.7 million in the last school year, up from $24.5 million a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the price of textbooks has risen by about the same amount. A standard high school science textbook that cost close to $45 a decade ago now commands $65, plus 20 percent shipping and handling, according to Justin Mew, state educational specialist for science.

Money for instructional supplies such as textbooks is included in the lump-sum program funds distributed each year to schools based primarily on enrollment. The principals have leeway to decide how to divvy up the funds. Money not used for textbooks can be used to pay for computers or, in some cases, even for more staff on a temporary basis.

Bobbye Yamamoto's English class at Castle High School with their literature books. The ones at left are hand-me-downs from Kamehameha Schools; the books at right are several years old.

"The funding is not restricted to textbooks," noted Edwin Koyama, budget director for the schools system. "The schools have a lot of flexibility in how to use those funds."

"Schools are making choices, based on their priorities, to invest in textbooks, computer technology or other options to enhance the classroom learning experience."

After James Schlosser became principal at Kalaheo High School, the school launched "Operation Textbook" in 1998, spurred by parents concerned their kids were being shortchanged.

"My immediate goal was to provide textbooks for every student to take home," he said. "The faculty agreed it was a priority, and we funneled most of our available resources into that. We achieved that goal a couple of years ago, with used textbooks."

But the problem is not over, he said, because books become out of date and get lost. He suggested that "society needs to rethink the issue of textbooks" and consider the availability of information electronically.

Some educators say that trying to provide every child a textbook for every course is unrealistic, given current costs, and may not be as important as it once was. With standards-based learning, Mew said, teachers use various instructional materials and experiences to convey ideas, especially in the younger grades, where textbooks are used more as references.

"Parents shouldn't necessarily say, 'You're not coming home with a textbook -- what's the matter?'" he said. "It's worth digging a little deeper."

In high school, if the budget does not permit students to have their own textbooks, a classroom set can be shared, with each class of students taking the books home on different nights, said Castle High School Principal Meredith Maeda.

"I don't believe that every single student needs his or her own text for every single class," Maeda said. "I think that as long as we can keep our textbooks up to date, and as long as the students are able to share, it's more cost-effective."

"We also try to buy more up-to-date technology so kids can get into the computer and get information that way, not having to rely so much on the textbook."

Castle High students Shaila Haili, left, Casey Irvine, Justin Pua and Sala Iese read in Bobbye Yamamoto's class.

Maeda said that rather than spend more money on new textbooks for every student, he would rather restore staff positions that were cut recently from the school's team-teaching program for ninth- and 10th-graders.

Bobbye Yamamoto, whose class D'Olier visited, called the lack of textbooks "a major problem" but said it is tough to address because of the expense.

"We're lucky if they don't slice our budget," she said.

She and other observers suggest that Hawaii might stretch its textbook dollars further if it bought in bulk for the system as a whole, a move that would dovetail with new federal requirements to have students meet statewide standards for learning. Big states such as California and Texas, which have statewide textbook-adoption policies, are market makers in the textbook world, with power to negotiate with publishers. In Hawaii each school is free to select its own texts.

"The Department of Defense chooses one set of textbooks for all of their schools," said state Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village), chairman of the Education Committee. "That might be something we need to look at that would bring economies of scale as well as consistency throughout the system.

"As we move toward standards and the new federal mandates, we need to work better in aligning our curriculum."

A uniform statewide system would also make it easier to replace missing books. In hopes of stemming losses, the Department of Education now requires students to pay for lost books before getting their diplomas. Money that is collected goes into the school's textbook-replacement fund.

"We're trying to teach the kids to be more responsible with the materials they are given," Maeda said. "Replacing a book is so much more expensive than when you buy a set."

In-class school expenditures

Total expenditures per pupil

Some school districts elsewhere in the country charge rental fees for textbooks, but that has not been a popular idea here. The Hawaii Poll on Public Education, a statewide survey conducted in 2001 by SMS Research, found that 55 percent of respondents opposed such fees. Close to two-thirds, however, favored increasing the general excise tax by half of 1 percent or the income tax by 1 percent if the additional money went to the public schools.

Hamamoto suggested that eventually the school system should begin to look beyond textbooks, and pointed to school districts in Virginia and Vermont that have invested in a laptop computer for each child instead.

But if Hawaii's schools cannot afford textbooks, how will they ever afford laptops, which run $1,700 each?

"Why not?" she asked. "They could be used over the four years, and you could put in new, digitized information each year. We would be getting students truly ready for the 21st century," she said.

Sam Tiitii, a senior at Farrington High School, likes that idea, even if it is just a dream at this point.

"Computers are the way this generation learns," he said. "It's hands-on. Textbooks will be obsolete."

But state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who has pushed legislation mandating adequate textbooks in the public schools, finds such talk frustrating.

"I recognize that a lot of information is available online, but that doesn't substitute for the actual book itself that a student can read and go through whenever and wherever they want," said Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua). "Libraries are not going to be put out of business because of the Internet. Books provide a vital function, and textbooks are part of that same learning process."

State Department of Education

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