Mounting problems demand
changes in education law


The state Department of Education has identified 24 schools for restructuring.


Friday, March 11, 2005

» Maili Elementary is not one of 24 schools the state Department of Education identified as underperforming. An editorial Sunday incorrectly said the school was among those to be restructured as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

THE No Child Left Behind law employs the carrot-and-stick approach in attempting to raise public school student achievement. Unfortunately, the federal government has been stingy with carrots while wielding a big stick, which came down on 24 of Hawaii's schools this week.

The schools, all in low-income districts, were labeled as underperforming because their students failed to meet federal standards of achievement. They must undergo restructuring, a costly effort that could help those that haven't advanced, but also could disrupt strong progress others have been making.

This one mandate illustrates perfectly the law's weaknesses. Its inflexible and broad requirements deny the sheer complexity of applying a single yardstick to the nation's myriad and diverse school systems. It compels schools, teachers and administrators to deal with knotty social problems such as poverty and parental indifference that cannot be resolved in the classroom.

State leaders and education officials from all parts of the country have fiercely criticized the law. Last month, a bipartisan group representing 50 state legislatures called for changes, citing the law's unworkable "one-size-fits-all" methods and its cheating of billions in promised federal dollars.

More than a dozen legislatures, including Hawaii's, have passed resolutions demanding the law be modified. Lawmakers in Utah, backed by Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman, have gone a step further, advancing a bill to supplant the federal law. A final vote is being held off while Huntsman, who has close ties with President Bush, negotiates with federal education officials, who do not want to face a legal challenge that could result.

Other states are watching closely. Should Utah receive concessions, they will surely seek the same because Congress is unlikely to revisit the law for another two years.

With changes not forthcoming, Hawaii has been struggling to comply. Despite its problems, education officials acknowledge the law's worthy intent -- to ensure that every student is proficient in reading and math by 2014 -- even though it may be impossible to achieve.

No Child Left Behind dictates that the 24 schools identified as failing be taken over by the state, but since all public schools in Hawaii are already state-run -- another example of the law's flaws -- district superintendents will make decisions normally handled by principals.

Private companies will be paid to provide advice and corrective plans, which will cost between $200,000 to $400,000 a year for each school, money some schools were using to hire more teachers and academic coaches.

The state had been monitoring 56 schools where students had tested poorly last year and while only 24 were unable to improve enough to avoid restructuring, the rest remain on the cusp.

Schools that didn't make the cut, such as Palolo and Maili elementary schools, had shown remarkable gains, but they are still considered failures because they fell short of an arbitrary percentage fixed in the halls of Congress. Restructuring may help or it may undermine these schools. However, the law, intrusive and rigid as it may be, is the law.

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David Black, Dan Case, Dennis Francis,
Larry Johnson, Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke,
Colbert Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe, Michael Wo

Dennis Francis, Publisher Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor
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Frank Bridgewater, Editor
(808) 529-4791
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor
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