School restructuring costs spark concerns


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

Costs of helping Hawaii public schools failing the No Child Left Behind law have more than doubled from last year to $27.2 million as a record number of campuses flunked annual goals for reading and math.





        A breakdown on the number of restructuring schools working with education companies and the cost.

Company No. of schoolsContract
America's Choice9$2,966,000
Edison Alliance26$10,558,500
School complex as provider33$12,335,167
Total 75$27,242,966

        Source: Hawaii Education Department


So far, results have been mixed about whether the infusion of cash over the years has led to better grades.

The growing expense - which, coupled with $38.3 million from the three previous years, totals $65.6 million - is alarming some Board of Education members, especially since more schools are expected to fall short of the federal law's escalating demands and require the pricey interventions.

Most of the money being spent this year, $14.9 million, is paying for three educational firms to assist 42 so-called restructuring schools target lessons for struggling students. Another $12.3 million is being used by district administrators to support 33 schools.

Restructuring is imposed on schools that miss rising benchmarks - from test participation and scores to graduation and retention rates - for four or more years, triggering wide reforms to help raise student achievement at state expense. To exit the sanctions, schools need to meet goals for two straight years.

The federal law calls for every child to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The $27.2 million going to 75 schools that have failed to stay on track of that target is more than twice as high as the $13.4 million given to 46 schools in the 2007-08 academic year.





        The state Education Department has spent $65.5 million since the 2005-06 academic year in extra support for schools under so-called restructuring, the stiffest sanction of the No Child Left Behind law:

Year SchoolsCost
2005-0626$8.8 million
2006-0751$16.1 million
2007-0846$13.4 million
2008-0975$27.2 million

        Source: Hawaii Education Department


Despite the extra money - a mix of federal and state funds - improvement has been slow.

Two years ago, when the state spent $16.1 million at 51 schools, only four passed the law's requirements. Last year, 15 schools made enough gains; 31 didn't.

Educators working with firms at their school say they are a wise investment that will show results in the long run.

“;It takes a good three to five years before you can see really significant progress,”; said Calvin Nomiyama, principal of Kalakaua Middle School, which has been in restructuring for two years.

While his school has partnered with Washington, D.C.-based America's Choice for about a decade to boost achievement, Nomiyama said progress has been hampered by high staff turnover - there have been three principals at the campus during that time. He said it takes dedicated employees and stable leadership to revamp schools.

“;You need consistency,”; Nomiyama said.

The number of Hawaii schools being restructured - the harshest penalty of the federal law - rose to 78 from 48 in the past year.

Education officials acknowledge more schools are likely to face sanctions as the law's deadline nears. Passed in 2001, NCLB requires a greater percentage of students to be proficient each year, culminating in 2014, when every child should be able to read and solve math problems at grade level.

For example, the percentage of isle students expected to be proficient readers rose from 30 percent in the 2001-02 school year to 58 percent in 2007-08. The math target jumped to 46 percent from 10 percent during that period.

Hawaii is among 23 states where schools were held to smaller achievement gains through the first half of the mandate and as a result face steeper, “;potentially unreachable”; goals as its deadline nears, according to a study last year by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

Only about a third of states are making enough headway to ensure all students are proficient five years from now, it found.

Educators have complained the law is unfair and punitive because schools do not get credit for overall improvements if groups of students fail. They say schools should be rewarded for gains by poor and minority students, especially those who are learning English as a second language or have learning disabilities, even if they place below federal expectations. It is unclear whether Congress will make the law more flexible.

Meanwhile, Hawaii school board members are increasingly concerned about the amount of money spent on private consultants to aid problem schools, said Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen. She said after years of contracts, the public education system should be able to share best practices among schools.

“;Will this cycle ever end?”; she asked. “;Several of us would like to think that, at some point, the capacity has been built and we can go our own.”;

School board member John Penebacker said he has asked the Education Department to develop other ways to spread effective teaching strategies, perhaps by partnering with local universities.

“;I think it was a necessary evil initially,”; he said of outside companies. Penebacker noted some schools have recovered from poor scores with local support from administrators in their complex.

Calls seeking comment from the Education Department were not immediately returned.

After hiring Edison Schools Inc., Waialua High and Intermediate School reading and math scores improved enough for the school to meet its goals, said Principal Randiann Porras-Tang. She said Edison has math and reading directors who crunch data and offer teachers effective tools to bring students up to speed. The school also started assessing 7th- through 10th-graders monthly to flag content where they might need more practice.

But Porras-Tang said the goal is to downgrade Edison's presence at the school next year and eventually carry on the lessons on their own.

“;Edison helped us put a laserlike focus on what we were doing,”; she said. “;The goal is to no longer have Edison, but we would adopt some of the strategies.”;