VIEWPOINT: True Change & Accountability are Needed to End the Education Crisis

August 15, 2010


When it comes to the challenges faced by this state, perhaps nothing is as big as our crisis in education, especially considering that our children are our future.

As a 34-year-old teacher fed up with the embarrassing and worsening lack of support for our schools, I am running for the 8th District House seat in the state Legislature. My goal is to provide the keiki of Central Maui, as well as all of Hawaii, a true and unwavering voice for education reform that will give us a school system second to none instead of second to last. As one who works with kids daily and cares about their future, I have seen firsthand the ongoing frustrations with the status quo that puts the desires of back-line bureaucracies over those on the front lines trying to make our schools the best they can be. I believe that we can make an educational renaissance bloom in Hawaii if parents and teachers, with support from our community, work together to demand a true road map for reform that puts decision-making and proper resources at the school level.

My road map to an educational renaissance can be laid out using the following guideposts that will take us to one conclusion: Empower the teachers and principals at the local level and give them the tools to make the decisions and get the resources they need in the quickest time possible.

Fully fund education. (end furloughs forever). We now only have a one-year fix. The recent end to furloughs must be permanent so that no matter what happens to the economy we won’t have to go through something that was so disrupting and destructive to our kids’ educations, not to mention costing us millions of dollars in federal and private support for our schools.
Ensure local decision-making within our statewide school system.
End wasteful contracts for outside consultants.
Effectively measure student and school performance.
Conduct a fair and impartial audit of the Department of Education.
Cut DOE with a scalpel not a hatchet.
Eliminate the repair and maintenance backlog.
Make schools energy self-efficient.
Fully staff schools for a well-rounded education.
Create teacher incentives to establish and keep highly qualified teachers.
At the school where I have taught for the past five years, I have seen kids taking state assessment tests under a collapsed ceiling with rain pouring in because the state did not release funds to meet the growing repair and maintenance deficits of our schools. This is totally unacceptable. Moving these essential repairs and upgrades forward, along with ending teacher and student furloughs permanently, are our most pressing urgent needs.

While I live in Wailuku, the area I hope to represent, these education reforms are for all the children of Maui nei. The needs of kids who walk down Main and High streets in Wailuku are no different than the needs of kids from Hana to Lahaina. If the kids win through a school system that is second to none, then we, as a society, all win as well.

We can push back against the political maneuvering that is destroying our schools and children’s future.The battle to take back our educational system begins now. Maybe by putting this teacher in the House, we can teach other elected officials a lesson that real education reform means that they never waver in their commitment to empower those in the front lines of education so that we can have the schools that our community truly deserves.

Isn’t it time we put a teacher in the House?

* Justin Hughey of Wailuku is a candidate for the 8th District (Kahakuloa-Wailuku-Waikapu) House seat.


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Schools Stall in Test Scores

Proficiency in reading has improved, but 117 schools are still struggling

By Mary Vorsino, Honolulu Star Advertiser

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 13, 2010

Despite making steady improvement in overall test scores, most Hawaii public schools continue to see a sizable group of students who are “well below” proficiency levels in reading and math, school-by-school results released yesterday show.

At 221 of the state’s 286 public and charter schools, the percentage of students in one or more grade levels who tested “well below” proficiency in math in the Hawaii State Assessment reached or exceeded 25 percent.

Reading proficiency was better. Even so, in 117 schools at least a quarter of students in one or more grade levels tested “well below” proficiency.

The results come as schools face proficiency goals that go up another notch under No Child Left Behind this year, and also begin major curriculum shifts to align with national standards.

For a school to have attained NCLB goals in the 2009-10 school year, 58 percent of students had to demonstrate proficiency in reading on the Hawaii State Assessment, and 46 percent had to be proficient in math.

After staying the same for three years, the benchmarks increase this year: 72 percent of students will have to be proficient in reading, and 64 percent of students proficient in math.

By 2014, 100 percent of students are expected to demonstrate a high level of skill in core subjects.

“The reality is we know we’re going to go up another set of benchmarks,” said Dan Hamada, Department of Education assistant superintendent for the office of curriculum, instruction and student support. “As a system we’re moving toward it. We just need to fine-tune which schools are lagging and how do we help them.”

Schools got a pleasant surprise earlier this summer when education officials announced that despite losing 17 instructional days to teacher furloughs, more schools reached adequate yearly progress under NCLB. This year, 141 public schools made adequate yearly progress (AYP), compared with 101 schools last year and 119 in 2008.

Still, 51 percent of schools, or 145 campuses, did not meet the annual goals — and some fell far short of the benchmarks.

The state places student test scores into four categories: “well below standards,” “approaches,” “meets” or “exceeds.”

Sixty-seven percent of 10th-graders at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School tested “well below” proficient in math, and 39 percent were “well below” in reading, the school-by-school results show.

At Hilo High School, 45 percent of students tested “well below” proficient in math, and 27 percent were “well below” in reading.

But other schools are making big gains — and achieving scores above the benchmarks.

Mililani Waena Elementary School had another year of improvement — with 82 percent of students testing proficient in reading (up 7 percentage points from the year before) and 77 percent testing proficient in math (up from 71 percent in 2009).

The school of 600 students — 28 percent of whom are on free or reduced-cost lunch — has gained consistently in recent years and has met NCLB benchmarks every year since 2007.

Principal Dale Castro, in his fifth year at Mililani Waena, said the key is continuously tracking student progress to make sure no one is lagging behind, and giving teachers time to talk about how their students are doing and steps they are taking to boost student achievement.

Teachers at the school meet for 80 minutes every three days for “student-focused planning time” to compare notes and plan curricula and strategy.

Castro said the school — along with every grade level and classroom — also sets its own proficiency goals. For this year the school hopes to have 85 percent of students proficient in reading and 80 percent proficient in math.

“The process of setting goals and reflecting on them helps people to stay on track and make real-time adjustments,” Castro said. “Our goal has always been to ensure every student is making progress.”

Some 93,190 students in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10 took the Hawaii State Assessment tests in April.

Overall, statewide results showed 67 percent of public school students tested proficient in reading, and 49 percent of students were proficient in math.

High schools have historically had a tougher time meeting the benchmarks, especially in math, and the number of high schools meeting proficiency goals has shrunk as the standards have risen.

Some predict this school year could be the first time no Hawaii high schools meet rising proficiency goals.

Only five high schools achieved AYP for reading and math in the 2009-10 year, and all those campuses will have to increase proficiency to meet the new goals this year.

John Sosa, principal of Kaiser High School, said the campus is focusing on improving math proficiency. The school met AYP, with 86 percent of 10th-graders testing proficient in reading and 53 percent testing proficient in math.

The school needs to increase the number of students proficient in math by 11 percent to meet this year’s benchmark.

Sosa said he is hopeful the state’s switch to online testing will make a difference, since for first time students will be able to take the assessment up to three times (with the highest score counted).

The online test is also designed to appeal to today’s tech-savvy students, with interactive elements such as animation and computer graphics.

Students will be able to take the online assessments during an eight-month period, from October to May. Schools were administering the paper test during three weeks in April, and results did not come out until July.

“We are hopeful with the switch to the online testing format that some of those pencil-and-paper issues that arose might in fact benefit the students,” Sosa said. “Will it be enough (to attain AYP)? We’re not sure. We’re going to try really hard.”

Sosa added that the school thrives by stressing student achievement, not necessarily high test scores.

“We tend not to focus on the AYP,” he said.

There has been talk nationally of overhauling NCLB, which critics say overemphasizes test scores, but for now it is still the law so schools must try to meet annual benchmarks — and face sanctions if they fail.

Kualapuu Elementary School on Molokai is celebrating after meeting adequate yearly progress this year — and making big gains. Sixty-one percent of students at the charter school tested proficient in math, up from 47 percent last year.

Principal Lydia Trinidad said the improvements were possible thanks to lots of tutoring and directed help. The school, which became a public charter school in 2004 because it was falling short of NCLB goals, has 385 kids. Of those, 75 percent are low-income.

Trinidad said the campus, which gets significant financial support from Kamehameha Schools, is focusing this school year on “making conscious adjustments” to improve student achievement.

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On ‘No Child Left Behind’

Education’s foremost historian on where NCLB went wrong, ending the testing regime, and why we need neighborhood schools.

Adapted from The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch (Basic Books, 2010).

By Diane Ravitch

On ‘No Child Left Behind’

I was initially supportive of NCLB. Who could object to ensuring that children mastered the basic skills of reading and mathematics? Who could object to an annual test of those skills? Certainly not I.

My support for NCLB remained strong until November 30, 2006. That was the day I went to a conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a well-respected conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. The conference examined whether the major remedies prescribed by NCLB—especially choice and after-school tutoring—were effective. Was the “NCLB toolkit” working? The various presentations that day demonstrated that state education departments were drowning in new bureaucratic requirements, procedures, and routines, and that none of the prescribed remedies was making a difference.

I started to doubt the entire approach to school reform that NCLB represented. I started to see the danger of the culture of testing that was spreading through every school in every community, town, city and state.

The most toxic flaw in NCLB was its legislative command that all students in every school must be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014, including students with special needs, students whose native language is not English, students who are homeless and lacking in any societal advantage, and students who have every societal advantage but are not interested in their schoolwork. All will be proficient by 2014. And if they are not, then their schools and teachers will suffer the consequences.

The 2014 goal is a timetable for the demolition of public education in the United States. The goal of 100 percent proficiency has placed thousands of public schools at risk of being privatized, turned into charters, or closed. And indeed, scores of schools in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other districts were closed because they were unable to meet the unreasonable demands of NCLB. Superintendents in those districts boasted of how many schools they had closed, as if it were a badge of honor rather than an admission of defeat.

As the clock ticks toward 2014, ever larger numbers of public schools will be forced to close or become charter schools, relinquish control to state authorities, become privately managed, or undergo some other major restructuring. Yet, to date, there is no substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that low-performing schools can be turned around by any of the remedies prescribed in the law. Furthermore, [NCLB’s] simpleminded and singular focus on test scores distorts and degrades the meaning and practice of education.

One of the unintended consequences of NCLB was the shrinkage of time available to teach anything other than reading and math. Other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed in many schools. Reading and mathematics were the only subjects that counted in calculating a school’s adequate yearly progress, and even in these subjects, instruction gave way to intensive test preparation. Test scores became an obsession. Many school districts invested heavily in test-preparation materials and activities. Test-taking skills and strategies took precedence over knowledge. Teachers used the tests from previous years to prepare their students, and many of the questions appeared in precisely the same format every year; sometimes the exact same questions reappeared on the state tests. In urban schools, where there are many low-performing students, drill and practice became a significant part of the daily routine.

NCLB assumed that shaming schools that were unable to lift test scores every year—and the people who work in them—would lead to higher scores. It assumed that low scores are caused by lazy teachers and lazy principals. Perhaps most naively, it assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong.

On Her Favorite Teacher

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Ruby Ratliff. More than fifty years ago, she was my homeroom teacher at San Jacinto High School in Houston, and I was lucky enough to get into her English class as a senior.

Mrs. Ratliff was gruff and demanding. She did not tolerate foolishness or disruptions. She had a great reputation among students. When it came time each semester to sign up for classes, there was always a long line outside her door. What I remember most about her was what she taught us. We studied the greatest writers of the English language, not their long writings like novels (no time for that), but their poems and essays. I still recall a class discussion of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and the close attention that thirty usually rowdy adolescents paid to a poem about a time and place we could barely imagine. Now, many years later, in times of stress or sadness, I still turn to poems that I first read in Mrs. Ratliff’s class.

She had a red pen and she used it freely. Still, she was always sure to make a comment that encouraged us to do a better job. Clearly she had multiple goals for her students, beyond teaching literature and grammar. She was also teaching about character and personal responsibility. These are not the sorts of things that appear on any standardized test.

At our graduation, she made a gift of a line or two of poetry to each of the students in her homeroom. I got these two: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” the last line of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which we had read in class, and “among them, but not of them,” from Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which we had not read in class. As she did in class, Mrs. Ratliff used the moment to show us how literature connected to our own lives, without condescending into shallow “relevance.” I think these were the best graduation presents I got, because they are the only ones I remember a half century later.

I think of Mrs. Ratliff when I hear the latest proposals to improve the teaching force. I believe Mrs. Ratliff was a great teacher, but I don’t think she would have been considered “great” if she had been judged by the kind of hard data that is used now. How would the experts have measured what we learned? We never took a multiple-choice test. We wrote essays and took written tests in which we had to explain our answers, not check a box or fill in a bubble. If she had been evaluated by the grades she gave, she would have been in deep trouble, because she did not award many A grades. An observer might have concluded that she was a very ineffective teacher.

Would any school today recognize her ability to inspire her students to love literature? Would she get a bonus for expecting her students to use good grammar, accurate spelling, and good syntax? Would she win extra dollars for insisting that her students write long essays and for grading them promptly? I don’t think so. And let’s face it: She would be stifled not only by the data mania of her supervisors, but by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to her manner of teaching that now prevail in our schools.

On Teacher Unions

Data-driven education leaders say that academic performance lags because we don’t have enough “effective” teachers. The major obstacle to getting enough effective teachers and getting rid of ineffective teachers, they say, is the teachers’ unions.

Critics of teacher unions seem to be more plentiful now than ever before. Supporters of choice and vouchers see the unions as the major obstacle to their reforms. One would think, by reading the critics, that the nation’s schools are overrun by incompetent teachers who hold their jobs only because of union protections, that unions are directly responsible for poor student performance, and that academic achievement would soar if the unions were to disappear.

This is unfair. No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been either weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teacher unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. Where there are affluent communities, student performance tends to be higher, whether or not their teachers belong to unions.

Critics say the union contract makes it impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers. The union says it protects teachers against arbitrary dismissals. To be sure, it is not easy to fire a tenured teacher, but it can be done so long as there is due process in hearing the teacher’s side of the story. But the issue should not take years to resolve. When it comes to decisions about terminating a teacher, unions want to be part of the decision-making process. It is not in the interest of their members to have incompetent teachers in their midst, passing along poorly educated students to the next teacher. Since unions are not going to disappear, district officials should collaborate with them to develop a fair and expeditious process for removing incompetent teachers, rather than using the union as a scapegoat for low performance or for conditions in the school and society that are beyond the teachers’ control.

On “The Billionaire Boys’ Club”

In 2002, the top two [education] philanthropies were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation; these two foundations alone were responsible for 25 percent of all funds contributed by the top fifty donors in that year.

The new titans of the foundation world were billionaire entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. They were soon joined in education philanthropy by another billionaire, Eli Broad, who made his fortune in home building and the insurance industry; he launched the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 1999. Unlike the older established foundations, such as Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie, which reviewed proposals submitted to them, the new foundations decided what they wanted to accomplish, how they wanted to accomplish it, and which organizations were appropriate recipients of their largesse.

Gates, Walton, and Broad came to be called venture philanthropies, organizations that made targeted investments in education reform.

[They] began with different emphases, but over time they converged in support of reform strategies that mirrored their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes, such as competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches. These were not familiar concepts in the world of education, where high value is placed on collaboration. The venture philanthropies used their funds assertively to promote their goals. Not many school districts could resist their offers. School districts seldom have much discretionary money. The money expended by a foundation—even one that spends $100 million annually—may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of millions or billions spent by public school districts. But the offer of a multimillion-dollar grant by a foundation is enough to cause most superintendents and school boards to drop everything and reorder their priorities.

And so it happened that the Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations came to exercise vast influence over American education. These foundations set the policy agenda not only for school districts, but also for states and even the U.S. Department of Education.
There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.

The foundations justify their assertive agenda by pointing to the persistently low performance of public schools in urban districts. Having seen so little progress over recent years, they now seem determined to privatize public education to the greatest extent possible. They are allocating millions of dollars to increase the number of charter schools. They assume that if children are attending privately managed schools, and if teachers and principals are recruited from nontraditional backgrounds, then student achievement will improve dramatically. They base this conclusion on the success of a handful of high-visibility charter schools (including KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools) that in 2009 accounted for about 300 of the nation’s approximately 4,600 charter schools.

If we continue on the present course, with big foundations and the federal government investing heavily in opening more charter schools, the result is predictable. Charter schools in urban centers will enroll the motivated children of the poor, while the regular public schools will become schools of last resort for those who never applied or were rejected. The regular public schools will enroll a disproportionate share of students with learning disabilities and students who are classified as English-language learners; they will enroll the kids from the most troubled home circumstances, the ones with the worst attendance records and the lowest grades and test scores.

Do we need neighborhood public schools? I believe we do. The neighborhood school is the place where parents meet to share concerns about their children and the place where they learn the practice of democracy. They create a sense of community among strangers. As we lose neighborhood public schools, we lose the one local institution where people congregate and mobilize to solve local problems, where individuals learn to speak up and debate and engage in democratic give-and-take with their neighbors.

The market is not the best way to deliver public services. Just as every neighborhood should have a reliable fire station, every neighborhood should have a good public school. Privatizing our public schools makes as much sense as privatizing the fire department or the police department.

American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?

On How to Improve Our Schools

What can we do to improve schools and education? Plenty.

We must first of all have a vision of what good education is. We should have goals that are worth striving for. Everyone involved in educating children should ask themselves why we educate. What is a well-educated person? What knowledge is of most worth? What do we hope for when we send our children to school? What do we want them to learn and accomplish by the time they graduate from school?

Certainly we want them to be able to read and write and be numerate. But that is not enough. We want to prepare them for a useful life. We want them to be able to think for themselves when they are out in the world on their own. We want them to have good character and to make sound decisions about their life, their work, and their health. We want them to face life’s joys and travails with courage and humor. We hope that they will be kind and compassionate in their dealings with others. We want them to have a sense of justice and fairness. We want them to understand our nation and our world and the challenges we face. We want them to be active, responsible citizens, prepared to think issues through carefully, to listen to differing views, and to reach decisions rationally. We want them to learn science and mathematics so they understand the problems of modern life and participate in finding solutions. We want them to enjoy the rich artistic and cultural heritage of our society and other societies.

If these are our goals, the current narrow, utilitarian focus of our national testing regime is not sufficient to reach any of them. Indeed, to the extent that we make the testing regime our master, we may see our true goals recede farther and farther into the distance. By our current methods, we may be training (not educating) a generation of children who are repelled by learning, thinking that it means only drudgery, worksheets, test preparation, and test-taking.

Our nation’s commitment to provide universal, free public education has been a crucial element in the successful assimilation of millions of immigrants and in the ability of generations of Americans to improve their lives. As we seek to reform our schools, we must take care to do no harm. In fact, we must take care to make our public schools once again the pride of our nation. To the extent that we strengthen them, we strengthen our democracy.

Diane Ravitch received the NEA Friend of Education Award at the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Teachers still have their furlough days

By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer, Maui News
POSTED: July 29, 2010
Today and Friday public school teachers will be on their first two furlough days of the 2010-11 school year, the teachers union said.

Although Furlough Fridays have been eliminated for public school students with all of their instructional days restored, most teachers still will have six furlough days, said Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association. Those days would normally be teachers’ planning/ preparation days with no students.

(A story beginning on Page A1 and continuing to Page A4 on Monday incorrectly indicated that teachers would not have furloughs for this school year. Teachers also are not giving back the six planning days to turn them into instructional days.)

Okabe said the six furlough days applies to those teachers on a 10-month schedule. Those on 12-month schedules, which may include staff members such as student activities coordinators and registrars, will take 10 furlough days, he said.

On days the employees are furloughed; they will not be on campus and will not be paid, Okabe said.

He said that to make up for those lost planning days, teachers have been going to their classrooms on their own time to plan and set up for the upcoming school year. Classes for most students begin Monday, although the first day of school varies from school to school and parents and guardians should check with their child’s school to verify when students should report to campus.

Okabe said the six furlough days for teachers amount to a 2.8 percent pay cut. He said he wasn’t sure how much the 10 furlough days would cost those on 12-month schedules.

The six- or 10-day furloughs for the teachers this school year were a result of an agreement reached earlier this year to end the loss of classroom instruction brought by Furlough Fridays, which began in 2009 to help relieve the state’s budget woes.

There were also 17 Furlough Fridays scheduled for this school year. But in May a public-private partnership between the state, teachers and major banks in Hawaii made it possible to restore the instructional days, the state Department of Education has said.

The state will use $57.2 million from the hurricane relief fund and $2.2 million in federal funds and will have a $10 million line of credit from local banks if needed.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at

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