Posted tagged ‘education’

Keep up the pressure in schools

July 18, 2011

I appreciate the frustration in the public school system over the latest round of annual math and reading scores under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

Though math scores improved slightly and students held steady in reading, the number of schools meeting proficiency goals, called annual yearly progress, decreased because the goals got tougher this year.

It can give the false impression that the schools are doing worse than last year when student scores are actually a little better.

The frustration was perhaps best expressed by Kalani High School principal Mitchell Otani, who told the Star-Advertiser, “It is my hope that one day schools won’t be judged by one test, but will be judged by the quality of lives of the students we produce.”

I agree that the goals need to but more clearly delineated and reporting needs to be tweaked so parents and the community at large can more cleary grasp how the schools are doing.

But I don’t buy persistent calls to significantly ease up on demands and expectations as the perhaps unrealistic goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014 approaches.

Math and reading the two most basic — and objectively quantifiable — building blocks of a good education. Students who fall short in reading and math can’t excel in social studies and science, either.

If schools are graduating significant numbers of students who can’t read and do math to a minimum level of proficiency, if students have to take remedial courses to get into college and their career opportunities are limited, then quality of life is diminished and schools are underperforming on their most basic function.

Whatever its flaws, No Child Left Behind has been the main driving force in the last decade for gains made in a Hawai‘i school system that has historically resisted taking more accountability upon itself.

Until all elements of the school system embrace a culture of demanding accountability from within, we need the feds playing the bad cops.

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Teachers talks got lost in sour tone

July 12, 2011

I found it fascinating that much of the complaint the Hawaii State Teachers Association filed with the Labor Relations Board over the Abercrombie administration imposing its “last, best and final offer” centered on hurt feelings over the tone of negotiations.

The Star-Advertiser story caught the gist of it in this passage:

HSTA’s complaint details eight months of tense negotiations, during which state chief negotiator Neil Dietz allegedly said in April that unless HSTA agreed to a 5 percent wage reduction, “lots of ‘nasty things can happen to your working conditions.’”

The same month, Dietz responded to an HSTA negotiating team member who asked for more time to consider the 5 percent wage reductions by cursing and hitting the table with his notebook, the filing alleges.

“He got up to leave and said if you don’t accept this, it will be 10 percent by the Legislature,” the complaint said.

The filing also said that in June, (Schools Superintendent Kathryn) Matayoshi told (HSTA leader Wil) Okabe that “if HSTA did not accept the 5 percent cuts, the Department of Education would need to cut 800 jobs, including probationary teachers.”

Despite all the talk we hear about “collaboration,” collective bargaining is an adversarial process that can get rough and tumble as the two sides jockey to find fair terms just short of the point where employees are willing to walk out on strike or the employer is willing to accept a strike.

While negotiators are usually best off when they keep their cool, the tactics ascribed to Dietz and Matayoshi are not beyond the bounds of the acceptable; I’ve heard a lot tougher talk in private-sector labor negotiations.

If an employer needs savings from labor costs and can’t get employees to accept less pay, the only options are to reduce the number of employees or achieve savings by changing working conditions. Pointing out this reality isn’t hitting below the belt.

When Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced his chief labor negotiator would be Dietz, a union guy who previously served as port agent for the Seafarers, many thought public workers would be in for smooth sailing.

But I suspected the going could get rough based on the view of some private-sector union leaders that their counterparts in the public unions are a bunch of privileged wimps.

This divide seems to be playing out in the teachers’ talks.

Here’s the full text of the HSTA complaint, and the governor’s office yesterday issued its own detailed view of how talks broke down. They make for interesting comparison.

Give the kids a place at the table in school contract talks

July 6, 2011

It’s disappointing that the stalled contract negotiations between the state and public school teachers appear to be focused entirely on pay and benefits, with little discussion of promised reforms to improve student learning.

After the furlough Fridays fiasco, the Legislature tried to mollify angry parents with new laws requiring a minimum of 180 instruction days a year and more hours of the school day devoted to instruction.

In its successful application for a $75 million federal “Race to the Top” grant, the Department of Education and unions representing teachers and principals promised to immediately work toward performance-based contracts for teachers and principals based in large part on improving the poor performance of Hawai‘i  students in standardized national tests.

From what his been disclosed publicly, these issues have not been significantly addressed in negotiations between the state and teachers union, which hit an impasse over the state’s demand that teachers take a 5 percent pay cut and pay a bigger share of their medical premiums.

Nor were these reforms a significant part of earlier state negotiations with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, in which the principals accepted the pay and health insurance terms teachers balked at.

Admittedly, recessionary times that require pay cuts to balance the state budget aren’t the best environment to seek more work and accountability from teachers and principals, but neither is a bad economy a license to abandon promises both sides have made to put a structure in place to better achieve the mission of the public schools.

We always say that the school system in first and foremost about the needs of the kids. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, it always seems to be more about what’s in it for the adults.

I look more closely at the standoff on the teachers contract in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Teachers union should settle contract mess outside of court.”

Govern your mouth, Mr. Governor

June 9, 2011

Geez, we we’re just talking about Gov. Neil Abercrombie blathering semi-coherently about homelessness and now he’s at it again — this time with a barely articulate rant against the state paying $4 million to the NFL’s wealthy owners and players to bring the Pro Bowl here.

Among his statements reported by the Star-Advertiser:

• “This happens to be an easy target because it is so stupid. You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children.”

• “Right now you have this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires arguing about how they are going to divide it all up and they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to … scrimmage out here in paradise.”

• “This is a values question. I am not really that concerned with what multimillionaires or billionaires or whatever they are, are able to — what do they do with all that? I mean, how many sandwiches can you eat?”

The governor’s unexpected tizzy fit totally distracted attention from what he called his press conference to promote — his early childhood education initiative.

And it reflected an immature prejudice that anybody who has money is inherently suspect (unless, of course, they’re giving their money to his campaign).

The Pro Bowl seemed an unlikely target of such over-the-top ire. It’s a quality event and local people enjoy getting to see their favorite football stars up close as much as the tourists do.

It seems to have a decent return on investment as far as such promotions go. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this year’s Pro Bowl brought in $28.15 million in unique visitor spending and generated $3.07 million in state taxes, not to mention the promotional value of putting Hawai‘i on national TV in the middle of the mainland winter.

It’s disingenuous and simplistic to suggest that booting the Pro Bowl would result in $4 million more going to education.

Which isn’t to say there’s no room for discussion about whether the Pro Bowl is a good investment for Hawai‘i.

But you don’t change policy by wildly shooting off your mouth; you do it by seeing what your constituents think and having an adult discussion with the various stakeholders who have devoted much effort to bringing the Pro Bowl here in the sincere belief that it’s good for business and good for Hawai‘i.

It’s difficult to tell sometimes whether Abercrombie is reprising the loudmouthed campus rabble-rouser he once was or channeling Frank Fasi without the charm, but either way it isn’t playing.

He won’t be taken seriously as governor of the state until he learns to govern his mouth.

DARE to prioritize public spending

April 4, 2011

I was sad to read that the Honolulu Police Department is drastically cutting back its popular 25-year-old DARE program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

One of my grandsons recently had a visit at his elementary school from DARE officers, and the anti-drug message clearly made a strong impression on him.

But listening to Chief Louis Kealoha explain the move, it made obvious good sense in this challenging fiscal environment to trim DARE back from the 120 schools it currently covers to about 40 schools that have the highest concentrations of at-risk students.

When budgets are tight, the chief said, core responsibilities have to be the priority — in the case of police, law enforcement and public safety. DARE doesn’t fall under the core; cutting funding there helps the department to maintain patrols in O‘ahu neighborhoods.

It’s exactly the right way to manage a shrinking budget, and it doesn’t happen often enough in public agencies, where there’s a constituency ready to fight for every nickel in state and county budgets.

Administrators can work diligently to cut at the edges while preserving the core, only to be thwarted by advocates for the programs being cut who are able to use political pressure to fend off change.

This has been especially prevalent in the Department of Education, where administrators attempting to make necessary cuts and consolidations have had to gird for drawn-out battles before the Board of Education that they’ve often ended up losing.

Everybody wants the DOE to set priorities, be more efficient and eliminate duplication — until it’s their school or program being cut.

With the new appointed BOE coming in this month, hopefully the decision-making process will be streamlined, less drama-ridden and sharply focused on serving the core responsibilities first.

New BOE represents hope for public schools

March 30, 2011

You never know how things will play out, but the initial impression here is that Gov. Neil Abercrombie did an thoughtful job of picking his first appointed Board of Education.

They’re yet to be vetted by the state Senate, but the nine members seem to represent a diverse pool of talent without being a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests who would end up working at cross purposes. All seem to have solid professional credentials relevant to some aspect of setting policy for our public schools.

The governor was wise not to include any of the members of the current elected BOE after they were so soundly repudiated by voters who opted overwhelmingly to switch to an appointed board.

It was also a good move by Abercrombie to engineer an agreement with the new board that Kathryn Matayoshi will be retained as superintendent.

It raised eyebrows when the current board hired her after a search that was less than robust, but she’s passed her battle testing by coming up with a credible plan to improve school performance and winning a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant to help implement it.

Nothing is guaranteed, but the change to a less political and more professional board has the potential to bring a leap forward for our schools, and Abercrombie appears to have done the right things to get it off to a good start.

For those who haven’t seen the news, here’s the board:

•Don Horner (chairman), chief executive officer and chairman of First Hawaiian Bank

•Wesley Lo, chief executive officer at Maui Memorial Medical Center

•Brian DeLima, attorney and former Hawaii County Council member

•Nancy Budd, attorney and a member of the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance Public Education Action Team

•Jim Williams, retired administrator and CEO of the Hawaii Employer-Union Benefits Trust Fund;

•Charlene Cuaresma, associate director of the Graduate Professional Access Program at UH-Manoa

•Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui, chief executive offer of the YWCA on Oahu

•Keith Amemiya, executive administrator and secretary of the Board of Regents

•Kim Gennaula, philanthropy director at Kapiolani Health Foundation

Good start for the appointed BOE

February 10, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointment of First Hawaiian Bank chairman and CEO Don Horner to the Board of Education is the first glimpse of the gains we could realize from the new constitutional amendment switching from an elected to an appointed school board.

Horner replaces Lei Ahu Isa, who stepped down in advance of the shift that will come as soon as the Legislature passes enabling legislation.

Abercrombie’s first appointment represents dramatic change: the head of one of Hawai‘i’s biggest and most successful companies replacing a bottom-tier politician once described by former Gov. Ben Cayetano as one of the state’s weakest lawmakers.

Extrapolate upgrades of that magnitude to the entire school board and you can see the possibilities for improving our public schools.

Horner hit all the right notes in accepting the appointment, saying the board should focus on setting clear policies and goals for improvement rather than trying to micromanage the superintendent.

His vow to focus more on the “customers” — students and parents — is welcome, and his description of the Department of Education as an institution with long traditions uninterrupted by progress was on the mark.

Horner was involved in the clumsy attempt by the Business Roundtable last year to derail civil unions, and as with the Rev. Marc Alexander, Abercrombie’s choice for homelessness coordinator, Horner will grate on the governor’s supporters whose political world revolves around that one issue.

But he brings to the table some of the state’s best experience on how to make a big organization work, and Abercrombie deserves kudos for valuing proven expertise over ideological purity in those he recruits to help him attack some of our most vexing problems.


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