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Restructuring of DOE Schools? Not Again

So far the reform movement hasn't had great success

Sometimes people at the school level don't know whether to laugh or cry.

The Department of Education is considering outsourcing the restructuring of DOE schools that haven't made Adequate Yearly Progress gains. They are considering the National Center on Education and the Economy or America's Choice, ETS Pulliam and the Edison Group to start with. These contracts will cost between $200,000 and $400,000 per school.

America's Choice is the product of the reform movement that came out of the '80s following the "A Nation at Risk" report. It has been in some Hawai'i schools for six or seven years.

If the state is really going to buy this expensive package, then someone needs to talk to teachers on the front line who bought into it and didn't see overwhelming success. The Hawai'i State Assessment scores didn't rocket off the planet.

America's Choice disintegrates in its aligning instruction to National Standards, not Hawai'i State Standards. The America's Choice curriculum has to be modified to improve the reading comprehension strategies to better fit the Hawai'i State Standards. Reading 25 books a year leads to a lot of bean counting and not enough development of comprehension skills. America's Choice is big on writing, which is not a testing priority for the Hawai'i State Assessment.

America's Choice writing is compartmentalized to Report Writing for third grade, Response to Literature for fourth grade, Report Writing for fifth grade and Persuasive Writing for sixth grade. However, report writing, persuasive writing, response to literature, narrative and functional writing have to be taught in every grade from kindergarten to sixth for students to be able to perform successfully on the Hawai'i State Assessment. Reading responses for the Hawai'i State Assessment test require this kind of writing competence.

On the surface, the structure and common culture of America's Choice are impressive, but the content of the curriculum doesn't get the job done. In one instance, a teacher gave up teaching the America's Choice curriculum and concentrated on comprehension skills and writing constructed responses for the Hawai'i State Assessment. Her scores rose to 61 percent.

Students need to have lots of experience with constructed response questions to practice on in reading and math. This has to be an add-on to any program. Other America's Choice schools have added and modified the curriculum to better fit the demands of the Hawai'i State Assessment. America's Choice is saying its program requires "fidelity" to assure the standards are met.

ETS Pulliam has been the most impressive support for the implementation of Hawai'i State Standards. It developed the focus on Hawai'i State Standards and monitoring instruction through assessment to improve student achievement. Its coaching has provided the greatest return in student gains on our interim state assessments.

They, too, promote management by walking around, establishing instructional goals and monitoring the evidence in the classroom. Teacher meetings focus on pacing the standards to be met. It has been a tremendous shift in instructional planning to assessment and then instruction to support the students based on the information from the assessments.

We have visited and revisited the State Standards and the "tool kit" to better understand what the instruction and assessment look like from the Hawai'i State perspective.

Pulliam as a consultant encourages teachers to meet to discuss better ways to bring students up to attaining the standards. The emphasis is on balancing the instructional load so that struggling students can be tutored to make the gains.

It would be better for the state if the heads at the DOE state level came down on a regular basis to the school to see what is working and implement those strategies unilaterally with a common culture. This kind of articulation wouldn't cost any more than the state salaries we are already paying. It could be called "Hawai'i's Choice."

What do they mean when they say the state is taking over the restructured school? The state has been in charge of the schools all this time. How does that make it different?

Further, it plans to rehire the retired principals. When they were principals, the standards weren't met, but when they retired, they found some magic to fix the problem?

Where will the money come from to support restructuring as the Adequate Yearly Progress bar goes up each year and more schools fall into the restructuring pool? Is the state really going to commit $200,000 to $400,000 per school for 75 percent of the schools in the state? Where is this money coming from? Title I?

In the end, it's called "Do more with less." That's what taking Title I money from the school does.

Maybe the restructuring needs to be at the top. It might be cheaper and more effective.

Kalaukieleula Hergenrader is a public-school teacher from Wahiawa. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.

— Kalaukieleula Hergenrader
Honolulu Advertiser


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