DOE again seeks OK for school shake-ups
Remember that line from Shakespeare? Shoot all the lawyers. Arne Duncan has inspired a change. Now it's Shoot all the teachers. T-shirts with this slogan are available from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.
By Loren Moreno
Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto says she intends to again seek the authority to replace the principals, most teachers and other staffers at public schools that have consistently failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements in light of a push by President Obama's administration for school districts to turn around the lowest-achieving public schools.
Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan notified school districts of more than $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement grants, which should be spent on drastically reorganizing chronically low-performing public schools.
A bill the state Department of Education supported last legislative session that would have granted her the authority to "reconstitute" schools ΓΆ€” meaning replacing principals and teachers ΓΆ€” failed to gain the support of lawmakers, mainly because of concerns about collective bargaining.
Hamamoto said the DOE will pursue the authority again, even though it is unpopular with labor unions and even most school officials, in light of the Obama administration's push for school districts to conduct these drastic reorganizations of failing schools.
"I realize it is not a popular position," Hamamoto said. "It's not one that many people will agree with, but I also believe that if we are here to help students learn ... then there has to be mechanisms and tools which allow us to be able to go in and help students first," Hamamoto said.
As many as 36 schools in Hawai'i have consistently failed to meet NCLB goals and could potentially be subject to reconstitution under the previous bill. It called for staff shake-ups at schools that have been in "restructuring" for four or more years.
A school enters restructuring after not making its No Child goals for at least six years.
But Hamamoto also notes that reconstitutions would be an extreme option that would only be exercised when a school has been stuck in restructuring and has not been showing any steady improvement.
"When we get to the point when they are not making progress, it may not be reconstitution. It may be something else. But we need to make changes that are immediate, that are meaningful and will give us results," she said.
The federal School Improvement Grants will be made available to states in the coming months and will likely mean up to $1.5 million per school chosen by a state for improvement, said Robert Campbell, director of the DOE's federal compliance office. He noted that the draft guidelines are subject to change over the next month.
Campbell said the money specifically is being targeted to the 5,000 lowest performing schools in the country.
"They want to see each state apply for these funds and then target these funds on those schools first and foremost," Campbell said. "One of the clear things is that it has to be those schools where the smallest percentage of students are grade-level proficient," he said.
It is likely to be several months until an application is made available to the states.
The grants give states several options to turn around an underperforming school. One of the drastic options, called the Turnaround Model, is nearly identical to the DOE's reconstitution proposal.
Hawai'i does not have a law that allows the superintendent to conduct school reconstitutions, however. The DOE only has mechanisms for restructuring, which essentially requires schools to work with private consultants to turn achievement around. Likewise, current contract agreements between the DOE and labor unions prevent individual teachers and principals from being transferred without extraordinary reason or cause.
To garner a portion of the millions of dollars in federal Title I school improvement grants, Hamamoto said, the state DOE needs the authority to shake up the staff at chronically low-performing schools.
"It makes for a stronger case for us. It's a message that the state is very serious about kids' learning. Student achievement is a top priority," Hamamoto said.
Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he supports the school reconstitutions and noted that Hamamoto has made it clear that it would be an extreme measure.
"It's just a tool in the tool box that you may or may not use. The superintendent is not going to waltz into every school that is not (performing). ... You need to look at every school on its own merits," he said.
Takumi said the bill ran into roadblocks with the labor unions last session.
"Should we have it as an option? I believe we should and today we don't," he said.
School reconstitutions have received less-than-warm receptions from teachers' unions both locally and nationally.
Both the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association opposed the reconstitution bill ΓΆ€” House Bill 172 ΓΆ€” when it was before lawmakers last session. They argued that reconstitutions circumvent the collective bargaining process.
Wil Okabe, the president of the HSTA, said their position is likely to be the same if the DOE plans to push for the bill again next year.
Okabe said that reconstitutions view teachers as the reason a school may not be achieving when many schools that are struggling have students coming from disadvantaged homes, speaking English as a second language or having other barriers to learning.
"Lets say you do bring in a new set of teachers and another administrator and then the test scores remain the same. Then what?" Okabe said. "It's discouraging for staff, when I know teachers are working very hard to achieve these goals," he said.
While Hamamoto says reconstitutions are not an attack on teachers, she said school leadership and quality instruction are proven links to student achievement.
"Teachers play the greatest role in ensuring that there is student progress. Teachers have quite a responsibility for student achievement," she said. "It would not be punitive. It would be, how do we look at a school and the students that go there and help provide the best learning environment."
Eighty-eight of Hawai'i's 254 public schools have slipped into restructuring, up from 78 last year. And while 36 of the 88 schools in restructuring have been under the sanction for four years or more, that doesn't necessarily mean they would be subject to reconstitution, Hamamoto said. Reconstitution of a school would be an extreme measure, she said.
who may face reconstitution
There are 88 Hawai'i schools in restructuring, with 36 of them (listed here) under the sanction for more than four years.
The Obama administration is pushing for school districts to conduct drastic reorganizations of failing schools. Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said she is likely to push again for reconstitution authority, which involves replacing principals, teachers and other staff at chronically low-performing schools. But she cautions that reconstitution would be an extreme measure taken only if a school is showing no improvement toward No Child Left Behind goals.
Kalihi Kai Elementary
Nanakuli High & Intermediate
Kamaile Academy PCS
Kalaniana'ole Elementary & Intermediate
Ka'u High & Pahala Elementary
Laupahoehoe High & Elementary
Na'alehu Elementary & Intermediate
Pahoa High & Intermediate
Hana High & Elementary
Waimea Canyon Middle
Source: state Department of Education
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES