Consult teachers more to improve schools

Letters to the Editor

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Consult teachers more to improve schools

The recent article “Here are some ways to improve our public schools” was spot-on in its recommendations (“Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Oct. 2, see below).

Yes, a survey of the teachers will generate critical issues.

In 2003, I took a sabbatical with the state Department of Education and the University of Hawaii and focused on classroom behavioral problems in 19 Central District elementary schools. This resulted in 564 surveys being returned by teachers and staff. The entire report was shared with the district superintendent and the principals at all the schools.

From the discussion section of my report: “… 61 percent of the regular education teachers, 53 percent of the special education teachers, and 42 percent of the others consider behavioral problems at least a moderate problem or greater.”

Smaller class size and more parental involvement also were changes the teachers felt would be most helpful.

Asking the teachers about problems and following through on their concerns would be most effective in improving Hawaii’s public schools.

Jim Wolfe
Nuuanu


HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER
October 2, 2013

ISLAND VOICES

Here are some ways to improve our public schools

By Dorothy Douthit and Ed Van Gorder

We are a pair of retired educators with extensive teaching and administrative experience in independent schools.

We also have spent many hours observing student teachers in more than two dozen public schools here, and many more hours listening to teachers explain the challenges they face as they begin their careers.

In suggesting straight forward improvements that we believe can be implemented in a timely manner within the state Department of Education, we do not want to pretend the system is less complex than it is, or arrogantly pretend we are infallible. Nevertheless, our experience leads us to make these suggestions to the state Board of Education:

» Teachers learn that they can expect to be evaluated poorly if they refer to the administration students who misbehave.

Because of this, a teacher often must function in compromised learning environments that are ineffective and inefficient, and that can quickly become unpleasant and/or chaotic.

A teacher should be able to routinely refer a student who contaminates the environment to a particular akamai and understanding person, who can assess the circumstance and create strategies to either help the student become a productive member of the class or, if necessary, find an alternative, suitable environment.

School administrators should take ultimate responsibility for maintaining wholesome classroom learning environments and not avoid that responsibility by making entirely unreasonable demands of their teachers.

» We are told by teachers that much money is wasted because a revolving door exists, through which expensive new programs are presented and initiated, only to be replaced with additional expensive new programs. All of these take up precious faculty time and school resources.

These programs are rarely instituted for very long nor are they evaluated meaningfully. They enable the school to claim an enhanced future that, in fact, does not materialize.

New programs should be carefully adopted, with preliminary and ongoing faculty input, using common sense. Again, the ultimate responsibility for this resides with the administration.

» The U.S. is in a frenzy of adopting a huge number of subject-matter standards followed by subsequent testing to see they are met. For teachers, this makes each school day a race to comprehensively cover unreasonable amounts of new material. Day after day, t

hey must persist, with almost no time for review or reflection, and an ever-present threat of a poor evaluation for the school — and the teacher.

Currently, there are serious problems with the extent and choices of standards. While evolving, assessment is problematic. Standards are not a panacea; education is not an assembly-line process to be dominated by the business model. The school board should step aside from using the standards approach to define the educational endeavor. If this means passing up dollars from Washington and humbly dealing with reality, so be it.
» Hawaii’s teachers are an incredible resource. An extensive survey of all DOE teachers, conducted outside of the bureaucracy, with in-depth interviews of a cross-section of them, is bound to reveal practical ways the system can be improved.

In summary, we suggest that the Board of Education hold administrators responsible to make sure teachers are backed up when dealing with disruptive students.

We also believe administrators should be held responsible for using much more care when adopting new programs.

Recognizing the impossible task teachers face given the number of required standards, we call for a thorough review of the use of standards in Hawaii.

Finally we urge that teachers be surveyed to determine what they, as the professionals they are, believe are appropriate strategies for their schools for the coming decade.

Dorothy Douthit and Ed Van Gorder