EDITORIAL:  New initiatives will change the classroom, and how students get there


Kip Aoki Photo Illustration

Road to Reform

New initiatives will change the classroom, and how students get there

By Vicki Viotti

Public school students head back to the classroom tomorrow and, other than noting their friends’ new clothes or the names of their new teachers, things are probably going to look just about the same as they remember it from the other end of their brief summer break.

Appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface — at least the layer most students see — the state Department of Education has reached a crossroads in how it delivers lessons, transports students to the classroom and evaluates its teachers — much of the basics to public schools’ operational success.

Last week, good news from federal authorities gave the department some long-awaited relief: The U.S. Department of Education took the state DOE off the “high-risk” status that effectively restricted its $75 million grant under the Race to the Top reform program. The feds had expressed concern that reform efforts, aimed at improving Hawaii’s low-performing schools, were being bogged down in teacher contract disputes and other delays.

It was a vote of confidence. Nonetheless, the road ahead is still going to be a bumpy ride, a steep learning curve for teachers in particular but for the entire school community as well.

For parents and other non-educators, the swirl of new program names and terminology can be confusing. Here is a brief primer on the buzz words, and a status report on the DOE’s drive to reform.

August 4, 2013

EDITORIAL PAGE - Education takes a different road



Hawaii is in the fourth and final year of this $75 million federal grant. An element in the selection of Hawaii for one of the grants was its commitment to move toward the Common Core State Standards.

Race to the Top also drove other educational reforms. For example, the grant also included a pledge to improve its systems for collecting data and monitoring student academic progress from year to year.

But perhaps the element that presented the greatest hurdle, politically, was proposed changes to faculty evaluations, especially the plan to factor in student achievement as a basis for rating the teachers. The Hawaii State Teachers Association ultimately accepted the formula for weighing the various factors, and the initial rollout of the program in 2013-14 will be considered a “no-consequences” year as any bugs are worked out.

After that point, teachers found to be sub-par would be put on an improvement program before any final employment action would be taken, said state Superintendent of School Kathryn Matayoshi.

Among the other elements in the Race reforms, two Zones of School Innovation were established. This was a means of targeting support to struggling schools in rural or remote, hard-to-staff areas, officials said.

Selected as Zones of Innovation were those serving the largest population of Native Hawaiian and lower-income students: Nanakuli, Waianae and, on Hawaii Island, Kau, Keaau and Pahoa.

All of the Race elements were, finally, part of a coordinated push, Matayoshi said.

“Race to the Top is a four-year program and it was great as a catalyst for action,” she said. “It caused us to look comprehensively at what school reform would look like.

“We’ve always said, when we look back, I don’t know that we would have said we’d do all these things at once, if we had really understood how much work, the magnitude of the effort.

“But now that we’ve done a fair amount of the heavy lifting … when you look at them, they’re very integrated.”



Hawaii has joined with most of the country in what’s called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an educational campaign that now includes 45 states. The goal is to bring all the states’ diverse educational programs into alignment so that, for example, a third-grader in Hawaii and one in Colorado would more or less be on the same page, school-wise.

In recent months it’s become charged with the national political polarity seen in state houses and Congress, with some states now wanting to reverse course. Among the criticisms is that it’s seen as a federal takeover of schools; others say they won’t be effective, given deeply ingrained problems that vary from state to state. Still others have said the specialized tests developed for the standards cost too much money.

But in Hawaii these tensions have not surfaced, and adopting the standards was a component the Obama administration favored in awarding its Race to the Top competitive grants to fund educational reform. That was once incentive, but officials also maintain that Hawaii students will ultimately benefit.

This year is considered somewhat transitional in how the new standards would guide student testing, but for the 2014-2015 school year students and teachers are preparing to transition completely to the new tests, Matayoshi said. Hawaii is part of the consortium of states for which a test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be developed, she said.

The standards define the knowledge and skills students need in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics. They were piloted last school year in kindergarten and Grades 1, 2, 11 and 12. Educators are working collaboratively with principals and leadership to design educational tools and practices to best teach standards.

Initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, all but five states as well as the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories and the Department of Defense educational programs have adopted the standards.



The No Child Left Behind Act is still on the books, but this year Hawaii educators will be far less likely to be batting around terms such NCLB, “No Child” and AYP, or “adequate yearly progress.”

Hawaii is one of 37 states that received exemptions from NCLB’s law — important most notably because of the law’s looming 2014 deadline for schools to hit all their student achievement marks.

The Obama administration approved these exemptions on the condition that states opting out had a replacement strategy for holding schools accountable. Hawaii’s new method of evaluating school performance is called the Strive HI Performance System.

The difference is a matter of emphasis. Where AYP was primarily a measure of student proficiency in reading and math skills, officials said, Strive HI factors in test scores along with other indicators of the student’s readiness for college or career.

“It used to be just the test,” Matayoshi said. “It was AYP, you looked at those two subjects, the test, and if you’re a high school, only one of your grades is tested. (Grades) 9-12, only 10th grade is tested, and your whole school’s AYP is based on that. And you’re good or you’re not good, and that’s not the measure of a school.”

Instead of being held to national targets, schools are accountable to meet goals that are set for each school complex, based on their current performance. The idea is for schools to be rewarded for growth in achievement rates.

Strive HI measures also include end-of-course science assessments, absenteeism data and eighth and 11th grade scores on the standardized ACT tests in reading, English, math and science, said Stephen Schatz, assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategic Reform.

“Science counts now — science never counted before,” he said. “And ACT, and growth as well as achievement, college-going rate, graduation rate. So we’re trying to give this picture of a school’s health, which you couldn’t necessarily get from that 10th-grade score.”



A lot of families saw their morning routines disrupted a year ago when about 100 school-bus routes were cut for budgetary reasons. Starting tomorrow, though, about 350 of those that had lost service in the Central Oahu area will once again be greeting the bus driver in their neighborhood.

“Get On Board” is what the DOE is calling the effort to make bus transportation a lot more efficient than its been. The costs of contracting for bus services had been on a steeply rising curve, and during the 2012 session, lawmakers decided to force some reform.

School districts around the country have countered rising fuel and labor costs with various efficiency strategies, but Hawaii’s situation presents unique challenges, with bus yards needed on multiple islands. However, the fact that annual contract costs had tripled over the course of six years to more than $72 million meant an overhaul was in order.

There are two basic elements in the change:

>> Contracting: The contracts for the services will be based not on awarding specified routes but on the basis of how much bus time is being purchased. This will give the DOE more flexibility in deploying buses on routes that cover the demand with less duplication, said Ray L’Heureux, assistant superintendent, Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

>> Feedback: Buses will be equipped with global positioning system (GPS) systems, allowing them to be tracked remotely and coordinate the services better, he said. And the DOE will begin more routine communications, by phone at 206-7936, and e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The pilot starts with restored service to the Aiea Heights, Halawa Heights and Waikele Elementary School attendance areas, expanding to the rest of the Aiea, Moanalua, Pearl City, Radford and Waipahu High complex later this school year.

The rest of Oahu will see cut routes restored next school year, with the full roll-out reaching neighbor islands in the 2015-16 academic year.