Decision-Making in Schools Should Be Made by Those Closest to the Students
by Roberta Mayor, President Education Institute of Hawaii, 8/21/16 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser
It is heartbreaking that the leadership of the Hawaii DOE takes pride in the “common trends” elicited as public feedback to the DOE’s Strategic Plan that was shared in the August 3rd commentary by Superintendent Matayoshi. These identified trends are not new…they are critical pieces of a basic education program. It should be obvious that they are emerging because they are perceived as lacking in our current state education system.
The “common trends” shared by the DOE include a desire for a well-rounded curriculum that goes beyond reading and math; a need to embrace the arts, music, history, science, Hawaiian culture, and more; the importance of a caring and supportive teacher; the importance, not only of students’ academic growth, but also of their social, emotional, and physical well-being. What is new or different about these?
The DOE’s current strategic plan was implemented in 2012 and has not been reviewed in this manner until now. Why has it taken four years to realize that our children are not universally receiving these key elements as part of our public education model?
What will the DOE change after receiving this feedback?
The Education Institute of Hawaii has been advocating for changes that will return decision-making about all of these issues to those closest to the students. We believe that principals and teachers will make good decisions about how individual student success, and improvements in our overall system, can best be accomplished.
The DOE has consistently held to current practices that have reduced the rich curriculum and reduced support for the overall social, physical, and emotional needs of children in public schools. DOE leaders have said that they are only planning to “refresh” their strategic plan and will continue to assess schools by the Strive HI metrics. The new federal education law (ESSA) recognizes that many past practices of No Child Left Behind and Strive HI are either problematic or not effective. We hope that DOE leadership will also recognize this as they move forward with their strategic plan.
A majority of teachers and principals are asking for reconsideration of testing practices and a reduction in the number of instructional days devoted to mandatory testing. Many are also asking for authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in different ways. The new ESSA law allows states to determine their individual accountability processes within broad federal parameters and provides an opportunity for states to pilot new assessment systems. We feel it is unfortunate that Hawaii is not applying for that option.
We believe that students will achieve more when their teachers are able to provide the curriculum and instruction that meet the unique needs of school communities. We also believe that our growing teacher shortage is compounded by the frustration many feel when their professional judgment is diminished and they are required to use common curriculum materials and lesson scripts. Teachers have shared that they are restricted in the choice of literature they may use to teach important historical and ethical concepts. Opportunities to think deeply and critically about social issues and the human condition are further reduced when literature is replaced by more technical reading and writing in English classes.
There is still time to make your voices heard at various town hall meetings around Hawaii. Everyone who cares about education needs to hold DOE leadership accountable for making changes that will move our state’s public education system toward excellence.
Dr. Roberta Mayor is Board President of the Education Institute of Hawaii, an organization committed to improving education in Hawaii through greater empowerment of local schools. She is a former principal and superintendent and is joined in these comments by fellow EIH Board Members and educators: Ray L’Heureux (former Asst Supt), Joan Husted (former HSTA Executive Director), Marsha Alegre (former principal) and Roger Takabayashi, (former HSTA President).