Archive for the ‘Education’ category

We need student legislators

April 10, 2018

Recently, I wrapped up my review of the 2018 Hawaii Legislative Session, and hearing about the student-led marches to protest gun violence, it occurred to me that something was missing in all the proposals – and missing from the way that we govern.

There is an entire group of Hawaii residents who may be represented in government, and yet don’t have their own voice in government. They make up 21.6% of Hawaii’s population – over 308,500 individuals, according to a July 2016 US Census estimate. Who is this under-represented constituency?

Youth.

More youth are becoming starting companies like Moziah “Mo” Bridges, founder of Mo’s Bows and Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress; writing books like Alex and Brett Harris (“Do Hard Thing: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”) and Christopher Paolini (“Eragon”); and becoming politically active like Malala Yousafzai and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

Adults advocate for children, but students need their own voice in government. Not only would it allow students to advocate for themselves, it would give them valuable experience in the legislative process, inspire other youth to scrutinize government, and encourage young adults to vote.

Here are a few thoughts about how it could work:

* Student eligibility. We could create five “at large” student legislative positions for youth residents of Hawaii who are between the ages of 14 to 19 at the time of the election. They would have to be enrolled for at least the past two years in a public, private, or charter high school in Hawaii, or be home-schooled. Like all state legislators, student legislators would be elected for two-year terms, but they would be limited to two terms – with the option of running for a regular legislative seat after age 18.

* Reorganize the legislature to reduce costs. To allow for additional legislators without increasing the legislature’s size or budget, we could create a unicameral legislature, in which there is only one legislature (instead of a separate House of Representatives and Senate). This could reduce the number of proposed bills and allow more time for discussion.

* Adjust the legislative calendar to accommodate the school calendar. To accommodate students and allow more time for public discussion, we could extend the legislative session over the year. There would be bill introductions during spring break, legislative sessions during the summer, and second crossover or final votes during fall break.

* Amend legislative meeting requirements to allow for video conferencing. Student legislators may live on neighbor islands, and would be reimbursed for travel, lodging, and incidentals. However, it might be a hardship to continuously travel while attending school and participating in extracurricular activities. We could expand the Senate Video Conferencing Pilot Project to include public testimony as well as committee discussion and legislative voting.

I realize this is not a quick or simple change to the Hawaii legislature. If you think of other considerations that would need to be addressed, feel free to write them in the comments below.

Do you think that youth should have a larger role in Hawaii’s government? Do you know any high school students who you would nominate as a youth legislator?

Advertisements

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

March 6, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intensions. This year, instead of compiling an overview, I decided to narrow it down to the bills that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Last week, I highlighted three significant tax bills to watch. This week, I’m summarizing three significant education issues proposed in the 2018 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

1. Should curriculum be imposed top-down? There are five major proposed changes to the K-12 curriculum. The bills include requiring an anti-bullying program; implementing a sexual abuse prevention program; setting civics knowledge requirements for graduating students; offering computer science or design thinking/coding classes, or accepting them in place of a math or science class; and teaching digital citizenship and media literacy. I do not oppose these curriculum changes, but I believe that many of them are already being implemented in schools. I wonder why the Legislature must mandate these programs from above, instead of letting the Hawaii DOE set curriculum policies. Is state legislation required to make these curriculum changes?

 The Legislature also seems to be unnecessarily managing other aspects of the school day, such as requiring schools to have at least 15 minutes of recess before lunch (SB2385) and requiring schools to provide allow at least 30 minutes for lunch (SB2386). The schools should have the responsibility to reasonably set and adjust their own schedules.

2. Are 3-year olds ready for school? Legislators want to open preschool for 3-year olds, in addition to 4-year olds (HB388 HD1 and SB181). However, not all 3-year olds are ready for structured school. In fact, not all 4-year olds are ready for structured school. Children may learn better in a home environment, with nurturing parents and caretakers I believe that the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) needs to focus on its current K-12, undergraduate, and graduate responsibilities, instead of expanding its mandate.

3. How can we promote college attendance? Higher education can lead to better employment opportunities and higher salaries, while lowering the chances of being unemployed and needing government assistance. Legislators are proposing an income tax credit for college savings contributions (HB128 HD1, SB2544), tax deductions for college savings account contributions (SB3062), income tax deductions for student loan interest payments (HB1276 HD1 SD1 and SB1081 SD1), and even paying student loans with pre-tax income (HB958). I am less convinced about another proposed bill, HB373 HD1, which would establish a state matching grant program for resident undergraduate UH students with financial need and whose parents have not earned a baccalaureate or higher degree. I don’t know which bill(s) would be most effective, but I like the intended effects: to encourage people to save for college, and to help recent college graduates manage their college loans and help them gain control of their finances.

4. How can we encourage more teachers to remain in Hawaii? There is a chronic teacher shortage in Hawaii public schools. Only 52% of new teachers in Hawaii stay for five years, according to a Teacher Recruitment Data Report for 2016-2017; and 43% of teachers who resigned from the DOE left Hawaii, according to the DOE Employment Report SY2016-2017. HB2166 has an elegant solution: create housing vouchers for full-time classroom public school teachers. In Hawaii, we may not be able to pay teachers what they are worth, and we can’t do anything about the high cost of living, but perhaps we can make sure that they have an affordable place to live.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

Success and the well-balanced student

October 10, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about education recently – choosing the right school, the right amount of homework, the right number of extracurricular activities.

Recently, I attended an Education Fair and listened to guest speaker Dr. Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, who lectured about “A Balanced Approach to Success: K through Life.” I appreciate the invitation to join other interested parents, and I offer a big mahalo to Dr. Pope, the event organizers, and welcoming volunteers.

The morning began with reflection: how do we define success? How does the community define success? There seemed to be a general consensus that families tend to prioritize intrinsic values like character and resilience, while the community tends to prioritize extrinsic values like high grades/test scores and college admissions.

Dr. Pope declared that our values about education should match our community’s values, because we are the community. So why do families and the community define success differently? What message are we sending our children? What can we do to reinforce the idea that character, kindness, and problem solving are equally or more important than grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities? Take a few minutes to consider what success means to you.

From Dr. Pope’s keynote, here are three take-aways I learned about success and the well-balanced student:

1. It’s the kid, not the school. Success is not a straight line, from grade school to college to a good job to happiness, Dr. Pope declared. Attending a “good” school and getting a “good” job will not guarantee happiness or success. Rather, success is a meandering path, with unexpected turns and setbacks, and there is no one path to success that fits everyone. So we need to redefine what success means.

2. Every family needs a family mission statement. Businesses and organizations write mission statements that keep them on-target with their values and goals. Families need mission statements, too, that show how we value play time, down time, and family time – and so that we don’t overschedule ourselves. Play time is unstructured play. Down time is relaxing, sleep, and time to dream – remember, it’s okay for kids to be bored. Family time, at least 25 minutes a day, five days a week, lets us connect with each other and form strong bonds. Then, once we agree on a family mission statement, we need to align our values with our actions.

3. Help schools create SPACE. In addition to curriculum, teachers, and learning resources, schools also need to create SPACE for students: Schedule and use of time (revising student schedules and homework policies), Project and problem-based learning (relevant assignments with a community service component), Alternative and authentic assessment (multiple forms of assessment), C Climate of care (social and emotional learning), E Educating parents, students, and faculty (facilitating dialog and professional development).

Dr. Pope’s discussion of the “Alternative and authentic assessment” really resonated with me. In the workplace, we don’t have just one chance to turn in an assignment and we don’t get a letter grade for our presentation. We can revise presentations, proposals, and projects as we go along. In fact, we can build on the questions and comments we receive to create better presentations.

Note: The SPACE framework is a lot to take in, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all plan for every school. You can read examples of the types of changes on the Challenge Success website under “School Resources.”

Do your children or grandchildren have a good school-life balance? Do you have a good work-life balance? What one thing can you do to have a more well-balanced life?

More joyful, less stress homework

September 26, 2017

My son started sixth grade this year. Though I don’t think he has more assignments than in fifth grade, he is convinced that he has more homework – and he feels more stress about it.

I’ve heard about the education achievements in Finland. Their high school students scored the highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. So I was curious to read “Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms” (2017) by Timothy D. Walker, written by an American teacher living in Finland.

I liked the fact that Walker taught at both American and Finnish schools, and could compare his teaching experiences firsthand. But I wasn’t looking to improve my son’s classroom; I was looking for ways I could make his homework less stressful.

Walker, an Arlington, Massachusetts teacher, admits that he was burning out on lesson plans, teaching guides, and classroom prep. In 2013, he and his wife Johanna moved to Helsinki, Finland. Walker was shocked that Finnish students have fewer hours of classroom instruction and more frequent breaks, and that teachers spend fewer hours on lesson prep and more time creating a peaceful environment. Based on his experiences, school visits, and research, Walker proposes that American schools need prioritize happiness in the classrooms.

Walker offers 33 strategies to prioritize happiness in the classrooms, focusing on things that teachers can do today to make a positive difference, without changing school policy. The strategies are organized around 5 ingredients of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery, and mind-set.

While the book is written for teachers, I read the book with an eye towards what parents can do to make learning more joyful.

Here are three ways to reduce some of the stress of homework.

* Schedule brain breaks. Take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction. Attention begins to lag after 45 minutes, and taking a break means that students return refreshed and more focused. The brain breaks could be free play, reading, writing, drawing, game time, or a mindfulness exercise; but it should be enjoyable, independent, and new. At home, we can offer children a 15 minute break for every 45 minutes of homework. I tried this with my son – so far, he seems to procrastinate less, because he wants that brain break!

* Mindfulness. Take 5 minute mindfulness breaks to create a sense of calm. Students might pay attention to their breathing, listen to the sound of a bell until it stops ringing, or pay attention to how they walk. At home, we can encourage students to do mindful exercises to reduce stress about homework.

* Pursue a family dream. The teacher and students jointly decide on a dream together, discuss roles, and learn to compromise. The dream should be shared and realistic, and promote a sense of belonging, teach work, and responsibility. At home, we could decide on a family dream that takes place during a school break, such as a community service, neighborhood awareness campaign, or project. It’s a way to make learning fun, especially if we tie it in with something they learned in school. I’m really excited about this idea, and want to start a “family dream” this summer.

Do you know a student who feels stressed by homework? How can we make homework more joyful? Do you take work home (homework for grown-ups)?

Back to school tips for students

August 1, 2017

Guest blogger: BWL

Summer went by so quickly, and the new school year starts this month. To get us ready for back to school, I turned to my 10-year old son. In the last few weeks of fifth grade, he wrote some tips about being a good student, and I’d like to share them with you.

Tips for doing homework:

  1. Don’t stay up too late and get a good night’s sleep.
  2. Pay attention to subject lessons so you understand the test and questions.
  3. Ask other people for help on questions.

How to ace any test:

  1. Always study your test subject the night before.
  2. If you don’t understand a question or answer, don’t be afraid to ask a teacher or friend for help.
  3. Always try your hardest and pay attention during class.

Tips for public speaking:

  1. Always stay calm.
  2. Practice every day.
  3. Watch other people perform – it might give you a great idea.
  4. Even if you feel confident, always ask your coach and friends for more advice.
  5. Help your fellow public speakers.
  6. Have good posture.
  7. Speak loudly and clearly.
  8. Speak with emotion and passion.
  9. Use hand gestures and don’t fidget with your clothes.
  10. If you feel nervous, think of your audience wearing underpants!

10 ways to be awesome:

  1. Adapt to every situation and make the best of it. Always stay positive even during the darkest times.
  2. Learn something new everyday!
  3. Encourage and inspire people to do good and positive things.
  4. Have many friends, and hang around them, spend time together, and always have fun with them.
  5. Always stay cool and stay one step ahead of everyone else.
  6. Get very, very good grades and stay focused on your assignments due.
  7. Look handsome and very cute.
  8. Play nerdy and geek games such as Minecraft.
  9. Watch YouTube.
  10. Always have fun!

Are you going back to school as a student or teacher, or taking continuing education classes? What advice would you give to students today?

Reviewing Hawai‘i’s blueprint for public education

July 11, 2017

In May 2017, Hawaii Governor David Ige’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Team released the final draft of “Hawaiʻi’s Blueprint for Public Education” (version 2.0). The Blueprint is organized around three “Vision Focus Areas” – Student Success, Educator Success, and System Success. It was developed by a team of 19 appointed members and includes feedback from over 20 town hall meetings and community forums over the past year.

Caught up in the rush of elementary school “promotion” and summer school, I didn’t have a chance to read through the blueprint until now. I support the emphasis on school-level decision-making, reduced standardized testing, and annual report cards on student and school performance, but a few issues merit more discussion. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

* An executor or an innovator. The Hawaii Board of Education’s new Superintendent, Dr. Christina Kishimoto, starts on August 1, 2017. I’m not sure whether it’s better to have a new blueprint ready for a new superintendent, or if we should have waited for input and guidance from the new superintendent.

* High expectations vs. realistic goals. We need to find a balance between high expectations and achievable goals. Unfortunately, some of the objectives are simply unrealistic. We can’t mandate public opinion, because we are all independent thinkers (“Our most qualified college students and graduates will regard the profession of teaching as a desirable aspiration and dedicated, qualified teachers will teach all public school students by 2020”). We can’t have 100% parity of achievement, because we all have different abilities (“The achievement gaps in learning will begin closing in 2017 and will close by 2020”). We can’t control the efforts and successes of other states (“Hawaiʻi will be acknowledged as having the nation’s top public education system in 2025”).

* Early education starts at home. The Blueprint acknowledges, “Families are a child’s first and lifelong partner in education. Therefore, schools will embrace families by engaging them at the earliest possible stage in their journey to be true partners in their child’s development and learning.” I think that public education should focus on current responsibilities (K-12 and adult education), instead of taking on more responsibility and duplicating existing efforts by the Department of Health and nonprofits. Parents should decide whether their children are ready for preschool.

* Could you predict your future in elementary school? The Blueprint calls for “Implementation of a new comprehensive system of pathways will be provided for all students beginning in elementary school. Pathways will guide all students who aspire either to traditional colleges or post-secondary career and technical education.” Few of us know our career path or interests in elementary school. This focus could lock students into a particular “path” or subtly direct students toward a particular path that won’t fit them when they are older. What about pathways to public service, entrepreneurship, or military service?

* A lot of thought in BREATH and fern. Nā Hopena A‘o (HĀ) is “a framework of outcomes that reflects the Hawaiʻi Department of Education’s core values and beliefs in action throughout the public educational system.”  These core values and beliefs are a sense of Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total well-being and Hawaiʻi (“BREATH”). I have to wonder how long it took to come up with this acronym. Similarly, there was a lot of effort dedicated to the meaning of the logo, a Hāpuʻu fern – the symbolism, color, and shape.

Whether or not you have school-age children, I encourage you to read the Blueprint for yourself and submit your comments to the ESSA Team – and share them on Better Hawaii.

What do you think about Hawaii’s public education goals? Do you agree with their priorities and strategies?

Looking back at fifth grade

June 6, 2017

It was a bittersweet day when my son finished fifth grade at a Honolulu public elementary school. He really enjoyed his fourth and fifth grade years, and he didn’t want to say goodbye to his wonderful teachers and friends. I encouraged him to keep in touch with them, and also look forward to all of the new teachers and friends he will meet in sixth grade.

Students today have greater opportunities for academics and community service, and higher expectations overall. This year, there was a stronger emphasis on computer work, with online activities and Google Drive, and public speaking. There was a focus on collaborative projects, teamwork, and presentations.

I’d like to share our fifth grade school year experience.

One day of articulation classes. For the second year, all of the articulation classes (Art, Computer, Hawaiian, Library, Mandarin, Music, and PE) were scheduled on the same day. It is a winning change. Parents knew what to expect on articulation day, and teachers had more time to collaborate with other teachers.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Exhibition. The highlight of the year was the fifth grade Exhibition project. For the “Sharing the Planet” unit, each team of 2-4 students chose a project, conducted background research, contacted an expert, prepared a presentation, and constructed a community action plan. Everything culminated in Exhibition Night, when the students presented their project in two sessions. Projects ranged from endangered species, overfishing, and the environment, to crime, rail, and human welfare. Community outreach included a food drive, clothes collection, recycling, and sign-waving. At the end of the unit, students wrote Reflections on what they learned and how they could improve. It was my son’s favorite project of the year, and an impressive accomplishment.

Personally, one of my favorite IB units was “How We Express Ourselves,” in which students wrote narrative fiction using figurative language. Many assignments during the year were expository and fact-based, so this was a chance for students to showcase their inventive and ingenious imagination (alliteration) in a thousand different ways (hyperbole).

Online and on-task. In past years, students practiced math online using iXL, and reading and writing online using Achieve3000. Both websites track students’ assignments and achievements. This year, fifth graders also used Google Drive to complete assignments, communicate with teachers, and collaborate with team members. Students still had a good amount of workbooks and worksheets, but the online drive made it easier to edit papers and slides – and let parents peek at their homework when they weren’t around (was I not supposed to admit that?).

Speech festival. At my son’s school, Speech Tech Club is open to third, fourth, and fifth graders. Students audition for the club and commit to weekly meetings and a lot of practice, either solo or in a group. Students performed in front of other classes and at the third quarter assembly, and finally performed at the Honolulu District Speech Festival in front of five judges. At this stage, it’s not competitive, but the judges write feedback about each speaker. There’s a nice ceremony at the end, where the participants receive a medal. The confidence that students gain from public speaking will definitely help them as they get older.

The Friends. We were fortunate to have energetic and organized Friends (the school’s parent group) to coordinate fundraisers, community events, and Teacher Appreciation Week. They were welcoming and helped to make the school feel like a community. My son says that the last movie night was the best day of his life (I hope it’s an exaggeration, but I’m glad he enjoyed it).

“It was very hard for me to say goodbye to all my friends and classmates,” my son wrote in his journal at the end of the year. It is hard for me to say goodbye to this amazing elementary school too.

Do you have school-age children? How does your elementary school experience compare with theirs?