Posted tagged ‘Hawaii Public Schools’

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 third grade

June 9, 2015

Looking back at 3rd Grade

My son just finished third grade at a Honolulu public school. He had two wonderful teachers and opportunities to do more creative projects. This past year, he’s become more argumentative and opinionated – we joke that he would make a great lawyer. He also showed more initiative, signing up for school activities without asking for our advice.

I’d like to share our third grade school year experience. How does it compare with your third grade memories?

Reading. Hawaii public elementary schools are all using the “Reading Wonders” workbook. I didn’t have a chance to browse the workbook, but I have seen the spelling lists and related vocabulary. The spelling words were chosen phonetically and were easy; the vocabulary words were chosen by unit theme (for example, natural resources) and were more challenging.

Several times a week, my son did reading comprehension activities on Achieve3000.com (sometimes called KidBiz). The site is easy to use, with interesting nonfiction articles and opportunities to think about the articles in different ways – through questions, polls, open-ended “thought” questions, and math. It even keeps track of students’ points and completed activities, and questions get harder as students improve.

Math. Hawaii public elementary schools are all using the “Stepping Stones” math workbook and practice book. I’ve only seen the practice workbook, which is easy, colorful, makes math fun with puzzles and riddles (it reminds me of a Kumon workbook), and wastes paper by printing on only one side of the page.

During the school year, my son alternated between math workbooks, worksheets, and online practice at IXL.com. The site is well-designed, tracking the number of problems solved, the time spent on each practice test, and the number of practice tests completed. It even gives students “prizes” on a prize board. And there are many reports for teachers and parents to check student progress.

International Baccalaureate (IB). My son’s school is an IB candidate school for the Primary Years Programme. Only a few public schools in Hawaii have signed up for this voluntary accreditation program. It incorporates six transdisciplinary themes into the curriculum and encourages teachers to coordinate lesson plans across multiple subjects. Each of the six units culminates in a final project. For example, in the “Where we are in place and time” unit, students created a 3D model of our community using boxes, paper, and cardboard. There are also 10 IB “learner profiles” that emphasize character and attitude. The most challenging part of the program was asking students to reflect on what they have learned.

Enrichment classes and activities. There were 7 “enrichment” classes: Art, Computer Lab, Hawaiiana, Library, Mandarin, Music, and Physical Education. For some reason, third grade is the year everyone learns to play the recorder. I have one suggestion: turn one of the Computer Labs into a typing class. Students also participated in a winter assembly and a May Day program, and could join band, a garden club, the Junior Police Officer (JPO) program, a speech club, a library club, and the Student Council. A question for parents and educators: what is the best balance between academic rigor and well-rounded children?

Standardized tests. This school year was the first time that Hawaii public schools used the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized test, aligned to the Common Core standards. I realize that it is a new test with harder questions, and students need to be familiar with it, but I was concerned by the amount of time they spent preparing for it. I wondered how much instruction time might have been lost because of the additional test preparation. I was dissatisfied with the practice test because students don’t get immediate feedback; they don’t know which questions they missed and why. Maybe an alternate solution would be “Test Prep Saturdays” or “SBAC After School,” so that test preparation wouldn’t interfere with classroom time and could be more relaxed.

My son felt overwhelmed by the training and practice tests. At the start of spring break, he expressed a lot of anxiety. “What if I get a DP [developing proficiency] or a WB [well below proficiency]? Will you be mad?” he asked me with a worried frown. I told him, “As long as you try your best, we won’t be mad.” A week before the test, he admitted, “I’m scared to take the SBAC.”

School fundraising. For the parents of children in public and private schools, fundraising has become a big part of life. At my son’s school, parents raised funds through a bake sale, keiki carnival and silent auction, fitness run, and two dine-and-donate events. The fundraising events were fun and helped us meet other parents. But there seems to be a growing cycle – the more parents give, the less schools receive in funding, and the more parents are asked to give.

Do you have school-age children? How did you decide between public and private school? Were they the same factors that influenced your parents? What has been your experience with common core and standardized tests?