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Editorial | Island Voices

Teachers need more freedom and support to do their jobs well

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From the early days of the missionaries, public education in Hawaii has always been highly centralized.

Now, with the mandates of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the drive for national standards, education in Hawaii is threatened with even further centralized command — this time coming from Washington, D.C.

Motivation for centralized command and control, whether from Washington Place or Washington, D.C., stems from one source: a distrust of educators. If children are failing to achieve at their assigned levels, then the fault must lie with teachers and school administrators.

This distrust reached the point with No Child Left Behind that entire "failing" schools pushed into "restructuring" have been taken over by private, profit-seeking firms that have taken millions of dollars out of Hawaii. Our teachers have been given "scripts" to read and follow by these firms. Teachers are being evaluated in how well they follow the script, rather than on the quality of their teaching. It is as if they are being cast to "play" at teaching,

The truth, however, is that educational achievement has always tracked student background. Poverty, disability, broken homes, parental neglect, lack of English and poor student motivation are high barriers to strong educational achievement. Hawaii public schools contend with students who are of lower socioeconomic status (42 percent), special needs (10.3 percent) and of limited or no English (11.2 percent). These barriers can be overcome, but not through centralized commands, unrealistic deadlines and distrust of educators.

The point is that you cannot mandate from on high what matters in education. We have been trying that for more than 150 years in Hawaii and now, with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, we are trying it still. It simply does not work. At day’s end, it is always and ultimately the activities of educators and students in classrooms and schools that determine what is learned and how it is learned.

Investing in and empowering teachers and administrators at the school and school-complex level are the keys to higher educational achievement. This is something we have seldom tried. Teacher and administrator preparation programs are a good start; they can help educators get up and running in schools. But it is professional development for teachers and administrators after they have been hired that makes the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

Teachers and administrators need support to create true professional learning communities that address all areas of school life, including elementary, middle and high schools, so that the curriculum is coherent for students throughout their school careers.

Teachers and administrators also need the time and support to pursue professional-development opportunities, whether university- based masters and doctoral programs or more intensive state Department of Education programs.

It is with dismay that we note the recent settlement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association that ended the few remaining planning days available to educators.

Wrongly regarded by many as wasted time away from the classroom, they are key to building educator capability. Educators need more time, more planning days away from the classroom, and enlightened leadership to see that they are used wisely.

Finally, effective leadership is needed to marshal the financial and moral resources that can make the difference in education in our state. Will we elect a governor, legislators and Board of Education members who truly understand education and provide all-out support for educator empowerment?

As voters, we need to do our homework before the primary and general elections. In a very real sense, it is not educators who are ultimately responsible for education in Hawaii. It is we, the people of our state.

David Ericson is a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Educational Foundations. This article was co-signed by Virgie Chattergy, a UH-Manoa professor emerita; Odetta Fujimori, retired from the state Department of Education; Joan Husted, former executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association; Jeannie Lum, with UH-Manoa; June Motokawa, retired from the DOE; and Ralph Stueber, UH-Manoa professor emeritus.


» David Ericson, author of a commentary on Page A11 Wednesday, is a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Educational Foundations. He was identified as the group’s chairman.


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