Despite rising student scores on the Hawaii State Assessment and the fact that more schools are in good standing than were last year, 92 schools are under or will undergo “restructuring” this year, per federal No Child Left Behind regulations.

Restructuring is mandatory for schools that have failed for six years or more to meet the federal program’s yearly progress requirements, but it can be costly and time-consuming.

Since the law was enacted in 2001, 106 of Hawaii’s 286 public and charter schools have entered restructuring, which is the fifth and final final stage of sanctions and makes them subject to extreme state intervention under the federal guidelines.

Last year, 90 schools were sanctioned for the comprehensive school turnarounds. Two of those exited the sanctions after achieving “in good standing” status this year while four other schools teetered into “restructuring.” (See how each school did here.)

School Status Movements for 2010-11 School Year

Restructuring Options

Restructuring schools are placed under the direct authority of their respective complex area superintendents, said Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student support for the Hawaii Department of Education. The complex area superintendent then reviews areas where each restructuring school is falling short and determines the best course of action to turn it around. Many choose to hire one of three third-party education companies contracted by the state:

The contract companies provide school leaders with advice and coaching in everything from redesigning curriculum and hiring staff to overhauling finances.

“These are private providers that come in with specific targets to work on,” Hamada said. “They come in with comprehensive support, but you want them to exit within four years so the school can pick up the responsibilities.”

The Costs

It takes between two and five years of this outside support before a school can sustain the gains on its own, according to a report from the education department to the Hawaii Legislature last year.

And the consultants and their recommendations can get pricey. It costs each school roughly $350,000 to fully restructure, according to the department’s legislative report. Disadvantaged schools under Title I qualify for additional federal funds to support their restructuring efforts. For the 2009-10 school year, 70 schools received Title I aid for their turnaround efforts. The other 20 had to find their money from the state. Hawaii’s education department allocates $5 million for school restructuring each year.

Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, one of the lowest performing schools in the state, is an example of a school that is trying to restructure. Nanakuli is working with Educational Testing Service specialists to address weaknesses in English and math, using online software for students to recover credits, implementing quarterly assessments in certain subjects and retraining staff to base student achievement efforts on the data from those. Read more about Nanakuli’s restructuring efforts in its 2009 school status and improvement report.

But not all of its efforts have been successful, and Nanakuli has turned this year to its New Tech Initiative, which will use technology to engage students in collaborative projects, for renewed hope in improving student achievement.

“It’s never a guarantee, because lot of things have to be in place for the schools to move in the right direction,” said Lisa DeLong, Nanakuli-Waianae Complex Area superintendent. Seven of the complex area’s nine schools are currently undergoing restructuring; only one has avoided the restructuring zone altogether, she said.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re going to turn around a school that’s underperforming, the number one thing is culture building — helping build a belief system that ‘we can do this.'”

Another key to turning schools around is finding and focusing on the gaps between what the students are supposed to know and what they do know. To do that, she said, you have to get all the faculty to ask and answer three things:

  1. What do the students have to know?
  2. How do you know they know it?
  3. What do you do when they don’t know it?

“Those are the interventions,” DeLong said. “Schools that are really starting to move have all those things in place.”

But similar, smaller-scale intervention measures can begin long before schools are placed under restructuring status. As soon as a school enters the second phase of sanctions, “school improvement year 2,” it is advised to bring in education specialists — or the complex area superintendent — who can focus on helping improve individual weak areas, she said.

Restructuring begins as soon as students don’t make adequate yearly progress under the federal standards, she said. At that point, schools begin following a line of interventions that they implement with progressive breadth and depth until the school meets No Child Left Behind benchmarks.

Fourteen Hawaii schools are in the “school improvement year 2” status, with another 16 already planning for restructuring next year.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the program is — all the restructuring programs are solid, but the main thing is that everyone works hard to turn around the culture of the school, and implement programs with fidelity,” DeLong said. It’s all about understanding the programs, being trained, and everyone doing their part.”

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