- Special Projects
I want solutions for the problems we have in our education system, and while that sometimes means calling out a bad policy or an area of ineffectiveness, it is more important to focus on developing a vision for education in Hawaii.
Over spring break, I had the opportunity to go on a Vision of Excellence tour in the Bay Area. Our group spoke with several highly successful leaders about their vision of excellence, and how they made it happen within their schools.
The biggest pitfall I’ve seen to developing a clear vision for education in Hawaii is that people throw in every idea that has a wholesome ring to it.
“Developing the whole child” is a positive philosophical vision for what education should do in a perfect world, but that doesn’t resolve any of the very real operational and logistical roadblocks to running our current system.
Educators and educational leaders in Hawaii have an excellent vision for the meta aspects of education, with a vocabulary filled with phrases like “collaborative learning,” “higher standards,” and “college-ready,” but from a classroom-level perspective, we do not seem to have a clear, comprehensive vision for how our system should functionally operate.
I imagine the classroom within a protective bubble that the administration works from the outside to support by shielding it from corrosive and distracting influences. Inside that bubble, instructional time and teacher effectiveness are the two most sacred commodities. Every action the administration or DOE takes would be done with an outcome-based mindset about how that action will affect those two factors, and they would live by an uncompromising standard to do no harm to either one, ever.
Creating a bubble around instructional time would mean implementing a line of defense to keep out interruptions and account for instructional minutes in an honest way. We would create mechanisms for transparency to accomplish that. Administrations would keep logs of actual instructional time, and classroom time used for testing, surveys, phone calls, or any kind of administrative duty including attendance would be subtracted from publicly reported instructional minutes.
Phone calls to the classroom during instructional time would be routed to the office, where it would be decided if the call were enough of an emergency to warrant interrupting a class. The office would log the interruption and subtract the number of minutes the interruption took plus a penalty for taking the teacher off track from the number of instructional minutes publicly reported.
This kind of prioritization and accountability would force greater compartmentalization and organization of duties. Administrations would be more mindful of the number of additional, non-instructional related requests they make of teachers during instructional time. Students would know that from the time they walked in the classroom to the time they walked out, they were in a focused place that deserved a higher level of respect and attention. The public would have a more honest picture of how much time teachers are actually spending teaching students. And since testing would be looked at as a factor isolated from instructional time, there would be greater pressure to make it more comprehensive, concise, and non-invasive.
Creating a bubble around teacher effectiveness would mean providing meaningful professional development and concrete infrastructure supports to address known issues.
Providing fundamental infrastructure would require schools to provide the most common sense tools for running a school. It should be a fundamental right that students and teachers have a temperature-controlled environment. And in 2013, many classrooms still cannot hear the school bell or intercom announcements.
One of the most important things I saw at work in the military was an effective structure for communication and the dissemination of information. I’ve not heard of a school in Hawaii that has an aligned communication structure, but we would have one in my vision. Schools would develop communication flow maps that are organized with logical information pathways, and meetings, rather than email, would be the favored channel with which to administer school-wide information.
Schools would have a behavioral modification plan that is school-wide and comprehensive enough to address the gambit of potential teacher-student disciplinary situations. Administrations would have a required response time to address issues, and no student that was ever sent out of the room by a teacher would return during the same period.
Administrations would be required to write a non-binding constitution enumerating exactly what the core responsibilities are for a teacher and giving an estimate on the amount of time the school expects the teacher to work on each of those specific duties. Right now, teachers technically have about 40 minutes a day to write standard-aligned lessons for two to three classes incorporating 130 students, develop high-level assessments for those standards, come up with rubrics by which to grade, grade everything according to those rubrics, track data for individual students, call parents, tutor the students that need help, chase down surveys, fill out administrative paperwork, make referrals, and attend department meetings and parent conferences. I want real results in education, and that means starting with a perspective of the job that is rooted in reality.
Professional development would also be held to a higher standard using transparency. The DOE would post every professional development on which it spends money along with the results of teacher surveys that reflect how useful that professional development was to them. This would force better decision-making about how professional development money is spent and save teachers from having to sit through as many brain-numbingly banal professional development meetings.
Professional developments would be handled in-house more often. If teachers taught lessons to their departments on their most effective units, they would be collaborating more, uncovering gaps in their curriculum or alignment, sharing resources, and growing their subject-matter mastery at nearly no cost, and the money saved could be used to pay them more.
The DOE would seek ways to increase teachers’ subject-matter mastery and encourage great teachers to stay in education by saving them from going bankrupt with student loans while they are trying to become better teachers.
This would mean more closely linking higher and lower education. Teachers would be able to attend college classes within their subject matter for free. This would serve as a constant reminder to teachers of what relevant skills they need to impart to their students in order to be successful in college, and it would set a good example for high school students. It would also make teachers feel encouraged that they are worth being invested in by their community.
This is my vision for an effective, teacher-enabling education system. This vision isn’t what you’ve heard from the standard line of Race To The Top or No Child Left Behind initiatives about how to fix education.
I studied public policy at Berkeley, and I understand how DOE leadership and legislators are trying to address problems as they see them from the top by instituting policy-oriented solutions. They believe that by affecting the content being taught in the classroom, they can turn around an education system. I believe that we have to stop the degradation of the educational environment and focus on instructional professionalism.
My vision is from the bottom up. It is the perspective of a soldier on the battlefield testifying to the conditions they need on the ground to best fight the battle.
I wonder what Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi’s systemic vision for our education system is.