Sunday, October 5, 2014

Learning from Other School Districts

The Education Institute of Hawaii was recently formed to discuss issues and impact policies related to improving our public education system.  I was asked to be part of a fact-finding traveling delegation to visit Los Angeles Unified School District, Alliance for College Ready Schools (Los Angeles), Clark County School District (Las Vegas), and Edmonton Public Schools.  The purpose is to learn more from school districts that successfully implement empowerment and transformative practices as well as to learn about what didn't work and why so we don't make the same mistakes.

The Legislature passed Act 51 back in 2004, and Hawaii schools now receive funding based on a weighted student formula. Schools have some authority over how to spend these funds although most of the allocation is spent on personnel. Each school has a School Community Council whose primary purpose is to assist with developing and monitoring the Academic Plan. Act 51 was supposed to "reinvent" education in Hawaii, but schools have not really changed much. 

This was not the case at the two Clark County Schools I visited.  One was an International School where students received instruction for half the day in English and for the other half in Spanish.  The goal was to have students fully fluent in both languages by the third grade.  Another Clark County School I visited is a charter school for Science. The school prides itself on the opportunities it provides for students in STEAM - science, technology, engineering, art, and math. I wonder if this could work in Hawaii, to have some schools specialize and to offer families choices, based on the interests or strengths of the child. 

At our pre-trip meeting today, we were asked to think about some of the questions we have.  In our delegation, we are a diverse group with different perspectives on education, so there will be a range of questions. Here are a few of the questions I'll be thinking about during our visitations:
  • What exactly does school empowerment mean?  
  • School choice appears to be an important part of these school districts. Can we offer choices in Hawaii? How would school choice work in our statewide system?
  • Are parents and the community more invested and involved in their child's education if they have a choice in which one would be the best fit for their child?
  • What special training do principals need to be effective administrators in an empowered school system?
  • Are there "specialty" schools in these districts (e.g. Gifted/Talented, Performing Arts, etc.)? If so, how are students selected for these schools?
  • The State presently is responsible for services such as transportation, food services, special education, and Title I. Who handles these services in an empowered school system?
  • And the most important question - Has school empowerment positively impacted student achievement? What does the data show?
This is a great opportunity to positively impact our public school system here in Hawaii, and I am honored to have been asked to participate.

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