I just read a short EduWeek blog about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Edu-Predictions for 2015. It got me thinking about what I would want to see happen in education in Hawaii in 2015.
First, as an early childhood education major, I strongly believe in making preschool accessible for all 4-year-olds in Hawaii. Universal preschool is not a new idea; it's been around since the 1980s with The Berman Report and the 1990's with the Cayetano Task Force. It's taking far too long - over 25 years - for our State to make a commitment to ensure that ALL 4-year-olds have an opportunity to attend a quality pre-kindergarten program. Until we make that commitment, we will have an opportunity gap that turns into an achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots. Our children and their future are too important; we need to stop making excuses about the lack of funds to support universal preschool.
Second, with our Superintendent signing the Future Ready pledge, it is my hope that more support will be provided to schools to ensure that our teachers and students are able to personalize teaching and learning through the use of technology to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create. Our school has been on a journey to create our own curriculum and to address the Common Core State Standards through interdisciplinary units and project-based or problem-based learning. I am hopeful that the State will allow us flexibility in implementation and will allow us to apply for funding through the Future Ready program to provide continued professional development for our teachers as well as to purchase devices for our students. Recently, over 85 billion students worldwide participated in the second annual Hour of Code. To prepare our students for their future, we need to introduce coding in every school in Hawaii and it should count as a math or science credit towards high school graduation. We would also like to pilot Bring Your Own Technology with some of our older students. In this day and age, students need to understand that their smartphones or mobile devices are computers that can be used for more than just texting, social media, or playing music or games.
Third, most of our schools were built for a different kind of educational system. Hale Kula, built in 1959, is really fortunate to have received funding from the Department of Defense and the State of Hawaii to transform our school where 21st century teaching and learning will be supported. This whole project has made me realize how important buildings are to a school. We need to invest in upgrading our schools; most of our schools in Hawaii were built for a different era with the factory model that was prevalent in education at that time. Our construction project has made me realize how our teachers were doing their best to give our students 21st century learning experiences without the proper infrastructure. Educators are creative and do their best to make things work, but they shouldn't have to do so. It is my hope that policymakers will truly make education a priority by being creative and figuring out a way to fund 21st century buildings at our schools. The Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs conducted a study in 2012 that outlines a long-term plan to address the need to transform outdated and aging schools. Perhaps this plan should be re-examined and shared with all stakeholders.
Finally, I hope our Department will engage our schools in discussions about the Smarter Balanced Assessments. I've shared my thoughts in two earlier blogs so I won't repeat myself. I believe that we need to examine other ways of determining how students are doing in school, perhaps by having them keep an electronic portfolio of their best work from the time they enter our school system until they graduate. Part of the requirement for this portfolio is to have students reflect on why they chose those pieces and what they learned. This is a powerful individualized process that holds students accountable and is highly personalized, and when the appropriate support is provided, even kindergarten students can self-reflect on what they want to keep as evidences of their learning and why. It is true that an electronic portfolio doesn't have the capacity to compare students through a common assessment, but I doubt that a test score is the best predictor of success in life. We need to re-examine whether the amount of money we spend on testing could be better utilized to improve teaching and learning at our schools.
As a lifelong educator who remains passionate about improving education in Hawaii, I believe it takes the commitment of everyone to engage in a discussion to ensure that our children are prepared for their future through a quality public education system. Let's make that commitment together.