Is the Hawaii DOE broken? That depends on who you speak to. 180,000 students are fed and taught within the Hawaii DOE system, which is no small feat. With twenty years in the system, I can attest to the fact that the struggle is real to keep qualified teachers and support staff working with our keiki. The lack of stability within the schools and administration has teachers and administrators in a tailspin to provide instruction to meet the needs of students at each level; whether high achieving or lower performing, in addition to our right on track learners. Is the money there to facilitate this? An external audit of the DOE by an impartial party would answer many of our questions.
Question: Why are so many experienced teachers not working directly with students, but in resource state level positions that rarely enter the classroom? Hawaii is experiencing a massive teacher and support staff shortage. Mentor teachers are supposed to be in place to support new teachers, but the reality is that many frontline teachers do not get the support to ensure proper implementation of curriculum and much needed classroom management skills. As a result, a large percentage leave the teaching profession within the first five years. With the high turnover rate, it is extremely difficult to create cohesive experienced teaching teams.
Administrative decisions to change curriculum and little time given for teachers to become proficient with new material has become a recipe for poor instruction. Teachers are given 45 minutes a day of prep time, which is nowhere near the amount needed to communicate with parents, create engaging lesson plans, complete classroom set up, and grade/give feedback on assignments. Additionally, a great deal of teacher meetings involve crunching data, but no time to create a plan or lessons to meet the needs of our learners. Most effective teachers spend hours outside of contracted work hours to get it all done, while others are working another job to supplement their income, and must wing it. Lack of collaboration time for teachers and a push in specials such as art, garden, PE, music, and drama miss a wonderful opportunity to integrate lessons and give students a well rounded educational experience. No wonder, so many teachers opt for better paying jobs with less homework and that schools struggle to find competent people to teach the arts.
However, even more concerning to me is that millions of dollars and countless hours of teacher time are allotted to administering state mandated testing to ensure that Hawaii gets it fair share of federal dollars. Students are taking state tests and preparatory tests on average 25 hours a year, which varies with some students taking additional time to complete the high stakes tests. That is 5 or more full days of instruction lost to testing that is often viewed as redundant and in addition to teacher administered assessments. It will take parent advocacy and a strong allegiance among both parents and teachers to make changes in the excessive testing that I believe has taken hold of our current DOE system.
Need for audit: When all is said and done, our children would benefit from an extensive external audit of all DOE positions to determine what non-classroom positions could be eliminated to provide schools with frontline educators, such as art, music, STEM, drama, and PE teachers. The DOE has a 1.99 Billion dollar budget, but we are not seeing the resources reach our keiki. The constant staff, curriculum, and policy changes in the system are proving to be extremely ineffective and costly.
By standing up as communities, contacting our legislators, and taking the time to work with school administrators to voice the educational needs of our children, we can make a change that will eventually provide all of Hawaii’s keiki with safe, learning facilities and teachers that are well trained and passionate about teaching. Writing our representatives and educating ourselves on what is happening in our schools is the first step to improving our children’s public education system.
Key State Legislatures to Email and Call if you think we can do better:
State Senator J. Kalani English (District 7): Senate Majority Leader
State House Representative Justin H. Woodson (District 9): Lower and Higher Education Committee Chair
State House Representative Kyle T. Yamashita (District 12): Senior member of the Finance Committee
If you want to advocate for your child we need to send emails and call these Maui leaders who represent us for help.
If you have concerns about the lack of air conditioning that can allow classroom temperatures to sometimes soar into the 90’s, mold, aging school facilities, broken playgrounds, resource shortages, over crowded classrooms or anything else please help inform them. Our keiki really do deserve a decent place to learn.