Changes needed within educational system

Exciting and innovative initiatives have recently materialized within Hawaii’s Department of Education School system.

During the interim, on behalf of the state House’s Committee on Finance, I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of reviewing primary components of the DOE’s new strategic plan as it relates to the department’s operational budget request.

During my 20-some meetings with department heads, including some with state schools Superintendent Katherine Matayoshi, I was able to further familiarize myself with the positive changes that are now taking place in our public schools.

Many reforms are currently being fully implemented, including the new, internationally bench-marked Common Core Standard curriculum. Standards for Hawaii’s students are now compared to subject matter proficiency rates of students in other successful school systems across the country and around the world – increasing the expectations of our kids here at home.

Common Core, however, does not dictate what needs to be taught in each classroom. Instead, it sets subject matter learning goals and proficiency levels for each student. The standards are adjusted appropriately to the unique circumstance of each area. There are other reforms built around the concept of further ensuring preparedness so that our keiki are career- or college-ready upon graduation. These program enhancements include evaluations for teachers and students.

The system is not by any means without flaw. I have introduced a minimally disruptive measure that works within the constructs of the current DOE operations to better provide support to each student through comprehensive early detection. Early detection is the process in which current or potential hindrances to a child’s ability to acquire knowledge are addressed early in a student’s learning process.

The bill attempts to make this detection more complete and also potentially directs the student to additional support services.

Secondly, the proposal seeks to provide more support to educators by establishing certain articulates together on one Web page. Informational material regarding current best practices, as they relate to Common Core Standards, is information not easily available, if at all, to teachers statewide. If the bill passes, educators and administrators will have the ability to quickly aggregate this type of information if they so choose to.

These slight operational adjustments to the system can have a significant positive impact for our children for little additional funding and effort.

I believe that this measure will ultimately allow for a fundamental constructive shift in operationalized focus. However, based on countless conversations with teachers, principals, parents and community members, other changes also need to take place. Any additional alterations should be implemented gradually so that our educators have proper time to adjust.

Furthermore, these types of revisions should be balanced and benefit both teachers and students together. I look forward to working with the DOE to continue to positively change the system so it better supports all parties. There is also a point in which sufficient transformative efforts are taking place at once; and we should then focus on those efforts collectively.

Among many issues, we should start by better compensating our educators. This is the simple truth as oftentimes teachers need to find additional employment to supplement income. This is not always the case, but does occur. Teachers, on the whole, spend a considerable amount of time and effort preparing for the next day’s lesson plan. This often includes purchasing materials out of their own pockets. It’s difficult to achieve the level of preparation required by our educators if working multiple jobs. The department should seriously consider the possibility of pay increases.

All-in-all, however, Hawaii is using fresh approaches to positively provide a brighter future for our children. Many current changes are already indicating success as is apparent by Hawaii’s most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, increasing in both reading and math. Hawaii is the only state in the country to show such significant improvement. We here in Hawaii are now in the position to be global leaders in education reform, so let us work hard collectively.

* Rep. Justin Woodson, a Democrat, serves District 9 – Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills, Maui Lani – in the state House of Representatives.