Graphic by Emily Metcalf
Graphic by Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Hawaii’s public schools aren’t rated the nation’s best, according to a variety of national rankings.

Apparently, many state lawmakers aren’t interested in the numbers. They say teachers and students should not spend more time in the classroom, and the superintendent should make more money.

House and Senate members Tuesday passed HB 1675 and SB 2139 SD. Those bills kill a 2010 law that lengthened the school year from 990 instructional hours over 180 school days to 1,080 hours, beginning in 2016.

The 51-member House debated the measure; 14 representatives voted against the plan, and 11 supported it “with reservations.”

The measure met less resistance in the 25-member Senate; Sens. Laura Thielen, D-Kailua-Hawaii Kai; and Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, voted against it.

Thielen, a former elected member of the Board of Education, said the bill originally passed to ensure all public schools had the same number of instructional hours. She said she understands if the Legislature has to push back the start date — to accommodate collective-bargaining agreements or the concerns of principals and teachers — but she doesn’t get why the law was dismissed.

The DOE supports eliminating the law to save money, and some lawmakers have argued time in the classroom doesn’t necessarily translate to better grades.

The House on Tuesday also passed a measure removing the $150,000 salary cap for the state Department of Education’s superintendent, leading to a possible $100,000 raise.

The Board of Education would have to approve the measure, designed to offer  a “competitive salary” in relation to other states. Advocates say Hawaii is unique because it has one centralized school district that includes 185,000 public school students.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom is the only lawmaker to so far speak out against the proposed pay boost.

“Many people in this Capitol think it’s OK to keep raising government salaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers, not legislators. Many also believe you only get good people by paying more money. Not true, especially in public education in Hawaii,” Slom said. “There is no nexus between a $100,000 salary bump and better pupil performance.”

The numbers are telling.
Education Week, for example, gave Hawaii a C-plus for its overall public school education. The state got a C-minus for K-12 achievement.

Then there’s the Students First Report Card, which gave Hawaii an overall C ranking and a D-plus for “spending wisely and being governed well.”

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress  reports just 46 percent of Hawaii’s fourth-graders are “proficient and advanced” in math, and 30 percent are reading at grade level. Just 32 percent of eighth-graders  score “proficient and advanced” in math; 28 percent in reading.

Slom, the only Republican in the 25-member Senate, said he doesn’t think the Legislature holds educational leaders accountable.

“The educational leaders add more non-classroom bureaucrats, divert into programs like the controversial sex education program Pono Choices, and the legislative auditor has been very critical of a number of DOE policies and programs, yet our response is to give more money and benefits,” Slom said. “Our responsibility is for oversight but we’re shirking our duty. This has to end if we want to truly improve education.”

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