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Vision for Education Should Include Reform of System

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

The recent controversy over the interpretation of one of the provisions of the teachers’ contract pales by comparison to the issues that teachers really want addressed.
Unfortunately, neither the teachers’ union nor administrative officials have really taken the time to listen to teachers to find out what they want that will truly help improve the education of our children and make the teaching profession a rewarding one. For both sides, it appears that everything boils down to more pay, recognition of additional training, and classroom working environment.
It seems that union officials see their role as making sure that teachers are well compensated so they can demonstrate that they have delivered something for teachers. From the administration’s perspective, as long as they can meet teachers’ wage demands without breaking the bank, they believe that they have served taxpayers well.
In a sense, both sides seem to want to keep the status quo, attempting to improve education by pouring more money into the education budget. But over the years, millions of dollars have been poured into the educational budget, more schools have been built though it seems that the system can’t maintain them, and much debate has gone on about the need to reduce class size. In the end, it is a fact that the education system is not producing the results for which taxpayers and parents hoped.
So putting more money into the system or claiming that paying teachers more is going to improve the school system by attracting more qualified teachers – a backhanded insult by the unions to current teachers – just will not improve education in Hawaii. Get the message everyone? Money is not going to make education better in Hawaii.
So what is going to improve education in Hawaii? Well, it may not be the total answer, the magic bullet, but a recent round table with teachers currently in the classroom as well as teachers who have chosen to leave the education system is very revealing. Surprisingly, nearly all of those present agreed that pay was not the issue.
In fact, many said that they would be happy working for the pay that they were getting prior to the most recent wage agreement.
However, what seemed to really rankle those present was the SYSTEM. In the words of a couple of teachers, “Let us just teach.” Apparently, teachers have been burdened with all sorts of paperwork and committee work that has nothing to do with classroom instruction. They have been asked to take responsibility for actions and decisions for which they have not been given the authority. The SYSTEM imposes all sorts of reporting requirements and paperwork so teachers find little time to do what they like best, which is to teach. Instead, teachers find themselves doing more reports and justifying more requests that are driven solely by the administration of the department of education.
Some of the teachers commented that the principals and vice-principals are afraid to make decisions because they will be held accountable for those decisions. As a result, no decisions are made, leaving teachers in limbo as to the direction of their schools. Many of the teachers commented that principals and vice-principals should not be organized or part of a union as they should represent management and be held accountable for the decision making process. Those teachers also wonder why their unions don’t call for this kind of reform. As a result, few of the teachers present really saw the teachers’ union as truly representative of what teachers really wanted, reform of the system.
So while the teachers’ union calls for better compensation in order to attract more teachers, they have missed the whole point of why teachers are leaving the profession. It is the SYSTEM. Those teachers sitting around the table who have left the education field would love to go back to teaching, but the SYSTEM makes them think twice about returning to the classroom.
One teacher noted that there really isn’t a shortage of teachers. They are out there – in other professions. Not because the pay is better – in fact some took pay cuts – but because the SYSTEM suffocates them. So before we reduce better education to merely spending more money, reform of the education system appears to be imperative.

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