Posted on: Thursday, January 25, 2001
Think 'out of box' on Felix
By Matt Nakamura
Teacher and counselor with the state Department of Education for more than 15 years
Now dont get me wrong. I strongly believe that Hawaiis long-neglected special-education students and families deserve all the help they can get. But the way the "Felix solution" has played out so far often leaves me shaking my head:
The DOE contracts with a Mainland company to recruit certified special-ed teachers at a cost of $100,000 per teacher while Hawaiis teachers continue to be the lowest paid in the entire nation.
An increasing number of new hires at all levels of the school, from noncertified special-ed teachers in RISE (a training and mentoring program) to brand-new administrators (principals and vice principals), lack the proper training, support, resources and guidance to effectively carry out their jobs. (Note: Do not blame these individuals; its not their fault. They are all simply products of a faulty system.)
A "system of care" has swung so far to one side that it makes more sense to diagnose and certify a child with a medical label and hours of therapy and mental health services sometimes because there simply are no other school-level options, services or alternatives available to help this child.
Veteran teachers, administrators, counselors and other school personnel are burned out as a result of massive changes being implemented without direction or foresight, a ridiculous amount of workshops, conferences and meetings (often with conflicting schedules and directives), and tremendous workload increases without added resources and support. (Again, do not blame individuals. Everyone is trying to do his best. Large bureaucracies just do not respond well to major change.)
The solution? Since were out of wishes and magic wands and there is no time machine to take us back to kinder and simpler times, our only hope is to immediately jump "out of the box." That is, we must step back from wherever we stand and take an entirely different approach to the problem. For starters:
Pass a law or constitutional change that requires the state to spend, at minimum, 35 percent of the annual state budget on public education. That becomes the new starting point, without worrying about what other services or government agencies will need to be cut. Just do it.
Pass another state law requiring our teachers salaries to maintain a national ranking within the top 10 states in the nation. (This should also take care of the cost-of-living adjustment the state so easily dismisses and ignores during its contract negotiations.) You want quality, you pay for it.
Focus our attention back on the classroom. Hawaiis own "teacher of the year," Jo Tepper, was right when she said we should give more resources to our regular-education teachers so they can accommodate special-needs students within their own classrooms. Only then can the words "mainstream" and "least restrictive environment" truly function as they were intended.
Treat the problem, not the symptom. Early interventions make the best sense. Strengthen families, cut down on teen pregnancies, expand programs with proven successful track records such as "Zero to 3," Headstart and PSAP. We require people to get a license to drive a car. Why dont we have minimum requirements to have children? (Drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free mothers, independent means of support, etc.)
I saved the best "out of the box" solution for last.
State lottery for education. Absolutely 100 percent of the proceeds should go straight to public education. No exceptions, no loopholes, no excuses. And my response to the many who oppose any type of gambling? Our current public school system is like a time bomb in danger of "imploding" if these serious problems are not addressed. To me, that already amounts to nothing less than playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette with all of our children held hostage. Were running out of empty chambers.
[back to top]