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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 28, 2006

School test aid could cost state millions more

 •  PDF: What $7.9 million in outside assistance meant to struggling schools

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Hiring private companies to help Hawai'i public schools improve test scores could add up to an additional $7.1 million this year over last and the costs could grow by millions more in the coming years, school officials said.

The Department of Education spent $7.9 million in contracts with three educational assistance providers last year and that amount could rise to an estimated $15 million this year as twice as many schools face the most severe sanctions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The DOE has received requests from schools for outside services that would cost that amount, according to one official. The number of failing schools in "restructuring" or under control by the state DOE rose from 24 last year to 50 this coming year.

But the department now expects to assist a total of 53 schools, according to Title 1 specialist Iris Mizuguchi.

New contracts worth $5.85 million have been awarded to the DOE's two most successful providers Edison Schools and ETS, formerly ETS Pulliam. Approximately $1 million more in contracts is about to go to the other Mainland provider America's Choice.

Additional contracts with 21 new outside providers will cover an "array of services" for schools that need the help. With the increasing number of schools that require restructuring, education officials worry that the bill will grow.

"My concern is, because of the way the law is written, all the schools will eventually be programmed to fail," said Karen Knudsen, Board of Education first vice-chairwoman. "If we continue on this path a lot of money will be going to private providers unless we learn and institute changes ourselves."

So far only federal funding has been used, DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said. "We haven't really been talking that much about how NCLB is underfunded, but we can see a point where it would be, and it's very clear we're heading in that direction where the federal funds will not be enough and they'll have to be supplemented with state funds."

The federal money being used to help failing schools comes from the Hawai'i allotment for Title 1 schools, which are those with 35 percent or more of students below the poverty line and eligible for free or reduced lunch. This year, $46.17 million will come to the state to provide instructional services for those children at 257 of the state's 282 public schools.

All but one of the 50 schools that have now fallen into restructuring are Title 1 schools.

Benchmarks for NCLB ratchet higher every three years through 2014, bringing the possibility that more and more schools may fail, requiring far more money to pay for help.

BOE member Knudsen believes the DOE should find a way to help the schools without outside help.

"If consultants are effective and able to make a difference, what can we learn from them so eventually we'll be self-sufficient?" she asked.

THE TOP PROVIDER

According to an analysis of the latest school-by-school scores, of the three current private providers Edison was the most successful, ETS had generally good success and the results under America's Choice were mixed. Homegrown assistance provided to three schools by complex area superintendents was also mixed.

But there were enough gains from the outside providers to increase the number of schools each will serve this coming year.

"Even though some of the schools didn't make Adequate Yearly Progress, they showed growth in the area they were working on," said Sharon Nakagawa, head of special programs management at the DOE. "The schools and the complex area superintendents were the ones to determine whether they'd like to continue the contracts."

Susan Alivado, principal of Pa'ia Elementary on Maui, saw phenomenal progress with both Edison and a reading consultant they hired from CORE, another provider. The two worked together well, said Alivado, and often gave presentations together.

"The consultants themselves agreed that 'yes, we definitely want to be on the same page,'" said Alivado. "If there have been (problems) we have been able to work it out. One of the things we wanted to ensure was we didn't have different messages going down to the staff."

Pa'ia students more than doubled their scores in two grades and rose substantially in others. For instance, last year 33 percent of the school's third-graders were proficient in reading compared with 73 percent this year, and 30 percent were proficient in math compared with 83 percent this year.

SPECIFIC HELP

Jarrett Intermediate School, which emerged from restructuring after working with Edison, will continue with the company as it transitions. Jarrett's principal, Gerald Teramae, believes there are two parts of the program that are key: the company's professional development component and its benchmark assessment system that tests students monthly to pinpoint weaknesses, a system Teramae calls one of the best teaching tools.

"I think it's a great idea that now the schools can contract out for specific services," he said. "We don't want comprehensive services (a year from now) but we like some of their services."

Edison will be paid $4.95 million to provide comprehensive services to 12 schools. The company served seven schools last year under a contract worth $3.9 million.

After years of failure, four schools under Edison achieved Adequate Yearly Progress status under NCLB.

"Studies show that kids generally meet expectations, so one of the things we try to do right off the bat is instill the belief that these kids can achieve at high levels," said John Krieck, Edison Schools' general manager in Hawai'i who heads the 10-person on-site team working with Hawai'i schools.

"Palolo is a great example of that. Once the teachers started to see the results and we could track that through our benchmark system, it was empowering."

Edison customizes its assistance according to what each school needs by looking at the strengths, building a broad leadership team to empower the whole staff, creating a plan of action, and building in monthly assessments of how every child is progressing so instructional changes can be immediate.

"It allows teachers to know very clearly where their kids are and the areas where they're strong and weak," Krieck said. "It's different for teachers. Historically they had a plan and stuck to it, regardless of the feedback."

WORKING LOCALLY

Edison bases its entire Hawai'i team here so it can work with schools through the summer. The others have several key people in Hawai'i and bring in others as needed.

The department has signed a contract with ETS for $905,000 to provide comprehensive services for two of the five Moloka'i schools, plus individualized services to the three others. The company will be working with a total of 13 schools up from six last year.

"We'll be working with the entire Nanakuli complex and also the Waipahu complex the high, intermediate and elementary schools," said ETS' Olson. "We'll arrange the packages so it meets their needs. The new state contract allows us to work with them until they get just what they need."

Olson said her company focuses on standards and works closely with classroom teachers "to make sure they know which standards are the most important and which are going to be evaluated on the Hawai'i State Assessment exam.

Olson said it's difficult in just one year to have every school meeting the benchmarks.

"We have seen the growth," she said. "None of our schools quite got over the hurdle. Some got very close, and some made it in some areas and not others. We've always said, 'Three years in and we're out.' "

America's Choice, meanwhile, expects to be providing about $1 million worth of services to nine schools. The company bases its individualized service approach around a comprehensive system design that looks at the whole school, said spokeswoman Vera Vignes, regional director based in Los Angeles.

She said the company works with the leadership of the school to develop a "professional learning community" and also focuses attention with teachers in the classroom.

"This is not something that happens overnight," Vignes said. "It's something that takes a systemic approach over time."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.