Idiocy in paradise: Hawaii handles school budget cuts badly
Hawaii is so far away we mainland reporters rarely mention it. I was the Post's western states correspondent in the 1980s, with Hawaii part of my beat, but I never asked to go there for fear of being labeled a pleasure-seeking layabout. That was a mistake. It is a fascinating state, the birthplace of our president, and its education policymakers have just taken a step that is a good example for the rest of the states of what NOT to do when you get into budget trouble---cut back the time kids are in school.
State education officials decided the best way to save money was to force teachers to take 17 days off without pay, the kind of furlough system that many states have used to cut government expenses. But doing this with teachers is a very bad idea. Every study we have indicates that instructional time is key in raising student achievement. Cutting back the available time by nearly 10 percent is a huge blow to learning in Hawaii, but the officials who have endorsed this option don't seem to understand that.
The second furlough day is Friday, meaning no school for 170,000 students to save $5 million for that day.
According to honoluluadvertiser.com, Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said if courts overturn the furloughs, the board of education would have to lay off probationary teachers, administrators and others, and force an increase in class sizes. "Layoffs mean we're going to have to increase the size of the classroom," she said. According to the advertiser, she said the amount of time spent in the classroom is less important than "the quality of education I'm giving that child."
Wrong. If doing layoffs removed quality teachers from the schools, then she would be right, but she already said that tenured and special education teachers would not be dismissed. So what she is saying is that having more students in the class is worse for them than having less time in class. The most detailed studies of class size, such as the Tennessee STAR research, show that it has little effect on learning unless you get class sizes below 17 students per class, far below what Hawaiian class sizes are now.
In the Washington area, where education officials appear better acquainted with the research, class sizes have gone up a bit to address budget cuts. That is the way to go. Lots of Hawaiians are saying that. I hope they are listened to.
| October 29, 2009; 12:04 PM ET
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