Is This The Best Time For The Hawaii DOE To Accredit Elementary Schools?

On Sept. 18, the Hawaii Department of Education announced that they plan to “accredit all schools by 2019.” This high-sounding pronouncement mostly means that they are implementing a five year-plan to accredit all the state’s elementary schools.

Currently, all secondary schools in Hawaii must be accredited, and rest assured, they are. If they weren’t, high school students in Hawaii would face big problems when trying to apply for college (most colleges only recognize course credit from accredited schools).

But elementary schools, up to now, were under no requirement to be accredited, although some volunteered to be accredited. There are 159 unaccredited elementary schools that are looking to become accredited at the end of this five-year plan.

To achieve this, the DOE is partnering with the Western Asociation of Schools & Colleges (WASC). While not a government organization, the WASC is one of six regional accreditation organizations (they handle California, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Fiji and East Asia).

The purpose of all this is to get an outside organization to ensure that a school meets certain education standards and is constantly improving. It’s also not easy.

“It’s a very grueling process,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) Executive Director Alvin Nagasako. There needs to be a lot of preparation as one prepares to do an accreditation review. It does take a lot of time and effort.”

So much so, in fact, that Nagasako wonders whether this should be a DOE priority at this time. “What I’m concerned about is that there are a lot of initiatives that are going on right now,” he said. “To add this on at this particular time, it might be a difficult task. It’s a very intensive process that will involve a lot of staff time, and at this time, the staff seems to be maxed out.”

The DOE says it’s currently in the process of undertaking their strategic plan, which is planned from 2011 through 2018. The DOE has released a pdf and even an iBook explaining their strategic plan.

“Hawaii has maintained high academic expectations of its students,” says the DOE in their strategic plan. “Hawaii was one of only five states to receive an ‘A’ grade for having academic standards ‘at or close to the world-class level,’ according to a Harvard Study reported in Education Next.”

That’s great, except the next sentence of that Education Next article contains this rather important caveat: “Notice that we award grades purely for the expected standard for performance, not actual proficiency.”

In any case, the DOE’s strategic plan is still in its early stages. Still, Nagasako has his doubts.

“Because of this initiative, schools are working to make a coherent system of improvement,” said Nagasako. “There needs to be a better explanation and understanding by all school personnel at a school level to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Right now the schools drowning because there is so much that is being accepted by the state strategic plan.”

-Oliver de Silva (@odesilva)

Photo: Jens Rötzsch/Wikimedia Commons