Guam Government Announces Expansive Educational Reforms

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Education restructuring linked to economic improvements

By Arvin Temkar

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, June 6, 2012) – Declaring education as a path to economic prosperity, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo set in place an education reform plan yesterday that aims to restructure the Department of Education (DOE) and bolster accountability for teachers and administrators.

In a speech at Adelup, the governor and his spokesman, Troy Torres, decried public high school graduates' lack of preparedness for the workforce. They outlined several reforms, including doing away with social promotion and scrutinizing Chamorro language education -- ideas that could be controversial.

The reform plan was the culmination of months of work from the governor's education task force, which was created in the wake of Calvo's State of the Island address in February, Torres said.

Calvo praised some of the existing reform efforts, particularly the Guam Education Board's adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which proponents have said will both toughen and streamline existing standards.

But much of the governor's speech focused on new ideas that he said would put children on the path to economic success.

Accountability

Several of the reform ideas dealt with teacher and administration accountability.

One idea, Torres said, is a program that would allow administrators to observe teachers fresh out of college to see if they're "fit for the classroom" in their first year at Guam DOE. New teachers would also be given mentors to assist them.

Another idea is to raise teachers' salaries to meet the national average, he said. The average annual teacher salary on Guam is $46,000, according to Pacific Daily News files. Nationwide, the average salary for a public school teacher in the 2009-10 school year was $55,350, according to The Associated Press.

Reforms also would improve existing accountability structures by developing new principal and teacher evaluations, as well as possibly restructuring DOE and creating positions, he said.

For example, the incoming superintendent wants a chief operating officer to focus on operations and finance, so he can concentrate on instruction, Torres said. DOE also could install regional superintendents to manage the island's 40 principals, he said.

Jon Fernandez, whose superintendent contract was signed yesterday, said he shares a similar vision with the governor in terms of education -- "one that makes student learning and achievement the central driver of all that we do."

Social promotion

Another idea is to end social promotion, or the practice of allowing students who don't meet standards at their grade levels to move on to the next grade level until high school.

Torres said the administration wants to end the system, starting with third grade down. It would be unfair to take that away from older students at this point because of their progress in the system, he said.

But, ultimately, ending social promotion would allow intervention to begin quickly, so teachers can focus on struggling students to ensure progress, he said.

Chamorro language

Torres also proposed scrutinizing the way Chamorro language is taught in public schools. The government has spent millions of dollars on the program, but the number of Chamorro speakers decreased between 1990 and 2000, he said. He expects it to drop even further when new Census data is released.

While Torres maintained that the survival of the language is "critical," he said the way it's being taught has been costly and ineffective.

Some proposals on the table are to develop immersion schools, create after-school immersion programs, or to increase time for Chamorro language instruction, he said.

Economy

The thrust of the governor's speech was pegging education to the economy. One of his chief concerns since taking office is the island's unemployment rate, which is more than 13 percent.

"The economy is only as relevant to Guamanians as our education system dictates," he said, adding: "Will it matter to Guamanians if our economy grows, yet their families are left behind?"

Guam's homegrown workforce is "increasingly unprepared" to take high-paying jobs and create businesses, perpetuating an economic landscape that loses money to imported goods and services, Calvo said.

Using data culled from a variety of sources, Torres presented a gloomy vision of the island mired in poverty, welfare and a "culture of entitlement."

Spotlighting figures that show dismal high school graduation rates and the need for remedial education in college, Torres said: "I'm sorry this is a very depressing subject, but it needs to be discussed."

Torres' data showed nearly 6,000 students out of about 12,500 who started public high school between 2004 and 2007 didn't graduate.

Meanwhile, the number of people on welfare has skyrocketed over the last decade, now amounting to about 44,000 people, compared to just half that in 2000. Of the 12,500 students, more than 3,000 are now on welfare, the governor's spokesman said.

"All the data we are looking at tell us that our society is going backward," Calvo said.

Implementation

Torres said the reform plan will be presented at several schools to engage teachers, parents and administrators in the discussion.

The hardest part of the governor's reform plans will be implementation, said Robb Malay, acting deputy superintendent.

"It's going to change the way business is done and that's going to affect a lot of people," he said.

Jen Punongbayan, acting principal of Machananao Elementary School, said she thought the plan was a good start.

"It focuses on our students," she said. "Whatever they benefit from is great."

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