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A Lawmakers Journey

A Lawmakers Journey

Kim Coco has been your neighbor in Senate District 13 since 2004. 

Before attending the University of New Mexico School of Law, she was a volunteer Legal Research Aide for the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals. While in law school, Kim Coco served as a legal extern to the New Mexico Supreme Court. When she graduated in 2000, she received the Honors in Clinical Law Award.

After passing the bar in Hawaii, Kim Coco volunteered at Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and worked as Managing Attorney for Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii.

She was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and re-elected to that office in 2010.

In 2012, the Governor appointed, and the Senate approved, Kim Coco to serve as a Commissioner on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

In 2013, The White House honored Kim Coco’s community advocacy as one of the Harvey Milk “Champions of Change”.   

And she recently became a mother to a three-year old. 

First to File for Senate Seat District 13

First to File for Senate Seat District 13

With deep appreciation for the commitment required to serve, I have decided to run for the State Senate seat that Senator Chun Oakland will vacate. If given the opportunity, I will continue to further Senator Chun Oakland’s advocacy on behalf of Hawaii’s families: keiki to kupuna, by ensuring our social safety nets are securely in place, and by leading collaborative efforts to solve our State’s most pressing issues. 

This particular legislative session has inspired me to seek re-election as a policymaker. We need leaders to move Hawaii beyond the current political establishment that places corporate profits before the health of people and our environment. For example, the Legislature just passed a law allowing a publicly-traded corporation exclusive control over stream water that once flowed to local family farms. Our legislature also refused to place limits on restricted-use pesticides that chemical companies are spraying near our public elementary schools and into our fragile ecosystem. 

I look forward to speaking with my neighbors in Alewa Heights, Puunui, Liliha, Palama, Iwilei, Kalihi, Nuuanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Lower Tantalus, and Downtown Honolulu to learn more about their concerns and their expectations of our State government. 

When State Budgets are Not Aligned to Data

A version of this entry was written and published in Civil Beat on May 27, 2015. 

 

At a Board of Education meeting on May 19, 2015, the Hawaii Department of Education presented the Legislature’s final adjusted biennial budget for DOE school years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, as detailed in HB500 CD1.

Included in the over $115 million shortfall the legislature decided not to fund, was more than $107 million that would have had a direct and specific benefit to school level programs. 

One such program that was cut from the DOE’s budget request was Achieve3000, an online, differentiated-learning literacy program with a remarkable history of gains for Hawaii’s students. 

Achieve3000 costs $1.92 million a year for 255 DOE schools, which comes out to an average of just $7,530 per school, or $11 per student, per year. DOE used its purchasing power to negotiate a 25% discount for a statewide contract. Achieve 3000 benefits by not having to manage 255 separate accounts and collect payment from each schools’ weighted student formula allotments.  

In 2009, the DOE signed a 5-year contract with Achieve3000, making the program available to students across the state. Daniel Hamada was the DOE Assistant Superintendent Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support at that time. Hamada has since returned to the school level, serving as Principal at Kapaa High School. He has had both a bird’s-eye overview of how impactful Achieve3000 has been for student literacy across the state, and now he observes it working every day, on the ground.

Achieve3000 begins with a reading assessment for each student, delivers reading material precisely matched to each individual’s reading level, offers multiple choice reading activities to assess comprehension, and continues to elevate the reading level of the student as the student progresses. The more frequently a student uses the program, the greater their literacy gains.

Although Achieve3000 was available to all schools since 2009, only 216 schools were actively using it in the beginning. Schools that were not using the program created a baseline which allowed the DOE to contrast performance on the Hawaii State Assessment.  

According to an August 2010 powerpoint presentation, “99% of Hawaii Department of Education schools that used Achieve3000 solutions and completed 40 or more multiple choice reading activities on average per user met the proficiency requirement for their overall HSA reading scores, outperforming the schools that did not use Achieve3000 Solutions by 15 percentage points.” 40 reading activities come out to an average of just one activity a week.

A scientific tool for measuring reading level and growth has been developed and trademarked as “Lexile.” A student’s Lexile score creates a quantifiable way to identify and compare where they are at a given point to how much they have improved after a particular intervention. 

If you look at a range of Lexile scores for grades 1-12 you will notice that there is a 200-point jump from grade 1 to grade 2, and from grade 2 to grade 3; but then it begins to narrow to a 100-point jump between grade 4 to grade 5; and continues to narrow down to a 30-point jump between grade 9 and grade 10.  

This is important to keep in perspective because according to the DOE’s presentation on Achieve3000, students who were doing 80 or more reading activities a year, or two activities a week, had an average Lexile gain of 181 points. Students who used the program 40-79 times a year had an average Lexile gain of 140 points. Whereas, expected growth for students who did not use Achieve3000 was only an average Lexile gain of 86 points. This means that, depending on their grade, students could have jumped two reading grade levels in one year.

According to two recent analyses of Hawaii’s use Achieve3000, prepared in July 2014 and February 2015, there are approximately 120,000 student users, and 6,000 teachers and 6,000 parents/guardians using the program to track learning and support students. Up to 68% of users were logging into the program after school hours. 

Despite this increasing popularity and the continued measurable gains for Hawaii’s students, the legislature would not fund the $1.92 million to renew the statewide contract with Achieve3000. Instead the legislature earmarked $1.2 million for a bunch or “grant-in-aid” add-ons, like a “Leilehua Alumni Association”, that the DOE never requested.  

At a BOE meeting last month, Member Amy Asselbaye sought confirmation from the DOE that  schools would have to pay for the Achieve3000 program from each of their own weighted student formula allotments. (The Legislature did provide the DOE with the $2.4 million increase to the weighted student formula fund to address the projected increase to enrollment for school-year 2015-2016.) The DOE responded that given this new funding challenge, only 50 of the 255 schools were interested in continuing this program. 

It is unclear what would happen to all of those student accounts if the other 205 schools dropped Achieve3000. This could turn out to be the lowest point of the school/principal empowerment movement. What other learning intervention has had such measurable successes when it comes to improving literacy? When principals and School Community Councils prioritize their spending, what is more foundational to their mission than reading?

Looking back at his time as Assistant Superintendent, Daniel Hamada said that initiating the partnership with Achieve3000 has proven to be one of his proudest accomplishments when it comes to supporting student learning. The program’s measurable positive impact on literacy gains for DOE students should give Principal Hamada’ great pride; it should also give those principals who are considering abandoning this program great pause.

Student Debt - Corporate Ponzi Scheme?

A version of this entry was written for Civil Beat and published on May 6, 2015.

On April 27, 2015, Corinthian Colleges, Inc., the publicly traded corporation that bought Heald Colleges in 2010, ceased all operations nationwide, including the closure of Heald College in Honolulu. Yesterday, Corinthian filed for bankruptcy. 

Looking into the details behind the fall of this large institution brought back memories of the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme mixed together with the mortgage crises that left many “investors” trying to make sense of what happened to them.  

All of Heald College programs were considered “gainful employment programs” by the US Department of Education and subject to specific federal regulations regarding accurate reporting of post-graduation job placement rates. Obviously, students were making financial risk calculations between the debt they would incur against the added economic value of a Heald College certificate or degree. And as the largest student loan provider, the US government had a stake in ensuring students could repay these loans when they got placed in higher paying jobs.

According to CollegeView.com, Heald College Honolulu is considered a private for-profit community college. It charged $13,740 for in-state tuition and fees for school year 2013-14.

Heald invested heavily in student recruitment and helping students fill out federal loan and grant applications. Its nationwide business model was so effective that students enrolled at Heald Colleges collectively received $67 million in Federal Pell Grant funds, $139 million in Direct Loan program funds, and $4 million in campus-based program funds during the 2013-14 award year alone.

Last month, the US DOE sent Corinthian a “Notice of Intent to Fine Heald College” to the amount of almost $30 million. This letter was sent at the conclusion of a 16 month US DOE investigation into “performance disclosure documents” and evidence of job-placement rates.

The letter stated that, “Heald College failed to meet the fiduciary standard of conduct by misrepresenting its placement rates to current and prospective students and to its accreditors, and by failing to comply with federal regulations requiring the complete and accurate disclosure of its placement rates.”

The US DOE detailed one of the most egregious misrepresentations that it uncovered. Heald Stockton reported a job placement rate of 78 percent for its Medical Assisting program graduates, but the US DOE examined the same records and calculated that the more accurate rate was only 33 percent of graduates were placed in the higher paying job they were trained for. 

If Heald Stockton had reported this accurate figure it would have lost its program accreditation, and prospective students would have assessed this risk/investment differently.

If you knew that less than 35 percent of your class would complete the two-year program, and then only 33 percent of those graduates would get a job in that field, you might reconsider taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  

This is similar to the mortgage collapse because Heald was basically selling students “a house” at a price they knew students would not be able to afford. It is like the Madoff ponzi scheme because as long as no one investigated the details of how money was being made, a few showcase clients would continue to see a return on their investment - those minority of Heald graduates who actually got placed in a higher paying job. But the majority of student “investors” would walk away with crippling debt.

Like both of those financial tragedies, people who should have been protecting consumers dismissed the clear signs that something was not adding-up.

In 2012, Heald was granted an initial 6-year accreditation by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). WASC also accredits University of Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University, Brigham Young University, and Argosy. 

The WASC accreditation process a full year to complete. The WASC review team consisted of seven members who compiled a 108 page report for the WASC Commissioners to evaluate. 

The report began with background information on the 150 year-old Heald Colleges: how it was a non-profit entity until 2007 and then in 2010 it was purchased by the publicly-traded corporation Corinthian College, Inc. The WASC review team thought this purchase was fortuitous for Heald and its future: “This relationship provides a number of benefits, including access to greater financial assets than the College previously had available.”

Reports this large are often written in sections by different team members and then they are consolidated as one report; this may explain why there seems to be some blatant inconsistencies regarding the elements that would become the center of the US DOE’s $30 million fine.

In one section the 2011 WASC report stated, “The College job placement rate – 83% in 2008 and 77% in 2009 – is commendable, as is the college’s work on tracking and publicizing student

employment rates.” 

However, in another section, the report acknowledged that most student grievances concern “financial aid” and “job placement assistance.” 

Perhaps the most ironic section in the report: “The visiting team recommends that the College continue to monitor its admissions and financial aid processes with vigor and with expectations for high standards of professional conduct. The visiting team also recommends that the College continue to disclose program graduation rates, as well as statistics on gainful employment and information regarding the transferability of course credits to four-year institutions.” 

After WASC team members visited the Heald Honolulu campus in October 2011 to conduct “Review of Off-Campus Site.” The team made specific observations and findings, including: “Data suggest that graduation rates are slightly higher than average across all campuses.” The team required follow-up: “Data in the Heald College fact book will be studied more closely.”

Despite these prescient reservations, the WASC Commissioner’s granted Heald an initial six-year accreditation. However, the approval letter did state that the “Commission is deeply concerned with the very low levels of completion at some sites and in some programs.” The commission continued to underscore this concern throughout seven paragraphs of its five-page letter.    

Mitigating the Damage

In the immediate aftermath of the Heald closure there have been some supportive posts on the Heald College - Honolulu facebook wall, including from UH Leeward Community College: “If you weren't able to attend the Transfer Days, you can still connect with Leeward Community College. Simple, fast online form and we'll connect you with the right person to help. http://www.leeward.hawaii.edu/Heald-Info-Request”.

In fact, the UH system has a great interactive database that allows Heald college students to immediately identify which Heald courses would receive credit at a particular UH community college.

For a more permanent mitigation strategy, Congressman Mark Takano from California co-introduced the Protections and Regulations for Our Students Act (aka PRO Students Act). 

Introducing The PRO Students Act, Takano explains: “it is critical that our students are able to make informed decisions about where they will receive the quality, affordable higher education that is right for them. Unfortunately, some schools, particularly those in the for-profit college sector, are employing predatory, fraudulent, and deceptive practices to enroll students, and then leave them with unsustainable debt, worthless credits, certifications, and degrees, and dismal job prospects.”

The PRO Students Act would ensure that students have access to important and accurate information and data, strengthen oversight and regulation, and hold schools accountable for violations and poor performance.

The bill would bolster consumer protections for students and strengthen whistleblower protections for faculty and staff.  

Hawaii’s delegation should consider signing-on as co-sponsors. 

This tragedy raises other questions that may help the higher ed community address student needs.

Why are students opting for a private, for-profit community college like Heald, when they could have enrolled at a University of Hawaii Community College for one quarter of the costs?

Is it simply the status of attending a private school? 

Should our community colleges invest more in outreach and aggressive recruitment? At a minimum UH should survey all incoming students who are transferring into UH from a private for profit school and ask them what could UH have done to better serve them in the first place.  

Someone suggested there might be more online courses available at a private community college. That might be a misconception as UH Community Colleges offer hundreds of online courses every semester.  Honolulu Community College offered 45 online and cable TV courses from its campus. If these courses are filling up and locking out students who need this access then UH should respond to the needs of its students. This would be an easy fix with UH President David Lassner coming from an IT background.

Alignment of Investments to Values

Alignment of Investments to Values

One barely has to skim news headlines to be aware that many of the greatest challenges of our time involve social and environmental issues. From workers’ rights to climate change, our responsibility to be aware of how our decisions affect populations and environments has never been greater. One area where I have the opportunity to voice my values is through my investments.

The concept of aligning investments with values is not a new one, as communities have invested in accordance with local customs or traditions for hundreds of years. However, the concept has experienced a recent reemergence in the form of “impact investment”: the practice of investing for financial returns as well as some kind of positive social and/or environmental impact. 

There are an increasing number of opportunities to maximize financial returns as well as sustainability and impact: everything from negative screening of objectionable sectors used by socially responsible funds, to proactive investment in businesses leading in environmental, social and governance standards, to thematic investments in things like community development, education, healthcare, resource scarcity, climate change mitigation, and renewable energy. I realized that my traditional investment managers had a single focus on financial returns, analyzing performance without any integration of environmental or social returns and risks. 

After thorough research and conversations with impact investors and impact advisors, I have recently started moving my portfolio in this direction. Now my fixed income investments include climate change solutions in the form of “green bonds”, which are high-quality bonds invested around the world in high-efficiency water irrigation projects, low carbon waste management projects, solar retrofit solutions, and other climate change mitigation solutions.  I also have investments in stock and fixed income portfolios that do considerably better than their traditional benchmarks in measurable areas like toxic emissions, water use, health and safety standards, diversity on corporate boards, and business ethics.   

This concept of investing in alignment with my values appeals to me on several levels – both practical and personal. From a practical standpoint, it seems logical that those companies who are vigilant about their use of resources and investing in cleaner, more efficient technologies as well as safe, transparent supply chains are those that will be positioned to succeed in the future as well as withstand an increasingly resource-scarce world. From a personal standpoint, I remain intrigued by the idea that in addition to my charitable giving, I can use my investment portfolio to invest in ideas, businesses, places and communities that I care about. I continue to explore impact investing as the field evolves, and hope to be able to expand my work while providing leadership to others.   

Resources: Here are a few educational resources for those interested in learning more about impact investing:

ImpactAssets Issue Briefs : ImpactAssets Issue Briefs are offered as concise articles exploring topics of interest and relevance to impact investors or those interested in learning more about impact investing. 

The Case Foundation: A Short Guide to Impact Investing 


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