Better way to decentralize | Rejecting funds a cop-out

At Anuenue Elementary School, Kealoha Smith and Pono Vegas, both 8 years old, work on multiplication tables.



A better way to decentralize?

By Mary Anne Raywid

Several weeks ago, William Ouchi of UCLA introduced a new dimension into the school reform discussion in Hawaii by showing how in school systems where principals exert considerable control over staffing, curriculum, materials selection and professional development, the result seems to be higher student achievement.

The idea taken from his findings was that we in Hawaii launch a new school funding system, in effect turning over the fiscal management of public education to school principals by giving each a sum of money determined by a weighted-funding formula to run his or her school. There is a standard sum for regular students, an additional sum for non-English speaking students, an additional sum for youngsters from poverty families, and so on.

Such an arrangement, Ouchi argued, has served in Seattle, Houston and Edmonton, Canada, to boost student achievement by giving individual schools a great deal more control over their budgets -- and incidentally, their decisions in many other matters.

Could it serve in Hawaii to solve a lot of our problems as well? It appears Ouchi thought so or he wouldn't have talked so widely about it on his recent visit. The House of Representatives must have thought so, in view of a bill it passed last week. And the papers make it sound like the schools superintendent and the governor and the unions all think so; and on the basis of a letter to the editor at least one Board of Education member agrees with them. But there appears to have been a lot less local discussion of the non-budgetary powers that were also bestowed upon principals in these cities.

School reform, though obviously much needed here, has been at such a stalemate that the new funding arrangement may well be a good idea to try. In fact, it may be the only way to get any reform at all passed! I'm concerned, though, that we may lack the history and traditions as well as the full package necessary to making it work.

Ouchi's findings -- and the recommendations they seem to imply -- involve both school fiscal and governance decentralization arrangements. They suggest that by handing over a budget to schools according to a weighted formula, as well as by letting them handle their own staffing and curriculum and materials selection and their own professional development, we get higher student achievement. It's not a bad message and many have no difficulty accepting it. But Hawaii has had a hard time making school-based management work. And a large number of observers would say that despite its nominal existence since 1989, it simply is yet to happen here.

Given this kind of history and tradition, which manages in one way or another to squelch school-based management, is Ouichi's Weighted Student Formula fiscal plan likely to bring it off? Will the Legislature, Hawaii education officials and the teacher and principal labor unions let it happen? And if not, is the fiscal plan alone, without the decentralized governance, likely to be a magic bullet in improving achievement? We know the power of the purse is considerable. But how about the power of the purse without the power to control staffing, curriculum, materials and professional development? If the board and Department of Education, with its new complex arrangement, do not relinquish control of these matters to the individual school, can the power of the purse offset them?

There's another matter tied to the package in Seattle, Houston and Edmonton: Families have the right to choose the schools their children will attend. Is that to be a part of the arrangement here? Or is that something we find out only after the law has been passed? I've been strongly in favor of public school choice for years. But I think it works only under certain conditions, including a policy of deliberate diversification. Is that to be pursued?

I have another, rather different concern regarding whether Ouichi's Weighted Student Formula could accomplish the good things some of us envision in reading his study. It would pass along considerable power to principals, boosting them into real CEOs. According to teacher and parent reports, Hawaii has some first-rate principals. But some already behave pretty autocratically. It would seem imperative that as principals are further empowered they, too, be held accountable -- and that among those they be held accountable to are those they are charged with leading.

If they are to be accountable, permanent tenure within a school as principal would have to go; and if they are to be accountable to those they are leading, then a vote of confidence from teachers and parents should be one criterion of satisfactory performance for a principal. (Requiring that they be removed from a union seems a lot less necessary -- and perhaps less reasonable -- than the performance contract requirement, with this vote of confidence provision.)

There is always more than one way to accomplish a given purpose. If the aim is decentralizing school control, we can consider local, semi-autonomous boards and districts to operate schools, or some system whereby individual schools can in effect run themselves. If, on the other hand, the aim is to strengthen central school control, we can keep a single board and district and set up multiple, regional offices -- complexes -- all responsible to a single authority.

Mary Anne Raywid is a nationally recognized school curriculum expert.



Rejecting funds
is a cop-out

By David A. Pendleton

In 2001, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. In doing so, he made the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since it was enacted in 1965. The act redefines the federal roles in elementary and secondary education and is based on four principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents and an emphasis on proven teaching methods. In addition, this law requires all states to set high standards of achievement and to create systems of accountability to measure results.

Hawaii's state House of Representatives recently passed House Resolution 118, House Draft 1. This resolution urges the Board of Education and the superintendent of education to consider declining any further participation in this act and returning all federal funds conditioned on the implementation of the act by Hawaii unless Congress fully funds the act. I opposed this resolution because it strips the state of necessary funds, sends the wrong message to Hawaii's keiki, parents and educators, and contradicts federal policy as well as the votes of Hawaii's congressional delegation.

The No Child Left Behind Act would help Hawaii financially by increasing federal funding of Hawaii's public schools to more than $194.6 million, a 46.2 percent increase over 2000 levels. These funds would help boost the quality of education for disadvantaged children in Hawaii, help ensure that every public school student in Hawaii learns to read at or above grade level by the third grade, train and retain skilled educators, ensure safe and drug-free schools in Hawaii, fund after-school programs for at-risk children, and provide greater access to a college education through increased Pell Grant funding.

The House resolution declines these necessary funds and returns the $33.9 million that the federal government gave Hawaii in the fiscal year 2002-2003. Rejecting these funds will hurt those we want to help most: Hawaiians and disadvantaged children. Hawaii currently ranks last in SAT scores for states with a participation rate of more than 50 percent. Hawaii students rank among the lowest nationally in reading. Of those students, Hawaiians rank still lower. Given these statistics, can we afford to turn away the federal money? These students are capable of so much more if only we will help them.

The No Child Left Behind Act would benefit an estimated 185,860 Hawaii public school children, 255 Hawaii public schools and 10,785 Hawaii teachers. It provides unprecedented federal support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds trapped in low-performing schools.

By rejecting the act, Hawaii's House Democrats run from a solution to improve education, thus sending the message that Hawaii's children are unable to perform to federal standards. By rejecting these funds, House Democrats tell Hawaii's keiki that they are not smart enough to meet the challenge. By rejecting this act, they flee from accountability.

House Democrats talk about improving education, yet when it comes down to it, they are afraid to step up to the plate and do something.

How can such a message be sent to Hawaii's keiki? Instead of focusing on the negative and thinking about the possibility of failure, we all need to believe in our students. They are capable, bright and no less able to meet the federal government's standards than any student from the mainland.

The No Child Left Behind Act gives Hawaii these funds in order for us to be able to meet the federal government's challenge. Not only does it give Hawaii funds, but it also sets guidelines as to how to accomplish the task. It offers school districts powerful tools to provide the best possible education to all children by cutting federal red tape, reducing the number of federal education programs, and creating larger and more flexible programs that place decision-making at the local level where it belongs. The act also creates accountability by mandating yearly testing.

Returning the federal funds is a cop-out. Hawaii would be giving up before actually trying. Do we truly want to teach our keiki that when something is difficult it is OK to quit?

and finally, this resolution goes against Hawaii's congressional delegation. This is not a partisan matter. Congressman Abercrombie and the late Congresswoman Mink, as well as Senators Inouye and Akaka, voted in favor of the act. Hawaii cannot afford to make this into a partisan issue.

The Hawaii congressional delegation, which consisted only of Democrats, supported the No Child Left Behind Act, which, incidentally, was authored by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. If Hawaii makes this into a partisan issue, the only result will be the harm to disadvantaged students.

All of Hawaii should rise to the challenge presented by the No Child Left Behind Act and strongly oppose House Resolution 118, House Draft 1. Although the House version of the resolution passed, the House Concurrent Resolution 147, House Draft 1 is still winding its way through the Legislature. Let us work to defeat the House Concurrent Resolution and prove that Hawaii has faith in its keiki and educators. We can avail ourselves of the funds provided in the act and use them to create a public education system of which we can all be proud.

David A. Pendleton (R, Maunawili-Kaneohe) is assistant minority leader of the state House of Representatives.


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