School reform gauntlet
has been thrown
Sadly, the stereotype of Hawaii schools is stifling classrooms, rusted lockers, clock-watching teachers, low-achieving principals, uncaring parents and students with barely the sense to operate a TV remote control.
The reality, of course, is of good schools in the city and the county with bright, achieving students graduating, going to top-tier universities and contributing to their community. Those schools are nearby low-achieving schools that deny students a chance to succeed and they are the ones that get the publicity.
In between are daily examples at every school of parents unable to get a teacher or principal to listen, while other teachers are going the uncompensated extra mile to take a chance on a pupil.
Now the state, partially spurred on by the Republican-sponsored No Child Left Behind Act and partially because Republican Governor Lingle, who has spent six years campaigning against the Democrats' administration of the schools, wants to make the system whole.
After listening to the GOP's point-blank condemnation, the Democrats rallied this week. Lining up surviving Democratic luminaries ranging from U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and union leader Russell Okata to former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, the Democrats hunkered down to hear about school reform in an speech by Pat Hamamoto, state superintendent of schools.
Hamamoto rejected Lingle's fix, breaking the state school board into seven smaller boards and dismantling much of the DOE bureaucracy. Hamamoto instead asked to be held accountable, give principals more power, a common school calendar and budgeting autonomy.
Hamamoto already said the current system doesn't work, tactfully avoiding fixing blame by calling it "obsolete." But Hamamoto put the onus on the Democrats to prove they can deliver or face the voters' wrath in November.
In terms of a political victory, both Lingle and the Democrats need a bill labeled "Omnibus Education Reform" to pass out this session.
The easiest option is to toss in more money. Common sense tells you that schools that cannot afford science labs and foreign-language teachers won't produce students proficient in science and foreign language. Those with money can afford more educational resources than those without money.
Lingle counters that evidence is mounting that shows spending money on schools is not related to student learning or school quality.
As the Hoover Institute notes: "Schools introduce unproven and unproductive programs. They overpay poor teachers (and underpay good teachers). They do not ensure that any additional funds will be spent in ways that improve student learning."
Lingle's hammering on education and the Democrats' decision to respond means that the Democratic leaders have only months to decide that if not money and not Lingle's plan, will they risk erasing the school stereotypes with Hamamoto's plan, and will it be in time for the November election?
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com