photo unavailable Education Matters

Thomas Graham Gans

CARE report is exercise
in politics, not reform

The report to the governor by the group called CARE (Citizens Achieving Reform in Education) is not a report at all. It is a political manifesto. Its recommendations are what the governor already had proclaimed as her policy on public education in her inaugural address. The document does not present alternate possibilities for reforming Hawaii's public school organization; the committee did not consider any.

The CARE committee held public meetings, but these were for show. The group did not inquire about patterns of public school organization in other states or how those might be adapted to Hawaii. CARE didn't look at differences among other states' school systems or their benefits and drawbacks. It didn't review how other states differentiate the roles of state departments of education and school districts. It didn't examine differences among states in the powers delegated to school districts, including the authority to raise revenue.

CARE also didn't consider differences among the states in the functions and selection of state school boards. There was no one, either on the committee or advising it, who had recognized expertise on the political organization of public school systems in the United States. In a document advocating major changes to the Hawaii Constitution, this omission is damning.

CARE repeatedly presents as conclusions statements that are merely assertions, unsupported by fact. For example, CARE asserts that the state employs "thousands of DOE administrators with teaching credentials" who could be reassigned to classrooms to reduce class sizes. This assertion is patently false, and CARE's own evidence contradicts it. In Table 1 of Appendix D, CARE reports that in 2002-03, the DOE had 13,836 certificated staff, of whom 12,982 were teachers and 570 were principals or vice principals. That leaves 284 state or district administrators, not "thousands."

CARE depended on the work of two consultants, William Ouchi and Bruce Cooper. Their work is sloppy and inaccurate. Their report includes a table of purported 2001-02 state per- pupil expenditures and ranks that claims Hawaii spent $8,473 per pupil, ranking it 14th among the states. These "data" are cited as being from "NCES data bank." That representation is false. The 2001-02 data on per- pupil expenditures published by NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) reported Hawaii spending $6,775 per pupil, ranking it 33rd. After Star-Bulletin reporter Susan Essoyan noted this conflict between their figures and those published by NCES, Ouchi explained (Letters, Jan. 18) that he and Cooper were attempting to "capture another view of per-student spending ... by adding up ... revenue sources." Revenue is not spending; it is income. But Cooper and Ouchi clearly labeled their figures as "per-pupil spending." That was false.

CARE's claim that only 49 percent of education expenditures "reach the classroom" is based on Cooper and Ouchi's "financial analysis." They admitted that their analysis used assumptions that were not valid and a scheme for categorizing expenditures that did not fit the state's data. They categorized funds spent on teachers' fringe benefits, utilities, student transportation and school food services as central office expenditures. This happened because these costs are pooled and paid for centrally; they aren't "tagged" to specific schools. Ouchi and Cooper either stretch or truncate the data to fit their scheme, which seems intended to make political points, not to serve as a functional management tool.

CARE's recommendations include two changes at cross purposes with each other. They recommend school level budgeting driven by a weighted student formula to eliminate bureaucracy and decentralize decision making. But they also recommend creating at least seven school districts -- another level of bureaucracy between the DOE and the schools. If districts have real power, it will come at the expense of schools, draining funds away from them.

Creating school districts also makes little sense in view of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB targets school districts for punitive sanctions just as it targets schools. Some districts proposed by CARE, because of their poverty or special education or limited English-speaking populations, would be subject to NCLB mandated sanctions as soon as they became operational. This would have the state creating school districts and then threatening them with sanctions for failure to "perform" adequately under NCLB. Wouldn't that be dysfunctional?

For genuine reform, we need honest proposals based on serious study of what works here and elsewhere, but CARE didn't give us that. Instead, CARE produced a piece of political puffery, touting solutions that were decided before the group ever met. We deserved better.

Thomas Graham Gans, Ph.D. is a retired evaluation specialist for the state Department of Education.


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