Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
January 21, 2002
DOE: Rigor mortis has set in
Hiring rules, however idiotic, provide protection for education's insecure bureaucrats.
When the governor announced the names and schools of the 11 state finalists for the 2001 “Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching,” I perked up.(1) While private schools only educate 16% of Hawaii’s children,(2) I noted that they had provided more than half of these great teachers.
Looking into it further, I found myself talking to one of them, Dr. Joan Rohrback, who holds a doctorate in science education and has taught for 15 years. She is in a private school because she could not get a teaching position with the Department of Education (DOE). While the DOE pays better she simply does not have the special certification that DOE requires—but that none of the private schools do. So she is turned down despite being named one of the 11 best science and math teachers in Hawaii. Go figure.
She is not alone. Hawaii House Representative Guy Ontai wanted to teach at the DOE but found he was not considered qualified to teach there even though he has a master’s degree in physics from MIT and had been an Assistant Professor at West Point. I am told there are many similar examples.
Common sense tells us that any school principal worth their salt would grab these teachers. But they cannot—there are DOE rules.
Even our charter schools cannot hire them because while charter schools supposedly have a great deal of freedom it does not apply to hiring—there are the DOE rules.
Common sense also dictates that if a charter school were to require the same or better qualifications for teachers as does Punahou or Iolani, that should suffice. But common sense does not dictate at the DOE; instead they have the rules.
The rules, however idiotic, do have a purpose. They provide protection for the power structure. Our insecure DOE bureaucrats must constantly attempt to show that they and their central controls cannot be replaced. That this results in a DOE that is so large, so complex and so hidebound that rigor mortis has set in does not appear to worry them.
They do not want principals hiring whoever they want—however reasonable such hiring might be. Instead they want teachers to have jumped through the certification hoop just to prove they can put up with unnecessary nonsense for a year. Certification thus serves the same purpose as boot camp in the military; it gets everyone in line, obedient and ready for what is to come. If it served any other function the private schools would require it.
For example, a recent survey of Massachusetts charter school principals asked what were the benefits of running charter schools over regular schools.(3) They found that the most important were flexibility in hiring teachers (no certification needed) and control over their budgets. It is noteworthy that Hawaii’s charter schools have very limited control over either of these.
The only way we are going to improve our public education is to break the death grip that the DOE bureaucracy has on its throat. We have to establish true School/Community-Based Management (S/CBM) by downsizing school administration to the school level, and also encourage, rather than discourage, charter schools. These actions together with transferring the oversight function to the State Auditor’s office would eliminate the DOE.
This that can be set right by the legislature. Let us see if they are up to it when they meet next month.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater