Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
Monday, December 3, 2001
Sample question of the type our children failed: “All of the following would be helpful in separating a mixture of sand and salt EXCEPT: 1) a magnet 2) a glass cup 3) a filter paper and funnel 4) water.”
See this on the NAEP website, page 14.
Another education ‘alert’?
Stop making excuses for our dismal showing. It's time for a revolution.
A few days ago, Ms. Pat Hamamoto, the Interim Superintendent of the Dept. of Education, responded (1) to the release of Hawaii’s low science scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (2) by saying, “The NAEP science test scores sound an alert in Hawai'i, like Sputnik did in the U.S. in the 1950s. The students of these islands cannot and must not fall behind in science. Our Hawai'i standards for science are solid and challenging. Student improvement in science will depend on how well they achieve those standards.”(3)
First, we had an ‘alert’ back in 1996 when Hawaii had appallingly low NAEP scores in science; only Louisiana and Mississippi scored less (see my “The tragedy of Hawaii education”(4) 6/15/97). What good did that ‘alert’ do?
For the year 2000 these two states have improved their scores while Hawaii’s has declined—we are now dead last.(5)
Second, Sputnik may have been another ‘alert’ but our elected officials of the time were obviously not paying attention to it; student scores have declined since Sputnik days.
Third, “cannot and must not fall behind in science?” When were we ever ahead? And this assertion can only have meaning if there is a plan in place to remedy the problem. Since we do not have nearly enough qualified science teachers and no plan to get them, “cannot and must not” has no meaning.
Fourth, science standards are “solid and challenging?” My science teacher friends tell me they are vague and virtually worthless. Compare them with the British standards (see footnotes) and you can see just how vague they are.(6)
Folks, the DOE is broken. It does not work and cannot work. It cannot work for many reasons. First, politically, the voters would never stand still for paying the million-dollar salary it would take to get the kind of effective executive you need to run the DOE behemoth.
Second, such a CEO would want a free hand and the legislature would never allow it.
Third, the education unions’ leaders would fight tooth and nail to get rid of such a person.
The solution is to downsize. Not just to counties, not just to districts, but to individual schools. Downsize to the point that ordinary parents, taxpayers and elected officials can see with their own eyes what is going on.
At the school level there is no room—nor funds—for spin merchants talking about ‘alerts’ and Sputniks—then doing nothing about it.
There is no advantage to having a large school district. The finest private schools do not find any reason to pool their resources or cooperate on anything other than sports. If there were any advantage to consolidating, they would be doing it.
In fact, the larger the school district the more insoluble the problem. Take the San Francisco Chronicle’s headlines this month (7) about their DOE, which tell us of “incompetent district staff, weak financial controls and wasteful contracting practices,” “fiscal chaos,” “a sprawling bureaucracy,” money wasted on non-teaching teachers and BOE members that “did not heed the warnings.”
This kind of thing does not happen in individually managed schools because everything is under everyone’s noses and thus too obvious.
For example, North Dakota has one-third less students than Hawaii yet has 236 school districts.(8) Maybe this is why they score third in the nation in science.(9)
Our legislators know what has to be done. And it has to be done despite the education unions' leaders; teachers themselves will welcome downsizing. But we have to get really serious about it. No more meaningless words. No more using the word ‘accountability’ unless it really and truly means that heads will roll.
For example, here’s our education policy: “The Department of Education shall implement School/Community Based Management (SCBM) to restructure Hawaii's public school system. Its implementation will gradually shift a significant degree of decision-making authority from the state and district levels to the school's community.” (10)
This has been ignored just as the legislature’s demands for more detailed accounting have been ignored. How can the legislature just let its orders be ignored? Call your legislators and ask them. And while you are at it, ask them what ‘accountability’ really means.
We have no more time to waste. It is now time for action. If the DOE still exists in its present form come the next election, go to the polls and do not re-elect anybody.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater