Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

January 19, 2004

Education: Let reforms begin

The Edmonton Model offers a real chance to bring control to the local level.

We are now approaching a crucial time in public education reform. Deals will have to be cut, compromises made and losers will have to be portrayed as winners — if there is to be any reform. Let us pray that the necessary legislation does not end up like School/Community-based Management (S/CBM), all slogans and no substance, but results instead with some variant of the Edmonton Model — North America’s most successful example of reform (see “Hawai’i education: Here’s the answer” 3/17/03).[i]

This is what Mike Strembitsky, the long-time head of the Edmonton School District, developed, which is essentially pushing nearly all decision making down to the school level while maintaining “a sophisticated data-collection process that yields information on everything from student achievement to students' satisfaction with their school to parents' perceptions of their ability to influence school decisions.”[ii]

The two core features of the Edmonton model, the Weighted Student Formula to allow total school choice, and decentralization to allow the individual schools to control the education budget is what reform must be.

S/CBM was supposed to, “shift a significant degree of decision-making authority from the state and district levels to the school's community.”[iii] This had to mean local budgetary control since virtually all-important decision-making is of a budgetary nature. Thus, there are no conflicts between the ideals of the original S/CBM concept and the Edmonton model.

I experienced a business model once that was similar: At one time I ran a subsidiary of a large conglomerate, which had hundreds of subsidiaries in disparate locations including many international ones. The individual companies reported frequently, and in great detail, to the small corporate headquarters but aside from that, the individual subsidiary heads had great latitude — as long as they performed well. That is the modern business model and, today, technology now makes it possible to monitor multiple operating units with even greater sophistication than was formerly the case.

We should not be arguing over the number of school districts. Elected boards of education have been proven worthless[iv] unless the districts are so small that the electors personally know the candidates. Either have one appointed statewide board or have the boards elected at the school level.

Edmonton has strong unions for both teachers and principals so that should not be an impediment to reform. Our principals might well accept revocation of some of the more undesirable aspects of their union contract in exchange for increased pay.

The Department of Education will not reform itself; it has ignored directives from the Legislature on its financial reporting and played games with S/CBM. Reducing the size of the DOE to the point where the schools control 90 percent of the budget — as they do in Edmonton — will take monumental resolve.

First, the new Superintendent to run such an operation will not be a reasonable person. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is not made by reasonable people.”[v] Mike Strembitsky, for example, is not a reasonable man. You would not want to get between him and where he has to go.

Second, there will have to be ironclad requirements. Since with Weighted Student Funding we can accurately allocate funds to individual schools, why can’t we have Weighted Bureaucrat Funding (WBF) to allocate funding to the DOE?

The Legislature can mandate that each year an increase of by 20 percent in the funding percentage controlled by the schools and a decrease in the funding to the DOE by a like amount.[vi]

No one will be able to blame the new Superintendent who will have no choice but to make the personnel changes necessary to follow the mandate.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater


[i] Honolulu Advertiser. Second Opinion. Hawai'i education: Here's the answer. March 17, 2003.

[ii] http://www.ascd.org/publications/ed_lead/199309/brandt.html Educational Leadership. September 1993.

[v] “Reasonable people adapt themselves to what exists. Unreasonable people change what exists. Thus, all progress is due to unreasonable people.” George Bernard Shaw.

[vi] Assuming that the amount of the education budget presently controlled by schools is 10 percent, and assuming that the goal should be 90 percent, then it will take ten years for a 20 percent reduction in the DOE budget each year to reach that goal.