The current state of the Hawaii Public School System is not one to be proud of. Hawaii has the fewest instructional days during the school year of any state in the U.S. The furlough situation has reduced the amount of days even more. Test scores have risen yet the overall performance of the students in the system has not seen significant increases. Hawaii is unlike any other state in America. We are a state with a relatively small land mass, yet we are spread out along a chain of islands. Because of this problem, lawmakers chose to have a central governing board for the public school system. Hawaii is composed of one school district with nearly 300 schools. With over 170,000 students, Hawaii is in the top-15 largest school districts in the country. The current problem facing the Department of Education is that they must oversee almost 300 schools scattered on seven islands. To be completely honest, the Department of Education does not actually set the guidelines for the public schools. The Board of Education sets the guidelines and policies. How can a fourteen member board possibly be expected to provide for all of the near 300 schools?
The thought of a centralized school system was implemented to prevent the problem of poorer areas being unable to have the same funding that was afforded a more affluent area. This problem can be seen throughout the rest of the country. Many times a school will be in a wealthier part of town and will have better test scores and more money at its disposal. Another school on the poorer part of town will have students that are more concerned about having a place to stay the night than about a final exam. The poor test scores mean less money going to the school. It can be a system that keeps the wealthy at the top and the poor at the bottom. A centralized governing body is meant to distribute money more equally and would allow for schools to compete on a level playing field. Under a centralized body, schools would receive an equal amount of money even if they are in a poor or wealthy neighborhood.
The centralized system also has its drawbacks. The main one being that many schools lack the ability to really set their schools budgets and goals. They must instead adhere to the standards and policies set by the governing body. Imagine being given $30 and being told to prepare a healthy meal. However, the person providing the money stipulates that the shopping can only be done at a specific store. That store does not feature an affordable variety of healthy options. In order to make the money last, our meal has gone from grilled salmon and freshly steamed veggies to meatloaf. This is what the schools are left with. They are expected to come up with creative solutions to increase performance, but are not allowed the autonomy of being able to try new things. We are asking our schools to be creative but placing restrictions on what they can do. It makes little sense.
What do we need to make sure our public school system succeeds? First of all, we need to streamline the way we run schools. There is a lack of accountability with the current system. There are too many people with their hands in the pot and not many want to step up and take responsibility. What we really need is an open debate about the possibility of a more decentralized approach to our public schools. Rep. Abercrombie recently unveiled his plans for a system that puts the school principals in the role of the school CEO. The school would have the autonomy to create programs that are aimed at meeting the standards set forth by the Department of Education. The elimination of the BoE would cut out the excess restrictions on schools. The governor and the DoE would work side by side in mapping out an outline of what they expect from the public school system. Each school would have the opportunity to compete for funding and would be expected to submit proposals for what they hope to do for the students. If a school is failing to meet a certain standard, the DoE would work with the school to address any concerns or situations associated with the problem. A more decentralized system would also help increase community participation. People are always more willing to help out if the system is geared more towards the wants and needs of those involved. One sure-fire way to fix the current problems with the school system is more involvement from the community.
How ever we decide to fix the problems facing our public school system, it is clear that something needs to be done. The current system is not working and is failing our students. A prosperous society needs an educated youth. The future of Hawaii and the country depend on our ability to enact positive change in the public school system. If we really care about our children, we need to get together and help.
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