Hawaii’s public school system should be decentralized

Something is wrong with Hawaii‘s education system.

I’m 16 and a fresh pair of eyes for Hawaii, literally. I was homeschooled and attended public school, charter school, and private school. I was the star student and the kid with an F on paper.

I’ve been in systems, operated them, and been an outside observer. So I have a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Hawaii’s education system is broken. We have chronic absenteeism, amazing dropout rates, and lousy test scores.

Why? Hawaii is the only state that still has a centralized education system.

This means that the state government of Hawaii controls the education system and not districts or individual schools. Every public school must follow the same state policies and regulations, regardless of differences between them.

The problems this brings with it are low flexibility and dissatisfaction. A study of school leaders in Hawaii, conducted by the American Institutes for Research and discussed in an article by The Hawaii Independent, reports that “70% said they did not have enough flexibility in introducing new approaches to their schools or trying out new instructional programs. ”

Centralization also means children are bombarded with a battery of tests to ensure they are “staying on course”. Teachers are also hurt by centralization as there is no competition or creative innovation and they learn to teach to the test.

Before I show why decentralization is superior, let me address a general concern: how do we make sure everyone learns the same thing?

BOE Board of Education 2022 Meeting.
Hawaii has a single, unified school district. The picture shows a recent meeting of the Board of Education. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Many people find this important as it provides a way to compare children and schools to see what is going well and what can be done better.

However, this leads back to “teaching to the test” because when someone wants to perform well on a certain metric, they only focus on that, not the actual learning.

Decentralized schools have higher student performance. Eunice Heredia-Ortiz, a researcher at Georgia State University, states, “Decentralization in education significantly improves repetition rates, dropout rates, graduation rates, and test scores.”

Another such paper by The Decentralization Thematic Team in the Journal of Education showed that decentralized systems help improve attitudes towards government because “the process of decentralization significantly increases the efficiency, transparency, accountability and responsiveness of service delivery compared to centralized systems can improve. ”

Decentralized schools have higher student performance.

Centralization cannot ensure that every child thrives and ultimately hinders everyone. Examples are the “No Student Left Behind Act” and “Common Core”.

According to Ben Scafidi, a professor at Kennesaw University, “No Child Left Behind has prompted many states to lower learning standards and inflate their reported graduation statistics in an attempt to ostensibly meet NCLB academic goals. But corrections to the latter have prompted some states to make it easier for students to obtain high school diplomas, bloating their college preparation and/or careers.”

Children who would have had to repeat a grade 50 years ago are now being thrown out into the world, false Hercules who think they are ready for the lion’s den.

studies suggested

In this last Hawaiian legislature there were two resolutions that could have served as a first step in solving this problem. Both suggested doing a study of Hawaii’s education system to see if a centralized approach works and if not, how we might switch to a different system.

Senate Resolution 8 and concurrent Senate Resolution 14 called for a study to examine the effectiveness of Hawaii’s statewide school system and the feasibility of transitioning to an alternative system. Although the measures were not passed, they could be reinstated in the new session that opens in January.

The study could include public meetings with input and revisions from the public, and propose a plan for how this power shift from the top of government down to create a decentralized system is to take place. Funding for the study could come from other projects being worked on by the Senate Education Committee.

The reason the bills died in committee is because of a lack of public participation and testimony – we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

I ask the government to reintroduce and support the joint bills. I am asking the Hawaiian public to call, email, or knock on the door of the legislators who would be able to make this happen: Bennette E. Misalucha, Justin H. Woodson, Jeanne Kapela, Michelle N. Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Donovan M. Dela Cruz, and Gilbert SC Keith-Agaran.

Tell them this is the future for over 290,000 children in Hawaii.

Tell them that the very system designed to prepare these children for the future is failing them.

Tell them you need to see change.

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