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Hawaii charter schools don't follow national pattern

By Christine Donnelly

LAST UPDATED: 1:15 p.m. HST, Jun 30, 2010

Some of the assertions education historian Diane Ravitch makes about charter schools don't hold water in Hawaii, where the schools have less autonomy and funding than in other states.

In her best-selling book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education," Ravitch writes that charter schools generally rely on overworked, nonunionized teachers, avoid enrolling the neediest students and are competing with, rather than complementing, public schools.

Ninety-five percent of charter schools employ nonunion teachers, she said. But that's not the case in Hawaii, where the Hawaii State Teachers Association represents both charter and regular schoolteachers.

More than half the state's 31 charter schools are Hawaiian-culture based, serving an indigenous population historically underserved in the regular school system. And nearly half of Hawaii's charter school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to Hawaii's Charter School Administrative Office.

Charter schools are subject to No Child Left Behind, the Hawaii State Assessment and the state's content and performance standards, the same as regular public schools. But they receive less state funding, when calculated per pupil, than regular public schools, according to the CSAO.

Hawaii's single, statewide public school district, funded at the state level rather than by local property taxes, is unique among the U.S. states. Ravitch said in a telephone interview that Hawaii's charter school system seems unique, too, adding that "almost any statement that anyone could make about charter schools is going to be wrong in some particular." because of the diverse nature of the individualized, semiautonomous institutions.

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