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Editorial | Island Voices

Appointed school board would help accountability

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Voters will soon have a chance to answer the following question: "Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?"

We strongly support the proposed change.

The current governance system is not working well for the students. Although there has been improvement, much more needs to be done. Disappointing test scores on national exams and growing concerns of local employers indicate that our public-school graduates collectively are not performing at an acceptable level.

An equally sobering indicator is the University of Hawaii’s placement exam. More than half of the Department of Education graduates who took that exam last year needed remediation in reading; nearly two-thirds needed it in writing; and about four-fifths required remediation in math. The BOE continues to raise standards for graduates, but support for individual students and schools has lagged.

Lackluster outcomes would be understandable if Hawaii’s public school students, teachers or administrators were deficient in some way, but empirical evidence and our personal experiences lead us to believe the exact opposite. We are convinced that the people in Hawaii’s public education system collectively are working extremely hard within a challenging system. They are capable of much better outcomes and deserve the support they need to help students achieve.

While adequate resources are essential for our public schools, money alone is not the answer. The number of public-school students in Hawaii has changed little in 30 years, yet the state now spends three times as much in inflation-adjusted dollars. Our per-student operating expenditures place Hawaii 14th from the top nationally. How money is spent is critical to the future success of our public schools. The BOE needs more expertise in effective educational programs and finances.

When a publicly funded organization performs poorly year after year, some individual or group is usually held accountable. But the buck stops nowhere in Hawaii’s public education system because no individual or group is in control. The BOE hires and fires the superintendent, makes policies, sets standards and operates the schools — but the Legislature controls the budget and the governor can restrict spending.

The BOE, the Legislature and the governor each have enough power individually to frustrate the other two, but not enough to achieve, or be held accountable for, systemwide results. The schools are at the mercy of all three. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Politicians in Hawaii have never been held accountable for their promises to work together and to put the interests of students first.

Voters seem to have trouble making informed decisions about candidates for the BOE. Blank votes are in the hundreds of thousands.

Changing to an appointed board would not cure all of Hawaii’s problems, but it would be an important first step. At a minimum, it would increase the level of cooperation between the governor and the BOE, and make possible a greater degree of systemwide accountability.

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