It is small wonder that confusion reigned when furloughs stood as Linda Lingle’s example of making education a priority during her reign as governor of Hawaii.
To make sure our precious resources are not going to waste, public debate on educational reform should begin by critically examining the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, a federal law enacted by the Bush administration that requires schools to demonstrate proficiency and progress according to accountability standards set by the state and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Last year, 58 percent of students had to be proficient in math and reading in order for a school to meet muster. This year, the threshold rises to 72 percent, while in 2014, all public students must pass the Hawaii State Assessments.
According to NCLB, after schools fail to meet adequate yearly progress as measured by these percentages, they go into restructuring, or rebuilding of the educational system for the purpose of improving teaching and learning. However, the reality is the exact opposite.
Currently, complex area superintendents are contracting out private corporations, otherwise known as providers, to 94 schools in restructuring, at an average cost of $350,000 annually. The cost is rising each year, as are the number of schools in restructuring.
The cost is coming out of the principals’ school budgets, and the result is schools cutting back vital teaching positions. Yet there is no evidence that hiring providers has made a significant impact in students passing the state assessment.
NCLB was never true educational reform. Sen. Jim Jeffords produced the Congressional Research study in July 2009 that stated, "Estimated aggregated state level expenditures for assessment programs in FY 2001 are $422.8 million." George W. Bush made a million-dollar testing industry into a billion-dollar one virtually overnight. NCLB was about corporate profit, not accountability.
Complex area superintendents should not hire providers, and should earn their six-figure salary by being personally responsible for the success of the schools in their jurisdictions. They could establish similar reforms for schools going through restructuring. State Department of Education resource teachers could be assisting schools with the restructuring by helping them with the reforms that the superintendent has laid out.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie campaigned about reforming government organizations with the money they already have, cutting the waste and reallocating it to the front lines. This is an opportunity to do just that.
Instead of hiring out, precious educational tax dollars should be spent on decreasing class size, recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers, teacher training, safe buildings and ensuring that every school has sufficient resources for teaching art, music, physical education and English as a second language.
Teachers do not support the status quo; they favor of accountability. But they need more resources, and our keiki deserve a well-rounded education.