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It is “a decrepit mess almost totally impervious to reform, paralyzed by bureaucratic and political gridlock,” reports WestEd, a federally funded education laboratory that recently issued a study on the Los Angeles public education system.

While the study is not on Hawaii and doesn’t even mention our state, it describes problems in Hawaii’s local education system perfectly:

“The governance system is characterized by a set of structures and a culture that are [both] highly resistant to change, leadership constraints that impede the progress of the superintendent, a school board operating in a politically charged environment, limited school autonomy, and unclear accountability at all levels. It is no wonder that the results of past education reforms have been limited.” To be fair, the report adds that resistance to change may also be the result of “reform fatigue” — administrative burnout from an endless barrage of political education reform initiatives since the early 1980s.

Los Angeles Unified School District’s request for recommendations on optimal governance and structure resulted in one clear recommendation that Hawaii can learn from: encourage the growth of charter schools. Free from onerous rules and regulations, charter schools offer hope for accountability and student performance, the report says.

The Los Angeles Alliance for Student Achievement agreed to act as an incubator for its district’s charter schools, outlining learning goals and accountability, ensuring professional development to access best practices and making accessible data system and timely, meaningful reports on school performance.

The Alliance also worked on community outreach, as an advocate for students, as a policy development group that provided continual research and evaluation.

Meanwhile, the district must act to limit interference with charter school policy, remove budgetary red tape, provide access to services and monitor school progress, the study says.

Specifically, budgets must be decentralized and autonomy increased by allowing dollars to follow individual students. The district’s role would shift to that of service provider for schools.

Finally, the superintendent and school board must provide leadership. These are good lessons for Hawaii lawmakers, bureaucrats and educators and show it is easier to make way for charter schools’ success by getting out of the way, rather than paralyzing what has already been proven to work with the right funding and attitude.

”’For the full report, go to:”’ http://www.wested.org/cs/wew/view/rs/685

”’Laura Brown is the education writer and researcher for HawaiiReporter.com. She can be reached via email at”’ mailto:LauraBrown@Hawaii.rr.com

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