BY GARRETT TOGUCHI – Despite a challenging year, Hawaii’s public education system improved again as test scores rose for the fourth consecutive time and more schools met or exceeded federal goals. As a testament to its progress and promise, the Department of Education won the highly competitive federal Race to the Top grant, securing $75 million for rigorous reforms.
Unfortunately, instead of celebrating achievements, a handful of critics embarked on a well-funded campaign to perpetuate a negative and inaccurate picture of our schools. Calling themselves Hawaii’s Children First (Children First), they want to convince people to give up their basic right to vote or run for the Board of Education, allowing the governor to unilaterally appoint and remove BOE members without true public involvement.
Children First claims an appointed BOE would improve accountability. However, there is no evidence that appointed members are “more effective or accountable,” according to the National Association of State Boards of Education, which represents elected and appointed boards.
Many appointed BOEs on the mainland are problematic, have higher turnover of superintendents, serve solely as a “rubber stamp” for governors and mayors, and neglect the public’s input. Eight of the bottom ten states in the Quality Counts 2010 educational ranking have appointed BOEs.
Children First argues furloughs would not have happened under an appointed BOE. How can this be true, when it was Governor Lingle who proposed furloughs to balance the state budget over children’s needs? A Lingle-appointed BOE would have likely approved her plan to furlough students 60 days over two school years.
When parents sought to hold Lingle accountable for furloughs, they were left alone in her office for days and nights only to be arrested before their children. The independent, elected BOE fought Lingle’s furlough directive and pushed for the solution that restored all school days this semester. When Lingle’s staff walked out on talks with the teachers union, the BOE negotiated a contract that ended furloughs.
Instead of representing parents, students and educators, appointed BOEs have only one constituent: the governor who selects BOE members and controls the educational agenda and budget. Hawaii’s governor already appoints some 150 boards and commissions, many of which have problems.
Historically, gubernatorial appointments have been political. Lingle appointed to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents friends who had worked on or donated thousands of dollars to her campaign. Lingle’s appointees have failed to hold UH accountable for millions of dollars lost through an athletics department that drains funds from the school’s budget, or ensure completion of an overdue West Oahu campus.
Children First also ignores educational successes, demoralizing many hard-working teachers, administrators, parents and students. Achievement and teacher quality has steadily improved under the elected BOE:
•Reading proficiency in the Hawaii State Assessment rose from 41 to 67 percent between 2003 and 2010. Math scores more than doubled. More public schools met all of their increasingly demanding federal targets in 2010.
•Hawaii’s standards scored an “A” from Harvard University, meaning students are improving in state and national exams under rigorous criteria that prepares them for college and careers.
•Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top award is federal confirmation that the elected BOE is guiding schools in the right direction. Changing the course now would shortchange students.
•72.9 percent of teachers were highly qualified in 2008-09, up from 68.8 percent the year before. The number of Hawaii teachers obtaining National Board Certification grew by 75 percent between 2006 and 2008, outpacing the nation’s increase.
•The ACT Assessment scores of Hawaii’s college-bound public and private school students exceeded or met the national average for nine straight years.
•Last year, 2,412 public school students won $52.7 million in scholarships, up from 1,898 students who received $39 million in 2005.
Children First falsely contends few vote for or know BOE candidates. The truth is BOE candidates in the 2008 General Election drew more than one million votes. Voter apathy is a poor reason to deny people the right to democratically elect or unseat BOE members. Voting is the cornerstone of democracy; we should work to increase voter participation, not diminish it.
The constitutional amendment to appoint BOE members removes checks and balances, politicizes education, silences the public’s voice, and gives people false hope. Hawaii voters know better, having removed in the 1960s an appointed BOE that was out of touch, unaccountable and entrenched in politics in favor of the current representative BOE.
Hawaii students and parents have a right to elect a BOE free from partisan politics so their needs will come first. Public education belongs to the people, not only the governor, and responsibility and accountability must be shared by all.
Our vote is too precious to give up for an unknown system of appointments that studies show is not more effective or accountable. Vote “No” and keep politics out of Hawaii’s public schools.
Garrett Toguchi is the chairperson of the Hawaii State Board of Education.