Reforming Hawaii's Public Schools After 30 Years of Deterioration Will Take Teamwork, True Accountability, Consequences

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As a public schoolteacher, I was filled with a particular amount of
validation after reading the ”’Honolulu Advertiser’s”’ editorial “Task of education is a job for everyone” (Thursday, April 24, 2003).

If one were looking to see how difficult it is to reform our public schools, one would only have to review a recent school report from a New York based policy organization Public Agenda. In its summation, they stress that although standards should be raised and the education system held accountable for achieving those standards, they have listed other concerns that are more consequential in the eyes of teachers, parents, and students.


From a litany of surveys, the organization has ascertained that true accountability comes from everyone involved in education, from the policy makers, to the student in the classroom. How does this report relate to the educational infrastructure that we have in place here in Hawaii and where do we go from here?

For approximately 30 years, we have managed to allow public education to deteriorate with insufficient accountability or consequences. Our state legislature allots over a billion dollars each year from taxpayers to fund the state’s Department of Education at a rate of some $6,000 dollars per child.

From my perspective, only a fraction of that actually trickles down into the classroom to the benefit of our children. With a billion dollar budget, where exactly does all of this money go, who does it go to, and how is this money spent?

Academic accountability needs to start with well qualified, well paid, well equipped educators with disciplined students in a conducive, well maintained learning environment. It is the responsibility of the Board of Education and the DOE to help ensure that this atmosphere exists.

In my opinion, both have failed miserably at attaining this kind if of environment. Audits, by State Auditor Marion Higa, have exposed many layers of ineptitude and underlying managerial problems that has crippled our educational programs and personnel. By making the BOE and the DOE accountable to these audits, we can begin to reform our public educational system and establish our schools as an equitable entity in our state government.


Hawaii’s children and their teachers are continually burdened with a virtual bullet proof bureaucracy that can spend over a billion dollars each year with zero accountability for where and when it is spent.

For years, our state auditor, Marion Higa, has exposed deficiencies in allocation and expenditures within the DOE. Why, when someone as credible as Ms. Higa finds that the DOE is abdicating their obligation and commitment towards the funding of our public schools, is nothing done? Sadly, nobody remembers, or seems accountable for, the recommendations or the criticisms of our auditor, so there is no real reason to comply.

The only time our state auditor can investigate the question of discrepancy and mismanagement is when our state legislature solicits such action. The first step toward educational reform and true accountability is our politicians challenging the status quo to see exactly where and how our money is being spent.

Here are four directives our governor and lawmakers can utilize to verify money earmarked for education is going precisely where it should be.

*A yearly fiscal and management audit of the DOE conducted by our State Auditor, Marion Higa, and assign her the task of tracking where every penny of the DOE budget is utilized.

*A federal audit of all funds received by the State to scrutinize where and how federal money earmarked for education has been spent.

*A management audit of school facilities conducted by a reputable, outside independent firm to help assure that each school is allotted the proper provisions and resources (i.e. textbooks) to effectively teach and educate our children.

*An unabridged publication of all audits to the media that would align audits with fiscal accountability.

”Discipline and Consequences”

The BOE and the DOE need to develop accountability standards for parents and students in our public schools. It is difficult to educate a student to a standard when the child does not come to school on a consistent basis. It is not unusual for students to miss 15, 20 and 30 or more school days with minimal consequences or ramifications.

If the student chooses not to come to school on a consistent basis, neglect to do his or her class work and homework, or is continually disruptive, at some point the responsibility of learning must shift from the teacher, to the student and parent/guardian.

Many of our public schools have ineffectual rules, regulations, and
guidelines when it comes to implementing attendance, tardiness, and behavior practices and consequences. The power of proper discipline and consequences has been taken out of the hands of our educators and placed in a system that has permitted irresponsible behavior to be socially acceptable and has encouraged a lack of individual responsibility.

Students exhibiting chronic disruptive behavior in school, from excessive absences and tardiness to consistent insubordination and violent behavior, should be promptly placed in an alternative learning environment for a period of no less than one year.

Too many of our students and their parents know how to manipulate our
educational system and use it to expunge a myraid of academic and behavioral problems and issues.

Essentially, the needs of these few are superseding and eclipsing the needs of the majority. Not enough time, money, and energy are spent on children who are prepared and receptive to gather and glean information given to them by their teachers. In many ways, fairness and equity have fallen prey to the concept of self-esteem and self-worth.

Too many of our educational leaders who dictate policy and procedure have suppressed and disregarded the 3 R’s of social conduct. The fundamental edicts of respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness have become a forgotten factor in our public school system and in our society.

It should be considered a privilege, not a given right, to attend a public institution like our schools.

”Curriculum, Scope and Sequence”

Accountability also needs to base itself with a logical, clear, and
direct scope and sequence at each grade level. An educational scope and sequence mandates and delineates what children are required to learn in each critical discipline at every grade level. The problem comes down to the DOE having no standard curriculum much less a “standards-based” curriculum that teachers can align performance standards to.

The DOE has placed the cart in front of the ox when it comes to enacting performance standards in our public schools. A standardized curriculum should be the driving force that precedes and dictates any kind of performance standard.

Teachers are continually asked by the DOE to devise, develop, and redefine their own curriculum and then align it to ambiguous performance standards with inferior or nonexistent materials (textbooks) and resources.

These “performance standards” and the “benchmarks” that teachers must present and perfect have noble intentions, but in reality, are just esoteric rhetoric.

Not only does the DOE have no standard curriculum, it has no common and/or objective grading scale that gives all teachers and students an academic standard that can be measured impartially. Our highly touted performance standards fall short of implementing some sort of cohesive or sequential academic paradigm that can be quantifiable.

Currently, most of Hawaii’s performance standards are lumped into large clusters for grades K-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. To implement standards in its current form is an exercise in futility, with inherent duplications and omissions between grade levels.

Teachers are then asked to pick and choose which skills and standards to address and teach and come up with their own form of assessment.

In my opinion, current NCLB precepts and initiative based tests and
standards will do little to improve academic achievement in areas where school districts have no curriculum and very little teacher support.

Many state exams are administered in the absence of a curriculum framework, as in the case in Hawaii, and have become a substitute for the curriculum instead a measure of it.

Many educators then teach to the test to ensure that they are not labeled as inferior, neglectful, or failing. There are a number of excellent educational programs and resources that are researched-based and align to precise academic standards. These assorted standardized curricula could easily be selected and certified as meeting standards and benchmarks set forth by the DOE.

Once the state has designated what curricula it would endorse, it would then allow school complexes; a high school and its feeder schools, to choose from a collection of certified programs that would best meet the needs and wants of its students and staff. Once a curriculum and its corresponding assessment have been chosen, it can be aligned to standards set forth by the DOE.

Testing can then be initiated on a yearly basis at each grade level to establish baseline data so students can be rigorously monitored and adjustments made accordingly.

Public education in this state needs corrective action that starts from the top. We need to see where extraneous spending is currently taking place within our schools before we solicit the idea of raising taxes for the sole purpose of education. Raising taxes would circumvent the primary problem regarding our public schools and would only serve as means of continued funding of frivolous and superfluous programs and personnel within our public schools.

As statistics clearly show, we are among the highest taxed state in the nation. Consequently, the problem in Hawaii is not so much a lack of revenue; rather, it is mismanagement that is perpetuated year after year.

Examples of waste, duplication, inefficiency and malfeasance abound in our state school system and continue to go unchecked. Our educational institution is a cash cow for many who take and feed from the public trough.

Once fiscal accountability has been established, we can develop strict policy and procedures that must be abided by everyone involved in education. If all students were objectively tested every year based on authentic academic standards and if we impose high expectations on social behavior, then administrators, teachers, students, and parents can be truly be held accountable for what is being taught in our schools.

The majority of our teachers are dedicated individuals that persevere
through the continual lack of support and resources because we are truly committed to the children we teach and to our chosen profession. We have a large number of bright and capable students who continue to reach for the stars, even under these trying circumstances.

At a time when political leaders strive to leave a legacy, we should remember that a true legacy is based on the accomplishments that are made in the best interest of our children and their future.

Every child deserves a Kamehameha, Punahou and Iolani, not just the elite.

”’Perry Alexander is a 5th grade teacher in Hawaii’s public schools and can be reached via email at:”’