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A group of prominent — and outspoken — Hawaii educators has formed a new public-education think tank aimed at exploring ways to empower teachers, principals and parents in school reform.
At the helm of the Education Institute of Hawaii are retired principal Darrel Galera and University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth, both of whom organized an effort back in June to overhaul and decentralize the Department of Education. They cited an independent survey conducted among 160 of the state’s 255 principals (excluding charter schools) in April that revealed great dissatisfaction with the central DOE administration.
The think tank hopes to conduct studies “that are independent, objective and nonpartisan, focusing on principles and practices of effectiveness.” It will also gather feedback from education stakeholders ranging from principals to parents through surveys and focus groups, as well as organize public forums.
“The Education Institute believes that any changes to the existing system should be research-based,” a press release says.
Other members of the institute’s Board of Directors include former Kaiser High School principal John Sosa, former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, former Hawaii State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted and former UH Board of Regents Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta. (See below for the full list.)
To kickoff its research initiative, the institute is sending a 27-person delegation to observe the school systems in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Edmonton (Canada) in early October, when Hawaii’s teachers and students will be on break. According to the press release, these places have attempted to revamp their education departments in innovative ways.
“The traveling delegation will act as fact-finders and consider whether aspects of the visited systems might be worth considering for Hawaii,” the announcement says. “The traveling delegation will focus on efforts to achieve ‘school empowerment,’ which requires that school personnel have a greater say in instructional decisions and the deployment of resources to the classroom. In an empowered school system, teachers and principals at each school, complex, or complex area are able to adjust to the needs of their students rather than adhere to one-size-fits-all instructional directives from the state office.”
(A list of the traveling delegates is included below.)
The trip is being funded by the Mamoru and Aiko Takitani Foundation, which traditionally has provided scholarships to public school students.
“Our board decided to try something out-of-the-box, specifically to look closely at the current Hawaii DOE system, a system which too often seems to work against the interests of principals, teachers and the children,” Michael Perry, local radio personality and Takitani Foundation board chairman, in a statement.
The education institute’s formation is in part the culmination of long-drawn-out clashes in the state’s public school system over reform efforts that many teachers and principals describe as well-intentioned but poorly implemented. These efforts include the DOE’s adoption of Common Core State Standards — a set of universal math and reading benchmarks being rolled out across the country — and the new teacher evaluation system that many educators have criticized as demoralizing and poorly designed.
“The Department of Education’s centralized bureaucracy has become dysfunctional, applying a one-size-fits-all, top-down management of schools across the state,” said Galera, who previously served as principal of Moanalua High School, in a statement. Galera will serve as the institute’s executive director.
“No individual in the current bureaucratic system wants bad outcomes for the children, but the system itself ends up shortchanging the students and frustrating the professionals,” said Roth, who will serve as the institute’s president and board chairman. “No other state has a governance structure that is similar to Hawaii’s. Only in Hawaii does the state office wield so much power over financial and instructional decisions.”
Education Institute of Hawaii Board of Directors: