Hawaii’s Public School System Should Be Decentralized - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Lydia Peck

Lydia Peck is a junior at Hawaii Technology Academy.

There is something wrong with Hawaii’s education system.

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I am 16 and, in every sense of the phrase, a fresh pair of eyes for Hawaii. I have been homeschooled and gone to a public school, a charter school, and a private school. I have been the star student and the child with an F on their paper.

I have been in systems, running them, and an outside observer. Therefore, I have a keen sense of what works and what does not.

Hawaii’s education system is broken. We have chronic absenteeism, astounding dropout rates, and abysmal test scores.

Why? Hawaii is the only state that is still running under a centralized education system.

This means that Hawaii’s state government controls the education system instead of districts or individual schools. Every public school must follow the same set of state guidelines and regulations, regardless of differences between them.

The problems that this leads to is little flexibility and dissatisfaction. A survey conducted by the American Institutes for Research on principals in Hawaii and discussed in an article by The Hawaii Independent reports that “70% said that they did not have sufficient flexibility in introducing new approaches at their schools, or in trying new instructional programming.”

Centralization also means that children are bombarded with a slew of tests to make sure they are “staying on track.” Teachers as well are hurt from centralization, as there is no competition or creative innovation and they find themselves teaching to the test.

Before I show why decentralization is superior, let me answer a common concern: How will we make sure everyone is learning the same thing?

BOE Board of Education meeting 2022.
Hawaii has a single, unified school district. Pictured is a recent Board of Education meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Many people find this important as it is a way to compare children and schools to figure out what is going well and what can be done better.

However, this circles back around to “teaching to the test” because, if someone wants to perform well according to a certain metric, that is all they focus on, not actual learning.

Decentralized schools have higher student achievement. Eunice Heredia-Ortiz, a researcher from Georgia State University states that, “decentralization in education significantly improves repetition rates, dropout rates, completion rates and test scores.”

Another such paper, by The Decentralization Thematic Team in the Journal of Education, showed that decentralized systems help improve attitudes about the government as “the process of decentralization can substantially improve efficiency, transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of service provision compared with centralized systems.”

Decentralized schools have higher student achievement.

Centralization cannot make sure every child will succeed and ultimately hinders everyone. The No Student Left Behind Act and Common Core are examples of this.

According to Ben Scafidi, a professor at Kennesaw University, “No Child Left Behind has led many states to dumb down learning standards and inflate their reported graduation statistics to purportedly meet NCLB’s academic goals. But fixes to the latter have led some states to make it easier for students to obtain a high school diploma, inflating how prepared they really are for college and/or careers.”

Children who would have needed to repeat grades 50 years ago are now being thrust out into the world, false Hercules who think they are prepared for the lion’s den.

Studies Proposed

This last Hawaii legislative session, there were two resolutions that could have served as a first step towards fixing this problem. Both proposed a study be conducted on Hawaii’s education system to see if a centralized approach is working and if not, how we could switch to a different system.

Senate Resolution 8 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 called for a study to examine the effectiveness of Hawaii’s single, statewide school system as well as the feasibility of conversion to an alternate system. While the measures did not pass, they could be reintroduced in the new session that opens in January.

The study could involve public meetings, with input and revisions from the public, and a plan proposed for how this shift of power from the top of the government to the bottom will occur, in order to create a decentralized system. The money for the study could come from taking a little bit of money away from other projects handled by the Senate Committee on Education.

The reason the bills died in committee is because of lack of participation and testimony from the public — we need to make sure that does not happen again.

I am begging the government to reintroduce the joint bills and support them. I am begging the public of Hawaii to call, email, or go and bang on the door of the legislators who would be able to make this happen: Bennette E. Misalucha, Justin H. Woodson, Jeanne Kapela, Michelle N. Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Donovan M. Dela Cruz and Gilbert S. C. Keith-Agaran.

Tell them that this is the future of over 290,000 children in Hawaii.

Tell them that the very system that is supposed to be preparing those children for the future is failing them.

Tell them that you need to see change.

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About the Author

Lydia Peck

Lydia Peck is a junior at Hawaii Technology Academy.


Latest Comments (0)

Decentralization/local control has advantages and disadvantages. For those who desire that Hawaii become more like the mainland, you'll have to realize that while all school districts will likely receive some foundation program funding from the State, the bulk of the extras will likely come through increased local property taxes and local bond initiatives. (like the mainland) This will create built-in inequity in funding and opportunity.Another issue is economies of scale. If each district separately contracts busing, facilities and capital improvement, human resources and hiring, firing, workers' comp., broadband service and technology infrastructure, food service, security, and a myriad other things now consolidated at the state level, there will consequently be less funding available to classrooms and students.As I used to tell students, 'Complex problems never have simple solutions.' Neither do complex problems have quick solutions. Systemic educational reform is about more than just schools and educators. It's a societal issue and change usually takes place, if at all, over a generation or so rather than a week, month, year, or a four year governor's term.

JimP · 3 weeks ago

Excellent article by someone experienced in the system and wise enough to see what its flaws are. Decentralization is the only way public schools will move forward, but the issue is politics and our flaccid leadership. The legislature does not want to give up their vise grip on the school system, it runs true for UH as well. The need to have control over the system, runs parallel with the way state and county government are run in Hawaii, a tight knit power band, manipulated by a few and directed by the unions that allegedly serve the people. Unfortunately, this will likely never change. There will be talk from politicians, but never the decisive action to create the drastic change, that you and many others call for and that is needed. So kudos for you for taking the initiative and speaking out. I hope that it helps educates the many that are in the dark and maybe, just maybe there will come a day when this kind of change is actually talked about seriously in the legislature.

wailani1961 · 3 weeks ago

If there is any place in the United States that needs a centralized education system, it is the State of Hawaii. We live in an island state where 90 percent of the tax revenues are generated from a single county. If it were left to each county (or school district like on the mainland) to fund their schools, you would find huge disparities in real property tax rates for residents or, more likely, huge disparities in the quality of education provided between Oahu and neighbor island schools. It was for this reason that the framers of the State constitution took steps to establish a centralized education system, and why it continues to be needed to this day.I would hate to see the day where kids living on the neighbor islands won't be able to obtain a quality education because of where they live.

HUH · 3 weeks ago

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