Can we fix education now?
By Cliff Slater
With the departure of Dr. Paul LeMahieu, we will hopefully see further discussion about education. One hopes that it will range beyond the search for his replacement. Rather, it is time for some serious effort to reorganize our schools.
First, we must understand the organizational principle that there are no advantages to large size in conducting any high-quality service. Thus, it is very rare, if unheard of, to find large companies operating fine restaurants, building fine homes or providing good plumbers.
If there were any advantage of larger size in education, then we would find private schools merging some of their functions, such as purchasing, for example. However, they do not because there is no advantage to it. In fact, the common administrative problems of all Hawai'i's private schools in educating their 35,000 students are handled by a staff of four and they are all part time.
These days, in the information age, large size is of no advantage in buying books and supplies, administering to principals or even calling the plumber.
Ask yourself, when you get down to the rock-bottom basics of education, as follows, where does the large size of a bureaucracy have any advantage?
A dedicated, motivated, competent school principal with high expectations of students, parents and teachers.
Motivated, qualified and adequately compensated teachers.
School buildings conducive to learning.
Adequate supplies, books and equipment.
On the contrary, large size detracts from education. Its overhead eats up the budget, its bureaucratic infighting delays school construction, and it creates the excessive paperwork that plagues both teachers and principals.
The single advantage of a statewide system is to the school unions' leadership. They can exercise control more easily with state-centered power. They would have less control with a county-wide system, even less with one that is district-wide and little or none from an individual Charter School-based system. That is why the teachers' union, the principals' union and the United Public Workers union fight local control all the time.
There are just two elements of central control that we need. First is for the state to see that public funds are spent wisely. For that, our elected officials need objective and measurable standards to gauge financial performance. National accounting firms already provide such services using such standards as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles used by virtually all businesses in the country.
Second is for an objective measurement of student attainment. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) already provides this. And if we needed anything to show that our statewide school district does not work, it is the latest NAEP math results. It shows that the only state with a lower performance than Hawai'i was Mississippi.
Thus, with no need for bureaucracy, why have it?
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater