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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 12, 2006

Education 'leaks' call for a radical change

The numbers certainly sound scary: 88 percent of the children in Hawai'i's public school system "leak" out of the educational pipeline and don't make it through a Hawai'i four-year college in a timely manner.

That particular yardstick is not the most meaningful gauge of our school system, to be sure the "failure" rate is probably inflated with tallies of those who simply have a longer college track or who may have left Hawai'i.

But it's still a signal we can't ignore. Relative to other states, Hawai'i falls toward the bottom of the pile.

Scarier than the numbers themselves is this realization: A number of sizable barriers must be cleared if this state is to turn things around in a steady way. And while the drive to foster excellence is apparent among many educators who can relate success stories, it's discouraging there seems to be so little urgency.

There has been a move toward greater autonomy for educators at the campus level, but it hasn't been matched with meaningful work incentives or consequences.

States that have managed better student achievement records than Hawai'i are faced with various circumstances, and our state can't simply appropriate their methods.

However, most of them have some means whereby student outcomes become part of the basis for evaluating administrators and faculty.

Certainly, their school principals are held to account for the progress students make. The fact that ours are members of a union is an anachronism. Principals should be out of the union, period.

The faculty needs to have job security, of course, but it shouldn't be an armor-plated defense for incompetence.

Teacher assessment in the early years, before tenure, must be sharpened; in the later years, some link between student performance and job advancement and retention must be forged.

Labor should support this; in the long run, accountability improves the tenor of the campus environment.

Various educational studies show the weakest links in the educational chain to be in early education and middle school. Already some innovative work is being done by principals who have reached out to businesses and nonprofits that have become team players.

This kind of forward thinking should be rewarded.

The desire for educational improvement is there. We all need to press for leadership that will make the tough-minded changes that will help our kids the most.