Choosing BOE is a shared concern
Public education emerged as a dominant issue in the 2010 Legislature, largely because of furloughs created by an unprecedented, nearly half-billion-dollar budget cut to schools.
The furloughs have kept students and educators out of classrooms, understandably sparking community uproar. Unfortunately, some critics want to take advantage of the furlough discontent to push unproven legislation disguised as education reform: Senate bills 2570 and 2571 and House bills 2376 and 2377.
Those measures would let the governor appoint Board of Education members without public involvement, taking away people's right to be candidates for the BOE, or to elect and hold members accountable.
Instead of representing parents, students and educators, appointed BOE members would have just one constituent: the governor, who selects the member to office and unilaterally controls the educational agenda and budget. This would politicize education, silence the public's voice, and eliminate the independent advocacy of a nonpartisan BOE.
Lost would be the advocacy that allowed the elected BOE to stand up against Gov. Linda Lingle's directive to furlough teachers for 36 days annually in a budget-balancing move focused on dollars, not children.
The BOE urged lawmakers and the governor to prioritize education, warning that shortchanging students — Hawai'i's future leaders and work force — jeopardizes the prosperity of our state. However, Lingle imposed on schools the same roughly 14 percent restriction given to all state agencies, proving education was not a priority.
Instead of furloughing schools three days monthly, as the governor sought, the BOE protected instructional days by reducing funds for part-time jobs and supplies, closing a school, eliminating hundreds of positions and leaving vacancies unfilled.
The BOE, the Education Department, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and Lingle then adopted 17 annual furlough days to absorb a $473 million cut without resorting to mass layoffs and larger class sizes — actions that would have lowered educational quality instead of quantity, while increasing the unemployment line and the economic burden on our state.
Secondly, there is no indication the governance model of school boards correlate with educational quality, which is the underlying goal of true education reform.
The Maryland Association of School Boards, which represents elected and appointed boards, concluded "there is no evidence" that either structure "is more effective or accountable." Eight of the bottom 10 states in the Quality Counts 2010 national educational ranking have appointed school boards.
Meanwhile, critics ignore that student achievement and teacher quality in Hawai'i has been modestly but steadily improving. Some examples:
• Since 2003, reading proficiency in Hawai'i's State Assessment rose to 65 percent from 41 percent. Math proficiency jumped to 44 percent from 20 percent. The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress placed Hawai'i among the country's leaders in gains in fourth-grade math from 2000 to 2009, and in eighth-grade math from 2007 to 2009.
• Statewide, the percentage of highly qualified teachers reached 72.9 percent in the 2008-09 school year, up from 68.8 percent the year before. The number of Hawai'i teachers obtaining National Board Certification grew by 75 percent between 2006 and 2008, outpacing the 54 percent national increase.
• The ACT Assessment scores of Hawai'i's college-bound public and private school students exceeded or met the national average for nine consecutive years.
• Last year, 2,412 public school students were awarded a combined $52.7 million in scholarships, up from 1,898 students who received $39 million in 2005.
Ask any educator and they will tell you that improvements happen when the system is supported with adequate resources, facilities, a rigorous curriculum, effective leaders and teachers, as well as community involvement. Therefore, contrary to those wanting educational accountability to rest solely on the governor, all decision-makers and stakeholders must be held responsible, including the BOE, the superintendent, the Legislature, parents and students, because they all play a role in ensuring all students graduates on time, ready for college and a career.
In order for us to collaborate and achieve results, it is also imperative that we clear up misconceptions, specifically about the DOE's $1.7 billion budget, which critics equate to a bureaucracy. If by bureaucracy they mean responsibilities, they are right. But they are wrong if they believe students aren't being served.
In recent years, the state and the federal No Child Left Behind law shifted many duties and millions of dollars in costs to the DOE, including additional testing, campus security, busing, and repair and maintenance projects. Expenditures to comply with the Felix Consent Decree climbed to nearly $300 million in 2006 from some $75 million in 1997. Today, $540 million is spent on special education.
Ninety-four percent of the DOE's budget flows to schools, with 6 percent going to a state administration charged with a wide range of services such as human resources, federal compliance reports, curriculum planning and analysis, and technology support.
The U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program, which identifies four key reforms, does not suggest an appointed BOE as an ingredient for academic growth. Instead, the largest federal grant contest in our nation's history rewards states that prioritize education and pursue proven reforms through higher standards, quality assessments, data systems and teacher quality programs — all areas that Hawai'i's Education Department has embarked upon.
Proposals to appoint BOE members ignore real educational challenges and solutions while giving people false hope. Hawai'i voters know better, having twice soundly rejected legislation to give up their rights through an appointed BOE.
Education is everyone's business, not just the governor's, and accountability and responsibility must be shared by all.
Garrett Toguchi is the chairman of the state Board of Education. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.