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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Schools have more than 1 problem

By Lee Cataluna

It is February 2020 and Daniel Ho has just won his 15th consecutive Grammy for Hawaiian music.

The Hawai'i public school system now has a four-day week with every Friday off and the state and the teachers union are negotiating "Furlough Thursdays."

Former Hawai'i Gov. Linda Lingle, U.S. secretary of robotics, publishes an essay with other former Hawai'i governors, saying that Hawai'i's superintendent of schools and the entire school board should be elected, because every Hawai'i governor after her appointed dopes to run the DOE.

But it doesn't really matter because all Hawai'i public school kids are interested in is learning how to play one song on the 'ukulele so they can be on Daniel Ho's 16th compilation album.

Yes, Hawai'i public schools need to try something new.

The trouble with the idea of having the governor held accountable for education is what if we end up with a dumb governor who puts in his or her best dumb friends to lead the schools? Almost worse is if we get a smart governor who puts in great school leaders who get kicked to the curb the moment the administration's term is up. A kid is in school for 13 years. It is possible for a student to go through four different governors during that time, and if you've worked in a place where the boss keeps changing, you know how hard it is to figure out what the new chief wants every time there's a new name on the office door.

The past and present governors are right: clearly the management structure of Hawai'i's public school system needs to be overhauled. But that alone is not going to fix the schools. It is a concrete place to start, but it by no means is the end. The other issues are thorny and fraught with emotion and political implications: the union stronghold that often prevents meaningful change; the mindset of public schools that they are perpetual underdogs and actually proud of it; and the living conditions of the students themselves that too often make learning the last thing on their minds. Some of the kids come to school hungry and unwashed. Some come loaded or reeling from some awful trauma at home. Some are preteen heads-of-households like the Boxcar Kids.

Schools have become daycare centers, soup kitchens, medical clinics, rehab, detention facilities, counseling centers, you name it.

If the kids end up learning something after trying to get all their basic physical and emotional needs met, that's a bonus.

So yes, hold someone accountable for Hawai'i public schools. Make it the governor. That would at least make the anger and frustration less diffuse. But let's not kid ourselves that 10 years from now we'll be thinking that this one change fixed everything.