From time-to-time, I feel the need to express a strong opinion on a controversial subject. Just so there’s no mistake, these opinions are mine as a private citizen and not the opinions of an employee of a public institution.
“Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition…But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas…that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.” ~Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. [250 U.S. 616(1919)]
HI Board of Education:
Appointed — Elected — Abolished — Irrelevant?
“Elected versus appointed school boards? The problem with Hawaii schools won’t be solved by changing the way people are picked to sit in the oversize chairs in that upstairs meeting room on Punchbowl Street. The problems are much closer to the ground.” Lee Cataluna Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Friday October 22, 2010
On the best of days, the State of Hawaii Board of Education is irrelevant to the operation of our public schools. On the worst days, the BOE seems to work at odds with the best interests of schools.
There probably needs to be a representative entity to undertake a couple of important tasks. Arguably, the most important is the selection of the Superintendent of the HIDOE. It should be a fair and open process without the disagreeable odor of political patronage that often taints business as usual in our state. One would expect that an elected body would be able to serve the interests of the taxpayers and their children in finding the person best suited to lead public education into the second decade of the 21st century. As Lee Cataluna alludes in her article, the BOE seems to feel that someone with impeccable party credentials and experience in providing the community with acceptable (though expensive) water and sewage services is the perfect choice to provide a new vision of educational excellence for Hawaii in the twenty-first century. I won’t comment. Whoops, I guess I already did. The other major job of the Board is to create criteria for high school graduation. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether the members are elected, appointed, or ad hoc for this one. What does matter is that graduation requirements accurately reflect the realities of the world in which present students will live and work in the future and takes into account what skills and aptitudes are necessary to give kids a reasonable chance at realizing their aspirations.
The present Board, on those days that enough of them are awake and decide that they had better do something or people won’t remember that they exist, are masters of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland school of project planning. In the old Andy Hardy movies of the 1930’s, there was always a scene where Mickey Rooney shouts “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!” We in the schools see this a lot from the Board. A good example was the “Senior Project”. The Board thought a culminating authentic learning experience was a good idea. (so do I) They told the schools, “Do a senior project”. The schools responded “How exactly should we proceed?” The reply essentially was “Figure it out and, by the way, don’t ask us for money to do it. We only promulgate unfunded mandates.”
Another small example of the Board’s proclivity for annoying schools is the monthly “dog-and-pony-show”. The Board announces that they will be appearing at such-and-such school in so-and-so district. The schools in the chosen complex are immediately thrown into a panic. All of the Cafeteria Managers have to get together and use school funds to purchase prime rib, shrimp, and other delicacies suitable for the traveling court. (Harks back to medieval England when the King would grace the home of some hapless lord with the royal presence and the royal entourage.) These meetings are carefully scripted and well attended since all of the school administrators in the lucky district are instructed to attend and behave. Nothing of any substance takes place but the Board gets a nice warm feeling that they are in touch with education.
I asked a Board member not too long ago, if she realized that the waiver that the Board granted to a local high school that gives students an “F” grade for too many absences or tardies violates the Board’s published policy on assessing student work. She looked at me, her eyes crossed, and she started babbling. Obviously not conversant with her organization’s own policies.
But, I digress from my original purpose. Political animals are expert at the art of distilling extremely complex issues to a reductio ad absurdum and then offering a quick fix that will solve everyone’s problems. (I used to tell my Econ students “Anytime someone tells you that there’s an easy answer to an extremely complex problem, they’re either lying, they’re stupid, or they’re nuts.”)
So, we are now informed that by having the Governor appoint the [irrelevant] Board of Education instead of being elected by people who either don’t know or care enough to find out who is running, we will cure the ills of the public education system and achieve the goal of “Accountability”. Uh huh. Let’s see. Do you mean by “Accountable” that, if progress is not immediately apparent or, in the words of the Grateful Dead “…the kid can’t read at seventeen, the words he knows are all obscene…” that the Governor will resign and the Board will all be fired and replaced? Don’t count on it, not in this town.
Okay, so I feel like ranting but, listen carefully. The point I want to make is: It doesn’t matter if the Board is appointed, elected, press-ganged, or even just imagined. What the State of Hawaii, Board of Education says or does has essentially no correlation to what our children learn or don’t learn in the classroom of our local public schools. It just doesn’t matter. It is something however, that allows politicians to give the impression of decisive action in seeking solutions to a problem about which they know nothing.