Hawaii’s public school system should be decentralized

There is something wrong with Hawaii’s education system.

I’m 16 and, in every sense of the word, a fresh look at Hawaii. I was homeschooled and went to public school, charter school, and private school. I was the star student and the kid with an F on his paper.

I’ve been in systems, I’ve run them, and I’ve been an outside observer. Therefore, I have a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Hawaii’s education system is broken. We have chronic absenteeism, staggering dropout rates and abysmal test scores.

Why? Hawaii is the only state that still operates under a centralized education system.

This means that the Hawaii state government controls the education system instead of districts or individual schools. Every public school must follow the same set of national guidelines and regulations, regardless of the differences between them.

The problems this causes are little flexibility and dissatisfaction. A survey conducted by the American Institutes for Research of school principals in Hawaii and discussed in an article in The Hawaii Independent reports that “70% said they did not have enough flexibility to introduce new approaches into their schools or to try out new educational programs. ”

Centralization also means kids are bombarded with a slew of tests to make sure they’re “staying on track”. Teachers are also affected by centralization, as there is no competition or creative innovation and they find themselves teaching on trial.

Before showing why decentralization is superior, let me address a common concern: how are we going to ensure that everyone learns the same thing?

BOE School Board Meeting 2022.
Hawaii has one unified school district. Pictured is a recent school board meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Many people find this important because it is a way to compare children and schools to see what is going well and what can be improved.

However, this amounts to “teaching until the test” because, if someone wants to perform well by a certain metric, that’s all they focus on, not the actual learning.

Decentralized schools have better academic results. Eunice Heredia-Ortiz, a researcher at Georgia State University, says that “decentralizing education significantly improves repetition rates, dropout rates, completion rates, and test scores.”

Another such article, by The Decentralization Thematic Team in the Journal of Education, showed that decentralized systems help improve attitudes toward government because “the process of decentralization can dramatically improve efficiency, transparency, accountability and responsiveness of service delivery compared to centralized systems.”

Decentralized schools have better academic results.

Centralization cannot guarantee success for every child and ultimately hinders everyone. The No Student Left Behind law and the common core are examples.

According to Ben Scafidi, a professor at the University of Kennesaw, “No Child Left Behind has led many states to lower learning standards and inflate their graduation statistics to allegedly achieve NCLB academic goals. But fixes to the latter have led some states to make it easier for students to earn a high school diploma, inflating their readiness for college and/or careers.

Children who would have needed to repeat 50 years ago are now thrown into the world, false Hercules who think they are prepared for the lion’s den.

Proposed studies

In the last legislative session in Hawaii, two resolutions could have served as a first step towards solving this problem. The two proposed that a study be conducted on Hawaii’s education system to see if a centralized approach works and if not, how we might transition to a different system.

Senate Resolution 8 and concurrent Senate Resolution 14 called for a study to examine the effectiveness of Hawaii’s single statewide school system as well as the feasibility of converting to an alternative system. Although the measures were not adopted, they could be reintroduced during the new session which opens in January.

The study could involve public meetings, with public input and reviews, and a proposed plan for how this top-down transfer of power will occur, to create a decentralized system. The money for the study could come from some money taken from other projects run by the Senate Education Committee.

The reason bills died in committee is because of the lack of public participation and testimony — we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

I implore the government to reintroduce joint bills and support them. I plead with the public in Hawaii to call, email or knock on the door of lawmakers who could make this happen: Bennette E. Misalucha, Justin H. Woodson, Jeanne Kapela , Michelle N. Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Donovan M. Dela Cruz and Gilbert SC Keith-Agaran.

Tell them this is the future of over 290,000 children in Hawaii.

Tell them that the very system that is supposed to prepare these children for the future is failing them.

Tell them you need to see change.

Jeremy S. McLain