Scrapping The School System

Susan Page
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Wednesday - February 08, 2006
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My husband and I have this ongoing debate which neither of us ever wins because it’s a nowin argument.

Hawaii’s public school system: Can it be fixed?

My position is harsh; his, idealistic.

I say no, adding that we should scrap the whole thing and start all over. Like a “tear down” in real estate.

He says yes, with a myriad of changes in structures and attitude.

And therein lies my argument. Changing a bureaucracy the size of the our state Department of Education is like pushing an outrigger canoe up Diamond Head. Too hard, too slow.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in public schools. I went to them and so did five of our six kids. But when it comes to our grandchildren on Oahu, their parents have opted for private schools. And so do many of our public schoolteachers for their children. One source says 50 percent!

I don’t blame the teachers for the problems. Most are dedicated and hard-working. They make do when their budget allocation doesn’t meet classroom needs, spending their own money on supplies or having fundraisers to buy books. They’re the heroes with their thumbs in the leaky DOE dike.

But if teachers aren’t sending their children to public schools, what does that tell us? If a restaurant is good, the employees eat there. Likewise with a school. Would the CEO of Pepsi walk around drinking a Coke? Or the coach of the Seattle Seahawks wear a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey?

And what about our elected officials, state legislators enacting the laws that affect education? Where do their children go? Iolani, Punahou, Mid-Pac, St. Louis? Ask them when they come to your door this year asking for your vote. Ask the Board of Education members, too.

Ask this: If the public schools are good for my child, why aren’t your children going there? Isn’t this class discrimination?

Ask majority party members, in control for 40 years and champions of the working poor, why they don’t want their own children to go to school with the poor. Ask them that.

I hear strides are being made, some mandated by the federal government. The legislated, but yet to be implemented, Weighted Student Formula could help bring equality to the poorer schools. Good intentions are nice. Gov. Linda Lingle, in her State of the State address, has made education a high priority in 2006. (And really, what governor hasn’t?) She and the Board of Education agree on goals, but money is always the issue.

And that takes us back to the size of the department. By the time money is allocated - and it’s never enough, say the DOE and BOE - how long does it take to trickle down to the classroom?

My son went to Kalaheo High School, graduating in 1993. The classrooms were hot and spare. The sports field had no place for students or parents to sit during a soccer game except on a muddy hillside. Options: Bring your own chair or sit on the dirt. I drove past the field just the other day and 13 years later, it’s just the same.

Trickle down? It’s more like a tiny evaporating drip. It’s those drips that yield the problems of teacher shortages, teacher stress and lack of pride.

My husband is positive about the future of our public schools. I’m not, because all the little programs in the world won’t fix it. The system is too big to work. Our kids struggle to pay private school tuition, because they can’t risk their boys being guinea pigs while school improvement promises drip, drip, drip. We pay for our grandaughter to go to Iolani for the same reasons.

Home-schooling, the antithesis of our public school system, is on the rise: parents taking charge of their children’s education, eliminating the bureaucracy.

It’s the old FEMA-Hurricane Katrina question. When does a child’s education become an emergency? When it’s my child! Or grandchild!

And so the debate goes on.

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