The Tough Task Of Educating Kids

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - March 16, 2011
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Writing about schools is risky. We all have opinions and there’s little no-question measurement.

My opinion is that there must be some business-like expertise on the Board of Education. Government generally is a lousy business operator.

Charter school operators seem to have suffered more than most as business-like operators. Many families with kids went ecstatic when we approved them.

They didn’t want their kids condemned to less-than-wonderful public schools, didn’t want to home-school them, and seemed more inclined to take part in charter school oversight - something so many of them have never done with the public schools.

But you’ve been reading about the management problems, site-rental problems, and no evidence that they are turning out students any better than in public schools.

There’s a New York charter school, the Ross Global Academy, founded by a wealthy family that put in $8 million and promised spectacular results. But 75 percent of its students have failed English and 70 percent have failed math.

Running a school isn’t like running a neighborhood shave ice shop. And if the charter school closes, students are left out in the cold if public schools are already in session and private schools are full or unaffordable.

This whole thing came about because of parent dissatisfaction with our public schools. People thought charter schools would show educators how it’s done right. There was another factor: Public schools are unionized; charter schools don’t have to be. Many parents felt - with no evidence - that the failure of public schools could be laid at the feet of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. As they saw it, the union was protecting incompetent teachers, and charter schools could dump them.

But there’s no evidence so far that non-union teachers in our charter schools are producing any better results than their unionized counterparts in the public system.

Nonetheless, the public pressure was on, and our state government pushed ahead with the charter system. To do otherwise was to risk the charge that the teachers’ union was calling the shots.

Changing terms of union teacher contracts might have been the better course.

Pulling principals out of the HGEA surely would have been a better course. Why have managers in a union? Why have principals with very little strategic thinking or managerial experience?

Maybe - and it’s just a maybe right now - the new appointed Board of Education will set new strategies for both public and charter schools. I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard from that first appointee, bank executive Don Horner. But he’ll only be one voice and the others may not have his core values of a smooth-operating business. Horner is the bank. The Board of Education will have many who feel they are the boss, or at least the ones with the better ideas.

So don’t expect miracles at your kids’ schools or all smooth sailing at the charter schools.

Not yet. Maybe not ever. Right now it’s a crap shoot.

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