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No new day for school empowerment

A pair of new studies show decentralization of the DOE saw little progress over the past four years—will our new governor have more success?

in Public education system

Five years ago, then-newly elected governor Neil Abercrombie put forth his New Day in Hawaii plan—a comprehensive strategy to improve our state’s economy, public services, food security and more—the same plan that he campaigned hard and won on. (Click here for analysis on some of the key promises he made.)

When it came to Hawaii’s public education system, Abercrombie stated: “If we expect accountability from our schools, we musty provide our principals and teachers the authority to assume that responsibility. My plan will make sure principals and teachers get the support they need to meet this challenge. As Governor, I will take personal responsibility to restore public confidence in our schools.”

The goals he outlines in the plan include:

Decentralize school administration: Entrust principals with control of programs and budgets; form principal leadership academies; design and implement comprehensive accountability measures; support teacher career advancement; redefine the role of the central DOE; encourage innovation in traditional and charter schools.

Teachers would likely agree that Abercrombie’s goal of getting the Department of Education (DOE) to support its teachers and grant them greater authority in making decisions in the classroom was a failure. And a new pair of studies conducted by the University of Hawaii College of Education’s Hawaii Educational Policy Center (HEPC) on school empowerment in Hawaii shows that the DOE has made little progress toward the goal of decentralization.

Hawaii’s new governor, David Ige, has made school empowerment and DOE decentralization a goal of his as well. As a result, the Educational Institute of Hawaii sponsored an initial review of the Board of Education’s existing and proposed policy revisions, conducted by HEPC.

The HEPC analysis asks: “If policy makers want to remove barriers to school level empowerment, and significantly decentralize decision making, what laws, policies, rules, agreements or internal procedures directly impact school empowerment and might justify closer review?”

“We found that there were significant indications of a continued preference for decision-making above the school level,” said Jim Shon, Director of the Institute. 

HEPC analyzed policies adopted by the state board of education that related to decision-making at the school, complex area, district, and state levels. That report can be found on the HEPC web page.

As a follow up HEPC also looked at two key collective bargaining agreements: one for teachers under the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), and one for principals, under the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA). (Also on the web.)

“Both the HSTA and HGEA contracts include significant examples where negotiators determined that important decisions would not be made at the school level,” Shon said.

“In part, these two agreements send mixed messages. Principals have some authority, but very little when it comes to management of HSTA teachers and other school matters. A future school empowerment agenda should consider negotiation of supplemental amendments to these agreements,” he explained.

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