Out of all 50 states that comprise the USA, the public education system in Hawaii is different than the other 49. It is the only one with a state-centralized education system. There are no school districts like there are in other states. As such, there is only one Board of Education with nine, term-staggered, governor-appointed members who set policies for all the public and public charter schools in Hawaii.
There are pros and cons to this model. For example, the state always gets high scores for education "equity" because all schools receive the same per pupil funding, and it's not determined by local property values. The same marginal allotment of financial resources; the same low pay for teachers, but hey, at least public education is equitably underfunded across the islands.
The snail's pace at which state bureaucracies move, and the political appointee framework of the BOE make the task of changing anything nearly as difficult as passing a state law. If you've ever tried to convince a local school board, like those one encounters on the mainland, to make a positive change, and tried the same with a state bureaucracy, you will understand the logger jam the latter imposes on the Hawaii public education system.
Undeniably a daunting challenge, cultural change *is* possible. If you have ideas for how to improve Hawaii's schools, share them with the Board of Education. Below are some of my letters to the BOE I share with you. If you've sent a letter to the BOE about changing the Hawaii DOE culture to provide greater openness, accountability, and/or family & community engagement, or you just want to help, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters from Others:
Non-English-Proficient Parents Get Short Shrift in Hawaii
Aloha Board of Education Members and Superintendent Kishimoto,
Hawaii school funding is based on the number of students enrolled in school. One would think you'd be interested in keeping kids in public school. Well, this month you lost one more addition to your coffers. My friend, the impoverished, Tongan mother of a learning-challenged child, is borrowing money from family, and has enrolled her son in parochial school. Goodbye to one more statistic justifying Hawaii weighted student formula as well as federal SpEd and Title I funds for this kid. This shouldn't surprise any of you since I've been writing about the problem for over a year. Which problem? Well, there are so many, I've lost count, but in this particular case this is it:
If an uneducated and/or a non-English-proficient parent wants a friend or family member to collaborate with them and the school to facilitate home-to-school communications, THE HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION WILL NOT ALLOW IT!
What a stupid and venal way to run a school. I have helped this immigrant mother interact with medical, financial, and other government institutions both inside and outside of Hawaii, and once they get verification that she wants me to speak for her, there's no problem. The problem, it seems, exists solely with the State of Hawaii Department of Education.
I really wish you'd change the status quo. Attached is yet another letter appealing to the Board of Education to fix the problems. Please forward a copy of this email to the BOE Student Representative and Military Liaison so they are aware of my concerns to the Board.
Testimony: Authentic Family & Community Engagement
The State Superintendent's priorities never seem to include authentic family & community engagement. The BOE needs to make this a priority if we ever expect to have a world class education system.
Parent Asks for the Right to Involve Her Assistant
This single parent has limited English skills, and limited understanding of the U.S. public education system. Vanessa Ott has been a friend of the family since 2017 and tutored Ms. Huahulu's son for free. He does really well when Ms. Ott is involved in his education. Sadly, believe it or not, the Principal refuses to let Vanessa Ott participate in home-to-school communication as the mother wishes. We believe this is because Ms. Huahulu can be linguistically, academically, and institutionally bullied. Ms. Ott fights back.
End Systemic Racism in Hawai‘i DOE
Dear BOE, I’m continuing my efforts to end the systemic racism and classism in the Hawai‘i Department of Education that is very real, and hurting our keiki. This problem will not disappear until the BOE enacts Policies and Hawai‘i Administrative rules ensuring equitable family engagement opportunities for students whose parents are uneducated and/or non-English-proficient...
(read letter below)
Give Parents the Right to Their Own Assistant
English-challenged public school parents are bullied by the DOE, and there's no system of redress. What is the BOE is going to do about accountability, fostering true, authentic family engagement, and giving English-challenged parents the right to have an assistant help them.
How To Close the SpEd Achievement Gap
These strategies improve outcomes for struggling students. Why won't the Hawaii Department of Education implement them and the Board of Education require them?
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