The feds have a place in our schools

A lot of critics resent federal education initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” feeling public schools are a local responsibility and the feds should butt out.

I disagree.

An educated population is as much a matter of compelling national interest as a strong economy, and when schools in Hawai‘i and other states fail to meet reasonable standards, the U.S. government has every right to take an interest.

President Barack Obama said yesterday in defense of his education policy, “Whether jobs are created here, high-end jobs that support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools.”

Hawai‘i’s statewide school system has always resisted local reform initiatives, and as a practical matter, the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” — for all its faults — has been primarily responsible for what little gains we’ve made in the last five years in improving student achievement in reading and math.

The $75 million we’re set to receive under the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” is a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall education budget, but it’s inspired one of Hawai‘i’s most ambitious school reform initiatives under new Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

And if local administrators succeed in achieving the key goal — getting unions representing teachers and principals to finally accept tougher performance standards — it’ll likely be because of the pressure of federal oversight.


Education was on my mind because yesterday was Grandparents Day at Voyager School, and I always come away from that event with fresh ideas:

Last year, Sloane presented her plan for reorganizing the Department of Education.

It was Kaylee's turn this year, and she offered her ideas for putting teeth in the school curriculum.

Explore posts in the same categories: Volcanic Ash


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14 Comments on “The feds have a place in our schools”

  1. Scott Goold Says:

    Aloha ~
    Back from vacation and one thing remains the same … our collective insanity continues. I happened to catch Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps during my break. The mythical financier, Gordon Gecko, now immortalized by Wall Street practitioners, makes a compelling case that Americans and our financial world are insane. Why then should our views on education policy be any different?

    David writes, if local administrators succeed in achieving the key goal – getting unions representing teachers and principals to finally accept tougher performance standards – it’ll likely be because of the pressure of federal oversight.

    David implies AGAIN that unions are the problem with education – here in Hawai’i and across the nation. Fine, write a law to end unions. And, in five years, we will all FINALLY accept this is simply a straw man argument. Why?

    What are performance standards? In David’s case, let’s pretend his editor (which he does not have) writes into his contract that he must pen five blog posts per week of at least 1,000 words. These are measurable and objective standards. If David hits his mark, he gets paid; if not, he suffers disciplinary action. Simple, clean and efficient. David controls his destiny.

    What about performance criteria for UH football? The contract for the coach and staff could state they will win 90% of games or look for another job next season. The coach controls the amount of practice (outside NCAA rules) and style of play. The coach selects his players and staff. He thus controls his destiny.

    Now compare to teachers in the classroom. First, they do not select their students, as do athletic coaches. Second, they do not control how much time students spend on homework or with tutors. Third, while a coach can force his scholarship athletes to run sprints or do push-ups for violating rules, a teacher cannot do these things. If a student CHOOSES not to study; not to do the homework; not to come in before/after school or at lunch for help; the teacher cannot force the extra work or punish the student. And, this is why unions, including teachers and administrators, have resisted performance-based measures. Teachers do not control their destiny.

    The teacher can simply fail the student on a test or the overall course. And, frequently, if the teacher fails the student, both parents and administrators blame the teacher for the failure – not the student. Thus, teachers tend to inflate grades simply to move the student on to the next level.

    If we were not an insane society, we would pass relatively simple performance criteria. The state (or federal Department of Education) would create standardized tests in each subject for the grade level. Students who fail to meet this standard would be required to repeat the course. OMFG, can it be so easy?

    This is a true market-based solution. Students would learn quickly who are the best teachers. Parents would fight with principals to get their keiki into classes with the most competent staff, which would alert administrators to poorly performing instructors. Teachers would have leverage over students … if you don’t want to work, you can’t be in my class.

    Yet this is not how Hawai’i or America operates. Instead, we will spend countless hours creating straw men arguments. It’s the unions, it’s the unions! And, our collective insanity will continue …


  2. hipoli Says:

    I wish it were this easy, Scott. But I do not think a standardized test is the end all answer to this. Do you have any idea how easy it would be ‘teach to the test’? How then would that be a real indicator of appropriate level of achievement?

  3. Zippy's Says:

    Its always good to see Albuquerque, NM resident Scott Goold telling us what to do. I wish he would post more often.

    As for the feds, the best thing they could do for Hawaii schools is send a team of DoJ racketeering investigators.

    The key thing is to avoid testing at all. If we had no tests, then we would have no failure. Problem solved!

  4. Scott Goold Says:

    Aloha hipoli ~
    How are our teachers teaching to ACT or SAT tests today? These, as you know, are standardizes tests used by nearly every college in the nation. If we want proficiency criteria in our schools, we will be required to measure student performance.

    Why wouldn’t ACT or SAT formatted tests be appropriate for 1st through 12th to determine who is ready to advance to the next grade level?


  5. Larry Says:

    Couple things.

    First, it isn’t clear, at least nationwide, that NCLB has lead to any improvement. It has lead to privatization. I don’t immediately know how to assess its effect on Hawaii, especially in view of our continued struggle to avoid hitting bottom on national assessments not related to NCLB.

    And ‘way back in 2000, I think it was, educator Dr. Larry Lieberman pointed out that you can’t fatten cows by weighing them.

    On Obama’s statement, I have long been convinced that it is exactly the other way around. Jobs have to come first, then education will provide. Hawaii is an excellent example of that. Our jobs are low-paying service jobs. The hospitality industry spoke on a video made by or for Jade Moon that Hawaii’s educational system perfectly meets their needs. With no pressure from commerce or from parents, why do we expect the schools will improve?

    In 1957, Dave, you probably remember how Sputnik galvanized the country to create engineering and science jobs. Schools and colleges provided graduates. It was a great time of educational growth for the country because of that demand, even if the demand was somewhat artificially generated. The fallout was America’s ascendancy economically. Everyone, world over, wanted to attend US colleges and universities.

    Now, as further refutation of Obama, college graduates can’t find jobs to pay off their tuition debt.

    IMHO, we need attention to the economy first, then education will improve. If Hawaii students could get good, high-paying jobs and stay here in the Islands with their families, they and their families will demand the education. In the absence of those jobs, why bother?

    Obama has neglected jobs/Main Street/mortgages, etc., the things that would improve education in the country. In Hawaii, we really don’t have an alternative economic model. Tourism, supporting the military, and … what? It’s tough, but why not accept that for the moment, the economic conditions practically dictate what our educational system will look like bottom to top.

    I am the first to agree that the kids deserve better. The children deserve the best education. But I don’t see anything happening that will bring it to them.

  6. Mike Middlesworth Says:

    The problem isn’t unions, per se. It’s often that both unions and management get locked into a test of wills with the goal of being in control.

    In my experience, if both sides approach things with an attitude of cooperation, not confrontation, problems can be solved.

    Some managers are not good at their jobs, and some of those being managed aren’t either. The only road to success of the enterprise is for both sides to be honest about that and work together.

    It worked for me in a number of instances.

    As the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

  7. shaftalley Says:

    when george bush and congress created the NCLB Act back 2001,there was a provision in the Act relating to military recruiters and high school students:that each local school agency that received federal assistance under NCLB were required to provide access to high school students names,adresses,and phone listings,if requested by military recruiters.the parents of the students could could request information not be released without written parental consent,i believe.i just wonder how many students were brain-washed by these recruiters and ended up in iraq and afghanistan just a few short years later.a lot of them didn’t mmake it out of there alive.i hope the Obama federal assistance bail-out,Race To The Top don’t have that requirement.

  8. Michael Says:

    Rome wasn’t built in a Day.

    A student can ACT or SAT in school all day but not know how to take tests. Means SQUAT if a student is smart but lacks the knowledge to take tests.
    Already proven that ones goes to a Top Name School does not mean they are Smarter than a 5th Grader.

    I think each School has Student Body Leaders that should meet with the BOE to discuss what Students want and not what Teachers want for their students.
    Never believe, the Teachers knows it all. A student should have the right to question if they think the Teacher is wrong. We would not have an Einstein or Newton if everyone believed what so called Teachers teach.

    Onion Heads, in name only. No real power to negotiate when times are hard. The less members, the smaller their car they drive.
    I don’t need to have my arms bent by some thug called a onion rep. I vote for who I please. onions endorsing a Candidate only means in another word, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you”. It seems to have Worked with lingle in negotiating Furlough Fridays. Whose crying now?

  9. WooWoo Says:


    You make good points, but there are a lot of factors at play. Does silicon valley have tech companies because of Stanford and Berkeley, or the other way around? Do hotel companies not need an educated workforce, or do the wages of unionized hotel workers exceed the wages of college degree holders? The hotels here are filled with workers with college degrees. Being a union bartender or doorman pays more than being a branch manager at a bank. So does being a construction worker, mechanic or the king of the hill: stevedore.

    What we have done here is disincentivize people from pursuing non-union, white collar work.

  10. WooWoo Says:


    I’d vote for Kaylee and Sloane for BOE before toguchi and Knudsen.

  11. shaftalley Says:

    “the Feds have a place in our schools.” well,for sure the Feds have had a place at the East-West Center at University of hawaii for years.the East-West Center has been a CIA front for years,and no doubt still is.this Center has long been affiliated with CIA activities in Asia-Pacific region.especially during viet-nam war.President Obama’s mother,Ann Dunham,worked on behalf of the CIA at the East-West Center at UH,also at USAID and the Ford Foundation which were (and still are?)CIA front ops.UH appears to be heavily funded by the Feds.

  12. David Shapiro Says:

    Larry, you can’t make a cow get fatter by weighing it, but it’s the only way to find out what it’s worth at market. Why such resistance to measuring what we get for our money from the school system that consumes 2/5 of the state budget? They have the kids seven hours a day, 180 days a year for 13 years. If kids don’t learn to read and do math to a minimal level of proficiency in all that time, something is terribly amiss and it’s no answer to say “don’t measure.”

    Mike, I agree that the unions are just doing what they’re supposed to and the problem is mostly on the management side. The Board of Education is the employer under the constitution, but seems incapable of acting like it. In the furlough Friday mess, the BOE was sitting on the HSTA side of the bargaining table in “negotiating” with the governor. There’s the problem and passing the constitutional amendment would be a good first step in fixing it.

  13. Mike Middlesworth Says:


    I’m with you on the appointed school board. At least we’d have a better fix on responsibility.

  14. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I plan to vote NOTA on the Constitutional Amendment because there is no companion legislation to set up a process for selecting the members of an appointed Board of Education.

    The Governor vetoed the bill; since no Special Session was called, the veto could not be over-riden.

    yes, I am aware that a blank vote will be counted as a NO, but that’s my choice.

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