In this upcoming election, Hawaii voters are being asked to vote on whether we should give up the right to vote for a school board and instead have a board appointed by the governor. Proponents of an appointed board say that this will increase accountability. At this point, since the elected board is powerless without the legislature's funding, and the legislature is powerless if the governor vetoes that funding, then the finger pointing will of course ensue. With an appointed board, the buck stops at the governor.
I went to a panel discussion the other day sponsored by the League of Women Voters and former governor Ben Cayetano was one of the two speakers for an appointed board. According to Cayetano, an appointed board would eliminate the micromanaging that goes on with an elected board because they would "know their role" and be in sync with what is best for the schools. He also said that he knows many very qualified people in the corporate world that would be excellent appointees, but that these people would not normally run for an elected position.
First off, let's acknowledge that our schools are not doing a stellar job of educating all of our students. There are many reasons for this, and each school is a little different. Is it the boards fault? No. I don't even think it's the governor's fault. Will having an appointed versus an elected board make a difference in our schools? No. You don't fix a leaking levee by buying a bigger boat.
Forty-six years ago we changed from an appointed board to an elected board. What were they trying to fix? Lackluster achievement. An interesting thing about going to that panel discussion was that one of the League of Women Voters members actually spoke up in the Q&A section and said that she remembers when we had an appointed board and as a young parent, thinking that she could air her concerns about her children's school actually went to a board meeting. She found the board to be arrogant and inconsiderate of individual needs. In her words, they didn't care. They were not accountable to the public because they were appointed by the governor. Hmmm. Could it be possible that an appointed board that is hand chosen by the governor could be arrogant and unsympathetic?
Lee Cataluna's column in Friday's Honolulu Star-Advertiser plays out the "what if" card on appointed boards with the current candidates for governor. She talks about the types of people each candidate might appoint for their board of education if elected and this change passes. It may be taking it to the extreme, but this is the month of horrors, and the scenario is pretty frightening.
Going back to Cayetano, as a lawyer, who does he know? He knows lawyers and business people. He feels that these kinds of people would be able to go in, see what needed to be done, appoint a strong superintendent, then back off. The problem with equating education with business is that we are not a corporation. We don't manufacture and sell students. Our students are not our clients, nor are they our products. How do corporations deal with failure? They bring in outside trainers to retrain the workers. Does that solve the effects on education from the many problems outside of the classroom (insufficient supplies, insufficient support, insufficient staff, etc.)? When that doesn't work, when miracles don't happen and angels don't sing from the rafters, what's the next step? They start firing people as a means of intimidation and motivation. Check out chapter 4 in Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Voter apathy is another reason why the proponents of an appointed board want the change. They say the voters obviously don't care about education because they don't bother to vote. I vote. I admit I don't always know who is running, but I still vote. I'd rather try and fix the way we vote for the board rather than give up the right to vote. Why would anyone vote to give up the right to vote? We should make it difficult for our government to take away any of our rights to participate in a free country. Having an appointed board rather than an elected board is not going to fix our school system. In fact the studies show that there is no difference in the effectiveness of the board if it's elected or appointed. The difference is in the public perception of the board. Let's just work on PR and education instead of taking away our right to vote. Joan Husted has some ideas on the way the elected board could be improved in the panel discussion sponsored by Hawaii Business.
Once our right to have a say in our government through our vote is taken away, it's very difficult to get it back. Please go to the polls and vote for democracy.