Federal intrusion is ruining public schools


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HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

ISLAND VOICES

Federal intrusion is ruining public schools

By Alan Isbell

Don’t believe government when education reform is ballyhooed.

Most has turned out to be political conceit.

Worse, the “reforms” were pure political deceit.

Former President George W. Bush made the first federal foray into dictating policy for local school boards with the epically failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The “emperor’s new clothes” were based on the fallacy that some way, somehow, every child in America’s public schools could meet impossible goals measured by standardized testing.

Never mind that the growth in poverty wrought by Bush and cronies would work against students getting a fair shake in regard to standardized test scores.

Those of us teaching in Title 1 schools — the majority of students are low-income, qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch — know only too well the enormous obstacles faced by children who labor against the social fabric torn by the harsh effects of poverty. Don’t talk to us about standardized test scores when homeless, hungry children are not achieving the uniformity imposed by the over-reaching federal government.

The conceit here was that with the wave of a political wand, all of America’s kids would become proficient in math and reading, as measured by standardized testing.

The deceit was that beyond stultifying poverty and all the social ills it spawns, the policy was also to include students whose physical and mental impairments would take miracles to overcome if they were to achieve along with unimpaired children. To maintain otherwise was deceit.

NCLB brought about a school rating system based on standardized test scores that bore draconian punitive measures, including taking over under-achieving schools, and throwing out all who had staffed them.

Topping this was the federal government’s failure to fund what it was mandating. Ironically, school districts would have to pay for the testing that could ultimately result in the takeover of their schools at their districts’ expense.

Then came the Democrats and a president that deemed NCLB a failure that would be eliminated. President Barack Obama took years to make good on that promise. His failure in regard to educational policy was his misplaced faith in Arne Duncan, his choice for U.S. secretary of education. More like the fox in the hen house, Duncan replaced NCLB with — wait for it — standardized testing measuring even tougher standards (Common Core) and punishing schools that were not up to snuff.

Sound familiar? Oh, and no funding for all this, beyond the “Race to the Top” (RTTT) crumbs offered to districts that cooperated with Duncan’s heavy-handed measures. Count Hawaii among them, kowtowing to the secretary for a paltry $75 million over a period of five years.

A backlash is growing nationally against this undue federal intervention in school district jurisdictions. Hawaii’s Legislature should learn from this, and not attempt unduly to set public school policy.

Five years ago, the Legislature mandated, some would say arbitrarily, a minimum of instructional hours that amounted to well over what had been the case in years past. The 2015-2016 school year was to be when all public schools were to be in compliance.

This was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the public vilifying of schools brought about by NCLB and RTTT. It was not based on credible research that justified a need for the Legislature to step in.

Act 167 and its ancillary bills amounted to a conceit, despite being well intentioned. In one fell swoop, the Legislature would do what the feds could not in proving the worth of their programs.

The deceit? More instructional time means more time worked means more money to pay for the time worked. Yet, no funding was provided for that. Go figure.