by Andrew Walden
Former Rep. Neil Abercrombie's "Education Plan", introduced Thursday, runs 1,900 words. Abercrombie, now campaigning for Governor, promises that "schools will be welcoming places", "educators will be treated as professionals" and "we will have world class college track and technical track school." He doesn't mention anything about reaching Godhead--but he does promise to "open up an entire realm of possibilities for our children--with art, music, sports programs, civics and more...."
Abercrombie's entire scheme hinges on a single line buried in paragraph 24:
"Working collaboratively with public sector unions will result in contracts that serve our students first."
Could a 20-year Congressman possibly be that naive? No. But he might think he is crafty enough to slip by voters with this whopper carefully wrapped in rhetoric about opening “an entire realm of possibilities.”
Abercrombie does not say a single word about cutting waste, fraud, and corruption in the DoE. Nor does he call for any type of audit of the famously profligate department. Apparently he does not see these as problems.
How does Abercrombie propose to bring public employee unions into line? In a "Guiding Principle" of his Education Plan entitled "Respect for principals and teachers" Abercrombie explains:
"This respect will emanate from a Governor who was a teacher and has worked to improve education throughout his career."
President Barack Obama has been unable to establish such a collaborative relationship with teachers' unions nationally. While the national leadership of the NEA and AFT pretend to support RTTT, local teachers' unions nationwide sabotage even the watered down education reforms and attenuated accountability left in RTTT after Obama's effort to appease national union opposition.
Here in Hawaii, the HSTA and its minions on the BoE and in the DoE have purposefully sabotaged Hawaii's RTTT application by choosing to furlough teachers on instructional days when the DoE is fully capable of eliminating all furlough days without a single additional penny being allocated. The HSTA/BoE/DoE have further sabotaged Hawaii's RTTT application by refusing to lift the cap on charter schools. Abercrombie's entire education plan is predicated on the unspoken assumption that he will succeed where Obama has failed--that he is more 'transformative' than Obama.
The akamai reader will immediately recognize Abercrombie's Education Plan as a symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (301.81 in DSM IV) more commonly referred to as megalomania. But some of Abercrombie's followers may not be so easily persuaded. For instance, actress Kelly Hu says, "Listening to Neil speak is like going to church."
So in the interest of saving poor little Kelly, let's humor Abercrombie. What organizational steps does he intend to take to transform his "emanations" into policy?
According to HNN, Abercrombie "wants the superintendent to be part of the governor's cabinet." When Governor Lingle October 23, 2009 proposed the Legislature place on the 2010 ballot a constitutional amendment to make the Superintendent of the DoE an appointed department head, Abercrombie immediately piped up and claimed the idea for himself. Speaking to the Advertiser he argued:
"The problem right now, the challenge, is that nobody is actually accountable in the end. The governor can point to the Legislature and the Board of Education, and it's circular. The governor should appoint the superintendent of education. And the superintendent of education should be in the governor's Cabinet. The governor and the Legislature should take direct responsibility for education, higher and lower, in the state."
But six months later, the Governor's proposal has been blocked by Democrat Legislators who refuse to even hear it. In its place, Legislators have advanced an alternative put forward by Democrat former Governors George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, and Ben Cayetano which envisions future Governors--with the advice and consent of the Senate--appointing a BoE from a list approved by an appointment commission--likely to be stacked with HSTA flunkeys. The appointed BoE would then appoint a Superintendent.
Running with the support of Cayetano, Abercrombie has said nothing as his dream of direct gubernatorial accountability for the DoE evaporates before his very eyes. Abercrombie says, "This election will be a referendum on leadership and it starts with education." So where is Abercrombie's "leadership" on appointing the Superintendent? There have been no public meetings between Abercrombie and his supporters in the Legislature. There have been no press conferences where dissident pro-Abercrombie Legislators boldly announce their plan to pull the cornerstone of Abercrombie's campaign out of committee and force a vote on the floor.
Six months after leaping up in support of Lingle's proposal, Abercrombie's "Education Plan" no longer even considers the possibility of the Governor appointing a Superintendent:
"Whether the school board is elected or appointed when the next governor's term begins, Neil will incorporate the superintendent as a member of the Governor's cabinet to align all parties in implementing the systemic transformation that the public wants."
Six months ago, Abercrombie explained: "The governor can point to the Legislature and the Board of Education, and it's circular." Now, without any constitutional amendment he claims he will "take personal responsibility to restore public confidence in our school system." Really? How can he legally "take" personal responsibility for a circular firing squad without amending the State constitution? He plans "comprehensive accountability measures, (and) a lift on charter school caps." But without Lingle's constitutional amendment, the next Governor has no authority to impose either of these reforms.
In his plan, Abercrombie parrots teacher union anti-accountability rhetoric, complaining the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), "has led to an oversimplification of what constitutes a good education, too much teaching to the tests, and private companies profiteering at the expense of public school budgets."
Congress is the only body which can overturn or amend NCLB and Abercrombie just left. With a Democrat majority in both Houses and a Democrat President, what did Abercrombie do about NCLB? Is this the type of education "leadership" the gubernatorial election will be a referendum on?
Abercrombie envisions Principals "serving as CEOs--free from outside mandates and red tape." But a Governor has no authority to eliminate federal red tape. He just abandoned his seat in Congress where he did have some authority in these matters--but did nothing. As Governor, without an appointed Superintendent, he will not have the authority to order any such changes to State mandates and red tape. Yet he promises to now do what he failed to do when he had the authority. Is that the "leadership" Abercrombie is asking Hawaii to elect?
Abercrombie's plan uses the word "accountability" again and again. He calls for schools to be "incentivized." He calls for "principals and teachers (to) be evaluated on a full range of criteria to drive continued improvement." Abercrombie claims his plan, "will make sure principals and teachers get the support they need to meet this challenge (of accountability)." Even the vaguest whiff of "accountability" or "incentives" is enough to inspire a full-fledged rebellion on the part of the HSTA and HGEA. After years, not a single HGEA principal has signed on to any version of the DoE's existing pay for performance package. Abercrombie's plan to bring an end to the HSTA and HGEA's entrenched opposition to any type of "accountability" or "incentive" plan apparently relies on his "emanations."
Some may read Abercrombie's plan and conclude that at least he knows which reforms are needed to break the DoE out of its "boiling dysfunction". Abercrombie wants voters not to notice that his plans are founded on the ridiculous claim that: "Working collaboratively with public sector unions will result in contracts that serve our students first."
Abercrombie's Education Plan is a trap he has laid for the unwary. Abercrombie's real message to Hawaii's political sharps is that he knows exactly how to block reform--by positioning himself as leader and arming himself with a plan designed to fail. With a scheme like that, he may yet have a shot at the HSTA endorsement.