Former govs offer Rx for schools

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February 4, 2010 :: Permalink

Aloha ~
Replying to David's Feb. 2nd post, I pointed out we have a habit in this country of lying to ourselves over policy issues. There is no greater deception in this country than our approach to public education.

Three former governors, Hawai'i's kapuna, claim to offer a plan to mend our failing schools. Our public schools aren't failing. This is Lie #1.

RANKINGS
I illustrated the confusion over this claim in David's Jan. 18th entry. A study reported in U.S. News & World Report ranks Connecticut #1 in the nation if we look at percentage of public schools awarded Silver or Gold rankings (CT had no Gold-rated schools). In this measure Hawai'i falls near the bottom.

On the other hand if we re-order the rankings based on percentage of the state's public schools receiving Bronze or better awards, Hawai'i ranks #1.

With the Winter Olympics coming up let's talk Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The media will focus on the nation that takes home the most Gold. Yet Americans would not consider their national team to be a failure if Austria or Switzerland captured the most Gold but our athletes took home more total medals: Gold, Silver and Bronze. America would be proud.

Hawai'i's students, teachers and public schools are taking home the most Gold, Silver and Bronze medals combined - yet pundits and various experts claim we are failing. Clearly we are not!

REORGANIZATION
Our former governor kapuna also claim the DOE should be reorganized by allowing the governor to appoint the BOE. Consider our current mess. Under political leadership by Lingle, who was for furloughs before she was against them, we have witnessed flip-flops based on political winds. She owns the bully pulpit yet has accomplished nothing. Senators Espero and Hooser called for a special session. Lingle could have made this happen. Lingle could have done many things ... instead she did nothing.

Second, with due respect to our former governor kapuna, they don't appear to have much expertise in education - as they continue to believe the system can be improved using a Top Down approach. They advocate giving principals more control.

What are our principals going to do to encourage higher proficiency? Will they demand Keiki run wind sprints for neglecting their math assignments? How about push-ups for failing to read their Shakespeare homework? Or rap the knuckles of Keiki who disrupt classes? The bottom line is our educators can lead our young ponies to water but they can't make 'em drink.

INCENTIVES
Why should our Keiki try harder in school? Yesterday's HA focused on Hawai'i's athletes trying to win college sport scholarships. We don't highlight our math, science or language students who hope to win similar awards. This isn't front page news. We frankly don't give a damn about Geeks, Nerds and Dweebs who score well on proficiency tests. This is Lie #2.

The nation hosts the biggest party of the year this weekend to watch grown men battle over a pigskin. We'll chuckle at dozens of beer commercials; over consume on burgers, chips and pizza, while China will be focusing on solar technology and increasing their world exports. This is Lie #3. Our priorities suck!

And, what do our Keiki have to look forward to post high school? From my point of view - a lot! Millions of Americans would love to be in their position. They would love to suffer the Paradise of Hawai'i. Thus why should our Keiki aspire to leave?

Yet staying here traps them into a service economy. Over 7 of 10 Keiki will matriculate to ONLY find a position making beds, waiting tables or giving surf lessons. This is their reality; it is the reality of their parents. Advanced Calculus has little meaning for the local culture. An Associate's degree is useful if someone prefers a management position. Bachelor's degrees or greater do not offer much from a benefit/cost basis here on the islands. In fact in most circles advanced education is viewed with hostility.

PER STUDENT FUNDING
David cites a figure of $16,000/student claiming this ranks Hawai'i 13th most expensive in the nation. I'm not sure where this figure originates and numbers can be difficult to pin down. It's my understanding there are some 179,000 public school students. This year's budget was originally listed approximately $2.4B, which would be about $13,408/student. The budget was cut to around $1.8B, which works out to some $10,056/student.

As Kolea frequently points out in his comments Hawai'i has a far higher cost of living than the mainland. I believe an accepted conversion is that it costs 135% more to live on the islands. Adding a COLA to these figures would decrease the former to $9,932 (rather than $13,408) and the latter to $7,450 (rather than $10,056).

I believe Lie #4 is our claim that we are spending so much per Keiki here.

I was recognized as an Academic All-American in college. I was fortunate to excel on the court and classroom - thanks to the strong guidance of my parents, coaches and teachers. Yet had I grown up here I can't imagine I would have put so much energy into my studies. I believe this is Lie #5 that we are selling ourselves.

We give our teachers very few tools to help them discipline and motivate our Keiki. I don't believe we're honest about the levels of per pupil funding. And, I believe we underestimate the distracting affects from living in Paradise and endless summer.

These structural challenges will not be mitigated by politicizing the BOE or applying a Top Down approach. And, we will further Lie #6 by pretending these proposals will fix our alleged education problems. We avoid the key issue and that is fully funding our public schools. How is it possible the grownups have been unable to end Furlough Fridays this far into the school year? Give me a break. Talk about failures of leadership!

We will go to great lengths to distract the public from this most essential variable. Education requires consistency. Our leaders cannot accomplish this; why do we expect our Keiki to do what we cannot? Let's stop lying to ourselves - and our children ...

A*L*O*H*A