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David Rolf, executive director, Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association

Talk to anyone about education reform in Hawaii, and they will say there is no silver bullet. Everyone, that is, except for Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association Executive Director David Rolf. Rolf has spent almost two decades reading and researching the subject and putting his own money and time into flying in experts and creating public-service announcements. As you may guess, he is absolutely passionate about it.

Rolf says, “I’ve quietly served in the trenches. I’ve been on the SCBMs. I’ve gone to the standards meetings, and I’ve been everywhere that a parent could go to try to help. And I’ve found a system that avoids accountability. Everything is focused on the adults in the system and not on the children.”

The key is curriculum. Rolf’s theory, with a nod to Albert Einstein, is that a good education (E) is equal to the mastery (m) of a rigorous curriculum (c2), heavy on verbal reasoning. Rolf believes that curriculum already exists in the form of Core Knowledge, which has been adopted by one school, Solomon Elementary School in Wahiawa.

“There is no curriculum. I don’t know how many times I have to say it. There’s no curriculum for these children, so they have to study the same things again and again. And they don’t get to go to the top colleges, because no one will take time the to set down a rigorous curriculum, so the teachers teach whatever they want,” Rolf says.

He has three steps to getting there.
1) Establish a rigorous curriculum, such as Core Knowledge, or any researched curriculum with proven results.
2) Establish annual testing by grade, using some nationally recognized standardized test for verbal and math reasoning. Rolf says this is needed to give both parents and teachers a clear idea of exactly where each child is.
3) Have a leader with goals and a plan. Rolf says new superintendent Patricia Hamamoto could be she.

Rolf has even thought of a way to raise money for his plan for Hawaii to be one of the top 10 states in education, which he calls “Liftoff.” It involves raising the gross state product (GSP) through a tourism campaign and taking $25 million of increased tax revenues to fund “Liftoff.”

Rolf is not enamored of the standards and the way they are being implemented, because they do not make use of a proven curriculum.

“That’s why I call it the Ewa Villages scandal,” says Rolf, of the Department of Education’s standards. “All the money is poured into these documents, this effort and stuff like that, but nobody moves, so there’s no curriculum.

“What is a strong education system? It’s one that produces students with high verbal-reasoning skills and math-reasoning skills. It’s not one that has the best jungle gyms or pizza for lunch, which everybody talks about all day long ad infinitum. Why won’t we just stop for a moment and say, what we are trying to do? We’re trying to move from dead last up the scale to attract people here.”

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Hawaii Business,March