Spin Zone: Where Hawaii’s Leaders face off

March, 2007

Q: Why can’t we fix our public schools?

Democratic REP. ROY TAKUMI, House Education Chair

A: The more accurate question to ask is: What have we done to fix our schools? In 2004, we passed the Reinventing Education Schools Act (Act 51), which emphasized that schools must focus on student achievement, safety and well-being, and civic commitment. There were 13 major elements of Act 51, including leadership development, lowering class size, reducing bureaucracy and improving accountability.
The act required the implementation of a weighted student formula (WSF) that “weights” students depending on their backgrounds. For example, students who don’t speak English or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are to receive additional dollars to enable them to succeed. WSF also ensures that everyone can see and understand how resources are allocated and spent in each school.

Act 51 acknowledged the role of principals as the education leaders of schools and that they must have far more flexibility in using their resources, financial and curricular, to operate.

Act 51 put the “public” back into public education with the creation of School Community Councils (SCC), recognizing the critical role all the stakeholders of a school—parents, teachers, students, the community—play in its success.

Has it been easy? Nothing hard is ever easy. But I know we can do it. People in Hawaii care passionately about education. They know how important it is that our children be given every opportunity to succeed in life. Education truly is the cornerstone of our society.

This is why I firmly believe that we need to continue to decentralize the system by empowering each school to control its own educational destiny in ways that best reflect the needs of their students.

We need to give schools the flexibility, autonomy and authority to change quickly and with a minimum of bureaucracy.

We need to do it because it is the right thing to do.

Republican REP. GENE WARD, District 17, Hawaii Kai to Makapuu

A: Almost 40 percent of the Hawaii state budget goes to educating our population, but the results have left much to be desired.

According to recent findings by the Department of Education (DOE), our students do so poorly in reading and math, because, in effect, they are too poor to do any better.  Their charts demonstrate how poverty correlates with low test scores and how poor neighborhoods typically produce poor students. This is the DOE’s biggest defense against complaints of poor student performance.

First, this insults the economically disadvantaged in our community. Poverty is not a barrier to a solid education. There is simply NO correlation between poverty and a lack of intelligence. Second, if poverty is the explanatory independent variable on test scores, then “well-off” neighborhoods should produce excellent reading and math scores in Hawaii—which is not the case.  The state as a whole does not meet the national standards for reading and math.

The DOE and lawmakers need to ask: Is it easier to raise the economic level or the educational level of a citizen? In America, education is the great equalizer. The more we postpone the opportunity for an excellent education, the longer we will remain poor.

Until now, children have always been more educated than their parents. Last week, University of Hawaii President David McClain told lawmakers that, for the first time in Hawaii’s history, people 40 years old are more educated than people 25 years old.

I am sad to think we now have another excuse for why Hawaii’s kids will not get better test scores in the near future. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and history has shown that the only way the poor have become enfranchised within one generation is through education. How long will Hawaii’s people have to wait?

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