Why Kids Need A Core Curriculum

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006
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The Delta Airlines flight that carried me from Los Angeles to Pensacola, Fla., in the fall of 1957 was only the second time I had flown. The first had been on an “orientation flight” in a Navy SNJ trainer with a Reserve Navy pilot who spent most of the flight circling his neighborhood near NAS Alamitos (near Los Angeles) searching for his house. But that’s another column. Let’s just say my stomach finished searching before he did.

The point is, these two flights were the sum total of my aeronautical experience before starting pre-flight and then flight training at Pensacola. Yet, within 18 months, a UCLA art major had soloed a Navy airplane, learned to fly at night and in all weather relying on instruments, flown in tight formation with other aircraft, navigated across country by “dead reckoning” (using only compass, map and airspeed), dropped bombs on training targets, fired my guns at airborne banners, and landed aboard an aircraft carrier in a high-performance, first-line jet. And the majority (although sometimes slim) of my classmates did too. And the only thing that made this possible in such a short period of time was a rigorous, standardized academic and flight training curriculum. Efficiency and effectiveness year after year were enhanced by sticking to a standardized core curriculum that experience had taught us worked well.

Yes, whether mastering the mechanics of a carrier landing or mastering a 10th grade reading level, a standardized core curriculum is the most effective and efficient means to achieve the desired results. And speaking of 10th grade reading levels, over the last four years, in Standardized Achievement Tests, the percentage of Hawaii’s 10th-graders scoring above average has decreased from nearly 7 percent to 5.4 percent. The trend is downward, but even more alarming, the national average is 23 percent!

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Hawaii’s Board of Education, Department of Education and state teacher’s union have yet to agree upon - let alone implement - a statewide standardized core curriculum to educate our youngsters?


Yet when a standardized core knowledge curriculum has been imposed - by a majority vote of the teachers - the results are as positive as they are amazing. A few years ago the principal of Solomon Elementary School was inspired by the success of a Fort Meyers, Fla., school using a core knowledge curriculum developed by E.D. Hirsch, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, and author of several respected books on core curriculum. In 2003, Solomon Elementary and Hawaii’s only other core knowledge school, Kauluwela Elementary, were the only two schools out of 100 “high poverty” schools in the state to have achieved annual yearly progress four years in a row! It works!

Motivated by the chronic problem of undereducated workers who couldn’t adequately write up reimbursement claims for warranty repairs, Hawaii’s auto dealers - through their trade association (Hawaii Auto Dealers Association) - began pressing the BOE, DOE and the Legislature to create a research-based, standardized core curriculum approach to education. And there has been encouraging progress. (Another example of uncoerced corporate social consciousness, by the way!)

Due in part to HADA’s initiative, a bill (SB-3059) that would possibly provide the funding for the development of a core content curriculum for Hawaii’s K-6 grades is wending through the Legislature and is currently in conference committee. The passage and funding of this legislation could be a mega-giant step in the right direction.

As citizens, and especially as parents, we will seldom have a better opportunity than now to directly affect the quality of our youths’ education. Carpe Diem: Please seize this opportunity. Call, write, e-mail or better yet fax your support to your legislators for SB-3059.

Week after week we have opened our daily papers to find yet another learning category or measurement in which Hawaii’s schools score at or near the bottom. SB-3059 is a single initiative that could potentially do more to fix that than all of Act 51, the Legislature’s wimpy version of the governor’s comprehensive education reform package. Short of implementing that package, a standardized statewide core knowledge curriculum is our next best hope to move forward.

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