Neil’s ‘Outside’ Education Agitator

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 09, 2009
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It’s kind of funny to live in Hawaii after you’ve lived abroad in Europe or on the U.S. Mainland.

It only takes a couple of weeks, but you realize people on the Mainland truly believe they are about five years ahead of anything significant going on in Hawaii.

People in Europe are more understanding of our culture, but more often than not have a South Pacific image of Hawaii and its people. Some of them are stunned when they arrive here and see people wearing the same clothes they have on and driving the same automobiles.

Doesn’t take long for them to realize our freeways are just like the Autobahn and are similarly clogged during rush-hour traffic.

So it’s especially funny when a gubernatorial candidate with close ties to the Obama administration, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, invites a high-ranking official from the U.S. Department of Education to Oahu.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham said he was invited to Hawaii on a “Listening and Learning” tour, but he only listened to the drummer who brought him to Hawaii for about 24 hours, and started giving the taxpayers of Hawaii the typical condescending observations that got Capt. Cook in trouble on the Big Island a long time ago.

Cunningham said, “Hawaii is the only state to furlough teachers and cut instructional days as a budget-cutting move.”

Of course that is not true. The HSTA accepted the furlough days instead of layoffs, which was the smart thing to do.

The cuts, by the way, Mr. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, were not a budget-cutting move, they were a budget deficit balancing effort. There is a big difference.

Furthermore, he said he wanted adults to come up with a better solution than furloughs for the budget. Well, I can guarantee the secretary that only adults were allowed to work on the budget deficit problem faced by the state’s taxpayers.

The problem is simple: Hawaii is in an economic slump and doesn’t have the revenue to fund every demand for services, programs for the adults living off benefit-delivery programs and unfunded federal mandates.

The problems with Hawaii’s education system are no different from other states’. Be advised that our administrators and teachers are well-schooled in the idealistic public school system filled with parity in funding, egalitarian pedagogy, equity for every student and equal opportunity for all ethnic groups, especially those special need students who have to be taught and mainstreamed no matter what the condition of the school’s budget.

These are a couple of things we know for sure: Our public school system K-12 is based on a belief that all children should learn to read before and during the elementary school years. If students don’t learn to read in their first five years of school, they are at a major disadvantage, of course, because the rest of the system requires them to learn by reading - if you can’t read, you can’t learn.

Because that is true, we need to spend as much money as possible on the early education of our public school students. That doesn’t have anything to do with the Board of Education’s efficiency. The members of the BOE are representatives of our noncontiguous state. That means our school districts are not only on the island of Oahu, so equity, parity and sharing of revenues need to be addressed in a fair manner. And while suggesting the BOE be eliminated may be good gubernatorial rhetoric, it doesn’t do anything to make the public school system more efficient.

While I’m on the subject of efficiency, let me give you a couple of suggestions to think about on your way back to your ivory tower in Washington, D.C., Mr. Assistant Secretary.

First, nothing is likely to succeed without a good plan. While you will argue that you have a good plan, it is not good for Hawaii. And remember, a poor plan well-executed is better than good plan poorly executed, which is what your U.S. Department of Education is guilty of: poor execution.

Second, and don’t take this personally, go home and leave us alone. Yes, we have to listen to your condescending babble, but it’s only because if we don’t listen you will pull federal funds from our state. Do us all a favor and go try to influence some other gubernatorial election.

Oh, and thanks for the laugh.

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