Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

February 14, 2005

Education: Let’s get with the fundamentals

Eight years ago I complained in this column (6/15/97) that Hawaii public education had sunk so low that the combined scores for reading and math of our students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores was higher than only three other states, Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana.

Since that time we have had “commitments to excellence in education,” we are told that that the “Department of Education is committed to teaching the fundamentals” and also that the DOE priority is “ensuring our students' academic achievement.”

To bolster these commitments the BOE/DOE has turned out one press release after another talking about the improvements our students are making. Just in the last 12 months we have been told:

·        That over 60 percent of our schools were on the SAT honor roll for having exceeded national averages.[1]

·        That Hawaii's ACT scores (formerly The American College Testing Program) exceeded national averages.[2]

·        That for the Hawaii State Assessment, more students were reaching proficiency. We were told that “a number of students are in the category "approaches proficiency," with 51.5% to 56.2% on the cusp of being proficient in math, and 37.8% to 47.6% nearing proficiency in reading.”[3]  

Given all the above, it is somewhat surprising the read the latest NAEP scores. We find that Hawaii still only scores higher than three other states.

What’s going on here?

First, we should understand that NAEP is federally funded and its federally appointed “26-member Board is composed of state, local, and federal officials, educators, business representatives, and members of the general public.” This federal program “is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various academic subjects.” And for many years a Hawaii DOE official was on its board.

Second, we should note that the statements emanating from the DOE/BOE don’t jibe with the NAEP. For example, the DOE/BOE talks about the Hawaii State Assessment showing that some 50 percent of our students are “on the cusp” of being proficient in math. The NAEP says that just 17 percent are proficient. The DOE/BOE talks about some 40 percent “nearing proficiency in reading.” The NAEP says it is 22 percent.[4]

As for the ACT scores exceeding national averages, a more careful study of the data shows that is for Hawaii public and private schools combined, and that less than 3,000 students out of over 200,000 statewide took the test — by a disproportionate number of private schoolers, one can assume.

Elected officials should require that some one with integrity, like the State Auditor, check the veracity of DOE/BOE press releases before they are issued. Allowing the DOE/DOE to take our tax money and then use it to pull the wool over our eyes is outrageous.

The same goes for the kind of op/ed from the DOE bureaucrat published recently (2/6) in this newspaper. [5]

The gist of this op/ed was that Hawaii schools must do more than just teach the three R’s but “focus more of their energies on developing good citizens.” And the rest of the op/ed goes on in the same vein saying, for example, that “learning how to be a productive worker is not divorced from learning how to be a good citizen.” This ignores the fact that many productive workers (and business people and elected officials) are not only not good citizens, but scumbags to boot.

This kind of philosophizing also ignores the fact only one in five public school students are proficient in reading or math. One would think from reading this op/ed that our students were already overwhelmingly proficient and so we could get on with higher matters. But Hawaii students cannot read properly. If you cannot read properly, you cannot study math, science or any other subject properly. And ignorance is the greatest impediment to good citizenship.

Learning starts with being an able reader. In the hierarchy of educational needs, reading is first, second and third.

Instead this DOE bureaucrat suffers on with “What does it mean to be engaged in the life of the community?” and “What does a fully functioning and active community member look like?”

Good God, first teach our kids to read.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater


[1]http://www.hcps.k12.hi.us/STATE/COMM/DOEPRESS.NSF for all DOE press releases.

10/1/2004 DOE Press Release.

[2]August 18, 2004. Hawaii's ACT Scores. DOE press release.