Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater

July 10, 1996


Only parents can fix schools


A Letter to Parents:

We are presently experiencing what is being called the second Industrial Revolution. The primary forces driving it are the declining costs of both information technologies and  transportation. In turn these have resulted in the liberation of many third-world countries' economies and the improvement of their education systems.

The winners in the U.S. during this transformation will be those we have successfully educated while the uneducated and unskilled will be left behind.

Already, workers in low-cost English-speaking countries perform clerical work electronically for U.S. companies. Hawaii's hotel reservation systems now operate outside Hawaii in places that have no physical relationship to the hotels themselves. It is likely that all routine clerical work in the U.S. will eventually be computerized or exported.

Low cost information transmission means that many of Hawaii's uneducated and unskilled will no longer have the protection of the Pacific Ocean and U.S. borders to keep competitors for their jobs at bay. Jobs that are capable of being performed at lower cost places elsewhere, will be.

In addition, ocean and air transportation costs have dropped considerably and this, together with the information revolution, means agricultural produce and manufactured goods can be shipped less expensively. Due to these factors, Hawaii's manufacturing has declined markedly over the last twenty years as have our primary agricultural products, sugar and pineapple.

In addition, technology is replacing many lower skilled jobs. Gas station attendants are being replaced by automatic pumps, answering services by pagers, and bank tellers by ATM machines.

On the other hand, well-educated and/or skilled people are in demand. This is true not only for scientists and technicians but for anyone capable of integrating the vast amounts of information now available into their own base of knowledge. The demand is worldwide.

The net result of all this will be a continuing divergence in earnings between the educated and skilled and the uneducated and unskilled. Earnings will continue to become even more unequal as more countries overtake our educational standards.

Thus, to assure your children a decent standard of living in the future you must insist they have the finest education and training you can provide. This is no longer merely important; it is absolutely critical to their future standard of living.

You must start with an overhaul of our elementary and secondary education. I say you because only parents have the concern and the urgency to force an end to schools that are what Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman describes as, "... simply private fiefs primarily of the administrators and the union officials."

It is not a question of funding. Think of it this way: In the times of the little red school house when educational standards were higher than they are today, the school teacher and books were 100% of the operating costs. Today these two items are only one-third of the costs. Are you, as parents and taxpayers, getting your money's worth for the other two-thirds? If not, what are you going to do about it?

With you (parents) in control you will get much more for your school dollar. People usually send their children to private schools if they can afford it—especially public school teachers. The tragedy is that the cost of educating a child at Punahou or Iolani, for example, is no more than that of the average public school. All our schools could be of the same caliber at no additional cost.

Parents, with the help of teachers (not teachers' union officials), will have to take over either through magnet schools, true SCBM, or even school vouchers.

Tough, resolute parents are the only ones who can effect the changes needed. Faced with such prospective change bureaucrats and union officials will react like cornered rats. Elected officials do not like to get in that kind of fight. That is why change will only come when parents are angry enough to do something about it.