(Released on 12/19/10)
Last week we looked at some measures the new administration might want to consider to improve the business climate in Hawaii and reduce the burden on taxpayers and consumers who continue to struggle to make ends meet. But finances and taxes are not the only things that need fixing.
While there may be unanimous agreement that Hawaii’s educational system needs fixing, there doesn’t seem to be a clear vision of what that “fix” should look like. As an awardee in the federal “Race to the Top,” it appears that emphasis is being shifted back to designing an educational system that will insure a high rate of success in producing four-year college material. While future workforce development will recognize the need for a well-educated workforce, policymakers, both in the legislature as well as on the board of education, must recognize that not all students are college material. They should also recognize that many students in school today are “turned-off” by the traditional textbook approach to education. Bored and disengaged, many of these students drop out of school because there is nothing in the classroom that they find interesting. Many want to know how some formula or some historical fact will benefit them personally and, if not, then learning out of a textbook becomes irrelevant. This is the “instant gratification” that kids have come to expect out of their iPhones or Droids.
Thus, while we would like to believe that all students should get a four-year college education, many will not be interested at this time in their lives. What it comes down to is do we want to lose these students as they drop out of school or do we want to empower them with skills that can make them self-sufficient? The department of education already is running a program called Career Technical Education, or CTE, which attempts to engage students by providing hands-on learning that will guide them to a career pathway, giving students the skills to enter a particular career that may or may not need a four-year college education. The program, which is partially subsidized by a federal grant, allows students to recognize how their learning of the various skills of the curriculum will reward them. Classes that they are offered at the secondary school level are duplicates of those that are offered in the University’s community college system and if they pass the rigors of the course, they are awarded credits for that course should they go on to a community college for an associate degree in that career pathway.
The administration and the board of education need to recognize this program as a key component of the overall offering of educational alternatives available to students in secondary education. If one realizes that the alternative is that students will drop out and never get a high school diploma, then CTE, which awards the student both a high school diploma and a certificate that he or she has successfully completed a career pathway, is far more cost effective than dealing with a drop out.
In another area, the board of education has attempted to deal with their budget shortfall by recognizing shrinking populations at various schools by recommending consolidation when there is more than one school in a geographic area with declining enrollment so that the fixed costs of opening a school’s doors can be reduced. Unfortunately, passion over takes common sense as students and families protest the closing, citing the benefits of smaller classroom size or sentimental attachment to a certain school. What those protesting parents don’t realize is that the overhead cost of janitorial services, administrative officials as well as utilities could instead be redirected to the classroom where those dollars would directly benefit the students. Perhaps those protesting parents should be offered the alternative of paying fees that would cover the cost savings that would have been realized from consolidating schools. If parents and students want their schools to remain open, then they should be willing to pay the cost to keep those schools open. It may not be popular, but that is the alternative.
Finally, for those school facilities that have been vacated because of consolidation, they should be looked upon as assets to address other problems such as shelters for the homeless or as sites for future affordable rental housing. In any case, they should not be viewed as liabilities but assets that hold potential to address other problems facing our community.