Public education needs a better educated public

I received a long email from Dave Cleveland, a colleague of Meda’s during the ten years or so that she taught at Honolulu Community College. It’s worth sharing in full.

The headline article in Monday’s Star-Advertiser reports on “going” and “remediation” rates that demonstrate the lack of preparedness of Hawaii’s public high school graduates. Reading the article, I thought of writing you in hopes of someone in the media paying greater attention to what I believe to be our greatest challenge – educating the public so we can be in a better position to build an improved future for our community.

The findings of the article were, of course, no surprise to anyone on the front lines of higher education. When Meda and I began our careers, we naively believed that the preparation of incoming students would certainly improve as inspired baby boomer era teachers entered the educational system. Our relatively young liberal arts colleagues at HCC were certainly inspired and, by and large, were dedicated to rigorous, exciting education. We, however, failed to understand the realities of public education in Hawaii and the degree to which educators and administrators could turn a blind eye to the facts of under-preparation.

Over two decades ago, I visited Miami Dade Community College System in Florida and tried to get the college and UH System to copy a strategy they were employing to cause schools and families to demand more of themselves to improve educational preparation of high school graduates. Miami Dade’s community colleges published (in newspapers) the required remediation rates of incoming students – school by school. Releasing these data provided schools, communities, and families with hard data much in the way that Demming’s total quality, continuous assessment strategies allowed Japanese auto manufacturers to surpass American and European car companies in terms of quality and reliability.

Alas, my suggestions fell on deaf ears.

Today’s newspaper reports is, finally, a step in the right direction. However, notice that only the “going” rates were published on a school by school basis – not the required remediation rates. Nor were the remediation rates separated by institutional category (UH-M, UH-H, UH-WO, and individual CCs). Overall assessment data can be valuable, but if data are to drive meaningful change, the data must be as focused as possible. The remediation rate data certainly exist – they should be released and published. Then, UH universities/colleges need to dramatically improve communication, coordination, and articulation of educational development and monitor the results on an annual basis.

One program that helps achieve this goal in many states is Running Start (or other named dual enrollment – high school/college – programs that provide college access to qualified high school students). I was intimately involved in the development of Hawaii’s Running Start Program and continued to research program outcomes until I fully retired last summer. Hawaii public school students who have participated in the program do incredibly well (better on average than our “regular” students) and give the program high marks; however, while similar programs across the country are booming, our limps along – neither the DOE or the UH has truly embraced the program.

It took years to get the DOE to permit Running Start students to expand college course selection – they insisted that eligible college courses had to “match” courses offered at high schools. Therefore, “exotic” classes like calculus and Pacific Studies were excluded from eligibility despite the fact that some Running Start students were fully prepared for them and needed them for their intended university majors.

Furthermore, the Hawaii State legislature specifically revised the enabling legislation to include vocational (career/technical) courses. Until very recently, no technical program classes were designated as Running Start eligible, and today most technical program classes remain ineligible. This despite the fact that Honolulu Community College and several sister colleges were DOE technical magnet schools that catered to high school students until their transformation to community colleges in the mid 1960’s.

As a journalist and educator of Hawaiian ancestry, I am confident that you are painfully aware of the continued low education performance of students who attend schools in predominately Hawaiian ethnic communities. A far more global approach to preparing students of ethnic minority backgrounds for the realities of the 21st century can be found in Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone Project.

With the incoming Governor’s educational background, perhaps we will finally have the long promised, but never delivered “Educational Governor” will come to the fore. By researching the options and focusing attention on the problems/potential solutions, journalists like you may be able to prime the educational pump and get us moving toward the future we all envisioned when we began our careers over four decades ago.

David Cleveland

Thomas Jefferson quotes:

“Now let us see what the present primary schools cost us, on the supposition that all the children of 10. 11. & 12. years old are, as they ought to be, at school: and, if they are not, so much the work is the system; for they will be untaught, and their ignorance & vices will, in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences, than it would have done, in their correction, by a good education.”

“If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.”[7]

8 responses to “Public education needs a better educated public

  1. This is great–a holistic approach to education is what the nation (and state) needs. Centralized, un-accountable bureaucracy seems to create severe impediments to progress.

  2. Look Beyond the Newspaper

    “The remediation rate data certainly exist – they should be released and published. ”

    They are, but the S-A did not provide the URL. More school level data, including readiness & remediation, is publicly available at:

  3. Harlem Children’s Zone may not be a good example. They spent huge amounts on publicity to form their student body. This created an awesome demand by parents to sign up, or to try to sign up.

    When one of their first classes of middle school students didn’t get good enough test scores, they kicked out the whole class. They are reported to have another class where 60 percent of 4th graders were not proficient in reading in 2010, and we’ll have to see if they kick out those students as well. There’s plenty of discussion on these schools for the googling.

    There is a correlation between income and school performance that no doubt helps explain the discrepancy between, for example, Kalani and Nanakulu HSs. There is also the question of jobs. If Hawaii had better job opportunities, its schools, as has happened elsewhere, would respond. While of course our students deserve the best education possible, the fact that their future holds only low-paying, generally menial jobs, does not bode well for improvement in education, no matter what a governor does, no matter whether the school board is appointed, elected, or chosen at random.

    I suggest we work on the jobs first, it will make fixing education much easier. Trouble is, we have no alternatives to hotel/hospitality industry jobs.

  4. Curious. The clear and liberating term: “learning” hasn’t come up at all in this discussion.

    At least Larry has the insight to call it what it is: an economic concern.

    It’d be more forthcoming yet to articulate the centralized oligarchy for which such “education performance” is sought. ‘Course then again, we’d have to look at the hierarchy and inequity that is preserved by buying into this schooling/certification scam.

    And THAT mustn’t be alluded to at all costs.

    Or am I missing something here?

  5. An educated citizenry is to all of our benefit irrespective of the economic incentive.

  6. I’d posit that the “economic incentive” that is pushing say, humanities degrees, to the tune of 10’s of thousands of dollars of debt for the ‘mark’ and his/her family is corrupt. Furthermore, the public monies paying bloated administration and profs. is a scam that sustains itself with such “educated citizenry”-rap. Lastly, you’ll notice that in the public schooling sector, the university has granted itself exclusive legitimacy to ordain teachers with credentials. This is also happening in the so called preschool level, where Johnny crapping himself is the exclusive turf of university-degreed teachers.

    So yes, I agree — a learn-ed community is the way to go. I just think it’s time to call the modern priesthood of university out for where it attempts to bugger our young people, cloaked in holy rhetoric.

  7. skeptical once again

    I thought that I’d revisit this issue of creating a college-ready public education system, because for me it does seem the central topic in so many of the recent articles in Civil Beat — although not in areas that most people would consider education related.

    Here I am thinking of local police brutality toward reporters who are recording police activities, unsafe conditions at the Juvenile Detention Home, and even football injuries among high school student athletes.

    There was once a time when cops basically wrote speeding tickets or dealt with drunken sailors or with drug dealers or burglars, and so forth — primitive stuff. It is still like that, but but their jobs have become much more complicated in the 21st century. One gets a sense of police officers trying to perform the equivalent of brain surgery with a sledge hammer, and when things don’t work out, blame the witness with the video camera. Basically, these guys need to go to college. We do need to compensate them more financially for that extra effort, but it would be worth it for everyone. As Albert Einstein said, everything has changed except the way we think.

    Anyone who works in juvenile detention ideally should have an MSW. I am guessing that a lot of them do not even have high-school diplomas, they have GEDs. I remember reading about a transgender youth who was terrified not only of the other youths in detention, but of the workers. Yeah, time to go to college for everyone before more lives are destroyed (and which only costs more for tax payers in the long run).

    Also, this emphasis on elite high school spectator sports is sick. The coaches drive Mercedes. We need to focus on participatory sports for all students, especially with this obesity epidemic. Again, everyone needs to go to college; football is just escapism for the working class that’s making a lot of rich people richer.

    Also, this high-speed broadband is an elitist fantasy. The idea that Hawaii is going to be the next Silicon Valley is also farcical. I once read an editorial by a local woman who works in Silicon Valley, and she explain that if Hawaii did become another Silicon Valley, the only people it would benefit are real estate agents in Kahala.

    Also, there was recently a review of what it takes to build a Silicon Valley (don’t ask me where I read it, I forget), and basically high tech enterprise develops around certain elite universities. But many countries and provinces have poured money into their universities to promote high tech, and to no avail. What it takes, aside from an ocean of money, is a certain unique political culture, which is very elitist and competitive, and also very capitalistic and enterprising, but also countercultural and hippyish and anarchistic. There really are very few places like that outside of the United States (certainly not in Asia) that have these powerful and contradictory impulses of elitist conservative capitalism and leftist populism. Even in the US, there are only a few places like this: Boston, Austin and northern California (notably, between Stanford and UC Berkeley). Hawaii could not be more different — in the extreme.

    Also, a big chunk of the public student body in Hawaii have no computers or Internet access at all. The politicians should be focusing on dial up access and getting cheap computers into immigrant households. These immigrant kids are just as smart as the kids at Punahou — which is where the politicians and Civil Beat and Blue Planet people send their kids! They live in a bubble of privilege, and their ideas have the whiff of fantasy.

    CB had an article recently on the exponential growth of Native Hawaiians getting college diplomas. This is what will transform Hawaii. If a high tech sector ever does emerge in Hawaii, it will have the Hawaiian Studies department to thank, the way UC Berkeley should be thanked for Silicon Valley’s existence.

  8. skeptical once again

    I just want to say that I am not opposed to the broadband initiative. It’s actually one of the more reasonable of the big projects we’ve been hit with in the past few years.

    Moreover, each new project eclipses the previous one in terms of glamour and high tech sophistication.

    Each of these succeeding projects — the 20-mile elevated train, the Big Wind, the broadband project — is less clunky and Soviet-style and more virtual than the previous project.

    The train is 19th-century technology, the Big Wind is a 20th-century project, and the broadband project is 21st-century science.

    The projects are also becoming continuously cheaper.

    And the pool of beneficiaries of the project — people on the west side of Oahu, all of Oahu, all of Hawaii, respectively — is broadening dramatically.

    I think Neil Abercrombie just inadvertently drove a nail into the coffin of the Big Wind and drove (another) stake into the heart of the rail project.

    To paraphrase what has been said of Ryan Ozawa’s HawaiiBlog, the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project is oh-so 2005.

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