Hawaii marches backward on education reform

Hawaii’s public schools ranked 47 in the nation in eighth grade reading and math in the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores.
Hawaii’s teachers apparently want to make their state dead last. They voted last week to give themselves 17 additional days off — they called them furlough Fridays — which will give Hawaii’s children 163 days of instructional time, the shortest school year in the nation.
Why would 81 percent of the island state’s professional educators vote to do a destructive thing like that?
Well, Hawaii, like the other states in the union, is suffering a budget crunch. It is the only state in the 50 with only one school district, so the state is the school district and every nickel the schools spend comes from the state general fund. To balance the budget, Gov. Linda Lingle withheld $227 million from the amount slated for teacher salaries. Teachers reacted by agreeing to accept an 8 percent reduction in salaries, but also demanded to work 17 fewer days — meaning that Hawaii’s kids, and their parents (who must buy 17 more days of child care), will bear the burden of the budget cut.
This comes at a time when American students test lower for general knowledge and academic skills such as reading and mathematics than their cohorts in other countries, a fact that predicts poorer performance in the workplace.
Educators concerned with U.S. comparative student performance advocate longer school days and longer school years to bring American students up to rich world standards — or, to be more accurate, to the performance levels of students in Japan, South Korea and much of Europe, the nations with which we compete in the world marketplace.

ONE WOULD HOPE that educators in Hawaii were fully aware of these national goals — and the needs of their students — and acted as they did to wake up their state government and the people of the islands. But even if their only motive was myopic selfishness, their action should set off a firestorm of protest and their decision should be reversed.
What Hawaii’s public schools need is 200-day school years and seven hours a day of classes. So do schools in the other 49 states. Will that cost more? Sure. So states should raise more money to pay for the education upcoming generations need to keep themselves and this country of ours able to meet the challenge of this information age.
Hawaii’s teachers’ union grabbed the education banner and marched resolutely backwards. Their scandalous decision should startle the other NEAs into genuine reform.

—Emerson Lynn, jr.