Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Hawaii must insist
on better education

The issue: President Bush signs
an education bill as Hawaii gets
a negative report card.

Just as President Bush has signed into law a bill intended to reform American education, Hawaii has received yet another report card that underscores the dismal condition of education in this state.

In the past, there has been an unfortunate tendency here to brush off bad report cards as the work of uninformed mainlanders who just don't understand island ways. Or educators twist and turn looking for excuses for why things are so bleak and assert that they will get better tomorrow. Consequently, little has changed and the same tired pleas will be trotted out the next time Hawaii gets poor marks.

This reluctance to confront reality is pervasive in the educational administration, the public schools and teachers, the students and their parents, and does not serve the children or society of Hawaii well. With the state Legislature due to open and the political season about to begin, it would be salutary for the citizens of Hawaii to demand that their elected leaders do some leading on education.

"As of this hour," Bush proclaimed as he signed the bill at a public school in Ohio, "America's schools will be on a new path of reform." The new law requires annual tests in reading and math for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in 2005. Within 12 years, schools must make sure that 100 percent of their students are proficient in reading and math.

The grades of students in Hawaii in the report card from Education Week, a reputable publication, show just how far they must go. Among eighth-graders, only 19 percent were found to be proficient in reading and 15 percent in writing. Only 16 percent were proficient in math and 15 percent in science. Fully 60 percent were found to be below basic levels in science and 49 percent in math.

Altogether, public schools in Hawaii fell far below national averages and were tied with those in Minnesota and Wyoming as fourth from the bottom in standards and accountability, with a grade of D-. In funding, Hawaii was graded B-, which means the state is spending reasonably on education but is a long way from getting the taxpayer's money's worth.

Even though Gov. Cayetano's forthcoming "state of the state" address will be his last, he could provide a new sense of direction in education. Then the voters should press every candidate next fall to specify what he or she intends to do about education if elected. In the end, the voters will decide whether we climb out of this quagmire or sink further into it.

Use driver’s licenses
as national ID cards

The issue: State motor vehicle
officials propose that driver's
licenses contain more information.

THE bar code on the front of your Hawaii driver's license contains nothing but the printed material beside it, but it could include much more. A move is afoot to turn state driver's licenses into national identification cards, providing information needed to assure security in aviation and wherever required.

Such a system would be preferable to airlines collecting -- and perhaps selling -- the same information. The airlines already are building such a database. International Consultants for Targeted Security, an Israeli company based in Holland, has begun a trial program for Delta Airlines at London's Gatwick airport, and Virgin Airlines plans a similar program later this month. Passengers will voluntarily provide detailed information about themselves so they can be included in an "approved" list and skip most security checks.

If the trial program is successful, it is likely to be used widely. ICTS provides services for 100 airlines, including large U.S. airlines, at 50 airports in 12 European countries. It is the same company that turned away Richard Reid from the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, a day before French police gave Reid a clean slate for a flight to Miami, during which he was overpowered by passengers while trying to light his explosive shoes.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents state authorities that issue driver's licenses, is proposing unified standards that would provide personal information. Bar codes, biometrics -- identifying people based on physical characteristics, such as fingerprints -- and linked databases to be shared by law enforcement agencies, including federalized airport screeners, would include minimal standards for proving residency, legal status and identity.

Critics warn that such a system would discriminate against poor people, because they are less likely to drive, but state identification cards could contain the same information. Some civil liberties advocates say it also would be unfair to illegal immigrants, who may fear applying for such an ID. Frankly, that is an attribute.

The most valid concern is that state agencies may not be up to the task. For that reason, federal control is necessary. "The head of my department of motor vehicles is not the person who I would want to address the need or implications of a national identification card system," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. "If there was ever an issue that was designed for the national legislature, it is this issue."

State driver's licenses already serve as identification cards in banking, renting apartments or boarding airplanes. They could be of greater use if they contained information helpful to law enforcement agencies.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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