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Sunday, March 27, 2005
A curriculum fix
Hawaii's auto dealers believe that one of the strongest aspects of the proposal for education reform described in the essay below is that it has us all working together -- the state and federal government, education professionals, parents, business interests, students and many national experts -- to create a revolutionary, curriculum-focused education bill. This commentary is signed by each member of the Board of Directors of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association. As business leaders, it has been a privilege for us to serve as synthesizers of this effort.
Realizing that Hawaii's current need for highly skilled workers is so great, Hawaii's franchised new car dealers decided to look under the hood and see if there was anything we could do to help the school system.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the testing concept was broken. There was a disconnect between the Hawaii State Assessment test and the material taught. We realized that the fault didn't lie with the state's many dedicated teachers or, for that matter, the state's test-makers; there just wasn't a common core academic curriculum in place. Teachers had been saying this for years.
Also, the penalty to Hawaii schools for not meeting their annual progress goals eventually would be the loss of federal funds provided under the No Child Left Behind Act.
We received much valuable insight on curriculum issues from talking to the top teachers who had received free cars (to use for a year) in the State Teacher of the Year and the District Teachers of the Year (7 Cars for 7 Teachers) program, a program that was initiated by the Hawaii Volkswagen Dealers and expanded to by the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association (HADA) in conjunction with many other dealers, auto manufacturers, distributors and local dealer associations, along with ticket sale revenues received from the First Hawaiian International Auto Show.
Our franchised new car dealer association then worked with Hawaii Department of Education officials and several national reading and curriculum experts to create a 5,000-word Wall of Words display for the auto show, which has been erected each of these past four years and seen by thousands in the general public. The idea behind the Wall of Words was to put public discussion of academic curriculum up on the table. And the idea worked.
This year, state Sen. Ron Menor phoned the HADA office and inquired as to why car dealers each year had erected the giant wall at the auto show containing thousands of words and concepts like Hammurabi's Code, Boyle's Law, median, mode, range, Pythagorean Theorem and so on.
The wall held some 5,000 words and concepts, and those words represented a rigorous academic curriculum showing what a student should know. The wall was developed after consultations with officials at the Department of Education and by borrowing from the research done by national best-selling author E.D. Hirsch Jr., a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know."
Hirsch wrote that a student's reading score in second grade currently predicts on average that student's score in grade 11, and that reading score predicts a student's whole economic future.
Ensuing discussions with Menor led to involvement by Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto, and eventually to the addition of multiple sponsors to the Senate bill and also introduction on the House side by Speaker Calvin Say, who all teamed with auto dealers, with input from the DOE, to advance a revolutionary bill submitted in this year's legislative session.
What does the bill do?
It proposes development of a reading/language arts curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade that teaches students to read and to understand what they read. The bill's language was created with the help of the some the nation's leading education experts, as well as Hirsch.
The original language of the bill draft called for funding of a language arts/core content curriculum with content specificity outlined grade by grade. This would help eliminate unnecessary instructional duplication. The bill's original language also called for development of read-aloud sessions to give students an audio encounter with new vocabulary and in the process provide domains of background knowledge to allow thinking skills to develop more rapidly.
Some of the specific language was dropped as the bill moved through the Legislature, but hope remains that the spirit of that original language will prevail when the request for curriculum development is sent out for bid.
The bill still faces quite a few hurdles, though, for students and teachers to start enjoying these enriched curriculum materials along with accompanying instructional materials and textbooks, all of which would be provided for principals to use at each school's option.
The first hurdle, of course, is funding. The proposal calls for $1 million from state funds this year, to be combined with a requested $5 million in federal dollars, and an additional $1 million from a co-sponsoring state. Arizona has been mentioned as a possible partner. Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is submitting the request this year for the federal funding. The money will go toward developing this research-based core curriculum. It involves the development of 2,100 read-aloud sessions, which would provide students with much-needed audio encounters with new words and word-use in the context of riveting storytelling.
It's a precedent-setting concept and ideal for Hawaii.
The second hurdle is hearings. The measure cleared the state Senate Education Committee, in amended form, and was later incorporated into House Bill 841, which will need continued prioritization to clear all committees and have funding attached. This critical momentum is needed to keep national experts on board with the Hawaii effort and to ensure that the request for federal funding is not jeopardized.
Hawaii schools now average 43 percent proficient in reading. For schools to reach their 58 percent proficient goal by 2010, to meet No Child Left Behind requirements and workforce needs, schools will have to accelerate by 3 percentage points a year -- an increase rate that is 300 percent more than the current increase rate.
Auto dealers, national experts and many around the state have seen the research indicating that this rigorous curriculum would do the job. While many things need to be addressed for a complete education tune-up, hooking up the battery cable -- using a sequenced language arts/core curriculum like the one incorporated for funding in House Bill 841 SD1 -- is the natural place to start.
Academic curriculum features
Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association
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