Isle students deserve rigid curriculum
WHAT DO all major business CEOs have in common?
They're all rich?
No ... they all have large vocabularies.
Indeed, knowing thousands of words and concepts will help anyone seeking high-paying employment in today's information-age economy.
Such increased word-skill knowledge is the fundamental idea behind a standardized curriculum bill working its way through the Legislature this session.
Hawaii's parents, educators, students and employers should take heart. Sen. Norman Sakamoto and Rep. Roy Takumi, chairmen of the education committees, are reviewing proposals for a standardized grade-by-grade curriculum for Hawaii schools.
Most of us have been surprised to learn that Hawaii public schools don't have a curriculum. We've learned that most states don't have one, for that matter. That's why Hawaii's curriculum effort is pioneering, in some respects.
SO WHY are the auto dealers I work for so interested in this effort?
Four years ago, a Hawaii auto dealer's claims for warranty repair reimbursement payments were rejected by the Detroit manufacturer because the written claims submitted by the dealership's auto techs were "not clear." The dealer asked if, together, the Department of Education, the Board of Education, the Legislature, auto dealers and national experts could help in crafting a solution to the need for clear writing and verbal communication skills through the creation of a research-based language arts/core content curriculum.
The auto dealers' trade association proposed specific guidelines for the development of such a rigorous curriculum to accomplish this goal and enlisted the assistance of national experts for the project.
SPECIFICITY is key to the success of such a curriculum. Right now, the lack of such specificity has led to what is known as the "curriculum void," a widespread phenomenon throughout state public education systems.
A personal story illustrates this. While in a public school in Hawaii, our youngest son was assigned a book report on the same book (John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men") in three successive grades -- seventh, eighth and ninth. Without a grade-by-grade specific core curriculum, teachers are unaware of material assigned previously.
E.D. Hirsch Jr., a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, used a sound methodology to answer this question: What should every American know?
Hirsch asked more than 100 educators from around the country to prepare a list of the people, places, things and concepts each American should know. The educators submitted extensive lists. Some contained 8,000 specific listings, others 13,000, and so on. With the help of a computer, Hirsch combined all the lists and came up with around 5,000 common words, phrases and concepts. Elementary school principal Connie Jones and her staff in Fort Meyers, Fla., used this research to create a rudimentary grade-by-grade "core knowledge" curriculum.
Jones came to Hawaii in 1996 to present this material at a meeting of educators, media and business representatives. Bank of Hawaii provided the board room for the meeting. Years earlier, a DOE official, Kellet Min, had visited Fort Meyers and learned of the teachers' efforts there.
The Core Knowledge grade-by-grade curriculum was adopted here in Hawaii in 1998 by teachers at Solomon Elementary and a year later by Kauluwela Elementary. By 2002, these two were the only schools in the list of 100 high-poverty schools that had achieved annual progress goals four years in a row.
The success of rigorous core content curriculum in Hawaii had been shown in the performance of the students in these two diverse elementary schools.
But something was missing from this early effort. Educators soon realized that a reading skill component needed to be added. Young students were faced with too much information to absorb since their fundamental reading skills lacked development.
READ-ALOUD components of the formula for success needed to be added. The curriculum materials needed to be developed, including textbooks, teacher guides and lesson plans. These are proposed in Senate Bill 2497, which has been deferred.
Business leaders, including auto dealers, hope that the standardized curriculum bill that is moving now, SB 3059, or a similar bill in the House can incorporate some of the specifics and methodology suggested in SB 2497. The curriculum development ideas therein are sound, well tested and have shown success.
That's why, auto dealers, for practical reasons, urged use of the material already developed by the Core Knowledge research. Hawaii educators and curriculum development specialists can build on this foundation to create a curriculum for Hawaii.
Auto dealers believe that if such a rigorous curriculum can be developed and implemented, Hawaii student performance rankings will move from their current position to among the top in the nation in 72 months.
A good education is fundamentally about developing the ability to use thousands of words and concepts. A standardized curriculum will certainly help.
David H. Rolf is executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.