C A Y E T A N O - O N - E D U C A T I O N


By Christine Donnelly

The governor wants education revamped:
'Make it more relevant, more
connected to the real world.'

Gov. Ben Cayetano contends that making Hawaii's public schools "more relevant, more connected to the real world" requires not so much a cash infusion as it does a whole new way of thinking about education.

"Just in terms of the structure of public education, in my opinion, it is obsolete, outdated and doesn't work," Cayetano said in an exclusive interview with the Star-Bulletin.

Students are accommodated, rather than challenged, he says, contending that "much of the alienation in our schools is caused by the lack of relevance of the curriculum."

For example, high schools focus mainly on college prep when a large percentage of graduates will never go to college. The Department of Education could divert existing resources to upgrade vocational, technical and computer programs, he said. "That's not beyond the realm of our finances . . . if in other areas we find we become more efficient."

Connecting classes to the real world is crucial if students are going to graduate with cutting-edge knowledge and skills. "So when kids at Farrington go to auto mechanics they don't walk out of there having to do it all over again at Kapiolani Community College because what they were learning is already obsolete," Cayetano said.

DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said the department is already creating school-to-work programs, such as the honored Health Academy at Farrington High School. But "such opportunities should be available statewide, not just in certain pockets. That takes money," Knudsen said.

June Motokawa, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the union also supports more "tech-prep" as long as it is the student's choice to take those classes.

"We definitely oppose any kind of tracking of our students," she said.

And while the union agrees that some improvements can be made without new money "others really do depend on dollars, especially class size," Motokawa said. Teachers spend thousands of dollars a year of their own money for supplies to motivate students. "We think teachers are really good people and they make a bad system work," Motokawa said.

Despite the state budget crisis, Cayetano has kept his campaign promise to make lower education his top priority, cutting other state agencies far more than the Department of Education. However, the impact of his $20.7 million restriction on the DOE for 1995-96 was worsened by the fact that there are more children to teach. Total enrollment is now 186,749 and growing by about 3,500 students a year, among the fastest growth rate in the nation.

The DOE's operating budget is $694.2 million. Education spending rises to $1.1 billion when all federal, state and special funding is counted. Several people interviewed for this article, including union officials and DOE employees, praised Cayetano's commitment to lower education, especially in the face of the state's overall $165 million budget shortfall.

"If any one person needs to be targeted from our teachers' perspective, it's not the governor, it's more a sense of frustration with the superintendent and the Board of Education," said the HSTA's Motokawa.

(Schools Superintendent Herman Aizawa has come under increasing criticism lately for priming teachers and principals for potentially deep cuts in classroom spending next year. The board, in turn, has been criticized for not reining him in. "The talk is that the tail is wagging the dog," Motokawa said.)

Here is what the governor had to say on other education issues:

- He supports a pending bill that lowers the dropout age from 18 to 16, as long as alternative programs are provided. The bill, which the DOE supports but Honolulu police have testified against, is aimed at unruly students. "For a variety of reasons, schools, teachers are unable to impose discipline the way they did when I was in school."

- He still believes 30 percent of the state's operating budget should be mandated for lower education, as the state task force on education he chaired four years ago recommended. Such a mandate would require a constitutional amendment. "I think (that) is very important symbolically but we have not even entertained the idea this session because there is no support for it in the Legislature, especially at a time like this."

- He supports having teachers unionized but "the union's got to understand that this is a day and age when it no longer should protect the mediocre." In response, HSTA president June Motokawa notes that the union pushed for the creation of a teachers' standards board and had tentatively agreed with the Board of Education to allow teacher merit raises.

- He says teachers who speak pidgin in class do the kids no favor, noting that textbooks are written in standard English and employers want workers who speak it well. Although he spoke pidgin as a boy in Kalihi "I had local teachers . . . who refused to speak pidgin . . . so that we would learn to speak proper English. So to surrender to these kind of pressures by educators is something that I think has to be avoided."

- Of Aizawa, an ex-officio member of his Cabinet who answers directly to the elected Board of Education, he says: "Frankly, I don't always agree with Herman . . . (but) I think we need to give him more time" to do his job. Aizawa has been in the job since spring '94.

Related Story:

Governor Reminiscent On School

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