Hawaii keiki will suffer if we handicap them


POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

It is good news that Gov. Linda Lingle will tap the rainy day fund to restore teacher furlough days. However, this crisis has brought a more serious issue to light.

Imagine that you are in a 12-lap marathon. As the race begins, an official comes and moves your starting block eight yards behind the other Americans. You realize you cannot place in this event, but you aim to finish well.

At the end of lap one, the official moves you eight more yards back—and this continues lap after lap. After three or four laps, even finishing the race becomes an issue.

This is the race Hawaii's children are running.

At work, could any of us compete if we had 170 days to master an essential new skill while the others in our office had 180 days to do well?

Imagine structural engineers or pilots missing essential skills or just grasping information vaguely in each year of their training. Would we want to live in their buildings, or fly in their planes?

This is the future we have created for our children in Hawaii. A child who is not reading well by the end of second grade is handicapped all her life. A student who doesn't master fractions in third grade cannot be a carpenter or a computer scientist. Students who gloss over algebra in seventh or eighth grade will be excluded from half the jobs available in the 21st century because we are a math-based world.

Children don't learn faster just because we want to teach them faster. They need time to practice and develop the skills they have to master. We build on early learning and each skill is the foundation for the next more complex learning challenge.

For more than a century, Hawaii has sacrificed to educate its children: Kodomo no tame ni (”;for the sake of the children”;) used to be the byword.

Let's return to that commitment and separate the length and quality of education from the wage and benefits bargaining process.

Let's empower educators to set a healthy school year 180-190 days and support our keiki by finding the resources to compensate their teachers for building a strong educational foundation.

That foundation is the one we will depend on a decade from now.

Caroline Ward Oda, of Aina Haina, is the former head of school of St. Andrew's Priory.