Saturday, March 6, 1999

Hawaii’s poor showing
on school reading test

HAWAII'S new superintendent of schools, Paul LeMahieu, got a sobering perspective on the challenge he faces with the report that Hawaii students finished last among 39 states participating in an assessment of the reading ability of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students.

Info Box Because reading is crucial to learning, the results are particularly discouraging. The Department of Education has focused in recent years on improving reading performance.

But as Selvin Chin-Chance, the DOE's test development specialist observed, its programs "appear not to have been as successful as we thought." Chin-Chance pointed out that Louisiana, California and Mississippi, which in previous tests had scored lower than Hawaii, showed gains in the latest results. He said Hawaii should study what those states have done to make improvements. Karen Knudsen, the Board of Education's vice chairwoman, added that "while we have placed so much effort and emphasis on literacy," the board is not seeing progress.

Addressing the problem before the Board of Education, LeMahieu pointed out states that invested in academic standards and assessment made significant gains in the national test. He wants Hawaii to do the same. Ken Nelson, executive director of the National Education Goals Panel in Washington, D.C., said Hawaii is on the right track with LeMahieu's efforts to refine standards and develop a system of assessment and accountability.

It's difficult to cope with the challenge when the economy remains weak and money is scarce in state government. But every knowledgeable person recognizes that excellence in education is essential to Hawaii's future. It's not just about money, but money is unavoidably a factor in improving the schools. The Legislature has the difficult task of finding the money the schools need.

Hawaii SAT Scores Database


Verdict in skiers case

THE acquittal of a Marine aviator by a court martial in the deaths of 20 skiers in the Italian Alps heightens the strain in U.S.-Italian relations caused by the disaster itself. The Italian government had demanded that Capt. Richard Ashby, the pilot of the plane that severed two cable-car wires and sent the skiers plunging to their deaths in February 1998, and his crew be tried in Italian courts. Victims' relatives were stunned by the acquittal. Italian Premier Massimo D'Alema, visiting Washington, said he was "personally shocked" by the verdict.

Ashby could have been sentenced to as much as 200 years in prison had he been convicted on all charges -- 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of negligence and one of dereliction of duty. The case had become a cause celebre in Italy. Many Italians viewed the acquittal as a miscarriage of justice, a case of the American military protecting its own.

However, the evidence presented in the trial in Camp LeJeune, N.C., suggests that the fault lay elsewhere. Prosecutors admitted that the cable-car line was not on the maps given to Ashby and his crew. Defense attorneys argued that Ashby would not have flown so low if he had known about the ski gondola.

A case such as this, with international ramifications, may put pressure on the members of the court martial to hand down a conviction in order to appease an ally. The challenge is to resist such pressure -- as well as the temptation to protect a fellow officer -- and arrive at a just verdict. Despite all the criticism, it appears that the judges succeeded.

That doesn't mean the United States is washing its hands in the case. Shortly after the disaster, Defense Secretary William Cohen authorized a discretionary payment of $5,000 to each victim's family to cover immediate transportation and burial expenses. The U.S. government has reimbursed Italy for the $60,000 it paid to the survivors of each victim.

Half of the 20 victims' estates have filed wrongful death claims with the Italian ministry of defense, and all 20 families have hired attorneys, with intentions of filing claims. The State Department says the United States will continue to work closely with Italian officials to ensure the claims are handled expeditiously. Washington has a responsibility to deal with these claims.


Saving the redwoods

THE cause of environmental protection has won a big victory with the sealing of a deal to save California's Headwaters Forest. It was the culmination of a 12-year campaign to preserve the last large stands of privately owned ancient redwood trees in the world.

The controversy began in 1986 with the purchase of the Pacific Lumber Co. by Houston-based Maxxam Inc. Its president, Charles Hurwitz, announced plans to triple the rate of logging in the forest, which is in Humboldt County in Northern California. That triggered years of protests.

The agreement will preserve 10,000 acres of giant redwoods, some as old as 2,000 years. It sets guidelines for protecting water quality and wildlife habitat on 200,000 acres of surrounding forest that will continue to be owned by Pacific Lumber. The forest is the habitat of several dwindling species of wildlife.

Negotiations were about to collapse with the arrival of a deadline for withdrawal of the federal share of the $480 million purchase price.

But government officials, at the last minute, substantially raised their estimates of the amount of timber that the company would be allowed to cut, making the accord possible.

Some environmentalists asked whether the government had caved in to pressure, but others hailed the pact and officials insisted the terms had not been relaxed.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called the deal "one of the great achievements of our time."

Not all environmental protests have merit. This one certainly did. If the redwoods aren't worth saving, what is?

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin