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To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, January 15, 2000

DOE standards
need more work

STANDARDS-based education reform has been the mantra of state Superintendent of Schools Paul LeMahieu since he took up the reins at the Department of Education. Anyone within earshot has heard him insist that standards and accountability are the twin paths to educational respectability.

Last August, to support this strategy, the school board passed Hawaii Content and Performance Standards II, a revised set of guidelines.

Now, LeMahieu has sent the Legislature his $31.2 million budget -- which includes $3.7 million to develop standards-based testing. It arrived with assurances that students and teachers will be held accountable. That's great, assuming the standards are good. If not, there could be problems.

Imagine a standard for farmers that just said, "You will grow a lot of food." Should we be surprised if we end up with no carrots or a huge corn surplus? In other words, specific, measurable standards are vitally important.

Luckily, there are national organizations that evaluate education standards. In the last week or so, two have issued report cards ranking the quality of each state's efforts to set education expectations.

Unluckily, Hawaii's newly revised standards fall miserably short. Education Week's Quality Counts program gave them a D-plus and the Thomas Fordham Foundation a D-minus. The Fordham study lumped Hawaii among "an astounding 21 states (that) cannot honestly claim to be serious about standards-based reform. Their academic standards -- at least in most subjects -- are vague, vapid and misleading." The study labeled these states "irresponsible."

A DOE spokesman pooh-poohed the Fordham report, but the concurrence by Quality Counts is sobering. Holding schools firmly accountable to inferior standards could be worse than ignoring standards entirely.

We're told Hawaii's standards are a work in progress. Meanwhile, critics say they "tend to be vague, undemanding and unmeasurable." Building an expensive testing structure on shifty foundations could be wasteful, if not downright harmful.

A few states have excellent standards. Can't we emulate them?

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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