Grades need to be
deciphered for value


A think tank has given Hawaii a failing grade for math education; another group has noted improvements with higher ratings.

HAWAII'S public education standards are either deficient or respectable, depending on which of two reports released this week is deemed trustworthy. To untangle any confusion, parents and others concerned should consider the basis for the contradictory assessments.

A report by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation slaps the state's math education standards with an F because the think tank doesn't like the method of teaching used in Hawaii public schools.

The group is opposed to standards modeled after recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which have been embraced by a majority of education systems in the nation. As a result, the foundation gave only six states good grades.

How much weight should be given to the report might be better determined if viewed with other data. For example, the foundation gave California an A, but in a recognized national test, Hawaii students scored equally well with those in that state, while two states that also received bad grades posted the highest scores in the same test.

Hawaii did better in an evaluation by Education Week that was funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust. That report gave public schools a B+ for standards and accountability this year, showing steady improvement from a C+ in 2004 and a D+ the year before.

However, the publication's report issued a lukewarm grade of C -- unchanged from last year -- for "school climate," which looks at learning environments. The unimpressive rating reflects the stubborn problem schools have had with involving parents in education.

The state's new education reform policies recognize the need to connect schools and parents, earmarking funds to set up networks and school councils.

While receiving increased attention, reports and studies on educational programs aren't all equal. What parents and educators need most to be concerned about are how individual students are faring.


Pentagon takes care
in sex assault cases


The Defense Department has announced a new strategy to deal with sexual assault complaints on military bases.

FOLLOWING through on an Air Force report last fall, the Pentagon is taking steps toward dealing effectively with sexual assaults on military bases. The most important element of the strategy is to provide confidentiality to victims in the early stages of investigations. A sexual assault response coordinator will be posted at every American military base.

"Under the old system, the only person in our department you could turn to on a confidential basis was the chaplain," said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. The new system will allow victims of sexual assault to go to the sexual assault response coordinator without the victim's commander being made aware of the identity of the complainant or the alleged assailant.

An assessment of the problem in the Pacific Air Forces found that at least 92 complaints of sexual assault, including 11 at Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base, were made from 2001 to 2003. Many other assaults might have been committed but gone unreported because of what the Air Force report described as "stigma, shame and embarrassment" in making such complaints.

The difficulty in providing such confidentiality, according to the report, is the balancing with a commander's responsibility for maintaining order and discipline. A victim now will be provided confidentiality and the commander "will at least be told you had an assault in this location and be given as much information as possible that does not identify the individuals," said Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain. She was named policy chief for sexual assault prevention and response in September.

A complainant will be advised of the choices available. Investigative authorities will be contacted after the complainant decides to have the incident reported on an "restricted basis," Chu said. Under the current system, a sexual-assault report to a commanding officer immediately triggers an investigation.

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