Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

You Can't Have Innovation Without Education

We now have the great distinction of the shortest school year in the nation - 163 days. The national average is 180. Japan averages 243 and China averages 251. These countries also have longer school days allowing them to cover more subjects in greater depth. The sad fact of the matter is that our children will be ill prepared to compete in an increasingly interconnected world.

The legislature should immediately enact a law establishing a minimum number of school days, thereby making furloughs that shorten the school year illegal. This would end the current furloughs and prevent any future jackassery. Shortening our school year should never have been on the table. I don't understand why our governor has left the majority of this critical negotiation to her policy adviser, and I don't know how HSTA ever allowed this to be considered. Governor - You claim to have committed to establishing an innovation economy in Hawaii. How can we do that when we have the lowest standards for education in the country? We need to graduate competitive students to have a competitive workforce. HSTA - Please think of the students first and yourselves second. While the purpose of your union is to improve work conditions for teachers, which is admirable, your first responsibility as educators is to ensure our students receive a quality education. Please keep your priorities straight.

I believe we should pass a bill establishing a minimum of 200 schools days with at least seven hours of instruction per day. This would at least move us into the ballpark of other developed countries. Is it affordable? Countries with far less money have longer school years. Russia's economy is a disaster. They have 210. They've simply made it more of a priority.

I have great respect for the community leaders who are taking action on this issue. Notably, James Koshiba of Kanu Hawaii, who has spent months engaged in email campaigns, working through the Kanu site, and promoting vigils. I urge all members of the TechHui community to support his initiatives to end the furloughs and pass legislation to prevent this crime from being perpetrated on future generations of public school children in Hawaiʻi. We can't build an innovation economy without the foundation of a sound school system.

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Comment by Dan Zelikman on May 8, 2010 at 9:49am
Strange, just stating that this must be a priority seems like enough of a commitment to find a solution. And yet here we are...
Comment by Dale Yasunaga on April 13, 2010 at 11:40pm
@Brian -- I'd take your suggestion of only having private schools and modify it to hiring the people who run or have run successful private schools to manage the DOE. In the private school sector you don't have the luxury as administrators to fall back on an ever increasing budget by sucking up more tax dollars. You can't appeal to your students' families and guilt them into spending more money on tuition by saying "THE KIDS ARE OUR FUTURE!" No, in the private schools if you can't keep the budget in the green while offering decent or good education, then you simply go bankrupt and close down because you don't have any enrollment.

This is the same attitude the DOE should take in some of its dealings. I understand that the state education system is not at luxury to "cherry pick" its students. I know that some programs exist (and rightfully should) to provide education to disadvantaged children. But the vast majority of frivolous spending can be cut. We just need leaders in the DOE that know how to do it and have had a track record of doing so.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 13, 2010 at 5:46pm
Hi Ray - I also know many wonderful, intelligent and successful people that graduated from the public school system. There are certainly Hawaii public school teachers that give 110% for their students. Even in a system stacked against them, extraordinary people always find a way to succeed. This post is about the performance of our education system as a whole, how it compares to other school systems and the likely impact of a 163 day school year on an already struggling system.

Hi Kostya - You make some great points, but I'm concerned about the here and now. The completely virtual teaching environment you describe isn't being used to replace the lost hours. In many cases, the kids are just idle. Today most students at the grade school level receive the majority of their education in person from instructors, and that time was just reduced. The crisis is immediate. We need to address that first, and then look at virtual supplements such as those you suggest.

Hi Dale - You make some excellent points. Their IT spending is highly inefficient. They own way too much hardware, way too much commercial software and have a strong NIH culture. I know of some positive actors within the system who are trying to change this, but its an uphill battle for them - lots of entrenched interests.
Comment by Dale Yasunaga on April 13, 2010 at 5:06pm
The blame falls on the DOE/BOE and the governor's office in regards to the lack of proper budgeting and spending of funds for education, but teaching is not the sole responsibility of the schools.

Out of all the people I know who have kids in public school, I can only think of 2 or 3 that have their kids do something educational on Furlough Fridays. Have the kids read a book or watch a documentary on the Discovery Channel... do SOMETHING. So many parents that just sit back and complain about Furlough Fridays but do nothing to reinforce the value of education directly to their children are just being hypocritical. What kind of message does it send to your kids if all you do is complain about the education they are "missing" on Furlough Fridays, but then you turn around and make no attempt to fill that lost time with something of value?

This first part was more of a rant than anything else, but I feel strongly about the importance of parents reinforcing education to their kids.

Moving on to the heart of this entire problem: The problem with the DOE is not that they don't have enough money. The problem is that the people who run the DOE don't know how to spend the money correctly.

Few people realize DOE spending over the past few years has outpaced standard inflation by 500% while overall student enrollment counts have dropped 5%. With the exception of Punahou, the state per student spend is greater than the tuition of any private school at just over $16,000. Hawaii's per student education budget consistently ranks in the top 15 among the 50 states, while our scores for math and reading rank in the bottom 10 states. The DOE appropriates 540% MORE MONEY to pay for substitute non-teaching staff like custodians, secretaries, and security than it does to pay for quality substitute teachers (maybe some of that $4.3 million set aside for substitute non-teaching staff should be used to help pay for quality teachers?!)

I could go on and on. I could talk to you about the "website that never was" that the DOE has spent over $1.2 million on in 2009. I could talk to you about over $500,000 in "consulting" contracts the DOE has given out to people with no consulting or project management experience whatsoever.

Again, I could go ON AND ON.

People really need to stop blaming the governor for what has happened over the past few months to education. Furlough Fridays was, in my opinion, almost an inevitable outcome of the frivolous spending habits of the DOE. I can only hope that maybe now that these furloughs have come to pass, people will wake up and ask the right questions about education spending so we can fix it, instead of just throwing another $90 million at the financial black hole that is the Hawaii Department of Education.
Comment by Ray Tsuchiyama on April 13, 2010 at 4:18pm
On the other hand, there are many wonderful graduates from Hawaii public schools, great experiences, great teachers. The late "Bud" Smyser published a great piece in the Advertiser listing many public school graduates who have achieved prominence in many fields. These two excellent students are also doing well in college:
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on April 13, 2010 at 4:11pm
I think a law such as that while good-spirited would reap many unintended consequences. The problem needs to be approached holistically in terms of results.
Per say, I do not think shorter school days is the problem. As Internet gets faster, we will be observing less money spent on 'material' education, and more on virtual. It is already happening in colleges. So education will no longer be counted in schooldays, but in online hours.

Now let's observe current classroom curriculums. I think those need to be fine-grained towards an evolving age of information and sustainability. Every subject should have an applied purpose to it. In other words, why study Biology for the sake of Biology? Most of the things students learn in classrooms are not really used in real world scenarios, and are quickly forgotten. Seems like a wasteful approach.

Instead, I think 'learning/cognition' should be carefully studied by psychologists in order to come up with optimum balance between time-spent and things learnt - basically maximize usefulness with minimum amount of resources spent.

Another important point is sustainability, as I think it should permeate every single aspect of our every day lives. On very basic levels, students should be taught how to survive - cooking, planting, housekeeping, sex, relationships, environment, etc.. - basically all those subjects even few adults know how to do right.

If student displays interest in any particular subject, he/she should have the opportunity to quickly get into that realm of information.

As online education progresses, 'timed' classes should be abolished in favor of at-your-own-pace scenarios. This will allow students to manage their own time, which should also increase productivity.

Education system should help students evolve their own natural inclinations as early as possible, not stamp everyone with same subjects until the age of 18.

Educational programs should mostly focus on providing quality information - not tables, chairs, nor discipline. If discipline is required, there should be special institutions for that - which could also cost $$ extra.

These are major points that I can think of at the moment which could help improve the process of learning and, at the same time, save resources while doing it.

(Note: this is not a serious guideline, but more like food-for-thought type of a brainstorming scenario)

I agree with the title of this post, as Innovation without supporting Education is a very shortsighted path.
Comment by Joe Dane on April 13, 2010 at 2:47pm
> I have great respect for the community leaders who are taking action on this issue.

Same here. How about we arrange a "micro fundraiser" to reimburse the folks doing the sit-ins at the Governor's office for the citations they've been receiving?
Comment by Ray Tsuchiyama on April 12, 2010 at 6:00am
This is an interesting thread -- since I went to Fern/Kalakaua/FHS/KCC/HCC (and worked for M.I.T.), but I have been away for a some time from Hawaii (of course, we were talking about the collapse of public education at Kalakaua Intermediate in the mid-1960s). Let me get back later.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 12, 2010 at 2:44am
Hi Brian - You raise a good point. We could have 200 school days and still be ineffective. We need 200 quality days of education per year and we must take a holistic approach. A program without art is fundamentally flawed.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 11, 2010 at 9:47pm
Brian Russo: Anyway, I disagree with Dan that just throwing more school days at the problem is the solution.
I never said that. More school days is the beginning of the solution, not the end. In the end, all that matters is results. Either our children are learning math, science, history and literature and being competitive with their counterparts in other developed countries, or they are not. Currently, they are not. The evidence is indisputable.


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