No More Business as Usual

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Many speculate we may be in an extended period of “jobless recovery.”

A recent ”’Associated Press”’ article reporting that of the nine million Americans who were unemployed last month, 2 million had been jobless for at least 27 weeks.


On the same day, ”’Knight Ridder News Service”’ reported on the rising healthcare costs and a weak economy now causing employers to nip away at employee benefits. Diane Stafford reported that more than nine out of 10 employers averaged a whopping 18 percent cost increase over what they paid for healthcare benefits in 2002 (“Employers passing on high cost of healthcare”).

Let’s look at the tea leaves and hazard a prediction. Is it reasonable to suppose private sector, for-profit enterprises will attempt to restore profitability in these difficult times by making ever deeper cuts in rising labor costs through the use of increasingly potent digital technology? If so, many of the jobs lost since the beginning of the Clinton era recession may be gone forever regardless of any subsequent Bush administration tax cutting/pump priming palliatives.

Setting aside the immediate, near term predicament of adult workers who have lost their jobs for extended periods of time, what would this imply for the next generation of workforce employees — those now in public school?

To answer this, one might reasonably wish to know how effectively public schools are preparing their young charges today for the highly automated, highly competitive world of work that awaits them tomorrow.

Such work will inevitably place critical emphasis on the basics: good reading, writing and applied math skills on the part of ”’every”’ carefully selected (highly costly) employee. Low-tech work will be done by machine, not by costly human assets.

Let’s bring such an inquiry close to home: how well are public schools in Hawaii doing under the thumb of a single, statewide school district putatively administered by a single state department of education to prepare students for the world of work? That should not be difficult to answer.

Consider for example the quality of the teachers and the conditions under which they work. An American Federation of Teachers study comparing average teacher salaries for the 2001-02 school year on a state by state basis — Hawaii ranks dead last. (“Report says Hawaii teachers lowest paid”). In this context, Jennifer Hiller of The Honolulu Advertiser reports the DOE hires about 1,500 teachers each year to replace those who have resigned or retired citing considerable shortages remaining for math, physics, chemistry, earth science, biology and Spanish-language teachers.

And how does DOE respond? In the traditional way of course, which is to say business as usual.

“It’s different ways of looking at it,” Greg Knudsen, DOE spokesman is quoted as saying. “It’s the best and worst ways. They’re both valid. What they’re missing is the improvement that has happened over the years.” This brazen individual has the audacity to claim Hawaii teachers have done well when compared with the average worker in the private sector in Hawaii.

One cannot possibly be surprised. It is necessary that a DOE flack must again be trotted out to offer up such humbug diversions arrogantly used to deflect public attention from organizational malfeasance. After all this lash-up is quite comfortable promoting the comfy bureaucratic careers of team players in a “school” system that has no academic curriculum, no measurable performance standards and no common scale with which to determine quantitatively what grades A, B, C, D, and F mean. Indeed we are on the threshold of “report cards” that would do away with these traditional grades altogether.

In a third rate bumpkin outfit urgently seeking to avoid any sort of accountability, where careers count and kids don’t, such chaos is a blessing.

It has often been observed that if one provides enough monkeys with enough typewriters, they will eventually tap out a Shakespearean play. The customary DOE solution to any and all problems that arise is to demand more money for more typewriters. Before the docile citizens of Hawaii agree to dump over even more of their hard earned money down a fiscal rat hole masquerading as a department of education — now sucking it up at the rate of well over a ”’billion”’ dollars a year with no accountability whatsoever — isn’t it time to quit monkeying around with public education? Isn’t it time to get serious about preparing bright, capable public school children for what awaits them?

Their future, the future of our state, and of our nation — that is what hangs in the balance.

One can only hope our governor will re-introduce legislation — and that our legislators ”’this time”’ will enact such legislation — in the next session that will replace this unwieldy, grossly inefficient, bureaucratically stultified DOE with locally determined school boards and districts responsive to the very real needs of both parents and students.

Those legislators who adamantly refuse do their duty to support the children and future of this state should be replaced in toto in the election next year. The time has come for them to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.

The jury is no longer out in matters of public education. Business as usual ain’t gonna feed ”’this”’ bulldog.

”’Thomas E. Stuart, a public school teacher in Kapaau, Hawaii, can be reached via email at:”’