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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

COMMENTARY
Core curriculum offers hope to Hawai'i

By David H. Rolf

Oprah Winfrey looked straight at us last week from her Chicago TV studio and told us we're "a nation in crisis" because of the horrific high school drop-out rate.

I had been aware of the 30 percent national high school drop-out figure (35 percent for Hawai'i), but until I saw the forlorn expressions on those drop-out students on the Oprah show, I couldn't get a feel for the magnitude of the problem.

How can nearly a third of the high school students in America, and even more than that in Hawai'i, give up on an $11,000-a-year education that is provided for them?

It is a gift given them that they may be productive American citizens, capable of living Jefferson's dream and pursuing happiness, while serving as the sovereigns, knowledgeably guiding the country. But a third of them are turning it down.

Unfortunately, the problem centers on what many, in education, call "The Matthew Effect." The term, adapted from the Gospel of Matthew, says that for those who have much, more will be given, but for those who have little, even that which they have will be taken away.

Students from advantaged households start out with larger vocabularies and add more and more through the grade levels. But students from economically challenged families, with weak vocabulary skills, will tend to fall behind their advantaged counterparts as the years go by. Later, many of these students get discouraged and simply drop out. Time magazine's cover story this week refers to the "Drop-out Nation."

In painstaking research, Betty Hart and Todd Risley discovered that by age 3, children from professional families had experienced 300 more words spoken to them per hour than children from welfare families. That's a difference of 11 million words exchanged by the child from the professional family compared to just 3 million for the child from the welfare family. In their 2002 book "Meaningful Differences," these Ph.D. authors concluded that "the most important aspect to evaluate in childcare settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, by their caregivers."

This year, Hawai'i's Legislature is moving on the cutting edge of addressing the problem with a wonderful grade-by-grade core content curriculum bill (Senate Bill 3059). The bill, a collaboration between the House and Senate education committees, will hopefully make it through conference committee in the next two weeks and see added funding of at least $5 million.

Hawai'i's franchised new-car dealers, who have been advocating development of a strong language arts/core content curriculum, now hope that the "read aloud" components found in their original curriculum bill (Senate Bill 2497) will be incorporated in the final measure.

Auto dealers enlisted the help of E.D. Hirsch Jr., a national curriculum expert and author of several national best-selling books, to craft that bill. The methodology used by Hirsch is a sound one. Hawai'i would be well advised to follow such a method in development of core curriculum.

If the curriculum bill passes and gets the governor's signature, then the Department of Education and Board of Education will play their important roles in the process by putting the project out to public bid. They then have the task of selecting the right curriculum model and the right national experts to develop the curriculum for Hawai'i.

The Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association hopes that Hawai'i's teachers will then voluntarily embrace a new Hawai'i curriculum with an 80 percent buy-in, utilizing the debate-discussion-vote method employed by Solomon Elementary, which was one of the two Hawai'i schools that implemented a successful core content curriculum.

The association believes then that Hawai'i's fourth-grade reading scores will climb from our current position to near the top in 72 months a feat some say would take a miracle.

We know it will be difficult, but out of difficulties come miracles. Let's all get behind the core curriculum bill.

David H. Rolf is a spokesman for the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.