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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

COMMENTARY
Core curriculum is critical for the Islands

By David H. Rolf

In a perfect world, public school systems like Hawai'i's would have a core curriculum. The fact that we don't have a core curriculum means that students who switch schools are often lost, unable to keep up. Other school-switching students are presented the same material they've already studied in another classroom.

In a perfect world, Hawai'i's public school teacher union delegates, at their annual meeting this weekend in Honolulu, would possess the wisdom of Solomon. The issue of grade-by-grade core content curriculum is being placed on their discussion/debate agenda because of a bill in front of the Legislature this session Senate Bill 3059, which calls for development of a core content curriculum.

When our automobile trade association studied how the Core Knowledge curriculum was adopted in two Hawai'i schools, we saw that their successes likely came because of a Core Knowledge foundation rule that requires buy-in by a super-majority of the teachers.

Most national curriculum models, in fact, like Core Knowledge, America's Choice and others, require an 80 percent approval vote of the teachers at a school before a curriculum program can proceed.

At Solomon Elementary on O'ahu, we were told about an amazing debate. At the outset of the debate, 60 percent of the teachers were opposed to implementing a core content curriculum, but they were open-minded and agreed to a four-meeting debate/discussion on the subject.

The core teachers presented their case, and the teachers advocating the status quo each presented their case. In the end, the core content teachers won 80 percent support and Solomon Elementary proceeded to adopt the Core Knowledge curriculum. We call the action the "Wisdom of Solomon."

In 2003, Solomon and another Core Knowledge school, Kauluwela Elementary, were the only two schools, out of the 100 high-poverty schools in the state, to have achieved annual yearly progress four years in a row. We have now seen how core content curriculum can be effective here in Hawai'i, in two diverse elementary schools.

The Hawai'i Automobile Dealers Association and other business organizations have long advocated a rigorous core content curriculum. This year, we encouraged adoption of Senate Bill 2497, which specified the type of language arts/core content curriculum that would help in the K-6 grades. The bill was deferred, but SB 3059 is an outgrowth of that effort.

This new curriculum bill would deliver the funding (hopefully $5 million) to start Hawai'i's development of a core content curriculum.

HADA believes in the methodology used by the Core Knowledge folks, but we don't support any particular curriculum. We hope the Department of Education will use the funding to seek national expert help through the open-bid process and that a rigorous grade-by-grade core content curriculum will be established for Hawai'i.

In a perfect world, the bill would pass with HSTA's support. The Legislature would provide the $5 million funding for development of a core content curriculum. The Department of Education would then put the curriculum development project out for public bid, using the outstanding guidelines for curriculum outlined in the original bill, which HADA drafted with the assistance of national curriculum experts like E.D. Hirsch Jr., professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of several best-selling books on core curriculum.

In a perfect world, we'd all possess the wisdom of Solomon. HADA wishes the HSTA the best in the deliberations on core content curriculum this weekend.

David H. Rolf is spokesman for The Hawai'i Automobile Dealers Association. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.