Candidates debate No Child
By William Cole
Advertiser Staff Writer
By William Cole
Six candidates for state and federal offices agreed yesterday at an early-childhood conference that the federal No Child Left Behind Act should be changed or ditched.
Not only is it an unfunded mandate, "but as a program, it's just not working. We all know that," said Mazie Hirono, the Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District House seat being vacated by Rep. Ed Case.
Hirono said she would refrain from spending money on testing to meet requirements of the act and labels like "failing schools," and instead spend resources for preschool and recruiting, training and retention of qualified teachers.
Her Republican opponent in the November election, Bob Hogue, said improvements already are being made. He also noted the act was a bipartisan effort.
"So, (as) we move forward on this, I don't think that we want to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said. Reforms are being made to the education system and that's a good thing, he added.
"However, we need to make the adjustments and amendments that are necessary to make sure that this is a much more positive act than talking about failing schools, and all of the demands that are on teachers," he said.
Hogue said the act can be better funded so it helps teachers, and most importantly, recognizes student achievement.
The candidates spoke at a forum sponsored by the Hawai'i Association for the Education of Young Children at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
In addition to Hirono and Hogue, the panel included U.S. Senate candidate and Republican Cynthia Thielen; Malama Solomon, seeking the job of lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket; and Renee Ing and Jim Brewer, the Green Party candidates for lieutenant governor and governor.
Forum officials said all candidates for the U.S. Senate and House seats and governor and lieutenant governor were invited.
About 950 early-childhood professionals, most of them teachers, attended yesterday's Hawai'i Early Childhood Conference.
Jacqueline de Guzman, vice president of public policy for the Hawai'i Association for the Education of Young Children, said there is a "huge gap" remaining for early childhood education in Hawai'i even with programs like Head Start, a national program for families below the poverty level, and Pre-Plus, a state effort providing sites for preschool programs.
"There are 78,000 who are needing care and we are providing only about 24,000 to 25,000 of that," de Guzman said.
Thielen said No Child Left Behind "has a noble goal of making sure that our children are educated in our classroom. But we desperately need to amend the law."
The state Department of Education "is like a vacuum, sucking in the majority of the money, we all know that, and then the dribble goes out to the classrooms," she said.
Thielen said the act needs to be amended to provide more teacher training and principal enrichment.
The law, which will be up for reauthorization, creates standards in each state for what every child should know and learn in reading and math in grades 3-8 and requires schools that get federal poverty aid and fall short of their yearly progress goals for two straight years to offer transfers to students.
Solomon said No Child Left Behind was instituted with the understanding the federal government was going to provide the money to make the program work.
"Well, that, my friends, has never happened," she said.
The law is causing the school system in Hawai'i to fail with "test after test after test."
"It's either put up (the funding) or repeal," she said.
Ing also agreed that the government has to provide the money or repeal the act.
"Then the question becomes, 'Where do you get the money?' " she said, adding that the wealthy got tax cuts.
"That is where the money went that used to educate our children," she said. " ... We need to get that money back." The state needs to "retax corporate entities and the very wealthy."
Brewer said "I believe that we need to extend public schools down to preschool grades and we need to start it right now ... "
All the candidates agreed early childhood education is important. Hogue said teachers should be recognized more. He also agrees with the option of sending a child to kindergarten twice "because some children just aren't quite ready to get into the system."
Hirono said "clearly, there's a disconnect between what we're seeing and what we're doing, and a lot of times we're told, 'We can't pay for teachers.' " That includes kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, she said.
She received one of the the biggest rounds of applause when she added, "We are spending over $200 million every single day on the war in Iraq," money that could help with education.
Gail Shin, a preschool teacher on Lana'i attending the forum, said the No Child Left Behind Act is not working, "and I'm glad the whole panel recognizes that it isn't and we need to do something about it."
Cyndi Willmarth, a preschool teacher on the Big Island, said "there are so many issues in early childhood (education) and it's so divided in so many ways."
But she, too, said No Child Left Behind "is not working for children."
"I'm kind of throwing the baby out with the bath water with this one," she said, disagreeing with Hogue. "The program, as it's now set up, is leaving children behind because we're trying to make them all the same, versus recognizing how unique experiences are in education."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.