Military families have complained about the quality of Hawai’i schools. The furlough fridays have cut even more instructional days from the public school calendar. Military personnel do not pay the same taxes that fund public education in Hawai’i. A few years ago, the impact aid paid by the federal government to the state to compensate for this was only about a tenth of the actual cost per pupil cost to educate a student in the Hawai’i public schools system. Let’s tell the military to cash in a F-22, Stryker or even better one of the new nuclear subs to pay for education in Hawai’i.
Furloughs further dim military’s view of schools
A study will examine if educational concerns cause service members to avoid duty here
By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 02, 2010
The third- to fifth-graders ran up to their instructor clutching a list of words using the letters B, D and E.
Split into boys and girls teams, the students offered the teacher “bed” and “bead.” The boys spelled more words, beating the girls 18-15.
It’s a Friday but these students aren’t in school. They’re at a youth center where the Army is keeping soldiers’ children engaged and learning on the 17 Fridays this school year that the state has closed public schools to narrow a budget deficit.
The state’s decision in October to shrink the school year by 10 percent, giving it the fewest number of instructional days in the nation at 163, is adding to the already dismal reputation Hawaii’s public schools have among servicemen and women.
Col. Mike Davino, the director of manpower, personnel and administration for the U.S. Pacific Command, said the truncated school year is yet another concern for officials who have long heard about servicemen and women avoiding Hawaii assignments because of the public education system.
“We’ve gotten a lot of anecdotal information,” Davino said. “For example, one of my neighbors just this week said she wasn’t going to extend in Hawaii because of the education.”
Commanders are so concerned about the overall health of isle schools that the military is paying researchers from Johns Hopkins University $1.5 million to study military attitudes toward Hawaii public education over a three-year period to see whether there is any concrete data to support the unhappy anecdotes.
The study, now in its first year, will track families who have received assignments to Hawaii, those who are here and those who have left the islands. It will examine whether the education their children received in Hawaii put them at a disadvantage or prepared them well for their next school.
“Hawaii doesn’t have the strongest education system as it is. So then to compromise by taking more hours away?” said Master Sgt. Tamatha R. Perkins, whose 6-year-old son, John, is in first grade at an Oahu school. “If they’re in the bottom tier, they don’t need to be cutting out days of education. They’re going the wrong way.”
The study will also document how many troops choose public schools and how many choose alternatives like home-schooling, private schools or even leaving their children with family on the mainland.
Military statistics indicate there should be about 23,000 school-age dependents in the islands, home to several major installations including Pearl Harbor. But there are only 13,000 to 14,000 military dependents enrolled in public schools, indicating thousands of parents are choosing to educate their children elsewhere.
Hawaii’s school system was struggling even before the state shrank the school year.
Last year a record number of schools, almost two-thirds, failed to meet progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Heather Miles, a graduate student in education at the University of Hawaii whose soldier husband is deployed to Iraq for a year, had been a defender of Hawaii schools. She noted some were better than others, just like in other states, and parents needed to be selective about where they enrolled their children.
But the Friday furloughs have darkened her view.
“I was not displeased with it — until now,” Miles said.
She said one of her two sons started acting out after the furlough days began in late October.
“Going to school every day is something that he needs,” Miles said. “With his dad deployed and everything else, he needs that constant.”
The sixth-grader had gotten top grades during the first quarter of the school year. His A’s in science are now C’s.
Miles’ husband will not return from a deployment to Iraq until September, though he is due to come home for a short break in March. The school situation has added to the stress of his absence, Miles said.
Michelle Meador expects to have to arrange tutoring for her three children to compensate for the learning they have lost in Hawaii when her family moves to its next posting, which will probably be in about a year.
The Navy officer’s wife thought about getting extra help now but realized it would be difficult to fill the gaps when it is not yet clear where her children might be lagging.
“It’s too hard to play catch-up when you don’t know what it is exactly that you’re missing,” Meador said.
The military is doing what it can to make up for the shortfall in instructional time.
More than 300 children are enrolled in Army child youth services programs that focus on learning each Furlough Friday. Children work in the computer lab, do homework and have been on excursions. Other services have similar programs.
John Penebacker, a state Board of Education member and a retired Army colonel, said the furloughs have been a setback to efforts to improve the military community’s perceptions about public schools, but Hawaii students are still getting a good education. “You get to the question of quality versus quantity. The results are not in yet, but I would guess that the quality is still there even though the days may have been decreased,” he said.
Penebacker pointed out other school systems have laid off teachers and increased average class size — something Hawaii chose not to do. “We’re not alone in this battle,” he said. “This is a national situation where funding is a challenge.”