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Education secretary visits Hawaii schools

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:10 p.m. HST, Mar 31, 2014

The nation's top education official is vowing to look into concerns about assessments for students attending Hawaiian-language immersion schools and how Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools are funded.

Noting that there was a time when the Hawaiian language was outlawed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he's glad to see schools contributing to its revitalization.

"These are kids in the community that for far too long were extraordinarily poorly served," he said. "Again, the fact that the language was actually outlawed, I mean, that is so deep and so profound and that represents a very systemic attempt to decimate a culture."

Duncan on Monday visited the Ka Waihona o ka Naauao Public Charter School on the Waianae Coast, where he was greeted with lei and hula. At the Nanakuli oceanfront school, he even tried his hand at pounding taro root into poi, which he tasted.

During a discussion, Native Hawaiian educational leaders laid out concerns such as some parents boycotting state tests in English because they want assessments created in Hawaiian.

Namaka Rawlins, representing Aha Punana Leo, which organizes Hawaiian-language preschools, said the state and federal education departments need to support education in both English and Hawaiian.

Duncan said he needs to do some "homework" and look into the assessment issue, as well as a concern raised about Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools not being eligible for federal grants aimed at Native Hawaiian organizations.

"Whatever we can do to help, we'll do that," he said.

Duncan is the first education secretary to visit Hawaii in about 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. He's also believed to be the first to visit Waianae, a poor community that's home to a high concentration of Native Hawaiians.

He called the Waianae discussion "inspiring and emotional."

"This idea of recognizing the culture, recognizing the language, recognizing history, recognizing ancestors," he said, "our children need to understand that."

Kamuela Enos, a Waianae community member who is on the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, said the "significance of his coming here can't be understated."

Duncan was in Hawaii, on a stop from New Zealand, to recognize the state's public school system for making progress on ambitious reforms. His department had placed Hawaii's $75 million "Race to the Top" grant on "high-risk" status for unsatisfactory progress, but Duncan has recently been vocal in praising the state for turning things around.

"Hawaii has been this remarkable success story," he said, noting that the "initial year or so was very, very rocky."

Hawaii has a long way to go, but has demonstrated a turnaround in ways such as implementing higher graduation requirements two years ahead of schedule, he said.

"By all these measures, Hawaii is one of the five fastest improving states in the nation," he said. "That's remarkable."

While Hawaii has since been cleared of its risk status, losing the money was a very real possibility, he said: "We have to be good stewards of taxpayers' scarce tax dollars."

The department has said Hawaii is the only one of the 12 grant winners to not ask for more time to accomplish reform goals. The state education department has said it won't request an extension.

"We would happily entertain that request," Duncan said. "But I don't think Hawaii, frankly, wants it or needs it and that's fantastic, too."

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Skyler wrote:
Good for Hawaii's schools. I don't quite understand boycotting the tests because they're given in English instead of Hawaiian. Having the assessment tests in Hawaiian instead of English doesn't make a lot of sense because it's not likely that the keiki are going to be working in a Hawaiian-only environment.
on March 31,2014 | 07:39PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Article says Kamuela Enos, a Waianae community member who is on the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, said the "significance of his coming here can't be understated." Really? the significance of his coming here cannot be understated? When I untangle that double negative, it sounds like an insult.
on March 31,2014 | 08:03PM
Anonymous wrote:
Duncan is a corporate puppet - much like Hawaii BOE and DOE freakshow here. Blood money they're giving away - then do as I say, read my books created by corporations and take all these test created by corporations - who happen to make billions! Education, public school education is the true plantation mentality and this state eats it up like its doing children a favor - time will show otherwise when there is no civic responsibility, no conscience only the winners and the losers - what they dont tell you the public school kids will be the losers and the nearly 20% of kids in private schools will be the winners - look at the the quality of books in their library - look at the richness of exercises - not the ones created by corporations to create drones of society - but who cares about our kids anyway?
on March 31,2014 | 08:34PM
HAL9000 wrote:
The stat of Hawaii has had a teacher shortage for the last 15 years and the last three governors have done little to stop it. English, reading, mathematics, science, special education, vocational,technical. Go to http:/www.2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ole/pol/tax/.off. makes you proud to cut teacher wages like our good governor did, mingle and Abercrombie.
on March 31,2014 | 10:45PM
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