I was raised by a single mother who taught me that a good education was absolutely essential. Thanks to her, I returned to school after I had four children, and received my college and then law degree from the University of Hawaii. I have personally experienced the limited opportunities available to a college dropout compared to a college graduate.
In the United States, education, more than ethnicity, religion or geography, determines whether a person can achieve the American dream, or be relegated to a life of limitations or even poverty. In today's global and information-based economy, every child who drops out of high school is committing virtual economic suicide.
It is absolutely essential that Hawaii public schools and our University system improve the quality of student achievement and the number of students completing high school, entering and successfully completing college and university.
We must improve the quality of public education because it is an essential service that provides equal opportunity for every child in Hawaii to reach their full potential. We must improve the quality of public education because it is essential to our State economy. Hawaii is an isolated island state. We rely upon the abilities of our own residents to build and maintain a diversified, sustainable, growing economy to support our state. Approximately 80% of our children graduate from DOE schools; we must improve the quality of the education they receive.
The Democratic position on education issues can be summed up in two words: more money. The Democrats refuse to commit to requiring our schools to make measurable progress toward meeting meaningful standards.
While I agree that the federal government should make more resources available to our local schools, I also believe that those resources should come with the understanding that schools will not use the extra money to pursue business as usual, feeding the education bureaucracy while continuing to starve the classroom teacher. The No Child Left Behind Act is an important part of requiring our schools -especially our schools here in Hawaii - to make fundamental changes in the way they do business.
No Child Left Behind was passed under President Clinton with strong, bi-partisan support, which has continued through the Bush Administration. I support NCLB, but will advocate for the federal government to provide the resources necessary to make the goal of improved student achievement a reality.
I support the federal NCLB policy which requires public school districts to focus on individual student achievement, and to raise all students to competency in the core abilities of reading, math, science and writing.
The federal sanctions in NCLB forced Hawaii's DOE to take action to improve student achievement. Up until NCLB, the DOE had been long on rhetoric and good intentions, but it did not deliver results. Now, under NCLB, public schools in Hawaii have started to reverse generations of dismal reading and math scores, and begun the long, hard climb to teaching more students to read and calculate at their grade level. Hawaii's children have always had the ability to learn. Now, thanks to NCLB, more five- to 12-year olds in Pahoa, Waianae, Kaunakakai and many, many other students in Hawaii, can say that they, too are smart, and have unlimited possibilities for their future.
However, we still have a long way to go to raise all our children to the same educational level. Reaching our goal will take more expertise, technology, and training than any state can support by itself. The federal government needs to provide that overarching assistance to all the states so that our nation can truly bring our public education system into the twenty-first century and compete on a global level.
I support increasing federal dollars to build the framework necessary to comply with the requirements of NCLB. However, federal dollars should flow directly to the classroom, where they will have the biggest impact on our children's education.
As Senator, I will advocate for three primary areas:
* Increase classroom teacher training;
* Develop more programs to bring new people to teaching, such as Teach for America; and
* Expansive training for principals to be curriculum leaders and to implement organizational change.
These programs cannot be "one-size-fits-all," and must recognize the different challenges faced by schools with different income levels, cultural values, and community/geographic resources.
We must work constantly to improve NCLB including the flexibility to recognize steady improvement, even if we do not reach the numerical goal for a specific year, and to relieve schools from burdensome red tape when they demonstrate regularly increasing achievement.
Ensuring an excellent, free education to all children in the United States is the most essential, fundamental function of our government. Quality education creates an educated citizenry, permits individuals to achieve a fulfilling life, secures our national economic future, and provides limitless opportunities for our nation. We should not back away from the NCLB goal to raise all students to the highest educational standards. The federal government must partner with the States to provide the ability to reach that goal.