Posted by: Dad...Guess What?! | December 25, 2012

The Education Debate

I work at a community college and my primary responsibility is helping high school students make smart decisions about college. I work with a wide variety of students, mainly from low-income families. These students have parents working two jobs, and it is common English is their second language. There are also just as many students in a single-parent home, and some with no parents at all.

Recently, I had lunch with a group of high school students in a program that allows high school seniors enroll in college courses full-time; all expenses paid by their high school and a federal grant. They were not high performing students in high school, but students who demonstrated potential in other ways to be recognized by their Counselor and Principal for this program. Anyway, this meeting was a great learning opportunity for me because I learned more about them as individuals. Not every participant was at this lunch but I learned so much from those that were able to attend.

My colleague and I asked all kinds of questions around motivation, resiliency, and self-reflection. I thought I was going to hear challenges around assimilation, meeting course demands, and other issues around being teenagers in a college setting. I was completely off the mark. Their biggest challenge – procrastination. By the way, the average grade of this group was a ‘B’. As they talked about other issues like timing the bus schedule, maximizing the computer lab because they have limited access (or none) to a computer at home, or balancing a work schedule, it got me thinking again about the recent contract issue with Hawaii’s DOE teachers. Most if it not all the students I work with can’t afford a private high school education therefore reading this ongoing discussion mixed with my lunch-meeting was interesting.

I feel I’m in no position to make an argument around the contract negotiation, but I do have questions. First, it is the economic divide. The students I work with, in my opinion, are brilliant with their whole future ahead of them. However, when I visit their campus I am presented with a computer lab with half the computers not working, termite dropping along the wall, missing railings, and an auditorium with no roof. Once I had asked a high school counselor if they could scan and e-mail me a document and their response was, “I wish we had a scanner.” But rather than turning me away, they scanned the document from home then proceeded to fulfill my request.

I also visit private high schools and the resources available to them are amazing. My colleague did a high school visit recently and shared that every student had a laptop, every single one of them. Now, this wouldn’t be impressive if it was a room of 10 students, but we’re talking in the hundreds. There was a noticeable difference between these schools but regardless of where they came from, at very core, these students were the same. They made due with what they had. They are all inspiring and all with a drive to make this world a better place….but I couldn’t shake the varying difference in resources.

I have two kids and as a parent I want to know what lies ahead so I took a peak at some private high school’s tuition. I nearly died. The prices ranged from $10,000 to $16,000 a year. A YEAR. This is compared to $0. I feel I’m looking at the difference first hand based on my site visits. True that their are probably back stories on how schools are managed – both public and private – but I’m looking at a classroom running dated desktop computers versus every student carrying a laptop in their bag. This is very tough to ignore, and I would be naive to ignore it.

Second would be my question of economic priorities. It sounds like the ongoing argument with the Hawaii Department of Education teachers is around salary. I’m also hearing that there isn’t money in the State’s budget to entertain any kind of pay increase, or perhaps additional allocations to the public schools. I’m sure managing any budget of that size is a complicated task to say the least, but I’ve always wondered how spending priorities are set. I truly don’t know. I was driving down Nimitz Highway one afternoon and noticed new antique light posts along the road and wondered if that was necessary. A while back I drove through a neighborhood with a newly paved road that really didn’t need it. Could some of that money be redirected to education? As I reflect on these observations I think about my students. What do they think when they see these developments, or do they just make do?

I suppose I want a simplified answer to an extremely complicated issue. But as I continue to step back and soak in more information, I’m recognizing it is a complex stew of politics and parenting. And I don’t want to think that the education world is divided. As an educator, I need to continue to help students recognize their potential and be their advocate. The same applies as my role as a parent. I also feel I need to maximize what I can to support my kids to minimize the divide. The hope is that they’ll have varying perspective when they see a newly paved road.



  1. Great blog. Education is the magic bullet. The US system, funded through local property taxes, could be much better across the board.

    • Thanks for reading! We’ll see what this New Year holds. Take care and Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.

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