Auto dealers laud education bill

With the legislature looking to adjourn on May 4, decisions must be made on a number of educational issues. One bill, Senate Bill 3059, has been debated on editorial pages state-wide. The focus is a common core curriculum. The Hawaii Automobile Dealers’ Association is one of the bill’s advocates.

“Why are auto dealers so involved in advocating rigorous curriculum?” is a question HADA themselves posed in their testimony in support of the bill. Their response involved an incident illustrating the ill-prepared work force they are experiencing: “A Hawaii auto dealer’s reimbursement claims for warrant repair work done on cars was rejected by the Detroit manufacturer because the written claims submitted by the dealership’s auto techs were ‘not clear.'”

Charlie King of Kauai’s King Auto Center and past president of HADA said organization members need an educated workforce. They no longer employ “mechanics,” but hire “technicians,” instead. King says they aren’t getting the kind of educated workforce they need coming out of the local schools. He characterized auto dealers as constantly seeking improvement and being problem solvers, so HADA looked at solving this problem.

King credits David Rolf, executive secretary of HADA, for being the impetus behind HADA’s advocacy of educational issues. “We are fortunate to have him,” King says.

Rolf was a member on a national task force on the Future of the Goals. The Goals referred to are the National Education Goals. The National Education Goals Panel was an independent executive branch agency of the federal government charged with monitoring national and state progress toward the National Education Goals.

Rolf was also appointed by former Governor Ben Cayetano to a Governor’s education task force. Rolf says there was no consensus on the task force report. A draft was not published, but HADA “picked it up and ran with it.”

Rolf said he read 400 books and white papers on curriculum, spending hundreds of hours on research. He read an article in Newsweek magazine about cultural literacy and called the University of Virginia to speak with the author of the best selling book, Cultural Literacy. Rolf says the author, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. answered the phone and referred him to elementary school principal Connie Jones in Fort Meyers, Florida whose school was developing a “core knowledge” curriculum.

Rolf says he contributed personal funds and together with the help from an airline, hotel and local business, was able to bring Jones to Hawaii to address interested educators. The principal of Sergeant Samuel K. Solomon elementary school on Oahu took the idea back to her school and the school adopted the Core Knowledge curriculum in 1998. Another elementary school on Oahu, Kauluwela, adopted the program a year later.

Rolf was able to garner monetary support to construct a “Word Wall,” an 84-foot wall of more than 5,500 words a “student typically needs to know.” The wall is on display at auto shows. Rolf contends that “education is a vocabulary exercise.”

HADA sponsors “7 Cars for 7 Teachers.” The program provides a car for a year as recognition for each district’s Teacher of the Year. The program started in 1999 when Volkwagen Dealers of Hawaii donated a car to the State Teacher of the Year.

According to a HADA publication, “using the momentum gained when 6 more cars were added each year from other generous associations and dealers, the dealers submitted legislation to improve weak curriculum by providing annual assessments (i.e. SAT 9) of student progress in grade 3 through 10. Previously, the assessments were only given in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10.”

“By doubling the assessments, making them annual for each sequential grade, and providing helpful report cards that are mailed to parents, the dealers helped turn the tide for rapid improvement in the public schools,” the publication states.

The publication goes on to state, “During one of last year’s House of Representative’s evening sessions, Speaker Calvin Say adjourned the proceedings momentarily to offer a salute to auto dealers for their work.”

Rolf says HADA has an unpublished 48-page document entitled “Lift Off” that outlines their plan for education. According to the plan, once the annual assessment was established, the next move would be to establish a core curriculum.

Hirsch assisted in writing a bill for the implementation of the Core Knowledge curriculum system statewide. The resulting bill, SB2497 did not make it out of committee, but SB3059 which grew out of that effort is still alive. Rolf says going to the legislature is necessary to get funding to start Hawaii’s development of a core content curriculum.

Rolf says he met with members of the Board of Education (BOE), but the BOE develops policy and has no funding capabilities.

The office of Kauai’s Senator, Gary Hooser, who is the vice-chair of the Education and Military Affairs Committee, emailed some of the steps HADA went through in advocating for SB2497 and SB3059. HADA had meetings with Senator Norman Sakamoto, chair of the Education and Military Affairs committee. They presented information at a meeting at the capitol attended by senators and automobile dealers from across the state. Their display included the Word Wall. Members of HADA sent out written testimony and attended a social gathering with state representatives and senators.

King says HADA will continue to advocate for education issues until the problem of a qualified work force is resolved and Hawaii high schools score in the top 25 percent nationwide. He is optimistic about success, especially if the general public becomes more informed about education.

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