Monday, May 24, 2010


Hawaii kissing its “high-tech future” goodbye

by Larry Geller

Everyone in Hawaii’s government, from the top down (and especially Governor Lingle) should note the editorial appearing in the Sunday New York Times unflatteringly titled Hawaii’s Race to the Bottom. Of course, they are talking about how we fail our children by declining to do anything about the notorious Furlough Fridays:

Here’s the heart of it:

The furloughs were rightly deplored by parents and denounced by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and showed Hawaii’s political and education establishment at its worst. When the first “furlough Friday” happened last October, we didn’t imagine that Hawaii — which has one statewide school district with a lackluster record of achievement — would slouch through the rest of the school year without getting its kids back in their seats.

But it did. Some parents staged a sit-in in the governor’s office to no effect. There was no special legislative session. No urgent arm-twisting to raise taxes, cut spending or make other adjustments to teachers’ schedules, salaries or benefits so that instruction time could be salvaged. No shared sacrifice, unless you count what the children lost.   [New York Times, Hawaii’s Race to the Bottom, 5/23/2010]

Parents went above and beyond the call of duty. They not only sat-in, they got arrested (how about dropping charges, gov?). Everyone else must share responsibility for what Hawaii’s nationally documented bad rep will bring.

One thing it will not bring is high-tech business to Hawaii. Who would want to relocate here after reading what their children can expect for a public education? Read the editorial: we start with a “lackluster record of achievement” and it’s downhill from there.

Of course, our educational system, even at the bottom, is perfectly capable of turning out graduates who can make beds, mop floors and wait tables. If that’s all we want of them and for them, our schools are actually perfect for our economy. Someone please explain this to the New York Times.

To attract high-tech (or even medium-tech) businesses (and this is key), we need to provide an environment that will attract ordinary folk with necessary skills to relocate here. The CEOs may send their children to private school, but not everyone can do that.

Another factor is culture. Denizens of Silicon Valley like music and the arts, in other words, a vibrant cultural scene. At this moment, Honolulu can’t even keep its one symphony orchestra together.  Would it be unusual for DBEDT to step in with some help? It’s sure not like them, but it would be a wise investment.

As to the medium-tech: try and get circuit boards made here, or find rubber drive belts. We are an island in the middle of the Pacific without the low- and medium-tech services that high-tech businesses require. The usual answer to this is that we’ll go for things like software development. It didn’t work in the late 1980s when DBED (no T yet) decided to support a software industry here, arguing that it can be done anywhere. It was done anywhere, anywhere other than Hawaii of course. I may have my timelines a bit off, but if I recall, Ireland was up and coming in the software world, and then “anywhere” moved to South Asia.

If we are giving up on high-tech then we don’t need to keep employing people to promote it. If we still have hopes, then the school system needs to be improved and the Governor and all other parts of government should be competing with each other to make it better.

The New York Times editorial will continue feeding the stain on Hawaii’s reputation. What it will take to counter this blemish would be to get our education act together, which requires investment rather than budget cutting, to the point where our schools begin to win awards. Should that happen, we’d have a better chance at ultimately supplementing tourism as the engine of our economy.

The Times editorial can’t be proven wrong, but it can be made obsolete.



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