State education officials have consistently failed to comply with a scathing 2008 audit that called for them to improve and clarify the Hawaii Department of Education Hawaiian studies program, several teachers in the program told school board members Tuesday.
But teachers on Tuesday said the 33-year-old program has fallen short of the constitutional mandate, pointing to one component — employing kupuna, or elders, and other experts on a part-time basis to teach Hawaiian studies at elementary schools — as particularly problematic.
“What exists now is at best piecemeal,” kupuna Alma Cirino said in her testimony. “This is not pono in carrying out the constitutional mandate.”
The same criticism was highlighted in 2008 in the 39-page State Auditor’s report, which characterized the kupuna component as beleaguered and in need of significant changes, especially with regard to its oversight, funding and standards for measuring success. The audit criticized the Board of Education for failing to define how it expects the kupuna component to fulfill the constitutional provision and produce quality results — a criticism that the auditor described as “decades old and persistent.”
The audit recommended that the board and department completely revamp the Hawaiian studies program, starting with a strategic plan outlining lesson plans, materials standards and goals. It also urged the department to come up with a better system for tracking funding for the kupuna component and upper-level Hawaiian studies courses.
The DOE distributes roughly $2.8 million across 200 or so schools through funding earmarked for Hawaiian studies regardless of whether the schools employ Hawaiian culture teachers, said longtime kupuna Mahie Suganuma.
But even despite a 2012 concurrent resolution from the Legislature requesting that the board and department comply in full with the audit, none of the recommendations have come to fruition, the four teachers, all kupuna, said Tuesday.
One of the presenters was Kealii Gora, who represents Ka Lei Papahi o Kakuhihwa, an organization of Native Hawaiian kupuna and makua (parents) who have taught or are teaching in the state’s Hawaiian studies program.
He stressed that it’s been nearly six years since the audit was published yet the education officials have failed to come up with goals for the program, to revise lesson plans and come up with a means of holding schools accountable for Hawaiian studies program funding.
The DOE’s oft-cited Strategic Plan makes no mention of the Hawaiian studies program, either.
“Please don’t forget about the kupuna,” said Lei Mokihana at the board meeting Tuesday. “Put the kupuna component someplace I can see it.”
BOE Student Achievement Committee Chair Cheryl Lupenui acknowledged that the board has a responsibility to improve the department’s Hawaiian education programs — a task long overdue given that the mandate was incorporated into the constitution in 1978. Teachers also urged the board to give more attention to the state’s Hawaiian immersion schools, which teach almost entirely in Hawaiian, and efforts to better assess students in those schools.
“We’ve been in pilot stage for virtually 35 years,” she said. “We have not even looked at or addressed what has happened since that time period.”
Lupenui and other officials are in the process of redesigning the state’s Hawaiian education efforts, which include those at both English-based DOE schools and Hawaiian immersion schools.
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