Reviewing Hawai‘i’s blueprint for public education

Posted July 11, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Education

Tags: , , ,

In May 2017, Hawaii Governor David Ige’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Team released the final draft of “Hawaiʻi’s Blueprint for Public Education” (version 2.0). The Blueprint is organized around three “Vision Focus Areas” – Student Success, Educator Success, and System Success. It was developed by a team of 19 appointed members and includes feedback from over 20 town hall meetings and community forums over the past year.

Caught up in the rush of elementary school “promotion” and summer school, I didn’t have a chance to read through the blueprint until now. I support the emphasis on school-level decision-making, reduced standardized testing, and annual report cards on student and school performance, but a few issues merit more discussion. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

* An executor or an innovator. The Hawaii Board of Education’s new Superintendent, Dr. Christina Kishimoto, starts on August 1, 2017. I’m not sure whether it’s better to have a new blueprint ready for a new superintendent, or if we should have waited for input and guidance from the new superintendent.

* High expectations vs. realistic goals. We need to find a balance between high expectations and achievable goals. Unfortunately, some of the objectives are simply unrealistic. We can’t mandate public opinion, because we are all independent thinkers (“Our most qualified college students and graduates will regard the profession of teaching as a desirable aspiration and dedicated, qualified teachers will teach all public school students by 2020”). We can’t have 100% parity of achievement, because we all have different abilities (“The achievement gaps in learning will begin closing in 2017 and will close by 2020”). We can’t control the efforts and successes of other states (“Hawaiʻi will be acknowledged as having the nation’s top public education system in 2025”).

* Early education starts at home. The Blueprint acknowledges, “Families are a child’s first and lifelong partner in education. Therefore, schools will embrace families by engaging them at the earliest possible stage in their journey to be true partners in their child’s development and learning.” I think that public education should focus on current responsibilities (K-12 and adult education), instead of taking on more responsibility and duplicating existing efforts by the Department of Health and nonprofits. Parents should decide whether their children are ready for preschool.

* Could you predict your future in elementary school? The Blueprint calls for “Implementation of a new comprehensive system of pathways will be provided for all students beginning in elementary school. Pathways will guide all students who aspire either to traditional colleges or post-secondary career and technical education.” Few of us know our career path or interests in elementary school. This focus could lock students into a particular “path” or subtly direct students toward a particular path that won’t fit them when they are older. What about pathways to public service, entrepreneurship, or military service?

* A lot of thought in BREATH and fern. Nā Hopena A‘o (HĀ) is “a framework of outcomes that reflects the Hawaiʻi Department of Education’s core values and beliefs in action throughout the public educational system.”  These core values and beliefs are a sense of Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total well-being and Hawaiʻi (“BREATH”). I have to wonder how long it took to come up with this acronym. Similarly, there was a lot of effort dedicated to the meaning of the logo, a Hāpuʻu fern – the symbolism, color, and shape.

Whether or not you have school-age children, I encourage you to read the Blueprint for yourself and submit your comments to the ESSA Team – and share them on Better Hawaii.

What do you think about Hawaii’s public education goals? Do you agree with their priorities and strategies?

Live like Wonder Woman

Posted July 4, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community

Tags: ,

I love superhero movies. I enjoy the extraordinary superpowers (I would choose telekinesis as my power), the fight for justice, and the struggle of good vs. evil. And I revel in the movie “Wonder Woman” (2017), with its blend of sword-fighting, optimism, and humor.

Diana (Wonder Woman) is a role model and inspiration for our times. chooses to be part of the world, instead of keeping separate from it in a Fortress or Tower. She takes a stand when she sees suffering and wrong-doing, instead of waiting for someone else to take action. She chooses to believe that people can be strong and capable, instead of weak and misguided.

We need more Wonder Women in the world, and we have to find her in ourselves.

Here are five ways we can all live like Wonder Woman:

1. Choose your future. We can challenge and improve ourselves in ways that don’t hurt anyone else. Though Queen Hippolyta forbids the young Diana to train as a warrior, Diana chooses to become a warrior anyway. Diana doesn’t want to be coddled or protected; she wants to belong in Amazon society and she wants to have a purpose in life.

2. Value the truth. We can make important decisions based on the most accurate information at the time, instead of relying on emotion or opinion. The Amazons use the Lasso of Truth to question Steve Trevor, instead of killing him outright. Bound by the lasso, Steve cannot tell a lie, and in fact is compelled to tell the truth. Only then do the Amazons – and Diana – decide how to act.

3. Believe that people are worth saving. We can choose to help people because that is who we are, whether they deserve it or not. In many superhero movies, humans are either villains or innocent by-standers, but we rarely see them as complex or flawed. At first, Diana believes in the innate goodness of humans. Later, when she sees that humans can choose to be evil, and wonders if they deserve to be saved, Steve reminds her that “It’s not about ‘deserve.’ It’s about what you believe.” Wonder Woman believes in us.

4. Lead from the front. We can be role models, inspiring others to challenge themselves or fight for a cause. For most superheroes, humans are only there to be rescued or to act as a support team. Diana does not prevent others from fighting for what they believe in. She trusts humans to fight beside her, acknowledging their strength and integrity, because she knows that she can’t do it alone and it is everyone’s fight.

5. Make the world better. We can take a stand when we see suffering and wrong-doing. Time and again, Diana takes action when people tell her that it is not her fight, that she doesn’t have a voice in the discussion, that she is only one person against an army. And when she is told that she needs to ignore the suffering of the people right in front of her and focus on the biggest threats, Diana proves that you can make things better for individuals and society.

How do you live like Wonder Woman?

“A Prophecy Fulfilled” by Lance Tominaga

Posted July 1, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , , , ,

Clarence T.C. Ching was a frail, sickly child, but his father made a bold prediction about him: “If he survives, he will become an important, prosperous and outstanding man, and he will help the rest of the family.”

I didn’t realize his fragile beginning, the pressure to succeed, or the scope of his legacy until I read “A Prophecy Fulfilled: The Story of Clarence T.C. Ching” (2009) by a biography commissioned by The Clarence T.C. Foundation and written by writer Lance Tominaga. Ching helped his own family and also had lasting impact on Hawaii communities.

In this short biography, we see glimpses of his personal and business life. Clarence Thing Chock Ching (1912-1985) was born in Anahola, Kauai to Ching Hook and Hee Kam Sing. He was raised on Confucianist ideals of loving others, which was reinforced by the Christian ideal of charity. He was a champion boxer and graduated from St. Louis School in 1932. He married Dorothy “Dot” Sau Pung Tom, and raised three children.

I would have liked to read more personal anecdotes about Ching and his life in his own words, but we do learn that he was modest, unassuming, generous, visionary, and led with quiet decisiveness. He did not need to take credit for his philanthropy. He shared his wealth with his 10 siblings and his wife’s 9 siblings, and he shared his time and thoughtfulness with Governor John A. Burns and nonprofit boards like St. Francis Medical Center, St. Louis School, and Chaminade University.

In business, he was an astute risk-taker who dreamed big and kept his word. In 1956, Ching and his business partner Kan Jung Luke purchased Damon Tract in Kaloaloa for $4.5 million, and in 1957 he bought the ahupua‘a of Moanalua from Sam Damon for $9 million with a handshake deal. He helped develop affordable housing (Moanalua Hillside Apartments, Moanalua Gardens, Lakeside, Kukui Gardens), envisioned Honolulu Country Club, co-founded Hawaii National Bank in 1060, was a driving force behind Chinese Cultural Plaza, and had the foresight to recommend St. Francis Medical Center West (now Hawaii Medical Center West) in Leeward, rather than Pearl City.

Clarence has left an inspiring legacy. The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation continues to fund education and human services. His story reminds us of the value of connections (a network of St. Louis School alumni), keeping your word, and giving back to the community. “I have been blessed with good fortune in this community,” Ching stated. “I consider the Kukui project an opportunity to discharge this obligation.”

In fact, Ching’s philanthropy and generosity touched my life in ways that I didn’t know before. My husband grew up in Kukui Gardens and ate at restaurants in the Chinese Cultural Plaza, and his parents purchased an apartment in Moanalua, along the Honolulu Country Club. Honolulu would be a very different place today without his influence, vision, and open-heartedness.

A student design challenge for Honolulu rail

Posted June 27, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Government

Tags: , ,

A few weeks ago, the University of Hawai‘i announced the winners of the “Make the Ala Wai Awesome” Student Design Challenge. The challenge generated ideas for improving the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu, and engaged students in coming up with real-world solutions. Components of the project included flood mitigation, ecosystem restoration and preservation, community engagement, cultural connections, public private partnerships, and improvement of the visitor experience.

I love the idea of student design challenges. It is a bold and practical way to get students involved in the community, show them that they can make a difference, and to help them share their ideas for the future. It could also turn them into more involved citizens and voters.

I think we need a student design challenge for Honolulu Rail. With rail transit costs increasing, lawmakers unable to keep funding upwardly-revised budget estimates, voters burdened with high taxes and a high cost of living, the only ones who haven’t voiced an opinion are the students who will one day ride and pay for rail.

A “Make or Remake Honolulu Rail” Student Design Challenge would give students a choice: to build rail or stop rail contraction.

If students choose to build rail, they would need to come up with a plan to pay for it, including operations, maintenance, and repairs. Would students suggest raising taxes, adding tolls, or finding sponsors?

If students choose to stop rail construction, they would need to come up with a plan to re-purpose the existing columns and guide ways, use the land that has been purchased or condemned for rail, and Would students suggest building skyway bike paths, breezeway parks, or tiny homes?

Here’s what my 10-year old son had to say: “I think that we should finish rail. I believe this because rail is over 50% completed. If we would stop it and destroy it, the government would spend just as much money and time to stop it. If we complete it, we might be able to regain the amount of money we spent to construct it. We could also reduce the amount of fossil fuels used and greenhouse gasses.

How does he think we could pay for it? “We would pay for it by raising funds from other rail supporter organizations. Maybe the government and HART can make a deal with the citizens. I think that [we could do this] by raising the visitor taxes by 5%. 1% would go to an agreement of what the citizens want to be fixed. The 4% goes to the government and 3% of the 4% would go to help encourage organizations to be willing to help and support rail.  The extra 1% would be going toward to finishing rail.”

If the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), Hawaii lawmakers, and the City and County of Honolulu are struggling to keep rail going, do you think that students might help find more answers? After all, today’s students and their children will be paying for rail in the future.


Photo from Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Photo Gallery Clipart from

Dogs, responsibility, and aging

Posted June 20, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family

Tags: , , ,

Usually parents buy children a pet, and it becomes the parents’ pet. In our case, our dog has become our son’s dog – or rather, our son has become our dog’s boy.

When my son was young, our yellow lab was a very patient companion. She let him pull her tail without whining and try to ride her like a pony without growling. She would gently nose his cheek when he fell asleep on the couch.

Now that my son is 10 years old, he takes more responsibility for our dog. He gets her water, feeds her, and helps take her on walks. He is learning to take responsibility for someone else.

But a funny thing happened. Whenever our dog wants something – food, water, a walk – she doesn’t come to us anymore. Instead, she goes to our boy (her boy?) and noses him when he is trying to read, play games, or do homework. She barks a warning-bark and then pay-attention bark. Our dog, once so patient with our son, has become more demanding.

As I age, I hope that I show more restraint and understanding when my son is caught up with his own life, and I look for a measure of his attention. It’s always hard when we need to keep up with changes in our relationships – when our children need us less and when we need them more.

This post did not turn out the way I expected it to. I started off writing about responsibility and the changing relationship between our dog and our son, and it has turned ended with a glimpse of the future, when a care-giver may become a dependent.

Did you have a childhood pet? If yes, who really took care of your pet? And why do the words “caregiver” and “caretaker” mean the same thing – someone who takes care of another?

A two minimum wage proposal

Posted June 13, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business, Economy

Tags: , ,

Minimum wage, the lowest wage that hourly employees earn, is a controversial issue. Supporters of minimum wage laws believe that it helps lift people out of poverty and reduce income inequality (the gap between higher-income and lower-income people). Opponents of minimum wage laws believe that it reduces the number of new jobs and raises prices, as businesses adjust for higher labor and payroll costs.

Rather than debating the value of the minimum wage, I would like to propose that we create two categories of wages: minimum wages and minimum living wages.

The minimum wage would be the lowest wage that entry-level, unskilled employees earn. It means that businesses could limit their up-front investment in an employee who will only be temporary.

The minimum living wage would be the lowest wage for more experienced, skilled employees who have worked part-time or full-time for an business for over one year. It would put into law the current practice of offering employees raises during annual performance reviews.

Businesses take most of the risks when hiring entry-level employees, so it makes sense to offer a lower minimum wage. Businesses must conduct interviews, offer job training, fill out employment paperwork, trust employees to show up on time and do the job.

Of course, new employees take risks as well – that the paperwork will be correct and that they will get paid – but there is less uncertainty in accepting the job, especially if a business has been around for a few years. Employees have the reassurance of visiting the business and seeing how it works before accepting the job.

After one year on the job, wages could be increased to the minimum living wage, a higher wage that is closer to what employees need to live and work in the area. The minimum living wage could also be tied to increased benefits, such as additional vacation time, family leave, retirement plans, or continuing education subsidies.

This one-year minimum living wage probation allows businesses to evaluate the employee’s skills and fit with the company. It also allows employees to decide whether they want to keep working for the company and gives them job experience if they decide to look for a new job.

A good business with sound finances will voluntarily offer raises the employees who show up and work hard, even if they can’t offer raises every year. While there is always the risk that an unscrupulous or poorly-managed business will fire employees before the one-year mark to avoid paying a higher wage, those businesses would suffer from higher job turnover, constant training, and poor reputation.

Do you think that two minimum wages would be an effective compromise between employees and businesses? What do you think of minimum wage laws?

Looking back at fifth grade

Posted June 6, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Education

Tags: , , , , ,

It was a bittersweet day when my son finished fifth grade at a Honolulu public elementary school. He really enjoyed his fourth and fifth grade years, and he didn’t want to say goodbye to his wonderful teachers and friends. I encouraged him to keep in touch with them, and also look forward to all of the new teachers and friends he will meet in sixth grade.

Students today have greater opportunities for academics and community service, and higher expectations overall. This year, there was a stronger emphasis on computer work, with online activities and Google Drive, and public speaking. There was a focus on collaborative projects, teamwork, and presentations.

I’d like to share our fifth grade school year experience.

One day of articulation classes. For the second year, all of the articulation classes (Art, Computer, Hawaiian, Library, Mandarin, Music, and PE) were scheduled on the same day. It is a winning change. Parents knew what to expect on articulation day, and teachers had more time to collaborate with other teachers.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Exhibition. The highlight of the year was the fifth grade Exhibition project. For the “Sharing the Planet” unit, each team of 2-4 students chose a project, conducted background research, contacted an expert, prepared a presentation, and constructed a community action plan. Everything culminated in Exhibition Night, when the students presented their project in two sessions. Projects ranged from endangered species, overfishing, and the environment, to crime, rail, and human welfare. Community outreach included a food drive, clothes collection, recycling, and sign-waving. At the end of the unit, students wrote Reflections on what they learned and how they could improve. It was my son’s favorite project of the year, and an impressive accomplishment.

Personally, one of my favorite IB units was “How We Express Ourselves,” in which students wrote narrative fiction using figurative language. Many assignments during the year were expository and fact-based, so this was a chance for students to showcase their inventive and ingenious imagination (alliteration) in a thousand different ways (hyperbole).

Online and on-task. In past years, students practiced math online using iXL, and reading and writing online using Achieve3000. Both websites track students’ assignments and achievements. This year, fifth graders also used Google Drive to complete assignments, communicate with teachers, and collaborate with team members. Students still had a good amount of workbooks and worksheets, but the online drive made it easier to edit papers and slides – and let parents peek at their homework when they weren’t around (was I not supposed to admit that?).

Speech festival. At my son’s school, Speech Tech Club is open to third, fourth, and fifth graders. Students audition for the club and commit to weekly meetings and a lot of practice, either solo or in a group. Students performed in front of other classes and at the third quarter assembly, and finally performed at the Honolulu District Speech Festival in front of five judges. At this stage, it’s not competitive, but the judges write feedback about each speaker. There’s a nice ceremony at the end, where the participants receive a medal. The confidence that students gain from public speaking will definitely help them as they get older.

The Friends. We were fortunate to have energetic and organized Friends (the school’s parent group) to coordinate fundraisers, community events, and Teacher Appreciation Week. They were welcoming and helped to make the school feel like a community. My son says that the last movie night was the best day of his life (I hope it’s an exaggeration, but I’m glad he enjoyed it).

“It was very hard for me to say goodbye to all my friends and classmates,” my son wrote in his journal at the end of the year. It is hard for me to say goodbye to this amazing elementary school too.

Do you have school-age children? How does your elementary school experience compare with theirs?