Children deserve high-quality, public early education

Wil Okabe HSTA President


Children deserve high-quality, public early education

By Wil Okabe

We appreciate the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s interest and recent article on the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s (HSTA) legislative priorities for 2014 (“HSTA backs pre-kindergarten plan,” Dec. 24).

HSTA recognizes that public education in Hawaii needs to change to meet the changing education requirements that students face in this extremely complex world. That’s why we believe in optional pre-kindergarten and mandatory kindergarten for all children in Hawaii and do not support the use of public funding for private programs. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten provide a continuum of learning, and studies show that the earlier children are placed in a learning environment with well-qualified teachers, the more prepared and successful they are in school.

The 13,500 teachers who make up the HSTA want to lead the transformation of public education in the state. They are doing this by putting students at the center of this effort.

There is no “silver bullet” in transforming public schools in Hawaii. There is no one solution.

We believe we need to invest in today’s public school classrooms to build a foundation for improving student learning at all levels. This includes: smaller class sizes; providing up-to-date textbooks and computers; a well-rounded education that includes the arts, music and physical education; and safe and supportive learning environments. It also includes quality early-childhood education.

HSTA has a long history of advocating publicly funded, quality kindergarten programs throughout the state. HSTA supports optional-free, publicly funded, quality, “universal” pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4-year-old children whose parents choose to enroll them. These programs are not day-care programs, but high-quality education programs that research shows yields significant long-term benefits for those who participate.

Just as there is no one solution to transforming public education, there is no one group that is responsible.

HSTA believes that no matter what grade level — preschool through 12th grade — all public school students deserve to have qualified teachers in their classrooms and all teachers deserve the resources and support to help them improve the practice of teaching.

We — teachers, parents, opinion leaders, taxpayers, legislators and students — believe we have a responsibility to our children to provide them with an educational system that improves student learning, helps maximize their potential and prepares them for college or career.

The HSTA’s priority is to ensure the best teaching and learning environments to provide the best opportunities for the children of Hawaii. We look forward to working together with parents, the community, the state Department of Education, legislators and other stakeholders on continuing the dialogue on transforming Hawaii’s public schools. The future of children in Hawaii depends on all of us meeting our responsibilities.