WAIANAE, Oahu — The nation’s top education official is vowing to look into concerns about assessments for students attending Hawaiian-language immersion schools and how Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools are funded.
Noting that there was a time when the Hawaiian language was outlawed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he’s glad to see schools contributing to its revitalization.
Duncan on Monday visited the Ka Waihona o ka Naauao Public Charter School on the Waianae Coast, where he was greeted with lei and hula. At the oceanfront school, he even tried his hand at pounding taro root into poi, which he tasted.
Later, during a discussion, Native Hawaiian educational leaders laid out concerns such as some parents boycotting state tests in English because they want assessments created in Hawaiian.
Namaka Rawlins, representing Aha Punana Leo, which organizes Hawaiian-immersion preschools, said the state and federal education departments need to support education in both English and Hawaiian.
Duncan said he needs to do some “homework” and look into the assessment issue, as well as a concern raised about Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools not being eligible for federal grants aimed at Native Hawaiian organizations.
“Whatever we can do to help, we’ll do that,” he said.
Duncan is the first education secretary to visit Hawaii in about 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. He’s also believed to be the first to visit Waianae, a poor community that’s home to a high concentration of Native Hawaiians.
He called his Waianae visit “inspiring and emotional.”
Kamuela Enos, a Waianae community member who is on the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, said the “significance of his coming here can’t be understated.”
Duncan is in Hawaii, on a stop from New Zealand, to recognize the state’s public school system for making progress on ambitious reforms. His department had placed Hawaii’s $75 million “Race to the Top” grant on “high-risk” status for unsatisfactory progress, but Duncan has been vocal in praising the state for turning things around.
“The pace of change is pretty remarkable,” he said.
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa.