HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - One of the highest ranking education officials in the country is touring some of Hawaii's public schools. He is here to listen and learn and also meet with the state and teachers union about the 17 furlough days a year, which reduced Hawaii's school year to the fewest days in the country.
The secretary says Hawaii is going in the totally wrong direction and the state and unions need to put aside their personal agendas and keep kids in school.
Peter Cunningham is the second highest ranking education official in the country and he's sitting in the Niu Valley Middle School library like a student. He liked what he heard from this individual school but not what is happening to the school system as a whole.
"Teachers need to be teachers, kids need to be learning and the adults who are all responsible for this need to work this out in a different way than the way they have," said Peter Cunningham, U.S. Department of Education, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach.
The Assistant Secretary says school days, weeks and years are already too short. Standards are too low and kids are not being challenged enough. So to hear Hawaii shortened the school year even more is unacceptable.
"There are lots of ways to do this the one way you shouldn't do it is by cancelling class time," said Cunningham.
He credits Governor Linda Lingle for looking into using rainy day funds to eliminate furlough Friday's and wants the teachers union to be open to turning planning days into teaching days.
"Hopefully they'll work it out and work it out in a better way than that. I am meeting with the union leader later in the week so I will share with him the view of the President and the Secretary have which is the kids need to be in class," said Cunningham.
"The children need to have their instructional days. How you work that out? You can do combinations of vacation days, you can extend the day, there are half a dozen different things," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, (D) Hawaii's 1st District, who toured the school with Cunningham.
As students sat in class, parents hope the true lesson learned is that education shouldn't be a problem, it should be a priority.
"What I want him to hear is that the students need to come first and they have incredible gifts and talents and the future of our country is dependent on these kids," said Margaret South, Parent and President of Friends of Niu Valley. "I'm hoping we realize as a country that we need to put our investments in children and their education so they can compete on a world stage."
Secretary Cunningham's visit is part of the 'listening and learning tour' which started last May. Education officials will go to all 50 states and Guam and American Samoa in anticipation of revamping the No Child Left Behind Act next year.