Interview with David Miyashiro and Marc Porter Magee

50CAN CEO Marc Porter Magee interviews David Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN. David discusses the close of a successful legislative session, along with the innovative programs he launched this year in the Aloha State: a tutoring initiative and a FAFSA-completion pilot.


All right. Okay. Welcome, everyone, and welcome, David. We’re excited to dig into all things ed reform and Hawaii. So I’ve got my shirt I picked up at the summit in Hawaii so hopefully honoring this conversation and I’m excited to dig in.

Aloha. Good morning, Marc. It’s nice to be here and I do agree and appreciate your fashion choices today.

Excellent. Thank you. Well, so there’s a lot going on–you just finished your session, so I thought we could start there. Help us understand what you have been focused on the last year or so in Hawaii. What did we get done last year? What were you trying to get done this year and how did we do?

So I think one of the things that Hawaii kids can– has in common with our colleagues across the 50CAN network is we’re really seizing upon, I think, what was revealed during the pandemic, and all of the tremendous needs, to actually push for an education system where we can believe in better and make sure that what was happening before the pandemic, that wasn’t serving all kids very well, that we can actually push the envelope and use that disruption as an opportunity to think differently and to act differently. And so, this is something that has been an ongoing fight for us but really took off big time during the pandemic with programs like Wi-Fi on Wheels. Last session really focused on providing students with career readiness opportunities, nearly $3 million for quality industry-recognized credentials for students. And this year is very much building off of that. So we are pushing hard to put together that foundation and the building blocks for a high-quality system of the future.

Excellent. And it seems like David, that was one of the areas where it took a lot to introduce new ideas. You were really at the forefront of not just taking the old playbook and saying, “Let’s do that again,” but thinking about what do kids need now, what are the needs– what did it take for you to put that issue on the map and what were the big challenges? Because I think that’s something that a lot of states are trying to figure out right now.

I think in many ways, the pandemic created this pretty large window of opportunity to just highlight these long-term trends that are growing clearer and clearer. In Hawaii, one of those trends is an affordability crisis. And we think, yes, construction of new residential units and looking at how our local businesses are supported, all that matters, and we have to look at the K12 pipeline of students and what are we doing as a community to make sure that when those kids graduate, they are set up for incredible job opportunities right here at home. If we’re not doing that, I don’t care how many housing units you build because the kids are not going to be able to stay and not just work and afford to live but have that purpose and that connection to peers and colleagues that really is at the core of a lot of communities.

Yeah. And I know Hawaii is kind of at the forefront of that. It’s an expensive place to live so therefore, you need to have the job that can help you stay. I was struck by a poll recently that came out from EdChoice. They asked teenagers themselves, “What are you trying to get out of school?” and gave them a whole range of options. And number one at the top of their list was the skills they need to get a good job. So it feels like this is really connecting with what kids are asking for and it’s trying to figure out how to align that with what we’re actually providing.

And in Hawaii, I think we have one of those situations for better or worse, where we’re forced to figure this out. We continue to have data that shows we’re losing population and more of our young folks aren’t able to stay here, so in my mind, it’s unconscionable to do anything else other than focus on this. And so with the legislation that passed last year, legislation that we were proud to support this year, I really think we’re pushing our state in that direction.

Yeah, that’s great. Another thing you’re working on that is connected to getting kids what they need is on tutoring, and you’ve been leading the way there with some innovative partnerships. I know this is something that a lot of other states and districts are looking at. There was a recent survey that came out of districts that Chalkbeat reported on where it revealed that only 3% of kids in Chicago were getting access to the tutoring program – I think it was 1% in Miami, 1% in Philadelphia – so how are you tackling tutoring and what are the challenges to getting kids what they are asking for and need?

Well, one of the challenges kind of first and foremost is just transparency of information. We struggled to figure out just how many kids exactly in our state are receiving quality, high-dosage tutoring and so one of our initiatives this year was a resolution to actually require the state Board of Education to produce that report and make sure that we can see what are the equity gaps, but in the meantime, we’re not sitting around waiting for that to happen. We launched a program this year called Hawaii Tutoring, which really focuses on our rural and native Hawaiian students to use digital platforms as a way to bring high-quality tutors into the homes of these students and make sure that they can get support. And the response has been incredible, and I think really speaks to the fact that parents are desperate and hungry for these kinds of supports, and when they’re done right and the tutor is a familiar presence who is really helping the kid with kind of clear goals, that magic can happen and the real impact is there. So we’re proud to support that program and we’re really curious to see what can we do more across the state to leverage our resources so that every kid does have access to high-quality tutoring.

Yeah. That’s great. And it raises this interesting question, which you kind of named was– we have some tools at our disposal right now with the traditional offerings of the education system, attendance records and these sort of things, but all these other programs and services we want to offer, there’s not even usually a central place to go and find out how many kids are getting it. So it feels like if we can’t solve the measurement issue, it’s going to be a lot harder to pick a goal in the future and actually figure out how to get there.

And even having clearer and better definitions. There are programs out there, even online ones, where it’s kind of an, “Open office hours,” and kind of, “Bring your homework,” but Hawaii Tutoring is really based on that quality, personalized model where the kids are coming back with that same tutor and building that mentorship and relationship that really does make a difference in the trust building. So again, we know that a lot of states are looking at this effort right now. Our colleagues at Louisiana Kids Matter I know have been moving this issue forward as well so we don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon.

Yeah. And I feel like in all those ways, you’re sort of at the forefront of transforming what we mean by ed reform. And I know that there’s a whole set of kind of commentary right now of where is ed reform and is it– has it passed, is there’s something new being created. The columnist though in the Washington Post, Perry Bacon, had a piece last week. It was called ed reform is dying. Now, we can actually reform education. And I feel like there’s this whole conversation that happens at that kind of pundit level. But you’re actually on the ground trying to figure out what is the movement we can build, what’s the ground we can take. What are you seeing?

For me, I think, within all of these big national narratives, there are clear opportunities for community-level and state-level organizations to really dive into the stickiness. We’ll take an issue like college affordability. I think the national narrative, it’s been an important one to talk about the impact of student loan debt. However, we’re finding and a lot of our counselor partners are finding that this persistent negative narrative is actually deterring many kids from great options. And that states and our federal government have resources available through things like Pell Grants or other state scholarships so that a kid could go to community college for free or a local university for free. But those kids are not getting to that point because all they hear are national reports that 50K plus a year to go to a private school. And so I think we need to be smarter in how we talk about these issues. I think some issues are fundamental like our kids able to read on grade level. That shouldn’t be controversial. And I know there’s a lot of good work happening there. And how can we make sure that our kids are set up to really be part of the revolution that is happening right now? Every legislative session, we’ve had bills related to computer science and technology because we just see we cannot be on the sidelines when it comes to what’s coming down the pike and innovation. We’ve seen the impact that something like ChatGPT has had on our education systems everywhere. And so our thought is we’d rather our kids be two steps ahead than five steps behind. And if every kid has access to a high-quality computer science experience, which right now it’s less than 20% of kids even have that opportunity in Hawaii, we think that would be a huge deal, whether or not they’re learning about AI or game design or creating companies in the future that are going to push us way beyond what we ever expect.

Yeah, that’s great. And I do feel like it’s easy for us to sit back and hope that kids get connected to it. It’s much more powerful to get out there and say, “We’re going to expose it to you in the right way in a way where you can use it productively.” And I think that can make a big difference. It’s funny how much these changes are sweeping through. I think it was the same at choice poll. It said over 40% of kids are aware of ChatGPT. I think it’s about half are actively using it. The new version is only a couple of months old. So it really is sweeping through in education in ways where we’ve got to figure out how to make this productive or it’s just going to become some kind of another source of inequality.

And I think to me that’s what’s exciting about the work that we’re doing right now and the work that 50CAN is doing, which is to say we have our lines in the sand and the things that have been fought over for a long time. And that matters. Equity matters, making sure kids have foundational skills matters, and things are moving so quickly that we have to have at least one foot in kind of the future’s door and try to predict and understand what’s coming down the pike that we can help prepare our kids, families, and schools for. So I think, again, sometimes it’s complicated to try to live in both of those worlds, but I think that’s really where this ed reform 2.0 or 3.0, whatever people want to call it, I think that’s going to be a huge window of opportunity.

Yeah. So you’ve obviously finished your session. That’s an intense period for you. You now got the summer to kind of build the ideas for what’s going to come up in your next session in 2024. I’m sure there’s a lot of work to do with partners and parents and kids. But can you give us a little preview of some of the things that you think you’re going to want to focus on?

In some ways, it still feels like we’re wrapping up what we just went through. And so I don’t want to lose that. Just to kind of make folks aware, we were very pleased with our results this session had two major bills passed. Three resolutions that are really going to push our strategic thinking forward. And so everything from computer science to youth mental health to how do we recognize, learn everywhere, non-traditional credits in our system, to tutoring, to looking at youth employment practices for the first time in 20 years? I think there’s a lot of good meat on the bone there that we’re absolutely looking to build upon moving forward. We had a bill that didn’t make it this year that we would love to try to resurrect in some form in the future related to internship tax credits so that more of our employers, especially our small to medium-sized businesses, are actually able and incentivized to offer quality work-based learning experiences to kids. Unfortunately, it’s a hard year in general for tax credits in the legislature. But we think something like that, maybe in a new form, has an opportunity to move forward. We’re really excited about the literacy work that’s happening around the country and we think there’s some good support and momentum for that here.

And then, as I referenced before, there’s a lot of really interesting kind of impactful policy happening around college affordability. And I think Hawaii can really be a leader in this space. We have $12 million in federal grants that Hawaii kids could be getting, but eligible kids don’t know because they’re not completing a FAFSA. And so every time we tell kids, just imagine that there’s a room somewhere that’s locked up with $12 million in cash. And you could have the key to open that door and take what you need, but you’ll never get the key, right? You’ll never even know that that room is there. So we think there’s so much to do moving forward and we’re really excited for not just what we did this year, but what’s coming down the road too.

That’s great. So how can we follow along, David? Those of us at home, we want to kind of keep track of that work as you build that out and stay in touch along the way.

Absolutely. Well, we are actually working on an end-of-session recap video that we’re excited to roll out in the next couple of weeks. So you can check that out on our social media handles at HawaiiKidsCAN for our Hawaii tutoring work. It’s simple, And we also have a project page for Afford College HI. And so we know that there are a lot of challenges right now, not just in the education world, but kind of across all sorts of global policy issues. But we know that people, yes, they’re tired. They’ve been through a lot, but they’re also fired up and see those windows of opportunities that we see. So we’re looking forward to keep fighting the good fight and working alongside our colleagues and all of you at 50CAN.

Well, thank you for everything you do, David. It’s been a great year, and we’re looking forward to what’s coming up next.

Mahalo, Mark. Thanks.

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