Grading the Public Schools: What It Means

How good are the schools in your neighborhood? Are they getting any better? This report card tells all.


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(page 2 of 5)

Hunter took HONOLULU Magazine’s “Grading the Public School” chart from last year and merged it with other DOE data on the socioeconomic environment of each school, looking at such things as poverty, the education level of area parents, the number of children in special education and in English as a second language, attendance, suspensions, etc. “This way, he comes up with an index of what the chances are in that community, where the school resides, for that kid to succeed.”

In Hunter’s analysis, Hamamoto explained, a school like Nuuanu Elementary, which scored an A+ on our chart last year, is in a community with an opportunity index of 100. Farrington High School, a D+ school last year, is in a community with an opportunity index of 37.

Hamamoto is quick to point out that this analysis is Hunter’s, not the DOE’s official response. However, it is basically the same argument advanced last year by DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen when we inquired about poor school performance. It is the same defense the DOE has publicly offered on numerous occasions: the learning disabled, the poor, the immigrants, the uneducated parents who don’t value education for their own kids. All these are factors beyond its control. It’s unfair to judge the schools as having failed when the environment these kids come from is giving them no opportunity to succeed.

However, something seems to have gone missing in the system’s obsession with econometric “opportunity indexes” and “factors beyond the school’s control:” the mission. From their founding a century ago, public schools were supposed to provide the opportunity for kids to succeed. All the more so when the schools may be those kids’ only chance.

Hawaii’s education leaders seem caught in a contradiction. “Public education is to take care of all the citizens, whether they choose to come or not, the whole idea is we’ll service them. That’s why we have compulsory education,” explains Hamamoto. “I believe in our mission.”

But when the DOE’s figures show widespread dissatisfaction with the schools and low test scores? “We’ve created schools in certain areas where there are these populations … I don’t know if I’m responsible, not me personally but as an educator and superintendent, for the people who gravitate to and make those communities. All I’m saying with the eight factors beyond our control is that they’re there and we’re working through them.”

 

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