Ready for the Real World?

Why Hawaii’s public education system isn’t doing enough to prepare your kids for life after high school.


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Over the past two decades, the demise of the plantation era and the push to create more knowledge-based industries, such as technology, have magnified the DOE’s shortcomings. A generation or two ago, many high school graduates could find jobs that allowed them to buy a house and raise a family. Today, graduates who lack education or training beyond high school will probably earn less than those with college experience. Nationally, a high school graduate earns a median weekly income of $554, compared with $672 for workers with associate degrees and $900 for those with bachelor’s degrees, according to a 2003 Bureau of Labor Statistics study.

Despite the economic reality, plantation-era perceptions linger today. Only 41 percent of Hawaii residents consider a college education “absolutely necessary,” according to the People’s Pulse survey conducted in 2006 for the Hawaii Business Roundtable and the Pacific Resource Partnership. Half of respondents—51 percent—said a college education was “helpful but not necessary.”

“Low-skill jobs are being replaced with jobs that have higher requirements for reading, writing and arithmetic,” says Rota. “We got a whole set of changing work requirements and expectations that the schools haven’t changed quickly enough to meet.”

Today’s high school graduates are expected to change professions, not just jobs, at least five times in their lifetimes, according to the Hawaii Workforce Development Council. That puts a premium on skills—critical thinking, computer literacy, communication skills and so on—that will be valued in any field. 

There’s no good reason Hawaii students can’t learn everything they’ll need for success in the real world. It’s just that our public school system isn’t set up to help them. 

“People’s ability is so superior to the kind of education we’re providing them—it’s almost dumbing them down,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s worse than obsolete. It’s turning people off to learning.”
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