From Our Files: Education
Throughout 2013—our 125th anniversary year—From Our Files will focus on a different theme each month, looking back at how particular aspects of life in Honolulu were lived and reported on by HONOLULU Magazine and its predecessor, Paradise of the Pacific.
“It is everywhere in Hawaii recognized that the greatest and gravest problems of the school systems, public and private, are those arising from the immense racial and language differences between the Caucasians and the Orientals, and the numerical superiority of the latter,” writes Riley Allen, editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in an essay for Paradise of the Pacific. The goal of education in Hawaii? Americanization. “The public schools are the chief agency in harmonizing and developing the citizenship of the future … [molding] young people of many bloods into men and women not forgetful or ashamed of their race-origin but proud of an American citizenship broad enough to include the children of all bloods.”
Throughout the year, Paradise published long articles on major schools on Oahu, including the University of Hawaii on its 25th anniversary, Punahou and, in March, the Kamehameha Schools. The latter was geared toward vocational training at the time, with boys spending half of each month in their final two years working at such industries as Oahu Sugar Co., Matson Navigation Co., Mutual Telephone and Schuman Motor. Each senior girl has “the Senior Practice Cottage, in which each … spends a six-week period [experiencing] actual home conditions, including the care of the baby, planning and preparation of meals, organization of a budget, entertaining of guests and maintenance of the home.”
Undergraduates at UH have “been examined by psychologists who want to know how the product of Hawaii’s schools stacks up against Mainland students,” reports Paradise. “They’ve been given a standard test on current social problems, history and social studies, literature, science, fine arts and mathematics, prepared by the famed American Council on Education.” How did Hawaii do? Terrific. “The 1944-45 freshman scored 126, which is just one point below Mainland norms,” or the equivalent of being just one month’s worth of education behind.
HONOLULU Magazine interviews Donnis Thompson, then six months into her job as Hawaii’s superintendent of education. “Why can’t we count on a graduate of the Hawaii public schools being able to read?” asks HONOLULU. “We’re addressing that in terms of the HSTECT. Any who’s not able to pass the HSTECT examination will not receive a diploma.” The test debuted in 1983 as HSTECT (Hawaii State Test of Essential Competencies), then was abolished in 1999 in favor of Hawaii Content and Performance Standards. As of 2013, those measures have been replaced by the Common Core State Standards.
Almost 20 years after HONOLULU asked superintendent Thompson why we couldn’t count on a Hawaii public school graduate being able to read, the magazine declares the system of state government-run schools an intractable failure. “The DOE knows we aren’t happy,” writes HONOLULU. “In its 1998 Hawaii Opinion Poll of Public Education, nearly 71 percent of public school parents graded Hawaii’s schools a ‘C’ or worse. Fewer than 2 percent graded them an ‘A.’” By 2001, DOE schools had consistently ranked as among the nation’s worst performing, for years, with diffused accountability, financial mismanagement and union protectionism among the chief causes.
An emerging trend at the turn of the 21st century, both in Hawaii and on the Mainland, is the rise of homeschooling as an alternative to public and private schools. “Homeschooling only became legal in all 50 states in 1993 and for many people, it still carries a whiff of the fringe. Homeschoolers? Those are religious zealots, right? Isolated kooks who run their houses on solar power?” says HONOLULU. “But it’s a phenomenon that’s steadily growing. The number of homeschooled students on record with the state Department of Education has jumped by 17 percent in the past three years. Something about it must work.” The magazine profiled three Island families making a go of it. One mom’s homeschooling work is “a daily juggling act, keeping each of the girls engaged and completing her assignments for the day, and herding them all to the many lessons and activities they’re enrolled in—ballet, P.E., field trips to museums. …. No sick days here, no vacations.”
Did you know? In 2003, HONOLULU began ranking Hawaii’s public schools by performance and satisfaction. Top school that year? Noelani Elementary. At the bottom: Waianae Intermediate.