Editor's Page: Ten Years of Schools Coverage

Looking back on a decade of covering Hawaii’s state Department of Education.

Photo: Linny Morris

"Under threat of federal intervention, Hawaii’s public school teachers and the state settled a 20-day strike Tuesday that had kept 183,000 children out of class, frazzled parents and drained teachers’ pocketbooks across the state.”

Does this ring a bell?

That was how the Los Angeles Times reported the end of the April 2001 teachers strike, in which the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly shut down public education statewide, for everyone from kindergarteners to graduate students. I quote the Los Angeles Times to remind you that this strike was historic in scale, reported on from coast to coast.

Public school teachers were demanding a 22-percent raise. “The teachers are angry and they’re willing to do everything to make sure our public schools improve,” then-HSTA spokesperson Danielle Lum told us.

According to then-HSTA president Karen Ginoza, the raises were essential to putting a quality teacher in every classroom.

It is a coincidence that we published “The Death of Public School” the following month, in our May 2001 issue. Then-editor John Heckathorn and I had been talking about such an article—one that would sum up decades of public frustration with a failing educational system—for years. I was already hard at work interviewing and researching when the threat of the strike emerged.

But the strike helped crystallize an essential argument for us—that the problem with the DOE was that it was really run for the benefit of the adults who work in it, not the children who attend its schools. What else would account for the fact that, by 2001, concerns about Hawaii’s poor standing in education, then decades old, could result in so little improvement, despite a parade of governors and superintendents promising a school system second to none?

In 2001, HSTA won a package of raises adding up to 18.5 percent, and the conversion of four instructional days into professional-development days.

Of the pay raise, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano said, “It places Hawaii very, very high. We believe it places Hawaii among the top 10 average salaries in the nation.”

“It will help us be competitive on a national level to be able to retain our quality teachers,” said Ginoza.

Who were the real winners in the strike? According to then-HSTA executive director, Joan Husted, “I think the ones who won in negotiations were the kids in Hawaii.”

Here’s what that winning looks like: In the decade since Husted’s declaration of victory for the children, graduation rates haven’t budged, college success after leaving a DOE school hasn’t improved, and our math and reading test scores still rank among the lowest in the nation. You can read the full details in “The Death of Public School—10 Years Later”.