Letters – June

Letters to the Editor may be sent to: Honolulu Magazine, 1000 Bishop St., Suite 405, Honolulu, HI, 96808-0913, faxed: 537-6455 or e-mailed: letters_honmag@pacificbasin.net.

“Grading the Public Schools,” May 2006
Our May issue focused on public education. In “Grading the Public Schools,” we ranked 259 schools, based on data from the Department of Education. In “Our Schools: Has Anything Changed?” associate editor Ronna Bolante revisited a 2001 story, “The Death of Public School,” to find out if Hawai‘i’s public education system had improved.

Another rating of public schools. For what purpose? Suppose we were to rate doctors by the percentage of patients who survive their treatments. Dermatologists would rate higher than trauma surgeons. Are they better doctors, then? Would we have learned anything?

Rating schools on the basis of total student outcomes and subjective interviews is an unfair and all but useless exercise. It tells nothing about what a particular school has to offer a particular student. As your accompanying article points out, schools in neighborhoods where the socioeconomic level and culture are encouraging to learning will always rank higher in such ratings than schools in neighborhoods where students come from homes without books or newspapers and from cultures that do not value formal education highly.

Well-known factors that predict success for students in any school include: a high-quality administrative staff that works diligently with teachers to minimize disciplinary and other non-pedagogical problems faced in the classroom; caring teachers who are well prepared and enthusiastic; classroom lessons that are engaging, with appropriate hands-on learning experiences; small classes that create close-knit learning communities; a school and community culture that expects students to succeed; and, probably most important of all, home environments where reading and learning activities are encouraged, where parents are readers, where family discussions are common and where school activities are actively supported.

None of the above factors was considered in the report. Your article is, in fact, a grading of the educational system rather than the individual schools. The schools should have been listed in alphabetical order, since information on specific schools is interesting, but the rating order is essentially meaningless.

John Flanigan

Restructure the monolithic $2 billion BOE-DOE empire? Eliminate the principal’s union? Level the playing field on spending per child? Change report cards? Force-feed standardized content? Give teachers raises? Expand charter schools? All of these solutions are cosmetic unless we change the basic philosophical approach to the purpose of education, especially early childhood education.

People need a foundation in thinking skills, because they build problem-solving and decision-making abilities. This may sound obvious, but ask yourself, were you ever taught to think in school? Did you ever take a basic class, Thinking 101? An advanced class? This skill of thinking, critically and creatively, is at the center of how we make decisions and solve problems as adults. It should be reflected throughout the curricula, across content areas and developed as the third core competency for education in the future.

Once we can ensure our children can learn effectively, think critically and creatively, and play well with each other, then we should teach content. Whenever that happens, learning will be accelerated.

Drake Beil

Write a piece on how many of our legislators in office over the last five years have sent their own children to public school, kindergarten through 12th grade. And write about the ones who don’t. Include the members of the Board of Education who similarly have eschewed the public schools for a private education for their own children, and the entire bureaucracy within the Department of Education that has children educated privately. Let’s not forget teachers within the public school system. How many of them are paying private-school tuition?

Newsweek has a cover story on America’s Best (public) High Schools. There’s no reason Hawai‘i could not have a school on that list—except that the people in charge lack the will. Perhaps the reason is that many of them don’t have a personal connection.

All four of my children attended public school in Hawai‘i. All of my school-age grandchildren are now in private school. That says something.

Mollie Foti

Thank you so much for the story on public schools. I greatly value the survey as well as the observations in the well-written, follow-up article. However, I do have one request. In the statistics of the parents, teachers and students surveyed, it would be helpful to know what percentage of the surveys were returned or, even better, what percentage of that population returned a response. For instance, Waikiki Elementary reported that 100 percent of their teachers would send their own child to school here. But did only five teachers return that survey? And are there only five teachers at the school, or 50? It would make a big difference.

As an interested parent, I try to make it a point to analyze the information given me regarding the public schools, instead of taking any one viewpoint without any critical thought. Thank you so much for this invaluable tool!

Yolanda Miller

Editor’s note: Due to space constraints, we don’t include the School Quality Survey response rates in our chart, but that information is available from the Department of Education online at http://arch.k12.hi.us/.

I think your story was demoralizing to the many hard-working teachers, administrators, staff and volunteers at schools like ours that fall on the short end of your school ranking. If you really want to be fair, where is the column for the number of foster children and the number of schools each child has attended, the number of homeless families, the number of incarcerated parents, the number of teachers with less than two years of experience, the number of teachers with more than 10 years of experience, the average number of new hires each year, the average temperature of a classroom on the Wai‘anae Coast on an August day, the distance teachers have to travel every day to the school at which they teach. I won’t even go into drug-related problems. Maybe you can poll government and business leaders and find out where their children and grandchildren attend school. Would you find a correlation to the ranking of the public schools?

I believe your target was the state school system, but unfortunately, you’re also attacking the moral fiber of this fragile Hawaiian community. We’re a small group of people trying to do our best to increase student learning one day at a time, one child at a time. It might not show on any standardized test or DOE school survey, because you have to look deep into our hearts and souls. If HONOLULU is all about statistics, next time you might want to do a far more in-depth and thorough job of considering all the variables, including the people factor.

Kathlyn Furuya
Teacher, Nanakuli Elementary

In our May 2006 “Grading the Public Schools” chart, the columns listing schools’ standardized test scores were mislabeled. The column labeled “Reading” should have been labeled “Math” and vice versa. The error does not affect the schools’ overall score, grade or ranking. A corrected, searchable version of the chart is available on our site here.

In our March 2006 Kokua Calendar section, we misidentified Sue Wesselkamper, president of Chaminade University of Honolulu, as Sara Levy.