The News Explained

This page of the website is to share with you some of the important, on-gong issues in Hawaiian life as time goes by. It is not a “here’s what happened at ten o’clock last night” newscast, but rather this column will address meaty issues that do not disappear in news cycle or two.

The first issue we’ll address is one that is absolutely critical to the survival of any state or nation: the quality of its education.

Public education in Hawai’i has been poor ever since I’ve been reading about it, and that is for about forty years. Annual testing scores continue to be poor and little ever seems to be done to fix it. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for this, but let’s take a look at this from a dispassionate perspective, if that is possible.

As a way to promote a possible ‘fix’ for this problem, three former governors of Hawai’i were asked to study the subject and produce a report regarding it. Here is what they came up with:


For years, Hawai’i has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public education with the following results:

§ Median scores on national exams are close to being the lowest in country

§ Business and military leaders say the poor school system makes it difficult to attract good people to the Islands

§ Labor unions say public school grads often score poorly on apprentice examinations

§ The University of Hawai’i system reports that many students are ill-prepared to take courses at even the community or junior-college level

§ Many companies say that even high school graduate are not prepared for entry level jobs

The current system is controlled by the state’s Board of Education, the state Legislature and the governor.


§ Make the governor responsible for state education; replace the Board of Education with a board appointed by the governor.

§ Empower Principals. Give them the power and authority they need to run their schools, then hold them accountable. Most importantly, give them the power to hire and fire poorly performing teachers. Give them also control of their budgets by taking it away from centralized bureaucracies.

§ Increase Classroom Time for Students.

Some myths regarding the Hawaiian public education system (as stated by the three governors. The comments dispelling the myths are also from the governors):

§ There are too many children from below-the-poverty-line families. (In fact, Hawai’i has fewer such children than the national average

§ Too many “special ed” children command an unduly large part of the budget. (Hawai’i has fewer such students than the national average.)

§ Many people blame intransigent unions for the current state of the system. While yes, unions have blocked many reforms, many states with successful school systems have unionized teachers.

§ Hawai’i has too many children with poor English-speaking skills. Young people with limited English proficiency are a significantly smaller portion of the population than many other states.

§ There isn’t enough money being spent on education. In fact, Hawai’i is 13th of the 50 states in spending-per-student. The amount of money Hawai’i spends on each student per year ($16,000) far exceeds the tuition at most private schools.

§ Private schools pick too many of the bright students out of the public system. This is not consistent with data from other states.

The governors conclude with “Our recommendations are the foundation for a transformation of Hawai’i's public schools, but we recognize that more is needed. Emphasizing student growth and achievement will require restructuring the education bureaucracy, ensuring that more resources make their way to the classroom…

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