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Grade everybody or grade no one, but be fair to public schools

From Hawaii DoE, 03-Apr-2019

From Supt. Christina M. Kishimoto: I want to talk about a double standard in Hawai‘i’s education system. Every year, Honolulu Magazine puts out a “Grading the Public Schools” edition that ranks schools on a bell curve. And every year that same magazine puts out a “Private School Guide” with lovely pictures and narratives and your questions answered about navigating the admission and payment processes. Be fair. Judge us equally.

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​I want to talk about a double standard in Hawai‘i’s education system.

Every year, Honolulu Magazine puts out a “Grading the Public Schools” edition, which is being delivered this month. And every year that same magazine puts out a “Private School Guide” later in the year. 

When they grade the public schools, their editorial team publishes our performance data and uses it to slap a grade on each school from “A+” to “F.” There’s no nuance or context, no trend data indicating where there have been improvements, no acknowledgement of unique challenges among communities (rural with transit and resource delivery issues, high poverty, unaddressed cultural needs, insufficient family health supports, to name a few). 

Just a list of schools and a grade. A grade that our kids and communities see.

Conversely, the magazine’s Private School Guide, which is typically sponsored by a financial institution, provides one spread after another with opportunities to learn about each school’s story, special programs and mission. If their performance data are mediocre, you’re not going to learn about it in this guide. You’re going to see lovely pictures and narratives about the private school experience and your questions answered about navigating the admission and payment processes.

Private schools serve an important purpose in the educational landscape for parents who are looking for a particular experience for their children; I’m not arguing against their role. I’m also not saying the public school system shouldn’t be responsible for its performance. We should and we are.

But be fair. Judge us equally. 

For me personally, it’s frustrating to see a geographically isolated school that successfully qualifies students to go to the state and international science and engineering fairs every year, and whose team just qualified at the FIRST Robotics Hawaii Regional to go to the world championship in Houston, and whose dual credit (high school and college credit earning) participation numbers and Career & Technical Education pathway completions have soared 16 percentage points in two years (strongly outpacing the state average, by the way), be branded an “F.” How does that make the hardworking kids, educators and families of that school community feel?

Let’s have a more enlightened conversation. Hawai‘i is uniquely positioned to seize the cultural strengths of belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha and others that are enshrined in our HĀ policy — but only if we acknowledge our shared journey. That we are one citizenry with the shared aim of a thriving, sustainable state that enables graduates to stay in Hawai‘i to build careers and families. Every child deserves an excellent education, not just those who have the financial wherewithal. We must realize this if we seek to build the Hawai‘i we all want. 

The Hawai‘i DOE this month is kicking off a months-long conversation about this shared journey as we begin our strategic planning for the next decade. You can learn more here: I’m very excited that we’re working with partners including the Hawaii Community Foundation, Kamehameha Schools, the University of Hawai‘i System and its College of Education, and the Hawai‘i Charter Schools Commission. Together, we can leverage the power and promise of public education to deliver on dreams for all.

Rather than continue to disparage public schools with these “grades,” I’d love to see more stories about school innovations and personal accounts of the Hawai‘i that students, families and educators are striving for. We have a great collection here:


Honolulu Magazine: Grading the Public Schools

SA: Superintendent denounces ‘double standard’ in school rankings by Honolulu Magazine 

Cavalcade of Failure:


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