Let’s get with the fundamentals
Eight years ago I complained in this column (6/15/97) that Hawaii public education had sunk so low that the combined
scores for reading and math of our students in the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP) scores was higher than only three other states, Mississippi, New Mexico
Since that time we have had “commitments to excellence in
education,” we are told that that the “Department of Education is committed to teaching
the fundamentals” and also that the DOE priority is “ensuring our students'
To bolster these commitments the BOE/DOE has turned out one
press release after another talking about the improvements our students are
making. Just in the last 12 months we have been told:
That over 60 percent of our schools were on the
SAT honor roll for having exceeded national averages.
ACT scores (formerly The American College Testing Program) exceeded national averages.
That for the Hawaii State Assessment, more students
were reaching proficiency. We were told that “a number of students are in the
category "approaches proficiency," with 51.5% to 56.2% on the cusp of
being proficient in math, and 37.8% to 47.6% nearing proficiency in reading.”
Given all the above, it is somewhat surprising the read the
latest NAEP scores. We find that Hawaii
still only scores higher than three other states.
What’s going on here?
First, we should understand that NAEP is federally funded
and its federally appointed “26-member Board is composed of state, local, and
federal officials, educators, business representatives, and members of the
general public.” This federal program “is the only nationally representative
and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do
in various academic subjects.” And for many years a Hawaii DOE official was on
Second, we should note that the statements emanating from
the DOE/BOE don’t jibe with the NAEP. For example, the DOE/BOE talks about the
Hawaii State Assessment showing that some 50 percent of our students are “on
the cusp” of being proficient in math. The NAEP says that just 17 percent are
proficient. The DOE/BOE talks about some 40 percent “nearing proficiency in
reading.” The NAEP says it is 22 percent.
As for the ACT scores exceeding national averages, a more careful
study of the data shows that is for Hawaii public and private schools combined,
and that less than 3,000 students out of over 200,000 statewide took the test —
by a disproportionate number of private schoolers, one can assume.
Elected officials should require that some one with
integrity, like the State Auditor, check the veracity of DOE/BOE press releases
before they are issued. Allowing the DOE/DOE to take our tax money and then use
it to pull the wool over our eyes is outrageous.
The same goes for the kind of op/ed from the DOE bureaucrat
published recently (2/6) in this newspaper. 
The gist of this op/ed was that Hawaii schools must do more than just teach
the three R’s but “focus more of their energies
on developing good citizens.” And the rest of the op/ed goes on in the
same vein saying, for example, that “learning how to be a productive worker is
not divorced from learning how to be a good citizen.” This ignores the fact that many productive workers (and business people and
elected officials) are not only not good citizens, but scumbags to boot.
This kind of philosophizing also ignores the fact only one
in five public school students are proficient in reading or math. One would
think from reading this op/ed that our students were already overwhelmingly
proficient and so we could get on with higher matters. But Hawaii students cannot read properly. If you
cannot read properly, you cannot study math, science or any other subject
properly. And ignorance is the greatest impediment to good citizenship.
Learning starts with being an able reader. In the hierarchy
of educational needs, reading is first, second and third.
Instead this DOE bureaucrat suffers on with “What does it
mean to be engaged in the life of the community?” and “What does a fully
functioning and active community member look like?”
Good God, first teach our kids to read.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted
columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater
DOE Press Release.
2004. Hawaii's ACT
Scores. DOE press release.