In Hawaii, Education Reform or Education Conform?

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By Carson Hensarling

Yesterday’s daily newspaper reported that Hawaii, along with 47 other states will soon have the same curriculum and assessment standards.  By next school year state DOE will start training and preparing for shift.  These new common standards, while seemingly voluntary, are going to become are criteria to receive grants from the federal Race to the Top program.  A unified measurable standard is part of President Obama’s plan for public education reform.


After reading the Star-Advertiser’s article, it seemed to me that the DOE is viewing this less as a chance to reform, than as a validation and justification of their current ‘efforts’.  This attitude was sparked by a recent study which hailed Hawaii as having standards which accurately resembled and aligned with the new national standards.

According to the Star-Advertiser, Ronn Nozoe the acting deputy superintendent of schools, declared that this was, “…Validation that we’ve been on the right track.” This reaction does not sit well with me.  On the onset, it may in someway seem that this is a positive sign for Hawaii, but we should keep in mind the fact that our state public school system is in dire need of improvement.  So, the fact that Hawaii standards are already in line with the new national standards is worrisome, because this means that the rest of the nation is going to be conforming to the same depraved system we have and our educators and administrators are now simply patting themselves on the back for some reform they had supposedly started years ago.

Another problem with this so called ‘reform’, is that there appears to be a giant disparity in motivation.  Successful education reform must be made with the student as the main focus.  This change seems like a way of justifying the current system instituted by the DOE, rather than a way of improving the education and learning of Hawaii’s youth.  Our education system does not need validation; it needs reform!  The new standards are supposed to bring reform to areas such as preparation for college and student growth.  Does our current system inspire life-long learning and the pursuit of high level academic scholarship and effectively and ‘rigorously’ prepare our students for colleges and careers?  In my conversations with my peers who have come up through the public school system, for the most part, this has not been the case.  The actual realization of the above goals is currently an exception, not a norm.

Will the new standardized curriculum and assessment tests forever silence the notion that Hawaii is far behind the rest of the nation in performance?  I, unlike Interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, I do not believe that this will be true.  A look at the 2009 NAEP State Comparisons we see, how foolish a hope this really is.  For 8th graders Hawaii ranked below average across the board. In math we ranked 45th out of 52 school districts, 43rd for both science and writing, and solid 46th for reading.  This performance definitely looks ‘validating’ to me.  Now granted, due to the current lack of a shared national standard, these rankings do not have pinpoint accuracy.  However, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we should see this as less of a sign that curriculum standards are different and more as a signal that Hawaii’s education system is in need of improvement.

I highly doubt that with a new assessment system, we will all of a sudden spring to the top of the states with amazing scores in all areas.  Obviously this is a lot to hope for and cannot possibly be expected of our state.  But if we are the supposed, ‘model’ for the new common standards, than wouldn’t it make sense that we would lead the way in academic performance?  While these, expectations may seem outlandish, the most unrealistic expectation would be that, this common curriculum is the change our education system needs.   If we truly desire positive reform we need changes that will inspire students to think for themselves, develop their strengths, and take charge of their own education.  It seems to me, that this change is training students to succeed in one particular system, rather than preparing them for colleges and careers.

Carson Hensarling is an intern at the Grassroot Institute.