Hawaii’s latest graduation policy proposal that reverses a recommendation to reduce social studies requirements also goes against promises made in the state’s Race to the Top. And it defies a national trend toward more rigorous college- and career-ready diplomas.

This proposal, dated Sept. 20, is the second graduation policy recommendation that the Hawaii Department of Education has submitted to the Board of Education in the last three months, and it includes some key differences from its June 21 predecessor — namely the absence of U.S. and world history requirements.

U.S. history and world history have “always been there” as part of Hawaii’s high school graduation requirements, the state’s former social studies specialist, Elaine Takenaka, told Civil Beat this week.

According to the department’s Authorized Courses and Code Numbers manual, which reflects the current graduation requirements adopted by the Board of Education:

“Social Studies must include one year each of U.S. and World History (in grades 9 and or 10 as
determined at the school level), one semester each Modern Hawaiian History and of Participation in a Democracy (in grade 11), and two semesters devoted to the study of other disciplines.”

In keeping with both current and longstanding state educational policy, U.S. and world history were included in the department’s controversial June 21 graduation policy recommendation that proposed reducing the number of required social studies courses from four to three. That memo stipulated “three credits of Social Studies (including World History, U.S. History, Modern History of Hawaii, or new standards proficiency-based equivalents).”

But the two courses are not required in the department’s latest recommendation to the board. The Sept. 20 memo stipulates:

“Four credits of social studies (including Modern History of Hawaii [.5 credit], Participation in Democracy [.5 credit] and three other history and/or social science courses [3 credits] such as U.S. History, World History, AP Psychology OR newly-developed standards proficiency-based equivalents).”

(emphasis added)

The omission is partially because the department is moving away from course titles and credits to a “performance-based environment,” Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe told Civil Beat, in keeping with its adoption of the new Common Core State Standards. That means the department will rely more on interdisciplinary, “relevant” courses that don’t fall into the traditional model of single-subject textbook curricula.

Nozoe and Hawaii P-20 Director Karen Lee said it’s unfortunate that so much of the focus in recent months has been on the number of social studies credits and the names of courses.

“This should really be about the Common Core State Standards,” Lee said.

But the Common Core initiative does not yet include any standards for social studies — only English language arts and mathematics.

U.S., World History Included in Other Education Initiatives

As the department takes on the challenge of aligning itself with social studies standards that don’t yet exist, its new stance on history simultaneously appears to depart from its push for a nationally recognized college- and career-ready diploma. The department is marketing this proposal as its college- and career-ready diploma, but 18 of 20 states that have already adopted a college- and career-ready diploma require both U.S. history and world history. The other two require U.S. history.

The Sept. 20 memo from the department acknowledges that its graduation policy proposal also departs from the state’s Race to the Top assurances, which include end-of-course exams in both U.S. and world history.

“While some specifics of this recommendation differ from the Race to the Top plan, the goal of students achieving proficiency in the Common Core State Standards so that graduates meet national and international standards for college and career readiness remains the same,” the memo reads.

Nozoe said that although the transformation process may be confusing and at times frustrating, the department is committed to implementing a rigorous curriculum for students.

He added that he expects help from the same community leaders and educators who lobbied this summer to reinstate the fourth social studies requirement.

“The point is that, assuming that we have the good fortune of passing these graduation requirements, students will still have to take four credits of social studies,” Nozoe said. “And we’re hoping to see this transformation take place, and we really need the help of these empowered social studies folks who came forward and have a deep understanding of social studies through experience.”

About the Author