As educators in Hawaii’s public schools, we welcome recent discussions about ways to improve the state’s education system. However, we feel compelled to correct several misstatements published recently regarding Hawaii’s education goals and adoption of new standards, all of which present a sense of urgency to us.

The Hawaii State Department of Education has implemented the Hawaii Common Core standards — a set of clear and consistent learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade to graduate prepared for colleges and careers.

Why did we raise the standards for our teachers and students? Simply put, existing standards — in Hawaii and across the U.S. — were no longer preparing students for the requirements of college or the workforce.

School Bus Series Photo MAIN

Common Core has been a source of great controversy in Hawaii and nationally.

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

For example, more than one-third of our public school graduates enroll in remedial college math or English at the University of Hawaii. Nationally, the picture is not any better. More than half of graduates entering two-year colleges face remediation, according to data from 33 states analyzed by a 2012 Complete College America report.

In addition, students have not had enough technology courses or hands-on instruction in careers that will allow them to immediately begin work upon graduation. The new Hawaii Common Core helps teachers shift their focus within the classroom to better prepare our students. Educators recognize that because our nation’s high school graduates are not well prepared, they cannot compete in a rapidly changing global economy.

Current standards had to be revised on behalf of students who only have one opportunity at a quality education. In an unprecedented effort, educators nationwide, including Hawaii teachers, curriculum coordinators, department heads and even parents and students, helped provide feedback into the development of the Common Core.

The new standards … promote creative and critical thinking, challenging students to collaborate and sharpen communication skills that are essential to employers.

These are the same Common Core State Standards embraced by more than 40 states, teacher unions, higher education representatives and business groups. The standards, which are essentially grade-by-grade guidelines to help students succeed, were drawn from top-performing countries, reflecting higher college expectations and workforce demands. The standards are not a curriculum, meaning that teachers still remain in control over lessons and strategies to help students learn.

So what makes the Hawaii Common Core better? The new standards emphasize the importance of making sure students master key skills and concepts across subject areas as they progress from kindergarten through high school. They promote creative and critical thinking, challenging students to collaborate and sharpen communication skills that are essential to employers. For example, the math standards focus on students’ ability to reason and think outside the box to solve relevant, real-life problems, instead of relying on memorization to find answers to exercises.

Additionally, the Hawaii Common Core’s attention to nonfiction text introduces students to more diverse materials such as biographies, essays and speeches. For instance, students can read former Gov. George Ariyoshi’s book, “Hawaii: The Past Fifty Years, The Next Fifty Years,” and submit essays, videos or visual arts entries about their vision for the state. This particular lesson also allows our fellow teachers from different subjects such as history and art to collaborate, which is another focus of the Common Core.

Hawaii also was among the more than 20 states that led a similar, collaborative effort to create new assessments to measure students’ understanding of the new standards. Anyone who alleges this was a “top-down” process is misinformed.

Beginning this spring, Hawaii students in third through 11th grade will take the Smarter Balanced assessments, which will replace — and not add to — the old annual statewide assessments. The statewide assessment is only one measure of student success, and it is delivered one time during the school year. In the classroom, teachers use daily formative assessment to adjust and improve their instruction.

To be clear, the Hawaii Common Core is not a panacea for success — it was never intended to be. It certainly doesn’t change the reality that, each day, we, along with our colleagues, will continue to face challenges as we help students who arrive to school with different levels of knowledge, or social and emotional needs.

But the Hawaii Common Core does set a high level of expectations for all, along with a necessary support system, which is a crucial and necessary first step. We will continue to support each other as we raise the bar for student achievement. We know that our students are up to the task.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Authors