Reflections from a first-grade teacher in Hawaii’s public school system



A year ago, I packed everything I owned in a suitcase and moved to Hawaii to become a teacher. During the past pandemic school year, I have watched students persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and have been inspired by the remarkable work of compassionate educators. Nonetheless, I have also seen discouraged members of our educational community as well as fundamental flaws in our system.

As we begin another school year, it is time to reconsider the way we educate our students. At its core, Hawaii’s education system suffers from a lack of accountability. From the highest levels of management to the day-to-day life of the classroom, our education system rejects responsibility at all levels.

It is often argued that the idiosyncratic centralization of power in Hawaii through the singular, unelected Board of Education diffuses accountability and allows reckless policy making. The Acellus e-learning scandal and the lack of any BOE repercussions is a particularly disturbing recent example. However, the lack of accountability in our schools does not end there.

When it comes to school management, Hawaii is the only state to have a fully unionized school administration, offering supervisors near absolute job security. School administrators, the very people who are supposed to oversee and ultimately take responsibility for a school’s success, are not tied to results.

On top of that, principals in Hawaii earn an average of $ 115,000 per year, while our teachers earn just over half to $ 58,000. The fact that this principal salary is $ 17,000 above the US national average, while our state teachers are paid $ 2,500 less than the national teacher salary, offers further disturbing evidence of our state’s priorities.

During the pandemic, principals had a great deal of autonomy in determining the reopening of schools, often with disastrous consequences. In my high school, when designing a one-sided virtual learning program, our principal inexplicably reduced teaching hours in order to “socially distance” students who were learning from their own homes.

During most of the school year, my students often had to go to school no more than seven hours a week. Of course, as our school’s failure rate skyrocketed, we could only shrug our shoulders when it came to attributing guilt.



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