I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never had the experience of building a new home. That being said, it seems like common sense to me that a strong foundation – not a great paint color scheme, pool, or smart home system – is what matters most for a safe, comfortable, and sustainable living situation.

Similarly, our schools aren’t yet living up to their promises when it comes to foundational academic success. In new 2018-2019 school year data reported to the Hawaii Board of Education today, only 54% of kids in Hawaii public schools were proficient in language arts, 43% in math, and 44% in science, while the achievement/opportunity gap between high-need and non-high-need students is 34% in language arts and 29% in math. Given today’s data, it seems increasingly likely our system won’t reach the goal it set to raise student learning by 2020 to 61% in language arts, 54% in math, and 64% in science, while closing the achievement/opportunity gap to 25% in language arts and 22% in math.

Along with social-emotional growth on the Nā Hopena A‘o (“HĀ”)​ framework, foundational academic skills are essential components of an education that prepares students for success in citizenship, college, and career. Even if we assume that the numbers look worse because some students struggle or are bored with the standardized test format, a 2-5% difference in the overall data would still indicate half of our kids aren’t where they should be. In human terms, today’s data indicate kids are leaving our schools without the academic background to fill out a job application, take higher level math and science courses to enter competitive and lucrative STEM fields or solve our climate crisis, or read and understand increasingly complex and quickly evolving political news coverage. The challenges facing our state and world are too great to not fully harness the potential of all of our kids.

David is the founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN. He lives in Honolulu, HI.


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