You may find a wonderful school with a wonderful teacher here in Hawaii. Your child may grow up brilliant and think back on his Hawaii education as something wonderful. Look at Barak Obama! He went to Punahou, one of Hawaii's best private schools.
But some of the public schools in Hawaii may not live up to the standard you are used to. Having said that, you may find a wonderful school here in Hawaii if you get lucky. For example, I happen to know that the principle of Koko Head elementary school in Hawaii Kai, and she works harder than just about anyone on earth. Parents of children at Koko Head school are very pleased with their children's education. So while some may dismiss all public education in Hawaii as second rate, there are definitely some great schools and teachers around.
The best endorsement I can give is this - I can afford any school on this Island, but my kids attend Aina Haina Elementary, one of the best public schools in Hawaii.
Each year, Honolulu Magazine does an extremely thorough review of all the public schools in Oahu, in an annual article called "Grading the Public Schools." They review the math and reading grades, and get surveys from students, teachers, and parents. In math they rank the schools based on the percentage of students whose proficiency meets or exceeds Hawaii content and performance standards (HCPS). In Reading they show the percentage of students who proficiency that meet or exceed the same standards.
If you're going to have kids in public schools in Hawaii, I highly recommend getting a subscription to Honolulu Magazine. Also each year they review the private schools, although not nearly as thorough.
Here are the top 20 schools on the Honolulu Magazine review from May 2010:
Momilani Elementary 1
Mililani Mauka Elem 2
Liholiho Elementary 3
Manoa Elementary 4
Noelani Elementary 5
Wilson Elementary 6
Aina Haina Elementary 7
Maemae Elementary 8
Hokulani Elementary 9
Koko Head Elementary 10
Aliiolani Elementary 11
Pearl Ridge Elementary 12
Kahala Elementary 13
Mililani Ike Elementary 14
Waialua Elementary 15
Hahaione Elementary 16
Mililani Waena Eleme 17
Manana Elementary 18
Palisades Elementary 19
Aikahi Elementary 20
As in real estate, for Hawaii schools, location is key
There are few factors that contribute to the bad rap that schools in Hawaii get. The main thing to keep in mind when researching our school system is, any study that includes schools from the remote parts of the neighbor islands such as Molokai and Lanai is of no use for you. Is it really fair to compare a downtown Honolulu school with a tiny Mokolai school? It is crucial to make sure the house you buy is in the district with the school you want your kids to go to. I have heard of situations where people bought a house thinking their kids could go to a certain school, only to find out later that they were in the wrong district!
What you should do is look at the actual schools in the city you are hoping to live in. Sure there may be problems with our overall Department of Education, but that doesn't mean the school in your city will be a bad one, or that the teacher you get will be a bad teacher. For that matter, there are few bad teachers out there in the world. If a school does have problems, it might be facility or funding related. You may want to interview a teacher at the school, or call the Parent Teacher Association.
Chances are, the school your child would attend will reflect the type of neighborhood you live in. Sadly, lower income neighborhoods might not have the best educational opportunities. In those areas, parents tend to be less involved in schools and in their child's learning at home, making it more difficult for faculty and staff to accomplish what they are hoping to do.
Would you buy a house just to change school districts?
Is there anything more important than your children's' education? What sacrifices would you make to make sure they get into a good school? Well here in Hawaii, the public school system has some standouts that people are willing to do just about anything for. How do I know? Because as I was searching through the keyword history of people who visit this site, I noticed "buy a town house in Koko head school district" as one of the recent searches.
You see in the above list that Koko Head elementary school was voted near the top in the state recently, so it's been in high demand. Also a great school ranked very high in surveys is Kamiloiki, which also happens to be in Hawaii Kai. At one point it was ranked #1 in the state. There are great schools in Honolulu, Mililani, and all over the island. You just have to investigate each one.