An unusually comprehensive study of educational quality and equity found the "achievement gap" between white students and minorities is growing again nationwide after years of narrowing. But in Hawaii, the study found, the gap is not as pronounced as it is elsewhere.
The report was released last week by the Education Trust, a nonprofit, Washington-based group that promotes academic achievement.
It found that in every measure, from test scores and graduation rates to quality of teachers and availability of textbooks, minority students on the whole fare worse than white students.
"We systematically take kids who have less to begin with and then give them less in school," said Kati Haycock, Trust director.
Although the problem is evident in Hawaii, the report found, it is not as severe as in most states partly because the majority of Hawaii's students are minorities, particularly Asian Americans.
But while minorities might not be doing especially poorly in Hawaii, students on the whole are not doing well compared to other states, the report found. In measures such as test scores and teacher training, Hawaii schools ranked among the nation's lowest.
In teacher training, for example, the report found that the percentage of Hawaii's teachers who lack even a minor in the field they teach in is about the same (24 percent) in both high-poverty schools and low-poverty schools.
For the high-poverty schools, that rate is among the best in the nation. But for the low-poverty schools it is among the worst in the nation.
"The disparity between minorities tends to be smaller in Hawaii than in other states," agreed Jeremy Wallace, who gathered the data for the study. "But it's still there, and overall, the schools don't fare especially well."
The report ranked each state on a variety of measures of student achievement, in many cases comparing the achievement of minorities with other students.
In one key finding, Hawaii was ranked tops in the nation. Because it is the only state with only one statewide system, the funding disparity between minority schools and nonminority schools did not exist in Hawaii.
"If all states went to a single-district school system, there might be other problems, but one of the good things about it is no disparity," said Wallace. "Kids in inner-city schools are not being shortchanged like they are elsewhere."
Among other findings:
Asian students make up 68 percent of the student body in Hawaii. But they are 70 percent of the talented and gifted students, 69 percent of the special education students and 81 percent of the suspensions.
In comparison, white students are 24 percent of the student body, 27 percent of talented and gifted students, 24 percent of special education students and 13 percent of suspensions. Black students are 3 percent of the student body, 1 percent of talented and gifted students, 3 percent of special education students and 2 percent of suspensions.
As of 1994, only 64 percent of Hawaii's high school students had taken algebra and 32 percent algebra II - the lowest in the nation of the 39 states reporting results.
Hawaii Education Department spokesman Greg Knudsen said the deficiencies detailed are not news to school officials here. "We have room for improvement and we need to address that," he said. "But it's not so much in the area of ethnic background."
Some of the deficiencies, said Knudsen, are already being addressed. A few years ago, for example, the high school graduation requirement was raised from two credits of math to three. As a result, more students are taking such courses as algebra.
The Education Trust report recommended higher expectations, tougher standards and better-trained teachers to improve performance of minority students.