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Going Against the Grain

Going Against the Grain: When Professionals in Hawai`i Choose Public Schools Instead of Private Schools

Ann Shea Bayer
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Going Against the Grain
    Book Description:

    This book is about passion, advocacy, and the willingness of parents to "go against the grain." It’s about Hawai‘i professionals choosing public education for their children in a state that adheres to a commonly held belief that "public schools are failing and private schools are succeeding." University of Hawai‘i education professor Ann Bayer interviewed fifty-one parents, including five who chose private schools. Physicians, professors, attorneys, military officers, teachers, legislators, business executives and entrepreneurs, bankers, and administrators of both genders and from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds were among those interviewed. Bayer begins by asking parents why they chose to send their children to public schools. She also asks them to describe the reaction of families, friends, and colleagues to their decision and their children’s school experiences—both positive and negative. From these conversations the concept of what constitutes a "good public school" emerges as well as the opportunities provided by such schools. Several parents remark that their children have gone on to attend the same colleges and universities as private school graduates. Other chapters examine more closely the prevalent belief in the superiority of Hawai‘i’s private schools and its impact on students, parents, and teachers. Bayer argues that it is important to understand this belief system and how both newcomers and longtime residents are exposed to it given its influence on parental decisions about schooling. Finally, she returns to interviews with parents for suggestions on how to improve public education in Hawai‘i and to address the question "Why should we care about the public school system?" Responses spark frank discussions on the broader implications for the civic and economic health of a community fragmented by two-tiered schooling. Candid and insightful, Going Against the Grain provides a much-needed look at education in Hawai‘i. It will be essential reading for parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, policy makers, and others interested in promoting and supporting public education and understanding its role in a democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6268-8
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Hawaiian Spelling
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Notes on Research Procedures
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    It wasn’t long after I arrived in the islands that I started to hear what one private school parent calls the “incessant conversation” about school choice in Hawai‘i. It came up in the classes I was teaching at the University of Hawai‘i. It came up in the corridors of my workplace. It came up at social events. It came up when I was exercising at the gym. It was everywhere, constant, and negative toward the public schools. And I was told many times that professionals send their children to private schools, especially to the elite private schools, so a “class”...

  8. 2 Professionals Choosing Public Schools
    (pp. 6-30)

    When professionals move to Hawai‘i and ask their colleagues about where to send their children to school, they are likely to be told that they should be sent to private schools. These colleagues, like the private school parents in this study, typically assert that private schools have a higher status, are more academically challenging, are safer, and have more resources than public schools. If this description is accurate, why would some professionals then decide to send their children to public schools? In this chapter, these parents explain their reasoning. Their thoughts are similar to those of Dr. Loren Yamamoto, a...

  9. 3 Children’s Public School Experiences
    (pp. 31-84)

    The children of this study’s participants attended thirty-seven public elementary schools in Hawai‘i. The major category that emerged from the interviews was the concept of the Good Public School. When talking about their children’s positive experiences in a Good Public School, parents typically referred to the following characteristics.

    A Good Public School employs good teachers.

    A Good Public School is academically challenging (e.g., students exhibit high test scores, staff and faculty have high expectations for students, the school employs a strong academic curriculum, and classes are available for the gifted).

    A Good Public School employs effective administrative leadership.

    Several parents...

  10. 4 “Going Against the Grain”
    (pp. 85-122)

    In previous chapters, parents explained why they chose to send their children to public schools and have described their children’s experiences. Their reality is in marked contrast to the belief in the community at large that Hawai‘i’s public schools are failing, and conversely, that the private schools are succeeding. I was interested in discovering how others reacted to the parents’ decisions to send their children to public schools. In this chapter, the parents talk about the type of feedback they received. Typically, the decision to send their children to public schools found little support from peers, thus placing these parents...

  11. 5 The “Incessant Conversation”
    (pp. 123-153)

    The Hawai‘i parents in this study decidedly believe there is a community-at-large perception that private schools have a higher social status than public schools. Private schools are perceived as safe, with high academic expectations for their students and adequate resources that in turn lead to well-maintained facilities and small classes. On the other hand, public schools are viewed as lower status because they are deemed unsafe, with lower expectations and insufficient resources resulting in inferior facilities and large class sizes.

    How did this come to be?

    It does not take long for newcomers to hear over and over that if...

  12. 6 Connecting the Dots: The Master Narrative
    (pp. 154-198)

    Parents in this study describe a community-held belief that private schools have a higher social status than public schools. There also exists a belief that individual public schools vary, with some elementary schools having “good reputations” and some high schools having excellent programs. This second belief is typically not acknowledged publicly.

    On the other hand, all private schools (there are more than 130 in the state of Hawai‘i) are viewed as safe, with high academic expectations for their students and adequate resources that lead to well-maintained facilities and small classes. In addition, the private schools are commonly viewed as providing...

  13. 7 What Can We Do Better? Making Public School Changes
    (pp. 199-246)

    To strengthen the public school system, parents in this study suggested changes at the individual school level, the state level, and the parental or community level.

    Recommended changes at the school site or school complex levels are organized into three categories:

    1. promoting family identification with their children’s public school;

    2. ensuring high standards for all children;

    3. providing the resources to hire more school counselors, especially at the high school level.

    Parents who made the first recommendation suggest that public school educators borrow some of what the elite private schools do well, which is promote family identification with their...

  14. 8 Why Should We Care? Public Schools and Healthy Communities
    (pp. 247-278)

    Using as a measure whether the public makes decisions together, American democracy is now weak. The practices of citizenship — such as voting and working across diverse groups to solve community problems — do not engage many Americans. And support for public institutions, including public schools, has lessened. Yet good public schools are one of the few remaining institutions where diverse members of the upcoming generation may develop not only the ability to think critically, but also empathy with others despite conflicts of interests and differences in character. Such traits strengthen American civic life, and they are compatible with meeting economic goals...

  15. References
    (pp. 279-286)
  16. Index
    (pp. 287-294)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)