Dear Punahou Parents,
I write with an update on our Academy curriculum. Many of you have heard about Competency-Based Learning (CBL), an approach to education that focuses on the development of key abilities and skills alongside the knowledge of a discipline. In addition to content, this approach emphasizes what students can do with their knowledge, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. In a rapidly changing world disrupted by shifts in technology and economics, those competencies have become vital for future success and will provide real advantages to our students.
Punahou has a long record of innovation in teaching, and we have constantly sought to achieve deeper levels of understanding as we fulfill the Aims of a Punahou Education
. In recent years we have incorporated our knowledge of the brain into an expanded approach to experiential education, launched a design thinking curriculum, and revised courses to promote the competencies we believe are vital for our students’ future success. This school year, Punahou piloted a more intentional competency-based design in approximately 6% of Academy classes. These include several elective courses (Global Sustainability by Design, Bias Studies, Ka Hālāwai Hou – Hawaiian Voyaging, Visual Storytelling, Anatomy of Major Systems, Cognitive Neuroscience, and AP Statistics) and three core courses (Biology, Biology Honors, and Chemistry).
We have achieved significant successes with several of our initiatives. Our Global Sustainability courses, for example, have proven particularly popular and demand for them has exceeded supply. Many students also report receiving high levels of valuable feedback from their teachers. We recognize, however, that the implementation of a competency-based approach has led to some confusion and unease. Some of you have also raised thoughtful questions about the pedagogy and our plans. Let me be as clear as possible about where we stand:
- Punahou is and will always be a college preparatory school committed to academic rigor and excellence.
- Punahou has no plans to replace its graded transcript with an alternative model. Grades are not going away at our School.
- Punahou has no plans to drop Advanced Placement courses or to move away from our work to prepare students for standardized testing, including the SAT or ACT.
- We will continue developing electives, but we do not currently plan to add more core courses using a CBL framework. We will fully study our experience with the current core courses before considering any further steps.
- We will ensure that all students have a clearer understanding of how they are being graded, including the implementation of estimated quarterly grades and regular updates along the way.
- We will evaluate our efforts through independent research and use our forthcoming strategic planning process to determine the best way forward.
- Any further plans in the area of CBL will be clearly communicated and discussed with parents first, and we will provide opportunities for parents to learn more about this pedagogy.
As someone who has worked as a professor, dean, and vice president at the college and university level for more than twenty years, I can confirm that the goals of this pedagogy are widely valued in higher education. In addition to strong transcripts and test scores, colleges value evidence of creativity, original thought, leadership, and innovation – precisely the attributes we seek to encourage.
The world has changed in ways that demand educational innovation. In a future shaped by rapid technological, social, and economic shifts, students will need to pair their knowledge of key concepts and ideas with the vital ability to explore complex problems. In a very real way, we must prepare students for fields of study and career paths that do not yet exist. To do that, we need to ensure that they have the acuity and habits of mind necessary to learn, relearn, and pursue creative opportunities. By giving students different pathways to acquire these abilities, we also aim to increase the personal nature of a Punahou education.
As we continue to evaluate this approach, we will adopt what works within the framework of Punahou and reject what doesn’t work with our culture. Our School’s outstanding faculty will play a vital role in that process in collaboration with the leadership of our two principals, Dr. Emily McCarren and Dr. Paris Priore-Kim. At 178 years old, Punahou is truly a unique institution, combining the best traditions of the past with the brightest ideas of tomorrow. I believe we can do both, as long as we strike the right balance.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to you, the parent community here at Punahou. I have listened carefully to your questions, concerns, and perspectives and they matter deeply to me and to our School. We look forward to discussing this subject further with you in the weeks and months to come. We will also continue to listen carefully, as one thing is abundantly clear – Punahou parents across the board want the very best for their children’s futures. We couldn’t agree more.
Michael E. Latham, Ph.D. ’86