State has shortage of top-rank teachers
Ohanian Comment: Imagine positing "heart" and "caring" as criteria for highly qualified.
Hawai'i defines a "highly qualified teacher" as one who holds at least a bachelor's degree and, in each core academic subject taught:
# has a Hawai'i license for teaching, or
# has completed a state-approved teacher education program, or
# has completed an undergraduate major, a graduate degree, course work equivalent to an undergraduate major, or advanced certification or credential.
Meeting the required goal of having a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom has been a daunting task for schools across the nation.
For some, it likely will be impossible, and there are strong indications that Hawai'i won't meet an upcoming federally imposed deadline.
Most Hawai'i teachers are fully licensed, but more than one in five classes were not taught by highly qualified teachers in 2004, the last year for which comprehensive data are available.
Sixteen of the state's 256 regular public schools met the 100-percent-qualified goal that year, but many more schools fell further from from that target — sometimes dramatically — according to state Department of Education records.
At 162 schools, the number of classes taught by teachers who weren't highly qualified increased in 2004, those records show. Officials say they believe most schools have made progress since then, but that a detailed breakdown is not yet available.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act calls for all core academic subjects, such as math, science and English, to be taught by highly qualified teachers by the end of next school year.
That means their state license must certify them for the specific subjects they teach, or they must have completed certain university coursework or state-approved training.
Well-educated teachers are crucial to student achievement, most education experts agree. But some say factors that aren't measured by the formula — such as the ability to motivate students and communicate with them effectively — can be even more important.
Suzanne Mulcahy knows all too well how Hawai'i's public schools must often scramble to hire and retain good teachers.
Upon becoming principal of Kailua Intermediate School last year, one of Mulcahy's first tasks was to replace 30 teachers who had recently retired or otherwise left. That's nearly half the school's faculty.
"When there's a national shortage of teachers, it's even greater in Hawai'i because we're so geographically isolated," she said.
Hawai'i has long had difficulty attracting and retaining teachers, as have school systems in many other states. It can be especially hard to staff schools here that are geographically remote or located where housing is most expensive, state officials say.
Still, Hawai'i may have more qualified teachers than records indicate. More than half of the 1,600 teachers Hawai'i hires every year are from the Mainland, and many were considered highly qualified when they taught in another state. They aren't automatically recognized as such here, but can often gain that status within one year.
Mulcahy was in a similar situation several years ago. In California, she was a tenured teacher, a mentor for her school district and the state, and later a principal.
"I was highly, highly qualified," she said. "And when I came here, I was like any other brand new university graduate. I had to start totally and completely over. I was considered somebody who was not highly qualified, because I had not yet taken the (certification test)."
Other teachers were considered highly qualified in one subject here, but lost that status when they switched subjects to meet a school's needs or to try something new.
Among them is Kailua Intermediate science teacher Toni Childers. She was highly qualified as a social studies teacher, but has yet to take a test that would add a state certification for science teaching. Childers is confident that she'll pass.
"It's kind of a drag, just because I know I'm qualified," she said. "But for someone on the outside looking in, if it were me and it were my child in the school, at least if they show me they have some kind of proof that they know what they're doing, I'd feel a lot more confident. I don't like that I have to do it, but I understand why it is that way."
Science teachers are in short supply here, and the demand for them is increasing nationwide because a new student-testing requirement for science will soon kick in under No Child Left Behind, state schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said.
"Science and math are some of the hardest subjects to recruit for," she said.
One reason is that people who pursue those fields in college can earn much more in other professions, she said.
The federal law already requires that students meet specific achievement goals for reading and math. Schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" for several years face state intervention and "restructuring" that includes intensive teacher training. Twenty-four Hawai'i schools are now undergoing such remedies, and others are likely to face similar changes each year as benchmarks for progress are raised.
A lack of highly qualified teachers won't by itself place a school on the path to restructuring, but could correlate closely with student test scores, said Rene Islas, a special assistant in the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"The highly qualified teacher provisions in No Child Left Behind are not directly tied to the 'sanctions' for not making adequate yearly progress," Islas said. "However, teachers are the most important in-school factor in raising student achievement. One can make an educated guess that schools with poor teachers are not likely to make adequate yearly progress."
The U.S. Department of Education has not made any public projections regarding the percentage of schools nationwide that are expected to meet the "highly qualified" requirement.
"The department is hopeful," said Islas. "We see many states making significant progress in reaching their teacher quality goals. States have increased recruiting efforts to attract high-quality teacher candidates to the classroom and are working hard to support existing teachers with training to become highly qualified."
Schools and school districts that don't meet the goal for two consecutive years "will be held accountable and must develop an improvement plan to attain their goals," Islas said.
STATE 'VERY CHALLENGED'
Bruce Shimomoto, a personnel specialist in Hawai'i's Department of Education, said it is doubtful that all the state's schools will be fully staffed with highly qualified teachers by the end of the coming school year.
"There are teacher shortages all across the nation, and there are lots of places where there are not enough teachers to hire, period," he said. "If everyone has to be compliant, with 100 percent highly qualified teachers in every class across the nation, we might need to have more teachers. That's the case in Hawai'i already. It's going to be exacerbated when the baby boom teachers start to retire, because there's going to be large numbers of them that retire, and there won't be enough teachers graduating to take their place."
State Board of Education Chairman Breene Harimoto said the federal requirements should be more flexible for remote schools, and small ones where teachers handle multiple subjects. It's unlikely that Hawai'i will meet the 100 percent goal on time, he said.
"I would love to be proven wrong," he said. "But I would say that we're very challenged, especially in the remote rural areas. The supply of teachers is very limited."
SOME SKILLS INTANGIBLE
Some education experts say the 100 percent goal is unrealistic, and predict that many Mainland schools won't meet it.
"The whole No Child Left Behind Act is riddled with impossible goals," said David C. Berliner, regents' professor of education at Arizona State University.
It's good to have high standards for teachers, but such requirements don't necessarily gauge their quality and effectiveness accurately, said Berliner, past president of the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association's Division of Educational Psychology.
"I know of no paper-and-pencil tests that do anything but say they've mastered a curriculum about teaching," he said. "One of the biggest issues, certainly with older kids past fourth grade, is motivation. If you've got them engaged on stuff that's related to the outcomes that you value, you've got a marker of a teacher who's pretty effective."
Other skills, such as the ability to manage a classroom and hold students' attention, are also crucial, said Berliner.
Adapting lessons to students' environment and culture can be a key to holding their attention and making them comfortable, he said.
"You have to make kids feel part of it, and you don't get that on a paper-and-pencil test," said Berliner. "You contextualize the subject matter in a culturally sensitive way."
For 2003 and 2004, the Hawai'i school with the highest rate of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers — 100 percent — was the sole school on Ni'ihau.
But the two teachers at Ni'ihau High and Elementary are respected members of the community who speak the Niihauan dialect of Hawaiian, the island's primary language, officials say.
The federal requirement presents a tough challenge, given Ni'ihau's remote location and unique setting, said school principal Bill Arakaki.
"That's a big question: What are we going to do when the deadline comes?" he said. "We're trying to figure something out so that we meet the No Child Left Behind regulations."
Mulcahy, who's been interviewing teachers for additional positions at Kailua Intermediate, said it's very important for those who move here from the Mainland to recognize and respect cultural differences.
"It is definitely a culture shock for some — not all, but many — and they're just not used to it," Mulcahy said. "And for some local parents, they aren't very receptive to the style or the manner of the Mainland teacher."
That's a generalization that doesn't apply to all Mainland transplants, however, she stressed.
"There are many who have come and who have stayed, and Hawai'i truly has become their home and they are definitely doing a great job," Mulcahy said.
Classroom experience is extremely important, she said.
"I'm asking straight up, 'How would you manage this classroom?' " she said. "Because it's not just keeping the kids under control, it's keeping them under control and engaged in learning. People who come to me who have teacher training and who've done student teaching are going to have a difficult time even with all that training, because there are some things you just don't learn until you've been a teacher a couple of years."
Studies indicate that it generally takes new teachers seven years to reach their peak effectiveness, Berliner said.
"We have hard data saying that every year for the first seven years, class scores go up with teachers, and then level off," he said. "So a teacher is really gaining skills to produce an achievement gain for the first seven years."
Windward schools superintendent Lea Albert said good teachers must genuinely believe in what they're doing.
"I think the very first quality that a good teacher has is that they care deeply for children and they want to see them learn; they want to see all children learn and succeed and realize their potential," she said. "They have to have the heart, the caring."
Good teachers must also know their curriculum, have effective teaching strategies and understand children, she said.
"You have to have awareness of developmental milestones, and you have to like young people," Albert said. "Young people know when you care about them. You can go into a school and you can see and feel the environment in a school where the education's personalized and teachers are very caring and there's a lot of support for young people so they can achieve. That's just a basic principle of teaching, and I don't know if you can discern that on paper."
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