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Governor addresses teaching troubles

Ohanian Comment: Three cheers for a governor who recognizes that low teacher morale is tied to "testing standards." But I'd be cheering louder if I thought her awakening was in any way tied to corporate-politico reality.

By Will Hoover

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday outlined a strategy meant to help correct two pressing educational dilemmas facing the state: teacher morale and a teacher shortage.

Addressing the Hawai'i State Teachers Association Legislative Conference, Lingle presented four initiatives she intends to introduce during the 2006 legislative session that deal with the ongoing shortage, which she said "is having an extreme negative effect on student achievement."

The initiatives would:

# Allow the Department of Education to rehire former DOE teachers for 24 months in difficult-to-fill positions without affecting their retirement benefits.

# Provide additional money for a program to offset tuition loans for would-be teachers who agree to stay in the DOE system for 10 years.

# Create a new category of qualified emergency certified teachers.

# Pay national-board-certified teachers an annual $10,000 bonus to teach three years in an under-performing school.

The governor was most passionate when speaking about teacher morale.

"I have never seen teacher morale lower than it is now in the state," she told the conference. "It needs to be raised and needs to be raised now."

Much of that low morale is tied to classroom struggles to meet testing standards, she said.

Lingle received a round of applause and laughter when she said the DOE needs "an immediate, honest assessment of the assessment tests."

But the mood turned serious when Lingle touched on an sensitive issue for many educators: the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law which is meant to improve student achievement by holding schools accountable for test results in reading and math through high school.

Lingle pointed out how some states had received high state test marks by making their local assessment standards "ridiculously low." Hawai'i, by contrast, did the opposite under a previous administration when it burdened itself with "ridiculously high standards that can never be met."

Hawai'i, she noted, has performed satisfactorily on the federal portions of the tests.

"You know that No Child Left Behind didn't set the standards. We set the standards. Whatever position we're in today, we put ourselves in this position," Lingle said.

Lingle suggested reassessing the assessment standards to make them more realistic. The DOE and the Board of Education should stop being "afraid of being accused of dumbing down the tests."

During a question-and-answer session, Karolyn Mossman, National Education Association director for Hawai'i, said she agreed with much of what Lingle had said about Hawai'i's high standards. But she added, "We also must send a message to Washington that No Child Left Behind has some flaws in it."

In response, Lingle said, "I'm not worried about a message to Washington. I'm worried about a message to Kalihi and Hana ... I want a message here to our teachers and our principals that help is on the way." She added, "We need to narrow our focus right now here at home, put the politics on the side."

After Lingle's presentation, Joan Lee Husted, executive director of the HSTA, said the idea of giving bonuses to national-board-certified teachers who go into schools not meeting "annual yearly progress" requirements is an excellent idea. She said the proposal to rehire retired DOE teachers had been carried out before and worked well. But she questioned whether an emergency certified teachers program would produce highly trained teachers.

"We're certainly willing to sit down and talk to her (Lingle) about what we need to do about moving the parts of the agenda along that we can agree with," Husted said.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.

— Will Hoover
Honolulu Advertiser


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