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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

U.S. warns Hawai'i on qualified teachers

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

LEARN MORE

U.S. Department of Education: www.ed.gov

Education Trust: www.edtrust.org

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A critical federal review labels the state as "high risk" for failing to provide adequate data to show whether poor and minority children are getting equal access to highly qualified teachers as required by federal law.

Hawai'i was one of four states nationally to submit such a poor report under the latest No Child Left Behind requirements that the U.S. Department of Education said it's impossible to know whether the state's highly qualified teachers have been deployed equally.

As a result, Hawai'i will be required to submit a new report by Nov. 1 to show that poor and minority students are being taught by highly qualified teachers or demonstrate how corrective action will be taken. The state must also provide monthly updates of its progress.

Persistent noncompliance could lead to a loss of federal money, federal officials said.

Hawai'i Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the required data may already be in the report Hawai'i submitted, but that a new, clearer report will be resubmitted as early as tomorrow.

"Clearly what we submitted was not what they were looking for," Knudsen said. "But in other reviews, they've acknowledged they didn't communicate what they were looking for as clearly as they should have. Only a handful of states did submit what they were looking for, and perhaps some communication of what they expected needed to be improved."

Knudsen said other federal sources have told the state DOE that the necessary information could well be in the report, "but not in the form they wanted.

"Probably in repackaging the information we've already submitted, we'll satisfy all their concerns," he said, adding "we thought we were compliant ... we thought we were on track."

PROGRESS REPORTED

But Knudsen said the federal report "doesn't mean we don't have highly qualified teachers it means our report was deficient." But he also said it might be that the administration has to go back to schools for more individual data.

Knudsen said Hawai'i has seen a healthy increase in the percentage of highly qualified teachers in its schools 86 percent at latest count this year. That's up 10 percentage points since 2002-03.

DOE officials expected it to rise to 89 percent by the end of the year and were asking for an exemption from the requirement that it had to be 100 percent by the end of the 2006-07 school year.

"We're on track pretty much in terms of having highly qualified teachers," Knudsen said.

MOST FALL SHORT

Only nine states complied adequately with the latest federal demand for verification that poor and minority students are receiving equal access to the best teachers. A total of 37 states met some of the criteria. Overall, most states failed to provide all the answers required.

While the federal agency wanted data for 2005-2006, an earlier state report for 2004-2005 shows little difference in the quality of teachers assigned to Hawai'i's high-poverty and low-poverty public school classrooms.

That report noted that 36 percent of classes in core academic subjects in high-poverty schools compared with 32 percent of similar classes in low-poverty schools are taught by teachers who are not highly qualified.

Knudsen calls this latest action by the federal government an increasingly tougher stance that's being taken in monitoring the No Child Left Behind Act.

"It's coming on about as strong as they have in NCLB monitoring action," he said. "It also signals nationwide a shift among the U.S. DOE to be in a much stronger enforcement mode. ... In the last several weeks, there's been a re-emphasis on enforcement, and that's resulting in a crackdown."

The federal report comes on the heels of an analysis by the watchdog agency Education Trust that also criticized most of the states for failing to provide adequate outlines for how they're ensuring that impoverished and minority students receive as high quality teaching as any other child.

"Most states failed to follow instructions and analyze inequity in a way that tells the public whether both groups of children those of color and those living in poverty get their fair share of teaching talent," said the Education Trust report.

"Most failed to propose strong plans for addressing inequities," it said. "And almost no states submitted 'equity plans' that proposed meaningful, measurable goals for achieving fairness in the distribution of teacher talent."

BETTER JOB OF TRAINING

But Henry Johnson, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education for the U.S. DOE, had a more upbeat view of states' progress. Agency records show that states are doing a better job providing help to local districts in identifying and training teachers who aren't highly qualified.

"For the most part, states have worked very hard to address the issues that they need to address," he told Gannett News Service yesterday. "Our thrust is to try to assist states in meeting the requirements. We're not interested in embarrassing them."

The good news for states is that they are making significant advances in teacher quality, said Scott Palmer, a lawyer who consults with the Council of Chief State School Officers. The group represents state education agencies.

"This is an area that's going to require work to address," he said of the equity gap. "The hope is that, with this feedback, we will (get) there."

TEACHER MOTIVATION

Education experts have said that the moniker of "highly qualified" fails to take into consideration the value of teachers who are highly motivated and able to motivate their students even if they haven't received certification in a subject area.

Knudsen pointed out the 55 enthusiastic young college graduates who are part of the Teach For America cohort serving in needy rural Leeward O'ahu schools this year, and how none of those teachers is considered highly qualified.

"This is probably what the system is trying to avoid," he said. "But at the same time, we've been parading Teach For America. So there are some built-in conflicts."

Gannett News Service contributed to this report.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.