Isles score the lowest in No Child teaching
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
By Loren Moreno
Hawai'i scored the lowest among all states in the percentage of public school classes taught by teachers who were "highly qualified," according to a computer analysis of state-by-state data from the 2006-07 school year.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, every core academic class must be taught by a highly qualified instructor, but about 32 percent of Hawai'i's courses didn't meet that standard, a Gannett News Service analysis found.
The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction with a rate worse than Hawai'i's.
The average across the nation was about 5 percent of classes taught by teachers who were not highly qualified.
"It's shocking if other states are in the neighborhood of 5 percent and we're six times that," said state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "We definitely need to do something to see how we can address the issue."
Most of the problem lies at the secondary-school level and in special education, where many teachers are highly qualified to teach one subject but because of teacher shortages may be asked to teach a class for which they don't have credentials, said Robert Campbell, director of federal compliance at the state Department of Education.
For instance, science teachers are often tapped to teach a math course, or vice versa, he said. Special-education teachers also tend to teach several subjects in any given day.
"Most teachers have substantial training in the areas that they are teaching," Campbell said. "They just haven't É passed the test that shows that they are 'content competent.' For a lot of new teachers, that's the case."
SMALL POVERTY GAP
The analysis wasn't all bad. It found that Hawai'i was one of the states where poorer students and affluent students had about the same access to highly qualified teachers.
In high poverty areas, about 32 percent of classes were not taught by a highly qualified teacher, compared with about 31 percent in more affluent areas.
That gap of about 1 percent was much lower than in dozens of other states. Maryland, which reported a gap of 25 percent, had the biggest difference in teaching quality between affluent and low-income schools.
Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the teachers' union, said Hawai'i's relatively narrow poverty gap can be attributed to the state's single school system.
"What tends to happen on the Mainland is the affluent school districts pay better than poorer school districts," Takabayashi said.
In Hawai'i "there's equity across the state in terms of salary," he said.
Under NCLB, all states were required to have 100 percent of their public school classes taught by a highly qualified teacher by the 2005-06 school year.
But after no state met that target in 2006, the U.S. Department of Education required states to submit a plan for how they intended to meet the goal.
By 2007, only North Dakota had met the requirement, according to Gannett News Service's analysis of federal data.
Education officials are quick to point out that just because a teacher does not have a "highly qualified" title doesn't mean they are not qualified to teach.
"The question is, are these teachers licensed teachers? In the majority of the cases, the answer is yes," Takabayashi said.
All but about 1,000 of Hawai'i's estimated 13,500 teachers have a license to teach in Hawai'i. Many of those who don't are teaching in areas such as English As a Second Language, special education or other areas where there might be a shortage. They also usually are working toward their teaching certificate, officials said.
Critics of No Child Left Behind say that because states are allowed to set their own definition of "highly qualified," many states are actually further behind than they may appear.
"The U.S. DOE is still working to make sure that everyone is counting the same way," Campbell said. "But because of their own constraints, they can only go to monitor states every three years," he said.
Typically, states will report that they are very close to achieving 100 percent of classes taught by highly qualified teachers only to have federal officials lower that estimate substantially after scrutinizing their method, he said.
Federal officials are expected to visit Hawai'i sometime next month, Campbell said.
Reducing the number of courses taught by teachers who are not highly qualified is a daunting task, officials say.
Much of the current effort revolves around helping teachers amass professional development hours, which eventually leads to being deemed competent in a subject area. The state currently spends some $13 million a year in federal funds to assist teachers in getting additional training.
Teachers can also demonstrate their competency by taking an exam, known as the Praxis.
The state has been paying for practice exams for teachers who choose to prove their qualifications that way, Campbell said.
"We know exactly who we need to help and what we need to do to help them," Campbell said.
Takabayashi, of the teachers' union, said one way to remedy the issue would be to prevent teachers from teaching outside of their subject area. But that would mean hiring more teachers.
"For small schools, typically they can't afford to hire English teachers and social studies teachers and math teachers and science teachers," Takabayashi said.
So schools often ask teachers to teach outside of their area of expertise, he said.
"Science teachers are capable of teaching a math class," he said.
Part of the challenge is finding highly qualified teachers for subjects where there are shortages, said state Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House Education Committee.
"Anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 teachers are needed every year É and, of the local universities, they graduate roughly half of that," Takumi said.
"What happens many times when we recruit someone from Connecticut or Missouri, they come here, last about six months," he said.
Hawai'i has a greater challenge in teacher hiring than Mainland states that can recruit across state lines, he said.
"We can and must do better in getting qualified teachers in the classroom," he said.
But Takumi said the term "highly qualified" can be misleading.
"How do we know whether this definition of a highly qualified teacher is the equivalent to a highly effective teacher?" he said.
"There are those who raise the question of whether the narrow definition provided by the feds really meets what would be a better criteria — a highly effective teacher in the classroom."Gannett News Service contributed to this report. Reach Loren Moreno at email@example.com or 535-2455.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.