The last action item voted on by the previous elected Board of Education (BOE) will be one of the first items taken up by the newly appointed board. The BOE is scheduled to begin discussion of the graduation requirements policy at its General Business Meeting on Tuesday.

There are several key changes that the board may consider: requiring a 4th year of Math, two science lab courses, completion of a senior project and whether to rename the “Board of Education Recognition Diploma” to the “College- and Career-Ready (CCR) Diploma.“ Whereas the previous BOE Recognition Diploma was optional, the Department of Education (DOE) wants to make the new CCR Diploma mandatory, with an option for families to opt their children out of the CCR Diploma for a “regular” diploma.

One of the most difficult changes to implement would be the additional fourth year of high school math. Since the DOE has aligned all reforms efforts with those described in its Race to the Top Application Narrative (RTTT), it is important to identify what exactly the DOE has written about its math requirements.

The DOE’s specifically states that the “career- and college-ready” diploma that will be in place by 2018 will require only “three years of Mathematics including Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II or verified equivalent.” (See RTTT, pg. 63.)

Although RTTT makes some reference to increasing the mandatory graduation requirement in math to four years, it also identifies important infrastructure that the DOE must have in place beforehand. The first prerequisite DOE must achieve is “increase the supply” of highly qualified and highly effective math teachers. (See RTTT, pg. 196.) Additionally, the DOE must ensure that there is an “equitable distribution” of highly qualified and highly effective math teachers throughout the statewide system. (See RTTT, pg. 134.)

The DOE currently has an insufficient supply of licensed math teachers to meet its current math requirements. According to Superintendent Matayoshi’s Memo to the BOE, dated August 23, 2010, 36 percent of the DOE’s high school math teachers have “no subject matter or pedagogy training in math.” (See document at the bottom of this article.) This means that approximately four out of every ten high school students are taking math from a teacher who is technically NOT a math teacher.

DOE has a severely inequitable distribution of licensed math teachers. While there are certain high schools, such as Mililani, that have almost 100 percent of their math teachers licensed to teach math, there are also many high schools that have a much lower than average number of licensed math teachers. There are high schools in which at least one out of every two students are enrolled in math classes being taught by teachers with no subject matter or pedagogy training in high school math.

Indiana’s Core 40 Diploma

The DOE’s RTTT application narrative cites Indiana’s model college and career diploma: “The State’s approach to the Recognition Diploma was modeled explicitly after Indiana’s successful introduction of the Core 40 Diploma as a voluntary “opt-up” diploma with attached incentives (such as aligned financial aid and admissions policies) that later became the “default” diploma required of all students.” (See RTTT, pg. 60.)

However a closer study of Indiana’s Core 40 Diploma reveals that its heralded “college- and career-ready” diploma only requires three years of high school math, with an “opt-out” diploma requiring only two years of high school math. (See

The national organization that promotes itself as the gate-keeper of what qualifies as a “college and career-ready diploma” is Achieve – America Diploma Project (Achieve). Achieve does not require states to have four years of math to be certified as having a “career- and college-ready” diploma. In fact,
seven (7) of the 21 states with the “career and college ready” diploma designation only require 3 years of high school math. (See

Math Graduation Requirements and 12th Grade NAEP Scores.

In 2009, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provided states an opportunity to assess their 12th grade students in math proficiency; only 11 states elected to participate. (See – section3.) The chart attached aligns their NAEP scores with the their respective high school graduation requirements for that year to identify whether there is any correlation between the number of years of required in math and student performance on the 12th Grade NAEP Math Assessments. (See also

At best, there appears to be no evidence that merely requiring four years of math has any positive impact on student achievement in math assessments. At worst, a superficial analysis of the limited test group may indicate that the opposite is true: the greater the mandatory high school math requirements the lower the assessment scores in 12th grade.

Arkansas is one of the states that had required four years of math for its 2009 graduates, however when those graduates enrolled in the state’s community colleges, its math remediation rate was 74 percent. According to Achieve, Arkansas math remediation rate is 50 percent worse than Hawaii’s. (Compare and

If the rest of the nation is experiencing the same shortage of highly qualified math teachers as Hawaii, the data above may support the conclusion that subjecting students to unqualified teachers of math is having a measurable negative impact on student proficiency in math.

If the goal is to increase math proficiency in Hawaii’s high school graduates, perhaps that goal is better served by having students take fewer math courses from highly qualified math teachers instead of taking more courses from teachers who are not qualified to teach math.

Before Hawaii follows Arkansas down that rabbit hole, those responsible and accountable to our students must ensure that students will not face the brunt of a misguided policy and haphazard implementation.


Every student must have equal access and equal opportunity to meet all the requirements set by the DOE. Before the DOE implements a mandatory diploma requiring students to complete four (4) credits of math, it must first demonstrate that it has: 1) sufficient supply of highly qualified math teachers; and 2) equitable distribution of these teachers throughout each complex area across the state.

Too often those same individuals who would be great math teachers would also make great nurses. Both professions require mathematical literacy and a desire to help others. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2009 mean annual salary for public or private secondary school teachers in Hawaii was $48,660 compared to registered nurses earning $80,020. Similar years of education and professional testing required.

We need to address the very real impact that competitive professions have on the supply of licensed math teachers. Perhaps it is time to implement a differentiate pay scale attached to teacher licenses in shortage areas. The University of Hawaii uses a differentiated pay scale: economics professors are often compensated at much higher salaries than English professors because there are fewer economists seeking work as professors. Another approach would be to attach a bonus to the license itself and not the position; similarly to the way National Board Certified Teachers receive a $5,000 annual bonus for having the additional certification.

Equitable distribution is also a difficult task to mitigate without additional funds and amendments to the collective bargaining contract. There will be a real risk to losing teachers from the DOE system who will not want to be forced to teach at a school that the individual teacher considers “undesirable”, whether it is the remote location of the school or the teacher’s own prejudices. Again the DOE could provide an additional annual bonus to teachers who voluntarily identify their willingness to be place wherever they are needed on a specific island or statewide.

The DOE must implement the necessary infrastructure to ensure that every student is provided equal access to meeting the current graduation requirements. And then it must be able to present evidence that demonstrates that it has the necessary resources and infrastructure to support additional requirements for graduation. Moving forward prematurely, without the two prerequisites in place, will increase the negative impacts already facing our most remote and marginalized students.

About the author: Kim Coco Iwamoto, a civil rights attorney, was elected to the Board of Education in 2006 and 2010 and served on the BOE until April 2011. She has also served on the DOE’s Safe Schools Community Advisory Committee, the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council.

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About the Author

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto
    Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and served until 2011. She also served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board from 2009 to 2011 and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to a four-year term on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.

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