In an effort to staff classrooms with more qualified teachers, the Hawaii Department of Education will include only certified instructors when it reports the number of teacher positions filled to the state Board of Education at the start of each school year.

The change was unanimously approved by the BOE at its meeting last week. It aims to push the DOE to rely less on so-called emergency hires of instructors with no formal state-approved teacher education — particularly in underserved areas like special education — in meeting recruitment goals.

The percentage of teacher positions filled before the start of the school year is one of 14 indicators of student success outlined in the DOE’s 2017-20 Strategic Plan, along with other yardsticks like chronic absenteeism, third-grade literacy and special education inclusion rate. The state has set an ambitious goal when it comes to teacher recruitment: to fill 96 percent of positions with certified teachers by 2020.

Board of Education building2. 10 jan 2017
The Hawaii Department of Education will count only teachers who have undergone a state-approved teacher preparation program when reporting filled teacher positions to the Board of Education. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The revision adjusts the definition of “teacher positions filled” in the strategic plan to include only those teachers who have at least a bachelor’s degree, completed a state-approved teacher training program and  met other state requirements.

The proposal had the support of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the teacher’s union.

“Including only SATEP (state-approved teacher education program) teachers will hold the department to a more rigorous standard in reducing teacher turnover and incentivize the recruitment and retention of quality, well-trained educators,” HSTA president Corey Rosenlee wrote in public testimony to the board.

The Hawaii public school system employs more than 13,000 teachers. While the DOE doesn’t have the number of teacher vacancies for the 2017-18 school year, last year’s figure stood at 531.

Through the end of August, the DOE had issued 557 new emergency hire permits— of that number, 445 of the hires hadn’t completed a state-approved teacher education program, according to the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, which issues teacher licenses.

The DOE issues emergency hire permits to fill vacancies in understaffed schools or subject areas that have shortages of qualified teachers. The permits last one year, as opposed to five years for a standard teacher’s license.

The DOE is expected to report the number of new SATEP teachers hired for the 2017-18 school year next month. It will also report how many qualified teachers have been hired to fill special education positions.

Hawaii school Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who took over in August, has pledged to prioritize improving services for special education and English language learner students. Other goals include developing a five-year teacher recruitment and retention plan for a state that has historically struggled to hold on to teachers.

According to an August 2017 report by the Learning Policy Institute, teachers who have less experience with traditional coursework and student teaching are 25 percent more likely to leave the profession or their schools than teachers who have gone through traditional pathways of training.

Nationally, teacher turnover rates for special education and English language instruction are also higher than for other teaching assignment areas such as elementary education, math and science and the humanities, the same study shows.

The University of Hawaii Manoa School of Education is trying to address the teacher shortage issue in Hawaii through a nascent “Grow Our Own” teachers program established with a $600,000 state allocation. The funding will subsidize tuition for educational assistants and substitutes to undergo teacher training in exchange for a three-year commitment to teach in Hawaii schools.

The deadline to apply for the scholarships was Oct. 1. According to UH Education Department spokeswoman Jennifer Parks, the school received 64 applicants for the online statewide post-baccalaureate certificate in secondary education and is in the process of reviewing them.

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