Teacher positions in Hawaii’s public schools are filled by fewer certified teachers this year than last, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Hawaii Department of Education.

The latest figures show that while the number of instructors who’ve fulfilled a state-approved teacher education program is slightly up this year, the percentage of certified teachers in relation to total teaching positions statewide fell slightly to 92 percent from 93 percent the year before.

Out of the total 13,320 teaching positions as of October, 12,309 positions by the start of this school year were filled by certified teachers. That means 1,011 positions in Hawaii schools statewide are being filled by emergency hires or long-term substitutes.

Last school year, 12,268 certified teachers filled a total 13,188 positions, meaning there were 920 positions occupied by emergency hires or long-term subs.

The latest figures reflect a bit of a setback for Hawaii education officials, who have long been contending with a teacher shortage in the state in addition to weak retention levels as measured at the five-year mark.

DOE Dept of Education subcommittee meeting.
Department of Education officials are seeing a slight downturn in the number of positions filled by certified teachers. They briefed the Board of Education at a meeting Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii’s Department of Education wants to fill 96 percent of its teacher positions with certified teachers by 2020 as part of its long-range strategic plan. The number of certified teachers in place by the start of each school year is one of 14 indicators of student success outlined in that plan.

The figures were presented to the Hawaii Board of Education by DOE administrators, relying on a new data tool that further breaks out these figures by the 15 complex areas statewide.

The percentage of certified teachers ranges widely across the state — only 84 percent of teachers in the Nanakuli-Waianae complex are certified, for instance, compared with 96 percent in Hilo-Waiakea on Big Island.

Certified teachers in Hawaii must have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed a state-approved teacher training program plus other requirements.

Education officials also released the number of qualified instructors in special education classrooms. Out of the 2,151 special ed teaching positions this year, 1,840 are filled by certified instructors, meaning 311 spots, or 14 percent of the total positions, are occupied by those not trained in this area.

That percentage is about level with last year’s numbers, but disparities across each complex area are much starker. In Nanakuli-Waianae, for instance, only 73 percent of special education teachers in that region are certified.

When it comes to teacher retention at the five-year mark, 54 percent of teachers hired in 2013 stayed on as of the start of this school year, compared with 52 percent of teachers who were hired in 2012.

That only a little more than half of teachers in Hawaii stick around after five years led to a series of remarks by board members, who asked how the state could better entice teacher recruits, many of whom come from the mainland, to stay on for the long term.

“We don’t have enough teachers here turned out in Hawaii,” said board member Margaret Cox. “No matter what, there are those who are not going to stay.”

She urged education officials to rethink how to better acclimate newer teachers to Hawaii and the regions to which they’re assigned.

“How you work with those new teachers makes a big difference,” she said.

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