Hawaii is increasingly relying on uncertified teachers to fill its classrooms as it faces a steadily upward trend of teachers leaving the state, according to the most recent employment data slated to be presented to the state Board of Education Thursday.
That the state faces a teacher shortage, as is the case in many other states, is nothing new. The latest employment data from the Hawaii Department of Education illustrates just how continuous the pattern of teachers leaving Hawaii and reliance on emergency hires has been over the past six years.
Out of a total 13,437 teaching positions this year, 508 spots were filled by instructors who had not completed a state-approved teacher preparation program. An additional 521 spots were vacant as of Aug. 1. That amounts to 1,029 positions statewide not filled by highly qualified teachers.
In comparison, in the 2012-13 school year, out of a total 12,934 teaching positions, 274 were filled by emergency hires and 334 spots were vacant as of Aug. 1, for a total 608 positions not filled by certified teachers that year.
The recent data reflects another long-term trend: teachers leaving Hawaii has outpaced retirement as the top reason for attrition in the last three years. In the 2017-18 school year, 423 teachers left Hawaii for the mainland, a 71 percent increase from five years ago.
This is happening as the state struggles to hold on to teachers already in the DOE. The department set a goal to reach at least 60 percent in its five-year teacher retention rate by 2020; in 2018-19, just 467 of 907 teachers hired in 2014, or 51 percent, hit the five-year mark — an indicator of teacher effectiveness.
“We, as a state, can’t keep our certified teachers,” Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, wrote in testimony to the board. “If we find a way together to retain our certified teachers, we will not have a recruitment problem.”
The teachers’ union asserts the teacher recruitment and retention situation here has “reached crisis proportions,” with a demand for instructors forcing the state to rely on mainland teacher recruits who may leave after several years, Teach For America candidates only here temporarily and other initiatives that curb, but don’t remediate, the churn, the union argues.
In a statement to Civil Beat, Cindy Covell, Assistant Superintendent of the DOE Office of Talent Management, pointed to the number of new teachers who are certified: 12,408 this year; 12,309 last year; and 12,268 in 2016-17, and also the increase in total number of teaching positions year over year.
“Overall, our numbers show that our aggressive recruitment efforts have been successful in filling an increasing number of teacher positions annually over the past few years,” she said.
The HSTA has long argued the source of poor teacher retention is low pay. A starting teacher’s salary in Hawaii is $45,963, compared with the national average of $38,617, but the state also has among the highest costs of living in the U.S.
“The students who suffer the most attend schools that already have a hard time filling their open positions because their schools are remote, rural, or struggling with poverty, crime, alienation and disaffection,” Rosenlee wrote.
A constitutional amendment to boost public education funding through a state property tax was invalidated by the Hawaii Supreme Court before it had a chance to go before voters this past election.
Hawaii ranks first in the country when it comes to teacher turnover rate, according to the Learning Policy Institute, an education policy think tank. The state’s percentage of uncertified teachers — 4.9 percent — is also nearly twice that of the national average of 2.6 percent.
Hawaii’s school Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said the DOE is shifting to a “talent management” approach to focus on retaining teachers already in the pipeline rather than just recruitment. Among the initiatives cited by the department are alternate paths to licensure.
One DOE policy facing scrutiny by the teachers’ union is its practice of considering only a maximum six years’ of teaching experience for salary placement, a policy the HSTA argues is dis-incentivizing experienced teachers from the outside to consider taking a teaching job in Hawaii.
The DOE is expected to address that point at Thursday’s meeting.
The latest employment data also focused on special education teaching positions, a role Hawaii — and most other states around the U.S. — has historically struggled to fill with qualified instructors.
This year, the state education department filled 1,860 of 2,212 special ed teaching roles with a qualified teacher in that area, for a fill-rate of 84 percent. Last year, it filled 1,840 of 2,151 special ed teaching roles for a fill rate of 86 percent.
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