Members of Hawaii’s Board of Education say they’re frustrated with the state’s perennial teacher shortage, which has again resulted in hundreds of public school classrooms being staffed this school year with emergency hires and substitutes lacking proper teaching credentials.
Although the Department of Education had 96 percent of teaching positions filled — some 12,600 positions — by the first day of school this fall, there were 531 vacancies as of Aug. 1, including 126 unfilled special education teaching positions. The DOE, which typically hires 1,100 to 1,200 new teachers annually, has had to fill the gap with either non-credentialed instructors working toward a teaching degree or substitute teachers.
Several BOE members called the shortage a crisis at a recent board meeting, where teacher recruitment and retention data were presented, and called on the department to come up with strategies to tackle the issue.
“Why aren’t we getting to the root cause of this?” asked BOE member Hubert Minn, a retired teacher. “The problem with data is that sometimes numbers don’t really reflect what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about here is the future of Hawaii. Teachers hold the future of Hawaii in their hands.”
|NEW TEACHER HIRES
Teacher separations (resignation and retirement)
Filled teacher positions as of Aug. 1
2016-17: 96%, 12,657
2015-16: 96%, 12,664
2014-15: 97%, 12,619
Teacher vacancies as of Aug. 1
Emergency hires with no teaching degree
Source: Hawaii Department of Education
Minn added, “When I see non-certified staff sitting down with special-ed kids and having them watch television, that’s a crime. Things like that cannot happen in our schools. … I don’t understand where we have a system that puts the least qualified with the kids that need the most.”
He and other members urged the DOE to get creative.
“I’m hoping that you don’t come back and continue to tell us what I know. Come back with something out of the box, something revolutionary,” Minn said. “We cannot continue to sit here and listen to the same thing.”
Ninety-three percent of the 12,657 staffed teacher positions at the start of the school year were filled by certified, licensed teachers, meaning those holding a minimum of a bachelor’s degree who have completed a state-approved teacher education program (SATEP) from an accredited college or university.
Emergency hires, those working toward a teaching degree, filled just under 3 percent of positions, or 389 positions, as of Aug. 1. The remaining 4 percent of positions were vacant, most likely to be filled by substitutes. The highest teacher vacancies this year were for middle and high schools, followed by elementary schools and special education.
“When we talk about teachers, we are not only talking about classroom teachers. We are talking about everybody who is represented by the Hawaii State Teachers Association,” Barbara Krieg, the DOE’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said, citing as other examples resource teachers, librarians, counselors and registrars. “When you see these numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean when we have 500 vacancies that there are 500 classrooms with substitute teachers.”
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the shortage of highly qualified teachers year after year is hurting students. He said the DOE is so hard-pressed to fill teaching vacancies that it sometimes hires substitute teachers who have only a high school education.
“The question is: How often are our students deprived of quality teachers in their classrooms?” Rosenlee said.
He said the problem impedes efforts to close the achievement gap between high-needs students — those who are economically disadvantaged, those receiving special education services and English language learners — and their peers.
“The achievement gap is occurring oftentimes because our most vulnerable students do not have a teacher or they have an inexperienced teacher in the classroom,” Rosenlee said.
A DOE spokeswoman said substitute teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree but exceptions are made for hard-to-staff schools in the Nanakuli-Waianae and Hana, Lanai and Molokai complex areas as well as for Hawaiian immersion schools.
“The vast majority of our substitutes, they must have bachelor’s degrees before they can be substitute teachers,” Krieg said of the 4,200 individuals in the DOE’s pool of registered substitutes. “We have very limited exceptions.”
DOE data show 203 individuals — less than 5 percent of the substitute teacher pool — fall under the category of not having a bachelor’s degree. These hires must be approved annually.
Brian De Lima, the BOE’s vice chairman, asked Krieg to report back with data on students being taught by emergency hires and substitute teachers.
“I’m really concerned that there is some merit to the comment that our most vulnerable students are being taught by the least qualified. I want to put a number to that,” De Lima said. “I really want to understand how many non-qualified teachers are actually in the classroom teaching special-education students. … Where are they placed?”
In addition to recruitment data, Krieg also shared with the board updates on retention rates and departures.
“You can’t look at just recruitment data without the context of teacher retention and, in addition, teacher separation, all of which we use together so that we can all work collectively to see how we can get closer to 100 percent of teacher positions filled on the first day of school with a licensed, qualified teacher,” she said.
Among the highlights:
>> Of the cohort of new teachers hired in 2012-13, 52.3 percent were still working at the DOE this school year, slightly higher than the national five-year retention rate for new teacher hires.
>> Last school year, 1,206 teachers left the DOE. “Leaving Hawaii” was for the first time the most cited reason in voluntary exit surveys (28 percent), followed by retirement (24.4 percent).
“Historically, we have about a third of teachers who leave doing so for retirement, and that is consistent with the national average,” Krieg said. “For whatever reason, and I don’t know the reason, we do have this year a dip in the number of teachers who left because they retired, and for the first time we have a change in the most often cited reason.”
She added, “The fact that we now have the most often cited reason is ‘leaving Hawaii,’ to me means we need to take a look at the broader issues. Do we need to look at bigger long-term solutions like teacher housing?”
Rosenlee said above all teachers want to be treated like professionals.
“We have a teacher shortage crisis in Hawaii, and it is getting worse,” he said. “The way we treat our teachers is paramount if we want to improve our schools. And part of the reasons are pay … but it’s also because teachers say they want to be treated like professionals. … We have to make this our top priority.”
Krieg told BOE members that the data were intended to “set the stage, give the data, baseline and context.” She plans to report back in January with results from strategies and programs underway to better attract and retain teachers.