The number of teachers quitting their jobs in Hawaii’s public schools and leaving the state has shot up by
84 percent since 2010, and fewer local graduates are entering the profession, worsening the teacher shortage.
“This is of course a huge alarm,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, who presented the trend data Thursday to the Board of Education’s Human Resources Committee. “We have a collision of two really big problems.”
The figures are from Department of Education employment reports, which include surveys of departing teachers. Altogether, 411 teachers resigned and left the state in 2016-17, up from 223 in 2010. Overall, resignations for any reason climbed from 529 to 852 in that span of time.
Special education teacher Carrie Rose, who grew up in Wahiawa and has been teaching at Waialua Elementary for three years, is part of this summer’s exodus. She said she loves her job but can’t make ends meet as a single mom.
“Basically, it’s pretty simple,” she said in an interview. “The cost of living here is just way more than a teacher can afford, especially a single teacher. I’ve tried to hang on and honestly I’ve never thought of leaving my home, but I’m kind of forced to if I want to give my kids any type of quality of life and stay in teaching.”
She stressed that she loves working at Waialua Elementary. “Everything is perfect there,” she said. “The staff is great, the kids and the parents are great. It’s purely a financial decision for my kids.”
Rose will be taking a teaching job in Colorado Springs, Colo., where her new job will pay several thousand dollars less than the roughly $55,000 she earns annually here. But she won’t have to pay medical premiums and her housing costs will be a fraction of Hawaii’s.
“The salary is a little lower but when you calculate the cost of living, I’ll still be doing much better,” she said.
While more teachers such as Rose have been leaving, retirements have remained relatively steady in recent years among Hawaii’s teaching force. But the inflow into the teaching pipeline has been shrinking.
The number of graduates from Hawaii teacher education programs joining the Department of Education fell nearly 30 percent, from 545 in 2010-2011 school year to 387 in 2016-17. Nationally, the percentage of incoming college freshmen who select education as their major has dropped at an even faster rate, Rosenlee said.
As a result, more unlicensed teachers who don’t meet state qualifications, known as emergency hires, are entering Hawaii’s classrooms. And because teachers with little or no training leave their jobs at much higher rates, that kind of hiring just contributes to the churn, Rosenlee said.
The data shared at the meeting highlighted the problem in new ways, but the teacher shortage has long been recognized. It is prompting concerted action by leaders at the Department of Education, the University of Hawaii and the HSTA, which represents roughly 13,000 teachers.
At Thursday’s meeting, Cynthia Covell, assistant superintendent for talent management, shared elements of a new five-year strategic plan to improve teacher recruitment and retention. The plan was developed by the Teacher Education Coordinating Committee, which includes stakeholders across the education system, and centers on six objectives:
>> Build capacity locally.
>> Increase teacher satisfaction.
>> Provide meaningful incentives for recruitment and retention.
>> Effectively market the teaching profession.
>> Meet local needs with other approaches.
>> Improve the special-education teaching experience.
“The challenge is huge,” Covell said. “You’ll see lots of efforts collectively that we are going to work on over the next five years to close this gap.”
For example, capacity building ranges from marketing efforts such as the “Be a Hero. Be a Teacher” campaign to exposing students early to teaching as a career.
“We are looking at establishing teacher academies at our high schools,” said Nathan Murata, dean of the University of Hawaii College of Education. “We are even talking about going down to middle schools to get people excited about our wonderful profession.”
Other proposals include recruiting internationally and the Grow Our Own initiative, which aims to convert educational assistants and substitutes to full-fledged teachers by offering tuition stipends in return for a commitment to teaching.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the situation calls for dramatic action. She noted that in “the rest of the marketplace” a pay differential can help address shortages and suggested it might be a way to deal with the shortfall in special education teachers.
One idea floated at the meeting was for special education teachers to be paid for the extra hours they put in after school, handling individual education plans.
“A one-size approach to this is not going to get us where we need to go,” Kishimoto said. “We need some bold action. We have to as a community be willing to try something different.”
Board of Education member Maggie Cox said that when she began her career as a teacher on Kauai, housing was provided for teachers. She said subsidizing the cost of housing or paying teachers more for extra hours of work could make a difference.
“When my husband and I got married, we lived in teacher housing,” Cox said. “We didn’t expect to live there forever. I came from the mainland with the intention of staying for two years. It’s almost 49 years later and I’m still here.”