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Friday, April 14, 2000

Study ranks
Hawaii’s schools
47th in nation

It also says that increased
spending nationwide has
not improved results

Teacher union urges higher standards

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Hawaii public schools ranked 47th among the 50 states in a study evaluating 100 measures of educational resources and student achievement since 1977.

The study also refutes the assumption that improved student performance correlates with increased school spending, says the American Legislative Exchange Council, which issued the study.

The council, the nation's largest bipartisan group of state legislators, maintains the study shows no evident correlation between conventional measures of education inputs, such as spending per pupil and teacher salaries, and educational outputs, such as average scores on standardized tests.

Per pupil expenditures nationwide have increased by more than 23 percent over the past two decades after accounting for inflation, yet 67 percent of America's eighth graders still read below the proficiency level, the study said.

Ranked at the top of the study were Minnesota, Montana and Iowa; Mississippi and the District of Columbia were at the bottom.

Among the 100 measures of resources and achievements in public schools, the study showed:

Bullet Hawaii's enrollment grew by 11.6 percent from the 1977-78 to 1997-98 school years, compared to the national increase of 6 percent.
Bullet For 1997-98, the number of pupils per teacher here was 17.54; the national average was 17.13. But Hawaii's spending per pupil, $5,308, was slightly less than the national average of $6,081.
Bullet The amount spent per pupil nationally increased 23.62 percent from 1977 to 1997, while spending in Hawaii dropped 4.03 percent.

Teachers union
calls for testing,
tougher standards

Staff and wire reports


Pre-empting a growing national movement to impose tougher standards on teachers, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers union, proposed a national test and rigorous new standards for those who want to become teachers.

The proposal, a departure from traditional union opposition to increased teacher testing, comes amid heightened worries from educators, parents and politicians about the declining quality of the nation's teaching force and those entering it.

In Hawaii, Greg Knudsen, Department of Education spokesman, questioned how the AFT proposal would differ from what is already done here. "We do already administer a test and have a PRAXIS exam," he pointed out.

Further, he said, "Whatever they are proposing doesn't magically produce the numbers needed across the nation, and particularly in Hawaii. There still may be situations where we need to hire teachers without training in a particular field."

Danielle Lum, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said Hawaii already is doing some of the things called for by the AFT, but that anything that would better prepare teachers in the classroom should be looked at.

Increased efforts also should be made to attract and retain teachers, she said."There needs to be total dedication and commitment toward raising teaching as a profession, which includes higher standards, a better wage, better working conditions and better learning conditions."

Nationally, about a third of all teachers lack a major or minor in the subjects they teach, meaning about 4 million children every year learn math from someone who may not have taken a math class since high school. While most states have teacher tests, most require only the equivalent of a high school education to pass, in part because unions have blocked efforts to set a higher bar.

Some 2 million teachers are due to be hired or replaced nationwide over the next decade, and many states are struggling to find enough qualified people to lead their classrooms.

The union said it wants to take advantage of that opportunity, and is making its recommendations after two years of studying teacher preparation programs. The proposal would not affect current members.

"We've taken an honest and hard, critical look at what's out there, and most of it is terribly inadequate," said Sandra Feldman, president of the million-member union. "If we could get folks to follow this prescription, we would have a much rosier future."

The AFT suggests that colleges that train teachers require students to reach a 3.0 grade point average by their second year. Most programs accept a 2.75 grade point average.

The colleges should also require teacher candidates to major in a separate subject, rather than just studying coursework in the college of education.

Randy Hitz, dean of the University of Hawaii College of Education, said the minimum GPA required for entry to the college is 2.75. However, the average GPA for students entering the elementary education program is 3.75, he said, and it's 3.17 for secondary education students.

Forty-four states require teachers to pass a test to earn a license. But the tests, which vary, grant teachers credentials based on a range of measures from basic skills to knowledge of a specific subject to teaching performance.

Unions have long said that tests are a poor measure of the gifts that make a good teacher. But ultimately, Feldman said, tests and tougher standards can give the teaching profession the same rigor, and the same status, that board and bar exams give doctors and lawyers.

With schools in almost every state subjecting students to tougher tests, she said, it only makes sense to demand the same of teachers.

While the union proposal comes late to the bid for better teachers, it adds a crucial voice to the lawmakers and parents who have called for reforms.

Any attempt to adopt such a national program will be bucking a long tradition of strong local control over education.

The report makes no mention of higher salaries, a more common union proposal. But Feldman, the union president, said it was clear that if teachers were asked to meet higher standards, they would have to be paid better.

Reporter Helen Altonn, the New York Times and
the Associated Press contributed to this story

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