Feds renew funding to hone isle teachers


POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

A mainland firm that got a $250,000 contract in the summer of 2007 to improve teacher quality in Hawaii's public schools has been awarded a second contract worth more than twice as much to continue the work.

Oregon-based School Synergy is receiving $575,000 in federal funds to help the state increase the number of so-called highly qualified teachers through June 2010 and meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

The state Education Department had flagged as many as 6,200 teachers—out of about 13,000—who lacked federal qualifications in the beginning of the 2007-08 academic year. Since then, officials formed a partnership with School Synergy to meet individually with school principals and teachers to help them document their qualifications or devise a tactic to bring them up to speed.

They reduced the number of nonqualified teachers to 2,013, according to figures compiled this month. Still, that means about 30 percent of classes are being taught by teachers labeled unqualified in at least one area, a slight improvement from 32 percent five months ago.

The federal government defines highly qualified teachers as those with a bachelor's degree, a state license and proven competency in every subject they teach. Educators say teachers carrying those credentials are better equipped to explain comprehensive lessons and more likely to engage all students.

Research has shown they also are more effective in boosting students' scores, especially in math.

But the label has upset some veteran teachers who have been listed as unqualified despite having worked in classrooms for decades.

That is because many teachers who have credentials in one area are considered unqualified under the law if they teach another subject at hard-to-recruit schools. And special-education teachers need to be qualified in special education in addition to the subjects they teach.

The law called for states to have all teachers highly qualified by the 2005-06 school year. None made it, so the federal Education Department demanded new state plans to reach that goal or threatened to withhold federal dollars.

Hawaii gets almost $13 million in federal funds each year to help teachers become highly qualified.

Under its new contract, School Synergy will keep working to increase Hawaii's highly qualified teacher pool and raise annual test results by tailoring professional development to needs of teachers and students at individual schools, officials say.

“;It has helped us tremendously,”; Amy Shimamoto, director of the Education Department's Personnel Development Branch, said of the company, which also monitors Hawaii's compliance with federal requirements.

Board of Education member Maggie Cox said the firm “;has pulled us out of the fire”; by building a system to raise teacher quality. But she said the goal is to eventually have administrators take on the task without having to rely on an outside consultant.

“;Eventually, we will have our act together,”; she said. “;Do I believe that we will ever have 100 percent of our teachers highly qualified? I doubt it. I don't think any state can do that.”;