A recent licensing law forcesBy Crystal Kua
teachers to meet certain standards
or lose their jobs
A bid to improve teaching in Hawaii's public schools has seen its first casualties.
For the first time, the state Department of Education did not rehire teachers who failed to meet requirements under a licensing law that's been in effect for two years.
About 165 teachers were affected.
"The law says you can't rehire these people," department personnel director Albert Yoshii said.
But the goal to get qualified professionals into the classroom is also compounding the department's problem of trying to fill teacher shortages in areas where many instructors are not certified -- special education, math, science, vocational and in rural locations, such as Molokai and Lanai.
In 1995, the Legislature created the nine-member Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, which was charged with setting teacher license and credential standards.
The 1997-98 school year was the first academic year in which teachers were required by law to obtain from the Department of Education either a license or a temporary license, called a credential, in order to teach in a public school classroom.
Teachers who were certified as of June 1997 were automatically granted five-year licenses beginning with the 1997-98 school year because the teacher standards board was still formulating new teacher performance standards when the licensing requirements went into effect, board executive director Sharon Mahoe said.
"We knew who were not (certified). Those who were not, never had a deadline to be certified before," Yoshii said. "The new law on licensure is now forcing the teachers to become certified."
Certified teachers have taken courses and passed tests that are specifically geared toward, for instance, teaching how to teach.
Mahoe said this particular ability can help in improving student performance.
"So, in an ordinary class, not all the students are of the same abilities," Mahoe said. "The competent teacher is able to design lessons or refine lessons to meet the different needs of those kids in the classroom."
Teachers who are not certified may not have taken or completed these kinds of courses, she said.
The credentialing process came about in response to the department's need to fill teaching positions in areas where there are shortages.
Yoshii said that out of 12,000 public school teachers, an estimated 500 are currently holding credentials while pursuing licensing.
"We have to verify that they are still actively working on their license," Yoshii said.
Prior to the start of the current school year, the estimated 165 teachers who were not "actively pursuing" licensing were not rehired.
Hawaii State Teacher Association President Karen Ginoza said the licensing law provides for accountability in that only qualified teachers will be hired to teach in the classroom.
"The teacher standards board was an HSTA initiative," Ginoza said. "The whole goal is to have certified teachers teaching. ... We want teachers who are qualified."
Yoshii said as more students receive special-education services, the need for more certified special-education teachers is growing but the supply is not meeting the demand.
The department is working with the University of Hawaii College of Education as well as teacher preparation programs at Chaminade, Brigham Young and other universities to graduate more certified special-education teachers, Yoshii said.
Programs such as Project Rise, a special-education certification program for regular education teachers who are certified, are also helping with the numbers, Yoshii said.
Neighbor island communities that do not have teacher preparation programs are having difficulty trying to comply with the licensing law while also providing quality education to students.
"Our goal is to have certified teachers in every classroom," said Lanai High and Intermediate School Principal Pierce Myers. "But we need to offer certification programs that Lanai residents can take advantage of."
Myers said in order to improve teacher quality at his school, teacher turnover, which is the school's No. 1 problem, must be addressed. Each year, about 15 of the 45 teachers leave.
Students then end up being taught by noncertified long-term substitutes who are not required to get a license, he said.
Allen Ashitomi, a school renewal specialist for the Department of Education based on Molokai, said one of reasons teachers have left the Friendly Isle is to pursue certification courses.
"It is difficult on our residents who wish to pursue certification," Ashitomi said.
Ashitomi and Myers said classes sometimes end up being canceled because not enough people sign up. "Our need is to have it continually year after year even if it's one person," Myers said.
Teacher licensing came about with the formation of the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board in 1995. Beginning with the 1997-98 school year, the law requires that no person shall serve as a public school teacher without first obtaining a license or credential.
The rules: Must get
a license to teach
Licenses: Issued by the Department of Education to certified teachers who have completed an approved teacher preparation program and passed the PRAXIS national teacher competency examination which covers basic skills, pedagogy (how to teach) and content knowledge.
Credentials: Issued by the Department of Education to teachers who have not met licensing requirements but are "actively pursuing" licensing by either taking certification course work, being scheduled to take the teacher test or awaiting verification documents to show requirements were fulfilled.
Renewals: Licenses are renewable every five years. Credentials are renewed each year for up to three years provided that a teacher is "actively pursuing" licensing and shows proof of progress. If any of the requirements are not met within three years, or if a teacher is not "actively pursuing" licensing at any time during that period, the teacher is not offered a teaching contract beginning with the following school year.
Teacher Performance Standards: Approved July 1998. New teachers and teachers up for license renewals are subject to the new performance standards.
Penalties: A person who teaches without a license or credential in a public school or anyone who employs such a person in the school may be fined up to $500.
Teacher loses job
in Lanai Catch-22
She couldn't pursue a licenseBy Crystal Kua
because Lanai had just one class
Janet Lee Saiki started teaching at Lanai High and Intermediate School last school year, hoping to make a difference in the lives of students on the rural island.
"I think I always wanted to teach," the 28-year-old social studies instructor said. "I felt I could make a contribution."
But Saiki is reassessing her future in teaching after she was told she wouldn't be able to return to the classroom as a full-fledged teacher for the current school year.
"I couldn't get a (teaching) contract because I wasn't pursuing certification," Saiki said.
Saiki is one of 165 people who were not offered teaching contracts in the public schools this academic year as a result of licensing requirements that went into effect two years ago.
By law, teachers must first obtain a license or credential from the Department of Education before they can teach in the classroom. If they do not fulfill the requirements for a license or credential, they cannot get a teaching contract.
Saiki has a bachelor's degree in Asian studies with a minor in history.
She moved to Lanai just before she was to begin teaching during the 1997-98 school year, also the year the new licensing requirements went into affect.
At the time she began teaching, she didn't know that certification or the active pursuit of certification is now mandatory, she said.
Saiki said that even if she had known, the only certification classes available on Lanai during that year was for special education.
"It's not our fault there's no certification classes," she said.
Saiki, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was able to get back into the classroom for the current school year as a long-term substitute, a category of teacher not required to be certified.
At this point, the only way she would be able to obtain certification would be to leave Lanai and go back to Honolulu.
"I believe we should have equality," Saiki said. "It's unfair to say it's unfeasible to hold classes."
Saiki said she had hoped to settle down on Lanai for good and teach but she's not sure what she's going to do now. "I have no focus in my life ... I may have to consider other opportunities in the future."