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Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Expert says teachers key
to quality of public schools

By Crystal Kua


Improving the quality of teaching will go a long way toward turning around Hawaii's lagging public school system, a national expert on teacher quality says.

"The single most important determinant of how kids do is the qualifications of their teachers," said Linda Darling-Hammond, executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. "So the key issue in Hawaii is going to be investing in teachers who can really help kids."

Darling-Hammond was the keynote speaker at a weekend symposium on teacher quality sponsored by the Hawaii Teachers Standard Board. Hammond also discussed these same issues with state lawmakers yesterday.

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future was formed in 1994 with the mission to connect the goal of higher student achievement with the need for competent teachers. The commission helps to develop policies and practices aimed at ensuring quality teaching and learning.

The commission in 1996 released a report with the five recommendations -- get serious about standards for students and teachers, reinvent teacher preparation and professional development, overhaul teacher recruitment and put qualified teachers in every classroom, encourage and reward teaching knowledge and skill and create schools that are organized for student and teacher success.

While Hawaii has been at the bottom of national reading and math scores, it has the ingredients for moving to the top if it can overcome some obstacles, she said.

The establishment of a teacher standards board and having the current educational leadership are pluses especially with the national reputations of state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and University of Hawaii College of Education Dean Randy Hitz, Darling-Hammond said.

She also said having the Legislature and the governor putting these issues on their agenda also is important. The legislators she spoke with are interested in making the necessary investments, she said.

"Very few states have everybody trying to get on the same page at the same time," she said. "It's been in recent years that this set of ideas has been percolating from a lot of different places."

Hawaii needs to make sure that there are qualified teachers in each classroom, which means devising a plan to address teacher shortages.

"That means being very purposeful and creative about solving the supply and demand problem. Treat quality teachers with great respect -- that is, try to be sure that you keep good people who are there as well as attract people who are well prepared."

Darling-Hammond said Hawaii could look to a state like Connecticut, which found itself way behind in student achievement about 15 years ago. Now, Connecticut is No. 1 in national test scores with a surplus of teachers and one of the best-qualified teaching forces in the country, she said.

Connecticut raised salaries and standards at the same time, and that ensured mentors for every beginning teacher, Darling-Hammond said.

Connecticut also has high licensing standards which means it doesn't hire people on emergency credentials -- like Hawaii does -- and it pays teachers well, she said.

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