Thursday, September 6, 2001

DOE barriers
stand in the way of
hiring teachers

A university dean says that
lower standards are not the way
to a better hiring process

DOE faces an uphill
battle for teachers

By Treena Shapiro

THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION should remove barriers to hiring qualified teachers. That is what some are saying after the department announced that it would temporarily streamline its application process to ease a teacher shortage.

Carl Takamura, executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, said anecdotal evidence indicates the department places too much emphasis on specific requirements and not enough on actual experience and job performance.

Historically, rigid requirements have created roadblocks for those trying to enter the profession, he said.

"It seems to me it's time to take a look at some of these barriers, and if they don't have a purpose, like trying to keep some people out, then we have to get rid of them," he said.

Many people in the department -- from the superintendent on down -- and in the community believe changes are needed to alleviate the teacher shortage, but the solutions are many and varied.

The department generally requires teachers to complete a state-approved teacher education program, certification tests and a structured interview to meet entry-level teaching requirements.

Superintendent Paul Le- Mahieu said, however, that because of a shortage of 437 teachers, the department would waive those requirements for qualified applicants with bachelor's degrees, provided they are willing to become certified within three years.

The emergency hires will generally be for math, science, Hawaiian immersion and industrial arts teachers, counselors and librarians. The areas with the greatest needs are on Oahu's Leeward coast, the Big Island, Lanai, Molokai and Hana, Maui.

Randy Hitz, dean of the College of Education at the University of Hawaii, said the public schools have no choice but to relax requirements to fill these positions.

But while there could be ways to streamline the system in general, he said lowering standards should not be among them.

"Hawaii does require as much or more testing of teachers as any other state in the nation, but I think it should be a source of pride for Hawaii that they have high standards for their teachers," Hitz said.

Tom Kelleher, a University of Hawaii journalism professor, said that when he and his wife moved to Hawaii in 1999, his wife had to go through a lengthy process to get an application and interview to become an early-education teacher in the public schools.

During the interview, she was told that a master's degree in education, Florida teaching certification, two years of experience and a county nomination for a national teaching award would not qualify her to teach in Hawaii, he said. She would have to take a teaching exam and substitute-teaching course just to find work as a substitute teacher.

By the time she started receiving calls from principals, she already had spent a year teaching at St. Andrew's Priory and had just signed a contract at Punahou.

Claudia Chun, a Department of Education personnel specialist who deals with teacher recruitment, said it takes two to four weeks to process an application before a prospective teacher is added to the pool, and after that there could be a long wait until there is a vacancy they are qualified to fill.

Chun's office also is short-staffed and has been swamped with hundreds of telephone and walk-in inquiries since LeMahieu's announcement Monday.

The applications will be processed in the order they were received, although those with teaching credentials will be given a higher priority, Chun said.

"We're trying our best and that's all we can do," she said.

DOE faces an uphill
battle for teachers

By Crystal Kua

With snow falling in the dead of winter, Hawaii Department of Education recruiters traveled to New York in hopes of enticing new teachers to work in isle schools. They brought with them flower lei.

"And because of that, we were on TV that evening," department personnel specialist Amy Yamashita told a Board of Education committee.

But California officials also were there recruiting.

"And they have higher starting salaries," Yamashita said. "And so it was a novelty because Hawaii was there recruiting, but the competition, we realized, was very, very stiff."

Hawaii's public schools have many challenges like this to overcome as they try to compete for teachers at a time of a national teacher shortage, members of the school board's Support Services Committee were told yesterday.

But a union official also told the committee that at the heart of the problem is the Department of Education's inability to respond to the crisis in the past and now.

"It is our opinion that the Department of Education really hasn't wrestled with the question of the teacher shortage," Joan Husted said.

As an example, Husted said she has been working with three special-education teachers with master's degrees from the mainland to get hired by the department but had roadblocks put in front of them.

One has gone back to the mainland, a second who wanted to live on Molokai -- one of the areas where recruitment is difficult -- likely will resign from teaching, and the third one is barely hanging on.

"There's something terribly wrong with that picture, and what is wrong with that picture, I think, is the failure to internalize how big and deep this shortage of teachers is," Husted said.

"In fact, in the Department of Education itself, there is a debate going on whether there really is a teacher shortage."

Husted said that the department is telling people that the shortage really is not all that bad. "That's denial," she said.

Husted said not only is there competition among states for teachers, there is also competition within the state for teachers as private schools also are looking for the brightest.

"Somehow what has happened is, our inability to recruit and retain teachers is being translated into failure," Husted said.

Committee members also voiced their frustrations.

Shannon Ajifu said she heard from people who have been told the department is not recruiting for spots like special-education teachers on Molokai, which is not the case.

Board members said they may need to turn to the Legislature for financial incentives, like rent subsidies or teacher housing, to recruit teachers.

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