Schools don’t meet mandate

Cynthia Matsuoka

Special to The Garden Island

Parents are being urged by the United States Department of Education to make sure their children’s teachers are “highly qualified.”

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states must determine what highly qualified means. Personnel Regional Officer for Kaua‘i Diane Nitta explained that Hawai‘i defines a highly qualified teacher as someone who has successfully completed a teacher certification program from an accredited university which includes a student teaching component.

By July 1, all states are supposed to have 100 percent highly qualified teachers in the core areas or face a reduction in federal funding for education. The areas that will require the teachers are: English, reading and language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, fine arts, civics and government, economics, history and geography

According to Hawai‘i’s NCLB Consolidated State Performance Report, Hawai‘i had 74 percent of its core academic classes taught by highly qualified teachers in school year 2004-05. According to 2005 Trend Reports, Kauai’s East Complex was at 78 percent, Central Complex was at 90 percent, and West Complex was at 79 percent.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has publicly stated that she is willing to extend the deadline for states that show “good-faith effort” in trying to place highly qualified teachers in core academic classes. Nitta said she was confident that Hawai‘i will be awarded an extension.

A recent DOE report shows Hawai‘i to be one of 29 states not being sanctioned for failing to meet the 100 percent benchmark.

Rather than having parents initiate calls to schools to check on teacher qualification, Nitta said, the state requires each school to send out letters to parents informing them if a teacher does not meet the definition of “highly qualified.”

The parent checklist recommends that if a child’s teacher is not highly qualified, parents should make sure the district and school have a plan in place to help him or her become highly qualified.

Hawai‘i has had a High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation in place since the 2003-04 school year to assist teachers in meeting the highly qualified designation.

HOUSSE requires teachers to earn 100 points or more to meet the highly qualified criteria. A maximum of 45 points can be awarded for years of experience.

At least 45 points must come from undergraduate or graduate credit hours, professional development credits, and/or in-service workshops. Other points can come from activities related to the content area taught, service to the content area awards, presentations, or publications in the content area.

Some veteran teachers may fall into the not-highly qualified teacher category. Nitta said that special education teachers, for example, receive kindergarten through 12 certification without any subject area specificity. If they teach middle or high school core classes like special education math, they would not be highly qualified. Without HOUSSE, they would have to earn a degree in math.

The Department of Education’s Professional Development Support Center assists with professional development opportunities for teachers working for the highly qualified designation.

An outreach program coordinated on Kauai by Kani Blackwell, from the Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s College of Education offers a teacher certification program.

A group of elementary teachers are completing the teaching certification program and should be ready for hire soon, Nitta said. A group of secondary teachers will begin student teaching in the fall.

Nitta said the last posting of the transfer period of the teacher hiring process for next school year ended on May 8. During the transfer period, schools list their teacher position openings. Fourth semester probationary teachers and tenured teachers may apply for any of the posted openings. Once the transfer period is over, any non-tenured teacher may be considered.

Principals will be looking for highly qualified teachers to hire. Nitta said because of Kauai’s geographic isolation and the high cost of living, sometimes there are no highly qualified teacher applicants. Nitta said she goes on recruiting trips to the Mainland because the Hawai‘i universities and colleges do not produce enough teachers to fill the openings.

Even with the recruiting trips, there may still be openings, especially in the shortage areas of science, math, and special education. In these cases, people without teacher certification, but a degree in the field, or related fields, are hired.

No state has reached the 100 percent benchmark, Nitta said. Kauai schools should show an increase, she said.

The parent checklist can be found at Go to or for Trend Reports.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at


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