Hawaii ed. officials facing low teacher retention rates

Hawaii ed. officials facing low teacher retention rates

(Hawaii) Close to half of teachers in Hawaii are leaving the profession or the state altogether within five years of entering the classroom, posing a significant problem for the state Education Department, which is already facing issues in attracting teachers.

Slightly more than 900 teachers were hired in 2013, according to department data, but as of this year, fewer than 470 of them remained in Hawaii public school classrooms.

The teachers union has called for increasing salaries, noting that beginning teachers earn about $5,400 less than those in comparable districts in other states; mid-career teachers earn up to $30,000 less; and the state’s most experienced teachers at the top of the scale make as much as $18,000 less.

“At the end of the day, we’re just not competitive, and this is why we’re losing our teachers,” Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said in a statement. “The number one reason why teachers are separating from the DOE is because they are leaving Hawaii.”

Several studies have shown that Hawaii’s teacher salary is near the bottom nationally when taking into account the state’s high cost of living. Analysis conducted on behalf of NPR earlier this year by EdBuild–a nonprofit that advocates for more equitable states funding of public schools–found that teacher pay was lower on the islands than in any other state when living costs are factored in.

A recent Wallet Hub report ranking the best and worst places to be a teacher based on measures such as teachers’ income growth potential, pupil-teacher ratios and teacher safety found that although Hawaii ranked first in the nation in teacher union strength, it was ranked last overall–largely due to pay.

Beginning teachers make only $24,409 a year when adjusted for the cost of living, the analysis showed.

Recruitment has proven difficult on the islands, according to state education officials. According to the latest data, about 1,000 teacher positions went unfilled during the 2017-18 school year, accounting for 8 percent of the overall workforce needed to staff classrooms.

And the number of special education vacancies rose to more than 350 this year from about 300 last year.

Rosenlee said it was only a matter of time before the state faces a lawsuit regarding the shortage of properly credentialed special education teachers, noting that schools “cannot provide services to our students unless we have enough special education teachers.”

Indeed, the number of teachers heading up classrooms prior to completing teacher credentialing programs has steadily increased–rising from close to 475 last year to more than 500 this year.

Retention has also proven problematic. Of the more than 1,100 teachers who resigned from Hawaii schools in the 2017-18 school year, more than 420 said they were leaving the state altogether. Close to 300 were retiring, about 120 were changing professions, and nearly 70 said they were dissatisfied with their workplace environment. Some did not provide a reason for leaving.

While the number of teachers leaving Hawaii has increased 71 percent in the last five years, retention rates have declined. Only 51 percent of teachers hired during the 2013-14 school year were still in a Hawaii classroom five years later–down from 54 percent the previous year.

At a State Board of Education meeting this month, board members and the state schools chief discussed options to improve teacher pay, such as ensuring salaries more accurately reflect teachers’ years of service.

During the meeting, Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said that state education policy was not “bold enough to show that we support our teachers,” and that in terms of recruitment, “our pipeline is absolutely leaking.”

The board was also presented with a handful of teacher recruitment initiative options, including expanding alternative pathways to licensure, and looking to out-of-state candidates.

The education department is currently conducting a study of teacher salaries that factors in the state’s high cost of living and health benefits, but it won’t be completed until this summer, officials said.

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