Rosenlee talks about educational equity on Hawaii Public Radio

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee told Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program that Oahu’s Leeward Coast and other areas of the islands suffer from a lack of experienced teachers, creating inequality in Hawaii’s public schools.

He made the comments during the hour-long program Aug. 3, during which he answered questions from callers across the state, some of whom were frustrated former teachers who left the Department of Education because of a number of difficulties.

“We do have a new superintendent, and we’re looking forward to what’s going to happen there,” Rosenlee told “Town Square” host Neal Milner. “Unfortunately, there are still some major problems that happened last year that will continue this year.”

“We’re going to have tens of thousands of children walk into classrooms next week and they are not going to have a qualified teacher,” Rosenlee said.

He pointed to a study by the DOE called “The DOE Equity Plan.”

“We’ve always known that we’ve had a teacher shortage, but when we look at specific areas, such as the Leeward Coast, 30 to 40 percent of all the teachers in that area are either in their first year of teaching, they’re unqualified or they are teaching out of their field of expertise,” Rosenlee said. “This has been a perpetual problem, but it’s getting worse. And so these kids are denied year after year a quality teacher.”

“What’s causing this problem? Low pay,” Rosenlee said.

Even with the teachers’ new contract which raises their pay by nearly 14 percent over four years, they’re still paid significantly lower than counterparts in mainland cities with similarly high costs of living.

Teachers in Hawaii are the worst paid in the country, when you factor in Hawaii’s high cost of living, and are routinely paid $10,000 to $15,000 less a year than many school districts on the mainland, Rosenlee said.

As a result, “We just cannot recruit and keep teachers,” he said.

Right now, there is still an overemphasis on testing, and teaching to the test, Rosenlee said.

“Too often what we have is mandated curriculum: top-down curriculum of what teachers are supposed to teach, so unfortunately, those things have not changed,” he added.

If you combine the top-down mandates teachers deal with along with the low pay, it’s difficult to keep teachers in Hawaii.

“Hawaii has a huge turnover rate and it’s getting worse,” Rosenlee said.

There are fewer student teachers going into the profession and more teachers leaving the profession, Rosenlee said, “which is creating the gap.”

At the beginning of last school year (2016-2017), there were 650 teaching vacancies. The DOE has not yet reported the vacancy numbers for the 2017-2018 school year.

“Teachers in Hawaii just can’t afford to live here,” Rosenlee said. New teachers arrive from the mainland, living three to four people in a house and when they want to buy a house and start a family, they can’t afford to do that in Hawaii, so they leave, Rosenlee added.

“Why in Hawaii do we allow this inequality to continue and to perpetuate itself?” Rosenlee said.

Even though Hawaii has a statewide educational system where all schools are funded equally, Rosenlee said the reality is that all schools are “equally underfunded.”  Those public schools whose communities have more resources and are able to fundraise from businesses and families often have better facilities and programs, because they have the financial means to do so, he said.

“It’s painful,” Rosenlee said. “At the heart of the matter is do we as a state, do we as a country, do we believe that every child should have a quality education. And should every child have a qualified teacher and the basic necessities for a classroom. And we know we’re not providing that in Hawaii. And I think it’s something that we must all demand of our politicians.”

“Every person has to say to their politician, ‘Education matters. It’s about my child, my grandchild, or my niece.’ And only then are we going to see any action,” Rosenlee added.

Listen to Corey Rosenlee’s entire interview and hear from former teachers calling in to Hawaii Public Radio here. Click here