Fewer educators leave isle schools


Fewer educators leave isle schools

But some warn of a coming exodus due to discontent over new evaluations and standards

By Nanea Kalani

A total of 876 of the roughly 13,500 public school teachers left their jobs over the course of the 2013-14 school year that just ended. Nearly two-thirds of those who left resigned and 40 percent retired. Sixteen were terminated.

Widespread angst over sweeping education reforms led to speculation that the state might see an exodus of public school teachers this year due to burnout and poor morale, conditions made worse by pay levels that lag behind their mainland counterparts.

Teachers say this past school year was especially rough, with the Department of Education rolling out a complex new performance-based teacher evaluation system along with a more rigorous set of curriculum standards known as the Common Core, nationally crafted academic guidelines in math and English. And starting this fall, a teacher’s evaluation rating will be tied to tenure, raises and termination, with ratings based in part on how well students perform on tests.

But despite that angst, the number of teachers leaving their classrooms is actually at its lowest point in five years, according to preliminary figures provided by the DOE.

A total of 876 of the roughly 13,500 public school teachers left their jobs over the course of the 2013-14 school year that just ended. Nearly two-thirds of those who left resigned and 40 percent retired. Sixteen were terminated.

The overall number of departures is down 15 percent from the 1,030 teachers who left during the 2012-13 school year. It’s also fewer than the 1,111 teachers who separated from the DOE in 2011-12, the year Gov. Neil Abercrombie riled teachers when he unilaterally imposed a two-year contract that stuck them with pay cuts and a higher share of health insurance premiums.

In the 2009-10 school year, when the state implemented Furlough Fridays, 1,060 teachers left the profession, while 981 left the following school year.

The latest round of exiting teachers represents less than 7 percent of the workforce. Nationally, the average turnover rate for all public school teachers is about 17 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Department of Education officials were reluctant to comment on the year-over-year drop because the 2013-14 numbers are preliminary. But spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the DOE “is investing in a leadership pipeline that includes teacher induction and mentoring programs,” adding that the effort is key to helping retain teachers.

Still, some teachers contend the decrease may be deceiving because many in their ranks are planning exit strategies to resign or retire in the next year or two.

“The unhappiness is very widespread,” said Judy Sadoyama, who is among the teachers who called it quits this year. “All of my colleagues are saying, ‘I wish I could go with you.’”

Sadoyama said she dreamed of being a schoolteacher since she was a sophomore in high school. After studying at the University of Hawaii, her ambitions materialized into a long teaching career at her alma mater, Farrington High School, where she had taught social studies for the past 24 years.

“I never, ever thought of another career besides teaching,” said the 48-year-old Kalihi resident.

But as educational reforms have piled up in recent years, she found herself more and more unhappy in her dream job. With two children in college and no new job lined up, she resigned this summer.

“My husband told me I needed to make up my mind because the stress was killing me,” Sadoyama said in an interview. “You’ve got to weigh everything in the balance.”

“I’m done,” she said. “I know that I’m done. The biggest issue I think I have is I just feel some of the (DOE’s) policies are things that I can no longer get behind. I love teaching and I love my students, but even that wasn’t enough to keep me there.”

Other teachers also said they are hearing about possible impending resignations at their schools, citing frustration over the new teacher evaluations and a heavier emphasis on preparing students for standardized tests.

Wil Okabe
Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents the teachers, said he believes the new evaluation system has contributed to some of the resignations.

But he said he’s optimistic that 18 changes the union negotiated with the DOE to essentially cut in half the workload required to prepare for and perform the annual reviews will help ease some of the anxiety next school year.

Okabe said that while the lower turnover is encouraging, more needs to be done to keep teachers, both veterans and new hires.

“Any time you have new teachers coming in, it really doesn’t provide continuity for the students,” Okabe said.

A new report out this month by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education raises doubts about the ability of states to meet higher academic standards given the revolving door of teachers.

“The high annual turnover rates seriously compromise the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching,” the report’s author wrote.

It added that teacher shortages and emergency hires mean disadvantaged students are less likely to be taught math and science by teachers who hold a degree and a license in the field in which they teach.

It also says high attrition is costly because resources have to be spent on recruiting and processing new teachers, and on training and development.

Okabe said several incentives in the latest labor contract are aimed at helping retain more teachers. For example, the length of time to earn tenure was extended by a year to three years of probation for new hires, but these teachers will be eligible for a $2,500 bonus in their fourth year.

“This is an incentive to encourage teachers to continue,” Okabe said. “There was no bonus before. We’ve extended the amount of time so that new hires can get more mentorship in the classroom.”

At UH-Manoa’s College of Education, which graduates 700 students a year and supplies many of the state’s teachers, emphasis is placed on preparing future teachers for the “real world of teaching,” said Beth Pateman, associate dean for academic affairs.

“Teacher education students are placed in classrooms with experienced mentor teachers from their very first semester in the program,” she said in an email. “We want students to find out early if teaching is the right career for them.”

Pateman said demand for the college’s teaching programs is strong, especially at the elementary level.

Still, Okabe says, Hawaii’s programs can’t supply enough graduates, forcing the state to hire mainland teachers who generally don’t commit long-term to Hawaii.

He said the union anticipates a teacher shortage within the next five years as aging teachers retire and younger educators continue to job hop.

“Sixty percent of our members are 40 and younger,” Okabe said. “The Gen X, Gen Y and millennials, that particular group tends to have an average 14 jobs within their lifetime. That’s the culture we’re living in.”