Tuesday, April 16, 2019

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee: 'There is a dream that we can fix'

Watch his address from our 47th Annual State Convention

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Watch HSTA President Corey Rosenlee address Hawaii's teacher pay and shortage at our 47th Annual State Convention.

"As president, there have been lot of times that people sort of accuse me of having sort of like a pet project, whether that's air conditioning or EES or class size. But I do want to share with you, there's always been something that has been my top priority, and that has been teacher pay.

"Teacher pay has always been important and I want to share why. I think sometimes it's easy, as a union president, people say of course you're fighting for teacher pay. But I want to tell you it goes much deeper than that.

"So a couple of years ago, I had the fortune with other state presidents, we were invited to see the education system in Finland. So the state presidents, we flew to Finland to see the schools, and we saw many different kinds of schools. We were going through one school. We walked around, and when we were done, I came out and I was talking to the Colorado state president. She said to me, 'Corey, what do you think?' and I said to her, 'Well, what do you think?' and she said the exact same thing I was thinking. It's just a school.

"Believe it or not, this really threw us for a loop. So I flew back to Hawaii and, a couple of days later, I had to go back to D.C. A lot of mileage there. And I'm sitting in an NEA board meeting, and—I guess it might not have been a very exciting meeting; maybe it truly was a 'bored' meeting—and I was still struggling.

"Finland is touted as this great education system across the entire world, and I didn't see anything. So what was it?

"During that time, I hypothesized, maybe it has nothing to do with education. At their schools in Finland, they have free health care, free preschool, free college. Maybe that was the secret of their success, and not their schools.

"Thank goodness for Google. Right next to Finland is Sweden, the exact same social programs, and I wanted to see, how did Sweden do? This is what really surprised me. Sweden and student outcomes was close to what the United States was, and Finland was still at the top. So what was the big difference between Sweden and Finland? Google had the answer for me.

"The big difference was—and this is the basic debate we're having in our own country right now—Sweden tried the Betsy DeVos model. What they tried was, they gave everyone a voucher and they wanted it to be survival of the fittest. You could choose whatever school you wanted. What happened was schools started to focus on testing and teaching to the test, and they started to lie about how well they were doing. So even though they had all the same social programs as Finland, they weren't doing as well.

"Then I thought about the key to Finland's success. It might have been just a school, but then I realized, we went to a couple of schools, rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods. One of the things I realized was this: You couldn't tell the difference. It may have been just a school, but the thing is they believe in equality for all of their schools.

"Then we had time to think some more and realized some of the real secrets. Only 10 percent of applicants even get into their teaching programs. They have low class sizes. When it comes to special education, almost every single class is an inclusion class, and they have two teachers in the classroom. In high school, 50 percent of their students are enrolled in CTE, and they have enough CTE teachers to do that. They have free preschool for everyone, although you don't actually have to start education until you're 7 in Finland, so they let kids be kids.

"But when you think about it: low class sizes, abundant preschool and CTE, only 10 percent of their teachers get into the programs. How do they do that?

"Well in Finland, teachers are paid like doctors and lawyers, and they're treated and respected as such. So Finland does not have a teacher shortage problem. Their retention rate is they only lose one to two percent of teachers every single year. No matter where you go to, and there are some very cold places in Finland, every single school has good teachers.

"So when I thought about saying, 'It's just a school,' I have gone around to see many of your classrooms and we have many great teachers. The real trick is this, how do we make sure that every classroom has a great teacher? So can this be done here in Hawaii? Some say no, that's impossible. Except for we do that right now.

"One of the fundamental flaws in our system is the way we compensate teachers in Hawaii. Right now on the mainland, teachers, the longer they teach, they have years of service, and every single year, they move up with years of service. We have steps. So during our negotiations, oftentimes, we have to choose between across-the-board and steps. In our last contract, we had two across-the-board and two steps. In other states, they don't have to ever bargain the steps. They just do across-the-boards. If we were to do that, after a few years, we would be caught up with the other districts around the country with similar pay. We could do that if we just fix that one problem, so that's something that we need to do.

"The other big problem we have with the teacher shortage crisis is this. One-third of our shortage is in one place: special education. As a union and as a state, we have got to find a way to retain our special education teachers. Another problem that we have is our hard-to-staff. If you look at it, the biggest vacancies we have are in certain areas—the Leeward Coast, Molokai, Lanai. I know some of our teachers that came today had to travel for hours just to get to a plane to drive here, so thank you all for coming here.

"There is a dream that we can fix, and that is if we were to pay our teachers better. We could fix all of these problems. We could retain our teachers so they don't have to move to the mainland, don't need second jobs in order to be teachers. If we were to help our special education teachers, we wouldn't be losing them, or if we fund our hard-to-staff, we wouldn't have to lose them as well.

"So when people say, 'How do we fix class size?' Teacher pay. You want CTE teachers and preschool teachers? How do you fix that? Teacher pay. How do we make sure that we have equity in all of our schools, no matter where they're from the Leeward Coast or the Big Island? Teacher pay. Sometimes they try to shame us. 'All you care about is teacher pay.' The next time someone does that, you say 'I absolutely care about teacher pay and let me tell you why.'"