State Report: Abolish Hawaii Teacher Standards Board

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    BY LAURA BROWN — Citing problems with the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, such as the expenditure of over $1 million for an online licensing system that is still not operational after 7 years, the 2010 Hawaii Library Reference Bureau’s report and a 2009 State Audit on the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board concurred with the recommendation of several teachers: Abolish the Board.

    Tom Stuart, a math teacher at Kohala Middle School on the island of Hawaii, is frustrated with the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board.


    In a letter last week to Hawaii State legislators and policymakers, the veteran teacher said he faces endless bureaucracy and high fees to obtain a license required to teach in Hawaii’s public schools, and yet, he cannot obtain a copy of his actual license.

    Janet Weiss, a Kohala Middle School Technology teacher for the past 4 years, is still trying to add a technology certification to her license after nearly 1 year of trying. Weiss says she built the Kohala Middle School computer lab “from scratch,” as well as the Kohala High School lab following completion of her Master’s thesis on retrofitting an older, rural school for technology.

    The board has a long history of controversy.

    The HTSB was created in 1995 to set teacher standards for licensing in Hawaii’s public schools.

    In 2001, the Legislature gave the HTSB authority to license teachers.

    In 2009, the State Auditor released a report on the HTSB. The auditor found a lack of oversight over financial matters and procurement, a failure to renew licenses or apply teacher licensing standards and exceeded its authority by extending licenses.

    According to Governing Boards, a publication of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards by Cyril O’Houle, “the inability of the teacher standards board to implement a viable Hawaii teacher licensure program has resulted in a complete failure of the board to promote professionalism and teaching excellence, build public confidence in the teaching profession, and provide more accountability to the public. In addition, the board has failed to provide every child with a qualified teacher as required by federal law. Moreover, the board’s failure to deliver an effective licensing program jeopardizes the Department of Education’s receipt of federal education funds and could lead to sanctions.”

    The Auditor concluded that having an independent teacher licensing board “has not yielded sufficient benefits for the teaching profession and students it was meant to serve to warrant its continuation” and recommended that the HTSB be abolished and the teacher licensing function and related duties be transferred back to the state’s centralized Board of Education.

    The Legislature, during the First Special Session of 2009, directed the Legislative Reference Bureau to review the Auditor’s report and make recommendations on
    (1) whether there is a need for oversight of the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, and how oversight is provided for similar boards; and
    (2) how to strengthen and clarify interagency roles, responsibilities, and relationships between the Board, Department of Education, and Teacher Education Coordinating Committee.

    The report found that HTSB faces several challenges:

    -The board members and executive director of the HTSB appear to misunderstand the nature of the relationship of an administratively attached agency and its principal department, and their respective roles, which seems to contribute to the lack of accountability and oversight of the HTSB.
    -The HTSB appears to have been burdened with more responsibility than it can adequately handle, which may have caused it to lose focus of one of its core duties to issue and renew teacher licenses.
    -The HTSB lacks the necessary resources to enable it to handle all of its present responsibilities.
    -Already understaffed in view of its workload, the HTSB has experienced long-term vacancies in two key positions, the data processing systems analyst and the education specialist. Without a data processing systems analyst, the HTSB has failed to properly monitor the activities of the vendors it hired to develop its online licensing system. The burden fell upon the executive director who lacked expertise or training relating to information technology, contributing to the cost and inefficiency of the project. The absence of an education specialist has caused that position’s duties to be shifted to an overburdened Executive Director.
    -Over the course of seven years, the HTSB wasted over $1 million in the attempt to develop an online licensing system. As of November 25, 2009, the online licensing system was not yet operable. More importantly, while the HTSB pursued the development of the online licensing system, it neglected its duty to renew teacher licenses. Instead of renewing teacher licenses, the HTSB exceeded its statutory authority and extended teacher licenses.
    -The HTSB’s requirements for license renewal and the renewal process do not comply with statutory requirements. Teachers seeking license renewal for the first time are not required to meet any of the licensing standards, while those seeking subsequent renewals have to demonstrate that they meet only two of the 10 licensing standards.
    -If the Legislature wants the HTSB to remain independent, the Legislature should consider either transferring some of the HTSB’s responsibilities to the DOE or give the HTSB more resources to adequately handle its responsibilities, the Legislative Reference Bureau says. The Legislature may wish to consider transferring the licensing and renewal function, since it has been the most problematic of the HTSB’s duties.
    -Other responsibilities that could be transferred to the DOE include the National Board Certification support program and authority over the state approval of teacher education programs.
    The report says that if the Legislature wants the foregoing functions, especially the licensing function, to remain with the HTSB, the Legislature should provide the HTSB with more resources, including a data processing systems analyst, educational specialist, and other professionals to assist with license renewals.
    Alternatively, the Legislature could adopt the recommendations in Auditor’s Report No. 09-05, which include transferring responsibility for the teacher licensure program to the Board of Education and abolishing the HTSB.
    If the HTSB is not abolished, the report suggests that the Legislature should consider directing the HTSB and DOE, with the assistance of the Department of the Attorney General, to meet to clarify their respective roles.
    If the HTSB continues to have responsibility to renew teachers’ licenses, the report recommends that the Legislature should consider requiring the HTSB to:
    1. Review its teacher license renewal process; and
    2. Determine whether the HTSB should:
    a. Modify the licensing standards themselves;
    b. Modify its approach in determining whether a renewal applicant is in compliance by having satisfied all the standards; or
    c. Recommend that the Legislature amend section 302A-805(a), HRS, to conform to the HTSB’s present requirements for license renewal and thus eliminate the present conflict with section 302A-805(a), HRS.

    Finally, to improve oversight and accountability of the HTSB, the Legislature could require the HTSB to provide additional info on annual reports.

    In response, the Legislature did not abolish the board or make changes recommended in both the audit and the Legislative Reference Bureau’s report.

    Instead, Act 184, passed in the 2010 Legislative Session, requires the HTSB to submit a report prior to the 2011 Legislative Session, outlining whether or not the board requires more funding through an increase in teacher fees and how it plans to comply with current laws.

    “Given that HTSB was created 15 years ago, the powers that be have given that outfit more than enough rope to fashion either a [1] ladder or [2] a noose. There can be no further argument as to which choice it made. Spending so much as another penny of appropriated funds on this sorry bunch is bad public policy . . . especially given the current period of governmental belt tightening needed to keep the budget in balance,” says Stuart.

    View the LRB report here:

    View the 2009 Audit here:

    Laura Brown is the Education and Capitol Reporter for Hawaii Reporter.