Hawaii’s Master’s Educated Special Education Teachers Help Close the Achievement Gap
According to the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE), Hawaii is currently experiencing a critical shortage of special education teachers—in fact, in 2015, there were 100 special ed teacher positions that remained unfilled throughout Hawaii public schools.
Without qualified special ed teachers, the openings are often filled by teachers who don’t have a background or training in special ed. In other scenarios, trained special education teachers are stretched thin, taking on more than one classroom.
However, special education teachers in the state along with the Hawaii DOE are working toward a common goal: staffing Hawaii’s public schools with excellent, dedicated special education teachers who are committed to making a difference.
In 2015, the Hawaii DOE said, “Our highest priority is to have our students with disabilities demonstrating achievement similar to their academic peers, and on that front we’ve seen some success. The IDEA review shows Hawaii is in the top-third of states with the lowest dropout percentage of special-needs students.”
Despite the shortage of special education teachers, Hawaii has continued to improve special education programs in the state’s public schools, allowing special needs students to receive the quality education they deserve.
Co-Teaching in Integrated Classrooms
Over the past several years, Hawaii has struggled to meet federal standards in the special education classroom.
For instance, special education students are required to spend 80 percent of their time in a general education classroom. However, according to Board of Education vice chairman Brian De Lima, “Presently, only 36 percent of the [special education] students attend a regular classroom for 80 percent of the time.”
Because of the struggle to keep special ed students connected in general education programs, many Hawaii public schools began using the practice of co-teaching. Co-teaching refers to the practice of incorporating special ed students into the traditional classroom using a two-teacher model: a special ed instructor and a traditional instructor, a practice that has become very common in Hawaii:
- Noelle Pezzi is a special ed teacher in the Mahaka Elementary School District in Hawaii, and she co-teaches with a traditional teacher. “They [the special ed students] have a sense of self and are more motivated. And they volunteer in class. You wouldn’t get a peep out of them before [in the resource classes],” she says.
- Zaricke Jackson co-teaches as a special ed teacher at Campbell High in Hawaii. Jackson has said that co-teaching allows the two teachers to feed off each other’s strengths “like two parents.” At Campbell High, the special ed student’s test results improved by almost double after the school started co-teaching.
- Gregg Nakamura is a co-teaching special education teacher at Mahaka Elementary School District. He noted that co-teaching helps children with behavioral problems to calm down, because they’re not isolated in an environment with other children who may be acting out.
Specialized Options for Special Education Students in Hawaii
In addition to Hawaii’s public school special education programs, the state is home to three private schools with master’s-prepared faculty that cater to different special education populations. Depending on the student’s needs, they will be well-served by one of the following schools:
- Assets School, a K-12 private school in Honolulu, Hawaii, specializes in serving students with dyslexia and language-based learning curriculum. The school strives to keep class sizes small to ensure that each student receives personalized attention.
- Horizons Academy of Maui in Kihei, Hawaii is an applied behavior analytic special education school. The school uses a blended approach of in-class and online work to help students achieve success. Students also receive one-on-one time with instructors to help tailor the program to their individual needs.
- Variety School of Hawaii in Honolulu serves students with learning differences. The Variety School offers non-graded programs which are designed to be judged by the student’s progress and well as traditional graded programs where the student will work towards significant milestones in education.