Hawaii Won’t Certify Star Teacher

Published April 1, 2002

Joan Rohrback is among the best science and math teachers in Hawaii … but she cannot teach in the state’s schools.

Although she has a doctorate in science and has taught for 15 years, the Hawaiian Department of Education will not certify her to teach in the government schools because she has not taken the requisite education courses.

The Aloha State ranks at the bottom of Jay Greene’s 2001 Education Freedom Index. (See “Rx for Better Education: More Choice,” page 16). This is partly because the state has just one very large school district, and so parents lack the option of moving to other districts or transferring their children across district lines. In addition, Hawaii regulates home schooling tightly and offers no assistance for private school choice.

Cliff Slater, columnist for the Honolulu Advertiser, recently looked at the consequences of vesting so much power over education in one government agency.

When the governor announced 11 state finalists for the 2001 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Slater noticed that more than half the exemplary teachers were from private schools, which enroll only 16 percent of Hawaii’s children. But when he interviewed Rohrback, one of the private school teachers, he found she was not certified to teach in the government schools in Hawaii.

Slater also found that a state legislator, Guy Ontai, similarly had been deemed unqualified to teach in Hawaii’s government schools … even though he has a master’s degree in physics from MIT and has been an assistant professor at West Point.

“Common sense tells us that school principals worth their salt would grab these teachers,” Slater wrote. “But they cannot–there are DOE rules. … The rules, however idiotic, do have a purpose. They provide protection for the power structure. Our insecure DOE bureaucrats must constantly attempt to show that they and their central controls cannot be replaced.”

From The Friedman Report, February 2002