Am. Samoa Directs Teachers To Attain Education Degrees

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DOE reports only 37% have BA, only 8% have MA

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 22, 2013) – Local Department of Education (DOE) Director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau has issued a directive for all public school teachers in American Samoa to have a Bachelor of Education degree in four years time, a move that comes as the Lolo Administration battles to improve low student performance rates in public schools.

According to statistics presented by ASDOE during a Senate hearing in April this year, more than 50% of teachers hold an Associate of Arts (AA) degree or less. ASDOE also says only 8% of teachers hold a masters degree; 37% hold a bachelors; 26% hold an AA, while 29% hold less than an AA degree.

"I have put out a directive that I expect all teachers currently in the system to complete their Bachelor of Education degree by 2016. I have also stated in our leadership meeting that DOE will not hire anymore teachers with less than a bachelors degree by the year 2016," Vaitinasa said over the weekend responding to Samoa News questions.

She explained that ASDOE has "ongoing professional development contracts" with the College of Education at the University of Hawai’i (UH) for "our teachers to obtain their Bachelor of Education degree and just recently a 4-year bachelor degree program at the American Samoa Community College as well."

According to the director, these two degree programs will help achieve the ASDOE’s directive and goal.

"DOE is required by federal grant programs to hire only ‘qualified teachers’ or teachers who have had the training and credentials from a 4-year accredited college/university," she explained. "I expect all teachers who are currently in the system to complete their programs by that year or at the least, be in the pipeline."

"Consideration will be given to teachers who have served the department faithfully and are about ready to retire. They will be ‘grandfathered’ in the system," she added.

When asked why she set this goal for 2016 and the importance of it to the department, Vaitinasa explained, "Research has reported time after time that the single most important factor in the academic achievement of students is the teacher — therefore the preparation of teachers is critical."

Additionally, for close to 30 years in American Samoa, assessment of student academic performances report that 70% of local students tested below basic in reading and math.

"We know that this is due largely because over 50% of our teachers have not completed their undergraduate programs," she said. "We want to change this academic outcome of students’ performances by first concentrating on the quality of our teachers preparation programs and then the teacher's performance in the classroom."

Vaitinasa emphasized that a teacher must have a Bachelor degree in Education under the initiative by the department to have all teachers hold BAs by 2016. "Inclusive in the attainment of a bachelors degree are the content courses which will be required: English, Math, etc.," she said. "Our new curriculum standards demand in-depth knowledge in the content areas."

"I am of the belief that the language of instruction used in the classrooms for grades ECE to Grade 5 is another critical factor. We are currently looking into these critical factors in the education services of students," Vaitinasa added.

Asked how ASCC being accredited with a 4-year Bachelor of Education degree program will help ASDOE achieve its goal by 2016, the director replied, "We have an agreement with ASCC to prepare our elementary teachers who are assigned to teach children in grades K-6."

She added that "UH is contracted to prepare our teachers who will teach grades 7-12. All teachers are required to take courses to teach content areas, especially English as a Second Language (ESL) and Samoan language arts."

Vaitinasa first revealed her directive during the July 11 cabinet meeting saying, "over half of our teachers have only an AA degree or less" while in the U.S., "no one can teach without a bachelor and [teacher] certification."

"Here in American Samoa we’re trying to make that change. We just don’t have lines of American Samoan people with bachelors [degree] waiting for us to hire them," she said, noting that DOE "tries to get the best of them and the best of them are coming out" of ASCC.

"So we hire community college graduates and while they are teaching, we’re trying to help them teach appropriately," she told cabinet members. "The teacher is the most critical person in the classroom."

Vaitinasa said ASDOE would help teachers without a bachelor’s degree who are already in the ASDOE system obtain their degree. "We are working on getting our teachers ‘highly qualified’ and certified," she concluded.

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