Teacher recruitment legislation not enough to fix Oklahoma’s teacher shortage (Guest Post: Jennifer Job)

This is the third of a three-part series appearing this week on the OK Policy Blog that examines the reasons behind Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. You can read part one here and read part two here.

Woman breaking a piece of chalk, close-up of handsJennifer Job, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership at Oklahoma State University.

On November 1st, two bills aimed at teacher recruitment for Oklahoma’s schools went into effect. One, HB 1521, allows for a “one-time incentive pay” for new teachers returning for a second year. HB 1521 also permits districts to help pay moving costs for out-of-state hires. SB 20 grants an Oklahoma teaching certificate to any person holding an out-of-state teaching license and five years’ experience teaching in another state. Previously, teachers with out-of-state licenses were required to complete extensive testing to receive an Oklahoma certification.

It is understandable that Oklahoma is making an effort to attract teachers from other states. The state began the 2015-2016 school year with 1,000 fewer teachers despite eliminating 600 positions last year. That means 2.5 percent of Oklahoma classrooms do not have teachers in them. Worse yet, 17.5 percent of teachers in Oklahoma are “unqualified,” meaning they are teaching without a standard certification, according to the 2015 Equitable Access to Excellent Educators Report (“Oklahoma Equity Plan”) submitted to the State Department of Education. This number will certainly increase next year—over 800 emergency certificates (provisional licenses for people who have not completed any teacher preparation or passed any certification tests) have been issued since July 1; for comparison, the number of emergency certificates issued in 2011 was 32. Moreover, Oklahoma universities are not keeping up with the demand; my own research has found that all of Oklahoma’s teacher preparation programs combined graduate about 1,500 new teachers per year.

[pullquote]”Nearly half of Oklahoman students in poverty have teachers who are unqualified, inexperienced, or absent altogether.”[/pullquote] Additionally, 22 percent of Oklahoma’s teachers have taught for fewer than three years, the data from the Oklahoma Equity Plan shows. In high-poverty schools, those numbers rise to 19 percent unqualified and 28 percent inexperienced.  This means that nearly half of Oklahoman students in poverty have teachers who are unqualified, inexperienced, or absent altogether. This is certainly a crisis.

The incentives offered in HB 1521 and SB 20 are steps in the right direction. Inviting teachers into the state who have at least five years’ experience and an established license will help alleviate Oklahoma’s equity problem, and paying for moving costs is a generous offer. However the incentive laws have significant flaws. Most important is the lack of equity—the state allows these incentives but provides no funding, meaning only the wealthiest districts will be able to afford them.

Beyond the equity problem, the incentives are only a stopgap covering at most the first two years of a teacher’s career. Currently, 17 percent of teachers exit the Oklahoma public school system after the first year on the job, according to a recent report by University of Tulsa professor Matthew Hendrick. A small incentive bonus – Oklahoma City offers $500 – is unlikely to change that. This also does nothing to prevent more experienced teachers from leaving for other states or other professions—10 percent of teachers with up to 10 years’ experience exit Oklahoma schools every year as well. These numbers are significantly higher than the neighboring state of Texas, which only loses 8 percent of its teachers a year.

Recently, Dallas Independent School District raised its starting salary to $50,000 a year. Compare this with Oklahoma City’s starting salary of $32,925, and it is clear why Oklahoma has not remained competitive with its surrounding states for teachers. Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas all have higher average salaries for teachers than Oklahoma, where teachers make only 78 percent of the national average pay. And while our recruitment incentives are a start, many states are doing much more. In Washington, D.C., teachers in low-performing schools may earn up to $100,000 a year. Virginia’s Teachers for Tomorrow program offers college credit and hands-on school experience for high school juniors and seniors willing to choose teaching as their careers. Districts in Texas and North Carolina offer ongoing salary bonuses and training for teachers willing to teach in low-performing schools. In our own state, Midwest City has a program that can serve as a model—many businesses there offer free services to teachers.

Oklahoma needs to stop cutting taxes and start showing a real willingness to commit not just to recruiting excellent teachers, but to keeping them here. The current legislation is little more than a nod to the problem, not a real solution.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

3 thoughts on “Teacher recruitment legislation not enough to fix Oklahoma’s teacher shortage (Guest Post: Jennifer Job)

  1. I have committed all but 15 years of my teaching career here in Oklahoma, in fact, in low performing schools in Oklahoma City and have enjoyed my experience. What about us who have been committed and sacrificed for our population of students. We deserve these incentives for standing up to the challenge and the reward of seeing these students be successful. Why give it to people who come from other countries or states! Give the Oklahomans who have been here and worked with these students. Some of my certifications were taken away because I wouldn’t go and retest to keep it. I could have been one of the math teachers, who are drastically in demand, but instead the state disqualified me because I didn’t retest for the subject. I was a successful math teacher who helped bring up scores, now I’m in a non-tested area. I enjoy my job, but there are things going on like this all over the district. The district is bringing people who have not been educated for teaching and don’t know the first thing about the responsibilities of teachers. These people for the most part aren’t successful and can’t have class because they don’t know the basics. Our students are the ones who are suffering. What about the teachers who are alternatively certified, they come in and try to conduct a classroom like a business they have been trained to work in, not a classroom!

  2. Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s OKHIGH5 plan to raise teacher salaries won’t solve the problem either but it will go a long ways to making teachers feel respected.

  3. Most of the discussions on the teacher shortage seem to be focused on MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. But where is the discussion of the negative impact of hostile politicians, complacent parents, and intolerant religious leaders? What is the impact of having people in power who have never taught in their lives? Would you, for example, want a group of lawyers or electricians ( even with the best of intentions) making critical decisions about your open-heart surgery?

    It certainly makes sense to gather input from the public at large but when the politicians and others in control of communities set about to micro-manage education into the ground, does that not encourage bright young teachers to want to go elsewhere to find a better future — and get the incidental bonus of a raise at the same time!

    Oklahomans need to be having discussions on how to foster improvements in homes or social services such that all children from pre-school and up are going to be empowered to function as students. Lets discuss why we are quite willing to fund prisons but argue incessantly over reasons not to fund education.

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