Oklahoma’s schools are starting the school year with more than 500 teaching vacancies despite record numbers of emergency certified teachers and the elimination of more than 400 teaching positions since last school year, a survey from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) has found.
The association says in a news release that nearly 75 percent of districts that responded to the fourth annual OSSBA survey expect to rely more heavily on emergency-certified teachers this school year – a 10 percent jump compared with 2016-17. By the end of this week, the state Board of Education is expected to have approved more than 1,400 emergency certificates for the 2017-18. That’s nearly double the number approved during the same period last year and exceeds the record of 1,160 approved for all of last school year.
Districts also continue to increase class sizes and persuade teachers to come out of retirement as they struggle to find qualified teachers among a shrinking – and at times non-existent – applicant pool.
“We’re robbing our children of the very people who can help ensure they enter adulthood well prepared for college and the workplace,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime says. “We can’t continue to let students bear the burden of adult inaction. Putting a great teacher in every classroom is the very least we can do for children, but we’re falling spectacularly short of fulfilling even that most basic obligation.”
The association is calling for a long-term funding plan that provides competitive teacher pay and resources to stop the trend of teachers moving to other states or leaving the profession.
The OSSBA survey, completed by 300 districts that serve nearly 78 percent of Oklahoma’s public school enrollment, found that districts reported 536 teaching vacancies as of Aug. 1, even though they have eliminated 480 teaching positions since last school year. Two-thirds of districts say hiring is much or somewhat worse than last school year.
The most difficult teaching positions to fill are in special education. Special education teachers aren’t eligible for emergency certification. After special education, high school science, high school math, middle school math and elementary teaching positions were the most difficult to fill.
More than half of districts said they would increase class sizes to cope with the teacher shortage. One-third of districts anticipate offering fewer courses.
The survey also asked district leaders to describe their experience with teachers granted emergency certification. The results were decidedly mixed in part because some emergency certified teachers are looking for a new career and others view teaching as temporary employment.
Some district leaders say they’re happy with the emergency certified teachers, but others were critical of instructors who quit before the school year ended, struggled throughout the year or were unable to pass the tests needed for full certification. They also noted growing class sizes makes the job of an inexperienced teacher even more difficult.
Amber Fitzgerald, executive director of human resources and communications for Enid Public Schools, says the state needs to offer more accelerated training options for those eligible for alternative and emergency certification. “It would not be a substitute for traditional training, but it would provide them with a stronger foundation,” she says.