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Addressing Teacher Shortage in Oklahoma

Addressing Teacher Shortage in Oklahoma

Like many states around the country, Oklahoma is facing a significant teacher shortage. According to the 2018 Oklahoma Educator Supply and Demand Report, 30,000 Oklahoma teachers have left their jobs in the past six years, with an increasing rate of about 5,000 per year.

These shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers are left with larger class sizes and faced with larger workloads. At the same time, students are at risk of missing out on the type of top-quality instruction they need and deserve in order to thrive academically.

Here, we’re taking a close look at what’s at the root of Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Contributing to Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in Oklahoma is a nuanced issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Stagnant wages

Oklahoma is one of only 17 states that utilizes a teacher salary schedule that dictates precisely how teachers are paid according to their years of service. While the goal of this program is to ensure equity in pay, it also makes teacher pay a state-level legislative issue. Although Oklahoma teacher pay increased last year, ranking the state 34th in the country, its teachers are still on the lower end of the pay spectrum. After the increase in pay, and including benefits, teachers earn an average salary of only $52,412 annually. According to Oklahoma’s salary schedule, the minimum salary is $54,395, which can only be earned after working for 25 years and obtaining a doctorate degree.

Increasing student population

According to 2018 Oklahoma Educator Supply and Demand report, Oklahoma’s student enrollment has steadily increased about 3.5% from the 2012—13 school year to 2017–18 school year, just over the national average of 3.3%. With this increasing rate however, the state has not hired enough educators to meet the increasing demand, leading to higher student-to-teacher ratios. More specifically, the report shows that the overall number of pupils per educator has grown 7.4% with an average 1.5% increase per year from 2012–13 to 2017–18, putting students who may need a little more one-on-one time at a disadvantage.  

Shrinking teacher pipelines

New teacher recruitment and retention efforts are absolutely critical to the ongoing availability of well-qualified instructors for Oklahoma students. However, as in other regions of the country, education in Oklahoma is a profession that continues to struggle with losing prestige and, in turn, highly skilled new educators. As Oklahoma continues to struggle to find traditional teachers, the state is forced to give out emergency teaching certifications. To be emergency certified, you must have a college degree, have two years of work experience or graduate coursework related to your degree field, and be able to verify that you’re knowledgeable in the subject you are going to teach. Oklahoma gave out a record number of 3,038 emergency certifications to nonaccredited teachers last school year.

What Oklahoma Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as Oklahoma’s ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick fix for this problem. However, there are certainly concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for Oklahoma administrators to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but over time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding places to work. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by district and school administrators, so they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 400 Oklahoma Academic Standards–aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our Oklahoma partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!