Monday, January 9, 2017

Yes, Oklahoma, There is a Teacher Shortage

As I write this, a number of politicians and their cronies in Oklahoma are busy attempting to convince the public that there is no teacher shortage in Oklahoma. This is disingenuous at best, and blatant fabrication at worst. At the start of the 2015/2016 school year, more than 800 teaching positions remained unfilled by a certified, highly qualified teacher. Where did those positions go?

Many, including writers for OCPA, have implied that because schools had no classes in which there was not an adult body in the room with students that the shortage is a myth. Of course schools made it work. We have to! It's not like schools can just park students in a classroom devoid of adult supervision. Schools had a "make it work moment" and did. But students lost in the process.

Students lost the opportunity to take advanced, challenging courses because schools have to offer required, basic-level courses mandated by law. When there aren't enough teachers, that AP Chemistry class has to go. I have watched 4A schools, which used to offer every AP course available-and fill them, chop those courses because they cannot find educators to teach them. Many are pushing students toward concurrent courses to alleviate the issue, which is often not a good solution for those students.

Students lost the opportunity to be taught by a highly-qualified, competent, experienced teacher. Of those positions that were filled, many were filled by a teacher on an emergency certification. Emergency certification requests were reported to have reached record numbers during the past school year. I personally know several teachers who were teaching during their student teaching semester. They were the teacher of record for a class, or for a full slate of classes, rather than having a mentor teacher with whom they co-teach.

Students lost the opportunity to have an appropriately sized class. As class sizes exceed 30, even in some lower elementary grades, students have less one-on-one time with the teacher. Their learning will inevitably suffer. This situation is untenable, and there is a magic math trick at play whereby the public is convinced that this is not the case. If one doesn't have a child in public school, it is easy to believe the student-to-teacher ratios that are published in which everyone qualified to teach is placed in the pool of counted teachers, not just those of us who actually teach a class full of students. Librarians, counselors, coordinators, administrators, program directors, and others without students assigned to them for instruction are often counted in our numbers. This artificially drives down the ratio. Ask the parents whose children attend neighborhood schools how many students are in their children's classes. I know my classes are larger than in any previous year of teaching, and so are those of my colleagues. There are simply not enough of us to go around.

Teachers have lost, too. The idea that anybody can teach has been proliferated and put into actual practice. By filling classrooms with dubiously qualified adults, the profession has been devalued. People who know their content area, but who do not know the subtleties of pedagogy, curriculum design, instructional practice, assessment practice, working with special needs and ELL students, and education law as it applies to teachers are ill-equipped for classroom effectiveness. It's like asking someone who has never picked up a chisel to recreate Michelangelo's David.

Thus far for the 2016/2017 school year, the Oklahoma State School Board has issued 1087 emergency certifications. That is in addition to the 1063 for 2015/2016, and the 505 for 2014/2015. About 7% of Oklahoma students, an estimated 52,000 of them, are being taught by a teacher holding an emergency certification. That is unacceptable. If we wish to provide a world-class education to Oklahoma's students, good enough is not enough.

Facts matter, and so does funding. Yes, Oklahoma, there is a teacher shortage, but there does not have to be one.

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