Two Weeks to Go: Will the Legislature Act to Curb the Teacher Shortage?
In January, Kevin Hime, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, did everything he could to push the Oklahoma community of education supporters to view the 2015 legislative session through a singular lens:
I have been pushing for #oklaed to have a one issue legislative session. I believe the only issue we should be discussing until fixed is #teachershortage. Recently looking at SDE documents I noticed #oklaed employed almost 60k teachers in 2008 and a little more than 52k in 2014. Mathematically it looks like we should have almost 8K Teachers looking for a job but we started 2015 over 1000 teachers short. We are setting records for alt certs and emergency certifications every year. Why is my issue so much more important than yours? What is your issue?
One of the leading conservative minds in Oklahoma has accused us of blowing this issue out of proportion, but these numbers don’t lie. We have fewer teachers and larger classes. Imagine if we had kept all the closed positions open; we’d have several thousand vacancies!
With less than two weeks to go, how are our elected leaders doing? Let’s look at Kevin’s six criteria and assess.
Testing: In a recent survey conducted by our State Superintendent elect, testing was the first issue she needs to address. How many teachers have left our profession because they feel students are over-tested. If teachers are indicating in a survey that testing is the #1 issue, how can we fix teacher shortage without correcting our testing problems.
As of late last week, word reached several of us who follow the Legislature that SB 707 is still alive, but barely. Although it appears that a majority of members in both chambers support this legislation, it also appears that a small few in the leadership do not. This is not the time for the few to bully the many. This is the number one issue – even more than pay – decimating our teaching force. Some of the opposition has centered on the ACT, which the bill does not explicitly name as the replacement to the EOIs. We have to start somewhere with reducing the emphasis on testing in Oklahoma schools. This bill does that.
Teacher Pay: Ask the governor or any legislator how are we going to fix teacher shortage and most will mention teacher pay. So instead of starting with teacher pay start your discussion with teacher shortage.
I would love to see many changes in the way we compensate teachers in Oklahoma. Starting pay should be better, but veteran pay should be a lot better. The distance between lanes for degrees earned should be widened. And state aid should be solidified through dedicated funding that will not be exhausted in one year. The scheme that has been floated to use money dedicated for teacher retirement fails on both counts. It is not a recurring source of revenue, and it hardly moves the needle. A $1,000 raise for teachers would be appreciated, but it would move us from 48th to 48th in teacher pay. Oh wait, that’s no move at all!
Teacher Evaluations: Does anyone think VAMS, SLOs, SOOs, are any other acronym are good for teacher recruitment and retention. Without fixing our evaluation system we will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention.
So far, nothing is fixed. We have hit pause on some things, but the terrible quantitative measurements of teacher effectiveness still loom.
Teacher’s Retirement: Just the threat to change scares current teachers. If they change the system it will have a negative effect in the present climate. I hate to be against an idea until I know what the idea is but change today when teachers have zero trust for those proposing the change will not help teacher retention and recruitment.
Technically, the legislators haven’t touched teacher retirement yet. Again, though, I should mention that the idea is being tossed around to divert funds for salaries – this one time only. The state treasurer is against it. The Oklahoman is against it. Don’t screw with retirement. Just don’t.
School Funding: Have you looked at Texas, Arkansas, or Kansas school buildings lately. Recruiting teachers based on facilities if a non-starter for #oklaed. When you are 49th in school funding teachers find another state to work.
Again, we seem to be getting nowhere. During the March rally, many legislators blamed the economy. Others blamed their leadership. Here’s a fun fact: your constituents didn’t vote for the House and Senate leadership. They voted for you! Own your agenda. Represent your constituents and answer to them. Forget the leadership. Forget the lobbyists who buy your coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Make things better or admit to the voters that you failed them.
RSA, A-F, and other REFORMS are all legislative burdens that have landed in the middle of teachers desks and hamper teacher recruitment and retention.
We seem stuck on these reforms. We still have the A-F Report Cards, and some in the Legislature are determined to make the Reading Sufficiency Act even more complicated. Let’s double the number of committees for our finishing third graders and have some for first and second graders as well. And let’s not fund any of this. And let’s make it clear to the dastardly education establishment that this is the price for keeping retention decisions in the hands of human beings.
So far, I can’t point to a success. Yes, the Legislature managed to make dues collection for teachers’ associations harder, but that’s hardly a selling point. They make promises, but promises don’t buy bread. Promises don’t restore priorities and balance to teaching. Promises don’t entice college students and recent graduates to pursue teaching careers in Oklahoma.
Action makes a difference. Nothing else.
Concidentally, the teacher shortage was the topic of tonight’s #oklaed chat on Twitter. Here are some of my favorite comments from the discussion.
Throughout the chat, we kept coming back to the fact that salary matters, but so do the working conditions of our schools. I still believe that we’re losing teachers equally to both of these factors. We’ve tried and tried to explain this, but I don’t know if the politicians get it yet.
We have two weeks left to make them get it. Call. Write. Email. Visit. Don’t limit your time to your own senator and representative. Pick several. Call the leaders. Even if they tell you to call your own people, be persistent. They chose to lead. This is what they get.
Find their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Post articles using your own social media and get more parents and educators (and other citizens who care) involved.
We have two weeks to make sure the people we may or may not vote to re-elect listen to us and do something of value to stem the teacher shortage. Use it well.