Oklahoma is facing a massive teacher shortage. The Sooner State is not alone in this public-education dilemma. A comprehensive 2022-2023 study from Kansas State University shows that most states have more vacant positions and/or underqualified classroom teachers than in previous years.
To better understand Oklahoma’s teacher shortage, Big Ideas Learning explored the latest national and state-specific data. Doing so helps explain why teachers are leaving and how critical adaptable educational resources will be for the growing number of emergency-certified teachers in Oklahoma.
The Big Picture: A National Education Crisis
Researchers estimate that 55,000 vacant positions and 270,000 underqualified teachers are currently in the United States. A major contributor to this issue is the pandemic. Between 2020-2022, teacher resignations hit an all-time high. Ultimately, 300,000 educators and staff left the field during those years, resulting in a staggering three percent drop in the nation’s workforce.
It is concerning that the teacher resignation problem still remains, despite a plummet in COVID-19 cases. A 2022 National Education Association (NEA) poll found that 55 percent of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned, up from 37 percent in August 2021.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, public schools continue to have difficulty filling critical positions, especially in areas of high-poverty and high-minority student populations. These shortages also align with states and districts where teacher pay is lowest.
However, this problem has been brewing for more than a decade now—the pandemic simply exacerbated the situation. The Penn State Center For Education Evaluation & Policy Analysis found that, from 2009-10 through 2014-15, the number of people enrolled in a teacher-preparation program declined by 41 percent.
Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage
The five states with the most significant declines in enrollment in teacher-preparation programs from 2008-09 to 2020-21 include New Mexico (-57.5 percent), Idaho (-58.8 percent), Louisiana (-63.3 percent), Pennsylvania (-65.8 percent), and Oklahoma (-86.3 percent). In fact, Oklahoma’s enrollment in university education programs declined to the point where Oklahoma City University no longer offers early childhood and elementary teacher preparation programs.
Why Teachers Are Leaving
There is a myriad of reasons why people part ways with the world of education, especially at the K-12 level. That said, stress is one of the primary motivators for educators finding a different career path. Notably, key findings from a National Education Association survey show that the top issue facing educators right now is burnout, with 67% reporting it as a very serious issue and 90% a very serious or somewhat serious issue.
There is also a cyclical nature to the issue. As more jobs go unfilled, general stress and rates of burnout get worse for the remaining staff. When their responsibilities become too much, they leave and create another unfilled position.
Teacher pay also leaves a lot to be desired. It is another one of the top reasons teachers leave. Oklahoma currently has the 39th lowest-paying starting salary for teachers at $38,074. When adjusted for inflation, average starting salaries are $4,552 below 2008-2009 levels. However, Oklahoma is one of nine states to increase teacher pay in 2023.
Consider this, too: Over 90 percent of teachers spend their own money (around $500 out-of-pocket) on school supplies and other items their students need to succeed. They also work a lot of hours outside of school. According to an EdWeek Research Center study, a typical teacher works about 54 hours a week, with just under half of that time devoted to directly teaching students.
To make the issue even more complex, the staff shortages in education are not limited to teachers. School districts are also struggling to find bus drivers, cafeteria workers, instructional aides, and substitute teachers.
How Oklahoma is Coping
Oklahoma emergency certified a record-breaking 3,780 teachers in 2022 to ensure their schools stay open. This solution to the shortage comes after the passage of Bill SB1119, adjunct teachers, who are not required by the state to attain a certain educational level, may work full-time. These adjunct teachers are able to renew their contracts for up to three years.
Some adjunct teachers are certified but are simply teaching outside of their area of expertise. Others lack both the certification and a college degree.
While the gap must be filled, some people believe this solution creates a problematic narrative around careers in education. It is one that devalues the preparedness of traditionally certified teachers. Many educational professionals believe this devaluation and deprofessionalization of teachers has dissuaded people from considering teaching as a worthwhile career. Perhaps more importantly, there is growing concern regarding the quality of education students receive from emergency-certified teachers.
A Valid Concern
We should commend everyone who steps up to the proverbial plate to become an educator. However, some traditionally certified teachers, administrators, and parents are concerned about the quality of education students receive from emergency-certified teachers.
For instance, The California Department of Education found that the percentage of teachers holding substandard credentials is significantly and negatively associated with student achievement. In these districts, for every 10 percent increase in the rate of teachers working on emergency permits, waivers, or intern credentials, the average achievement for students of color is lower by almost 0.10 standard deviations and roughly .07 standard deviations lower for white students.
The other problem is that non-traditional teachers leave the teaching profession at a much higher rate than their University-prepped peers. In fact, Oklahoma teachers with standard certificates average a 41 percent three-year retention rate, whereas emergency-certified teachers average 19 percent. This high churn rate can ultimately diminish student learning. Furthermore, this shortage comes at a time when we need educators most to help fill the academic gap caused by the pandemic.
Empowering Oklahoma Educators
To help minimize classroom stress, lower churn rates, maximize the quality of education for all students, and streamline lesson planning for both emergency-certified and traditionally-certified teachers, Big Ideas Learning developed a state-specific program, Oklahoma Math.
We have purposefully designed Oklahoma Math to accelerate learning for all students and empower educators with the tools and support they need to motivate and engage their classrooms. Additionally, Oklahoma Math gives teachers the power to succeed with:
- Resources for every individual teaching style
- Additional support embedded into each lesson
- Enhanced digital experiences to create impactful lesson plans
Oklahoma Math inspires classroom engagement, creativity, and interaction. With data-driven insights to improve student achievement, teachers can make instructional decisions that result in the best outcomes for their particular classroom.
Discover how Oklahoma Math empowers teachers and accelerates learning for all students!