Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Deepens

District Leaders Describe Mixed Experiences with Emergency Certified Teachers 

Oklahoma’s schools are starting another 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, according to a new survey from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. 2017 survey graphic

Nearly 75 percent of districts that responded to the fourth annual OSSBA survey said they expect to rely more heavily on emergency-certified teachers this school year – a 10 percent jump compared to last year. By the end of this week, the state Board of Education is expected to have approved more than 1,400 emergency certificates for the current school year. 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 hire retired teachers as they struggle to find qualified teachers among a shrinking – and at times non-existent – applicant pool.  

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said parents, educators, community and business leaders and legislators must work together on a long-term funding plan that provides competitive teacher pay and resources to provide all students a high-quality education. Far too many teachers are moving to other states or leaving the profession, he said. 

“We’re robbing our children of the very people who can help ensure they enter adulthood well prepared for college and the workplace,” Hime said. “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 survey, completed by 300 districts that serve nearly 78 percent of Oklahoma’s public school enrollment, found: 

  • Districts reported 536 teaching vacancies as of Aug. 1. 
  • Districts have eliminated 480 teaching positions since last school year. 
  • Districts reported eliminating 444 support positions since last school year. 
  • Two-thirds of districts reported hiring was much or somewhat worse than last school year. 
  • Special education teaching positions are the most difficult to fill, and many districts have reported special education teaching vacancies for multiple years. 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. Projected average class sizes of 26 or more students were most common at the middle school (20 percent) and high school (21 percent) levels.  
  • Nearly 52 percent of districts said they may hire retired teachers and nearly 40 percent may hire adjunct instructors to fill gaps.    
  • Districts also plan to rely more heavily on existing staff by paying teachers to give up their planning period (33 percent) or assigning teaching duties to administrators (29 percent). 
  • One-third of districts anticipate they’ll offer fewer courses. 

As the number of emergency certified teachers continues to grow at a record pace, this year’s survey asked district leaders to describe their experience with such teachers. The results were decidedly mixed in part because some emergency certified teachers are looking for a new career while others view teaching as temporary employment. 

Some district leaders said they’re happy with the emergency certified teachers they’ve hired, and some have completed the requirements for full certification. Others lamented teachers 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 challenging. 

“The greatest difficulties for the emergency and alternatively certified teachers are classroom management and developing good relationships with parents and students,” said Stephanie Curtis, executive director of personnel and school support for Bartlesville Public Schools. 

Bartlesville, like many other districts, is providing extra and/or specialized training for emergency certified teachers and relying on veteran teachers to serve as mentors. 

Even districts that had positive experiences worry about the toll the growing number of emergency certified teachers is taking on experienced teachers who must step up as mentors either at the request of the district or simply out of their concern for students. Administrators also report spending significantly more time providing instructional support and coaching for emergency certified teachers. 

Amber Fitzgerald, executive director of human resources and communications for Enid Public Schools, said 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 said. “We greatly appreciate the people who have stepped forward to fill the teaching gap, and we want to provide them with as much support as possible to be successful.” 

Some districts are actively working with higher education partners to develop additional support for teachers who lack traditional training but aren’t sure they’ll find funding. 

Concern about the long-term effects of the teacher shortage runs deep among school board members, said Roger Edenborough, a Goodwell school board member and OSSBA president. He said he hears often from superintendents concerned about the scarce number of applicants and from fellow board members that the increasing dependence on emergency certificates, retirees and adjunct instructors is a worrisome new norm. 

“I have a deep appreciation for the Oklahomans who have answered the urgent call to teach when schools are in dire need of help,” Edenborough said. “But an over reliance on untrained teachers comes at a cost — and it’s our children who are paying the price. It’s a desperate stop gap — not a solution.”  


Special Legislative Session Statement

Statement from Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime on the Special Legislative Session:

“Make no mistake: The legislature’s inability to pass a forward-thinking budget is bad for Oklahoma’s children. Thousands of Oklahoma students are being taught by underqualified, underprepared teachers in overcrowded classrooms.

Gov. Fallin asked lawmakers to fund a teacher pay raise to help stem a record teacher shortage. Instead, this session offered only heartbreak for the dedicated educators who have opted to stay in Oklahoma despite an average teacher salary and per-student education investment that rank among the worst in the nation.

Political gamesmanship, partisan sniping and even squabbling within parties dominated the special session. We saw legislators — including members of the majority and minority leadership — sit out important votes. Too often, our elected leaders traded barbs in news releases and press conferences instead of channeling that energy into productive gatherings around a negotiating table.

The glimpses of bipartisanship and leadership were appreciated but fleeting. Oklahomans –especially our children — deserve so much better. We must hold our legislators accountable.”

Fall 2017

OSSBA Statement on Budget Vote

Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime issued the following statement on HB1054x:

“Once again, political gamesmanship and partisan politics have won the day at the expense of Oklahoma children and families. Holding out for a perfect plan when a strong compromise is on the table is incredibly short-sighted.

I urge state leaders not to let today’s vote be the final word. Cutting core services, raiding agency revolving funds and relying on one-time money is irresponsible, immoral and unacceptable.

I appreciate the majority of representatives who courageously voted yes today. For the sake of our state and its people, our elected leaders must come together for a solution.”




Brandon Carey to Join OSSBA Legal Team


Brandon Carey, an Oklahoma native with deep experience in education law, will join the Oklahoma State School Boards Association legal team in January, OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime announced Monday.

Since 2013, Carey has served as general counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he teaches future school administrators about education law. Before joining OKCPS, Carey worked for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights based in Dallas. He also previously worked in private practice.

Carey will join the team as Stephanie Mather, OSSBA’s director of legal information and one of the state’s most experienced education law attorneys, begins retirement.

“Stephanie’s expertise and dedication have made her an asset to Oklahoma public schools for many years. The OSSBA team will miss her greatly, but adding an attorney of Brandon’s experience and caliber will greatly benefit schools and allow OSSBA to continue delivering high-quality legal information to school board members and their districts,” Hime said.

“It has been one of the great honors of my life to work for Oklahoma City Public Schools, and I’ve loved every minute of it.” Carey said. “I’m looking forward to this new challenge.”

Carey graduated from El Reno High School. He has a bachelor’s degree in education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, a law degree from Oklahoma City University and a master of laws from American University’s Washington College of Law.

Aiming High: Educators selected for new Emerging Leaders Academy

Twenty Oklahoma educators have been selected for the inaugural class of the Emerging Leaders Academy, a new leadership development program for aspiring superintendents.

The academy, a joint effort of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, is designed to strengthen Oklahoma’s education leadership pipeline. Participants will attend multiple professional development sessions over the next year led by experienced education leaders, learning about leadership, team building, strategic communication, school finance, education law, advocacy and other important topics.

“Our inaugural academy class is an impressive group of up-and-coming leaders with varied experiences in rural, suburban and urban school districts from across the state,” said CCOSA Executive Director Pam Deering. “Not only will they learn from some of the state’s most experienced education leaders, they’ll learn and grow from their interaction with each other.”

Superintendents work with the  local school board to set a vision for the school district and student achievement. Superintendents also often find themselves as key economic leaders in the communities they serve because school districts are often the community’s largest employer.

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said taking a proactive approach to building the leadership pipeline will help ensure school boards have a high-quality applicant pool when hiring a superintendent.

“School boards want and need district executives who are well prepared for a job that’s increasingly complex and demanding,” Hime said. “A strong school board-superintendent team is critical to ensure excellent education opportunities for all Oklahoma children.”

The participants are:

  • Glen Abshere, Claremore Public Schools
  • Timothy Argo, Alva Public Schools
  • Shawn Blankenship, Piedmont Public Schools
  • Jason Brown, Norman Public Schools
  • Lora Burch, Taloga Public Schools
  • Channa Byerly, Duncan Public Schools
  • Aspasia Carlson, Oklahoma City Public Schools
  • Randy Decker, Edmond Public Schools
  • Kim Dyce, Muskogee Public Schools
  • Kristin Ferguson-Harris, Newcastle Public Schools
  • Angela Grunewald, Edmond Public Schools
  • Jill Henderson, Altus Public Schools
  • Keni Iverson, Miami Public Schools
  • DeAnn Mashburn, Tahlequah Public Schools
  • Sheli McAdoo, Yukon Public Schools
  • Holly Nevels, Norman Public Schools
  • Tammie Reynolds, Elgin Public Schools
  • Angela Rhoades, Woodward Public Schools
  • Tracy Skinner, Mustang Public Schools
  • Kyle Vanderburg, Wilburton Public Schools

OSSBA Statement on Bipartisan Budget Resolution and Budget Negotiations

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime issued the following statement on today’s bipartisan budget resolution and the ongoing budget negotiations:

“The Senate’s passage of a bipartisan budget resolution calling for more diversified revenue sources and challenging House members to pass a budget plan represents meaningful progress. I’m optimistic this will help break the budget impasse.

Painful budget cuts over the last few years have hurt our schools, teachers, children, and far too many of our family, friends and neighbors. Without a bipartisan compromise, more devastation is coming. School board members have consistently sought one outcome: a long-term plan for funding public education that includes competitive teacher compensation.

More details are needed. But the outline of the plan shared today provides the prospect of much-needed growth revenue — including an increase in gross production taxes — to stabilize future state budgets.

Oklahomans know the teacher shortage has created a crisis in the classroom. That’s unacceptable. Teachers deserve a raise much higher than the $3,000 being discussed. Still, we’re hopeful this is merely a first step in funding a teacher compensation plan that rewards educators and stems the teacher shortage.

The ask of state leaders is simple: Please move forward with a diverse revenue plan to ensure all of our children receive the excellent education they need to achieve their dreams. That requires a long-term funding plan that ensures a well-equipped classroom and high-quality teacher for every child.”

Student Testing Information for Board Members

The week of Oct. 11, districts will receive information about student performance on state-mandated tests taken last spring. As district and school leaders begin analyzing that information, it’s important board members be aware of how these test scores differ from information reported in prior years. The scores that will be released soon aren’t comparable to those in prior years.

Please review the information we’ve compiled below and let us know if you need additional information. It’s important that local education leaders lead the conversation in your communities on this and other important education topics, and you’ll find a few suggestions below about ways you can do so.

The state Education Department has also information available on its website.

New Standards = New Tests

  • Last year marked the first year schools implemented new math and English/language arts academic standards. These standards are designed to help students become more creative thinkers and problem solvers rather than simply memorizing information.
  • The change in standards also required a change in testing. The new tests are designed to more accurately measure a students’ academic progress and readiness for higher education and the workforce.

Test Scoring Changes

  • The alignment of the tests to national performance levels means the state expects to see a drop in the number of students scoring at the two highest performance levels (satisfactory and advanced).
  • The projected drop in scores doesn’t mean students are learning less; Oklahoma has significantly raised the bar to make sure all students are well prepared for their futures.

 National Comparisons

  • Oklahoma has benchmarked its test score performance levels to enable national comparisons. At the high school level, students will take the ACT or SAT in addition to a science test. For lower grades, this has been accomplished by using the performance levels of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tests a sample of students in fourth and eighth grades. Tests in math and reading are generally taken by a sample of students every other year.
  • Education leaders undoubtedly want our students to score well in national comparisons and are working toward that goal. Despite the expected drop in scores, the last math and reading NAEP scores from 2015 showed Oklahoma’s state average is at or near the regional* and national averages in most categories.

*Regional average includes Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas.


Key Points to Remember

  • State test scores are only part of the data school leaders and teachers use in assessing student progress and identifying academic strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
  • It’s important not to let test scores overshadow the worth of other educational experiences and opportunities that have deep value for students. Research shows a basic education in the arts and extracurricular activities including leadership programs, clubs, etc., can improve student engagement, boost attendance and student achievement.
  • Not everything that matters is measured in a state test. In fact, employers report time and again the importance of soft skills and traits not measured in state-mandated tests: creative thinking, effective communication, team player, strong work ethic, flexibility and resourcefulness.

What should I do with this information?

  • Continue having important conversations about the educational progress of the students in your district and how the district can continue to offer a well-rounded, exceptional education for all students.
  • Encourage the educators in your district. Their daily work to do what’s best for children despite a shortage of resources is a testament to their commitment, and they may find the test score data discouraging.
  • Proactively share information in a positive way with your constituents, local business and community leaders, and civic clubs. This can be an opportunity to encourage more community involvement and create or expand community and business partnerships to support student, teacher and school needs and to share about the great things happening within schools.

2018 Election Resolution

The Election Resolution for the 2018 Annual School Board Member election is now available. This resolution is due to your county election board by close of business on Nov. 17, 2017. Additional information regarding the election will be provided to you in the next few weeks. We are awaiting final confirmation of election cost payments dates, and then we will forward the full election packet.

Download the election resolution here.

Please contact our office if you have any questions.

Statement on Gov. Mary Fallin’s Call for Special Session

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime’s statement on Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for a special legislative session:

“Oklahoma’s historic teacher shortage is evidence of the state’s failure to properly invest in public education. I’m grateful Gov. Mary Fallin is asking legislators to address this desperate situation and hope they will embrace the opportunity to create a long-term funding plan for schools that provides regionally competitive teacher pay and equips schools with the tools and resources they need to improve student achievement.”

Oologah-Talala Board Member Named President of Oklahoma State School Boards Association

OSSBA’s officers for 2017-2017 are: Roger Edenborough, past president, Goodwell Public Schools; Mike Ray, first vice president, Guymon Public Schools, Don Tice, president, Oologah-Talala Public Schools; Scott Abbott, second vice president, Ft. Gibson Public Schools; Ed Tillery, president-elect, Whitebead Public Schools.

Don Tice, a longtime school board member from Oologah-Talala Public Schools, is the new president of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. He began his one-year term during the association’s annual conference Aug. 26.

Tice has served on the Oologah-Talala board since 1994 and on the OSSBA Board of Directors since 2005.

“I’m often asked why I would want to serve on a school board,” Tice said. “My response is: Why wouldn’t I? School board service provides an opportunity to help make sure Oklahoma children have an education that will take them wherever they want to go. It’s an honor to represent my fellow school board members across the state in my role as OSSBA president.”

Other officers serving for the 2017-2018 school year are: Ed Tillery, Whitebead Public Schools, president-elect; Mike Ray, Guymon Public Schools, first vice president; Scott Abbott, second vice president, Ft. Gibson Public Schools; and Roger Edenborough, Goodwell Public Schools, past president.