Statement from Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, on SQ 779:
“The common message of those who opposed SQ 779 was that public education needs a long-term funding plan and resources to offer competitive teacher pay. While I’m disappointed in tonight’s election outcome, the results clearly show Oklahomans are concerned about the teacher shortage and the underinvestment in our children’s education.
A collaborative effort between legislative, education, business and community leaders needs to begin now so a bipartisan education funding and teacher pay raise plan can be the first order of business when the legislature reconvenes in February. We have no time to lose. We can’t continue putting underqualified, underprepared teachers in our classrooms and burdening our veteran teachers with exploding class sizes and fewer resources. Our teachers and children deserve better.”
By Christy Watson
My 9-year-old son spent the first day of his fall break getting braces. My husband and I considered whether we should wait until he’s a bit older but opted for what we agreed offers the best long-term outcome. Hopefully, this dental intervention will prevent some future issues that might be more painful – both to him and our family budget.
Our thought process was a pretty standard approach to decision-making: what must we do today to achieve a long-term goal while minimizing pain along the way. A delay was likely to cause more pain – physical and financial – in the long run.
I feel the same way about the current debate over Oklahoma’s education funding and State Question 779. Every choice involves some level of pain. But only one choice – improving education funding through the passage of SQ 779 — is guaranteed to move Oklahoma closer to its long-term goal of a better educated citizenry.
I’ve seen and heard it argued that SQ 779 is bad public policy. But I wonder, what’s so good about the alternative? Is it good public policy to:
Braces hurt no matter when they’re put on. But the pain of the teacher shortage, growing class sizes, fewer educational opportunities and four-day school weeks isn’t temporary for the children in today’s classrooms. Opportunity lost can’t be restored.
I don’t want my son or his big sister to wait for a “solution” or a “better way” that may never come. My vote isn’t a political message to state lawmakers about accountability, either. Our schools don’t have what’s necessary to provide the education we want for our children. My vote is me deciding my children and 700,000 other Oklahoma children in public schools deserve better.
Our state demands teachers do more with less. It insists our children meet higher academic standards despite the growing number of underprepared and underqualified teachers, classrooms with fewer resources and the underfunding of mandates and reforms.
The kindergarten teacher who helped my daughter and her classmates learn to read survived a cancer battle that year. A few years later while I was away from home for an extended time while my sister fought cancer, she was my son’s teacher and offered to take him to a mother-son game night at school. She’s priceless — and representative of the most important investment we make in the education of our children.
Research tells us an investment in teacher salaries, recruitment and retention is wise. The classroom teacher is the most important in-school factor when it comes to student achievement. If we don’t launch a bold battle to keep our teachers in Oklahoma and in the profession, we are setting up our children and our state for some serious if not irrevocable long-term pain.
Some problems – like dental issues – don’t get easier with time. They just grow more complicated and expensive. There’s no time to waste.
Christy Watson is OSSBA’s Communications Director and the mom of two children in public schools.
On Thursday, the state Board of Education will consider approving 107 emergency teaching certificates. If approved, Oklahoma will have more than 1,000 people teaching with emergency certificates for the second straight year.
A few things to consider:
*Pending board approval
Each pinmark on the interactive map below represents an emergency certificate granted either for last school year (green) or this school year to date (blue).
Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources Launched to Assist Oklahoma Teachers
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association announced today the launch of the Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources, an innovative, collaborative and cost-saving effort to help schools improve student achievement.
The new online library contains free and low-cost, high-quality digital resources and tools teachers and families can use to cater to students’ individual academic needs and take technology use in the classroom to the next level. The resources range from audio interviews with Oklahoma historical figures to apps that contain virtual science lab experiments to online tools including a Pythagorean Theorem calculator and a variety of digital textbooks.
“Our classrooms are filled with digital natives who thrive on interactive learning experiences guided by an outstanding educator,” said Shawn Hime, OSSBA’s executive director. “We want to help our schools embrace true integration of technology in our classrooms and ensure our students are ready for a digitally-driven workplace.”
The library includes resources for algebra, algebra 2, geometry, English, English 2, biology, chemistry, personal finance, Oklahoma history and United States history. Resources for middle and elementary schools will be added early next year, and then additional high school resources will be added. Future plans include allowing students and teachers to create digital textbooks and house them in iTunes U.
Outstanding Oklahoma teachers vet and select digital resources in their respective grades and subject areas. They choose resources and tools that are high-quality and aligned to Oklahoma’s new academic standards.
Through a collaboration with Apple, the library is housed in iTunes U and can also be accessed at www.okdigitalresources.com. All of the resources are accessible on any internet-connected device, including non-Apple devices. Express Employment Professionals and American Fidelity are supporting the project as corporate partners.
“We are happy to support OSSBA and its various programs advancing education in our great state,” said Bob Funk, CEO and Chairman of Express Employment Professionals. “And we are particularly excited about the student-friendly platform and impactful outcomes associated with the Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources.”
“We want to make sure teachers have the tools and resources they need to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Wayne Ryan, American Fidelity’s Oklahoma State Manager. “There is no better investment than Oklahoma’s teachers and students.”
Oklahoma schools are quickly moving to technology to replace textbooks. A survey from the state Education Department found only 47 districts are happy with textbooks, but many schools are uncertain about how to proceed when it comes to digital resources. The Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources helps educators easily locate other resources they can use in their classrooms.
More than 100 Oklahoma school districts already have one-to-one technology initiatives to make sure every student has a device, according to the education department survey. That number is expected to double over the next two years.
Timing is critical because Oklahoma schools have larger class sizes and less money to provide classroom resources, Hime said.
“These digital resources will help teachers realize the power of technology and its positive impact on instruction,” said Heather Sparks, math and business coordinator for Midwest City-Del City Public Schools and a former Oklahoma Teacher of the Year who helped vet high school math resources.
“Curriculum will come alive when teachers access the dynamic tools and lesson resources and infuse them in their practice. Leveraging technology will not only actively engage students, it will also likely lead to teachers seeking additional digital resources for their courses.”
More information about the Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources is available at www.okdigitalresources.com.
OSSBA’s new website and member portal will launch Aug. 30 and is designed to provide school board members and administrative employees of member school districts easy access to information related to board member training events, board member credits and more.
School board members can:
Board member log-in and update contact information tutorial:
Board member event registration tutorial:
*OSSBA does not share board member contact information without outside organizations. We use your contact information to mail and email information regarding training opportunities, legislative updates and provide other information to help you become a better board member and education advocate.
School district staff and school board members have different levels of access within the member portal.
Superintendents and superintendent secretaries can:
District administration log-in:
District administration change password:
District administration contact information update:
District administration update district/board member information:
District administration event registration:
The OSSBA team is excited to offer easy access to important board credit information and event registration. If you need help, please call our office at 405.528.3571 or email Terri Silver at [email protected]. Your patience as we assist school board members and school administrators gain access to the members-only portal is greatly appreciated!
Oklahoma school districts are trying to fill more than 500 teaching vacancies as a new school year begins despite eliminating more than 1,500 teaching jobs since last school year, according to a new survey from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
The combined impact of budget cuts, too few prospective teachers and teachers opting for other careers or out-of-state teaching jobs is even worse than a year ago when schools had about 1,000 vacancies after eliminating 600 teaching jobs. This year’s vacancies do not include positions filled by teachers holding the more than 300 emergency teaching certificates state education officials approved in May, June and July.
School districts also have eliminated more than 1,300 support staff positions since last school year. That includes teaching assistants who helped schools deal with a difficult double whammy: inexperienced teachers and growing class sizes.
“People who have never trained a day as a teacher are now responsible for teaching elementary school students how to read and do math. We have high school students who can’t take Spanish because their school can’t find a teacher. We are hemorrhaging teachers to Texas, Arkansas and Kansas,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “This is what it looks like when a state fails its schools and its children.”
OSSBA conducted the survey during the first two weeks of August. Districts representing about 83 percent of the state’s public school enrollment participated. The key findings:
Budget cuts were the primary factor in districts’ decisions to eliminate teaching positions. Even if that hadn’t been the case, many district leaders expressed doubt at their ability to find certified teachers to fill the positions because not enough new teachers are seeking to fill jobs vacated by more experienced teachers who are leaving the profession or leaving for work in another state.
In addition to the more than the 300 emergency teaching certificates already approved for this school year, the state Board of Education is expected to consider as many as 350 more emergency certificate applications when it meets Thursday.
Hime said solutions for the state’s teacher shortage crisis remain unchanged from previous years. Oklahoma needs a long-term funding strategy for public education that meets three key goals:
“With every year that goes by, we make it more difficult for educators to do the job that we’ve hired them to do – provide every child with a high-quality education,” said Mike Mullins, OSSBA president and a longtime school board member for Sand Springs Public Schools. “I’m humbled and grateful that Oklahoma’s educators continue to rise to the challenge, but there’s no doubt our failure as a state to properly invest in our children and their education has consequences.”
Sand Springs has struggled to find certified teachers in core subject areas and described finding special education, high school science, middle school science and high school math teachers as very difficult. The district is projecting 23-25 students in elementary school classes and 26 or more students per class in middle school and high school.
The story is similar in Ponca City, where Executive Director of Human Resources Shelly Arrott said the district struggled to fill all its vacancies but likely was successful because the district cut 24 teaching positions at the secondary level and sought emergency teaching certificates to fill 10 teaching slots.
The district moved six paid days of teaching training from the summer to the school year to reduce costs. Arrott said the change resulted in a financial hit to support employees who now have fewer contract days. Support employees are being encouraged to take on other extra duty assignments like becoming a crossing guard to help bridge the financial gap.
School leaders offered mixed experiences with emergency teaching certificates, noting such teachers typically require more support than other new teachers and many are not returning for a second year. Amber Fitzgerald, executive director of human resources and communications for Enid Public Schools, urged the state to improve its alternative certification process by focusing more on classroom readiness.
“We are approached by a plentiful number of people with bachelor’s degrees who are interested in teaching,” she said. “Right now, the alternative certification process focuses on earning a piece of paper, not preparing for the job in an expedited way.”
Gregg Garn, dean of The Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma, is no stranger to Oklahoma’s teacher shortage crisis. He struggles with recruiting students into the profession. Making the problem worse is the fact that fewer students who graduate from the college are staying in Oklahoma to teach. And as enrollment in colleges of education declines and an increasing number of teachers seek alternative paths to the classroom, he said K-12 students are shortchanged.
OU has continuously raised its standards for admission to the college of education and now the average ACT for students entering the college is a 25, Garn said.
“We want to ensure students will have the best and brightest leading classrooms,” he said. “When the emergency certification pipeline is so wide, it has consequences for student learning. So many of those who come to the classroom through alternative paths are in and out in the blink of an eye. We want people who are going to be great and make a positive impact on thousands of students over their career – not just people who are going to be there for a semester or a year.”
School districts bordering other states face a particular challenge with recruiting and retaining teachers. Seventeen teachers have left Miami Public Schools in northeastern Oklahoma over the last year, leaving first-year Superintendent Jeremy Hogan scrambling to fill vacancies. The district eliminated 11 positions, has increased class sizes and is offering fewer courses.
Dozens of students typically take a third-year Spanish class, but Hogan eliminated the class because he couldn’t find a teacher. The inability to offer a competitive salary and to provide teachers with adequate classroom resources are major recruiting challenges, he said.
“We’re having to put a puzzle together with pieces that don’t match. We have missing pieces,” Hogan said. “We love kids, and when you can’t give what you feel is your best, it hurts. We’re doing a disservice to students.”
By Christy Watson
School finance is complicated. Many outside the public education sector have only a general notion of how schools are funded. The mechanism is fuzzy even for many of those working in schools.
So when educators and public education advocates start talking about the need for more money, the question almost always comes back: How much is enough?
Let me start with just a few reasons that illustrate why I’m sure the current level isn’t enough.
I also know on a very personal level why it’s not enough. In February, my son’s third-grade teacher sent out a text with a lengthy list of supplies she needed for her classroom: pencils, spiral notebooks, folders, paper, etc. Off I went to Target to fill the classroom closets because it’s what I can do.
At my daughter’s middle school, parents are talking about a fundraising strategy to pay for supplies and equipment for excellent teachers who want to incorporate more hands-on learning in their classrooms — items the school could buy if it had the money.
How much is enough?
Oklahoma would have to spend nearly $1.3 billion more a year just to reach the average per-student investment of other states in our region. That would raise the per-student spending from its current level of $8,851 to the regional average of $10,744. Even if we wanted to just bump up one spot on the regional list and displace Texas, it would cost more than $750 million annually.
These are big dollars to talk about in a year of a $1.3 billion shortfall. That doesn’t mean we should ignore this huge gap in education investment and talk about it another day. I’m not OK with the idea that students in surrounding states have $30,000 or more invested in their education throughout the course of their school years. I don’t think most parents or business leaders think that’s OK, either.
How much is enough?
Isn’t the answer clear?
I’d really like an answer to this question: Why aren’t my children — and yours — worth more?
Watson is OSSBA’s communications director and the mom of two public school students.
By Mike Mullins
President, OSSBA Board of Directors
When the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration launched For the People: A Vision for Oklahoma Public Education more than three years ago, we really didn’t know where the project would lead. What we knew for sure is that a reactive approach wasn’t producing much-needed support for our schools, teachers and
Top-down “reforms” were coming fast and furious. Despite good intentions, many of the ideas weren’t rooted in what we know about the art and science of teaching. Other ideas were poorly implemented and thrust upon schools without funding needed to be successful.
At its core, For the People was designed to lead public education advocates out of the land of negativity. With a focus in seven key areas, For the People offers myriad recommendations aimed at producing students who are fully prepared for life beyond high school. We knew then, as we do now, that resources are key. Schools will struggle to reach great heights for all children as long as policymakers low-ball the funding needed to achieve great results.
When I was asked to join the committee supporting “Oklahoma’s Children – Our Future,” a penny sales tax proposal for public education, I didn’t hesitate to say YES! For the People is about solutions, and a long-term funding plan for education is one of the key recommendations. A funding plan is also one of OSSBA’s top legislative goals.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now criticism of the proposal. No plan is perfect. OSSBA’s board of directors voted to endorse the proposal, but only after lively discussion. Still, the decision was unanimous. Like many board members across the state, I have a sense of urgency about our state’s public education system.
We have so many success stories within the public education ranks. Our students are achieving great things despite limited resources within their schools. However, it’s unrealistic to keep asking our teachers to do more with less. That funding is not keeping pace with growing enrollment is fact. That Oklahoma is losing the competition for teachers to other states and professions is fact.
The proposed sales tax is expected to generate $615 million annually. More than $427 million of that would be dedicated for school districts, with the bulk funding a significant and long overdue teacher pay raise.
In For the People, we asked school board members, administrators and other public education advocates to say yes to a new vision for public education that’s based on solutions.
The sales tax proposal fits that criteria. Even better, the proposal could help fund many of the initiative’s recommendations, particularly related to teacher recruitment and retention. We know ensuring a high-quality teacher for every child is absolutely critical.
I’m saying yes. Will you?
Mullins serves on the Sand Springs Public Schools Board of Education.
By Shawn Hime
I know that must seem like a pie-in-the-sky question. This has not been the year anyone in education hoped for or imagined a year ago. School district leaders went into the 2015-2016 school year with cautious optimism. By the time January rolled around, revenue failures began dominating the headlines and decimating school budgets.
Public education in Oklahoma is woefully underfunded; the teacher shortage, growing class sizes and lack of resources are evidence. Underfunding makes the job of providing a high-quality education for all students more difficult but no less important.
This is a difficult time to dream. The teacher and staff layoffs at many schools are demoralizing — for those let go and those left behind. Districts will start a new school year with less money compared to a year ago despite having more students. Schools will become even more reliant on their communities to help fill critical gaps, even though communities suffer, too, amid employee downsizing.
But as I think about the nearly 700,000 children in our public schools, I’m convinced there’s never been a more important time for local districts to engage the community and dream together about the future. There’s never a wrong time to tackle important questions: What are your community’s academic goals for students? What knowledge and skills are most valuable? What do school buildings of the future look like, and what’s the role of technology? How do we recruit and retain the best teachers and administrators? What are we doing well, and where are opportunities for growth?
The answers to these types of questions create a shared vision and can be transformed from dreams to a plan for the future. The results are important:
*The vision becomes the district’s guidepost, driving financial, staffing and programming decisions even in a budget crisis.
*Engaging the community encourages ownership of the vision and empowers community members to become more involved.
*Community members who better understand the district’s strengths and challenges and who are invested in the district’s success are positioned to become powerful advocates — both locally and at the state Capitol.
Over the last several months, I’ve seen this play out in a powerful way in Duncan. Last fall, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association partnered with the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma to launch the Continuous Strategic Improvement service. This new offering is an outgrowth of For the People: A Vision for Oklahoma Public Education, the two-year effort to create a unified vision for schools with heavy emphasis on district-level transformation.
Duncan was the first school district to launch its CSI initiative. Educators, school board members, parents, business leaders and other communities spent several months reviewing survey responses related to the planning effort, studying student achievement data and dreaming about the future. They answered two key questions: Where do we want to go and how do we get there?
I encourage you to read Duncan’s strategic plan at www.ossba.org/csi. Just a few highlights include the district’s plan to phase in standards-based grading, a greater focus on STEM areas, aligning teacher training with strategic goals, developing a teacher mentor program, increasing technology and conduct a facility review related to maintenance, safety and the ability of current facilities to meet academic needs.
Wagoner Public Schools also recently completed its CSI initiative, and the final report is available on the OSSBA website. Strategic planning is also under way in Clinton and Sayre.
The excitement in these communities as they imagine the future is a reminder our students can’t wait for an economic turnaround; this is their time to learn and grow. Be visionary. Dream big. Students are counting on us.
You can learn more about OSSBA’s Continuous Strategic Improvement service at www.ossba.org/csi.