Several dozen education leaders convened today for the first meeting of State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force.
Classroom teachers, school administrators, legislators and civic leaders from rural, suburban and urban areas from all across the state met to discuss workforce shortage concerns and determine first action steps in addressing the problem of recruiting and retaining the best teachers in the present economy.
“The most important factor in a child’s education is having a highly effective teacher in the classroom,” said State Superintendent Janet Barresi, “and yet we are facing a critical shortage of classroom teachers in our state. I convened this task force to study the issues and to come up with solutions so that we can improve the outcomes of students.”
The task force meeting came after a weekend call by Barresi for a pay raise of $2,000 for state teachers. She said the salary increase could be paid from school carryover accounts and by repurposing district discretionary funds.
Task force members broke into groups to discuss current workforce shortage issues across the state, to find common themes and hypothesize about the root cause of the concerns. Each group was then asked to share their findings.
Teacher salaries, strong competition with the private sector and border state competition for higher-paying jobs were mentioned as the biggest factors districts face in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. Lesser factors were divorce rates forcing single parent teachers to find better-paying jobs and isolation that sometimes exists in rural areas where the teacher shortage is more acutely felt.
Several of the teachers on the task force mentioned items such as too stringent certification requirements for those coming to the state with out-of-state certificates or for those seeking specialty certification such as for world languages.
State Department of Education Chief of Staff Joel Robison presented the Oklahoma teacher salary schedule in contrast to surrounding states and the nation. His report showed that the average teacher salary in the state, $44,343, ranks 47th in the nation, while starting teacher salaries, $31,600, rank 41st. Teacher salaries have not been raised for the past five years.
A comparison of surrounding states shows:
Texas pays starting teachers $34,234 and an average salary of $48,638.
Arkansas pays starting teachers $32,478 and an average salary of $46,500.
Kansas pays starting teachers $32,964 and an average salary of $46,598.
New Mexico pays starting teachers $32,092 and an average salary of $46,888.
Dr. Kerri White, Assistant State Superintendent of Educator Effectiveness, presented the group with information from “The Irreplaceables," a report from The New Teacher Project.
White said the report is based on the premise that there are some excellent educators who are almost impossible to replace. The research delves into how school leaders can recognize and retain them.
White said administrative support of teachers is important, as is the chance for teachers to advance into leadership roles among their peers.
“When great teachers feel they are not making an impact, they don’t stay,” White said.