Need for teachers in core courses is critical
BY CASEY SMITH World Staff Writer
Sunday, March 10, 2013
3/10/13 at 7:48 AM
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So far "the egg lab" is Randi Germany's favorite experiment she has conducted in Biology I class.
The Central High School sophomore and her classmates used fresh hen eggs, vinegar and other supplies to learn about osmosis and diffusion.
William Hughes said the egg experiment is one of the Advanced Placement labs he incorporates into his Biology I class at Central High School. Central High does not have an AP Biology Section, so Hughes blends the more difficult material into his classes.
Hughes left a career in sports medicine and athletic training education at the university level to teach high school science because he wanted to give back by preparing teens for the rigors of higher education, he said.
The number of full-time equivalent teaching staff statewide, and in some districts such as Tulsa Public Schools, is noticeably smaller than it was in 2008-09, a Tulsa World analysis of Oklahoma State Department of Education data show. That year was the last complete year of state aid before statewide budget cuts, due largely to the economic downturn and tax cuts.
Overall the state employs approximately 39,770 full-time equivalent teachers, roughly 500 fewer or 1 percent less than four years ago, according to the data on public school staff salaries. Statewide this year, average student attendance is approximately 669,450, roughly 5 percent higher than attendance in 2008-09.
Tulsa Public Schools employs approximately 2,330 full-time equivalent teachers, roughly 300 fewer or 12 percent less than four years ago, data show. TPS average student attendance is approximately 39,430, roughly 3 percent less than in 2008-09.
Tulsa Public Schools is the largest district in the state, followed by Oklahoma City Public Schools and Moore Public Schools in Cleveland County, student attendance data show. Due to fluctuations during that time in employment levels at schools across the state, it is difficult to measure what percentage of the total loss in full-time teachers was sustained by Tulsa Public Schools.
Decreases can be attributed to a statewide teacher shortage and in some cases the unavailability of funds to pay teaching staff, officials said.
This year, Tulsa Public Schools has had difficulty finding qualified teachers who are certified to teach math and science, said Chris Payne, director of public information for the district.
"They are in short supply," Payne said. "As we continue to put the squeeze on educators with elevated expectations, fewer resources and greater numbers of students, this is going to increasingly be a problem."
Compared to 2008-09, the district's number of elementary and high school science teachers decreased by 24 and 16 full-time equivalent positions, respectively, data show.
The number of full-time equivalent elementary and high school math teachers TPS employs is down by 39 and 25 positions, respectively, compared to four years ago, data show.
Social studies and world languages are other subject areas where the district employs fewer full-time equivalent teachers than it did four years ago, data show.
"Determining which courses at a school will lose or gain full-time equivalent teachers is a tricky balancing act," Payne said. "We have to make sure we are meeting state and federal requirements."
The executive leadership works closely with principals to ensure teachers are appropriately placed. Some areas, such as math and science, are becoming increasingly competitive in hiring.
TPS works closely with universities in the area to make sure it has a strong pool of new teachers to draw from, Payne said.
Statewide, the public school system employs fewer teachers in areas that include language arts, social studies, world languages and non-elementary science and math.
"There's been teacher shortages about as far back as I can remember, but I think it's getting worse now and spreading into other areas," said Jeff Smith, executive director of teacher certification at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Previously, schools located on Oklahoma's borders had trouble filling some teacher positions, but now the problem is spreading to schools in other locations, Smith said.
Traditionally, schools had trouble filling positions for math, science and world languages, but now schools are having trouble filling early childhood and elementary teaching positions, Smith said.
Special education teachers are also in short supply, but a state law allowing substitute teachers for indefinite periods of time for such classes is helping, Smith said.
Several factors are driving the teacher shortage, Smith said.
It's now more difficult to get certifications extended to allow teachers flexibility to teach subjects in which they are not certified, Smith said.
Changes in the job market have meant more people going into technology fields and fewer becoming educators, Smith said.
Teachers in Texas also start their careers with higher salaries than beginning teachers in Oklahoma, so the state's public school system loses teachers regionally.
The median base salary for teachers in school year 2012-13 is just more than $35,100 and median total compensation is just more than $42,500, data show.
Less state aid
The state's reductions in education funding is the main reason why there are fewer full-time equivalent teachers than there were previously, Payne said.
"One of the biggest factors driving the drop in FTEs has been decreased state funding for public education," Payne said. "In the last three years, TPS has experienced decreased funding. It is difficult to operate in 2013 with funding at pre-2008 levels."
Tulsa Public Schools received $93.1 million in state aid for the current school year, more than $19.1 million less than in 2008-09.
The State Department of Education received almost $2.4 billion in appropriations and supplemental funding in fiscal year 2013, almost $145.7 million less than the fiscal year 2009 amount.
A steep recession during the past several years meant lower funding for most state agencies. Lawmakers also approved a measure to cut the state's income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent in the top bracket.
The impact of fewer teachers at Tulsa Public Schools - the district's cuts when the economy bottomed out included 225 teacher positions - has reached students and staff, Payne said.
"It results in larger class sizes and a greater number of discipline problems," he said. "It also results in increased pressures on principals and teachers and has the potential to impact their morale.
"We believe in creating an environment of high expectations and accountability, but to have high-achieving students, we also need sufficient resources if we are to meet more rigorous standards."
Central High School has been blessed to get money from the federal School Improvement Grant, Hughes said. Technology upgrades in classrooms are among the student enrichment resources the grant has funded, he said.
Currently, Hughes teaches two sections of environmental science that each have about 25 or 30 students. Last year he taught six sections of the course, each with about 15 or 20 students.
Reduced staff drove the change, he said, noting that administrators did a great job adapting course offerings. The science department's assessments and strategies show it remains strong, Hughes said.
He said he doesn't know why there is a shortage of math and science teachers but knows the nationwide problem was present even at the beginning of his career. The need for the next generation of educators is critical.
Lawrence Baines, chair of instructional leadership and academic curriculum at the University of Oklahoma, said OU's teacher education programs have had significant increases in enrollment over the past three years.
OU educates 5 percent of teachers in the state, Baines said.
"I really think that Oklahoma has a chance to be one of the best places on the planet for students in K-12 schools," Baines said. "We just need to use common sense and keep our children's best interests in mind, which, at times, conflicts with other interests, such as a potential tax cut that could net the average Oklahoman an extra six bucks. Personally, I would rather shell out a few more bucks if I could be assured that my child and everyone else's children were receiving a superb education."
Full-time equivalent teachers
|Year ||State|| Tulsa Public Schools|
|2008-09|| 40,280 ||2,640|
|2009-10|| 40,740 ||2,670|
|2010-11|| 39,440 ||2,550|
|2011-12|| 39,390|| 2,410|
|2012-13|| 39,770 ||2,330|
(Numbers are rounded and do not include resource teachers)
Student enrollment, average daily attendance
|Year ||State|| Tulsa Public Schools|
|2008-09|| 637,760 ||40,630|
|2009-10 ||646,700 ||40,160|
|2010-11|| 651,340|| 40,810|
|2011-12 ||659,540 ||40,130|
|2012-13*|| 669,450 ||39,430|
*First 9 weeks of school year. Figures rounded.
|Year|| Dept. of Education ||Tulsa Public Schools|
|2008-09 ||$2.53 billion|| $112.2 million|
|2009-10 ||$2.23 billion ||$93.3 million|
|2010-11|| $2.24 billion ||$93 million|
|2011-12 ||$2.28 billion ||$96.7 million|
|2012-13|| $2.39 billion|| $93.1 million|
Source: Tulsa World analysis of Department of Education data
Original Print Headline: More students, fewer teachers
Casey Smith 918-732-8106
William Hughes, shown in his Central High biology class, says the need for the next generation of educators is critical. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Central High School student Randi Germany helps her lab partner, China Mohamed, with her computer during Biology I class Friday. State schools have lost about 500 teaching positions in the past five years, while Tulsa Public Schools has lost about 300. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World