Oklahoma public schools hired 3,038 nonaccredited teachers to work in classrooms in 2018-19, representing a 54% increase over the previous school year’s 1,975.
The upward trend looks to continue, as 818 emergency certifications — including 531 renewals — are up for approval Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Of those, 180 are for Tulsa Public Schools, including 160 renewals; Broken Arrow has 30 up for approval, including 15 renewals.
“I don’t think it has to be the new normal,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which has carefully tracked indicators of the teacher shortage since 2014. “As we’ve had two years of investment in education — $640 million in state money, and local dollars have increased, as well — we are hoping that abates the crisis some. I don’t think anyone thought it would be solved in one year or two years or even five years.”
Applications for emergency certifications used to be a rarity, with just 32 emergency teaching certificates approved in a single year in 2011-12.
But as Oklahoma plunged into a statewide teacher shortage almost six years ago, school districts became increasingly reliant on these new hires who had not yet completed the state’s requirements for either traditional or alternative certification.
The certificates allow individuals to be employed as teachers for up to two years before they complete the education or training requirements for regular or alternative certification. Some are certified teachers who lack certification in the subject matter or grade level in which they are needed to teach, but the vast majority are newcomers to education.
School superintendents have to certify to the state that no certified candidates were available to fill a position they wish to fill with someone who needs an emergency certificate.
Right before the start of the past five school years, the OSSBA surveyed district leaders statewide about their number of unfilled teaching vacancies and their need to eliminate positions, increase class sizes, and hire retirees and adjunct or part-time instructors to cope with the teacher shortage.
Hime said he is committed to continuing the survey so that the shortage and its consequences can be understood in real terms by policy makers and the general public.
“In order to find solutions, I believe we have to have the best data available from districts, (including) major difficulties districts are finding in hiring and recruiting the best teachers,” he said.
His take on the new year-end total of 3,038 emergency certifications?
“There are really two takeaways from that number,” Hime said. “First is we continue to have a teacher-shortage crisis. The second one is more positive. These numbers from the state Department of Education show that schools hired more than 1,000 new teachers last year. In a few short years, districts have gone from paying in the low 30s (in thousands of dollars) to many paying in the 40s (in thousands of dollars). That’s a huge positive in recruiting.”
Districts relying most heavily on nonaccredited teachers — the vast majority of whom have degrees and work experience in other professions — must take extra steps to ensure their success.
“The work that needs to be done now is with the districts,” Hime said. “Districts have to be creative and find new ways to train emergency-certified teachers and partner with higher education institutions so they complete the needed coursework to complete the process to become fully certified teachers.”