Oklahoma's teacher shortage is worsening as salaries remain among the nation's lowest and workplace pressures mount, prompting school districts statewide to implement strategies to retain and recruit educators.
"We're at a crisis point in this state when it comes to our teacher shortage," State Superintendent Janet Barresi said in August when she convened the first meeting of the Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force.
"For years we've seen shortages in subjects such as science and math, but now we are starting to see this spread to areas such as elementary and early childhood. That's a new phenomenon and one that must be reversed."
Last week, Tulsa Public Schools' Board of Education voted to use $430,820 from its civic donations fund to get recruiting and marketing assistance from the national TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project.
Tulsa Public Schools has long faced the high teacher turnover rates typical for urban school districts, but the trends of baby boomer teachers retiring and newly trained teachers coming out of Oklahoma colleges and universities and moving to higher-paying states have exacerbated the problem.
Suburban districts often have a deeper pool of candidates than do urban areas, where educators face different challenges. But they, too, are increasingly feeling the effects of the decline in teacher candidates.
"As most districts in the state of Oklahoma, we continue to face the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers in the upper-level science and mathematics courses as well as in the area of special education. That has been the norm for some time," said Broken Arrow Public Schools spokeswoman Tara Thompson.
She said Broken Arrow has implemented a very aggressive recruitment program that has increased the district's visibility to teacher candidates.
Union Public Schools is experiencing a shortage of certified applicants in a wide range of areas, including special education, math, early childhood education, foreign language, art and music. The district also has had difficulty filling positions such as school nurse, media specialist and school counselor, said Cindy Solomon, Union's senior executive director of human resources.
She said the district is implementing new recruiting strategies to reach more applicants, including posting jobs on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as increasing college recruitment efforts.
But Union Chief Financial Officer Debbie Jacoby worries that even these extra measures won't guarantee that a district will be able to fill current or future openings until state funding conditions change. "We are finding it difficult to compete with surrounding states in recruiting and retaining teachers," she said.
Dana Ezell, executive director of human resources at Jenks Public Schools, said that district has been able to maintain a strong applicant pool, with the exception of teachers certified in special education. To address the need for special education teachers, Jenks is encouraging its teachers certified in elementary education to pursue an additional special education certification and has partnered with Oral Roberts University on a special education boot camp.
A severe nationwide shortage of special education teachers spurred the state Legislature last year to implement 150-hour intensive boot camps as a nontraditional route to special education teacher certification.
Ezell also said Jenks is focusing on retaining the good teachers it already employs by making significant changes in its support system for new teachers, including better orientation and increased feedback to improve guidance on issues such as classroom management, curriculum and instruction and technology.
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said his district started the year with six substitute teachers and still has an opening for a librarian at Northwoods Fine Arts Academy.
"The pool of candidates is smaller now than I have seen in my entire career," he said. Most in demand are librarians and math, science and special education teachers, although filling positions in all categories remains a challenge.
"This is a reflection of a toxic political climate where education is considered a liability, not an investment, by many of our policy makers," Snow said. "This is a self-imposed crisis due to a lack of leadership that should concern us all."
Oklahoma critical teacher shortage areas, 2013-14
- Early childhood education
- Elementary education
- Foreign languages
- School counselor
- School psychologist
- Social studies
- Special education
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Kim Archer 918-581-8315