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The Teachers We Need, The Teachers We Can Get

by Lawrence Baines & Jim Machell - July 09, 2019

A new report from the Oklahoma Department of Education confirmed that that state has lost 30,000 teachers in the past six years, a significant number in a state that employs a total of only 41,000 teachers. Response to teacher flight in Oklahoma, as in other states, has focused on finding warm bodies to fill classrooms, not on teacher quality. As a result, the neediest students in Oklahoma are being taught by the least qualified teachers.

Oklahoma has become notorious for poor teacher pay. The state’s reputation as a “bottom five state” is well deserved as expenditures on education have been among the lowest in the United States for decades. Since 2008, overall funding for Oklahoma schools has been cut by 20%. Lack of funding has also meant that hundreds of school districts in Oklahoma have had to resort to 4-day work weeks to preserve financial solvency.1

Recently, it was disclosed that the state has lost 30,000 educators over the past six years.2 Considering that the state only employs about 41,000 teachers, the exit of 30,000 teachers is unreal. Last year, 1 in 4 Oklahoma public school teachers and 1 in 2 charter school teachers left their jobs.3

To stem the exodus, Oklahoma legislators finally increased starting pay, and the newly elected governor proposed adding another $1200 to make Oklahoma teacher pay more competitive.4 Texas, a state that already pays teachers thousands more than Oklahoma, recently passed an additional $5,000 pay increase.

At the same time, the state department of education has sanctioned the hiring of 3,000 unvetted, emergency-certified individuals. According to the Oklahoma Department of Education website, “Emergency certification should only be requested when the district has exhausted every option to find an appropriately certified person for the open position.”5

The state had approved a total of 30 persons for emergency certification just a few years earlier. The expansion from 30 to 3,000 means that most first-year teachers in Oklahoma are now emergency-certified, with no experience in classrooms, no semester-long internship, and little academic preparation in the art and science of teaching.6 This year, one hundred percent of the teachers in some schools in Oklahoma City are first-year, emergency-certified.

Establishing a cadre of caring, high-performing teachers who want to spend their careers in Oklahoma is complicated by the escalating costs of a university education. With an annual cost of almost $30,000 per annum (tuition, fees, room, and board) at The University of Oklahoma, a student would need $120,000 to obtain a four-year, bachelor’s degree in education.7 The bachelor’s degree would enable these prospective teachers to earn an annual salary that is only a few thousand dollars more than the cost of a single year’s worth of college. 

On the other hand, the cost for an unemployed bachelor’s degree holder to apply for alternative or emergency certification is a one-time fee of $50.8 Currently, the certificate given to teachers who have spent $120,000 and up to a thousand hours of field work, including 18 weeks of full-time teaching, is the same as the certificate given to teachers who spent $50 and participated in no field experiences. Salaries are the same, too.

In general, Oklahomans are proud of their state and venerate self-sufficiency and determination. Last year, when thousands of Oklahomans stormed the capital to encourage the state’s deep red legislators to give public servants a raise, an overwhelming majority of residents supported the cause.9

Unfortunately, Oklahoma leads the nation in several undesirable categories, including rates of incarceration (#2)10, the number of people who are uninsured (#2), the number of citizens with poor health (#6)11, and the percentage of children living in poverty (#7)12. Although high-quality teachers could help address such heinous issues, the focus in Oklahoma has been on schools providing basic academics, limited opportunities for athletics, and not much else.

Everyone agrees that a teacher has an indelible effect on the intellectual, emotional, and social lives of children, but in the panic over teacher shortages, the goal of competence has been discarded. Teachers have an impact, not only on the lives of families, but also on a region’s financial and cultural vitality.13 Economist Hanushek estimated the value of an excellent teacher in purely economic terms for a class of 30 at about a million dollars per year. According to Hanushek, hiring only highly-qualified teachers in American schools would result in trillions of dollars of additional revenue for the national economy.14

The flight of Oklahoma teachers and teacher strikes around the country demonstrate that teachers are starting to realize that their careers are no longer confined by the borders of the state in which they reside. Schools that are able to offer livable wages and decent working conditions are likely to attract an increasingly qualified, experienced teacher work force.15

Meanwhile, schools that pay poorly and subject teachers to unsafe or oppressive environments are likely to have to settle for unproven, emergency-certified, warm bodies. In Deer Creek High School, located in an upper middle-class suburb of Oklahoma City, only 7% of students live in poverty and there are no emergency-certified teachers. Recently, the school scored 27 out of 30 in academics, earning a grade of A from the state.16 In Douglass High School, located in a poor, predominantly African-American area of Oklahoma City only a few miles away, 90% of students live in poverty and the school employs a horde of emergency-certified teachers. Douglass scored .6 (less than 1) out of 30 in academics, earning a grade of F from the state.17

In Oklahoma as in most states, prosperous, successful schools will continue to attract the best teachers, while poor schools full of poor children are expected to settle for the teachers they can get. In a “land of opportunity,” education should serve as a catalyst for improving a child’s lot in life. The current system seems to be working well for children from rich families. For children from poor families, results have been disappointing and insufficient.


1. CBS News (2018, March 7). A closer look at Oklahoma’s 4-day school week. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-closer-look-at-oklahomas-four-day-school-week/

2. Dekker, M. (2019, February 13). ‘Staggering’: 30,000 Oklahoma teachers have left profession in the past 6 years, report shows. Tulsa World. Retrieved from https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/staggering-oklahoma-teachers-have-left-profession-in-the-past-years/article_32479aa7-9877-55c9-959c-76f7332a7e7d.html

3. Lazarte Alcalá, N. R. (2018, December). 2018 Oklahoma educator supply & demand report: Trends, projections, and recommendations [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/Oklahoma%20Teacher%20Supply%20and%20Demand%20Report%202018%20December%2031.pdf

4. Querry, K. (2019, February 14). Teacher pay raise? House committee passes bill for $1,200 pay increase. Oklahoma’s News 4. Retrieved from https://kfor.com/2019/02/14/teacher-pay-raise-house-committee-passes-bill-for-1200-pay-increase/; Hofmeister, J. (2018). State minimum teacher salary schedule 2018–2019 [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/sites/ok.gov.sde/files/documents/files/18-19%20State%20Minimum%20Salary%20Schedule.pdf

5. Oklahoma State Department of Education (2018). Emergency certification (administrator use only). Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/emergency-certification-administrator-use-only

6. Oklahoma State School Boards Association (2018). Oklahoma education facts. Retrieved from https://www.ossba.org/advocacy/oklahoma-education-facts/; See also Palmer, J. (2018, December 28). Emergency teachers by district. Oklahoma Watch. Retrieved from https://oklahomawatch.org/2018/12/28/emergency-teachers-by-district/

7. The University of Oklahoma (2019). Tuition. Retrieved from http://www.ou.edu/admissions/affordability/cost

8. Oklahoma State Department of Education (2018). Emergency certification (administrator use only). Retrieved from https://sde.ok.gov/emergency-certification-administrator-use-only

9. Will, M. (2018, August 21). Teachers are winning public support for pay raises, survey finds. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/08/22/teachers-are-winning-public-support-for-pay.html; Felder, B. (2018, April 4). OEA says public supports teacher walkout. The Oklahoman. Retrieved from https://newsok.com/article/5589599/oea-says-public-supports-teacher-walkout

10. The Sentencing Project (2019). State-by-state data. Retrieve from https://www.sentencingproject.org/the-facts/#rankings?dataset-option=SIR

11. Integris (2018, February 28). Oklahoma’s latest health rankings. Integris. Retrieved from https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2018/february/oklahoma-latest-health-rankings

12. Bishaw, A., & Benson, C. (2017, September). Poverty: 2015 and 2016 [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/acs/acsbr16-01.pdf

13. Schleicher, A. (2011). Building a high-quality teaching profession: Lessons from around the world [PDF file] http://www.oecd.org/education/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/47506177.pdf

14. Hanushek, E. A. (2010). The economic value of higher teacher quality. Economics of Education Review, 30(2011), 466­­–479. Retrieved from http://hanushek.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Hanushek%202011%20EER%2030%283%29.pdf

15. Wendler, E. (2018, April 7). He was Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, then moved to Texas for better pay. Now what? Kera News. Retrieved from https://www.keranews.org/post/he-was-oklahomas-teacher-year-then-moved-texas-better-pay-now-what; Stockler, A. (2018, April 10). In Oklahoma, some teachers try to make ends meet. Others move out of state for better pay. PRI. Retrieved from https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-04-10/oklahoma-some-teachers-try-make-ends-meet-others-move-out-state-better-pay

16. Oklahoma School Report Cards (2018). Deer Creek HS, 2017­–2018. Retrieved from https://www.oklaschools.com/school/1428/

17. Oklahoma School Report Cards (2018). Douglass HS, 2017–2018. Retrieved from https://www.oklaschools.com/school/1661/

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 09, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22963, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 3:16:07 AM

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