Education officials look for solutions to teacher shortage

State officials are looking for ways to alleviate the teacher shortage in public schools.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education reported 977 emergency certifications being awarded so far this school year.

Representatives from a task force gave a preliminary report to the State Board of Education at its December meeting in Oklahoma City. In a unanimous vote, the board passed a resolution in support of the recommendations. A copy of the report has been shared with legislative leaders and the governor’s office.

“The Teacher Shortage Task Force has offered a slate of creative, cost-effective steps that could begin to stem Oklahoma’s growing teacher shortage. It is imperative that we begin to test solutions to this crisis as soon as possible,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said. “While the task force is just getting started, it is already identifying actions we can take at the state, district and site level. Teachers are every school’s most valuable resource, which means any real solution to the shortage – no matter how small it may seem – ultimately benefits schoolchildren. Our kids can’t wait any longer for us to address this crisis, and I applaud the task force for its first round of recommendations.”

The report suggests streamlining the certification process for new teachers and creating rewards within schools for effective, long-serving teachers. All of the recommendations would require legislative action.

Providing scholarships to cover certification exam fees and offering paychecks and other incentives to student teachers who sign up to work in higher-need schools were recommended. Other recommendations include collaboration with businesses and ways to make it easier for those in other fields to enter the teaching profession.

One recommendation would increase the limit for adjunct teachers from 90 hours per semester to 270 hours per semester, effectively allowing professionals from outside public education to share their unique skills and teach three hours of classes a day instead of one.

Another would weigh work experience with grade point averages for alternative certification. Taking work history into consideration would remove a barrier that currently blocks talented professionals with less-than-stellar grade point averages from becoming teachers. For instance, a soldier exiting the military with a low college GPA but who had since shown exemplary skill in the service would not be automatically ruled out based on old grades.

“These recommendations are the first step in our ongoing process to address Oklahoma’s severe teacher shortage. The volunteers serving on this task force, who include legislators, educators, business leaders and others, will continue to refine existing recommendations and create new ones that can be enacted at every level of our state education system,” said Dr. Robyn Miller, deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and policy research at OSDE.

A final report is expected to be released in fall 2016.