Oklahoma State Board of Education looks at teacher shortage, A-F reports

The State Board of Education met in mid-December, taking several notable actions.

The State Department of Education’s (OSDE) Teacher Shortage Task Force unveiled multiple new recommendations to alleviate the statewide teacher shortage crisis, which has resulted in 977 emergency certifications awarded thus far this school year.

Representatives from the task force presented a preliminary report to the State Board of Education at its monthly meeting in Oklahoma City. 

The Board unanimously supported the Task Force recommendations. 

A copy of the report went to legislative leaders and the governor.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised the task force for returning recommendations in less than three months.

“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,” 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 task force will likely continue to add and refine recommendations. 

Nine ideas in the preliminary report range from streamlining certification for new teachers to creating new structures to better reward effective, long-serving educators. All nine would require legislative action.

Providing scholarships to cover exam fees and offering paychecks and other incentives to student teachers who sign up to work in higher-need schools are the recommendations. Other recommendations would facilitate collaboration with the business community, make it easier for those in other fields to enter teaching, increase the limit for adjunct teachers from 90 hours per semester to 270 hours per semester. The latter proposal would allow 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.

The OSDE Teacher Shortage Task Force was created in September 2015 to craft a list of strategies to stem the crisis and test their effectiveness at helping students and schools. 

A more detailed final report, including measuring the effectiveness of implemented strategies, is expected to be released in fall 2016.

In other business, the state Board — the result of state legislation signed into law last summer — received a report by the Oklahoma State Department of Education regarding how to improve the A-F School Report Card system. 

Superintendent Hofmeister and her fellow board members said further study is warranted, particularly in the wake of uncertainties about a new federal law and a looming state budget shortfall.

The report was the result of House Bill 1823, which directed the agency to study how to strengthen the A-F School Report Cards and present a report on its findings by Dec. 31. 

The agency commissioned a study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University and sought input from various advisory councils and the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Hofmeister said there is more work to do, including a thorough review of the university researchers’ report that the OSDE received one day before last week’s board meeting.

Requirements for an accountability system are uncertain in the wake of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the beleaguered No Child Left Behind law. 

President Obama signed ESSA on Dec. 10 after its overwhelming passage by Congress. 

The act necessitates a host of rules and guidelines by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) that will not be finalized until October 2016.

The task is further complicated by the projected $900 million budget shortfall announced last week. A significant overhaul potentially means gathering additional indicators that OSDE does not currently have the capacity to collect. 

Hofmeister and Dr. Cindy Koss, OSDE deputy superintendent for academic affairs and planning, outlined certain indicators the agency believes would be important to measure in an A-F evaluation. 

These include:

Academic achievement (reading, math, science)
Academic growth (cohort groups)
Transparency of all subgroups (reading, math, science and graduation rate)
Chronic absenteeism
Participation rate on state tests
Postsecondary and career readiness – Coursework (AP, dual enrollment, CTE, etc.)
Postsecondary and career readiness – Exams (ACT, PSAT, SAT, AP, CTE, certification, etc.)
Graduation – On track for 9th grade
Graduation – Four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (all students)
Postsecondary entrance rate – All students (higher education, Career Tech, military)
Others as required by ESSA