Education Rally to Save OK Schools
Save the date for the Oklahoma PTA’s Bright Future rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday, March 30.
Last week I was listening to some Tulsa teachers. The setting was informal. I had known one of the teachers for many years; the other, I had just met. As I listened to the conversation, I was struck by their dedication to education and concern for their students. Both had been teaching for many years, and, sadly, both were looking for ways to leave the profession.
They were grateful for Supt. Hofmeister’s proposal to raise teacher pay in the state. Mississippi and South Dakota are the only states with lower average teacher pay than Oklahoma. It’s no wonder that Oklahoma is short 1,000 teachers. Hofmeister’s plan would give teachers an extra $2,000 in 2015-16, and then increase it incrementally to reach a $5,000 increase over several years. The teachers I was listening to said they were glad to have the superintendent’s support, but $2,000 isn’t much when you’re already working a couple of jobs besides teaching to make ends meet. And, with the budget deficit, no one is very hopeful that even with Hofmeister’s support, the OK Legislature will fund education.
This is a lesson in voting. The citizens of Oklahoma voted out former State Superintendent Barresi because they didn’t like her sledge-hammer policies, but many of those policies are still supported by the governor and the legislature.
Most teachers don’t go into the job because it’s high paying. They know how much teachers make. The “reforms” have made it difficult for teachers to do their jobs. One teacher commented that he has a hard time fitting in teaching because standardized testing takes up huge chunks of time. Another commented on how a kindergarten teacher in her school had to take days to read evaluation questions to each of her students because they couldn’t read. And, schools have crowded classrooms, never-ending strings of substitutes and more inexperienced teachers – not exactly a combination for success.
Not only is this the work environment for teachers, but it’s the learning environment for our children.
From what I hear as I listen to educators, teachers are not opposed to being evaluated, but they are opposed to unfair evaluations. Standardized test scores are a terrible way to evaluate students and teachers. Professional educators know this. I know an easy way to make a bunch of low-performing teachers become high performing in an instant. The low-performing teachers are usually in high-poverty schools in struggling communities. Take the teachers from that school, put them in a school located in a high socio-economic area and, voila, you’ll get high-performing teachers in an instant. Think back to your own school experiences, or your children’s. I can think of instances where my child didn’t have a great teacher, but the class made her look really good because the students were already so high performing.
But back to that teacher raise. More money would certainly help Oklahoma recruit and retain teachers, despite the lack of respect (that’s going on across the nation). At least in Oklahoma, teachers now have a state superintendent who seems to be supportive of them. Is there hope for an increase in the education budget? There doesn’t seem to be hope for an increase in any budget unless the Legislature does something about closing the state budget gap that’s looming. It’s not just education that will get the ax. And, the thing is, most of us won’t even notice the tax cut, but we will notice the cut in state services.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute has outlined some reasonable options to solve Oklahoma’s budget woes. You can find it here.
And, please save the date for the Oklahoma PTA’s Bright Future rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday, March 30.
Here are the talking points:
A High Quality Teacher for Every Classroom
- Long-term plan to improve teacher compensation for regional competitiveness.
- Policy changes to strengthen and sustain the teacher pipeline.
- Oklahoma started the 2014-2015 school year about 1,000 teachers short.
- Oklahoma has teacher shortages in rural, suburban and urban areas throughout the state and in nearly every grade level/subject area.
- Oklahoma has approved 500 emergency teaching certificates for teachers who are not yet fully qualified in the area they are teaching.
- Oklahoma has 40,000 more public school students than in 2008, but fewer teachers.
- Oklahoma’s average teacher salary is more than $3,200 below the regional average and the lowest of surrounding states.
- Increase teacher pay to the regional average.
- Establish policies/incentives to recruit students into colleges of education.
- Establish policies/competitive compensation packages to keep teacher graduates in Oklahoma.
- Streamline certification process for out-of-state teachers who are highly qualified and want to teach in Oklahoma.
- Ease financial restrictions for retirees who want to return to the classroom.
- Establish policies to support new educators in their first three years of teaching.
If you can’t go, let others know about it, and contact your legislator.