Last Sunday, the Oklahoman wrote an editorial about the recently passed teacher pay raise, and what they think Oklahomans should get in return. It was a frustrating read, to say the least, because it doesn’t reflect the reality of education or human nature. Allow me to illustrate why.
The editors rightly point out that teachers are getting a pay raise. What they leave out is that the tax increases passed to fund it only go to education for ONE YEAR! What are we to do after that? They also mention that the appropriation to common education was the largest ever, but what they leave out is that it still does not measure up to what the schools need in order to provide an appropriate education to students. In fact, it is the same amount that schools got in 2008 if adjusted for inflation, according to the Inflation Calculator (a fun tool I use in class occasionally) with numbers pulled from the State School Association Board. With more students and more demands to prepare children for a technological world, education is more expensive than it was in 2008. For example, twenty years ago, all we needed was a textbook, paper, and pencil for most classes. Today our students have iPads, 3D printers, and subscription-based curriculum.
The editorial says, “For several years, school officials have complained of a teacher shortage.” The implication in this wording is that they are complaining, but it isn’t based on merit. I know the Oklahoman’s own reporters have revealed that the education leaders aren’t just complaining, but that there is an actual teacher shortage in our state. There are not enough people coming into the schools to compensate for those who retire or leave the profession. That’s just a fact. The rest of the paragraph even cites relevant evidence of the teacher shortage -- an increase in emergency certifications -- and yet they still write “this was deemed a major problem.” No, it IS a major problem. If we had 2,000 emergency certified doctors who came into medicine in one year merely with biology degrees, we’d never allow them to practice.
The litany of questions speculating as to whether emergency certifications will go away or whether there will be more teaching candidates than positions is puerile. The answers are no, because there is no long-term guarantee of funding salaries at the appropriate level, and no because it won’t change in just one year!
After a list of student scores derived from National Assessment on Educational Progress, the editors wonder if in one year after this budget increase -- which is almost exclusively going to teacher salaries and not to programs or other services also severely underfunded -- we might see an increase in scores. Again, no. This is not a factory, and we cannot have the boss just say, “change all the shoes to blue” and it happen overnight. That’s not how children work. It will take years to dig out of the hole we’ve been put in. We have to get highly qualified teachers -- with real teacher training -- back into our classrooms. They will need a couple years to work their magic on our children because some children are far behind!
The writers end by saying that if there isn’t an improvement in student learning, then structural changes will be in order. I don’t know what they have in mind, but I can assure you we in education know that there are some structural changes that should be taken. Typically, those cost money too. And they take time to implement. Why doesn’t someone with an education background actually sit on this board to offer some insight into how things work in public education? I volunteer!