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The Negative Impact of Emergency Teacher Certification in Oklahoma

This article originally appeared in on the University of Tulsa Appalachian website and is reprinted with permission.

Oklahoma is facing a troubling teacher shortage. To ensure public school students have instructors in classrooms this fall, the state has issued 3,000 emergency teacher certifications. The Oklahoma Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (OACTE) analyzed data to uncover the ramifications of an increased number of emergency certificates, and on Monday, Aug. 12, The University of Tulsa hosted the Oklahoma Teacher Pipeline Summit to share their findings and discuss possible solutions to the crisis. 

Emergency certification numbers rise

TU’s Chair of the Department of Education and OACTE Vice President, Elizabeth Smith said, “As teacher educators and education programs across the state started to look at the data, we found there is evidence that the rise in the number of emergency certifications is harmful to students in Oklahoma and schools.”

Emergency certification is a substandard credential that people can receive to teach with only a bachelor’s degree. It allows individuals to begin teaching on their own in public school classrooms without having coursework on teaching and learning, a background in the content area they’re teaching, experience working with children and without passing any state certification exams.

Oklahoma State Representative and former Tulsa public school teacher, John Waldron warned, “The heart of the crisis in education right now is the lack of a qualified teacher in every classroom. We are at the risk of losing our professional teaching corps.”

OACTE released a report The Value of Comprehensive, University-Based Teacher Education for Oklahoma Children, revealing that emergency certified teachers are rated lower than teachers who completed teacher education programs in every category by their principals. Teacher retention data also shows that emergency certified teachers leave teaching at a higher rate than those who complete teacher education programs. National data provide evidence that higher numbers of emergency certified teachers were associated with lower levels of student learning. Smith is also concerned with iniquity; “Large concentrations of those teachers, who are largely unprepared, are teaching in the highest need areas in Oklahoma.”

Improving the Oklahoma teacher pipeline

The summit brought together professors of education, public school teachers, legislators and the Oklahoma State Department of Education to discuss a vision for the future for teacher education programs and policy solutions to improve the teacher pipeline. From robust induction programs for new teachers to offering a mentorship program, the summit took a critical look at how to make teaching jobs more attractive and increase retention.

Jon Hazell, 2017 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year explained, “We have to change the narrative to understand you can’t do education like a business. Education is an investment. It never pays off in the frontend, but where you save money is on the backend. Those kids come back and contribute to society instead of us having to support those kids the rest of their lives because they didn’t get an education.”

OACTE offers four solutions to expand the numbers of qualified Oklahoma teachers.

Offer state-funded loan forgiveness and/or scholarship funds for university-prepared teachers who commit to teaching in Oklahoma public schools.

Allocate state funds for university-based teacher candidates’ certification exam costs.

Provide state-funded signing bonuses for the first three years in Oklahoma public schools for university-prepared teachers.

Provide state funds for paid student teaching internships

“While emergency certification is a short-term Band-Aid to a problem that took a decade or more to develop, OACTE offers long-term solutions,” Smith said. “Our state government must take action now so we can ensure every student has access to high-quality education and a prepared, qualified teacher.”

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