Friday, May 1, 2015

A Teacher Shortage or Not a Teacher Shortage, That is the Question....Apparently

Glancing through Twitter this morning, I came across a lovely article in the Journal Record.  It was written by a former professor of mine at Oklahoma City University School of Law.  He's a wonderful law professor, but perhaps his analysis of other things could use some work.

You see, if you read through his article, he provides all kinds of "evidence" that the teacher shortage in Oklahoma is not real.  I guess the fact that 800 positions could not be filled this year is not evidence enough.  For purposes of this post, I am not going to address the issue of the "glut" of teachers coming from universities that causes teacher pay to be so low.  Maybe a blogger more knowlegeable about university programs than I can address this.  Although I have to wonder, if that is the case, why we can't fill those 800 positions.  Not all of them require specialized or advanced degrees.

At any rate, I'm only going to deal with his main argument.  He does not disagree that those 800 positions were not able to be filled.  No, instead, he decided that they are not important enough to count as a teacher shortage.

cc  Woodleywonderworks  Kindergarten Classroom
According to his logic, there are over 40,000 teachers in Oklahoma, and 800 of them is such a small percentage that it should be considered acceptable.  Afterall, it is only 2% of the teaching force, right?  In the business world, that is an acceptable percentage of vacancies to leave unfilled, he says.  I'll take his word for that.  Like I said, he was a good professor.  He has to have a brain in there. However, let's take a look at that acceptable number translated into its very real cost.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all of these 800 vacancies are for elementary school teachers and that all classes fall under the legal requirement for class sizes.  So, we'll say each class has 20 kids in it.  (Please - elementary teachers, stop laughing.  I needed numbers to use!).  Further assume that each class is a self-contained class, so they only have one class per day.  Eight hundred teachers times 20 students makes 16,000 of Oklahoma's children left without a teacher for the year.  Sixteen thousand students who lose a year of proper education.

cc Karen Apricot  Empty Classroom
Now, we all know that all of those vacancies are not all in the elementary schools.  In fact, the author himself says, "Teachers with particular skills, including training in special and bilingual education, as well as those with real math and science degrees, are in high demand."  He is absolutely correct.  Those are indeed the hardest to fill.  Those are also mostly at the high school level.  So, let's be generous and assume that only 25% of the vacancies are for high school classes.  Those classes are allowed to be 25 students per class, I believe.  So, we'll go with that number.  (High school teachers, stop laughing.  I still needed numbers!)  Two hundred teachers with 5 class periods (I know, I know) of 25 students each is 25,000 students, and we can't forget the other 600 elementary teachers with their 12,000 students.  So now we have 37,000 students without a teacher for the year.  Still seem acceptable?

All of that is ignoring the fact that research says smaller class sizes are better for kids.  We're just trying to put a qualified teacher in front of every overstuffed class we have.  What about if we made those class sizes realistic and had 25, 30 or 35 students per class, even in elementary?  What about if we moved that percentage of high school teachers up?  Those teachers normally have 5 to 7 class periods (150 to 175 students) per day.  How many tens of thousands of students is it acceptable to leave without a teacher in Oklahoma?