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Answer Sheet: A ’Staggering’ 30,000 Teachers in Oklahoma Have Left the Profession in the Past 6 Years. Here’s Why.

Oklahoma’s schools superintendent described it as “staggering,” and it is: A new report says that 30,000 teachers in the state have quit the profession over the past six years — and about half did it because of low pay, little respect and other reasons that made the job too hard or unattractive.

The state Department of Education’s 2018 report on educator supply and demand underscores the reasons that teachers throughout the state went on strike last year to protest inadequate school funding and pay so low that many had to take several jobs to pay their bills. That strike, which ended with a pay raise, was part of a wave of walkouts in Republican-led states dubbed the “Red For Ed” movement, which continued and spread to Democratic-led states this year.

The exodus of teachers, the Department of Education said in a release, “represents an average of 10 percent of Oklahoma’s teacher workforce, in comparison to a national attrition rate of 7.7 percent.” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was quoted as saying:

Steep budget cuts over the last decade have made the teaching profession in Oklahoma less attractive, resulting in a severe teacher shortage crisis and negative consequences for our schoolchildren. The loss of 30,000 educators over the past six years is staggering — and proof that our schools must have the resources to support a growing number of students with an increasing number of needs.

While the report focuses on Oklahoma, it highlights problems teachers face throughout the country. States have been reporting increasing teacher shortages (see the map below with state-by-state information), and surveys have found in recent years plummeting morale among public school teachers who feel they have been blamed by policymakers for low student achievement and who work in schools with a desperate need for more resources.

The report says:

Oklahoma’s public school system has suffered one of the largest national budget cuts over the past decade. As a result, steep reductions to school budgets have forced administrators to implement strategies to reduce expenses, many of which critically hinder instruction and unequivocally contribute to making the teaching profession less attractive.

One of the most pervasive outcomes of the public sector fiscal austerity has been a persistent educator shortage — more severe in certain geographies, grades or subject matters than others — that in turn prompted undesired measures such as relaxing qualification requirements during hiring and increasing the workload of educators who remain in the classroom. This approach has created a vicious cycle that has widened teacher shortages and had detrimental effects on student achievement.

The reasons they have left can be seen in this chart from the report, which was first reported on by the Tulsa World.

Reasons Oklahoma teachers gave for quitting, according to a state report. (Oklahoma Department of Education)

Retention rates of Oklahoma teachers from a state report. (Oklahoma State Department of Education) (Oklahoma Department of Education)/Oklahoma Department of Education))

The report makes clear: “The key takeaway from this data is about half of teacher attrition could be addressed through policy and practice changes.” 

According to the report, charter schools had the highest percentage of teacher attrition. This chart gives more details on attrition rates:

Teacher attrition in Oklahoma by primary school position as detailed in a state report published in February. (Oklahoma State Department of Education) (Oklahoma Department of Education/Oklahoma Department of Education)

The report makes six stark “action” recommendations for policymakers, all of which reveal significant inadequacies in the way these issues have been addressed:

  • Understand the career pathways of teacher preparation program graduates (suggesting they now don’t understand this).
  • Measure and monitor educator quality shortage (again, suggesting they don’t now).
  • Understand school districts’ shortage difficulties by using current analysis and indicators and adding new data from districts about “priorities, strategies, perceptions and concerns on how to better address the shortages.” 
  • Examine teacher working conditions because “learning about teachers’ working conditions will foster an understanding of the most pressing issues and promising strategies.” 
  • Expand recruitment of qualified educators.
  • Enhance the mentoring and induction program for new teachers.

Here, from the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in California, is state-by-state information about teachers that helps explain why states have increasingly had difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers:


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Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.