Sunday, December 18, 2022

Small: Teacher-law critics are wrong; the sky is not falling

Teacher-law critics are wrong; the sky is not falling
By Jonathan Small

The problem with having an “all or nothing” attitude in policy debates is you usually end up with nothing. Yet some critics appear ready to sacrifice educational opportunity for some children when it comes to a new law designed to mitigate, in admittedly limited fashion, the reported teacher shortage facing some schools.

Since 1991, Oklahoma law has allowed schools to hire adjunct teachers “who shall be persons with distinguished qualifications in their field” who “shall not be required to meet standard certification.” Among other things, that means adjunct teachers don’t have to have four-year college degrees, although they may certainly have non-education degrees.

This year, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1119, which tweaked that law by repealing a 270-hour cap on classroom teaching by adjunct teachers.

This minor change has generated “sky is falling” rhetoric from some critics, who suggest school classrooms will be overrun by adjunct teachers with little more than a high-school education.

That’s nonsense. Reportedly, about 370 adjunct teachers have been hired statewide. While that’s up from 266 adjunct teachers five years ago, it’s still just a rounding error in a school system that employs more than 42,000 teachers statewide.

Obviously, most people will be hesitant to enter the classroom without some level of education background. That said, where people are willing and deemed capable by local school employers, it makes sense to provide schools the flexibility to hire those individuals.

SB 1119, which was authored by Sen. Jessica Garvin and Rep. Kyle Hilbert, is intended to help at the margins, not to be a cure-all.

Clearly, policymakers understood that distinction. SB 1119 passed the Oklahoma Senate 35-9 and the Oklahoma House of Representatives 68-25.

Notably, critics offer no real alternatives other than to increase school spending and teacher pay—two strategies embraced in Oklahoma and nationwide with limited impact on teacher shortages. (In 2019 the real buying-power of the average teacher salary in Pennsylvania in 2019 was second highest in the nation, yet Pennsylvania still reports facing “an educator workforce crisis.”)

Hilbert recently wrote, “If you have substantial experience in a field outside of education, have the time, a passion for kids & the future of our great state, please consider reaching out to your local schools about serving as an adjunct teacher.” He noted individuals who’ve worked in banking, law or medicine might be a good fit for some courses in math, civics or science.

Teaching candidates with such backgrounds are likely retirees who would not return to college for several years to get another degree in education, but who are willing to work today as adjuncts. Why not make it easier for schools to hire them?

Garvin, Hilbert and the 101 other state legislators who supported this measure deserve credit for thinking outside the box, not to be lambasted for a decades-old policy decision that allowed adjunct teachers in schools.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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