Are Teachers Unhappier in Oklahoma?

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The narrative of teachers leaving Oklahoma for higher pay in surrounding states may not be the whole story.

According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute, Oklahoma teachers actually report higher than average levels of job satisfaction in the areas of classroom autonomy and administrative support despite their relatively low salaries.

The institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education think tank, compared elements of the teaching profession in all 50 states. Researchers found widespread teacher shortages across the U.S. and said the situation is likely to worsen by 2017-2018 if current trends continue.

While teacher pay in Oklahoma was among the lowest across the states, the researchers found that teachers here rate their job satisfaction higher than some surrounding states such as Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, as illustrated by the institute’s interactive map.

Oklahoma scored a 3.4 out of a possible 5 points for working conditions, which measured elements such as pupil-to-teacher ratio, classroom autonomy, staff cooperation within the school, testing-related job insecurity and administrative support.

Researchers also found Oklahoma’s percentage of uncertified teachers (1.55 percent) was slightly lower than the national average of 1.89 percent.

The data used for the study is from 2012 to 2014, and the statistics may be different if collected today. Oklahoma has issued 730 emergency teaching certificates this year, with an additional 196 to be considered Thursday at the next State Board of Education meeting.

The ratio of uncertified teachers teaching in high minority schools vs. low minority schools was much higher than average in Oklahoma: nearly 13 to 1, compared to a U.S. average of about 4 to 1. When there are not enough teachers, schools with the fewest resources and least desirable working conditions are the ones left with vacancies, the researchers explained.

Policy recommendations outlined in the report include creating competitive teacher compensation packages, enhancing the supply of qualified teachers and improving teacher retention.