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Superintendent Hofmeister Talks Teacher Shortage and No Child Left Behind

Oklahoma State Department of Education

Education reporter Emily Wendler spoke with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, about some of the more pressing issues in Oklahoma education.

At the top of the list was the teacher shortage, the new academic standards, and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Washington. 

The ESEA was last reauthorized in 2002 by then President George W. Bush, who renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act. This law was meant to make sure low-income students got the same education as everyone else. It implemented mandatory testing and rated schools and teachers based on those testing results. This has been a contentious issue for many educators across the nation—including Superintendent Hofmeister.  

This is the full interview. It has been lightly edited for length.

WENDLER: So, both the House and the Senate have passed different versions of this. And there’s some pretty big changes in there. The testing is still in place but states would have a lot more say over what to do with the testing results, and states would just have a lot more autonomy in general.

So, I’m just going to ask you a big, open-ended question at first. What are your thoughts on some of the proposed changes so far? Which changes are you hoping really come through?

HOFMEISTER: This is something where, folks need to understand, anything in these bills, is better than what we are dealing with right now. There is such instability, with a need to, every year apply to Secretary Arnie Duncan for permission. We’re playing at the state level a Mother May I game… 

And it provides this, just a lack of confidence, that you know, districts will not invest in programs because they don’t know if it will be approved the following year. Everything is contingent upon being granted a waiver.

WENDLER: Hofmeister said she is in favor of both the Senate and House versions of the bill—and thinks they will allow school districts to be more innovative.

However, she emphasized that any attempts to improve education in Oklahoma will be especially difficult due to the teacher shortage.

Last year schools across Oklahoma were about 1000 teachers short—collectively. The state Department of Education issued 500 emergency teaching certifications—five times more than normal—to get people in the classrooms as quickly as possible to fill some of the gaps. Hofmeister said, so far, things aren’t looking any better this year. 

HOFMEISTER: Just this last, I guess last week, at the end of July we had 182 emergency certifications granted by the state Board of Education and that was far higher than this time last year where it was a number in the 60s.

WENDLER: Yeah, I think the O.S.S.B.A. (The Oklahoma State School Board Association) reported that you had only issued 71 at this time.

HOFMEISTER: Ok, 71, excuse me.

WENDLER: So what does that indicate?

HOFMEISTER: A little deeper dive in to those teachers and we look at what was the certification being sought. A lot of times we think oh it’s math or science, or maybe even special education. But this is really a different story, because almost half of those emergency certifications were issued for early childhood teachers and elementary certifications. That’s very unique. These typically were the easiest areas to fill. And that to me, is very troubling.

WENDLER: So does this indicate that things are going to be worse than last year?

HOFMEISTER: So, I think this is a definitely a sign that it is not getting better. That what we did have concerns about is actually playing out in front of us. Where we will have more and more substitutes in classrooms and there’s just simply going to be some closings of school classes that involved additional programs, whether that be some that we think of with extracurricular, like foreign languages.

WENDLER: Just because there’s no one to teach them?

HOFMEISTER: Mmhmm, that’s right. But we don’t know until we get those numbers back. We’re expecting information back toward August—the very last week of August. We will have a better picture.

WENDLER: Of how many open positions there are?


Emily Wendler was KOSU's education reporter from 2015 to 2019.
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