The Future of Education

Last night, the Oklahoma City Board of Education laid off 380 certified teachers. (Actually, “laid off” is not the proper term. These teachers will not have their contracts renewed for next year.) Two suburban districts let go of 100-120 certified positions each. A nearby rural school district let go of 30 positions, or one-third of their staff. Other local districts plan to announce similar drastic cuts in staff. These teacher cuts are due to a massive shortfall of revenue at the state level.
What will happen next year in the classrooms of these school districts? At the elementary school level, the typical classroom of 15-25 students will bulge to 30-40 students. At the high school level, the norm of 25-30 students will inflate to 40-50 students. Can you imagine a first grade class of 35 students? How about an algebra class of 45 students? If people complain about the quality of education now, how do they expect schools to maintain what quality they currently have?
Times are tough in this era of hemorrhaging budget deficits, but the teachers these school districts are letting go are the new teachers (teachers with less than three years of experience). From an employers perspective, this makes perfect sense—keep your most experienced, and presumably, most valuable employees. BUT what will happen to the number of teachers available to teach in say five or tens years from now? The large number of new teachers not being employed as teachers now means they will find employment in other fields, thus creating a shortage of teachers for the future.
The problem gets worse. I remember reading a report several years ago about how the average age of a teacher in Oklahoma was about 40 years old. The state department of education was projecting over half of the current teachers to retire by the year 2010. That means half of the teachers the districts are keeping now will most likely retire within ten years. This will add to the future shortage of teachers.
The problem gets even worse. For many years, Texas has been siphoning off a large chunk of new teachers trained in Oklahoma with the promise of higher salaries because of their own teacher shortage. This will add even more to the future shortage of teachers in Oklahoma.
Faced with larger class sizes, I expect the attrition rate for teachers to increase because of the additional stress and teacher burnout, thus again compounding the future shortage of teachers.
Unfortunately I do not have a solution to the current state budget crisis. Maybe a tax increase of some kind is needed. I know, I don’t like the sound of that either. But I do know this, if something is not done, our children will be stuffed into classrooms with way too many students. The quality of education is bound to suffer. And these large class sizes will not only last for the next year or two during the budget crisis, but for years to come due to a shortage of teachers.
Any way we look at it, it is the children that suffer.
Update (9-Apr-2003): Another suburban high school will have to let go 12 teachers from a staff of 42. To help reduce class size, teachers will not be given a planning period next year. Teachers will have to plan and grade papers before or after school. When will coaches prepare for their classes? And still, class sizes will not be below 30. Talk about teacher burnout. Again, it will be the children that lose out. How can a country has affluent as us let this happen?

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