Education , Law & Principles

Ray Carter | February 8, 2022

Lawmakers seek answers for teacher exits

Ray Carter

Reports of a teacher shortage in Oklahoma have long been blamed on pay levels, yet the shortage has persisted even after massive salary increases in recent years.

That’s leading Oklahoma lawmakers to seek better data on why teachers are bailing out of state classrooms.

“I’ve always heard a lot of anecdotal information about why are teachers leaving, and we have some good ideas, but I would submit to this body that really good organizations do HR exit interviews when people leave, because that’s the only way you get better,” said state Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond.

Senate Bill 1630, by Pugh, would require every public school district to “conduct an exit interview with teachers who leave the district’s employment due to dismissal, non-reemployment, resignation, or retirement.”

The exit interview would cover the reason an individual is leaving the school, including whether the individual is retiring, pursuing employment at another school district, or leaving the teaching profession. The interview would also ask if the teacher felt supported by school district administrators, the school district board of education, and/or parents and legal guardians of students enrolled in the district, and ask for recommendations for improving the school climate.

Data collected from district exit interviews would then be collected and submitted in the aggregate to the State Department of Education and to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

The effort to obtain statewide data on why teachers choose to leave the profession comes as lawmakers are grappling with the failure of prior efforts to address the reported teacher shortage.

In 2018, Oklahoma lawmakers approved hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases and used part of that money to boost teacher pay. Teacher salaries in Oklahoma have since been bumped by nearly $10,000, according to the head of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

A recent report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) found that after adjusting for cost-of-living differences and tax burden, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary today ranks number one in the immediate region and 21st-highest nationally.

Yet the number of emergency-certified teachers now in Oklahoma schools is greater than the number hired prior to the passage of tax increases and teacher-pay raises, indicating a continuing shortage of traditionally trained teachers.

Pugh said the reasons teachers leave can include pay, but may also be related to the school environment, conflict with other employees or administrators, burn-out from having too many kids in a class or too many duties outside the classroom.

Pugh said he spoke to officials at 11 school districts. He said those districts did do exit interviews, but only with a share of departing teachers and that the process was not routine for all employees leaving those schools.

The Edmond lawmaker, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said state and local officials would be better served to collect data on all departing employees, as is common at private-sector businesses.

But state Sen. J.J. Dossett, an Owasso Democrat and former teacher, said some teachers may not be willing to be forthcoming in an exit interview.

“You could potentially have someone interviewing someone who they’re the reason they’re leaving,” Dossett said. “And so therefore that wouldn’t be good data.”

Pugh said the bill would allow the exit interview to be conducted by email to avoid uncomfortable face-to-face situations like those Dossett referenced. And, he noted, an exit interview in such situations could highlight problems that are not isolated to one employee.

“Maybe 10 other people felt the exact same way and they’re considering the exact same option of leaving,” Pugh said.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a Muskogee Republican and former school administrator, was among those who voiced support for the bill.

“Haven’t we all sat down, members of this committee, and spoken and questioned and talked many times about trying to draft legislation to help fill the pipeline at why teachers are leaving, but we don’t have the data?” Pemberton said. “We don’t have the data.”

SB 1630 passed out of the Senate Education Committee on a 9-2 vote.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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