Oklahoma teachers are too good. They are so good, other states are willing to pay thousands of dollars to steal them away.
Educators say losing teachers has been a problem the last decade, but it became critical this summer. Oklahoma school districts bordering Kansas and Texas have lost several teachers to the two states. Ardmore has lost 17 teachers to Texas in the last two years.
"I'm really concerned. They're blowing us out of the water," said Steve Merlyn, superintendent of the Plainview School District in Carter County. "I had to go to Michigan to get a Latin teacher, and we're lucky he came down here."
Merlyn, whose district is 30 miles from the Texas border, said it is well-known among superintendents in bordering states and across the Midwest that Oklahoma trains its teachers well.
Oklahoma was one of the first three states to start a mentor program for new teachers that pairs veteran educators with newcomers. And it is soon to have one of the most stringent teacher certification processes in the country.
That is not bad news until you consider average teachers' salaries in Oklahoma are near the bottom of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Oklahoma's low salaries were too tempting for districts such as Houston where teachers are flocking to private industry for higher- paying jobs.
Despite a $3,000 raise for every Texas teacher this year, superintendents in that state are reporting a shortage. They turned to Oklahoma for help.
This summer, Fort Worth officials desperate for teachers set up a recruiting booth at the Ardmore Holiday Inn. They enticed veteran teachers to border hop by offering higher salaries -- sometimes $10,000 more a year -- and signing bonuses of up to $3,000.
State law does not permit Oklahoma superintendents to offer signing bonuses.
Fort Worth and Plano districts were among those that appeared this spring at Oklahoma college career days, setting up booths next to Oklahoma schools. While Oklahoma districts could offer staying close to home, Texas districts were offering $1,000 more a month to start and a bonus if new teachers signed a contract that day. Many of them did.
Merlyn said two students who took jobs in Texas are daughters of one of his teachers at Plainview's middle school. He said the daughters' salaries were both higher to start in Texas than their mother's salary after 25 years of teaching in Oklahoma.
"That's kind of frightening. ... I expect it to get worse," said Randall Raburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.
"We're producing teachers that are better prepared than ever before, but I think we're going to lose a lot of them."
Starting Sept. 1, new teachers will be required to take three tests to qualify for a teaching certificate instead of one. The tests will no longer be only multiple choice, and will include essays and speaking tests for foreign language teachers.
The general education test will be required for all teachers as will the professional teaching exam. The third test will be a newly revised and tougher version of the current subject test covering the area in which the teacher is seeking to be certified.
"We're raising the standards for teachers in Oklahoma pretty dramatically," said Julie Flegal, who is in charge of teacher testing for the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation.
The only downside to the new certification requirement is the cost. The new tests will cost each teacher $295 -- $220 more than the current test.
After teachers earn certificates, most start a first- year residency program. The program provides a veteran teacher from the same school as a mentor. The new teacher also is assigned a residency committee that includes the veteran teacher, a college professor and a school administrator.
The new teacher spends at least 70 hours with the veteran teacher and meets with the committee at least three times the first year. The committee suggests ideas on how to improve teaching skills and lists the teacher's strengths and weaknesses.
The committee's recommendation to the state Board of Education can determine whether the teacher is certified the next year.
As is the case with salaries, the mentor program, which started in 1982, has been underfunded. The program hasn't been fully funded for six years, said assistant state Superintendent Ramona Paul.
She said mentor teachers are to be paid up to $500 for each teacher they help, but because of the money shortage, teachers were only paid $360 last year. She said no extra money was approved this year.
Plainview Superintendent Merlyn said lack of money for salaries and teacher training programs has thinned the teacher pool.
"It used to be we'd go back and throw away applications after a year because we didn't have room. Now we don't throw any of them away. We're begging," he said. "We've never seen anything like this."
******************************************************** * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org