Walkout Impacts Education Students

As teachers across Oklahoma continue their strike for increased education funding, the graduation of future educators could be impacted if school closures last long enough to prevent education students from completing the student teaching hours required for state accreditation.

Oklahoma teachers walked out of schools on Monday to advocate for pay raises for teachers and support staff, as well as an overall increase in the amount of state appropriations invested in public K-12 education. With classes canceled across the state until the strike ends, education majors who are currently completing student teaching in classrooms for their degree programs may not meet state requirements prior to the end of the semester.

Oklahoma’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability requires that education students complete at least 12 weeks of student teaching for students to be certified and university education programs to be accredited.

With the extenuating circumstances of the teacher walkout, the OEQA has told institutions it will work with universities to reduce the impact on education students as much as possible, according to OEQA Director Renee Launey-Rodolf.

“Several institutions have inquired about the teacher walkout and its effect on their candidates’ abilities to meet their student teaching obligations,” Launey-Rodolf said. “The 12 weeks or 360 hours of required student teaching is a state requirement for accreditation and, as such, OEQA will be able to make an exception to this requirement if the strike interferes with the student teaching experience.”

While universities such as the University of Oklahoma have expressed concerns that the walkout will interfere with their program’s required 16 weeks of in-class student teaching, students at the University of Central Oklahoma should not be affected due to the majority of student teaching taking place in the fall semester, according to Bryan Duke, UCO Director of Educator Preparation.

“UCO conducts student teaching mainly during the fall semester, so we only have a limited number of students who are currently completing that internship,” Duke said. “All who are doing so will be able to complete even if there is a teacher walkout.”

The College of Education and Professional Studies emailed students last month with recommendations on how to complete class and program requirements ahead of time or on schedule to prevent interference from the walkout. It also stated that students would not have to makeup teaching days unless the closures prevented completion of state law requirements.

The email also expressed support if students do decide to participate alongside teachers in the walkout, stating that CEPS believes it is important for its students to see how advocacy operates and that they are free to participate as much as they feel compelled to do so.

“We are very happy you are completing coursework and training to become a teacher, hopefully in Oklahoma. Please continue to maintain a positive attitude during this time, you have our support,” Duke said in the statement.

While Oklahoma lawmakers did pass legislation on March 26 that would provide for a $5,000 teacher pay raise for teachers beginning their career and a raise of almost $8,000 for teachers with 25 years of experience, the bill failed to meet the Oklahoma Education Association’s demands for a $10,000 salary increase for teachers and $5,000 for support personnel prior to their deadline of April 1.

Teachers have gone more than a decade without a pay raise, with October 2006 being the last time state employees received a pay raise. With an average salary of $42,460, Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation for teacher pay and 50th in the nation for education funding, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On a state level, the inflation-adjusted general funding per student in Oklahoma dropped by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest cut of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This lack of investment in education funding has seen a decrease in Oklahomans pursuing a degree in education across the state, with UCO’s own CEPS experiencing a 15-20 percent decline in enrollment, according to CEPS Dean James Machell.

“There is also an overall sense among teachers that they are not respected or valued by many in the general population including, in some cases, elected leaders at the state and national levels,” Machell said. “All of this has contributed to a decreased interest in pursuing teaching as a career.”

The OEA has said it will continue to strike until a funding resolution is passed that will do more to address the situation. However, state legislators adjourned early on Monday without managing to pass legislation addressing OEA’s demands.
More than 30 school districts have been confirmed closed for April 3 and beyond as a result of the walkout, including Edmond Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools.

While Machell said that the raise passed by lawmakers was a move forward, he said that with education funding at its current levels, more needs to be done to address the situation and that with increases in funding, the state will see renewed interest in teaching.

“There is a serious teacher shortage in our state, so it is in everyone’s best interest to be sure that these events do not delay or prevent our education students from completing their requirements, degrees and being ready to become certified and take teaching positions,” Machell said.

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