My Open Letter to Speaker Hickman and the House Leadership

Speaker Hickman and House Leadership,

I recently read the Speaker’s OpEd in the Daily Oklahoman and I wanted to take a minute to personally respond.   I am a lifelong citizen of Oklahoma and I currently live in Owasso.  But as the Speaker and other leaders in the House, your decisions impact citizens in every district in OK.

I am a parent.  I am a teacher.  I am a professor that prepares future teachers.  And I was disappointed by the words, claims, and the implications of this OpEd.

Some things in the Speaker’s OpEd were a little confusing to me.  For example, the piece said “Between 1992 and 2013, enrollment in Oklahoma schools increased by 14 percent while the number of teachers increased by 11 percent. Administrative and nonteaching staff increased by more than 33 percent. If nonteaching staff had increased at only the same rate as enrollment, Oklahoma schools would have nearly $300 million more available annually to pay teachers higher salaries.”   I would love to know the source for this information.  I would also like to point out that these percentages and figures mean very little without context and knowing the raw data behind them.

As a math teacher, I am pretty familiar with percents and statistics as well as how easily they can be manipulated or presented in ways that can be deceiving.  As a researcher, I also understand that the numbers do not tell the whole story.  So much is hidden within these numbers that muddies the water.

What is “non-teaching staff” exactly?  I am sure you realize that it includes IT staff that is vital for schools as we support infrastructures that help them students be prepared for a technology rich society.  It also includes Teaching Assistants who are vital not only in early childhood and special education classroom, but are filling the gap and helping in rooms where the number of students make it difficult for one adult to manage. I am sure you also know that it includes many new non-teaching positions in schools that support the myriad of mandates dictated by the state legislature, including testing coordinators, TLE coordinators, and other positions that help schools to stay in compliance.

This OpEd actually makes a great teachable moment about being a mindful consumer of information.  Mathematically speaking, when you increase two different amounts, the percent of growth depends on the initial amount.  I would have loved to see the raw numbers of teachers and non-teacher.  I used to always tell my middle school math students that the first thing you do when you see a percent quoted in articles is find the source and understand how they got those percentages.

While I am sure you understand what non-teaching staff is, I am left to wonder why your OpEd leaves the impression that you feel that those non-teaching positions are one of the reason why schools cannot find and keep good teachers.  I wish all citizens understood what I tried so hard to instill in my students: to know where the facts and data comes from.

Superintendent Hofmeister pointed out another great statistic.  I won’t give you percentages, but they are not as impressive as the actual numbers.  She pointed out that when we are 1,000 teachers short in Oklahoma, 25,000-30,000 students are impacted.  Over 25,000 may be in a classroom without a certified, permanent teacher.  I am thankful that my daughter is not one of those 25,000 students.  But my heart breaks for those that are.

In the last year that I have been working with preparing future teachers, I have learned another heartbreaking statistic.  Over 50% the college students I have worked with have told me they plan to move out of state to teach.  That is at least 30 amazing, Oklahoma prepared new teachers who will most likely not be impacting any of those 25,000 kids.

Our future depends on how well we prepare our students. It is my sincere hope and request that your leadership team and the rest of the Oklahoma Legislature can come together this spring, leave the rhetoric and misleading statistics out of the conversation and have an honest dialogue with ALL stakeholders about what WE all can do for the students in Oklahoma. 

Thank you for your time and service to our State.

Nicole Shobert