Have the requirements to teach in Oklahoma changed recently? Have they been drastically lowered?
If you scanned Twitter or Facebook this past weekend, you probably received mixed answers to the above questions. The social media storm centering on the questions followed a Friday news article claiming that Oklahoma teachers no longer need a college degree to teach in public schools permanently. On social media, the story devolved into assertions that anyone with a high school diploma—including a new high school graduate—could teach in Oklahoma. As you might expect, many social media exchanges grew heated.
The problem is that many of the claims in both the news article and on social media lacked important context.
So, what changed? Have the requirements for teaching in Oklahoma been lowered? In short, the debate centers on SB 1119, enacted in July 2022 affecting adjunct teachers. It is easiest to understand the recent change by evaluating the adjunct teacher program in its entirety.
I. How Oklahoma Got Adjunct Teachers
In the early 1990s, Oklahoma lawmakers sought to allow experts or exceptionally qualified individuals to teach in public schools on an adjunct basis without obtaining a teaching certificate. For example, suppose a retired diplomat wanted to teach a course on foreign affairs in an Oklahoma public school. Before 1990, the diplomat would have to take the required courses and training to obtain an Oklahoma teaching certificate prior to teaching a single course. The legislature, however, changed the law in the early 1990s with HB 1017 to allow an expert, like the diplomat, to teach on an adjunct basis without undergoing additional training. The idea was to enable students to learn from experts who were not traditional teachers but adjunct teachers.
The law states, “The State Board of Education shall promulgate rules authorizing adjunct teachers who shall be persons with distinguished qualifications in their field. Adjunct teachers shall not be required to meet standard certification.”
The following sentence of the law addresses time restriction. It was first changed in 2017 and again in 2022. Initially, adjunct teachers were limited to 90 hours of classroom teaching per semester. In 2017 the time was increased to 270 hours of classroom teaching per semester, and in 2022 the time restriction was removed altogether.
II. Adjunct Teachers vs. Certified Teachers
Initially, adjunct teachers were demarcated from certified teachers by three statutory conditions:
- (1) The adjunct teacher must have distinguished qualifications in their field.
- (2) The adjunct teacher need not meet the standards required for obtaining an Oklahoma teaching certificate.
- (3) The adjunct teacher was limited to a specified number of teaching hours per semester.
Following the most recent amendment in 2022, the time restriction on adjunct teachers was removed. It is now legal for adjunct teachers to teach full-time, or as the news article last Friday put it, “permanently.” Thus, adjunct teachers are now demarcated from certified teachers by statutory conditions (1) and (2) only.
The state law, as cited above, obligates the Oklahoma State Board of Education (OSBE) to create precise rules regulating the authorization of adjunct teachers in Oklahoma. The rules created by OSBE, like statutory conditions (1) and (2), make no mention of a college degree. The OSBE rules place the burden of determining appropriate qualifications for adjunct teachers on local school boards. That is, local school boards must create their own policy for what constitutes “distinguished qualifications” for potential adjunct teachers.
III. Sorting Out the Confusion
The key confusion centers on the requirements of an individual to teach full-time in Oklahoma—specifically, adjunct teachers. On the one hand, the statutory language describing the qualifications for adjunct teachers—i.e., conditions (1) and (2)—have not changed since the early 1990s. On the other hand, adjunct teachers were never allowed to teach full-time until this year. So, did the requirements change? Were they lowered?
The questions themselves are misleading. The salient factor in the debate is time, either full-time or part-time. The qualifications for adjunct teachers have not changed, but now—for the first time—adjunct teachers are allowed to teach full-time instead of only part-time. Thus, the qualifications for teaching full-time in Oklahoma have de facto changed by virtue of the amount of time adjunct teachers are allowed to teach.
Under the new law enacted in July 2022, two pathways exist to teach full-time in Oklahoma. An individual can obtain a teaching certificate, or a local school district can hire an individual as an adjunct teacher. Although the law demarcates between certified and adjunct teachers, both are eligible to teach full-time.
IV. Does a Full-Time Teacher Need a College Degree?
It depends. A certified teacher (traditional, alternative, emergency) must have a four-year degree. An adjunct teacher is not explicitly required to have a four-year degree but is instead required to have distinguished qualifications in their field. What constitutes distinguished qualifications is determined by a local school board. A local school board may very well require a college degree as one of many distinguishing qualifications for an adjunct teacher; but potentially, a local school board could hire an adjunct teacher who lacks a college degree if the school board determined the adjunct had a sufficient number of distinguished qualifications in his or her field.
Currently, there are no reports of an adjunct teacher in Oklahoma who lacks a four-year degree teaching full-time.
Additionally, given the recent passage of SB 1119, the OSBE is required to promulgate new administrative rules regarding adjunct teachers that will be open to public comment. A college degree could be included as a requirement for any adjunct teacher in the new administrative rules.
V. The Teacher Pipeline in Oklahoma
Removing the time limitation for adjunct teachers in Oklahoma was intended to help relieve the teacher shortage and supplement the teacher pipeline. It was one of a handful of bills passed in 2022 aimed at improving the teacher pipeline and reducing the stress of overworked teachers.
For the POE Government Affairs Team, Oklahoma’s teacher pipeline and teacher shortage problems are paramount. We believe the best and most direct way to solve those issues in our state is a substantial pay raise for teachers and support employees. If Oklahoma is going to recruit and retain the best educators and school personnel, we must pay a competitive wage. If Oklahoma is going to shore up the pipeline and solve the teacher shortage problem, then a significant pay raise is imperative.