Oklahoma has yet again distinguished itself with a new statistical low. My, how proud our politicians must be. The “Quality Counts” report released Thursday by Education Week, a well-respected outlet for education news and information, places the Sooner state at 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to the quality of education offered to students.
Factors considered were academic achievement, school funding, and projections for success those students might have later in life.
Oklahoma was handed a shameful grade of D-plus. We’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who considers this ranking something to write home about. In fact, many of our children don’t seem to be able to “write” about much of anything.
According to Oklahoma Watch, an online hub for investigative and enterprise journalism, our state ranked 45th in per-pupil expenditures, with adjustments made for varying economies; 35th in percent of taxable resources funneled to education; 37th in the number of students earning at least a 3 on AP exams; and 42nd in the growth rate of students making a 3 or higher on those exams.
And we’ve fallen farther behind since the 2014 survey. Then, we had eight states lagging behind us: Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada and Mississippi. Now, only the latter three are riding drag. Worse yet, we had 20 states behind us in 2013, and 24 in 2012, so a pattern seems to be emerging.
The problem is not with the teachers; not only will that old dog not hunt anymore, it’s been moldering in the grave for years. With class sizes increasing exponentially and funding stagnant or dropping, students aren’t getting the personal attention they need. Even the best teacher in the world can only do so much with limited resources.
The blame rests with state government, as is nearly always the case. Many of our legislators have been wetting all over themselves in their haste to give tax breaks to corporations and wealthy Oklahomans who already pay a comparative pittance. No doubt these bozos will barge ahead and give the “automatic” tax cuts that will mean maybe a buck or two a week extra for most of us, even though it will almost certainly mean a gargantuan deficit in next year’s budget. When it comes to priorities, short-sighted politicians are generally more interested in greasing their own skids – and those of their cronies and donors – than anything else. School children, who mostly can’t vote, are way down the list.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s communications director acknowledges the problem, and he told Oklahoma Watch she’s committed to using “every tool available to raise the bar in the classroom.” We’re curious about what tools she means; have those not been available during her entire tenure? The stats could be interpreted to suggest Okie kids have grown dumber since she took office. But in reality, the blame lies with the Legislature, which funds hundreds of useless projects and programs while giving schools short shrift. There’s also the disastrous choice of Janet Barresi as state superintendent, but mercifully, voters were smart enough to cast her out last fall. We hope she knows more about filling teeth than she does about education.
To read the full report and analysis, go to http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2015/state-highlights/index.html. Then, make some calls. You won’t need to call our closest lawmakers – Rep. Mike Brown and Sen. Earl Garrison – because they are firmly on the side of education. What you must do is call your relatives in other areas of this heavily gerrymandered state, and tell them to push their worthless representatives to take immediate action.
Since no industry or business wants to relocate to a state with a poor record in education, our future quite literally depends on it.