Change in Education Must Come

Voters on Tuesday, November 8, made the correct choice when they defeated State Question 779.  It wasn’t even close.  Only eight counties approved the ballot initiative led by University of Oklahoma President David Boren.

As quoted in the Tulsa World, Claremore City Manager Jim Thomas said, “Putting another tax burden on, in this economy, is not the right answer.”  He also said he and other opponents also question why the ballot initiative would have directed funding to anything beyond teacher pay increases.

“There was a lot who suspected if you say we’ve got 40,000 teachers who need a $5,000 raise.  That’s only $200 million.  Where’s the other $415 million going?” Thomas asked.

That is a very good question when one considers that education today takes over half of the total Oklahoma budget each year and that’s not counting the ad valorem taxes we also pay into public education.  In FY 2013 education received $3.4 billion of a total budget of $6.8 billion.

State Question 779 also did not include any reforms to the existing system.  No attempt was made to consolidate the economically unsound 516 school districts or to improve individual schools.  In the latest A-F Report Card across the state, 196 school districts got A’s and 213 got F’s including 45 in Tulsa Public Schools.

The Tulsa World wrote about Lea Nance, a kindergarten teacher and single parent who is looking for a higher paying teaching in Kansas or Arkansas.  Ms. Nance says, “I sign up for every single extra duty with a stipend, and there’s no money for gas, there’s no money for food, there’s no money for fun.”

Every three years Oklahoma loses 50 percent of its teachers, who never return to the classroom.  This is a terrible statistic that education administrators should be working on, but are not.  Their answer is always to call for more money even when it is not there. On October 27, I wrote a column about a solution to this problem.  Dr. Matthew Hendricks of The University of Tulsa has been studying the problem.  He says the real problem with the way our teachers are paid contributes to their leaving.

He began to examine how restructuring salaries might affect teacher turnover and productivity.  What Dr. Hendricks found is that if the salary schedule were adjusted to give newer teachers a pay bump earlier in their careers, they would be more likely to stay in the public school system.  This configuration of when teachers receive raises wouldn’t cost the state any additional tax dollars.

It makes sense to me so I asked Dr. Hendricks if he might explain his findings to State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s District Superintendents Advisory Board.

Dr. Hendricks welcomed the opportunity, which went nowhere.  To a man all superintendents did not welcome his input.  No one wanted to change anything or try something new.  They simply blew him off.  This is a terrible reflection of the state on our public education in Oklahoma.  If educators and administrators cannot find new ideas and improve the system, perhaps technology will do it for them?

Martin Smith, professor of Robotics at Middlesex University, writes that robots are being applied in fields described as the three Ds.  Tasks that are dirty, dangerous or dull.  The jobs most at risk are low skill, routine, highly structured, simple and rule based, in environments that are static and with fixed known routes.

Professor Smith sees robots replacing teachers and lecturers.  The use of computers, television, and the Internet and computer graphics in education will increase. The Open University has used television and self-teaching texts very successfully.  Robots, which are partly programmed and partly human controlled, are very effective at teaching children.  Robots have performed in front of over two million children in the United Kingdom.

If Oklahoma cannot reform and improve itself in education, perhaps it’s time to look to technology to do what we cannot do for ourselves.  This might be just what the doctor ordered.