Do We Have the Will to Reform Education?

The primary reason Donald Trump is so popular among people is that they are fed up with the direction of the country and politics as usual.  Republicans and conservative Democrats gave control of the Congress to Republicans in 2014.  They gave – or the Tea Party did – control of the House in 2010.

What we got in return was weak leadership that seemed confused and outmatched by Democrats.  The inside-the-Beltway storyline is we don’t have the White House or 60 votes in the Senate, so we are powerless,  Harry Reid didn’t have the 60 votes either and did whatever he wanted.

In Oklahoma today, the picture is quite different.  Republicans have super majorities in the legislature and a governor of the same party. With the ability to pass reform legislation with practically no opposition, one would expect Oklahoma to be doing quite well especially in education.

Yet, if you look closely, education in Oklahoma is still run by Democrats.  Former U.S. Senator David Boren runs The University of Oklahoma, former governor George Nigh was a college president, former Speaker Glenn Johnson is the chancellor and former Democrat Senator Sean Burrage heads Southeastern Oklahoma State University.  Two of Tulsa’s former mayors – Roger Randle and Susan Savage – are involved in education. Who in the group actually has a PhD?  No one.  Most are lawyers.

Education in Oklahoma is about jobs and maintaining the status quo.

Each year the office of educational quality and accountability publishes its three volume Profiles 2014 giving statistics on public education across the state.

In their Executive Summary, the statement is made to remember that schools “begin their mission on an uneven playing field.”

The average population of a school district is 7,323 persons; household income, $61,481; population living below poverty level, 16.9 percent; single-parent families, 33.9 percent; and the percentage of kindergarten through 3rd grade students on the reading remediation program is 40.1 percent.

There are 517 individual school districts in the state.  This number has not changed, although there are incentives available to consolidate.  There are 6.9 administrators per school district being paid an average salary of $76,983. There are 37,258 regular classroom teachers an increase of 154 full-time equivalents.  The average teacher salary was $44,285. Total expenditure on Public Education was $5.8 billion, a $179 million increase over 2012-2013 school year.  Testing in Oklahoma cost $12.9 million in 2014.

The average ACT composite score for Oklahoma Public High Schools was 20.8, down 0.1 from 2013.

About 16.1 percent of Oklahomans have a bachelor degree and 86.7 percent graduated from high school.  A high school diploma earns you $26,728 a year and a college degree $41,397.  And 13.6 percent of Oklahomans have no high school diploma.

Profiles 2014 reports on 517 individual school districts and 1,767 conventional school sites made up of 1,005 elementary schools, 292 middle schools and 460 senior highs. About 62 percent of Oklahoma students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program.

The state provides 48 percent of school funding, the local and county add 40.3 percent and the federal government 11.7 percent.

Of the 424 Oklahoma high school sites upon which Profiles 2014 reported ACT scores, 216 had average scores below 20, which was the cut score for admission to Oklahoma’s regional four-year universities.

Oklahoma educators gave high school seniors an average GPA of 3.07 yet 39.2 percent required college freshman remediation.

Probably the more telling statistic in evaluating the 517 school districts is the fact that 25.3 percent have less than 250 students of those 131 districts, 27 in all or 5.2 percent, have less than 100 students.

White Oak has 58 students, Taloga 66, Terral 65, Byars 38, Billings 62, Nashoba 47 and Straight 51.

It is a clear waste of money and effort to maintain 517 school districts in the state.  The Legislature has the power to make reforms, but do they have the will?