If the Legislature Won’t, Business Must

The State Chamber just sent to its members two reports from the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative.

The two reports are entitled, “Oklahoma’s Business Case for Education Reform” and “Oklahoma Education at a Crossroads.”

To the casual observer, it would seem the State Chamber publishes its alarming statics each year without achieving any tangible results.  The problem in Oklahoma (as in most states) is that the stakeholders only want to maintain the status quo.

Parents want to believe (as their bumper stickers indicate) that “my child is an honor student” – when they are not.  Teachers protest lack of pay when they know the real money is wasted on administration.  The Legislature, which is the only true power to reform education, won’t.

Oklahoma can’t even consolidate its bloated school districts because rural legislators think it might kill their schools.  Business, too, just can’t admit that the lack of economic development comes about because Oklahoma has bad schools and an income tax.

Go to Texas young man!

Oklahoma, remember, was the only state west of the Mississippi River to lose a congressman.  That should say it all.  Something is not working at 23rd Street and Lincoln Boulevard.

After setting the stage, let’s consider the statistics that everyone will agree on.

Remember as we discuss the areas where “Oklahoma schools are not doing what is needed,” it is not the fault of teachers, administrators, parents and the 517 school superintendents.  In education it’s never those in charge.  You can take that to the bank.

According to the OEWI report for grade 4, Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10 states in math. In 2013, only 35 percent of 4th graders scored proficient in reading.  Eighth graders scored worse: only 31 percent were proficient in reading and 29 percent were proficient in math.

Of the college bound students 40 percent must take remedial coursework that adds another $2,500 to the cost of education.  Only 75 percent of students from the class of 2012 earned a high school diploma.  Without a high school diploma, students will earn an average of $10,000 less per year than their better–educated peers.

In another “only” category, only 22.8 percent of Oklahoma students at four-year public colleges graduate in four years.  This places Oklahoma 40th in the nation.

The State Chamber makes its case, “Our economy depends on a vibrant and dynamic educated system.”  The business case for education reform is clear: it is best for Oklahoma if we can find the employees we need currently and in the future right here at home.

That’s pretty straight forward to most of us, but not all.  On page 14 of the report was posted a blog from a former lawmaker and current school principal.  “We do not need businesses helping to write standards for education unless you think the primary purpose of a school is to create a workforce.” What a telling comment. Then what is education for if it’s not to make a living?

Educators for too long have thought that the system exists for them. They make the rules and others pay the bills.  As most people understand, if 70 percent of your product is defective, you are out of business unless it’s in education.

If business is expecting educators to make the first move, they won’t. Legislators can and should step in to make the necessary reforms to make Oklahoma a Top 20 state.