You’re not doin’ fine, Oklahoma

January 30, 2012


Last year a state senator from Little Dixie made the astonishing claim that Oklahoma’s public schools “are doing a great job in educating our students.”

That remark came to mind this month when the latest edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts was released. Oklahoma received a “D” grade for student performance.

Also released this month was the latest edition of the ALEC Report Card on American Education. Oklahoma ranked 43rd among the 50 states in student performance.

And in a new report from the National Science Board, “Oklahoma regularly scored in the bottom half or quarter of all states in math and science proficiency for fourth and eighth graders,” Ricky O’Bannon reported last week in the Stillwater NewsPress.

Unfortunately, the news gets worse when we compare Oklahoma not to the rest of the country, but to the rest of the world. “Recent studies show Oklahoma’s students are ranked near the bottom when compared to other countries in math and literacy,” state Superintendent Janet Barresi said last week.

Even Oklahoma’s “best” school districts are mediocre by international standards. Here’s more from the Stillwater NewsPress story:

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs last November released data that compared how the average math student from Oklahoma school districts would do if they relocated to either Canada or Singapore. The average student from every school district except Deer Creek Public Schools would drop below the 50th percentile in Canada. No school district cracked the top half in Singapore.

According to the data, the average Stillwater math student would be in the 34th percentile in Canada and the 25th percentile in Singapore.

“The key thing, in my judgment, is to realize that we really can do better,” [state Sen. Jim] Halligan said. “Our children haven’t gotten smarter or less intelligent over a period of time.”

The academic scores he saw for Canada were remarkably similar to those in Oklahoma, he said, except in those STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] categories. It is important to keep track of data like this, Halligan said, because Oklahoma will have to compete with Canada and Singapore for those high-tech jobs.

President Ronald Reagan understood nearly 30 years ago that we were “a nation at risk.” Superintendent Janet Barresi understands today that “we face a crisis in education in our state.”

To help resolve the crisis, policymakers should take a close look at the most thoroughly researched approach to improving public schools—a reform that has been studied 19 times by researchers at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, the Federal Reserve, and more.

Effects of Vouchers on Public Schools