Now that Oklahoma has repealed the “Common Core” standards for K-12 education, the focus shifts to the creation of Oklahoma-based standards. This process is extremely important because the performance of many Oklahoma students reveals that often the status quo in K-12 education in Oklahoma has been a recipe for mediocrity and even failure.
In Oklahoma, according to the results of the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress, Oklahoma students struggle in reading, writing, math and science. NAEP results show that only 32 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders are proficient in math. Only 24 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders are proficient in reading. Just 21 percent of Oklahoma eighth graders are proficient in math and only 27 percent of Oklahoma eighth graders are proficient in reading. Of the Oklahoma students who go on to college, 40 percent of them must take remedial courses. Nearly 8,000 or 16 percent of Oklahoma third graders can’t read at grade level, failing a simple reading test.
Multiple efforts have been made since the 1990s in Oklahoma to increase funding for K-12 education, creation of dedicated revenue (1017 fund), the lottery, significant state appropriation increases and significant growth in local revenues have all served to increase annual available revenues by billions, even after adjusting for inflation. Yet Oklahoma students have made minimal academic progress during this same period.
The recipe for education success in Oklahoma K-12 education contains both a standards component and other reforms. Regardless of the assessment used, the poor results reveal Oklahoma K-12 education clearly doesn’t focus the vast majority of students’ time on the essentials of reading, writing, arithmetic and science. One needs only to tour K-12 campuses, review the various activity funds for K-12 schools, and observe the day-to-day operations of K-12 schools by volunteering in or working in public schools to see this is the case.
In Oklahoma, Greg Forster (Ph.D., Yale University) cites federal data revealing that only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers. Oklahoma must adopt standards that focus on and drive the vast majority of K-12 operations to the core areas, and it may even be necessary that the standards allocate a certain percentage of a student’s day to each of these core areas of learning.
Regarding teachers, it is high-time to pay teachers more who have earned it, and reduce pay for underperforming teachers. In order to improve the academic learning of students, skilled and hardworking teachers must be compensated accordingly. By restructuring Oklahoma’s current property tax system to allow more flexibility with existing property tax dollars and other available revenue, this can be accomplished without increasing any property taxes, without increasing state taxes of any type and even without increasing state revenue for K-12 schools.
But the key ingredient is reforming the state’s funding of K-12 public education. We must move our system of funding K-12 public education out of the dark ages. The Medicaid program, day care assistance through the Department of Human services, the state’s Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Scholarship Program for higher education, and many other programs all direct the assistance provided the recipient based on their choice of services. It is time for Oklahoma to allow parents and students to choose the K-12 education options they feel meets their needs. State-funded Education Savings Accounts are a necessary reform.
The recipe for success in K-12 education is dependent on ending the status quo. Hopefully all involved with the steps forward from repeal of Common Core standards focus on the needs of students and have the courage to do what is necessary to unleash their potential.
JONATHAN SMALL, a certified public accountant, is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org), a free-market think tank. Jonathan, his wife Kristina and their four daughters live in Edmond.