Education is in crisis. Outdated educational methods and systems are failing. We simply do not produce the quality students needed for America’s future success. We talk a good game but statistics show otherwise. We wrestle with dismal teacher pay and low per pupil expenditures. However, these are only symptoms of a bigger problem requiring deep reforms to overhaul an ailing system. We dare scratch the surface but shy away from difficult changes making Oklahoma a first-class education state.
Nationally we are behind other countries graduating technically skilled students for the global economy. Sadly, 40 percent of our college graduates do not use their degrees. There is a disconnect between education and business. Refocusing our priorities and risking re-investing in rebuilding a new infrastructure and model for public education is a must. We expect excellence across the board from sports to entertainment. We have to put the same expectations upon education.
It should be nothing short of our most significant investment for our children’s future. We have to face the stark reality that there is not enough right funding. Let’s find efficiencies but it may mean committing additional funds from other sources or an education tax. We cannot have something for nothing. When we spend billions in disposable earning and not blink at multi-million dollar athletic programs why do we balk at the importance of building a powerful education system? In Oklahoma, we can dedicate ourselves to building a premiere public educational system. It can be our first priority but it requires bold leadership.
Advancements in transportation, communication and technology have outstripped the viability of maintaining an expansive geographical-based system. Rural areas are affected by population migration. The cost and logistic burdens are too high for 537 districts across Oklahoma. Districts can be consolidated yet most local schools kept intact. Well thought out and implemented phased planning can result in a successful overhaul of an archaic system putting it on the road to becoming a model nationally. Dreaming big? Why not?
Public schools are central to community. Yet schools with few students cannot be maintained as independent districts. It just doesn’t make economic sense. Consolidating districts as feasible, over time, can keep individual schools functioning as part of technically interconnected districts. Schools can maintain a sports and community presence eliminating funding for isolated expenses, administration and transportation.
Government agencies, the Department of Defense, larger corporations and many universities are rapidly advancing into Internet-delivered classes and training via iPhone, iPod and iPad. Distance learning can network rural schools. It is the reality of the future world in which we live. Building technically supported social type networks for schools holds possibilities.
Many teachers can be located in central district hubs for rural areas with lessons and classroom participation broadcast through the web and by visual media. Teachers can interact with students answering questions and offering support just in time simultaneously through interrelated computer programs. It seems a lot to bite off but it can be done to improve and replace a geographically driven school system.
Premiere larger successfully supported districts like Edmond and Deer Creek, for example, can be expanded with resources and directed funds to reach other schools nearby. With proper management and consolidation of costs, elimination of duplications in classrooms, administrations, transportation, technology and efficiencies Oklahoma can move into a new era offering our students the best possible education for life and career while revitalizing comprehensive public education. Technology is the foundation of education in this millennium. We use it every day. Businesses communicate and offer services internationally just in time. Education also must be re-crafted utilizing theses rapidly increasing technical developments of our day. Children live by text messaging, Twitter and cell phone. The Internet is central to all business, social, government and community operations. It has to be the same for public education. Our children know these systems well. Let’s use them to teach.
We are the most powerful nation economically and militarily yet we accept mediocrity in education. This impacts our economy. According to the Wall Street Journal industry is worried about workforce development and is putting increased pressure on schools to produce needed skilled workers. The harsh facts are American students are falling behind other nations. Aging workforce transitions are a reality. The 2010 Programme for International Student Assessment for 34 countries ranked American students 14th in reading, 17th in math and 25th in science.
We can bring businesses together with educators for focused efforts for right curriculum and resources. Deep reforms, partnerships and help from business can move our students back to the first of the class. It is a tall order but essential to economic growth. Our future success requires radical change replacing old with new. Remaining stuck in older ways of status quo practices of educating is no longer acceptable.
PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies.