Oklahoma continues to lead U.S. for deepest cuts to education

by | October 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

education-cutsLast year, Oklahoma had the dubious honor of having made the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession in 2008. Now an update from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that our lead has widened. Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma’s per student school formula funding has dropped 23.6 percent over the past six years, significantly more than in any other state.

Oklahoma is one of 20 states that continued to cut education funding this year, even as the economy recovers, leaving per student spending $857 below pre-recession levels after inflation. Although the Legislature and Governor Fallin provided a $41 million increase to the school funding formula in this year’s budget, it was not enough to keep up with inflation and rising enrollment. This year Oklahoma’s state aid funding per student dropped another $21 after inflation. Total state appropriations for the support of schools is $172 million below what it was in fiscal year 2008, even before accounting for inflation.

That may come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following what is happening in our schools. As Booker T. Washington High School teacher John Waldron wrote last week on our blog, schools have been left fighting with each other over too few resources, as class sizes increase and entire programs are eliminated. Oklahoma’s standards for class sizes and up-to-date textbooks were suspended when the recession hit. Since then lawmakers have repeatedly voted to suspend the standards because schools still can’t afford to meet them. Kids are using textbooks without covers or held together with duct tape. Schools began this academic year with more than 800 teacher vacancies statewide, and they’re still struggling to hire people because teachers can get much better pay in any of our neighboring states.

“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report released today.

The Center’s full report can be found here.

The public education crunch goes from bad to worse (Guest Post: John Waldron)

by | October 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (8)

john waldronJohn Waldron is a high school history teacher at Booker T. Washington High School

There is a crisis in Oklahoma education. Here’s the view from the ground.

I teach at one of the finest high schools in Oklahoma – Booker T. Washington in Tulsa – and I have long been concerned about the effects of budget cuts on our programs. Since 2008 we have cut our staff approximately 20 percent, while adding 6-7 percent to the student population.

For me, this has meant larger class sizes. Prior to 2008, class loads were capped at 140 students per teacher. Typically, I had about 110 in my classes, which are generally upper-level history courses. Today, after six years of cuts, I have 147 students. To give you a sense of what that means, consider this: if I give an essay question to each student (something I believe is a critical part of an upper-level course) and spend five minutes on each essay, it takes over 13 hours to grade them. That’s about how much planning time I have in three weeks of school. It has also meant eliminating my elective classes to teach more survey courses. And, of course, 147 students means 147 names to memorize, and 147 sets of individual circumstances to respond to. You see the dilemma. How can we deliver quality instruction to every student, under increasingly stressed conditions? How can we make bricks without straw?

continue reading The public education crunch goes from bad to worse (Guest Post: John Waldron)

Why didn’t the lottery solve Oklahoma’s education funding problems?

by | October 1st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (1)
Photo by Lisa Brewster used under Creative Commons License.

Photo by Lisa Brewster used under Creative Commons License.

Almost without fail, any news story related to money for Oklahoma schools will attract commenters bitterly pointing out they thought the lottery was supposed to solve our education funding problems. So why hasn’t the lottery gotten Oklahoma out of the bottom rungs for education funding? The short answer is that the lottery helps some, but the boost it provides is far less than what has been cut from other revenue sources in recent years. For the long answer, read on.

continue reading Why didn’t the lottery solve Oklahoma’s education funding problems?

Two Takes: The Smartest Kids in the World

by and | August 28th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

smartestkidsEarly next month, the education advocacy group Stand for Children Oklahoma is hosting a lunch with keynote speaker Amanda Ripley, a journalist and author of the recent non-fiction book, “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.” Ripley’s book looks at how the US education system compares to Finland, South Korea, and Poland — three countries where students excel on an international test of critical thinking skills. In this comparison, Oklahoma plays a prominent role.

Today on the blog, we present two takes on the book. The first essay, by Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Policy Director Gene Perry, discusses how Ripley’s findings show that Oklahoma may be getting the schools we really want. The second essay, by education writer and former teacher John Thompson, argues that Ripley’s book leaves out a deeper understanding of school reform in Oklahoma.

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As the political dust settles on 3rd grade reading, what’s happening in schools?

by | August 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)
Rebecca Hollis

Rebecca Hollis

This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who worked with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program.

In 2011, Oklahoma amended the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), requiring schools to retain third grade students who score “unsatisfactory” on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), unless the student meets certain exceptions. The upcoming school year is the first year that third graders will be retained under the law.

School districts and individual schools have implemented new strategies to comply with the law, including both preventative measures to increase OCCT scores and also remedial actions after the release of scores. While a focus on increased reading ability is important, some districts have experienced strain because of their increased efforts without sufficient funding. This post examines what is being done before and after retention to improve students’ reading scores.

continue reading As the political dust settles on 3rd grade reading, what’s happening in schools?

The ABCs of Oklahoma’s Promise

by | July 28th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

1904095_10103154809782713_4859493851675163805_nThis post was written by OK Policy summer intern Rosie Nelson.  Rosie has an MA in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi and will begin a PhD program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education starting this fall.

Recently, the Oklahoma legislature attempted to divert funds from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Plan to fill a budget hole. After a public outcry and Attorney General opinion that the transfer was unconstitutional, state leaders backed off the plan. The scholarship program that was threatened is more than just money for college—it’s a commitment to Oklahoma’s future. Through the program, Oklahoma promises tuition funds will be available for hard-working, committed students that want to continue their education after high school.

OkP-logoBut how does it work—and why is it so important for low- and middle-income Oklahomans?  The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Plan, better known as OHLAP or Oklahoma’s Promise, is an early commitment financial aid program. Students interested in receiving the scholarship must apply in 8th, 9th, or 10th grade—years before starting college—and complete a series of requirements before graduating from high school.

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Initiative seeks to bring together the puzzle pieces for improving Tulsa schools

by | July 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)
Rebecca Hollis

Rebecca Hollis

This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who is working with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program. She previously contributed a post about community schools in Oklahoma

With over 300 early childhood education providers, fifteen independent school districts, ten four-year colleges, one community college, and more than one hundred education-related nonprofits in the greater Tulsa area, the task of educating students involves a huge number of individuals and institutions. Yet for all these efforts, we don’t have a good idea of who is doing what, or what programs are showing the best results. This disconnect is what Jeff Edmonson, Managing Director of the StriveTogether Network, has called “program rich but system poor.” To ensure students have access to quality education at all levels of their academic career, all of the pieces of this puzzle must come together.

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Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

by | July 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Sarah Julian is the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC). On July 16, the OPSRC is hosting an open house for anyone who is interested in learning more about the organization. You can register at http://nwea.us/OkieEdOPSRC.

opsrcIt’s news to no one that our public schools face enormous challenges in virtually every area of operations, including finances.  Oklahoma education funding is among the lowest in the nation and yet mandates remain, leaving schools without the proper resources to support them. 

Smaller schools and districts feel this more intensely, as they don’t often have the funding to support full-time staff in key areas of administration and support services for teachers and students. Because of this, we often see school staff juggling multiple roles to the point where it affects instruction, burnout becomes widespread, and ultimately, students suffer. 

 This is where the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) comes in.  OPSRC was created as a non-profit center with the goal of supporting small schools—both rural and public charters—across the state in several key areas: finance, legal, technology, communications, teaching & learning, and educational policy.

continue reading Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

Why tracking school readiness matters (Guest Post: Krista Schumacher & Naneida Lazarte Alcalá)

by | July 1st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty | Comments (1)

risk and reach report coverNaneida Lazarte Alcalá is a Research Manager with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Oklahoma State University. Krista Schumacher is a Senior Researcher with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. She is working on a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Evaluation from Oklahoma State University. Both are members of Scholars Strategy Network.

Considerable research points to the dire consequences of starting school unprepared to learn. A combination of experiences and environments from the moment of birth shape a child’s likelihood of entering school developmentally ready and succeeding in the long term. Circumstances such as poverty, low maternal education, single-parent families, limited English skills, and abuse and neglect place children at extreme risk of starting kindergarten without the appropriate cognitive, social-emotional and behavioral skills necessary for learning.

Too often the burden of bridging the developmental gap between where children should be and where they actually are is placed squarely on schools. However, studies using data from the Kids Integrated Data System, which matches data on individual children across the Philadelphia school district with the city’s human services, health, and housing agencies, found that differences in student performance between schools was attributable more to the concentration of adverse early experiences among children than to school resources. Although school quality matters in terms of student supports that can be provided, schools cannot be held accountable for the skills, or lack thereof, children possess when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. This is a problem that must be addressed at the societal level.

continue reading Why tracking school readiness matters (Guest Post: Krista Schumacher & Naneida Lazarte Alcalá)

Schools alone can’t overcome poverty. They need a community.

by | June 25th, 2014 | Posted in Education, Poverty | Comments (1)
Rebecca Hollis

Rebecca Hollis

This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who is working with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program.

Improving educational outcomes for children living in poverty is one of the most difficult and important tasks that Oklahoma faces. The future of these children is the future of our whole state. The poverty rate has grown to the point that today nearly 1 in 4 Oklahoma children are living in poverty, and a recent study by The Southern Education Foundation indicates that low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced lunches) are now the majority across the South. In 2011, 60.6 percent of Oklahoma’s students were considered low-income, and this number continues to grow.

The difficulty of educating children in poverty stems from the issues they face outside of the classroom. The poorest students may suffer from food insecurity.They may be exposed to air pollution and toxic levels of lead.They may experience violent crime or have a parent who is incarcerated. They may frequently change schools without a stable residence. The list goes on.

That’s why the typical school models are not enough. We need a whole community to meet the needs of the whole child.The community school model is a cost-effective, national reform strategy that seeks to do just that. In Oklahoma and other states, this model is producing impressive academic results such as increased enrollment, improved graduation rates, and higher test scores.

continue reading Schools alone can’t overcome poverty. They need a community.