Supporting innovation in Oklahoma’s rural schools (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

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

rural schoolSarah Julian is the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, a non-profit that provides support and resources to the state’s public schools.

Oklahoma’s public schools continue to face difficult financial challenges—this is neither new nor surprising. The state lags behind the nation in education funding, yet it currently allocates 50 percent of its budget to education. While efforts can and should be made to identify additional funding for Oklahoma’s public schools, it is incumbent on the state to also find ways to incentivize innovation in our public school system.

 In addition to the funding crisis, much attention has been given over the past few years to the difficulty American companies are experiencing in filling highly technical positions with qualified applicants. The numbers of graduates with knowledge in advanced levels of science, math and complex analysis just aren’t at the levels needed to support these companies’ requirements, and it puts them in the position of having to hire from an international pool.

continue reading Supporting innovation in Oklahoma’s rural schools (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

Should Oklahoma require a civics test to graduate high school?

by | December 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Elections | Comments (1)
Photo by the Town of Chapel Hill.

Photo by the Town of Chapel Hill.

This post is by OK Policy intern Dakota States. Dakota is a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University, where he studied political science, environmental sociology, and screen studies.

A common stereotype of high school civics is a teacher who’d rather be coaching reading directly off slides as he unenthusiastically tells students about the branches of government. Admittedly, that stereotype is unfair to many creative and talented social studies teachers in our state; however, it’s true that civics has not typically been given the same importance as other high school academic and social goals.

Students often leave high school with an incomplete understanding of how the social and political structures around them function. That may be why an Annenberg Public Policy Center survey found that 35 percent of Americans were not able to name a single branch of government and only 32 percent could correctly identify the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land.

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Education funding schemes no substitute for dealing with taxes

by | November 26th, 2014 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

Sen. Brian Crain said this week he will introduce two $2.5 billion bond issues to generate funds for common and higher education.  The proposals would have to pass the legislature and a vote of the people.  Apparently the idea is to invest the borrowed money to earn enough to pay the interest on the bonds.  If there’s more earned than owed the money would go to education, and when the bonds are paid off all the earnings would go to education.

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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 (9)

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.

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