Assessing Our Educational Accomplishments
Education is the most American of all public investments. Early in our nation’s history we recognized that education was the key to our social and economic future. Publicly-funded colleges were created before the American Revolution and were expanded with federal assistance in the 19th century. Public schools were invented in the United States; a wave of immigration and the desire for all people to have greater economic opportunities demanded that children of every background and social status have access to a free, public education. In Oklahoma and most other states, public education became a matter of constitutional right. Article 13 of Oklahoma’s Constitution declares: “The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.”
Over time our conception of public education has expanded. We have created libraries, museums, technical schools, pre-primary education, and other institutions to improve the educational attainment of all Americans and all Oklahomans. Education has increasingly been understood as an investment in economic development. America’s economy has grown fastest when education attainment has grown quickly. States with more educated citizens have higher income levels and more diverse economies. Even at the individual level, there is a increasingly close relationship between educational attainment and income. If Oklahoma wants to increase incomes and expand its economy, education is a large part of the way to do it.
Oklahomans expect a lot from our investment in education. Higher education should be affordable but plentiful; we want many campuses offering a broad range of majors and professional degrees. We also want options like community colleges for those who are not ready for or do not choose university-level work and vocational schools to train people for more technical jobs. We expect these to be even more broadly spread across the state. Our greatest demands, though, are placed upon the school districts that now offer preschool through twelfth grade education. While they maintain their responsibility to provide basic education and socialize diverse elements to the American and Oklahoma ways of life, now we expect much more. Schools are expected to prepare students for higher level education and for the working world. They must meet community and cultural needs by providing athletics and performing arts as well as offering a meeting place for the community. They must help instill civic values and foster a respect for the key institutions of a liberal democracy. Recently we have viewed schools as providers of health and social services as well. Schools provide basic nutrition for many students, psychological counseling for those in need, and some health care for all.
Considering how closely public education is intertwined with the American dream and how much we demand from our educational services, it is not surprising that we spend a great deal of money to support education. We also are more interested each year in how our investment is paying off.
Oklahoma has accomplished a lot through its educational efforts. Our schools serve all children regardless of background and are more equally funded than in many states. Our public school systems are controlled locally through their communities. We work harder than most states to be sure our youngest children are prepared for school on the first day. We also have a higher education system that offers affordable and quality education in every corner of the state and a career vocational system that is among the best in the country.
There are many areas where we have fallen short, though. We spend less on education and pay our teachers less than almost every state. In doing so we are reducing the chances we can increase student achievement and we are risking our ability to attract and retain the best possible teachers. Our students achieve less by many measures. We have problems in higher education as well. In spite of broad availability and relatively low costs, our rates of college attendance and graduation lag behind other states. Affordability is increasingly a problem since tuition and fees are rising faster than virtually any other cost faced by Oklahoma families.
Oklahomans also should be concerned about trends in education indicators. As compared to the prior edition of this Guide, Oklahoma’s ranks among the states fell from:
- 1st to 4th in access to preschool programs,
- 17th to 46th in overall education quality,
- 42nd to 48th in average teacher pay, and
- 46th to 49th in expenditures per student.
Investments in education pay off in the future. Oklahoma’s trend of investing less is producing unfavorable results and can be expected to continue to hold our state back in the future. The indicators below give a good picture of where Oklahoma education stands today.
4 — Oklahoma ranked fourth in access to preschool programs for 4-year-olds in 2015, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Oklahoma’s program met eight of the organization’s ten benchmark measures.
42.7% — In the eight years from 2008 to 2016, resident tuition and fees at Oklahoma’s research universities increased by 42.7 percent. This is more than double the rate of median income growth, which was just 21.5 percent. According to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Oklahoma’s 2015-16 tuition and fees average is 39th highest among states for public 4-year universities.
D+ — 68.2 out of 100. Oklahoma ranked 46th in Education Weekly’s Quality Counts 2016 and its score was well below the national average. Oklahoma’s performance has fallen dramatically since 2011, when the state ranked 17th with high marks for standard and accountability, fair funding, college readiness, and some teaching measures.
48th — Oklahoma’s average teacher pay in 2014 was 48th among the states and District of Columbia. The average teacher compensation of $44,549 (which includes both salary and benefits) was $12,061 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
29th — Oklahoma’s average score on the ACT was 20.4 in 2016, slightly below the national average of 20.8. Oklahoma ranks 29th overall in average composite scores nationally.
37th — According to the U.S. Department of Education, 28 percent of Oklahoma 8th graders read at or above the proficient level in 2015. This is slightly below the national average of 29 percent and is up from 26 percent in 2007.
49th — The National Education Association’s estimated 2014 Oklahoma school current expenditures of $7,925 per student were $3,430 less than the national average and above only two states.