Study: Oklahoma education systems earns a D+

Nathan Thompsonnthompson@examiner-enterprise.com

OKLAHOMA CITY —Oklahoma’s education system continues to rank near the bottom nationally in academic performance and outcomes, a new study reveals.

Thursday, the state Department of Education reduced common education funding by $46.7 million because the oil slump has caused state revenues to fall short of initial estimates. The state declared a revenue failure in December.

Education Week Research Center released its annual Quality Counts grading summary Thursday, showing that Oklahoma education ranked 46th in the nation when compared to all states and the District of Columbia. The 20th annual report shows that Oklahoma gained two spots from the previous year, but is still well below the national average.

According to the rankings, Alabama, Idaho, New Mexico, Mississippi and Nevada all had lower performance, but Oklahoma only slightly outperformed those states with a grade of D+. Additionally, Oklahoma ranked 44th in student’s chance for success, 39th in kindergarten through 12th-grade achievement, and 44th in school finance.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said changes are greatly needed within Oklahoma to help students achieve and be more successful.

“This report is not a surprise. We will not see anything different until we do something different,” Hofmeister said. “The Quality Counts report is a stark reminder that we cannot progress in education without a full commitment to a better plan and the resources to execute it. We need to connect and empower the best parts of our education system to reach the full promise and potential of Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

With the limited financial resources in the state because of falling oil prices and other economic indicators, lawmakers and educators alike are having to be creative in planning to continue improvement. State Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, is the chair of the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee. He also said he was not surprised with the ranking.

“I’m disappointed that we were not higher in the rankings, but a lot of the reforms we have put in place have not been in existence long enough to reflect a positive difference,” Ford said. “We have recently made some changes to the provisions of the Reading Sufficiency Act, which will help third-grade students become more proficient in such a basic and important skill as reading at grade level. My hope is that the RSA and other programs we have put into place will help us move up in areas, but it takes a few years for some of those benefits to show up in rankings.”

Ford said he is also exploring other ideas to enhance academic achievement in smaller districts that do not have the ability to offer advanced opportunities in learning.

“I will be filing a bill within the next couple of weeks that will allow smaller school districts to merge with larger, neighboring districts,” Ford said. “From a financial standpoint, I don’t think it will cause any significant savings, but it would enhance the quality of education for our students who are currently in districts that don’t have the resources available for things like advanced placement courses. Under my plan, the smaller schools would not close, but would have the opportunity to merge with larger districts with these programs. The smaller school districts that are able to show they are providing exemplary educational opportunities would be exempt from this bill.”

According to Ford, the criteria for determining what would be considered as exemplary education is still under review, and may not be ready by the time he files the bill.

“It’s obvious we have to do something to continue improving Oklahoma education,” Ford said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I am committed to what I can to help Oklahoma schoolchildren and teachers to be successful.”