Tuesday, October 31, 2017

OCPA's Small: Just Let Them Learn

Just Let Them Learn
by OCPA President Jonathan Small

As the results of Oklahoma public school student performance on state assessment tests emerge, the news is sobering.

After decades of lying about student performance, administrators have finally adapted state tests to line up with national benchmarks.

The results expose a decades-old scam: Regardless of total funding levels for public education, most Oklahoma students are not proficient in subjects like mathematics and English language arts – subjects that are crucial to helping any person thrive.

Nowhere is the crisis more severe than in Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools, districts with some of the state’s highest per-pupil spending.

Shockingly, four out of five of the third- and fourth-graders in Oklahoma’s largest school districts are not proficient in English or math. In OKCPS, 90 percent of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math. In Tulsa, 89 percent of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math.

In OKCPS, astonishingly, in all of the tested grades (third through eighth grade and 10th grade), at least 75 percent of students are not proficient in English. Also in OKCPS, astonishingly, in all of the tested grades, at least 81 percent of students are not proficient in math.

In TPS, astonishingly, in all tested grades, at least 71 percent of students are not proficient in English. Again in TPS, astonishingly, in all tested grades, at least 77 percent of students are not proficient in math.

These are crisis numbers – most importantly, countless personal and family crises in these communities and across our state.

The response of Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools is telling: intervening in a lawsuit to prevent equitable funding for public charter schools. These two districts spend vast sums of money already – $10,925 per student per year in OKCPS and $12,180 per student per year in TPS, including all revenues. They should focus on teaching their own students and stop trying to block a settlement of the charter school equitable-funding lawsuit.

Tens of thousands of Oklahoma kids and families are in a crisis now. It is clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work. Parents need options because what works for one child may not work for another. That’s why school choice matters; it allows parents to find the best fit for their children.

If OKCPS and TPS are serious about education and serving the most vulnerable among us, they’ll stop their tax-funded legal intervention. Administrators in Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools should stop trying to restrict choices and support for some of their most vulnerable students and just let them learn.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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