Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Small: School issues extend beyond libraries, bathrooms

School issues extend beyond libraries, bathrooms
By Jonathan Small

Like other parents across Oklahoma, I am concerned by disturbing trends in many public schools, including pornography in school libraries, the fact that boys have been allowed into girl’s bathrooms and locker rooms, and the disturbing reality that Critical Race Theory concepts have been incorporated into many classroom settings.

But even if those practices are completely removed from all schools, that will not mean all is well.

An even bigger problem is often ignored—the fact that many Oklahoma schools fail to teach students core academic subjects such as reading, math and science.

Sadly, academic shortfalls are common across the state.

In Atoka, 76 percent of students failed to achieve proficiency on state tests in 2020-2021, the most recent results available. Clinton did no better as 76 percent of its students were not proficient. Grove outperformed those two districts, but there’s still little cause for celebrating because 71 percent of its students were not proficient.

Many families in Oklahoma send their children to suburban schools, which are perceived as some of the state’s best, but the results suggest otherwise. In Moore, 67 percent of students are not proficient. In Yukon, it’s 68 percent.

For years higher education officials have noted around 40 percent of Oklahoma high-school graduates cannot begin entry-level college courses until they take at least one remedial class to learn what they were supposed to have mastered in high school.

These substandard results are occurring amidst record funding. Currently more than $10 billion is spent annually on schools in state, local and federal taxpayer dollars.

When academic outcomes are brought up, status-quo defenders are quick to waive them off and blame those figures on everything from poverty to children’s families. But those excuses don’t hold water. Poverty doesn’t make you unintelligent. Single parents love and care for their children.

We must focus on library books, bathrooms, etc., and academics. Empowering parents to choose the school that best works for them and their student is critical to addressing both academic failure and the cultural onslaught.

Our current system financially rewards schools regardless of results, and parents have limited ability to find alternatives. We must change that by putting parents in the driver’s seat with robust school choice where tax funding follows the child.

When a school faces the loss of students and funding for poor performance—whether caused by embracing “woke” trends or failing to teach basic subjects—schools will become far more likely to change their ways and do so quickly.

Most of us would not voluntarily send our children to a school if told in advance that less than two out of three students—or even just one out of four—will succeed academically. To change those statistics and make Oklahoma schools the best in the nation requires putting the customers and taxpayers—parents—in charge.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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