Friday, September 15, 2023

Small: Literacy report not a shocker

Literacy report not a shocker
By Jonathan Small

According to data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, a national survey, around 500,000 Oklahoma adults could be either functionally illiterate or would struggle to understand written information.

That won’t shock many employers at companies that offer entry-level positions. Talk to an employer, and you will hear tales of applicants who cannot perform simple tasks because of poor literacy skills.

Similarly, those who have followed state testing results in Oklahoma schools will not be surprised by the high number of Oklahoma adults who are illiterate. A solid majority of students test below grade level in English language arts across the state. Those poor results pre-date COVID, by the way. The trend has been in place for years.

Children who are not taught to read become adults who cannot read.

Furthermore, poor outcomes are not limited to reading.

During a state Senate budget hearing last December, Allison D. Garrett, chancellor for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, noted that the results of ACT tests taken by May 2022 Oklahoma graduates showed only 6 percent of students were prepared to begin college courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Or, put another way, nearly 19 in 20 Oklahoma graduates were NOT prepared for STEM courses in college.

Status-quo defenders insist everything is fine in Oklahoma schools—other than spending. If only schools were “fully funded,” all would be well, they claim.

But state reports show that from 2012 to 2021, Oklahoma schools’ combined total funding for that decade was more than $70.68 billion. How is that not enough to teach children to read?

In 2022, just 24 percent of Oklahoma fourth graders tested proficient or better on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading tests, a lower share than all but two states. NAEP found 45 percent of fourth-grade students in Oklahoma tested “below basic,” meaning they are roughly one year below grade level, if not more.

Some politicians propose elimination of A-F report cards that grade schools’ performance, saying they are too simplistic. But that would prevent the public from knowing that 65 percent of schools in the Tulsa district received an F on state report cards. The State Department of Education recently noted that an astonishing 15 elementary schools in the Tulsa public school system have a student population where just 5 percent or less read at grade level.

The figures I cite above show the importance of imposing accountability on a public system—and what happens when accountability is absent. In the private sector, a company that fails to provide basic services while receiving $70 billion would quickly lose future contracts. That doesn’t happen in a government system.

And a system where no one gets fired for failure is a system where failure becomes the norm, not the exception.

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


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