Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
Profiles 2006 an interesting read!
by Steve Fair

The Education Oversight Board- Office of Accountability- published a report on Oklahoma education that was released in July 2007. The report is entitled Profiles 2006. Profiles contain a detailed report on all 540 school districts in Oklahoma, comparing their demographics and performance against the state average. The report is available online at and is available in hard copy at your local library. Some of the more interesting statistics in the report reveal some disturbing trends in public education in Oklahoma. Here are some highlights of Profiles 2006:

(1) The educational attainment of the state's population over age 25 in the year 2000 was as follows: College degree- 26%, High School Diploma/Some College- 55%, Less than a High School Diploma- 19%. Oklahoma lags behind the rest of the country in educational attainment. While 84% of the total US population completes high school, only 81% get their high school diploma in Oklahoma. The drop out rate in Oklahoma is higher than the national average and the highest in our region.
(2)The Oklahoma college completion rate for college students who graduated from an Oklahoma public high school is 42.7%. The dilemma for Oklahoma graduates completing college is having a job in Oklahoma when they graduate. Employers are not flocking to Oklahoma to build plants and facilities. Oklahoma has unfair tort and workers comp systems. Businesses are looking to states with a business atmosphere friendlier than Oklahoma’s. College graduates follow companies to those states. When you consider that 50% of Oklahoma college graduates are not living in the state five years after they graduate, it means we are exporting our best and brightest.
(3) The average population of an Oklahoma school district is 6.390 people. 45% of all the school districts in Oklahoma have less than that number in their district. That means half the schools in Oklahoma are “small” schools. There is nothing wrong with small schools, but keep in mind it costs money to maintain and operate a school system- small or large. Buses must run and they run on gas or diesel, which are at all time high prices. Buildings must be heated and cooled, not to mention maintained. The price for the infrastructure itself is mind-boggling. Oklahoma has an average of seven school districts per county. We have more school districts than Texas and Florida- both states much larger geographically and have more population than we do.
No legislator or elected official wants to talk about school consolidation, but it must be an option if we are to progress as a state. We cannot expect to compete in a global market operating 540 school districts for 625,000 students. Some states have blue ribbon commissions that evaluate their school districts and recommend consolidation periodically. Oklahoma has been unwilling to do that because most people don’t want their small school to close, but as Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a changing.”
(4) In 2005-06, there were 3,418 administrators in the 540 districts statewide. That is an average of 6.3 administrators per district. On average, each administrator supervised 12.2 teachers in the 2005-06 year. The average experience that each administrator possessed was 22 years. The average administrator earned $65,000- about 43% more than the average classroom teacher in Oklahoma who earned $37,103.

In the past, several forward thinking legislators- all Republicans- have proposed school districts “share” administration. This would allow smaller districts to “share a superintendent or principal instead of bearing the entire expense of a full time administrator. There was no mandating of “sharing.” It was totally voluntary and gave the option to the school districts. That seems like a reasonable solution to district funding shortfalls and to increase efficiency in education. Sharing administration would seem to be a viable alternative to the dreaded possibility of consolidation, but every time the bill came up, it’s was batted down by the education lobby.
Oklahoma has over 625,000 students being taught by 38,505 classroom teachers in 540 districts. These numbers look eerily similar to the way they did in 1960. Public education hasn’t changed much in the past half century in Oklahoma., but the world has. Oklahoma cannot continue to think, act and operate the public school systems like it did fifty years ago and expect to compete globally. Some hard decisions have to be made- at the least administrative sharing must be revisited and perhaps the “C” word will have to be spoken publicly before education can move forward in Oklahoma.

Profiles 2006 reveal some statistics that should be of great concern to all Oklahomans- particularly those with children in the public school system. I would urge you to read the entire report, particularly the report on your local district.

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