Friday, July 30, 2010

Oklahoma’s literacy levels ‘abysmal’

[This column appeared July 30 in The Oklahoman.]

The folks pushing State Question 744, a measure that would increase Oklahoma’s per-pupil spending to the regional average, like to argue that Oklahoma’s education system is “underfunded.”

I’m thinking to myself, “Are you so underfunded that you can’t even teach kids to read?”

Last year I had the opportunity to contribute an article to a publication, “Getting Ready for Work: Education Systems and Future Workforce,” produced by The Oklahoma Academy, a venerable think tank founded in 1967. Also included in the publication was an important article on literacy written by Martha Gregory, a researcher for the Tulsa City-County Library System.

Ms. Gregory, after reviewing the most recent literacy data produced by the federal government, concluded that “the record for the nation is abysmal and we [Oklahoma] are for the most part in step.”

Twelve percent of Oklahoma’s adult population is “below basic” in prose literacy. Ms. Gregory equates this to a reading level of third grade and below.

Another 31 percent of the population reads at the “basic” level. This is between the fourth grade and seventh grade reading levels.

In other words, she says, 43 percent of Oklahoma’s adult population reads at a seventh grade level or lower.

I urge you to take a look for yourself at the literacy report cited by Ms. Gregory. Entitled “Highlights from the 2003 Oklahoma State Assessment of Adult Literacy,” it was prepared with funding from Oklahoma taxpayers and is available on the website of the state Department of Education.

Among other things, the report looks at literacy in Oklahoma by levels of educational attainment. For example, more than half of Oklahoma’s high-school graduates read at the basic level or below, i.e., at a seventh grade level or lower.

Arguably even more appalling is the revelation that 13 percent of Oklahoma’s college graduates read at that seventh grade level or lower.

I’m reminded of Joseph Sobran’s devastating quip, “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college.”

Regrettably, things are not getting better in Oklahoma, according to a new study published by The Foundation for Educational Choice, OCPA, and the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition. 

The study, Reform with Results: What Oklahoma Can Learn from Florida’s K-12 Education Revolution, points out that “the reading scores of Oklahoma students over the past decade not only have failed to improve, they actually have declined. This drop came in spite of a 42.8 percent increase in the inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending in Oklahoma between 1998 and 2007.”

“Oklahomans have suffered from a malady all too common in the United Statespaying more for K-12 schools without receiving the benefit of improved student learning. The state desperately needs far-reaching changes to its education system.”

Yes it does. Preferably changes which will ensure that if we give the schools 13 years and a hundred grand, they will at least teach Johnny to read.

[Cross-posted at Dutch, Reformed]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Honey, let's buy a house in the Oklahoma City school district

When's the last time you heard someone say they're moving into the Oklahoma City school district so they can send their children to the Oklahoma City Public Schools?

Dumb question, I realize. "Most parents don't have a path through the [Oklahoma City Public Schools] system like they'd like to see for their children,” former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys said a couple of weeks ago in The Oklahoman. "Parents say they are happy with the elementary school experience for their children, but if they live in Oklahoma City after fifth grade ... they send their children to private school or homeschool." (Which is altogether terrific, I hasten to add.)

In any case, this came to mind today when I read a blog post by Gary Wolfram, an economist at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Dr. Wolfram, who has written for OCPA before, asks an even more outlandish question: "When was the last time you heard someone say that they wished they could move to Detroit in order to enroll their child in Detroit Public Schools?"

If we want to improve public education -- in Michigan, in Oklahoma, or anywhere else -- we're going to have to change the incentives.

Thousands of Oklahoma kids threatened with a weapon at school each year

"Oklahoma students who began an anti-bullying campaign, 'Stand for the Silent,' have organized a rally at the state Capitol next month," The Oklahoman reports today. "The students organized after hearing the story of 11-year-old Ty Field, who committed suicide after reportedly being bullied."

Bullying is a real problem in Oklahoma schools. According to a new report [PDF here] from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 17.5 percent of Oklahoma's high-school students were bullied on school property during the past year. That's more than 25,000 kids -- and that's just in high school.

In addition, 5.8 percent of Oklahoma's high-school students -- that's more than 8,500 kids -- were threatened or injured with a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club) on school property one or more times during the past year.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Collegians who were homeschooled doing well

I received an e-mail yesterday from Dr. Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute. "New research on college students who were home educated shows they are doing very well," he writes.
Dr. Michael Cogan, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, compared home-educated students to those from conventional-school backgrounds at one Midwestern university. Controlling for various background demographic, pre-college, and other factors, multiple regression analyses revealed that the home educated earned higher first year and fourth year GPAs.

Other multivariate analyses found that the homeschool variable did not significantly contribute to the fall-to-fall retention or four-year graduation models. That is, having been home educated had neither a positive nor a negative impact on these academic outcomes. In simple terms, however, students who were homeschooled did achieve a higher retention rate (88.6 percent) compared to the overall population (87.6 percent). And the home educated achieved a higher graduation rate (66.7 percent) when compared to the overall population (57.5 percent). ...

Bivariate analyses showed the homeschooled students (26.5) reported a significantly higher ACT-Composite score when compared to the overall cohort (25.0), and the home educated (14.7) earned more college credit prior to their freshman year when compared to the overall population (6.0).

Home-educated students (3.37) earned a significantly higher fall semester GPA when compared to the overall cohort (3.08). Further, homeschooled students (3.41) earned a higher first-year GPA compared to the overall group (3.12). Finally, the home educated (3.46) earned a significantly higher fourth-year GPA when compared to the freshman cohort (3.16).

How school choice came to Oklahoma

Pat McGuigan has the story here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

There's no putting the genie back in the bottle

The educational landscape is changing, and not only in places like Milwaukee (where an astonishing three out of four students are educated someplace other than their traditional, geographically assigned public school). Right here in Oklahoma, as blogger Wesley Fryer points out, online learning is starting to take off. I wonder what the OEA thinks about all this.

Johnny's armed

The 2009 Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which "provides data representative of students in grades 9-12 in Oklahoma public schools," informs us that "5.6 percent of students had carried a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) on school property on one or more days during the 30 days before the survey."

New study compares Florida's academic boom with Oklahoma's drop

Oklahoma not only is trailing most states in fourth-grade reading scores, but when compared with one state’s students its results look even worse, according to a new study released yesterday by the Foundation for Educational Choice, the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition, and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The study, Reforms With Results: What Oklahoma Can Learn from Florida’s K-12 Education Revolution, compares the educational gains made by Florida students over the past 10 years with the progress of Oklahoma students. Examining data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) fourth-grade reading test, the study finds that Florida, and 35 other states, are outperforming Oklahoma. In addition, Florida’s Hispanic students, who for years were lagging in academic performance, are now scoring higher than the average of all Oklahoma students on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam.

“Fourth-grade reading is a critical measurement of student performance and a great predictor of students’ futures,” said Dr. Matthew Ladner, the study’s author. “If students can’t learn to read how then can we expect them to read to learn in their later years? Florida understands this, and so should other states.”

In 1998, Oklahoma students outscored Florida students, on average, by 13 points on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam. In 2009, however, on the same test, Florida students scored 9 points higher than Oklahoma students, almost a grade level ahead according to NAEP. In addition, between 1998 and 2009, Oklahoma’s Hispanic students improved their average score by 3 points on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading test. Florida’s Hispanic students, meanwhile, increased their average score by 25 points.

“Contrary to what some might think, Florida’s progress is not a product of more money but rather the result of an aggressive series of educational reforms,” said Bill Price, chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. “Recently, Oklahoma has adopted some of these reforms, and if Florida is any indication it would be wise to expand them.”

Price is referring to several recent reforms including an alternative teacher certification path that will enlarge the potential pool of quality teachers in Oklahoma, which the legislature enacted in 2009. In addition, the state improved its charter school law and created a private school choice program in 2010—the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program—for students with special needs. However, according to the study, Oklahoma’s state testing, school choice opportunities, and accountability measures still need to be strengthened.

“Florida’s experience shows that a number of strategies must be employed to raise student achievement levels, especially among disadvantaged youth,” said Phyllis Hudecki, executive director of the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition. “Just as Florida did, we must look at our own areas in need of improvement and make necessary changes to ensure our students are receiving educations that prepare them for life.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pastor explains why poor families need school choice

HT: RiShawn Biddle

SQ 744: All pain, no gain

SQ 744 would cause serious harm to the state of Oklahoma, says a new analysis by a liberal policy analyst.

What's really interesting to me in this whole debate is the fact that Oklahoma voters, by a 2 to 1 margin, acknowledge that more school spending won't improve student learning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NEA agenda 'far out of the mainstream'

Ben Boychuk has an excellent article here (followed by a profound comment I left at the bottom of the page).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The district of ... of ... excellence

"The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education has approved a new vision statement for the district," KTUL reports. "The new slogan is 'Excellence and high expectations with a commitment to all.' It replaces 'The District of Choice.'

Now I can understand why the old slogan might make some public-school folks uncomfortable, what with it containing the c-word and all. But sorry, you're just gonna have to cope. As none other than Sandy Garrett has said, "School choice is a reality, and we should just get used to it." Because it's only going to spread.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The hard truth

"Most parents don't have a path through the [Oklahoma City Public Schools] system like they'd like to see for their children,” urban developer Kirk Humphreys said yesterday in The Oklahoman. "Parents say they are happy with the elementary school experience for their children, but if they live in Oklahoma City after fifth grade ... they send their children to private school or homeschool."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Common Core State Standards a bad idea

Oklahoma's state Board of Education recently adopted the "voluntary" Common Core State Standards. In a new podcast, Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice explains how The Blob ultimately will consume these Common Core State Standards.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Special possibilities

[This Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the July 7 edition of The City Sentinel.]

Tax-financed scholarships for students with disabilities gained legislative approval this year. Scholarships for “special needs” children passed after fierce debate in the Legislature.

In a long news report this week on the CapitolBeatOK website, Patrick B. McGuigan (also senior editor for The City Sentinel) reported on this summer’s Youth Leadership Forum, hosted by the state Developmental Disabilities Council.

Based in Chickasha on the campus of USAO, the forum gave an opportunity for teenagers facing disabilities to discern, as a forum brochure put it, how to “work, play, learn, and worship in their own homes and in their own neighborhoods.”

The young people heard from bipartisan leaders at a “Capitol Day” in Oklahoma City. Then, they had their own debate. McGuigan reported: “Sitting in the seats of elected officials, requesting recognition from a presiding officer before speaking, and addressing one another with respect, the students challenged premises and frequently sparred over provisions allowing tax-financed scholarships to special needs children.”

The young “legislators” passed the bill, 14-10. In the Legislature itself, the measure cleared the House 54-46, and 25-22 in the Senate. Not so different.

The best part of this story was about the teenage boy who acted as youth sponsor for the bill. Before debate, he was afraid he would make a mistake, and people would “make fun of me.”

Ann Trudgeon, who runs the Council, assured the worried boy we all make mistakes, try to learn from them and move on. Soon after, he heard the same thing from Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, and then from state Rep. Jason Nelson, sponsor of the “real” bill. The boy did fine, and the bill passed.

Despite the name of the program she runs, Trudgeon told CapitolBeatOK, “It’s not about disability – it’s about being who you are and making yourself and your life the best you can.” Amen to that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Public education dollars go to private entity. Again

An Oklahoma public school district paid $150,000 to a private company to educate some students, and guess what happened? The earth continued to rotate around its axis.

Ho hum. Public dollars flow to private educational institutions all the time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's good to have options

Some Edmond parents are claiming their special-needs student was mistreated in two Edmond public schools.

If only the parents had some other options, like choosing a private school, for example.

Oh, wait a minute, they do.

The downside of charter schools

When it comes to the various forms of school choice, this blog has generally been a big tent (note, for example, the many posts under the labels "Charter Schools" and "Virtual Schools"). But Cato Institute scholar Adam Schaeffer pointed out something yesterday that I think needs to be highlighted:
Charter schools often provide a safer, better alternative to traditional public schools. That’s good. Charter schools also destroy private schools, decrease educational options, pull private-school students into the government education system and thereby add significant new costs to taxpayers.