The Education Crisis in Oklahoma
I have one child in Oklahoma’s education system right now and another that will soon follow. I also work with youth and adolescents, spending a good portion of my week in public schools. I have come face-to-face with the worst, but I have also experienced the best. What does the education system look like in your community and how important is it to you? As a parent and/or teacher what do you do when your state is failing students and educators?
Back in January, I was able to attend an independently organized TED talk at the University of Oklahoma (BOOMER!). I am an avid podcast junkie, and I have listened to countless TED talks, so I was beyond thrilled to attend TEDxOU 2017. One of the presenters was Gregg A. Garn, Ph.D., the Dean of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at OU. Additionally, he is the executive director of the K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal and a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. As if that weren’t enough he also works with state-level policymakers and professional associations in an effort to improve the quality of education in Oklahoma. His full Resume can be viewed here.
His presentation at TEDxOU rattled me to the core. On my lunch break, I was texting co-workers and friends sharing the information I gained. I (slightly) harassed the folks on Twitter (@TEDxOU) for weeks about Dr. Garn’s presentation being published so I could share it with my readers.
Watch Dr. Garn’s full TED Talk here. I highly encourage you to do so – It’s eye-opening, informative, and he does a remarkable job explaining the seriousness of the state’s current situation. Here’s a synopsis if you can’t spare 17 minutes.
Solid Communities are connected to Solid School Systems, and solid school systems come from Distinguished Educators.
Here are the current issues Oklahoman’s are facing and the future, unfortunately, does not look promising.
• Emergency Certifications •
Oklahoma has a record high number of people that have obtained an emergency certification and are now “teaching” in this state. In 2016 there were 1,082, and as Dr. Garn stated, 1,000 have already been permitted for 2017. Approval for these certifications comes from the state Board of Education and requests have been made for every type of teaching position. The need though is particularly high for elementary, early childhood, science and math teachers. The leading area of emergency certification workers is in elementary education, where imperative fundamentals are taught.
The least prepared individuals are teaching foundational elements to an estimated 52,000 children in Oklahoma
I’m not insinuating that those with an alternative teaching certification placed in classrooms are incompetent and useless. But be honest with yourself, if the mental health field were experiencing this kind of downfall they aren’t going to give me an alternative counseling certification and allow me to diagnose patients and provide therapeutic treatments. Why is this an acceptable practice for our youth in Oklahoma?
Accreditation standards and higher education requirements are in place for a reason, and that reason is educators are building the future, and we want that future to be the best for our children. Yet, Oklahoma legislators have settled for a mediocre alternative. This is a problem!!
• Despicable Teaching Salaries •
In Oklahoma, if you have a Doctorate and 25+ years of teaching experience you’re looking at about $46,000 a year in 80% of districts. In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, just a short three-hour drive south, teaching salaries start at $50,000 to $52,000 annually.
Let that sink in for a second… If a teacher in Oklahoma is the sole provider of his/her family, they now qualify for the free lunch program in the school they teach.
Teachers do not go into the education field to get rich, but for Christ sakes shouldn’t they be able to pay their bills at the end of the month? Should educators have to work two jobs to save for their own children’s academic future? This is a problem!!
• State Question 779 •
The November 2016 ballot had State Question 779 – a proposal to increase state sales taxes by 1% to generate an estimated $615 million dollars per year for education funding. Oklahomans, by a landslide, voted no.
Before making judgments, you should know that Oklahoma established the Lottery Commission and wrote into law that the money raised through the lottery would be used to elevate educational funding. The law specifically states that education funds could not be spent elsewhere and replaced by lottery funds. How do you think that played out?
As of last month, lawmakers believe approximately $10 million dollars is owed back to the Lottery Trust Fund. In total, Oklahoma is looking at a $900 million dollar deficit for the 2017 fiscal year. Can you blame the hard working people of Oklahoma for voting against 779? I can’t say that I do. I do see both sides of this double-edged sword, however. Teachers need a pay raise, but citizens are tired of paying for government failures.
So what’s next? There’s talk about consolidating schools, more cuts in staffing, eliminating programs, and going down to a 4-day school week. There are negative consequences tied to all of these options, but no one seems to be asking the important question – What lies in the future for these children? What about the future of small communities and Oklahoma as a whole?
If we think the government will fix this problem and that we can wait around for that to happen without experiencing long-term, irreversible damage then we’re in serious trouble.
Find me a state representative that is as concerned about the standards of our public education system that a mother and father with multiple children in the system are. Find me a representative that is fighting for the rights of children and families that deserve a decent education and the same opportunities as surrounding states.
You won’t. This is a problem!!