DUE to the recession, state education spending has taken a hit and there are legitimate arguments for increasing appropriations in the coming year. Unfortunately, many of those urging greater funding are the same people who oppose sensible reforms that benefit students, thus hurting their cause.
When it comes to education, some think that only money talks. We believe another metric is more appropriate. Oklahoma's education success should be based not just on the amount of money spent on public schools, but on improved student outcomes.
This is why we've supported significant education reforms in recent years, including graduation standards, a grading system for schools, third-grade reading standards and scholarships for students with special needs.
Funding isn't irrelevant, but money alone is not the answer. Cultural change, most importantly fostering an across-the-board atmosphere of high expectations, is crucial. Those who would increase state spending while gutting accountability measures would drag our state backward. We would spend more to do less. The children would suffer.
Consider the dramatic success of Oklahoma's Achieving Classroom Excellence law. First passed in 2005 and taking effect this year, it requires high school seniors to pass four of seven end-of-instruction tests to receive a diploma. Critics derided the law as “unfair” to students who pass classes but not state tests. In reality, the testing requirement ensured grade inflation didn't rob students of a true education. A diploma now reflects learning, not mere attendance.
In November, about 6,400 students were at risk of not graduating because of the standards. Today only 550 — less than 2 percent of seniors — are expected to fall short. And even those 550 still have alternative routes for a diploma.
So, nearly 5,000 students who previously would have been sent unprepared into the adult world were instead challenged to learn and achieve. They succeeded! Those students, and especially their teachers, proved that high expectations matter even in tough budget times. Those youth will reap the benefit of their education for the rest of their lives.
Typically, failure is an orphan and success has a thousand fathers, yet there are few school administrators touting the immense success of their teachers and students under the new graduation standards.
Instead, many administrators complain about having legitimate graduation standards at all. Many of those same administrators complain that the new A-F grading system for schools is “complicated” and unfair. Others have sued the parents of children with special needs for using state-funded scholarships.
If those critics succeed, at-risk students will lose educational opportunity, and there's no guarantee extra money will even go to the classroom. A recent report by The Friedman Foundation notes that non-teachers represented nearly 49 percent of national education jobs in 2007. Just because you're spending more money on schools doesn't mean you're spending more money on student learning.
The education debate must focus on funding and reform. The point of a public school system is to offer every child educational opportunity. Those who argue Oklahoma schools shouldn't be expected to produce educated graduates, as critics of graduation tests and other reforms suggest, effectively argue against having a public education system at all.
Those critics are pro-education funding but anti-education results. That's a recipe for expensive failure, one that Oklahoma policymakers must soundly reject.