Oklahoma's new school report cards are much in the news lately, and there's been no shortage of complaining about them from some of our friends in the education establishment.
In truth, the establishment should count its blessings. For as long as parents and taxpayers are talking about Oklahoma's A-F report cards — how does Oklahoma City compare to Edmond? How does Putnam City stack up against Piedmont? — they're not talking about how Oklahoma's school districts stack up against the rest of the world.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center recently released the newest version of its “Global Report Card,” a data tool that allows users to compare a local school district's math and reading achievement with the achievement in other developed countries. The Atlantic featured the data tool on its website with an accompanying article, “How Does Your Child's School Rank Against the Rest of the World?”
Go to GlobalReportCard.org. You'll see that some of Oklahoma's best school districts — districts with admittedly impressive artificial turf — are not keeping pace internationally.
For example, if you picked up the Jenks school district and plopped it down in Finland, the average Jenks student would be at the 30th percentile in math achievement. In Singapore, the average Jenks student would be at the 27th percentile. Some districts that got an “A” on the Oklahoma report card — even some that got a perfect 4.0 — are mediocre by international standards.
What's the solution? More government spending on Oklahoma's schools? In 2010, SoonerPoll asked Oklahoma voters if they agreed with this statement: “If more money is spent on public schools in my district, students will learn more.” Only 32 percent of respondents agreed with that statement, while 64 percent disagreed. Even Oklahoma Democrats (39 percent to 57 percent) don't think more money will improve student learning.
It won't, and economist Ben Scafidi points to one reason why. On Oct. 28 in The Oklahoman, he noted that over the past two decades “the number of public school students in Oklahoma increased 9.7 percent. Meanwhile, teachers' numbers grew by 23.7 percent while administrators and other nonteaching staff experienced a growth rate of 27.5 percent.”
Look at it this way. According to the Oklahoma Office of Accountability, there are 18 students in Johnny's classroom. Multiply that number by $8,301 (Oklahoma's per-student expenditure) and you end up with $149,418 for that classroom. Now subtract $44,094, which is the salary for Johnny's teacher. The difference is $105,324.
Where is that money going?
As I never tire of repeating, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending (both nationwide and in Oklahoma) marches inexorably upward, while student performance remains flat at unacceptably low levels. This is, in the words of the Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson, “a productivity collapse unparalleled in any other field of human enterprise.”
“If music players had suffered the same cost/performance trends,” he says, “we'd all still be lugging around cassette boom boxes, but they'd now cost almost $1,800.”
Dutcher is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank.