Published: January 6, 2005
Standards and Accountability: Oklahoma has clear and specific standards in English, mathematics, and science at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Clear and specific standards in social studies/history exist solely at the high school level.
The state is one of 12 that give standards-based tests in every core subject in every grade span. But its grade drops somewhat because Oklahoma relies heavily on multiple-choice tests, with the exception of extended-response questions in English.
The state has adopted all the pieces of a comprehensive accountability system. It requires school report cards, and it rates schools based, in part, on test scores. The state uses those ratings to target help and impose sanctions on low-performing or failing schools, including closing down such schools or allowing their students to transfer to higher-performing ones. The state also provides cash rewards for high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Oklahoma is back to requiring and financing mentoring for all new teachers after a one-year hiatus because of budget cuts. New teachers in Oklahoma must participate in the state’s resident-teacher program during their first year in the classroom. A committee, which includes a mentor teacher, school administrator, and higher-education-faculty member, evaluates and supports the new teacher and determines whether to award a teaching certificate at the end of the year.
Prospective high school teachers must complete subject majors. Less coursework is required for middle school teachers with licenses for 1st through 8th grades. While the state requires future high school teachers to pass subject-matter tests, some of Oklahoma’s middle school teachers seeking the grades 1-8 certificate must pass an elementary education exam only.
The state identifies its low-performing teacher education institutions and has established a warranty for graduates of teacher education programs. The warranty guarantees that any teacher who graduated from a state institution and does not meet Oklahoma’s 15 standards and expectations for teachers within the first year of teaching will receive additional training at no expense to the student, or to the employing district.
In addition, Oklahoma has professional-development standards and allocates money to all districts for professional development. But the state does not currently provide any of the teacher-qualification information tracked by Education Week on its school report cards.
School Climate: A provision of the Oklahoma Constitution creates the State Public Common School Building Equalization Fund, though the legislature has never financed the program. As a result, the state does not provide money for school construction and renovation; its failure to do so lowers its grade for school climate.
On the positive side, the state has smaller schools and class sizes than in most states. Data from the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey put the average elementary-class size at 18.6 pupils, compared with 21.2 nationally. The state has a higher percentage of its students attending small elementary, middle, and high schools than do most other states.
Under a statewide open-enrollment policy, students can choose which public schools they attend. But the state’s charter school law was rated weak by the Center for Education Reform.
Equity: Oklahoma’s coefficient of variation of 14.3 percent indicates that the state has moderate disparities in its distribution of education resources. But Oklahoma is one of only 10 states with negative wealth-neutrality scores, meaning that, on average, property-poor districts actually have more state and local revenue for education than wealthy districts do. The state ranks eighth among the 50 states on wealth neutrality. The state falls at about the average on the McLoone Index, ranking 24th out of 50 states. The index compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least at the median.
Spending: Oklahoma boosted education funding by 3.5 percent from 2000-01 to 2001-02, but still remains well below the national average, spending $6,908 per pupil. The state ranked 41st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending in 2001-02. Only 1 percent of students attend school in districts where spending equals or eclipses the national average. The state ranks 43rd on the spending index, which measures the percentage of students who attend schools in districts spending at or above the national average and how far others are from that point. Although it has low per-pupil spending, Oklahoma devotes 3.9 percent of it total taxable resources to education.
Vol. 24, Issue 17, Page 129