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It Takes Money

May 30, 2012

The Oklahoman’s editorial page writers this morning came dangerously close to admitting that quality public education takes an adequate level of funding. They soon came to their senses and remembered that they are supposed to blame teachers, unions, and whiny superintendents for all the bad policy decisions they have made.

Anybody who has ever taught students understands the difference that having more instructional materials could make in the quality of instruction. Anybody who has ever held a leadership position has had to make uncomfortable choices between wants and needs. With the decrease in funding to schools over the last few years, that has become a choice between competing sets of needs. The things we want don’t even make it off the tips of our tongues anymore.

Now the rules are changing. Within the last 16 months, Oklahoma has:

  • Adopted the Common Core State Standards for math and reading/language arts;
  • Written new C3 Standards for Social Studies;
  • Increased requirements for districts to offer virtual instruction;
  • Revamped the textbook adoption cycle, leaving books in the classroom long after their publishers have ended their support for them;
  • Developed new evaluation systems for teachers and principals;
  • Begun the phasing in of new testing requirements that will take more instructional time away from teachers and force districts to purchase additional technology;
  • Established a new accountability system that requires schools to spend even more time completing reports to the SDE;
  • Graduated the first class of seniors who are responsible for passing graduation tests; and
  • Matriculated the first group of students who will have high-stakes testing in third grade.

All the while, the state superintendent has maintained the posture that each of these reforms can be implemented with minimal additional cost. To make things worse, when the Legislature was about to short the SDE out of $11.5 million in funding, she decided she would just keep that same amount from school districts. When they restored the funding with much vitriol from her own party, she thanked them for their support of putting instructional materials in the classroom.

The point here is that public schools have never been tasked with more simultaneous reforms. And while teachers and leaders may not like all the changes, they are committed to making things work. That’s what educators do!

Realistically, the state never fully funded all of its expectations four years ago, when per pupil spending peaked in Oklahoma. Now – with more students, more mandates, fewer teachers, and less money – the challenge is even greater. This must be that rigor I keep hearing people talk about. Only it’s for the adults, not the kids.

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