BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Mark Twain often quipped that “if you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, and if you do you are misinformed.” Along these same lines, he remarked that, “All generalizations are false, including this one.”
Americans are a better people because of Mark Twain and the slightly cynical, but always spirited insight that he relayed to us. His observations make us engage in critical thinking and realize the danger of closing the book on any subject.
A favorite quote often attributed to Mark Twain is, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Well, Oklahoma is in trouble and Twain the philosopher hit the nail on the head.
This past week Gov. Mary Fallin perpetuated the false narrative that Oklahoma’s public schools are somehow to blame for the state’s budget crisis. Her executive order directing annexation or consolidation of public school districts and district administration is the classic example of repeating an untrue statement long enough that people start to believe it.
The constant battering of Oklahoma’s schools is a favorite pastime of those groups who have longed sought to undermine public education in favor of private schools, charter schools and voucher programs that direct public tax dollars to corporate interests.
Those anti-public education forces continue to allege that Oklahoma has too many school districts; or too much of Oklahoma’s education budget goes toward the costs of administration; or school administration consolidation and school district annexation is the solution to increasing teacher pay.
There is no factual basis for those statements. In fact, those statements are unequivocally false.
We need not go further than the Red River to discover the truth. Time and again, Texas is held up as an example of educational efficiency. While Texas does have 5.1 million students and only 1,233 school districts, that has little to do with efficiency. More than half [2.6 million] Texas students are in only 49 school districts while the other 2.5 million students are in 1,178 districts and 35% of all Texas school districts have an enrollment of less than 500 students.
A February 2006 post-consolidation study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation regarding the relationship between school district consolidation and public school efficiency was weak at best and antithetical at worst. Research furnished little evidence that consolidation controls costs or improves academic achievement.
The most enlightening part of the study concluded that small schools provide greater educational benefit than their large school counterparts and that researchers found large schools and districts have more bureaucratic and administrative costs while experiencing lower attendance, lower grade point averages, lower standardized test scores, higher dropout rates, and more problems with violence, security, and drug abuse.
The study cited a 2005 Deloitte Research and Reason Foundation paper that found that nationwide as the number of school districts declined more than 60% from 1960 to 1984, the need for school administration grew 500%. The need for additional principals grew 79% while the number of classroom teachers only grew 57%.
One can easily conclude that Oklahoma’s public school models and the costs of administration for our 681,848 students attending 517 schools tend to be much preferable to the Texas plan and we don’t even have to cross state lines to find our efficiencies.
Oklahoma’s rural schools [the ones targeted by the false narrative that our state has too many school districts] educate students much more economically, in some cases 35% to 40 % less in per pupil expenditures than metropolitan large school districts.
Finally, Oklahoma’s public schools graduate 85% of their students, nearly 5% greater than the national average, while education spending remains at 48th among all states and the District of Columbia.
Educating children is expensive. In fact, about the only thing more expensive than educating children is not educating them. This is not a new concept.
Mark Twain famously said, “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.”
If Oklahoma wants to improve the efficiencies and performance of its schools, then it needs to elect legislators who are willing to fund them at levels that will return qualified teachers to the classroom and provide textbooks that are not obsolete and ragged.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House