Oklahoma's common education is not OK
According to a recent Sooner Poll, 51.1% of Oklahoma voters believe Oklahoma has too many school districts.� The number is slightly higher among Republican voters.� But that leaves almost half of Oklahomans who believe having over five hundred school districts in the state is O.K.� Why is that?� Why do almost half the voters in the state believe spending over half of the common education dollar on non-classroom related activity is O.K?
First, a large number of Oklahomans embrace the small school concept.� They may have attended a small school and remember with fondness their education experience.� Some believe a smaller system will protect their children from violence and evil influence.� They mistakenly believe that isolating their children will protect them from temptation.� Theologically, their thinking is flawed because men are born with a depraved nature so isolation will not solve the heart problem.� Realistically, smaller systems have the same issues with drugs, premarital sex, and other social problems that larger systems do.
Second, some believe their child gets a better education at a small school.� That is not necessarily the case.� The size of school doesn�t seem to determine how good the instructors are.� Many large schools do a better job of preparing their students for college and life than smaller ones.
Third, some Oklahomans believe that closing down the school in their small town will kill the town.� This is also flawed thinking.� The reason they have a small school is because they have a small town and are losing population.� Jobs are becoming as scarce as hens teeth in rural Oklahoma.� What they fail to see is they are clinging to a way of life that has passed us by.
Fourth, most Oklahomans are unaware of the inefficiency of the state�s common education system.� When schools spend a majority of their money on administration, buildings and transportation, they are not fulfilling their primary mission- educating children.
Texas began a school consolidation program in the late 1960s.� If you travel the rural areas of the Lone Star state, you will see large middle and high schools geographically situated in the middle of several small towns.� The small towns retain their elementary, but the kids are bussed to the larger school from the 5th grade up.� They have fewer districts, less buildings and spend less money on administration than Oklahoma.
School consolidation is an issue that most state legislators avoid like the plague� Sooner Poll�s results affirm that it is a polarizing issue and until Oklahoma is willing to take a long hard look at how we spend our education dollar, we are not going to provide the education our children need to compete in the 21st century.� I suggest a Blue Ribbon Commission similar to the BRAC commission be established and empowered with the authority to evaluate each district and recommend closures.� Take the politics out of the process.
In the interest of full disclosure, I graduated from Geronimo High School in 1970.� I was one of 12 graduating seniors.� When I enrolled at Cameron University in the fall of 1970, I was completely unprepared academically for the college experience, even though I had made straight As the last two years of high school.� I spent most of my junior and senior years hauling hay during school hours to raise money for a Jr./Sr. trip that most of the faculty and their spouses� chaperoned.�� The school sanctioned this.� We were never required to submit a term paper.� Academics played a backseat to sports.� All small schools are not alike, but my point of reference is one that tells me consolidation would have provided me with a better background for higher education.
If Oklahoma wants to compete with our neighboring states, we can�t keep pouring money into an educational system that spends most of the money outside the classroom.� What the Sooner Poll shows is that conservative legislators and state leaders should be talking about school consolidation and its benefits.� They should be helping educate the people about this vital issue.� Until that happens, nothing will happen.
Oklahoma�s common education is not O.K.
Steve Fair is a guest political analyst and commentator at SoonerPoll.com. Steve is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party and the author of� the popular blog Fair and Biased.