OCPA: The Honesty Gap

By OCPA President Jonathan Small

It’s been called the “honesty gap” or the “proficiency gap.”

For years, some Oklahoma education leaders have misled parents on student performance by setting a low bar. Thus, state officials have been able to claim “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma”– while the nation’s report card shows Oklahoma is not doing fine at all.

We’re not the only guilty state, but we’re among the worst offenders. As far back as 11 years ago, an Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs report noted that Oklahoma had inflated its educational progress by setting “unusually low educational standards. … While objective measures put Oklahoma in the lower half of states in terms of educational performance, measures reported by the State Department of Education consistently paint a far rosier picture.”

These poor results happened despite the preferred state revenue per pupil numbers of 2009. Key policymakers and business leaders have known about the problem for years. Former BOK Financial CEO Stan Lybarger, for example, lamented Oklahoma’s “inflated test scores.”

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s first secretary of education, said pointedly, “We have been lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards.”

Urging states to tell the truth, Duncan said: “Sometimes you have to call the baby ugly.”

It appears Oklahoma will be more honest about student performance.

It’s certainly not pretty. “The majority of Oklahoma students lack proficiency in all but one subject area tested,” The Oklahoman reported.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister deserves praise for helping Oklahoma close the honesty gap, a problem that existed long before she took office. Many state lawmakers have rightly said no more blank checks – no spending increases without reform. For the sake of the most vulnerable, truth-telling can’t qualify as “reform.”

The Tulsa World quotes Hofmeister as saying, “What has just occurred is more sweeping than anything that has happened in recent years.”

Obviously, it makes no sense for an education establishment that for years has been “lying to children and their parents” (Arne Duncan’s words) to now say: “OK, we’ll stop lying. Thus, you should reward us with more money.”

Oklahoma’s total education revenue increased over the last decade – faster than inflation or student population growth. It’s time for real reforms, like merit pay, property tax reform, and moving school board and bond elections to November.

Most importantly, it’s time to let tax dollars follow the child to the safest and best school – whether public or private. According to a recent survey of likely Oklahoma voters, fully 65 percent of Oklahomans support using tax dollars to allow parents to choose the education that works best for their children.

Our one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work so well for many students and families; it’s time for other options.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).


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  1. CHUCK HOPPER, 23 October, 2017

    Do you people ever report all the facts? You refuse to include relevant data which does not serve your purpose. Why is that?

  2. castor, 23 October, 2017

    We’ve been assured for years that Oklahoma public school students were scoring well on well-designed tests. Sadly, that was a false assurance. It’s difficult to see how giving a uniform raise to all teachers – the good, the bad, and the indifferent – will improve this dismal record. Giving the really good teachers a raise makes sense. The others? Who do you think is responsible for our mediocre scores?

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