It probably comes as no surprise to many that the Jenks public school district would be named the best school district in the State of Oklahoma. Not only has this happened before, the district is in a fairly well-to-do community, it has nice facilities, it’s good-sized, and it is decently financed. What the Jenks school district is not, however, is all that good, at least not according to the statistics published by Stacker.com, which reported the best district in every state.
Only 44% (4 in 10) of students in the Jenks district are considered proficient in reading. When it comes to math, only 42% (4 in 10) Jenks students are proficient. Compared to the best districts in the other 49 states, only Oklahoma’s best district had a level of reading proficiency under 50%. Most states’ best districts reported more than 60% of their students proficient in reading. Percentages above 70 and 80 are common.
In general, other states’ best districts did not fair quite as well when it came to math proficiency. A few others saw percentages below 50%, with at least one reported at Jenks’ abysmal level. But 50%, 60%, and 70% of students proficient in math were common statistics among districts considered the best in other states.
Here is the takeaway. Were the BEST school district in Oklahoma located in any other state, it would not be considered the best there. In many states, given the statistics, one wonders if Jenks would even be rated in the top ten of school districts in those states. Among the best school districts in the nation, Jenks is not only NOT the best of the best, it might not even be the best of the mediocre. And that says something about the public education system, and perhaps the culture, in this state.
Some will likely immediately jump on the relatively low per-student expenditure in Jenks compared to many of the best districts in other states. Arkansas’s, Arizona’s, Mississippi’s and South Dakota’s best districts, however, spend comparably. Utah’s best district spends considerably less. Oklahoma’s low cost of living makes the dollars go farther, but it’s interesting that some of the best districts from other states spend modestly more per student, but considerably more on average teacher pay.
While we lived in the Austin area, my wife contracted with a testing company to score teacher certification-test essays from around the country. She and her fellow reader/scorers noticed systematic qualitative differences across states. Some states were just better than others. And of course, within any given state, there were exceptionally good essays written. But when it came to scoring, Oklahoma was universally dreaded. As a scorer, you had to calibrate yourself for the standards expected and Oklahoma disrupted the calibration since too many would fail if the same standard used for other states were used.
My wife now teaches in an Oklahoma high school, and she can attest that there are some high-quality teachers in this state. But it is clear that educational standards in this state are not where they should be. It is equally clear that this problem starts at the very top.
Instead of educational standards, our State Superintendent of Schools, Joy Hofmeister, has chosen to emphasize “trauma-informed instruction,” which tends to be more about excusing poor student performance and behavior than it is about holding students and parents accountable. During the pandemic, our educational system seemed more concerned with providing free meals than making sure students learned anything at all. Compared to Florida, and even Texas, our state leadership was slow to allow, much less insist, that schools fully reopen. Many Oklahoma school boards, as demonstrated by their reaction to the banning of Critical Race Theory, are more interested in indoctrination than in basic skill proficiency.
The Legislature pours more money into public education without any additional oversight or insistence on good performance. It passes bills to subsidize movie productions and “quality jobs” that are worked remotely from Oklahoma. Meanwhile, we pretend that executives deciding where to locate corporate headquarters and facilities can’t readily see that the BEST school district in Oklahoma would be considered only mediocre just about anywhere else.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.