What Can Be Done for Oklahoma Education

Summing up what options lay in front of Oklahoma, there’s a lot that can be done.

  • We could raise taxes, but that will have a lot of costs associated with it, like driving out one of the last industries we have left.
  • We could cannibalize other programs, which sucks but it is probably what we will have to settle with.
  • We could deregulate education. I really wish we would, but that will do nothing for the state’s broader budget problems.
  • We could actually enforce immigration policy, which we should.
  • Or we can open up market incentives that will force the responses from schools to make better choices themselves.

Most of my suggestions are conservative in nature, and all of them are going to hurt a lot. Most of the problems, though, aren’t Republican or Democrat in nature. Both parties worked together to make this situation. Even that’s not fair. Oklahoma just got the geographical short end of the stick in a lot of ways. We’re just poor. I get that. Life isn’t fair. But there is still a lot we can do to solve the problem and blaming one side or the other simply doesn’t cut it.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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Vouchers

School vouchers are a program where schools are forced to compete for students. Before I talk about that, I want to enlighten you on frustrations I personally have with Oklahoma education — the ridiculous amounts of money which go to programs that neither benefit all students nor have a statistically meaningful impact on most of their lives and future success (sports) and you have to ask questions about why the Science program is underfunded. You’d think after all the arguments I’ve made, they would have been gone ages ago. But it is ingrained in the culture. People have their greatest memories on the field, so they expect the schools to participate, and if they participate, they better win. So coaches have far more power to demand what they “need” then the merits of the program deserve. Seriously think about the cost of a football stadium being built and maintained each year, along with a gymnasium, a softball, and a baseball field, when only about three hundred kids use these facilities out of a school of only around 1,000 kids. That’s K-12, not just our High School. Now consider that there are only about 60 kids on the team.

Also consider that that this brings about the necessary evil of Creatures. That’s my euphemism for Coach/Teachers. Some are the best teachers in the world are coaches, but far more are attempting to fulfill their failed aspirations of sports stardom by becoming a History teacher… which is why so many kids suck at History. Did I mention you get a not insignificant pay raise to be a Creature? I really want to stress that some of the Coach-Teachers are the best teachers I have ever known, but most simply suck as educators.

Look, just to make the point even clearer, I’m going to source The Atlantic, which is something I never thought I would do. But they have a piece that hits extremely close to home on this one.

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

“I’ve been in hundreds of classrooms,” says Singleton, who has spent 15 years as a principal and helped turn around other struggling schools. “This was the worst I’ve seen in my career. The kids were in control. The language was filthy. The teachers were not prepared.” By suspending sports, Singleton realized, he could save $150,000 in one year. A third of this amount was being paid to teachers as coaching stipends, on top of the smaller costs: $27,000 for athletic supplies, $15,000 for insurance, $13,000 for referees, $12,000 for bus drivers. “There are so many things people don’t think about when they think of sports,” Singleton told me. Still, he steeled himself for the town’s reaction. “I knew the minute I announced it, it was going to be like the world had caved in on us.”

The Case Against High-School Sports

Look, I like school sports as a concept. I played all the way, and it may have even helped me personally. Of course, a lot more of that I credit with the Marines Corps, where many of my boot camp buddies never took a step on the grass. That aside, Oklahoma, and many other parts of the nation, have simply taken it too far. Spending for it has gone beyond any possible investment value, and now exists in a cannibalistic relationship with the Math, English, History, and woe unto thine humble arts program.

That’s why I advocate for vouchers. I want this to sink in, I am a former public school teacher married to a current public school teacher, arguing for vouchersListen to what I have to say.

Vouchers allow for the creation of charter schools in areas that are too poor to afford the high tuition of private schools. Vouchers break down the total budget of a district to the student, saying very coldly that if there are 1000 students in a district, each child is worth 0.1% of the budget. If the school’s budget is $3,000,000, then the child rates $3,000 of those dollars as funds that the locality and state are willing to put toward their education. With a voucher, a parent can transfer their student and take those dollars as the tuition for the charter school. This removes the funds from the public school, which is where competition comes into play. If numerous charters are allowed to open, it will mean that the public school will have a funding crisis, as they will have the exact same costs for their facilities, but lose too many students as a share of the total population to keep them funded.

Frankly, I’m okay with that.

I feel that this real crisis will force public schools, as well as charters, to evolve away from many of the practices that fail to make kids successful later in life. It will allow the charter schools to exist in an environment where new methods can be created free from the burdens of an impossible to manage state bureaucracy, and allow them to invest their funds more in line with the parents wishes where if they don’t want to fund a sports program eating up 40% of their kids’ tax dollars… they don’t have to. One positive outcome? Maybe the sports can stay. Forcing competition doesn’t mean that you close everything down to a husk. It means that you cut the fat and leave what works. If there are programs that encourage individual and team competition that actually translates to the success of the community, awesome. My town has won state championships in Cross Country three years in a row. All you need for that are running shoes. Sounds fair. But the cuts need to be made to bad programs for the schools to get back to actually educating children. Frankly, a lot of these small towns get in their own way by saving programs that don’t help their kids do better later in life. I feel that vouchers will help make that decision for them.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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Illegal Immigration and Oklahoma Schools

Above is a racial dot map of my town. Here, the Mexican population went from around 5% in 1970 to about 50% according to the 2010 census. That’s a massive shift and I am not even talking about the cultural consequences. Polling the Mexican students, which I’ve done because this topic comes up a lot, they acknowledge that probably about 25% of their Mexican counterparts are illegal immigrants. A few have admitted to it very openly. Look, I don’t care about what you think about culture or if you want to call all arguments you don’t like racist. When the raw numbers say that around 12.5% of your student population are illegal immigrants, some conversations need to start happening.

Why is there such a high concentration of illegal immigrants in the Oklahoma school system? A few reasons. One is a system open to it which rewards funding based on daily head counts with more funds, so where a government agency might be encouraged to do what is best for its current students, but to maximize the total number of kids. Second is that Oklahoma attracts many Mexican immigrants because once over the border, a straight drive from Texas’ southern tip to the Oklahoma border is a simple drive up Interstate-35. In Oklahoma, they find cheaper homes, a lower cost of living, and fewer federal agencies capable of policing illegal immigration activity. Finally, add in the disproportionately large families among immigrant families and you can see why this is an ugly problem for Oklahoma schools.

The first question we have to ask, how are they being paid for? Is the new business their parents are creating offsetting the cost to educate them? Usually not, as the costs per student were designed to also include income taxes, and when much of your income is illegally sourced and off the books, it’s rarely taxed. Also, what other services do they need? How about the fact that I have never seen a new Mexican student who spoke fluent English? Remember the fact that standardized tests determine a teacher’s value as an educator? Imagine if three of her twenty-five students don’t even speak the language she has to teach. So English as a Second Language (ESL) creates yet another budget problem, as there are almost no teachers qualified with the necessary certification to do it. For perspective, my wife just told me a recent meeting noted that more than 30% of our school currently rate some sort of ESL or ELL (English Language Learner) programs. These programs channels huge amounts of money to these children relative to what their native-born students, both American and Mexican-American get to achieve the same education.

People will call me racist for bringing this up. I’m not. I love these kids, as I’ve actually taught them where most activists consider them simple bargaining chips. I literally saw them every day. But when asked, by them, what I thought about illegal immigration, I made these same arguments, and then answered the question like this.

“If your parents cared more about my kid then they cared about you, then they would be terrible parents. I’m just being honest. Who here could honestly say that they would care more about someone else’s kid than their own? None of you, right? That’s because you’re all decent people. Well, I’m not just a teacher. I’m a parent, and my daughter has to compete with people she shouldn’t have to. That’s not compete academically. She has to compete for funds and resources. She shouldn’t have to do that. Those of you who are legally here shouldn’t have to do that. But she will, and all of you will, and her chances later in life will suffer because of that.

So I ask myself, ‘what would her chances be if 12.5% of the kids whose parents don’t honestly contribute as much as everyone else to the tax base, and who require extensive educational outlays just to break even, didn’t go to this school anymore?’ Honestly, I think it would be better for her. I think if we are honest with ourselves, I think that most of us know it would be better. But it requires an act of heartlessness.

Now, remember what I said, if your parents cared more about my kid than they did about you… they would be terrible parents. Right?”

So speaking as a Republican… and also as a parent of a future Oklahoma student… and as a former teacher who’s seen the effects myself… there is one option I can’t help but mention, but it’s pretty heartless.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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What Are the Options?

Now, speaking as a Republican, there are a few things we can try. There is deregulation. Sure, that will help teachers not hate their lives so much, but won’t actually solve the budget problems. I mentioned cannibalizing other state programs, but that isn’t going to solve the deficit. I also mentioned raising taxes, but how and on whom? Most of those avenues would have unintended consequences we don’t want either and won’t solve the budget crisis. We could try to bring in new business. Duh. But to solve the problems of the state we are going to have to bring in manufacturing on a massive scale. For that to work, we’d have to revamp our infrastructure to support it, and then we would still be cut-rate compared to the natural competitive advantages for other parts of the country, or even planet, due to our geography. So even if we could solve that problem, it would be a few decades down the road before we saw the realized gain from it.

We could also increase taxes. Everybody loves that. Except what good would it do? What we relied upon was income tax from all the people working the wells. Now the wells are in the ground and we don’t need the labor, so what good is an income tax increase? Tax the oil subsidies themselves? Maybe, but at some point, you drive out the business and you can dig shale in a lot of places other than Oklahoma. Just a note on history, Oklahoma used to be a world leader in the growing and manufacturing of cotton around the 1940’s and 1950’s. Not anymore. Wonder if there is something to be learned there. We could also amend the Oklahoma Constitution to allow for a higher real estate tax. That works great for Texas. I don’t know why we don’t here.

Of course… we could also talk about illegal immigration.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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Less is More

One solution jumps out at me when I think about what can be done to save Oklahoma education.

Cut the regulations! Cut the tests. Stop screwing with the standards. In fact, cut them all together for a while. Honestly, give teachers a break for five freaking years so that not all of them want to flee the state leaving only the worst behind. Make it the job of the principals to decide who is a good educator for a while. It can’t honestly be as bad as what we have now. I say that honestly, it will do good. Will it improve the pay that teachers receive? Not a bit, but in Oklahoma, it will make their lives not suck so much. And teaching is a rewarding profession. I know, I miss it, but you can’t make no money, work long hours, and have a terrible life. It’s just too much. Deregulation.

Less is more.

That said, focusing just on the teachers misses the diagnosis. It’s a statewide problem. I honestly live in terror of what our security situation is like if it is as bad for the prison system and other state offices if it is as bad as it is for the teachers. Teachers are the most obvious symptom of a much bigger series problem, but the hollowing out of our most important industry is the cause. We simply don’t have enough jobs in the Oklahoma economy to support our government, which includes the schools.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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Oklahoma Education Standards and Why My Wife Thinks She’s a Terrible Mom and Aweful Teacher

The testing really isn’t the worst of it.

Why tests are so impossible to navigate isn’t even the test themselves, but that the state standards they are based upon are always changing. In Oklahoma, the tests are aligned to the OAS standards, or rather, the revised OAS standards. For now. This post will probably be out of date in a few months as they’ve changed the standards numerous times in the last 5 years. Two years ago it was unironically called the PASS skills, and before that, we were doing Common Core. You see, the standards on which teachers are expected to teach are revised nearly every single year.

Why? Because Oklahoma voters are pissed that kids are failing, but the voters don’t understand the problem and think nothing is being done. To appease the voters, the most politically expedient thing to do is issue out new standards because apparently, people assume the old standards aren’t working, but mostly just to look like they are earning their paycheck. The problem is that a change as big as this would require at least five years, maybe a minimum of three, for all the teachers to adapt to it.

The standards are killer because it effectively limits what you can teach, as almost nothing in the way of books, assignments, and classroom materials aligns with them. This forces teachers to throw out everything they used the year before and start from scratch. If it doesn’t align with Oklahoma Education Standards, it’s gone. And something so sad it’s funny… if you actually work in a school that can afford books… you have to throw them out too… because they absolutely won’t align to whatever new standards were cooked up in Oklahoma City by non-educators working for political interests (including you lefties).

I want you to imagine yourself as a teacher. You go to work every day, but then you work hours every night to prepare for next week too. (Frick, I haven’t even mentioned the hours of her life lost with grading papers by hand!) Now, it would be nice if you could use that time you invested into next year, right? No. That’s not how it works. You start over every time there is a major set of reforms. In my wife’s five years as an elementary school teacher, they have reformed the standards three times. Remember, we’re asking a 22-year-old new teacher currently building a textbook from scratch from activities she found on freaking Pinterest to throw it all away next year! All the nights she’s put into making her own curriculum… gone. You don’t have that at your job. You get to refine your processes year to year and develop best practices that make sailing the ship a breeze. Not for Oklahoma teachers. Here, everyone is a first-year teacher, even if they have been teaching for decades.

This creates a chaotic work environment. Hell, it creates a terrible life. Look, I know a lot of teachers who would be happy to work for the pay we get. Expenses in Oklahoma are low. It’s possible to have a higher quality of life here with less pay. But it isn’t worth it to have low pay and a chaotic life. Most new teachers wash out, which is criminal as most are fine teachers, but can’t handle the overwhelming nature of bureaucratic mess they have to deal with. So they either become refugees in Texas or Arkansas or do like a friend of mine and sell coffee.

And now you know why many teachers never marry, because who has time to date? Actually, that’s not funny either, as one teacher explains: I cannot be both a good mother and a good teacher. This is a real thing for teachers. They feel that they can’t have lives outside of work. If you want honesty, there a lot of people who get fulfillment out of working 80 hours a week, but a lot of teachers don’t. When their pay is artificially capped in the woods of around $30,000, then yeah, why would you demand such things of them? Honestly, many would be fine without more money, but creating a terrible life where they can’t even be there for their families? That’s a problem that needs to be solved.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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Testing Season Blues

Teachers teach to the test. It’s a fact. Let’s just own it.

They don’t teach so that your kids understand the material. They teach so that they don’t get fired for having lost test scores. Now how in the name of goodness could teachers be fired for test scores during a teaching crisis? Because schools lose even more funding if they get low test scores. Is this fair? No. It isn’t fair to judge a student’s entire year based on their performance on a single day. By the same token, it’s socioeconomically impossible to find two identical schools with the same balance of needs, same population, same distribution of wealth, same ethnic balancing, or the same anything. But it’s still okay to stack the test scores of one school against the other and think it determines the value of their teachers?

Fine, okay. We have to somehow ensure that some standards are met.

I mean, we have to make sure no one is teaching their kids that magic crystals govern the movements of oceans in tune with the good vibrations they channel into them, right?

But what high stakes testing does isn’t measuring to ensure standards are met. If it was a simple report card, then principals could act on what they see, but it is one linked to actual performance at the state level. Furthermore, the failure of a district (which could still be outside of the district’s control) could follow a teacher throughout her career. That’s silly.

So how do teachers handle this?

One of two ways:

First, they can place insane amounts of stress on children to perform, not that there is anything in it for the kids because rewarding positive outcomes is strictly forbidden (rich schools can incentivize more, so it’s actually pretty fair that way). This coupled with telling them to relax and that everything will be okay, while subconsciously communicating to them that if they fail the teacher’s life will be over. Of all the outcomes, you get kids ripped from their classrooms into totally foreign environments where the teachers walk around like prison guards trying to telepathically relay the answers to their children. Some kids aren’t bothered, but then there are the others. The others are the kids who will freak out, have a panic attack, or who simply don’t care and are willing to fail to see the world burn. Yeah, there are monsters. But the problem is that there enough of these second two groups to completely break the average. Awesome.

Then there is the second option: Cheat. Look, you make the stakes high enough and the situation desperate enough, people are going to cheat.  You tell someone that their job and the food in their kid’s bellies comes down to the performance of 60 kids they have only had access to for about 1 hour a day for about 100 days before testing season starts… Teachers are human and some will take the low road.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

Support Jon Davis3