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.