The Art Buchwald quote too many cannot read or write, but they can multiply, sums up some of Oklahoma's education situation. In spite of years of work and signs of progress to improve our public schools and higher education system, we are not where we need to be. Part of the problem is the system, but much of it is us.
Oklahomans must begin to demand more of themselves and their children. There are many cases of middle-class kids from public schools who perform exceptionally. No matter their incomes, families that stress academics, homework, travel, foreign languages, and math and science see their children do better academically. In a nutshell, the higher the level of education achieved, the higher the income.
Oklahoma's Regents for Higher Education have been working to increase graduation rates and college enrollment, keeping more Oklahoma students in Oklahoma and recruiting more out-of-state students to our colleges, about 27 percent of whom stay after graduation.
Oklahoma 's ACT scores tell us all we need to know. The highest score possible is 36; Oklahoma's mean ACT scores range from 13.7 to 30.7. It should come as no surprise that the 30.7 came from the OklahomaSchool of Science & Mathematics. What may surprise you is that many of the better scores come from public, religious and private schools.
Most of the metro-area schools came in at about 19 to 21; Norman North High School, 23; Oklahoma Christian School (Edmond), 24.8; Casady School, 25.9; Heritage Hall, 25.4; Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School, 24.1; Edmond North High School, 23.3; Edmond Santa Fe High School, 22.2; Edmond Memorial High School, 23.4; Putnam City North High School, 23.
Nationwide, about 1.2 million kids take the ACTs, 27,577 of which are from Oklahoma. Two-thirds of Oklahoma's students tested ready for college work in English composition (versus 69 percent nationally). In social sciences, it's 50 percent versus 53 percent nationally. The alarming rates are that 32 percent are ready for college algebra (42 percent nationally), with biology at 23 percent for Oklahoma students (27 percent nationally). Only 17 percent of our students meet all four ACT benchmark scores, versus 21 percent nationally. These numbers indicate preparedness for college is a national as well as local problem.
A report to the regents sums it up: "Too few Oklahoma students are taking the necessary core classes that would prepare them for college. This is especially true for math and science where 68 and 77 percent of students lack the necessary college preparatory coursework."
The solution is simple: More math and science through 12th grade, and it wouldn't hurt to make foreign language study mandatory, as well. If we expect students to succeed in college, we have to prepare them. To do less when China, India and many of America's competitors are demanding more is to guarantee our kids a future of mediocrity, lower wages and questionable employment.
Plato said it 2,500 years ago: "The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life."
Orza is dean of the MeindersSchool of Business at Oklahoma CityUniversity.