Oklahoma Ranked 44th in Annual Report

Oklahoma was ranked 44th in overall wellbeing on for children in the annual Kid Count Report, with one of the state’s worst rankings being in Education at 46th in the nation on June 27.

“The report isn’t all that [big of] news for Oklahoma on quite a few measures, we are seeing improvement from previous years and that’s that the state and national economy has come out recession,” said Gene Perry, one of the individuals who works on the Kids Count in the Oklahoma group. “A lot of things are going better for kids, but in many ways those improvements are not keeping up with the nation as a whole. We’re not improving as quickly in teen birth rates, we’re not improving on health and on education and on so many things as much as the nation as a whole.”

The Kids Count is an annual report done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to access overall child wellbeing in the nation by comparing data for each state.

Oklahoma’s rankings within the overall wellbeing are 36th in economic wellbeing, 46th in education, 40th in health and 44th in family and community wellbeing.

According to Perry, all of the data comes from a variety of places, but it is all public data, such as data from the U.S. census or state agencies that are responsible for working in the areas that are looked at in the kids count.

Steffi Corcoran, executive director for communications at the Oklahoma State Department of Education said in the time that has elapsed since the last Kids Count Report, Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has gone from bad to an absolute crisis. Specifically, with the state board of education having approved about 1,985 emergency certification for teachers last year.

“You can’t really underestimate the impact of a very large teacher workforce problem in our state,” Corcoran said.

The OSDE does have a teacher shortage task force that has been in place since 2015 when State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, gathered over 100 people to make up the task force. Every year more people are added to the task force.

“In the task force we have come up with 40 recommendations over this time period and implemented many of these, almost all of these recommendations, they’re ongoing,” said Robyn Miller, deputy superintendent for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. “I think it’s so important to know and to recognize now, especially in these last few months with the walkout and teacher pay – that momentum, that advocacy – that there’s certainly a sense of collective impact that is needed in order to advance education in Oklahoma.”

Earlier this month OSDE announced its new comprehensive education plan, Oklahoma Edge. The plan has six measureable goals that are set to be achieved by 2025, and Corcoran said some of these targeted goals, with some that are state specific, will meld into improving our state’s education ranking.

Oklahoma Edge’s six goals are: to score among the top 20 highest-performing states on the National Assessment of Education Progress, reduce by 50 percent the need for mathematics and English language arts remediation after high school, rank among the top 10 states with the highest graduation rate for students in four-, five- and six-year cohorts, ensure that every student in grades 6 through 12 develops a useful and meaningful Individual Career Academic Plan, align early childhood education and learning foundations to ensure at least 75 percent of students are “ready to read” upon kindergarten entry, and increase student access to effective teachers, thereby reducing the need for emergency-certified teachers by 95 percent.

At the University of Central Oklahoma, professors are working to help with the education issue as well.

“What we are doing at UCO, in my department, we are educating caring professionals who are already making a difference,” said Kaye Sears, department chair for UCO’s Human Environmental Sciences. “When they graduate and go into the helping professions they are making big differences by what they do and where they are.”

Other efforts at UCO help prepare both teachers and students for a successful education track.

“We do have a program where we educate and support teachers that are going into at risk schools, but we also promote Smart Start Oklahoma, which is an initiative to have children ready to learn by the time they go to school,” said Ladonna Atkins, professor in Human Environmental Sciences at UCO. “Some of that has to do with a healthy start and promoting early education and quality early care.”

More than education, health and economic aspects in the state are also in need of attention.

“There’s a need to reach students and bring support and services to them and their families before we can expect them to be ready to learn and address their academic needs,” Miller said.

According to Miller, the OSDE knows that 1 in 4 students are food insecure and 1 in 10 students currently have or has previously had a parent who has been incarcerated.

“We also need to look at the overall picture of what kids really need to succeed in school and frankly that’s not just the responsibility of schools,” Perry said. “Kids need to have stable home lives, they need to have economic security, they need to have access to food every day, and as it has shown in the kids count, numbers not true for way too many kids in Oklahoma.”

Atkins said we need to address the issues that happen early such as prenatal health, health care and poverty because children can’t learn if they are not healthy.

For more information on the Kids Count Report, visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation website.

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