OKC Think Tank Questions State's Educational Standards

Article excerpt

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, an Oklahoma City-based "think tank," released a report last week entitled "Hot Air: How Oklahoma Inflates Its Educational Progress Under No Child Left Behind." But the study is comparing apples to oranges, say officials with the state Department of Education.

"Oklahoma has, on the whole, set unusually low educational standards for its students, teachers and schools," said Kevin Carey, the report's author and research and policy manager of Washington, D.C.-based think tank Education Sector. "While objective measures put Oklahoma in the lower half of states in terms of educational performance, measures reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Education consistently paint a far rosier picture."

Education Sector created its own ranking system of the 50 states using each state's reports filed with the U.S. Department of Education under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The think tank named its ranking system the "Pangloss Index," in honor of an overly optimistic character in Voltaire's novel Candide.

According to Education Sector's index, Oklahoma should rank 13th in the nation in student proficiency based on what the state Department of Education has reported. However, Oklahoma students who took the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress tests scored toward the bottom of the list of states in math and reading skills, both nationally and in comparison to other states in the region.

Brian Hobbs, director of marketing for the Council of Public Affairs, said the report is not accusing the Department of Education of falsifying information or of not complying with federal reporting standards. However, the federal law allows states considerable leeway in their reporting standards, he said.

Wendy Pratt, communications director for the Oklahoma Department of Education, said No Child Left Behind directs each state to set its own educational objectives and standards, and directs the states to develop a means of testing their own particular standard. …