The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

February 15, 2013

Oklahoma education influenced by interest group


TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma scores higher

Policy analysts and school officials called for greater public awareness about the situation and more caution on the part of state leaders.

“It’s very important to bring these relationships to light. We’re piling on accountability for students and teachers, but not for these private entities that are in many cases writing our education policies,” said Gene Perry, policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “These conflicts of interest are troubling because schools should be designed to educate kids, not make profits off of them.”

Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman finds the foundation’s influence on Oklahoma policy disturbing, given its powerful corporate backers. In the Public Interest reports foundation donors include for-profit companies such as the standardized test giant Pearson and education service provider McGraw-Hill, and K12, one of the nation’s largest virtual school networks that includes the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy.

As Oklahoma’s previous testing contractor, Pearson was paid more than $24 million in recent years, according to a recent state auditor’s report, while McGraw-Hill was just awarded a contract that would be worth $28 million over the next five years.

The state is now in the third year of an $11 million four-year alternate testing contract with Pearson.

Lehman even questions why Oklahoma would be following the “Florida model” for school reforms when Oklahoma students outpace their Florida counterparts on the ACT college entrance exam.

In 2012, the average composite score in Florida was 19.8, compared to Oklahoma’s 20.7 and the national average of 21.1.

“Why then would Oklahoma emulate Florida by enacting the ‘(Jeb) Bush reforms’?” he said. “The answer to this question is far more complicated than a simple score comparison between states.”

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