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Editorial: Oklahoma legislative report manipulates numbers to claim top teacher salaries

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Communities have been engaging with how to run public schools for centuries.

A recent legislative report did some tinkering to find that Oklahoma teachers have the highest salary in the region; if only that were true.

Headlines from a Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency rapid report — meaning it was completed in 90 days — tout this as good news, and many conservative state lawmakers shared on social media as a victory.

It’s to convince people there is no problem, rather than fixing the actual problems.

Taking a deeper dive shows the report has taken statistical license by adding in cost-of-living, tax burden and other benefits — each with its own subjectivity arguments. It created a formula for “real buying power” of teacher salaries.

A sure-fire way to get a desired statistical conclusion is to put as many extraneous factors into the equation. The more outside influences, the more ways to manipulate the numbers.

Trusted national rankings use the actual, untouched salaries and salaries with benefits. The most accepted standard has come from the National Education Association, which has for decades used the same measure across state education departments.

Its latest figures have Oklahoma at No. 35 in average salary, No. 34 in average starting salary and No. 46 in per pupil spending. The state is just below the regional average in pay and at the bottom on per-pupil pay, which reflects the classroom environment.

The LOFT report noted that many teachers are leaving after 5 to 10 years of experience. It also found extraordinary high prices for health care; family plans were three times higher than other states.

The report promotes the old idea of merit pay as an incentive for better student outcomes. That sounds great until defining success. Sometimes, just keeping a kid from dropping out is a win.

The report launches criticisms at the Oklahoma State Department of Education for not collecting enough data on teacher exits. Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the Legislative Oversight Committee in December that it has that information but not in the form LOFT analysts preferred.

Also, local districts do the hiring, not the state education department.

There’s a political undertone at play. Hofmeister switched her party to Democrat to challenge Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is in the majority Republican Party with top legislative leaders.

The last thing Oklahoma public schools need is more political polarization. The report minimizes the real obstacles facing local districts.

Schools are occasionally closing due to not having enough teachers. Retirements are expected to be at about 3,800 with only about 1,200 education graduates — not all those new teachers will remain in state. Emergency certified teachers are annually setting new records, putting more unqualified teachers in classrooms.

Pay is not the only issue, though it’s a part. With per-pupil spending at near the bottom of the nation, classrooms remain at unreasonable sizes and resources are not available for teachers and students. School staffs are overwhelmed.

Oklahoma public schools are in crisis and much of what needs to be done requires respect toward educators and a reality check.

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