OEWI Releases Report Showing Skills Gap Facing Oklahoma

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 9:17am

Oklahoma City (March 31, 2015) – Oklahoma’s schools aren’t producing enough graduates with skills the business community needs according to a new report commissioned by the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative (OEWI). The report, titled “Oklahoma’s Business Case for Education Reform,” finds that Oklahoma schools are producing only half of the workers needed to fill high-skilled jobs in the state. If this trend continues, by 2020 there will be more than 500,000 jobs requiring post-secondary education that can’t be filled by Oklahomans.
 
“Oklahoma’s education pipeline starts out strong with universal Pre-K and a focus on the student’s earliest years,” said OEWI Executive Director Jennifer Monies. “But the report finds there are cracks in the pipeline along the way that allow too many students to either drop out before graduation or graduate without the skills they need for a good career or college.”

The report’s findings include:

  • Of the 50,220 students who entered Kindergarten in 2000, only 39,082 graduated high school in the spring of 2012
  • Only 4,319 of those students – just 8.6 percent! – will graduate college in four years
  • 40% of college-bound Oklahoma high school grads have to take at least one remedial class when they get to college
  • Oklahoma’s schools are producing only half the workers needed to fill increasingly high-skill jobs

While the numbers are daunting, it’s important to remember that it’s the lives and futures of the children represented by those numbers that are at stake. Students without a high school diploma earn an average of $10,000 less per year than their peers with a diploma.
 
“We want the best education system possible so that our children don’t face obstacles in achieving whatever career path they choose,” said Monies. “Since the business community is at the front lines of the skills gap, it only makes sense that we are at the table when it comes to figuring out how best to match rigorous education standards with the realities of what graduates will face in college or the job market.”

Not all of the report’s findings were dire. Oklahoma’s system of universal pre-kindergarten education has received praise from around the nation and the report highlighted that.

“Oklahoma’s commitment to high quality pre-K is impressive,” said Sarah McKenzie, Ph.D., a senior researcher for the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas who served as a consultant on this report. “It is important that the rest of the system capitalize on this investment.”
Mathematics should be a key focus in Oklahoma’s education reform effort, though.
 
“If there is one area that may be the most critical for overall educational improvement, it is student performance in mathematics,” said Gary W. Ritter, Ph.D., Endowed Chair in Education Policy for the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas who also contributed to the report. “Grade eight students in Oklahoma ranked 45th in the nation in math; Oklahoma’s students then struggle in high school math as just over one-third of the state’s test-takers earn a ‘college-ready’ score on the ACT math section. Not surprisingly, poor math skills can be a major impediment to success in college and that is certainly the case in Oklahoma as nearly 40% of the state’s students must take remedial coursework when they arrive at college.”
 
The report is available on the OEWI website.

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