Oklahoma's ranking in improving the quality of its public school teachers slipped from third to sixth in a national report on public education released Monday.
Quality Counts, an annual report of the trade publication Education Week, also lowered the state's national ranking in the adequacy of resources, which is based on such factors as per-student spending and increases in education funding in state spending. The state received a C in the 2002 report, compared to a B-plus last year.
Equity of resources earned Oklahoma a B-minus, compared to a B last year, based on calculations including the state's effort to equalize spending among districts.
But Oklahoma maintained its B grade for standards and accountability, based on standard course requirements, standardized testing and holding schools accountable for student performance.
"Overall, I think we look pretty good compared to most states,'' state Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett said.
The sixth-annual report from Education Week focused on state efforts in early-childhood education. It praised Oklahoma along with Georgia and New York for leading the nation toward providing public preschool for every child.
"They have made the commitment to phase in free, publicly financed pre-kindergarten for any 4-year-old whose parents want it, regardless of their income or work status,'' the report stated.
School districts in Oklahoma can opt to provide programs for 4 year olds with state funding. More than half of all 4 year olds in the state already participate, according to state Department of Education statistics cited in the report.
Not having enough classroom space is the biggest obstacle to providing 4-year-old programs in more districts, Garrett said.
State Secretary of Education Floyd Coppedge said the report is one "we can feel good about.'' But Coppedge said he disagrees with one factor used to determine the Quality Counts grade for improving teacher quality - requiring a subject-specific test for a beginning teacher license.
He attributed Oklahoma's drop from a B to a B-minus in improving teacher quality to a change last year in the state's requirement of such tests. State law now only requires teachers to pass a subject-specific test for their permanent teaching certificate, not for their beginning license.
The beginning license covers teachers' first year of teaching, which Coppedge likened to a kind of residency period required of new doctors.
"We needed to do that to help the supply of teachers in Oklahoma,'' Coppedge said, referring to widespread teacher shortages in recent years, especially in the subjects of math, science, foreign language and special education.