February 18, 2017

Voices from Rural Oklahoma: Where’s Education Headed on the Plain?

By Juliet Squire | Kelly Robson

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With nearly one in three students statewide attending a rural school, rural education must be a top priority for Oklahoma’s state policymakers. Students deserve a high-quality education, and the economy depends on it. Unfortunately, data suggest that many of Oklahoma’s rural schools are not providing their students with the academic and non-academic skills necessary for them to be successful in their next steps after high school. 

Over the years, Oklahoma’s policymakers have implemented a number of measures to address the challenges facing rural schools. But what is often missing from conversations about how to fix these problems are the voices of the students, parents, community members, and business leaders living in these communities and experiencing the problems firsthand. 

In our new report, “Voices from Rural Oklahoma: Where’s Education Headed on the Plain?”, we seek to raise the collective voices of rural community members and convey their thoughts and perspectives to policymakers in the state capital. Through a series of 12 focus groups and nine interviews, we spoke with more than 80 individuals living in rural communities throughout Oklahoma. We asked them about the issues facing the schools in their communities, including topics ranging from course options for students in high school to students’ post-college job prospects to their perspectives on policies such as charter schools and consolidation.

From these conversations we identified 10 findings, divided into three overarching themes, that we hope will help policymakers better understand how their constituents in rural communities experience the policies and laws they shape.

The first theme focuses on high school outcomes, specifically that participants feel high school does not prepare rural students for their next steps, whether college or career. The second theme focuses on the transition between high school and college/career. Disagreement among participants about the goal of public education surfaced larger questions about what rural high schools should be preparing their students to do after graduation. Should all students go to college? What about trades such as plumbing or welding? How can high schools better inform students about their various options? What is the role of the business community in helping students learn about career opportunities? The findings in this theme offer insight into how rural community members are thinking about these questions. 

The final theme seeks to highlight participants’ thoughts, reactions, and questions as they relate to a set of pertinent education policy issues: funding, consolidation, the four-day school week, and charter schools. These issues hit close to home for many participants, and it is important that policymakers understand how rural community members are experiencing the effects of various policy decisions made in the capital.

As legislators in the Sooner State seek to address the challenges in Oklahoma’s rural schools, it is critical that they understand how the students, parents, community members, and business leaders living in rural communities perceive and experience the education system and the policies and programs that surround it. 

Read the full report here, or read it in the viewer below (click full screen in the bottom right-hand corner). 

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