By JOHN M. TIDWELL
Education dominated the Oklahoma political landscape this year.
Whether the superintendents race or at the state Capitol throughout the legislative session, so many policy debates grabbed headlines across the Sooner State: the repeal of the national Common Core standards, the legislation to expand and bolster the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarships, the debate over expanding public charter schools and the reading skills testing for all Oklahoma third-graders.
Education has not dominated the policy debate like this in a long time. But it always seemed that folks had their backs in a corner with fingers pointed out. They were playing the blame game and nothing was getting done.
Something occurred to me midway through the session as I was watching a press conference by a local superintendent. The answer, possibly the key, to the education debate which our state has been engaged in for so long was right in front of me: We’re all to blame.We have to accept our results: Everyone is at fault.
It’s not the state superintendent or the district administrators. It’s everyone. It’s groups of past and present: legislatures, teachers, parents, think-tanks and activist groups, the “education associations” more commonly referred to as teachers unions, governors and state superintendents, chambers of commerce and everyone in between. We’re all to blame and until we agree on a plan to change it, we are destined to repeat the failures and continue limiting our success.
Let’s stop the blame game and focus on helping Oklahoma’s children succeed.
In my view, choices and options in education must always be at the center of the debate. The status quo is no longer adequate. What used to work isn’t what works best today. We all know nothing in this world is getting cheaper, and we have to continue to look for ways to both tighten our belts, especially in terms of administrative costs, but still provide a top-notch education to all Oklahoma children embracing technology and innovative methods that were not around 20 years ago, or even five years ago. We must be willing to change and adapt as needed for the benefit of children, not special interest groups.
Last month, the American Federation For Children released polling results among GOP voters in Oklahoma, which showed a strong appetite for reforms, and results. The remaining candidates in this fall’s race for Oklahoma superintendent of public instruction would be well-served to examine both that poll and their positions on education reforms and choice issues. The results speak for themselves.
Issues like allowing rural families the same public charter school opportunities (currently only available in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties), equal opportunity and special needs scholarship programs earned a better than 70 percent approval rating statewide. Even a new concept in Oklahoma, education savings accounts, which gives especially low-income parents the opportunity to improve their child’s future by using their share of tax dollars in private or charter programs outside of their current school, gathered 64 percent support.
Yet, when you discuss education policy with legislators, many will tell you, the voices always at the table are the superintendents, administrators and teachers. It’s not always the parents and the public demanding better. Many times, moms and dads are at work, trying to provide for their family.
Oklahomans must engage on this issue. Too often in education, charter schools for example, rural education administrators are far too concerned with their own piece of the pie, rather than the greater good of Oklahoma education.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Competition is good. Competition makes you a better person, it makes your school stronger, it makes you put in a little extra effort to outshine both your colleagues and your foes.
But why isn’t that attitude shared by more people? How have we become a society based on giving everyone a trophy for participation? How is that helping our kids to succeed? The simple answer: It’s not.