Patrick B. McGuigan | September 19, 2014

The soul of moderation? Black Oklahomans for school choice

Patrick B. McGuigan

It is September, which means another crop of black children is about to have their lives ruined in lousy schools with lousy teachers and lowered expectations. Commentators will again give the benefit of the doubt to a dysfunctional education establishment that values the prerogatives of employees more than the needs of children.

Now that I have your attention: Do black children and all children in American schools deserve choices?

Tracy McDaniel, after years of service in the regular public schools, brought the magnificent KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) model to Oklahoma City. He runs what is the best-performing public school in the metropolitan area.
His students come from the poorest ZIP code in urban Oklahoma. They learn classics, memorize poetry, and cipher and decipher like kids from Casady, our city’s best known private prep school.

McDaniel told me recently, “We have more kids than ever before at KIPP. I am for inner-city school choice, not for universal choice.” He explained, “Inner-city kids are trapped and can’t get all the opportunities they need. All kids should have a chance to go to and through college. The bottom line for me is ‘quality seats’ in classrooms.”

He told me in late August, “Our goal now is sharing best practices and helping the school district improve.” Tracy is my favorite school choice moderate.

State Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City—soon likely to be state Sen. Pittman—said in an email exchange she “supports schools that work.” Previously, Pittman said she advocated for choice because “it will make our school districts better, it will make our families stronger.”

A successful non-KIPP charter school model is ASTEC (Advanced Science and Technology Charter) School, with 750 students and 75 staff. The chief operating officer at ASTEC is my high school classmate Harold Roberts, a conservative closely allied with Freda Deskin, a moderate I respect.

Choice sparks better performance. Last year, in an essay for the Huffington Post, Prof. Matthew Lynch of Oklahoma’s Langston University described school choice as “a movement that strives to improve education in all schools through the old-fashioned business concept of competition.”

Ideas like this aren’t black or white. They are universal.

What is more important than quality education? Who is more deserving than the poorest of the poor?

Giving ghetto children the same options as suburban kids or private-school kids is the best way to assure better quality education and equity for all.

More aggressive than McDaniel or Pittman or even Roberts is Jabar Shumate, now a state Senator from north Tulsa. He looks like a linebacker, but talks like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I met Shumate when he worked for David Boren at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1990s, and I always knew he would be a leader. The young Democrat is, along with state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma, the Legislature’s leading advocate of choice in education.

In an interview this summer, Shumate told me, “I am thankful for what has been accomplished in Oklahoma in terms of school choice. Oklahoma is the only state to have a Democratic governor sign a voucher bill, the Lindsey Nicole Henry special-needs scholarship. That accomplishment alone thrust Oklahoma into the national spotlight.

“With the expansion of charter school laws, a robust tax credit program, and scores of educational reform initiatives, Oklahoma has become a pacesetter in the country for educational choice.

“As we look forward, we still have a great deal of work ahead to ensure quality programs and equitable access for those in our most vulnerable communities. However, I am confident that we have built an educational environment where families are empowered to make decisions about their future, and for that, it has been worth the fight.”

I’m not sure Oklahoma is yet a pacesetter, but Shumate’s words imply great potential in development of existing state school choice models.

Black leaders supporting school choice include Rev. Donald Tyler of Tulsa’s Greater Grace Temple, Deborah Brown of Tulsa, and Dr. Betty Mason of St. John Christian Heritage Academy, whose school is sponsored by St. John Missionary Baptist Church and its pastor M. L. Jemison.

Charters? Vouchers? Tax-credit scholarships? Education Savings Accounts? Parent triggers?

How about all of the above, with Jabar Shumate in charge.

I’ll settle for just a couple of these in 2015, then a couple more in 2016.

The soul of moderation. For the children.

“All of the above”—every possible sensible option for the children, their parents, their communities, and our country.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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