With educational rigor and reform, Oklahoma can be a national leader


Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell | March 2, 2023

With educational rigor and reform, Oklahoma can be a national leader

Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell

Another legislative session is under way and there are a number of issues on the table, but no issue will get more attention—and rightfully so—than the issue of education.

I spend a majority of my time talking to existing businesses in our state and companies looking to relocate to Oklahoma. We always talk about education. Always. From workforce concerns to the state of our education system, it’s always at the top of the value proposition for companies looking to stay, grow, or move to our state. So, if it’s that important to the future growth of our state, we must be honest about what’s working and what’s not in the system. The future of our state literally depends upon it.

I recently reread The Smartest Kids in The World and How They Got That Way and highly recommend it. Author Amanda Ripley studies the education systems of a few of the countries (South Korea, Finland, and Poland) that had the best results on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). She documents the experiences of American exchange students in each of those nations.

Here are a few of her key findings that we must consider when looking at education “reform” in Oklahoma.

The top-performing countries believe in academic rigor. This sounds simple enough, but it’s vital to performance. Teachers, politicians, parents, and kids in these countries are aligned behind the idea that school should be about mastering educational content. Period. Sports and other activities are secondary. Students are expected to take school seriously. A lot has been made of the cultural environment in our schools today. I believe we have a much bigger problem than pronouns, and it’s disciplinary issues that prohibit teachers from actually teaching and therefore lose control of the classroom. It must stop. A strict statewide disciplinary code of conduct is something I would support our Oklahoma State Board of Education tackling. The current culture demands it. If we can’t agree on rigor, then better education outcomes will be hard to achieve.

Teachers need to be the best and brightest of society and need to be highly trained. The headlines are everywhere about teacher shortages and constant debates over teacher pay. Important conversations, no doubt. I believe if we prioritize the teaching profession, however, we can fix those headline alarms. Only the most promising students get into Finnish teachers’ colleges, where they spend six years studying. Students and parents highly respect teachers because they know how difficult it is to become a teacher. Getting into a teacher training school in Finland is as prestigious as getting into medical school in the U.S. Ripley provides lots of examples that prove that when the teachers are highly educated, the quality of the teaching goes up. Let’s make the teaching profession highly competitive, respected, and compensated, and those shortages will be a thing of the past.

And choice. Though Ripley doesn’t focus on choice, pretty much every state in America is doing so. It’s clear that parents want more choices, whether it’s open-transfer laws, more charter school options, or education savings accounts or tax credits being considered right now in the Oklahoma Legislature. My stance will continue to be one that supports more choice, while making our neighborhood public schools the best they can be. It’s not a binary choice nor does it need to be contentious.

I believe that teachers, politicians, parents, and kids can rally behind these three points. If we do, Oklahoma can lead the way on rigor and reform (imagine that) and our education system can serve as a model for the nation.

Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell

Matt Pinnell is the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. He is the president of the Oklahoma Senate and serves on numerous constitutional boards and commissions. He is also Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage in the cabinet of Governor Kevin Stitt. Pinnell is a recruiter for companies looking to move or expand to Oklahoma and serves on the Oklahoma Department of Commerce committee focused on small business growth, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. He has an advertising degree from Oral Roberts University and lives in Tulsa with his wife of 20 years and their four children.

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