Ray Carter | June 17, 2022

Oklahoma Secretary of Education: Academic focus needed in Tulsa

Ray Carter

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters is defending a Tulsa Public Schools board member who has come under fire after suggesting the district should focus more on academics than social agendas.

In a letter sent June 17 to Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education members, Walters wrote, “I ask that you stand with E’Lena Ashley and reject far left-wing indoctrination, not make a decision by mob rule, and do not allow the targeting of E’Lena Ashley as she steps into this key role. You should put our kids first in all that you do.”

Ashley, elected to the Tulsa school board in the spring, has drawn fire from activists for a post she made on Facebook on May 26, stating, “How can we compete …” Under Ashley’s post was a graphic on “what third grade children” are learning in China, India, and the United States. The China and India portions included images from advanced math and chemistry lessons, while the United States portion was of various emojis associated with social issues, including the “pregnant man” emoji.

Ashley has defended the post, telling a Griffin Communications reporter, “It’s kind of satirical, but it makes a point that we need to be still able to participate, and that our students need to be literate, able to do math and be able to function globally.”

Some activists have since demanded that Ashley be required to undergo diversity training.

Ashley is black.

She is also a single mom (one biological child and adopted fraternal twins) who has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Ashley has worked as a paraprofessional in a public-school system, worked with Tulsa Job Corps to help young adults obtain high school diplomas, been a supervisor at a women’s outreach program, and been a coordinator for the Tulsa Dream Center’s youth after-school and counseling programs, where she assisted with feeding, mentoring, and tutoring young students with academic fundamentals.

On various social media sites, activists have called for all Tulsa school board members to “receive training on gender, sexuality, and inclusion related to supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

2SLGBTQIA+ stands for “two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual” with the plus-sign a catchall designation for additional sexual orientations and gender identities.

Walters said the call to subject any school-board member to such training is ridiculous, especially given the fact that Tulsa Public Schools has produced some of the worst academic outcomes in the state.

“It would be unacceptable for the Tulsa School Board to require or even entertain this type of targeting of a duly elected school board member,” Walters wrote. “It is unfortunate that educating kids has become so politicized. I get complaints from parents and teachers on a regular basis that our schools are being co-opted by liberal and socialist agendas—critical race theory, bathroom confusion, DEI, and social/emotional learning. We can do better, and we must do better.”

He noted that Tulsa “is a low-performing school district” and called on Tulsa Public Schools board members to “stop emphasizing woke policies over student achievement.”

According to the results of state testing in the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent available, 89 percent of students in the Tulsa district were not proficient in any subject or grade level tested. Only 7 percent of third-grade students in the district were proficient in reading as measured by the state’s English Language Arts test.

“I am asking you to stop allowing the school board meetings to be dominated by these socialist issues,” Walters wrote, “and return them to making our kids prepared to tackle the world and their future.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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