| November 25, 2013

Langston professor says school choice benefits students

Despite spending more money on public education than many other developed countries, America’s student-performance woes persist — in part because public schools often have no motivation to improve. But the increasing availability of educational options — charter schools, virtual schools, magnet schools, vouchers, homeschooling, and more — represents a positive development for students and for public schools themselves. Indeed, far from undermining public education, school choice provides an environment in which public schools can thrive.

That’s the message of a recent article written either by (a) an OCPA researcher, or (b) an education professor at Langston University — a loyal Democrat who believes that “Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents America has ever seen.”

If you guessed (b), you get a gold star. In an excellent piece over at The Huffington Post (“Is ‘School Choice’ an Anti-Public School Sentiment?”), Matthew Lynch, Ed.D., a former schoolteacher who now serves as chairman of the Department of Elementary and Special Education at Langston University, explains that school choice is “a movement that strives to improve education at all schools through the old-fashioned business concept of competition.”

Public charter and magnet schools are tuition free, just like public schools, but must make some promises in their contracts in order to stay open. If these schools of choice habitually do not reach their goals, they close. Can the same be said of public schools? The accountability level that these young additions to the public school arena bring ensures that students achieve more — and if they don't, those schools do not stick around long.

School choice is not simply about non-traditional public schools though. The movement goes much deeper than that and empowers parents to take the reins of their children's learning paths. Since 2007, the number of K-12 students enrolled in online public schools has risen an astonishing 450 percent. Home schooling is also on the rise as 1.77 million K-12 students are homeschooled — a number that has more than doubled since 1999. Parents are pushing back against simple acceptance of educational opportunities based on geography; they are still choosing traditional public and private schools but only after educating themselves. … There is room for all choices in K-12 schools and students benefit from the options.

Dr. Lynch’s article is excellent, and I encourage you to read the whole thing here. And lest you think it’s unusual for an African-American in this state to embrace various forms of educational choice, I hasten to remind you of the following.

  • Rev. Donald Tyler of Tulsa supports tax-credit scholarship legislation (of the sort eventually enacted in Oklahoma) that allows children to attend private schools. As he told reporters at a state-capitol press conference, “I have kids in my church who have graduated who can't read. You tell me the system is working?”
  • State Sen. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa), who was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, says “the civil rights issue of today is school choice.”
  • Another Obama delegate, state Rep. Anastasia Pitman (D-Oklahoma City), supports Oklahoma’s state-funded scholarship program for special-needs children because she says “it will make our school districts better, it will make our families stronger.”
  • Another Obama delegate, longtime Tulsa Public Schools board member and former state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa), believes in the "right of parents to be able to choose." Indeed, thanks to Sen. Eason McIntyre, “the school choice debate in Oklahoma changed on March 13, 2008.”
  • Dr. M. L. Jemison, senior pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, supports tax-credit scholarships that allow low-income children to attend private schools.
  • Dr. Betty Mason, a former superintendent of the Oklahoma City public schools who later served as superintendent of St. John Christian Heritage Academy, also supports tax-credit scholarships.

It’s encouraging to see an education professor from Langston University join the ranks of those who see the value of giving parents more choices.

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