| March 2, 2011

Oklahoma’s Educational Landscape Is Changing

Oklahoma is fast becoming a national leader in offering families school choice, thanks to its charter schools and the new scholarship program for children with disabilities. Gov. Mary Fallin and schools Superintendent Janet Barresi both support giving families more options.

Looking to the future, Oklahoma policymakers should consider the changing educational landscape and design the strongest policy to give families the power to choose the right learning environment for their children.

Debates about school choice have focused on the critical challenge of helping kids trapped in bad schools transfer into better ones, whether by open enrollment, new charter schools, scholarships to attend private school, homeschooling, or other options.

But the debate is quickly changing. Future conversations are likely to be about customizing education to best suit children’s individual learning styles and finding the right learning environment to let children reach their highest potential.

Consider the exciting innovations that are occurring with online or virtual learning. Across the country, more than one million children are participating in various forms of online learning. These programs include full-time virtual schools, supplemental online courses, and classroom-based online instruction.

By harnessing the power of technology, students can be taught any time, anywhere by some of the best teachers in the world. They can learn at their own pace—progressing to new lessons when they excel or receiving additional instruction when they struggle. Classrooms of students can receive individualized, customized instruction with a teacher’s support and supervision.

These innovative programs provide a glimpse of American education’s exciting future. The challenge for policymakers in Oklahoma and beyond is to implement policy reforms that will let families take full advantage of the best learning options for their children. If the state wants to become a leader in affording families the power to choose the best learning environment for their children, it needs to transfer control of education spending over to parents.

In Arizona, Florida, and other states, state leaders are considering giving families state-funded Education Savings Accounts to purchase the best possible education for their children. This idea is based on a new proposal from the Goldwater Institute, OCPA’s counterpart in Arizona. Oklahoma should consider this approach to create a system of real parental choice and innovation to hasten the arrival of education’s exciting future.

Dan Lips (A.B., Princeton University) is a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute and the author of a forthcoming OCPA study on digital learning.

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