| July 5, 2016

Two questions to ask ourselves when talking about education in Oklahoma

The 2016 Oklahoma Legislature may have ended, but the conversation on public education continues. There is growing anger and frustration among teachers, parents, students, school administrators, unions, and elected officials. There’s too much finger pointing and each is bent on trying to prove why their solution is the best one to fix our educational system. Every year proposals are introduced and bills are passed, but Oklahoma continues to rank at the bottom when compared to the rest of the country.

While ideas are being tossed around, there are teachers in the trenches who feel their hands are tied, students who are falling behind, and parents who feel they don’t have options.

The time has come for legislators to listen to the three most important voices in the conversation: parents, teachers, and students. We all agree that every child deserves smaller class sizes and the best learning environment for them. We can’t continue to wait for policymakers to solve this problem for us, we all must come together and be part of the solution.

My children have had the opportunity to attend public schools, private schools, and charter schools. One commonality I’ve noticed among the three schooling systems is the dedicated teachers who love the children and are devoted to their profession. Parents and teachers spend countless hours with students. They know first-hand a child’s learning needs and how to best prepare them for success.

I always look forward to parent-teacher conferences because during that time I’m able to ask the teachers about their struggles in the classroom and what they wish they could change. One teacher mentioned that most of the children were having a difficult time staying focused during math class because it was taught after lunch/recess. I asked if she could switch math class to the morning hours, and I was shocked to learn that she was not allowed that flexibility. Her exact words were: “my hands are tied, I must teach to the specifications of the district’s curriculum, and I’m not allowed to deviate or be creative in my teaching style.”

Shouldn’t teaching be about connecting with the student’s mind, engaging the heart, and making learning fun?

Similarly, Gretchen Davies, an educator who writes a beautiful post about how she came to support school choice, shares about being disciplined by officials in her district for deviating from the scripted curriculum. In her post, she goes on to write, “Why can’t my students have a better school? Why shouldn’t they deserve better? Why must they be forced to attend a school, which fails to educate them, just because of the neighborhood they live in? Why should they be denied private school or homeschool due to their poverty status even though both parents were working? Why couldn’t I just scoop them all up and put them in my old elementary school, a school that still cared about educating children?”

So I challenge all of us—school officials, elected officials, unions, teachers, parents, and students— to ask ourselves two questions: what role did I have in creating the problem, and how will I be part of the solution without pointing fingers? These two questions encourage us to accept personal responsibility for our actions and remind us to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. This is what Webster defines as “accountability.” We can use more of it in our schoolhouse and our statehouse.

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