Education reforms require adequate funding, activist says in Tulsa
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2013
1/10/13 at 5:23 AM
A national education activist speaking in Tulsa on Wednesday said his organization is coming to Oklahoma to lobby for adequate funding immediately for existing, research-based reforms and to systematically engage parents over the long term.
Jonah Edelman, founder and chief executive officer of Stand for Children, was the keynote speaker at an education summit hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber for local educators and community leaders.
"How do you help a whole system of children? Excellent leadership at every level, adequate resources and accurate information to the public about how schools are doing," Edelman said. "The challenge I put to you is to marry the effort that you're making to directly impact children one at a time with a similar fervor to impact systemic problems."
Edelman, a graduate of Yale and Oxford universities, is the son of Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, and Peter Edelman, a Georgetown law professor who worked for former Sen. Robert Kennedy and President Bill Clinton. He said he founded Stand for Children as a way to carry on his parents' legacy of service.
Named one of 2011's "Top 11 education activists" by Time.com, Edelman said Oklahoma is "having a digestion problem" with a slew of recent reform efforts passed into law.
"We aren't supporting more reforms. If Oklahoma wants to get results for students, it needs to fund the reforms it has already passed," he said.
Susan Harris, senior vice president for education and workforce at the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said her organization's primary focus for K-12 issues in 2013 will be advocating for adequate funding for the reforms the Oklahoma Legislature has already enacted.
"Just asking to get us back to the 2008 funding levels is not going to fly," Harris said.
Stand for Children has been around since 1996 and has affiliates in 10 other states. So Union Public Schools Superintendent Cathy Burden asked about the organization's interest in the Sooner state and its backers.
Edelman's answer was that Oklahoma is facing a pivotal moment in the trajectory of its public education system. He said the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Inasmuch Foundation are funding the new state affiliate, but he noted that they will not direct its efforts.
"In light of the fact that funding to schools has been reduced by 20 percent, it is unreasonable - and perhaps a better word for it is absurd - to think school districts in this state could effectively implement these reforms," Edelman said.
"Expectations are going up, and the resources are going down, and that's a tough situation. We hope to work with you to make the case to the Legislature that these reforms need to be effectively implemented."
He shared his top three, immediate advocacy concerns for Oklahoma's public schools:
"Not promoting a child may have some focusing effect at home, but that's not the right intervention. Let me be clear about that," Edelman said.
- The protection and promotion of the Common Core standards, which were developed by state leaders and educators and adopted by Oklahoma and more than 40 other states.
- Funding for recent legislation, including the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system and a recent update to the Reading Sufficiency Act. He did note, however, that he does not support the latter's inclusion of a blanket prohibition on "social promotion."
"We are still operating on the same academic calendar from a century ago, when kids needed to be out during the summer to help with the harvest. It just makes no sense.
- Funding for schools that would like to address summer learning loss by lengthening school days and academic calendars.
"There is not enough time to 'go deep' on subject matter. There's just not enough time to help the kids that are behind. The structure has a huge discriminating effect on low-income kids," he said.
Asked about his view on vouchers and charter schools, Edelman said accountability and fair play are key.
"If you look at the research on vouchers, there is no indication of student achievement progress. No matter which side you come down on, you should be supportive of accountability," he said.
As for charters, Edelman said he sees the Denver school system, which sponsors charters as part of its "portfolio" of schools, as a national model.
"It's a spurious distinction to say if you're a principal of a district school you should have your hands tied in various ways but if you're the principal of a charter school, you can do X, Y and Z. Principals should be empowered to build their teams and provide supports for the kids based on the needs of the school," he said.
Original Print Headline: Activist: Education reforms require funding
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470