Ginnie Graham: Oklahoma's ready for change in education
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2013
1/12/13 at 2:56 AM
Former Tulsa school board member Brian Hunt believes that Oklahomans want a civil debate about public education.
Hunt knows how to navigate through contentious decisions.
He was the board's president when Project Schoolhouse closed 14 schools and reconfigured grades, and he backed an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system, now used in most Oklahoma districts.
Hunt didn't run for a second term because those volunteer elected positions are like taking a second job.
"I took a sabbatical but told them I'd be available when I'm needed," he said.
Then, Stand for Children came calling, interested in helping Oklahoma advocate for strong public schools.
"Everything I read about them was how I felt personally about these issues," he said.
Hunt is now executive director for Stand for Children-Oklahoma and has his sleeves rolled up ready to work.
Guiding star: Stand for Children is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 out of a Children's Defense Fund rally. It is not aligned with a political party.
Co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman was the featured guest at an education summit in Tulsa on Wednesday sponsored by the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
"We're like the north star," Edelman said. "We look at what the research tell us about what works and doesn't work. We're not concerned with political ideology or where a party or candidate stands."
The research will rankle people, starting with opposing vouchers to private schools because, the group says, major voucher experiments have shown no gains in achievement.
The group backs school calendar changes, early education, Common Core standards, end-of-instruction exams and simple but strong teacher evaluations.
Making it all work is funding.
It takes money for quality early childhood programs, teacher training, more classroom time, remediation, enrichment programs and safety measures.
Oklahoma has slashed education funding by 20 percent since 2008 while adding requirements on districts. Teacher pay is 49th in the nation.
Edelman calls this "unreasonable" and "absurd."
"Show faith - follow through and make sure the previous reforms are funded," he said.
Civil discourse: The most refreshing aspect of the summit was the lack of antagonism.
Oklahoma public education is in turmoil.
Many of the state Education Board meetings last year showed the worst in leadership, with rudeness, meanness and dismissive attitudes the norm.
Whenever a disagreement arises in education reform, name-calling and finger-pointing are the usual responses.
This behavior would lead to detention if they were students.
Hunt knows what he's stepping into but believes that it's worth doing.
"It's about providing solutions and what's best for children based on research," he said. "People are hungry for that kind of dialogue."
The summit put everything on the table for discussion, including evidence that Oklahoma students are academically under- performing.
"I hear people wanting practical problem-solving," Hunt said. "People want to be part of identifying and finding solutions. I'm optimistic a dialogue will be civil and productive."
Now, if only those at the top of the education and political chains would listen.
Original Print Headline: State is ready for change in education