A recent hot topic of debate at the House of Representatives has centered around the creation of charter schools. Currently there are 13 in Oklahoma. All are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Consider one example of a successful charter school. Six years ago the F.D. Moon Academy in Oklahoma City was the lowest-performing school in the state. Five years later, in the very same building, students of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter School produced some of the highest tests scores in Oklahoma, despite tremendous social and economic challenges.
KIPP eighth-grade students dominated the 2006 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), with 100 percent passing both the state math and writing tests and 97 percent of KIPP students passing the state reading test. This compares to the statewide average of 72 percent of eighth graders passing the math test and 59 percent of Oklahoma City students passing it. The average Academic Performance Index (API) score for all Oklahoma students is 1180. The average score for Oklahoma City students is 1006. Students attending KIPP averaged 1393 out of 1500, which surpassed even Oklahoma City’s Classen School of Advanced Studies, the 17th best high school in the country according to Newsweek. Records indicate that 73 percent of those who enter KIPP at the fifth grade level read at a third-grade level or less, but by the time students reach eighth grade, 97 percent are passing the state reading test.
KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays. As a college preparatory school, KIPP's focus is not simply on graduating students from 12th grade, but on ensuring they graduate from college.
In a recent Oklahoman story, a KIPP student was quoted as saying, “Before, my dream was basketball or something like that. Now, I want to be a businessman, and KIPP helped me set my goal.”
Nationwide, fifty KIPP academies have been established. Charter schools such as these represent an exciting trend toward reversing the failures of inner city common education.
Considering the phenomenal track record of this, who would oppose such schooling? Early this year, in an obvious attempt to end such success, the Tulsa School Board took action to declare a moratorium on the establishment of any new charter schools.
In response, Democrat State Representative Jabar Shumate, who represents an impoverished part of Tulsa, submitted legislation that would permit higher education institutions and city councils in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to allow charter schools in those counties. This would prevent local boards of education which are hostile to alternative forms of education from stopping creation of charter schools.
After much questioning and debate, Shumate’s bill passed the House by a one vote margin. Shumate was the only Democrat to vote for the bill and it took the support of fifty Republicans to ensure passage.
The narrow vote demonstrates how that even in light of overwhelming evidence that charter schools are successful, defenders of the status quo will fight hard to oppose reforms designed to improve the learning conditions of Oklahoma’s children.
I admire Representative Shumate’s commitment to doing the right thing for Oklahoma children and was honored to support such legislation.