Monday, August 20, 2007

Giving Oklahoma Students A Chance

Giving Oklahoma Students A Chance

One of the most exciting and encouraging events of my first year in the legislature occurred this week as I was privileged to visit the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and meet with KIPP principal Tracy McDaniel. KIPP is an inner city charter school located on the second floor of the F.D. Moon Academy at 13th and Martin Luther King Blvd. in Oklahoma City.

A few years ago, I visited the F.D. Middle School to speak to the students. I remember thinking how deplorable the conditions of the school were and observed the lack of discipline in the students. The school was the lowest-performing in the state. Principal McDaniel explained that in the past, the school was handicapped by inadequate staff, making it difficult to achieve success. He indicated that of approximately 50 teachers, he believed 45 were simply not up to the task of providing a quality education. As a result, F.D. Moon remained one of the lowest performing schools in the state. That is when McDaniel took action. He spent a year out of state in training with the KIPP program and then returned to Oklahoma and the F.D. Moon school, where he now runs the KIPP Charter School.

Now, despite the same 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 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. Students are encouraged to call teachers after hours if they have problems with homework. McDaniel uses these calls as a way of reviewing the performance of teachers. If there are a large number of calls about a particular subject, then the manner in which the concept has been taught is subject to review. As such, the job performance of McDaniel's staff is consistently analyzed and improved upon.

This idea of holding the employees (teachers), responsible to the customers (students), is one that ensures the school operates according to the established principles which are successful in the private sector and are all too absent in the world of government-run schools.

The most enjoyable part of the visit was speaking to the students about their experience at KIPP. The students are able to look you in the eye and clearly articulate how KIPP has changed their lives and their goals of continuing on to academic success in both high school and college. KIPP student career plans range from medicine and law to forensic science and engineering.

A visit to KIPP will restore faith in inner city students. If these young people can succeed in the midst of some of the worst economic conditions, think of how the program would enable the students in the rest of the state!

This year in the legislature I was able to see firsthand how advocates of a government-dominated monopoly on common education tried hard to limit the ability of these types of schools to expand. Now I understand why it is so important to them that the KIPP success story is not repeated in the future. The success of outside-the-box projects like KIPP is no doubt one of the greatest threats to the education status-quo which imprisons many inner city students in a system of government-run failure, dooming them to a life of economic blight.

As lawmakers, we owe it to future generations to enable students access to charter schools, private schools and homeschool programs which will contribute to their success.

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