Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Moral Imperative

One of the more misunderstood issues in Oklahoma is that of charter schools. This is probably the first year since I have been in the House of Representatives that no debate has centered around the creation of charter schools, although it appears there will be much debate around a bill that would allow public schools to operate under the same lack of state auspices as charter schools.

Currently there are approximately 13 of these schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and I have come to the conclusion that very few people actually realize the exciting details surrounding these success stories.

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. That year, the average Academic Performance Index (API) score for all Oklahoma students was 1180. The average score for Oklahoma City students was 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 magazine. Records indicate that 73 percent of those who enter KIPP at the fifth grade level read at third grade level or lower, but by the time students reach eighth grade, 97 percent are passing the state reading test.

KIPP students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and twice monthly on Saturdays. As a college preparatory school, KIPP focuses on producing students who will graduate not only from 12th grade, but college as well.

In an 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.”

Fifty KIPP academies have been established nationwide. 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?

A few years ago, 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, courageously submitted legislation that would have permitted higher education institutions and city councils in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to allow charter schools in those counties. Shumate claimed that residents of his district want more of these innovative schools and believe they have a positive impact on students and families.

I admired Shumate's effort and believe it is immoral for the state government to keep kids trapped in dangerous and failing inner city public schools when it is now clear that they can succeed in the charter school environment. I feel it is important for Oklahomans to realize the exciting opportunities afforded to Oklahoma children by these organizations.

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