No More Shaming — Stand Up For OKC Public Schools!

Credit KOCO TV.
Credit KOCO TV.

The first day of classes for Oklahoma City Public Schools was Monday, August 3rd.

That district is the biggest and most criticized school district in the state. It is also the most ethnically and economically diverse. School “reform” advocates love to show just how bad they think it is in OKCPS. The A-F school grading system is meant to show that.

It is up to the rest of us to remind “reform” folks of reality, which is more complex than their portrayals.

And it is not just out of charity that we move in close to stop the shaming and advocate for OKCPS. Many of the problems with economic and cultural diversity present in the core of the OKC metro are coming to our communities eventually.

“Reform” Dog and Pony Show

Back in the Winter, Gov. Mary Fallin paraded Jeb Bush through the master of all cherry-picker schools — KIPP Academy. The two-governors’ show at KIPP was meant to show just how good it could be if we just shamed those “bad” schools enough and praised the “great” schools enough.

Are we comparing apples-to-apples with a state-wide grading system for schools whose demographics cut across the increasingly large economic and cultural disparities in the U.S. and Oklahoma? It is meant to look that way. But it is really an elaborate and damaging hoax.

In the case of OKCPS, the largest and most complex school district in the state, the A-F grading system isn’t a case of comparing apples to oranges. It’s comparing apples to moon rocks.

Big Problems With School Grading System

Objections to the A-F school grading system in Oklahoma are many and have been covered in great detail over the last several years.

Oklahoma City’s News9 had a report about it in October of last year.

From the OKPolicyBlog of the Oklahoma Policy Institute we can learn much about research showing that the A-F grading system as implemented in Oklahoma was deeply flawed.

Gene Perry’s OKPolicyBlog post “How Oklahoma’s A-F grading system discriminates against high-poverty schools — and how to fix it” showed the problems:

The method Oklahoma uses to come up with grades actually hides achievement gains among the lowest performing students while providing large bonuses to schools with students that start ahead.

In April, education reporter John Thompson wrote about the crescendo of a two-year failure cycle of state-wide testing that called into question the integrity of the whole school-grading system.

On the anonymous blog OkEducationTruths, there are too many posts about the failures of the A-F system to list and link here. Just go there and search “A-F grading system”.

Profound Differences

The differences between the students who Oklahoma City Public Schools teachers will have on Monday and the students who suburban teachers will have a little later in August are profound.

Here are some demographic figures taken directly from these various Oklahoma City metro area schools’ web sites. (I could not find any similar demographic info on the web sites for Putnam City Schools or Mid-Del Schools.)

Oklahoma City Public Schools – 43,000 students (approx.)

  • 45% Hispanic individuals
  • 27% African-American
  • 20% Caucasian
  • 5% Native American
  • 3% Asian,
  • 31.6% of our students are English Language Learners.

Moore Public Schools – 21,000 students (approx.)

  • Caucasian 69%
  • Alaskan or American Indian 11%
  • Hispanic 10%
  • Black 8%
  • Asian & Pacific Islander 5%

Edmond Public Schools – 23,000 students (approx.)

  • White- 65.4%
  • Black- 10.2%
  • Hispanic- 9.3%
  • Mixed- 7.8%
  • Asian- 5.0%
  • American Indian- 2.1%
  • English Language Learners – 2.3%

These numbers show a big difference between the cultural make-up of the OKCPS classrooms and those of  the two large neighboring districts.

For instance: It is shocking to see that nearly 1/3 of all students in OKCPS are English language learners! No other school district in the Oklahoma City metro area comes close to that. Neighboring districts who even report it show percentages in the single digits.

And what about poverty and its impact on the performance of students in the core of the metro? It is pervasive.

Can we say that all things are equal here? Is the cloth out of which these districts are cut the same? Of course not.

“Reformers” Laser-Focused…On Accusations

Our A-F school grading system in the state has been instituted by a state board and state superintendent whose entire orientation is on the suburbs. Their thinking cannot imagine any other legitimate school circumstances.  Their primary interest is in accusing administrators, teachers, and students of being lazy and unmotivated, which provides a useful narrative for those who want to loot the district of taxpayer funds, channeling those dollars into for-profit charters and corporate managers.

Instead, the reality for OKCPS is that students are measurably disadvantaged by poverty, hunger, cultural, and language barriers before the school year even begins. It is a major challenge for anyone who would teach there. It is a major challenge for their building and district leaders.

We Are All Advocates

Oklahoma City Public Schools deserve the advocacy of everyone who is concerned for real students in a real city. Those students won’t conform to particular ideologies about education developed by investment bankers. It shouldn’t matter if they don’t.

This year, OKCPS teachers should know that we are on their side.

We have your back. Now go teach. We all need you.