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Advocates call for more public school reform, expanded choice and options

Cutline: Speaking last week at Langston University-OKC with a focus on education reform issues were, from left, filmmaker Bob Bowdon, retired Los Angeles public school educator Larry Sand, and University of Oklahoma student Taylor Star. Joining the discussion was Brandon Dutcher (not pictured) of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Photo by Tyler Roberts, for The City Sentinel.

By Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin
Sentinel Editors

Two nationally-known education reformers visited Oklahoma last week, with a stop at Langston University’s Oklahoma City campus. They advocated more vigorous forms of school choice, and changes in teacher tenure and other policies. Joining them to discuss education policy at Langston on Lincoln Boulevard was Brandon Dutcher, a vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Bob Bowdon is the award-winning filmmaker and producer/director of “The Cartel,” a documentary on monopoly practices in public education policy in his home state of New Jersey. He pointed to recent news reports that federal education officials estimate barely one-third (34 percent) of eighth graders in American schools are proficient readers. Poor outcomes in American schooling have come even though government spending for education has dramatically increased over the last two decades, Bowdon said.

Bowdon outlined the surge in support for school choice, including even President Barack Obama and his U.S. Education Department, at least when it comes to public charter schools. Characterizing himself as “basically libertarian,” Bowdon said he admired liberals like Davis Guggenheim, producer of “Waiting for Superman” (another successful documentary), who have joined the bipartisan national movement for more effective use of tax resources to support education.

Despite its controversial premises about education unions and failures in public schools, “The Cartel” film garnered favorable reviews in the Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune and other publications. He recently founded ChoiceMedia.TV to document problems and hopes in American education.
Bowdon is a veteran news reporter and news host who moved from Bloomberg Television into independent film production with release of “The Cartel.”

Among other recognition, the motion picture won Best Documentary at the Anthem Film Festival earlier this year. Bowdon has emerged as a leading advocate for expansion of successful public charter school models and other forms of choice in schooling.

Sand sketched the gloomy state of student performance in his home state of California. In the state’s once-acclaimed higher education system, 30 percent of students entering the top tier “Cal system” need remediation before they are adequately prepared for college.

Sand told the forum, “The news gets worse. In the [second tier] Cal State system, 60 percent of students need remediation. In the community college system, 90 percent of the high school graduates need remediation before they are ready to take college-courses.”

Sand placed the poor results squarely at the foot of the Bear State’s powerful teachers union, while acknowledging other factors contribute. He pointed to the reflections of the late Steve Jobs, founder of the Apple and Mac computer systems, that teachers’ unions were “the worst thing that ever happened” to American education.
Sand assailed tenure systems, compensation structures that treat good and bad teachers similarly, and the “dumbing down” of textbooks.

He shared Bowdon’s view that there is “some good news” in the emergence of vigorous advocacy for school choice and paths to excellence.

Sand is a retired public school educator and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. He advocates school choice both in public education and to provide greater access to private options. He focuses particularly on teacher-tenure and compensation issues.

Sand’s writings have appeared in City Journal, Newsweek, Townhall magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and other publications, and have been circulated worldwide by the Associated Press.
Dutcher spoke on progress for education choice in Oklahoma, as well as impediments to parental options in the form on anti-choice litigation by powerful legal firms representing several of the state’s largest public school districts.

Before the Langston event here in Oklahoma City, Bowdon and Sand appeared at an event in Norman co-sponsored by Young Conservatives of Oklahoma and the Young Democrats at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Union.
Young Conservatives of Oklahoma hosted the Dutcher, Bowdon and Sand event at Langston-OKC. Tyler Roberts and Taylor Stair, co-founders of the activist group, said in a statement to The City Sentinel, “As avid followers of politics there is only one issue we can always wholeheartedly stand behind – school choice. We believe school choice policies if allowed to work will bring new life to American education and ensure American leadership throughout the 21st Century.”

Young Conservatives of Oklahoma was founded in September 2010 after encouragement from the Leadership Institute, based in Arlington, Virginia. Already, YCOK has hosted speakers, coordinated activism, volunteered on campaigns, and advocated what the group calls “Oklahoma values on college campuses.” More information can be found on the Young Conservatives of Oklahoma’s Facebook page and website.

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