A national education-reform group that pushes for more education reforms including accountability of teachers, an expansion of the school day and better tracking of student data is creating an Oklahoma chapter and letting legislators know, it intends to be around this coming legislative session.
Stand for Children recently created its Oklahoma chapter, the eleventh nationally and this past week was the first week of operation as national founder Jonah Edelman visited the state, speaking with legislators, education leaders and non-profits.
“When we help children, we help their families and generations to come,” said Edelman as he spoke Thursday to about 20 representatives of various non-profit organizations in Oklahoma City. He had earlier spoken at an education summit held in Tulsa where he said his group’s goal in Oklahoma is to lobby for adequate and immediate funding of reforms already passed by the state legislature. The son of civil rights leader and National Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman made it clear to the Oklahoma City non-profits that his group wants parents to be more involved in the education of their children.
Former Tulsa school board member Brian Hunt is the new state director of Stand for Children and told the non-profits, “Our goal is straight-forward, we want the legislature to invest in the reforms they already passed.” He and Edelman said Oklahoma school children need to be learning what will ready them for the 21st century.
But Hunt added another pledge in seeking out troubled schools. “I want to walk the halls of Northwest Classen and Douglass.” Douglass has seen its share of problems in the past year as protesting parents and fired teachers demonstrated, resulting in a federal investigation and an Oklahoma City school district investigation that led to the resignation of the high school principal.
The same investigation revealed many of the Douglass high school seniors lacked the required classes and grades to graduate this spring. While he didn’t mention Douglass by name, Edelman complained of high dropout and low graduation rates nationally. “Officials are lying to children and parents and educators and our goal is to get a higher level of education.”
Edelman, Hunt and Stand for Children’s State government affairs director, Amber England spent Thursday having lunch with several legislators, Republican and Democrats alike and a representative from the Governor’s office. Edmond State Senator Clark Jolley (R-41st district) was among them. He has authored some of Oklahoma’s education reforms, among them laws ending social promotion, the establishment of the controversial letter grades for schools and school districts and more accountability of testing of students.
‘I’m always excited to see organizations and groups of people who are willing to stand up for education advocacy,” Jolley said in an email to the City Sentinel. “I’m also excited that Stand for Children isn’t a pro-reform, pro-teacher or pro-administrator group.”
If Jolley has a concern, it’s that other groups might try to label Stand for Children as just another front group for reformers. “I think Stand for Children will bode well in Oklahoma, especially with the parents who they help to learn how to fight for a better education for their children.”
Edelman also met with Karl Springer, the Oklahoma City School Superintendent who offered his support of Stand for Children. “Stand for Children is a breath of fresh air for its reform measures and dedication to the children in Oklahoma,” Springer said in an email statement to the City Sentinel. Hunt indicated he felt the meeting went well with Springer and the superintendent, while perhaps initially was reserved about Stand for Children’s intents, came away with a changed mind.
While the three leaders indicated their main goals will be to push for more funding of education reforms, it’s also clear they want to learn more about the problem schools in the Oklahoma City area. “We want to do a deep dive in the Oklahoma City schools,” said England as she addressed the non-profit representatives.
A one-page handout describing the goals of Stand for Children in Oklahoma declared three main goals for 2013. One is to ‘ensure all students benefit from higher standards, better reading instruction and end-of-high school exams. The second focus is to ‘help districts increase the amount of time our children spend learning. Finally, the group stated it wants to ‘investigate opportunities to strengthen teacher preparation, licensure and evaluation so all Oklahoma teachers are well-trained and well-supported.’
The fledgling group has only Hunt and England as its staffers but it intends to operate out of offices in Oklahoma City near NW 4th and Walker.
The organization’s goals could put it at odds with other groups, such as its advocacy to let go teachers and principals who are not doing their jobs. It supports longer school days and school terms and data systems that not only measure what students are learning, but how well schools and teachers are educating children.
Stand for Children is not without some controversy in other states. In 2011, Edelman created a stir when he stated publicly he had led what was reported as a well-funded campaign using lobbyists to pressure union leaders to give up their rights in Illinois. He admitted to hiring 11 lobbyists so the unions could not hire them. He and the Illinois Education Association remain at odds.
And in Denver, Colorado, Edelman and his organization were accused of getting involved in the local school board races, something his critics called illegal political tactics. Edelman’s group endorsed some school board candidates but not others and that angered local politicians.
If Denver showed Edelman is not above recruiting parents to campaign for certain selected school board candidates, Edelman has written his opposition to what he calls ‘corporate reformers’, those he contends are waging a war to privatize schools and destroy teachers unions.
Writing last June in PURE, a Chicago-based education magazine, he spoke out against one group that raised millions and spent money on anti-union robo calls in the Chicago Public Schools and Edelman urged a war against propaganda. “In doing so, we are being “offensive” only in the sense that we are fighting pro-actively to protect democratic public education.”
Ironically, Edelman admits it was his 2009 work with the Tulsa-based Kaiser Foundation that attracted him to Oklahoma and he kept in touch with corporate leaders over the past few years. “I agreed to help and I got to know legislators and what I found was a state with a willingness to change. That’s refreshing compared to other states.”