Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Real Solutions for Public Education Reform in Tulsa

Axiom: It is easy to criticize a situation, but a leader will find solutions.

I know that I have fallen into this trap as it is definitely easier to make critical remarks about a topic like public education, than it is to offer concrete solutions. So here are a few solutions that represent potential real reform to Tulsa's public education:

1. Separate sports from education. Have all sports handled by booster clubs made up of parents and private citizens and businesses who actively support their teams. Booster clubs could set salaries, hire staff, rent facilities from schools, etc. This would end the situations where the football coach also teaches history, or whatever. With sports expenditures out of the general budget, more existing dollars could be focused in the classroom. Over time, the focus of the school would shift from pride in sports programs to pride in academic achievement. Sports could still be a source of school pride, but in the meantime, it could be a revenue generator for the schools as the booster clubs could pay rent for facilities and pay the schools for the rights to use the school name, etc.

2. Expand the number of charter schools statewide. Since charter schools are public schools, they provide a public option that gives taxpayers more "bang for the tax buck". As they are also schools of choice meaning, students go there because they want to go there. This is a critical point and one that is absent from the traditional public school. They tend to be much safer schools too since the schools can set policies that allow the students to weed themselves out if the school is not a good fit. With smaller enrollment, smaller class sizes, and a group of students who choose to go there, you tend to get a rather tight-knit group and one where a student will not fall between the cracks.

3. Consolidate the number of existing traditional public schools. This would be the natural outcome for an expanded charter school network in a district. Charters can use retail space, a church building, you name it. This would also have a benefit to the city of utilizing unused retail spaces and a sense that something is now going on. Taxpayers would save millions each year and perhaps some of the school property could be sold to private developers and put into the tax base.

4. Limit the amount of the budget spent on administration. Cap larger districts at a lower percentage than the smaller districts. This would force districts to focus on the classroom education and not in self perpetuation.

5. End all English as a second language classes. Get this out of the school budget and have churches or concerned citizens offer English classes to immigrants. Or with a charter school, they could form their own school and teach Spanish as a second language.

6. Tie High School graduation to social services benefits. This reform would be to address the falling graduation rates across the state. If you do not graduate or get your GED, then you would be denied access to social services. I'd bet we would see an immediate turnaround in graduation rates. It's only right since the Oklahoma Constitution requires that we provide a "free and appropriate" public education. If that is the requirement by our State, then we have the right to expect that our children take full advantage of it and take graduation as a responsibility on their side? If that is our premise, then it must have some consequences.

7. Require community service as part of the curriculum. We need to develop a sense of community pride and spirit. And it can start with elementary students. We invest in them and they invest themselves in the community. It's a win-win.

8. Allow non-certified teachers to teach certain classes. Wouldn't it be great to have a teacher in say accounting, who has actually been an accountant? Think of the examples and real life experiences that kind of teacher could bring to a classroom. Have a professional photographer teach photography. Novel idea, don't you think?

These are just a few things from off the top of my head. I reserve the right to post more in the future.


Anonymous said...

RE: Separating sports from education. Having booster clubs control sports is not the solution to the athletics/academics problem. Booster clubs are already the 900 lb. gorilla in the mix. As a retired athletic administrator for a out-of-state school district, one of my biggest challenges was to curb b.c.s and keep them in line with state (and district) guidelines and policies. Even as a subsequent member of the local school board, it proved impossible to control their activities. In fact, the BEST solution - successful in many school district - is to ban booster clubs completely or limit each school to ONE all-sports booster club.

Keep the rules simple, but enforce - STRINGENTLY - those rules you have. And don't get caught up in the "don't punish the kid" rhetoric, because most of those "kids" know they're breaking the rules when they push the transfer system. Use compassion and common sense, but don't brook anyone skirting the regulations in order to gain advantage.


Mad Okie said...

I agree with most of what you say, but forced community service by a gov't run entity smacks of "Hitler Youth". maybe extra credit could be given or something like that.

Another thing that would fix 3 & 4 is to consolidate school districts... Oklahoma has 77 counties and 544 districts, each one with their own superintendent and staff. I don't thing busing children all over the place is the way to go, but getting rid of the bloat would help a lot

Jeff Shaw said...

Great post.

The only thing I see is the ESL. We should encourage communication.

Everyone should be learning multiple languages.

Consolidation could work, but then that's advocating big government - Consolidating government hasn't helped government bloat at any level.

From what I can see in Oklahoma, the bigger the school system the crappier the schools.

It's a pretty tough problem.