Monday, November 15, 2021

OCPA column: Parent unrest not isolated to Virginia


Parent unrest not isolated to Virginia
By Jonathan Small

Recently released district-level data shows Oklahoma parents have reason to feel as aggrieved as counterparts making their voices heard at school-board meetings across the country. Things are so bad that simply holding steady on poor performance is almost an accomplishment.

Urban districts that adopted the most extreme COVID policies and remained closed to in-person instruction for the better part of a year generated the worst outcomes and biggest learning losses on state tests.

In Oklahoma City, 90 percent of students were below expectations in all subjects on this year’s state tests and 67 percent were effectively more than one year behind. In Tulsa Public Schools, 89 percent of students tested below grade level in all subjects, and 64 percent were more than a year behind.

What are those schools doing to make up that learning loss? Not much.

In fact, Oklahoma City officials are proactively making things worse. At a recent school board meeting, Oklahoma City fired six teachers for failure to comply with a mask mandate that was illegal when it was implemented. An attorney for five of the teachers said all five had exemplary records.

For those who wonder, there’s little evidence the mask mandate reduced COVID transmission. Reported case numbers for Oklahoma City schools followed the general statewide trend (of mostly unmasked citizens) by generating a steady rise in September followed by a drop off in October.

This means Oklahoma City officials chose to fire teachers at the same time they’re hiring emergency-certified teachers to put warm bodies in a classroom, in the name of enforcing a policy with no proven benefit, while mostly hoping learning losses will somehow disappear.

While the situation is not as extreme elsewhere, it is nonetheless serious. In suburban schools often touted as some of Oklahoma’s best, more students are below grade level than not.

State tests showed 59 percent of Edmond students were below grade level in all subjects, 57 percent in Deer Creek, 66 percent in Jenks and 80 percent in Union.

Some rural districts stood out by not losing ground. For example, in both the Chandler and Cherokee districts there was only a 1-percentage point increase in students below grade level, and Cherokee had a smaller share of students below grade level than the aforementioned suburban districts.

But both schools have a majority of students below grade level today, just as they did prior to the pandemic.

Holding ground on poor results is not enough. Oklahoma parents expect better, and their increased awareness of local-school deficiencies is fueling growing demand for school choice and political change. The dynamics that put a Republican in the Virginia governor’s office for the first time in a decade may now be poised to roll through Oklahoma’s GOP primaries in 2022.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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