I thought I might weigh in on the typical meddling of right-wing legislators into the content of the new educational standards recently approved by the Oklahoma House and Senate.
— Tulsa World Opinion (@TWOpinion) March 22, 2016
First, those legislators who criticize the standards in non-constructive ways, such as state Sen. Josh Brecheen, the Coalgate Republican who apparently doesn’t believe in evolutionary theory, have insulted a broad swath of the Oklahoma intellectual community and, frankly, made fools of themselves in the process.
I’ll limit my criticism on Brecheen’s actions, but this is a guy who lists his occupation on his Senate profile as a “motivational speaker” and has tried to pass legislation in the past that essentially wants to undermine the scientific method in our high school science classes, an effort on his part which consistently makes national news and embarrasses the state.
Brecheen, according to a news report, said he thought the standards, which replace the Common Core standards rejected by the legislators because of dubious political reasons in 2014, were not clear enough. He wants specific books listed, according to the report. By extension, I guess we are now to embrace the preposterous idea that legislators or maybe the governor, rather than educators, should be handpicking the books our students read. Why not just assign the Bible, right?
— Common Core News (@CommonCores) March 19, 2016
Now that the standards have passed in the legislature, I’ll make three points that really deserve widespread acceptance here.
(1) The legislature needs to get out of micromanaging the educational standards for our students. For the most part, and there are some but few exceptions, legislators simply don’t have the knowledge or experience to develop a set of academic standards that demand high achievement and also allow for classroom flexibility and individual learning.
(2) I know some of the people who worked on the standards. They were faced with a huge and problematic task brought about by a distorted political movement to get rid of the Common Core standards. These are really brilliant academics and one reason they are brilliant is because they are willing to listen and discuss reasonable suggestions and ideas about academic standards. They don’t believe in monolithic reasoning. They don’t believe in a closed system in which teachers and parents don’t get to question and raise issues about learning and academic progress. Academic standards should always be in a state of evolution (sorry to use that word, Senator Brecheen), and they absolutely know that. Standards are a process. They can be tweaked and improved, and this does and will happen. But our educators should ALWAYS make the final call on the standards. Educators are the experts on the issue of standards not right-wing religious motivational speakers.
(3) The outside evaluators of our standards this time around, and there obviously should be outside evaluators, shouldn’t rubber stamp anything, but are we really going to let a retired professor from Arkansas dismiss the hard work of educators here with reductionist reasoning designed for sound bites and media play for financial profit? How much did the state pay for this professor’s evaluation that plays into the political ideology of right-wing legislators, such as motivational speaker Brecheen. I won’t name the evaluators because of the stickiness of the web or question their academic integrity, but are they aware of the political reality here and the chronic underfunding of our educational system? Oklahoma funds its schools at one of the lowest rates in the nation—is it 49th or 48th in the nation now?—and is dead last in the region in this regard. Why don’t they deal with this issue when they declare, according to one news article, “the proposed standards suffer from a lack of specificity, lack of examples in both math and reading materials and vague language.” Lack, lack. I’ll add the real lack. Our lack of anything close to adequate funding for education is a crisis, a pressing emergency and the basic foundational issue that creates the state’s numerous social-issue problems, from poor medical outcomes to some of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
Oklahoma educators are doing an incredible job with students right now given the state’s dire financial predicament, and some teachers really endure in almost Third World-like educational conditions—not those teachers in the wealthier suburbs of Oklahoma and Tulsa, of course—because of lack of money and resources, not because of “vague language.”
If the state’s dismal financial situation, caused by recent income tax cuts for the wealthy, unneeded tax credit programs for corporations and the downturn in the oil and gas industry, continues for a prolonged period it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the federal government under a court order steps in and requires the state to fund education in a viable manner. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s almost time for it. We’ll see how the legislator and Gov. Mary Fallin handle the growing $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year.
This is what happens when a majority of voters elect anti-education ideologues and extremists to run their government.