Archive for the ‘public education’ Category

Charter School Debate

April 24, 2007

A recent hot topic of debate at the House of Representatives has centered around the creation of charter schools. Currently there are 13 in Oklahoma. All are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Consider one example of a successful charter school. Six years ago the F.D. Moon Academy in Oklahoma City was the lowest-performing school in the state. Five years later, in the very same building, students of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter School produced some of the highest tests scores in Oklahoma, despite tremendous social and economic challenges.

KIPP eighth-grade students dominated the 2006 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), with 100 percent passing both the state math and writing tests and 97 percent of KIPP students passing the state reading test. This compares to the statewide average of 72 percent of eighth graders passing the math test and 59 percent of Oklahoma City students passing it. The average Academic Performance Index (API) score for all Oklahoma students is 1180. The average score for Oklahoma City students is 1006. Students attending KIPP averaged 1393 out of 1500, which surpassed even Oklahoma City’s Classen School of Advanced Studies, the 17th best high school in the country according to Newsweek. Records indicate that 73 percent of those who enter KIPP at the fifth grade level read at a third-grade level or less, but by the time students reach eighth grade, 97 percent are passing the state reading test.

KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays. As a college preparatory school, KIPP’s focus is not simply on graduating students from 12th grade, but on ensuring they graduate from college.

In a recent Oklahoman story, a KIPP student was quoted as saying, “Before, my dream was basketball or something like that. Now, I want to be a businessman, and KIPP helped me set my goal.”

Nationwide, fifty KIPP academies have been established. Charter schools such as these represent an exciting trend toward reversing the failures of inner city common education.

Considering the phenomenal track record of this, who would oppose such schooling? Early this year, in an obvious attempt to end such success, the Tulsa School Board took action to declare a moratorium on the establishment of any new charter schools.

In response, Democrat State Representative Jabar Shumate, who represents an impoverished part of Tulsa, submitted legislation that would permit higher education institutions and city councils in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to allow charter schools in those counties. This would prevent local boards of education which are hostile to alternative forms of education from stopping creation of charter schools.

After much questioning and debate, Shumate’s bill passed the House by a one vote margin. Shumate was the only Democrat to vote for the bill and it took the support of fifty Republicans to ensure passage.

The narrow vote demonstrates how that even in light of overwhelming evidence that charter schools are successful, defenders of the status quo will fight hard to oppose reforms designed to improve the learning conditions of Oklahoma’s children.

I admire Representative Shumate’s commitment to doing the right thing for Oklahoma children and was honored to support such legislation.

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Murphey Legislative Update 3/7/2007

March 7, 2007

In the preface of his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster made the following statement. “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote, “I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this Divine Book, above all others, constitutes the soul of republicanism.” “By withholding the knowledge of [the Scriptures] from children, we deprive ourselves of the best means of awakening moral sensibility in their minds.”

As a member of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, I see firsthand the results of a society which no longer places emphasis on the values of the Christian faith. During each meeting of the committee, it seems we are forced to vote on finding solutions to new criminal activity. The Department of Corrections faces a nightmare scenario of prison overcrowding. They must deal with more and more attempts to initiate early release of criminals, placing them back into the society which they have victimized. As the government grows due to the increasing number of laws required to police a lawless society, the financial burden placed on law-abiding citizens increases also. And sadly, a big government in a society lacking in morality will in and of itself consist of an increased number of government officials without standards. In short, it is this lack of morality that makes our republican form of government more difficult to maintain.

This is why I was honored to support a recent proposal by fellow freshman Republican Dennis Johnson. Johnson authored HB 1874 to designate “Celebrate Freedom Week” for Oklahoma schools during the same week in November in which we honor veterans. “Celebrate Freedom Week” would be used to instruct students about the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other founding documents and historical American figures.

Johnson expressed the belief that some things should absolutely be taught in school, and the core principles of our nation’s freedom must be emphasized so they can be passed on to future generations.

In speaking for the bill, Representative Paul Wesselhoft said, “My daughter attends Yale University and she’s been surprised at the lack of awareness about our nation’s history among her fellow students – even simple things like the opening preamble to the Declaration of Independence. If elementary school, middle school and high school aren’t the place where students learn about these things, when and where is the appropriate place? I’m surprised and disappointed that anyone would oppose this measure.”

So who would oppose such a measure? One aspect of Johnson’s bill that may have drawn the ire of opponents was language which requires that religious references in the writing of the founding fathers not be censored. Perhaps some prefer that public schools students not be exposed to quotes similar to those of Noah Webster and Benjamin Rush. But can you imagine the positive impact on Oklahoma students if they understood that Christian principles make the republican form of government and our rights and privileges as a free people easier to maintain?

Fortunately Johnson’s bill passed the house by a strong margin, though several legislators debated against it and 18 voted in opposition. I was honored to support Johnson’s effort to refocus the attention of our public school system on the values that made our country great, and look forward to opportunities to do so in the future.