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National Report Shows Need for Education Reform in Oklahoma: Charter Schools in Capital City Provide Model for Rest of State

As the Oklahoma General Assembly convenes this week, it will have a lot of issues on its plate. Always important is the issue of education. Though there are bright spots, such as Oklahoma City charter schools, statewide academic performance is lagging the nation. A recent Education Week report reveals that Oklahoma eighth grade students ranking “advanced” in math measures on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test was just 3.7 percent, less than half the national average. And fewer than 14 percent of Oklahoma students who took advanced placement tests achieved a high score, which is also about half the national average. Additional student performance measures on the NAEP math assessments paint a similarly bleak picture. For fourth graders, only 36.4 percent scored proficient in math and fewer than 30 percent hit proficiency in reading. Among eighth graders, one quarter of students were proficient in math, and 28.7 percent in reading. Again, these rank far below the national averages. However, there was also some positive education news to come out of Oklahoma this month. In an article in the Oklahoman, “Charter Schools Make their Mark on OKC District,” Tim Willert writes that Oklahoma’s small charter school movement is making an impact for kids in the capital city. On the state’s A-F grading metrics, five of the district’s 13 public charter schools received an “A” designation, and three received a “B.” That is more than 60 percent of charter schools in Oklahoma City receiving either of the top two rankings. For the non-charter schools in that district, more than 63 percent schools in the Oklahoma City district schools scored either a “D” or “F,” with only slightly more than 20 percent scoring an “A” or “B.” Fortunately, rather than seeing these rankings as something to divide charter and non-charter schools, traditional district schools have started to embrace public charter schools as a collaborative partner. Willert notes an interest from interim superintendent Dave Lopez to bring “best practices” from Oklahoma City’s charters to the rest of the district. Strong charter school academic performance and charter-district collaboration are changing lives in Oklahoma City and it is exciting to see families access these innovative educational options for their children. However, parents outside of the urban centers in Oklahoma do not have this choice, as state law restricts charter schools (with very few exceptions) to Oklahoma City and Tulsa. As the Education Week report demonstrates, improvement in Oklahoma’s education system is not just a big city issue, but a statewide priority. We know that charter schools are a key part of the solution. With high demand and demonstrated success for charter schools, there has never been a better time for policymakers to lift the restrictions that keep charters confined to the cities and let this proven model be accessible for all of Oklahoma’s students and families. Russ Simnick is senior director of state advocacy for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.