As a retired teacher, my policy and political choices are based on three decades of struggles with the problems in the inner city and 25 years of work within the OKCPS. We’ve reached a point where many or most school administrators’ issues stem from the perspective of the test-driven, competition-driven reforms of the last 15 to 20 years. The time is coming when a new generation of educators, who grew up in a post-No Child Left Behind world, will take charge. We are getting plenty of indications that a new, humane, dynamic vision of schools and society is emerging.
Rejection of charter expansion
The first key to understanding this week’s OKCPS School Board election is that a grassroots uprising shouted “No!” to charter school expansion.
Oklahoma City adds to the evidence that the national corporate-reform campaign to expand school choice has produced an unsustainable bubble. In fact, charter applications have declined 48 percent nationally since 2012. Charter school advocates may recognize that venture philanthropists and federal and state governments have subsidized an oversupply of charters, which could cause them to retrench. Or, the bubble will burst as they join the Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump push for unregulated vouchers and private charters.
I supported Stanley Hupfeld for board chair, in part, because I believe that local school choice advocates (as opposed to many of their national funders) would be open to de-escalating charter wars and pursuing a new collaborative effort along the lines of MAPS for Kids. The voters disagreed. They sent a clear message: Patrons will do whatever it takes to stop charter expansion.
Paula Lewis rises to the occasion
Just as important, newly-elected board chairwoman Paula Lewis burst on the scene and played a major role in stopping last year’s KIPP takeover of Martin Luther King Elementary School. She also welcomed community input, worked with parents, organized and led an amazing campaign.
Lewis accomplished what OKC Councilman Ed Shadid did when he challenged the city establishment. She rose to the occasion as an unexpected leader, personifying American democracy’s vitality despite an era of Trumpism. Lewis and her supporters will invigorate the millennial parents’ push for holistic and meaningful education for all.
Rebecca Budd offers brains and heart
Third, newly elected District 2 board member Rebecca Budd is an incredibly talented, energetic and loving leader. She has the brains and the heart to bring diverse stakeholders together. I can’t think of a better person to nurture the cross-generational, cross-ideological conversations that we need to put our kids first.
Of course, Cheryl Poole’s narrow loss is terribly disappointing.
I don’t know the new District 1 board member, Charles Henry, but I look forward to meeting him. I communicate with a lot of reform newcomers. I’m not surprised to hear them complain about the venom that all sides now bring to edu-politics. I wonder if Henry is like so many of today’s reformers who are unaware of how venture philanthropists started this shameful chapter of education history through years of high-dollar “bad teacher” propaganda?
Some hopes for moving forward
I’m hoping that OKC can take the lead in repudiating the politics of destruction by adopting the principle of “my opponent is my opponent, not my enemy.” I hope Lewis and her supporters will reach out to Hupfeld, an experienced pragmatist. A year ago, Lewis brought fresh eyes to the board. She should ask Hupfeld for his new insights into the OKCPS, its loyalists and its critics. Also, Lewis is a supporter of community schools. She should seek Hupfeld’s wisdom on what it would take to provide wraparound social services to our kids.
In the short run, our schools and social services may get clobbered by the worsening legacy of the anti-government and pro-privatization agenda that has dominated the Republican Legislature and governor. Although I wish all my preferred candidates had been elected, this year’s new OKCPS board members signal a better time coming.
We must see Paula Lewis, Rebecca Budd and their supporters within the context of the Bernie Sanders campaign, of Indivisible Oklahoma, of the Women’s March and the emergence of CAIR-OK as well as the other forms of creative energy on display in central OKC.