Education allowed America to become the most successful nation in the world. Most people agree. So how did education become just one more political hot topic? Why do so many Americans—and Oklahomans—have a hard time agreeing on how to get education back on track?
One reason is that all of us make assumptions about education that are only partly true. The effort to pass universal school choice in the Oklahoma Legislature is part of an effort to get beyond these stereotypes about schools and their problems.
One stereotype is that public schools have become all about sports rather than learning. Another is that they’re all drag shows and pornographic sex-ed curriculum. Others believe all the problems come down to money. No doubt each of these captures a part of the truth but can also obscure the bigger picture.
There are stereotypes about private education as well. Many people think the average private school is full of rich families trying to get their kids into elite colleges. Others claim they’re run by religious extremists. Some say private schools never take kids with disabilities.
Every one of these claims can be found in Oklahoma education debates, just about every day. Are there public-school officials that care more about sports than education? Sure. Are there elitist private schools? Yep. But neither stereotype represents all schools, or even the average among them.
There is not one perfect way to do school so that every child can thrive. The answer is to let families and schools come up with lots of answers.
Consider this fact: The average private school tuition in Oklahoma is about half what is spent per student in our state’s public schools. Most of Oklahoma’s private schools are small, Christian, and relatively inexpensive. One even takes only children from homeless families, and many have students with special needs. A handful of elite private schools get the attention, but they’re outliers.
Oklahoma public schools, on the other hand, have more money per student than ever before. They also have more non-teaching staff than ever before. Could they use more money or more counselors or smaller class sizes? Sure. But many states that have all those things still have declining academic outcomes.
What about pornographic curriculum in public schools? It’s a real problem—I’ve written about it—but it isn’t everywhere. Many Oklahoma teachers and librarians oppose efforts by the Biden Administration and teachers unions to sexualize students.
The fact is, every school is different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution because schools have a lot of different problems. More money in one school might help, but in another it might be wasted because of poor management or corruption. Some need to refocus away from woke fads, others deserve credit for rejecting them all along.
Every student and family is different, too. Some older kids can learn at their own pace, and even online. Others, especially younger kids, need a lot of structure. Some do fine in a large class, while other kids need a lot of one-on-one attention. While every child has great promise, none are the same.
So what is the answer? That question can be misleading. There is not one perfect way to do school so every child can thrive.
The answer is to let families and schools come up with lots of answers. This is what made America great in the first place: Trust the people, first and foremost. Government can fill in the gaps but should never take the place of parents who are doing the best they can to raise their own kids.
This is what “school choice” is all about. The goal is to leave behind the stereotypes and top-down, one-size-fits-all political answers. School choice gives power to parents, not just to find the right educational answer for each of their children. But, if need be, to build a new one—to create and innovate in the very best tradition of America and Oklahoma.