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Published 08/12/2019 | Reading Time 3 min 10 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank
No one wants to be at the bottom of the barrel. Most want to be first; nevertheless, life often reminds us that that position is only reserved for one group or one individual — and any Oklahoma third-grader will tell you that everyone can’t be first.
But as the saying goes, “Aim for the stars, and if you fail, you’ll land on the moon.” That’s to say: If we push ourselves as a state beyond what we think we’re capable of, we may land near our goal or possibly in that desirable top-ten-spot for public education.
There are many doubters who believe that Oklahoma could never become a top ten state in education; I use to be one of them.
In the wake of last year’s teacher walkout and the unsatisfactory teacher raise those state legislators gave to our teachers, I nearly lost all hope of us getting out of the bottom ten and ending our teacher shortage.
However, with our new govern, businessman Kevin Stitt, who has set ambitions for Oklahoma to become a top ten state, I have greater hope that we may just break-out of the bottom ten and realistically land somewhere in the top-25 within 5- to 10-years.
I could care less if he’s a Republican because politics should never come before nor between our kids and their right to high-quality free education.
Now, what actions does Oklahoma need to take to break away from the bottom 25 states in education in the US?
I’m in agreement with Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister when she explained that the continued use of emergency-certified teachers isn’t a viable pathway for our state to meet Gov. Stitts high educational ambitions.
To all appearances, the state’s educational superintendent and new governor are on the same page.
However, will Oklahoma legislators fail our public objectives of becoming a top ten state for education as they have countless times before?
If state legislators were ambitious about curing our teacher exodus, they would have given our educators their $10,000 increase during last year’s walkout. The legislators instead indirectly told our educators for tomorrow’s leaders that they weren’t valuable enough to be fully funded. It’s the reason why we continue to have a teacher shortage in the state of Oklahoma and a need for more emergency certifications.
We can’t keep up with the competitive teacher pay in nearby states like Texas, and our kids can’t compete on a national level if we continue to fill their classrooms with people whose original ambitions were never to enter the teaching profession.
As a society, we owe our teachers and kids more. Our kids are tomorrow’s version of us, and I hope my reflection looks better tomorrow.
Hence, if we want to maintain our high-quality teachers and pull more high-performing teachers from other states, we’re going to have to make an investment in our teachers and pay them more than all neighboring states. In doing so, Oklahoma legislators will publicly demonstrate that the sooner state values its teachers.
Furthermore, to mitigate the possibility of losing more high-quality teachers just before they began producing their best instructional years — in year 3 and beyond, we must incentivize our educators: free housing stipends for their first few years or for those who qualify. We could submit college tuition payoffs or loan forgiveness for teachers who serve longer than 7- or 10-years. Moreover, forever year they teach we could take off a semester they still owe to their colleges. We should be giving them bonuses for their great work and the assurance of smaller class sizes so our kids can be more competitive academically.
That is how we end the teacher shortage and break out of the bottom 25 for teacher pay and academic performance.
We have to get intentional about solving the racial disparity gap in Oklahoma public schools. Black and brown students in the state make up nearly half of all public school students, yet they continue testing below the national average academically year after year and decade after decade.
An educated citizenry is the key to a more productive and innovative workforce in our state, which leads to a more prosperous society.
We can’t thrive if we continue to feed the least among us into the prison system on the school-to-prison pipeline. High recidivism leads to more deficits, more crime, and an unsafe community.
Thoroughly educating all of our state’s children lowers the number of incarceration for tomorrow and leads to more exceptional outcomes for our businesses and social interactions, but that will only happen if our state legislators competitively fund our teachers and our schools in this upcoming legislative session.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, blogger for EdPost, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Press Club.