Oklahoma City Council last week expressed some concern about the something-less-than-wonderful state of Oklahoma City Public Schools, especially in view of the half-billion dollars raised for and spent by MAPS for Kids, most of which went to OKCPS. Council apparently was surprised that throwing money at a problem did not actually solve the problem.

Nobody on the horseshoe, I have to assume, read what I had had to say on the subject a week before:

Indeed this qualified as throwing money at it, but I admire its approach: isolate a variable and see if it makes a difference. What's more, voters approved the temporary tax that financed the program, which makes it a lot easier to bear than the usual top-down spending decrees, especially the ones relying on so-called "Federal funds" glommed from the population at large; no one from Bangor or Bakersfield paid for any of this, unless he happened to be around here and bought something during the period the tax was in effect.

Council was sufficiently miffed, it appears, to contemplate the thought of intervention, up to and including taking actual control of the district. This went over about as well as you'd think it would: Superintendent Karl Springer called the very idea "disrespectful," and pointed out that he, too, was frustrated with the lack of progress, as measured by the usual standardized tests. Mayor Cornett, perhaps having remembered the speed of the revolving door at 900 North Klein, sought to distance himself from the Council's discussion, saying that "starting over" was not on the table.

Were I of a particular political mindset, I'd start pointing fingers at the teachers' union. But I am not persuaded that they bear the bulk of the blame, either; while undoubtedly there are some substandard teachers in the district — in fact, I'd bet that probably 50 percent of them are below the district average — I haven't seen any indication that Ed Allen, head of the local AFT, goes to any particular effort to insulate the poorer performers from accountability standards, though admittedly I no longer have the sources I used to have within the district. (Nature's brand of attrition seems cruel sometimes.) Nor is Allen averse to experimenting: there's a pilot program in several schools in which teachers are evaluated by their peers, presumably with his blessing.

And there's the ever-popular argument of "human biodiversity," aka "some races are just smarter than others." Well, yeah, okay. The proper response to that is "So what?" If I put all my chickens in the IQ basket, then I have to explain how it is that our presumed Best and Brightest, the ones in charge of things, the ones who will rattle off their scores to anyone who'll listen and lots of us who won't, so often fail to be smarter than a 5th-grader. They were taught the wrong things, you say? I'll buy that. But primary schools, by and large, are not where the damage was done.

Now back to me: "Isolate a variable and see if it makes a difference." We've basically ruled out substandard facilities. We don't seem to be overrun with substandard teachers. Ethnicity is not the controlling factor: if it were, a school like Westwood, where approximately none of the student body has been speaking English for very long, would be several hundred API points (the scale goes to 1500) below a school like Monroe, down the street from me, instead of thirty. Yes, two of the three best performers in the district are charter schools. So is the absolute rock-bottom worst.

Which leaves only one question: whose children are these, anyway? Answer that one, and all of a sudden you've answered the question of responsibility. Mayor Cornett and Dr. Springer are waiting to hear from you.

The Vent

  10 October 2010

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