Advocates call for more public school reform, expanded choice and options

 Two nationally-known education reformers visited Oklahoma last week, with a stop at Langston University’s Oklahoma City campus. They advocated more vigorous forms of school choice, changes in teacher tenure and other policies.

Joining them to discuss education policy at Langston on Lincoln Boulevard was Brandon Dutcher, a vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Bob Bowdon is the award-winning filmmaker and producer/director of “The Cartel,” a documentary on monopoly practices in public education policy in his home state of New Jersey.

He pointed to recent news reports that federal education officials estimate barely one-third (34 percent) of eighth graders in American schools are proficient readers. The poor outcomes in American schooling have come even though government spending for education has dramatically increased over the last two decades, Bowdon said.

Bowdon outlined the surge in support for school options, including even President Barack Obama and his U.S. Education Department, at least when it comes to public charter schools. Characterizing himself as “basically libertarian,” Bowdon said he admired liberals like Davis Guggenheim, producer of “Waiting for Superman” (another successful documentary), who have joined the bipartisan national movement for more effective use of tax resources to support education.

Despite its controversial premises about education unions and failures in the public school system, “The Cartel” film garnered favorable reviews in the Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune and other publications.

Bowdon recently founded ChoiceMedia.TV to document problems and hopes in American education.

Bowdon is a veteran news reporter and news host who moved from Bloomberg Television into independent film production with his work on “The Cartel.” Among other recognition, the motion picture won Best Documentary at the Anthem Film Festival earlier this year.

Bowdon has emerged as a leading advocate for expansion of successful public charter school models and other forms of choice in schooling.

Sand sketched the gloomy state of student performance in his home state of California.

In the state’s once-acclaimed higher education system, 30 percent of students entering the top tier “Cal system” need remediation before they are adequately prepared for college.

Sand told the Langston forum, “The news gets worse. In the [second tier] Cal State system, 60 percent of students need remediation. In the community college system, 90 percent of the high school graduates need remediation before they are ready to take college courses.”

Sand placed the poor results squarely at the foot of the Bear State’s powerful teachers’ union, while acknowledging other factors contribute to the problem. He pointed to the reflections of the late Steve Jobs, founder of the Apple and Mac computer systems, that teachers’ unions were “the worst thing that ever happened” to American education.

Sand assailed tenure systems, compensation structures that treat good and bad teachers similarly, and the “dumbing down” of American textbooks. He shared Bowdon’s view that there is “some good news” in the emergence of vigorous advocacy for school choice and paths to excellence.

Sand is a retired public school educator and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. He advocates school choice both in public education and for private options. He focuses particularly on teacher tenure and compensation issues.

Sand’s writings have appeared in City Journal, Newsweek, Townhall magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and other publications, and have been circulated worldwide by the Associated Press.

Dutcher spoke on progress for education choice in Oklahoma, as well as impediments to parental options in the form on anti-choice litigation by powerful legal firms representing several of the state’s largest public school districts.

Before the Langston event here in Oklahoma City, Bowdon and Sand appeared at an event in Norman co-sponsored by Young Conservatives of Oklahoma and Young Democrats, at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Union.
Young Conservatives of Oklahoma hosted the Dutcher, Bowdon and Sand discussion at Langston-OKC. Tyler Roberts and Taylor Stair, co-founders of the activist group, said in a statement to CapitolBeatOK, “As avid followers of politics there is only one issue we can always wholeheartedly stand behind – school choice. We believe school choice policies if allowed to work will bring new life to American education and ensure American leadership throughout the 21st Century.”

Young Conservatives of Oklahoma was founded in September 2010 with encouragement from leaders of the Leadership Institute, based in Arlington, Virginia. YCOK has hosted speakers, coordinated activism, volunteered in campaigns, and advocated what the group calls “Oklahoma values on college campuses.”