Oklahoma is opening up in stages at last, thank goodness. While we have thought, from the beginning, that shutdowns have been a bad idea, what’s done is done. Now is the time to start recovering, and the faster we get fully re-opened (with prudent precautions for the vulnerable, of course), the better off we will be. Luckily, we are in the United States; the economic damage done here by shutdowns will be far less deadly than in poorer nations as global poverty is expected to increase for the first time since 1998 due to imprudent shutdown orders.
And speaking of imprudent shutdown orders, none have been more imprudent than closing Oklahoma’s schools for the last 9 weeks (practically a full quarter) of the year. Action on the part of state leaders was so precipitous that, while we could be talking about re-opening schools to salvage at least part of the lost educational time, it is not now possible. And of course, we now know children were at low risk from the virus and that pulling them out of school didn’t affect that risk one iota. We also now know the adults in the system had practically nothing to fear from the children.
Not enough questions are being asked of Oklahoma’s education leaders. For example, how will the State Department of Education issue legally mandated A-to-F school report cards next year? More importantly, how will parents be able to assess the quality of instruction in Oklahoma schools? State testing, normally done in April and May, has been cancelled this year. Although there are legitimate arguments about how well these tests objectively measure school quality, there is no legitimate argument that they tell us nothing.
For that matter, why does the education department elevate social services as a priority over the education of students? As 1889 Institute has pointed out, meal delivery has continued apace, but instruction has effectively been cancelled, except to give grades away like candy.
This is to say nothing of the impact school cancellation has had on the pandemic itself. Again, as noted by 1889 Institute, some experts believe this decision will result in more deaths from the virus than if the schools had stayed in session because we will be slower to achieve herd immunity.
These questions ought to come from a legislative committee conducting oversight, but at this point it would be nice to see even a little journalistic curiosity, apparently in short supply in this state. For example, the Claremore Public Schools distance learning plan reportedly emotes “We will lead with love — not lessons, patience before programs, relationships before rigor, and grace before grades,” It continues, “this is not a free pass; we want to challenge our students but not their parents.” Is no one curious what this sort of philosophy has wrought and where it comes from?
The previous sentences from Claremore’s school district are now typical of the philosophy in “education” in Oklahoma, a direct result of an emphasis on trying to heal children’s emotional wounds instead of focusing on academics and rigor. Nobody is excusing cruelty or uncaring attitudes, but let’s face it, the current emphasis in public schools is just an excuse to forget standards and eschew responsibility for teaching and learning.
And this throwing off of responsibility went into overdrive with the school closures. The online education that the public schools have put together is mostly subterfuge. Most districts, Oklahoma City being a prime example, literally ordered teachers to give away grades, and the introduction of new material was prohibited outright. Tulsa Public Schools has apparently made social promotion its official policy. The emphasis on “equity” in education is now to the point that they LITERALLY mean equity in ignorance, as online educational programs were initially prohibited from introducing new material or grading, despite the fact that physical shutdowns and social distancing were not an issue. In reality, of course, lack of real education means MORE inequality, not less.
So let’s summarize. Oklahoma’s education leadership panicked, precipitously closing schools, not temporarily, but for the rest of the year. As a result of their emphasis on turning schools into psychological hospitals, they abandoned all rigor, ordering the gifting of grades, not just to the detriment of students now, but likely for the future due to the precedent they’ve set. AND, their philosophy has literally taken them to the point that they would rather see everyone ignorant than have any one or group of students move ahead.
Well, if COVID-19 has been destructive, at least it’s laid bare the intellectual corruption rampant in our educational establishment.
Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin Lepak is Legal Fellow at the 1889 Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.