KIPP principal has recommendations for improving public education

ByTracy McDaniel (op-ed)

As an Oklahoma City educator, I’m excited about the election of our first female governor. This fall, Mary Fallin spoke with the teachers and students at KIPP Reach, the public charter school that I founded in northeast Oklahoma City in 2002. Fallin’s personal story of determination to overcome the challenges she faced as a single parent inspired our students as they pursue their own dreams.

Now that Gov.-elect Fallin is about to take office, I have three recommendations for how she can improve public education in Oklahoma.

Implement the Common Core Standards. In June, Oklahoma became one of the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of national curriculum standards that raises the bar for K-12 academic achievement.

The Common Core Standards were developed by a panel of governors and state school superintendents, in order to prevent the United States from slipping further behind other nations in academic achievement. According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks 52nd out of 139 developed and developing countries in quality of math and science instruction.

While adopting higher standards was an admirable first step, Fallin needs to ensure they are put into practice in Oklahoma’s classrooms.

Create pathways to recruit and retain the best teachers. As a former Oklahoma City public school teacher, I know that the key to improving academic results is the quality of teachers in the classroom. To bring the best and brightest to Oklahoma’s public schools, we need to open up new pathways for motivated individuals to enter the teaching profession.

Teach For America, a national organization that recruits top college graduates to teach in underserved schools, opened in Tulsa last year. In 2009, more than 46,000 recent college graduates applied to Teach For America. We should encourage Teach For America to place teachers in Oklahoma City, bringing a new pool of talent to our city’s public schools.

Expand the school day and year, A growing chorus is calling for U.S. schools to expand the school day, and Gov.-elect Fallin should make this idea a priority for her administration. KIPP Reach is proving that great teaching and more time in school can lead to high achievement. Our students are 80 percent African-American and 75 percent low income, yet outperform Oklahoma City schools in math and reading on state achievement tests.

KIPP Reach students attend school from 7:25 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on alternate Saturdays and during the summer, and this extra time makes a huge difference. With these additional hours in school, our students can catch up with their peers in subjects like reading and math, while taking part in enrichment activities, such as art and music, that are essential for youth development.

As Gov.-elect Fallin prepares to take office, I hope she will build on this momentum to create a world-class education system that helps all of Oklahoma’s children reach their dreams of college and beyond.

McDaniel is principal of KIPP Reach College Preparatory middle school.