All We Ever Do Is Talk- Embracing Educational Reform


Jabar Shumate - Headshot
Jabar Shumate

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about our public school systems. A recent report revealed that 49 schools within Tulsa Public Schools received an F grade by the state of Oklahoma. Most of those schools are in my legislative district.

I am constantly wondering how, with so many different avenues of resources and different “plans of action” by our urban public school districts- we still get the same result!

Last week, one of my constituents invited me to the debut of his new play called- “All We Ever Do is Talk.” The play highlighted the problems in an urban school district similar to the one I represent. It was the classic case of the book, “Who Moved My Cheese,” everyone blamed everyone else for the problem. The administrators blamed state government for lack of funding to schools, the parents blamed the administrators for lack of leadership, and the teachers blamed the parents.

What I know for sure: as a community, we need to muster the courage to embrace new concepts for educating our kids.

I got involved in education reform as legislator after studying the growth of the private prison industry in Oklahoma. After reviewing data on the number of illiterate inmates and the alarming disproportionate number of ethnic minorities in prison, I began to realize the connections between private prisons and low childhood literacy.

This year, a report showed that one school in my district had 68% of its third graders fail state reading exams. That number is similar to other schools in my legislative district. If a student can’t read on grade level by the third grade the likelihood that they can perform well in science, mathematics, or history is dismal. What has been proven is that a students chances of being in the “pipeline to prison” greatly increases when that student lacks strong reading skills.

As our legislators across America return to “work” after the beginning of the year, I am hoping that we will spend coming months crossing the “partisan isles of education”, consistently considering how every action and vote affects the outcome of our children’s future.

I did just that when I worked with Republicans and Democrats to expand our state’s charter school law. I authored a bill that allows our state’s universities to sponsor charter schools. The bill was in response to Tulsa Public School’s effort to place a moratorium on a charter school in my legislative district. Today that school is sponsored by our state’s only Historically Black University.

While charters were not popular with Tulsa Public Schools then, today, the district not only sponsors charter schools, it received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation to establish a charter compact with its charters. The district now collaborates with its charter schools on best practices.

In addition, I supported bi-partisan legislation that created the Lyndsey Nicole Henry Scholarship. Named for former Governor Brad Henry’s daughter, Henry became the first Democrat governor in the nation to sign legislation allowing special needs students to attend a private or parochial school on a state sponsored scholarship. I have also championed other school choice measures that give kids trapped in poor performing schools an opportunity to get the best education available.

We have an alarm at the gate, and as a community we must not be afraid to explore every option so that our young people don’t become the statistic used to justify more private prisons across America.

Recently, I was listening to noted educator and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Dr. Howard Fuller give a speech. He said, “ I am haunted by this mental picture of four black students sitting down at a lunch counter in Greensboro [1965] demanding to be served.” Fuller went on to say, “And now in 2011, four students sit down at a lunch counter where they are welcome, and cant read the menu.”

It is time to move beyond talk and take direct action to improve quality educational options for our kids. The eyes of the future look upon us and pray that we see beyond our own time!

Jabar Shumate
State Senator
11th district of Oklahoma Tulsa, OK

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