TIME and time again we are reminded that Oklahoma City is at an unparalleled place in its history. Everywhere we look, we see signs of progress and pride. Mayor Mick Cornett and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber have done a fantastic job of telling our city's story near and far.
They did so recently at the annual State of the City event and with the release of a video that promotes a city on the rise. The sense of civic pride is sky high.
But anyone who is listening to talk of progress and momentum hears little more than crickets when it comes to the quality of public education in the capital city. We're not talking about the hundreds of millions of dollars in physical improvements at schools funded by MAPS for Kids, which was a critical need for area schools. The mayor acknowledged this, just as he did progress in reducing the truancy rate for students in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Chamber officials also made reference to the upcoming election for three seats on the Oklahoma City School Board.
All of these are worthy of mention and attention. But what does it say that on such a big stage that construction and truancy rates are what the mayor can find to report progress on? This isn't a knock on the mayor. He can't stand on a stage and report that progress in our city's schools parallels that of the rest of the city. It simply isn't true.
If the relative silence on public education when so much else is going well in our city isn't a call to action, what is? The academic scandal at Douglass High School? The arrest of a principal amid allegations of Medicaid fraud? Lackluster academic performance across the district?
School officials have been known to complain when they perceive that all a community reads and hears about it is bad news. What about when people stop talking? The narrative might well give the impression that there isn't much good to talk about. This isn't true, of course. As we've noted before, pockets of educational excellence exist throughout the city.
Nearly two dozen school districts reach into Oklahoma City; each has its own success stories. But people tend to think of only one school district when measuring the health of public education in the city — Oklahoma City Public Schools.
We'd venture to guess that most have heard about the district's deep challenges. Still, the district is home to two of the nation's top high schools — Harding Charter Preparatory Academy and Classen School of Advanced Studies. Whether it's art or academics or athletics, Oklahoma City has thousands of students who are experiencing success and making their city proud. It's true that many opt out of the district, but a growing number are making an Oklahoma City public school their school of choice.
We likely can't overstate the challenges that remain for the school district. We know there are dedicated educators and community members working to overcome them. When the mayor said that we have “simply raised the standards of acceptable in the city of Oklahoma City,” he didn't refer directly to schools, but he shouldn't have to. A better standard is what voters imagined when they approved MAPS for Kids.
Hard as it is, the community can't afford to lower the bar. We can't afford to look back a decade from now and still be talking about an investment in buildings as a chief highlight. Our kids can't afford for that to be the continuing narrative.