Why Are We Facing So Many 'Under-the-Radar' Corporate Attacks on Oklahoma Public Schools?

The previous blockbuster discovery for Oklahoma City and Tulsa schools was S.B. 68, the "under-the-radar" bill to authorize cities to compete with school systems in sponsoring charter schools. The Tulsa World's Andrea Eger, in "Change in State Law Sought for Tulsa Public Schools Would Allow Outsourcing of Instruction," reports that another charter bill, H.B. 1691, "has flown largely beneath the public's radar during a legislative session that has seen high-profile clashes over bills seeking private school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools into rural areas."

Eger reports that the Tulsa Public School System is moving ahead with plans to locate its three newest charters inside traditional public school facilities. Lunch and bus service would be provided for students. All three contract charters would be run by an out-of-state charter-management organization.

Linda Hampton, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, opposes H.B. 1691 "[b]ecause the bill is so broad in scope, it could open the door to total privatization of public schools." She adds, "We also want to be sure we are not turning over our public school students to organizations that are looking to make a profit."

Outgoing Superintendent Keith Ballard, who will be succeeded by Chief for Change Deborah Gist, says that already established charters "have expressed interest in moving to the charter-contract arrangement if HB 1691 passes."

I wonder if Tulsans knew what they were getting when they accepted a Gates Foundation district-charter school compact. This new revelation sounds like an escalation in the campaign against teachers' unions. Nonprofit and for-profit charter-management organizations would gain these new benefits as they retained their old advantages of being able to "cream" the easier-to-educate students. Of course, it would also increase segregation -- adding to the sorting of students within buildings.

Ballard praised the district's relationship with existing charters (who will also take advantage of the new law). He said, "They attend our administrator meetings, and we track their data constantly. We are intertwined with them, and that is the true spirit of what charters are for -- we've learned things from our charters and they say they've learned things from us."

But what about a spirit of collaboration with teachers in neighborhood schools?

After praising his ongoing communication with charters, "Ballard said he hopes to discuss the matter with the leadership of the statewide teachers union soon. ... 'This is a bit of a deviation from what they might support, but we probably need to do a better job of communicating with them about what we're trying to do here.'"

This is one more reason that Oklahoma school reform holds lessons for the entire nation. I must plead guilty to having once believed that a Gates partnership might be a good idea for Oklahoma City. Our moderate unions have bent over backwards to be collaborative partners. We worked collaboratively with school systems and did not oppose charters. But, previously, almost all of Oklahoma's charters were homegrown; they did not attempt to defeat or destroy traditional public schools, teachers, or our unions.

Then a grassroots uprising of conservative and liberal parents, teachers, and students rejected test-driven, competition-driven reform. In Oklahoma and other states, market-driven school reform has failed. It is a wounded bear. A wounded bear is more dangerous, however. In their last gasps, national corporate reformers are counterattacking. As competition-driven reformers come out of the shadows, however, even more stakeholders will rally and defend public education.