Public Education Is Being Redefined

Published April 8, 2011

On March 15 in Oklahoma City, the past met the future.

Carrying signs that read “Stop the War on Workers,” “Collective Bargaining: Backbone of the Middle Class,” and “Don’t Dismantle Public Education,” hundreds of Oklahoma schoolteachers rallied at the state capitol. They expressed concern over school spending, pension reforms, and legislation making it easier to fire bad teachers.

In many ways it was a scene right out of 1990, or even 1960. For many of these educators, “public education” still means, essentially, a government monopoly wherein kids are bureaucratically assigned based on geography. After all, isn’t that the way we’ve always done it?

Indeed, “our K-12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education,” Arne Duncan, President Obama’s secretary of education, recently lamented.

But that’s the wrong model for the information age. And the one Oklahoman who understands this better than anyone also made news on March 15. That’s the day state Superintendent Janet Barresi unveiled a forward-looking education agenda, a “roadmap for long-term transformation.”

Like Secretary Duncan, who urges “a fundamental rethinking of the structure and delivery of education in the United States,” Supt. Barresi says “we must rethink our entire approach to education in the 21st century and buck the status quo.”

Why? Well, unlike one state senator from Little Dixie who believes “our public schools are doing a great job in educating our students,” Supt. Barresi understands “we face a crisis in education in our state.”