The Edmond Sun

January 11, 2013

Expert discusses Oklahoma high school dropout prevention, intervention

Stand for Children organizing in state

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — National education expert and Stand for Children founder and CEO Jonah Edelman met with nonprofit representatives Thursday at The Paramount in Oklahoma City to discuss the organization’s entry into Oklahoma along with ways nonprofit organizations can help organize and mobilize parents to work toward education reforms in Oklahoma.

Edelman is the great-grandson of a former slave who learned to read, later bought land and became a country preacher knew the importance of education. His grandmother and grandfather both graduated from college and put five children through college and started a home for the aged.

“My mom went to law school, championed children’s causes and founded the Children’s Defense Fund,” Edelman said. “When you make the difference for one child you are making a difference for future generations.”

Edelman told the audience members, “In Oklahoma, three out of 10 high school students do not make it to graduation day with their peers.”

“Certain children without intervention are destined from cradle for prison, poverty or early pregnancy,” Edelman said. “These days, an American without a high school diploma is virtually guaranteed a lifetime of low earnings and poor health, and is at high risk for incarceration.”

Stand for Children works to ensure all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education and successful career path.

The Oklahoma group is working to mobilize people, including legislators, community leaders and nonprofit partners, around a common goal of changing the odds for Oklahoma children.

Edelman said students headed for the workforce need the same math/reading skills as college freshmen and in order to obtain these skills students must reach specific education goals beginning in kindergarten.

“In order to help students reach their milestones, we must provide quality education by empowering teachers, engaging families, tailoring the education program for the individual and have effective leadership,” Edelman said.

After third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn, Edelman said, and failure to read on level by third grade is linked to higher dropout rates.

“Even the Oklahoma students who do make it to college have not been set up for success, and 40 percent of college freshman need remedial courses in college,” Edelman said. “The ACT test, used across the United States,  rates only 17 percent of Oklahoma high schoolers ready for college.”

Parents must join together to advocate the best possible education for their children, Edelman said. “We need to open dialogue about what will make the most sense in Oklahoma.”

Stand Oklahoma, the newest state affiliate of Stand for Children, opened offices in Oklahoma City this week. Oklahoma is the 11th state Stand for Children has come to organize parents to action.

Brian Hunt has joined Stand for Children Oklahoma as executive director. Amber England will serve as government affairs director.

“We believe all children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in life,” Hunt said. “Education is the key that unlocks the door to success. Far too many children, through no fault of their own, aren’t getting the education they need to make it in life. We are passionately committed to righting this wrong.”

Edelman said Oklahoma’s failure to prepare students for productive adulthood is a persistent issue that poses a grave economic challenge to American prosperity and productivity in Oklahoma.

“Access to a quality public education is the foundation upon which our children’s dreams rest and upon which Oklahoma’s future is built,” he said.

Cedric Currin with Moore Oklahoma Afterschool Network and STEM coordinator said, “Now we have a voice in government that will be for expanded and extended learning.”

Edelman added Oklahoma needs to adequately fund the education reforms the state puts in place.

“In the past few years, Oklahoma has passed a variety of legislation with the goal of graduating more students from high school prepared for college, including third grade reading reform, a high-school exit exam and the adoption of simpler, higher standards for all students,” he said.

“Our goal for 2013 is to ensure that all Oklahoma school districts have the funding, the support and the information to implement these reforms with fidelity and with the greatest positive impact on students,” Edelman said.

Stand Oklahoma offices are at 414 N.W. Fourth St., Suite 110, in Oklahoma City. For more information, email Hunt at bhunt@stand.org.