Jennifer Monies: Oklahoma education system in need of change

Jennifer Monies, Executive Director photo

Tulsa World - April 1, 2015

Our state’s education system is in desperate need of change. Our kids deserve the very best chance of having a successful life with a good-paying job to help them support a family here in Oklahoma. Those jobs are out there right now, but they sit empty because too often we are graduating students without the skills needed in a modern workforce. They can’t read a ruler or write a complete sentence on a job application. They can’t show up for work on time and don’t realize that most manufacturing jobs today involve computers more than dark, dirty assembly lines.

The business community understands Oklahoma’s potential. We are parents, community members, mentors and simply concerned citizens. That’s why when we hear elected officials and education advocates saying that business needs to “stay in its own lane” and not get involved in education, we take it personally. Not for ourselves, but for our children, our future workforce.

We know our students deserve the very best education system and right now we fall far short of providing that opportunity. It is time for our state to stop settling for mediocrity and demand better results. Every single one of our kids are worthy of a shot at their dream job.

Businesses want to hire critical thinkers, people who can collaborate and problem-solve and be innovative. The success of a business depends on the quality of its workforce and nothing costs a company more than its human capital. Without quality employees, a company is doomed to fail.

This challenge isn’t any one group’s fault, and not one group can solve it. It will take a collective effort to give our students opportunities to succeed. Business leaders can’t keep pointing fingers at the education establishment and wondering why change isn’t coming. Business understands adaptability, and we have a lot to offer the education reform discussion.

The Tulsa community has often understood our state’s education challenges more than most. With strong philanthropic partners in the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, along with educational choice options in programs like KIPP, Educare and a new potential Lighthouse site, coupled with outside-the-box thinking from Tulsa Public Schools and many in the local African-American community, Tulsa in many ways is working to improve. However, it is imperative that all Oklahoma students have these same opportunities.

Oklahoma’s education system is in flux. We are in the process of re-writing our standards, which we sincerely hope leads to the adoption of tough, new academic standards designed to get students ready for both college and career. As the hard work of crafting rigorous standards and implementation gets underway, business support for these efforts is critical to Oklahoma’s future.

The business case for education reform, as outlined in a study released this week by the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative, is clear: It is best for Oklahoma if we can find the employees we need currently and in the future right here at home, with the skills necessary to meet our state’s specific demands.

Our state’s economic future depends on it.

And, more important, every Oklahoma student deserves the chance to lead a fulfilling and happy life. We want quality, high-paying jobs for every Oklahoma student. Don’t you?