Authored by Jackson Elliott via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Citing the need for equity, lawmakers in several Democrat-controlled states have passed measures recently that make it harder to discipline students who act up in the classroom.
Schools in California, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, and other states have adopted student discipline systems based on "restorative justice" instead of suspending students for bad behavior.
That means, instead of giving students penalties for misbehavior, schools use "empathetic communication" to explain to students why their misbehavior is harmful.
But at least one state has struck out in a different direction in the hopes of improving student success.
In Oklahoma, Ryan Walters, the state superintendent of public instruction, has proposed reforms that will encourage more disciplining of students. He believes that's the best way to improve learning, he told The Epoch Times.
Decisions like this helped land his state in 10th place on the 2023 Education Freedom Report Card, compiled by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank focused on public policy research.
The Heritage Foundation report ranks school systems in all states and the District of Columbia by their degree of education choice, transparency, teacher freedom, and return on investment in education.
Education choice refers to what degree of choice parents get over where their children attend school.
Teacher freedom means the degree to which teachers control instruction within the classroom.
The transparency rating refers to the degree to which parents know what's happening in local schools.
Return on investment compares how much each state spends on education in relation to student success on the National Assessment of Education Progress exams.
Florida earned the top spot in the report. Rounding out the top 10, in order of ranking, were Arizona, Utah, Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.
The bottom 10 on the report were New Jersey, Washington, Delaware, Minnesota, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and, in last place, Oregon. All of these states lean left politically and had a majority of votes in 2020 for President Joe Biden.
And left-leaning policies lead to poor outcomes at schools, Oklahoma superintendent Mr. Walters said.
"As with many subjects, the [political] left is completely dead wrong on this. It's not that society is causing students to misbehaveit's that students are not being responsible for their own behavior." Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters reads to children. (Courtesy of Ryan Walters)
But education officials in Minnesota, ranked near the bottom of the Heritage Foundation report, believe "restorative practices" are an example of a winning educational policy.
"Restorative practices (RP) are drawn from the traditions of Indigenous people and communities of color around the world," the Minnesota Department of Education's website reads. "They are grounded in a belief that people are profoundly relational, interconnected and inherently good."
"Inherently good" children misbehave because the systems they are in fail them and push them into misbehavior, Minnesota's guide to implementing restorative justice theorizes.
"It is the system (not the children) that needs to be made whole," the guide reads.
Conservative policies prevail in nine states in the top 10. Arizona was the only state in the top 10 with a majority of votes for President Biden in the 2020 election that toppled incumbent President Donald Trump. Conservative Approach
Oklahoma has taken an approach that's the opposite of the policies in states that seek to make it more difficult to remove unruly youngsters from classrooms.
Mr. Walters has focused on implementing educational policies that hold students accountable for their actions, he said.
These policies, he said, help students succeed by creating environments where students can learn.
And that makes teachers happier, he said.
Veteran teachers have complained that student behavior is worse than ever, he said. They've told him: "We've got to get discipline back on track," he said.
So, "they're very excited that we're taking this seriously."
Under his proposed Comprehensive Classroom Discipline Reform for Oklahoma, teachers will have the rights to enforce school district policies, inform law enforcement, refuse to teach violent students, and not be held liable, he said.
He's especially proud of the state's fifth-place ranking on education choice because school choice ensures "every parent has access to as many options as possible," he said. And he's working on boosting rankings in other areas.
"We are bringing transparency to the state. We are working to ensure that districts are showing their policies, their curriculum, their budgets." Red States vs Blue States
State choices on how to fix education make a real difference in children's lives, Mr. Walters said.
It's a temptation for state officials to "fix education" by creating policies that change metrics rather than fixing underlying issues, he said.
Schools can help more students succeed, he said. Or they can lower standards until whatever students do counts as success.
Officials in some states, he said, approach the problem by saying, "We want graduation rates to go up. So what do we do? Well, let's lower the standards by which we're holding people to graduate."
"You can graduate more people that way," Mr. Walters said. "But what are you graduating them with?"
He prefers to push schools to improve education so that students graduate by reaching higher standards.
Oklahoma has invested $2.9 million in a "Back to Basics" plan designed to teach children reading and math literacy, Mr. Walters said. The plan pays teachers for tutoring and provides bonuses of up to $4,000 for students' improved learning.
He takes the same approach to discipline.
If schools set clear expectations, he said, students will learn to meet them. Thomas Paine Elementary School in Garden Grove, Calif., on Sept. 21, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
"What you're trying to instill in young people is self-discipline and work ethic," Mr. Walters said. "These are the type of things that equate to being successful, not only academically but in life."
If school systems can create good citizens, life, overall, will get better for students, he said.
And that means happier teachers, too, he said.
"We had over 900 teachers apply for our incentive bonus to come teach in the State of Oklahoma."
Republican-controlled Florida ranked top overall on the Education Freedom report card, and earned the rankings of second in educational choice, first in transparency, second in teacher freedom, and fifth in return on investment.
"By providing universal school choice, parental rights in education and curriculum transparency, we have ensured that parents are able to fully direct the upbringing of their children," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news release. New Standards
Oklahoma's policies starkly contrast with several educational reforms favored by the political left, emphasizing leniency toward students.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state's Senate Bill 274 on Oct. 8. This bill ended school suspensions for bad behavior, including talking back to teachers, using phones in class, breaking dress code, being late, and more.
Supporters say measures like these ensure that African American and minority students won't receive suspension.
"Willful defiance suspensions have disproportionately impacted students of color, LGBTQ students, students who are homeless or in foster care, and those with disabilities," California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat, announced on her website.
By not suspending students who misbehave in these ways, California will give them more time in school, which will result in education, Ms. Skinner said.
"Suspending youth for low-level behavior issues leads to significant harm, including learning loss and a higher likelihood that affected students will drop out of school completely," she said.
Currently, California ranks 26th overall on the list by The Heritage Foundation. The state ranked 40th on educational choice, fifth on transparency, 43rd on teacher freedom, and 22nd on return on investment. Governor of California Gavin Newsom attends a press conference on Oct. 25, 2023. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)
In 2021, Oregon lawmakers passed Senate Bill 744, a measure that said students wouldn't be required to show proficiency in "essential learning skills" to get a diploma during the school years of 2021-2022, 2022-2023, and 2023-2024.
This bill cites "an emergency" as the reason to end standardized tests that show how the state's students rank compared to youngsters throughout the country.
It's unclear from the bill's wording whether the emergency was related to the COVID-19 pandemic or some other academic emergency.
However, the bill doesn't suspend all educational requirements.
Oregon high-school students still have to earn a minimum number of class credits.
Since the bill's passage, student graduation rates have remained relatively consistent at nearly 81 percent, state statistics show.
While the state ranks last, overall, it ranks 46th on education choice, 25th on transparency, 51st on teacher freedom, and 29th on return on investment. Education Battles
Left-wing groups have fought against his policies, Mr. Walters said.
"I will never back down," he said.
Mr. Walters has referred to teachers' unions as "terrorist organizations."
In response, the Oklahoma branch of the National Education Association (NEA) published an official statement on X, formerly Twitter, saying Mr. Walters was "unprofessional."
"Public school educators are not getting rich off of this job," the statement said. "They keep their hearts and classrooms open to every single child across Oklahoma because they love their students. Comparing them to people who blow up buildings is disgusting, especially when every educator puts their life on the line to protect students as school shootings continue to rise."
Monica Royer, media relations specialist for the Oklahoma Education Association, said she had no comment about Mr. Walters.
Teachers' unions often take sides with the political left. The NEA's LGBT teacher caucus provided badges to teachers with scannable codes that referred students to websites with LGBT sex guides.
Radical activists interested in peddling left-wing ideology like that to children are the biggest danger in education today, Mr. Walters said.
"The left has been trying to force this woke ideology into our schools, and they've tried it through many different mechanisms," he said. "We're going to continue to push parent rights, parent choice, and also weaken the power of the teachers union every step of the way."