Oklahoma Education Takes New Turn: Reading Initiatives, US History Curriculum Under Walters

KOKH - August 9, 2023 6:21 am

Oklahoma students and teachers should expect changes to reading initiatives and professional developments in the new school year, with the Oklahoma State Department of Education planning more changes for classrooms.

The 2023-2024 school year is the first full year of service for State Superintendent Ryan Walters. He expects many changes across the state.

The first change includes a reading initiative to address Oklahoma’s low reading scores.

“We’re 48th in fourth-grade reading,” Walters said.

The national average for school reading scores dropped in 2022. Oklahoma’s scores dropped even lower, especially for fourth graders and eighth graders.

Walters and OSDE are launching a reading initiative focusing on the ‘science of reading’, or research depicting the most effective strategies to help students with reading and comprehension.

Walters calls it a ‘grow your own’ method with teachers educating teachers on best practices.

“This isn’t a one time; this is the training,” he said. “This is a continuous model.”

“We’ve seen this in states like Mississippi which had the biggest reading gains in the country,” Walters said. “What we’re doing is implementing that strategy statewide so we can get our students back on track with reading, especially in those early grades.

Mississippi went from being ranked second worst in the nation for reading in 2013 to jumping 28 spots after implementing the science of reading model. Other states experienced similar progress with the method.

Walters said he is also looking to other states for professional development and curriculum advice.

“We are actively looking to see how we bolster our US history and civics,” he said.

Walters said there’s currently a standards team and textbook committee to gather information on possible vendors like Hillsdale College and PragerU.

“I have had conversations with PragerU to be able to do that,” he said. I work very closely with the Desantis administration on what they’re doing with education. Also, Arkansas and Sarah Huckabee Sander’s team as well. So the three of us have had a lot of conversations about how do we bolster our history to make sure kids are getting that great American history in their classes.”

PragerU is a new, controversial educational vendor for Florida schools that provides video and materials on US history, social issues and religion. The company has received criticism for downplaying the affects of slavery.

When asked if he was concerned about the criticism, Walters said he’s a fan of providing teachers with a lot of materials.

Another possible vendor for Oklahoma classroom materials is Hillsdale College, according to Walters. Hillsdale College has also been criticized for how slaves and Native Americans are portrayed.

“Let’s look at it all, let’s bring it in, let’s talk to them, let’s see if it actually lines up with what we need to be teaching in our classes,” said Walters.

New Oklahoma state standards for history will be up for consideration next year.


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