ANGRY storm clouds have hovered over public education much of the past three years. At times, calm seemed within reach. Then yet another storm would blow in, bringing chaos and the stench of partisan rhetoric.
Rather than look toward 2014 with hope and optimism, we fear that storms will continue to rage in education. Here's why: State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi will face her first re-election test, an election that could, for all practical purposes, be decided in a summer primary. The campaign for that race will launch in earnest during a legislative session that should feature extensive discussion on common education.
It doesn't take a weather expert or complex technology to see more severe storms on the horizon. That's why it's of paramount importance that administrators, teachers, parents and policymakers keep their eyes where they belong — on students.
Common Core: Stay the course
Controversy over Common Core was getting some traction at the state Capitol last year, just as the legislative session ended. It survived, but of course it's doubtful the fight is over. Legitimate concerns exist about some of the specific content in the reading/language arts and math standards. Is there too little focus on classic literature? Are some of the elementary school standards developmentally appropriate?
These sorts of questions will exist no matter the academic standards, but they shouldn't be viewed as deal-breakers. If we aren't as a state satisfied with the academic achievement of our kids — and no one in Oklahoma should be — the standards are a right area of focus. In fact, many school districts began transitioning to curriculum consistent with the Common Core standards well in advance of the mandate. Schools aren't kicking and screaming to back off the standards; neither should the Legislature.
The main concern of schools related to academic standards is testing. Critics have a valid point. Standardized testing isn't the once-a-year phenomenon many of us might remember from our youth. In many schools, it's all-consuming. Students hear about testing from the first day of school to the last. The pressure is enormous, as are the consequences.
This is an area that requires monitoring and ongoing discussion at all levels. Maybe it's OK that the focus in some schools has narrowed to improve student achievement in reading and math. But that's often come at the expense of art, music, science, social studies and other important areas that keep kids excited about learning. Test scores ought not be all that matters, but finding a balance isn't easy.
A-F system: Keep working
The implementation pains of the A-F accountability system likely are going to haunt this effort for years to come. That's unfortunate. We still believe this system has promise. The idea that parents should have easy access to information about whether their child's school is academically successful is a no-brainer. Parents want to know the answer to that question. Parents need to know the answer to that question.
The strength and the challenge of A-F is its focus on test scores. On a basic level, judging schools on results make sense. With time and continued tweaking of the formula, the state can produce a grade that will give parents and communities valuable information as a starting point for evaluating how their schools are doing.