THE decision Monday by the state Board of Education to delay the release of A-F grades for public schools needlessly prevents parents from learning how their children's schools are performing. It also impedes efforts to address shortcomings.
School administrators opposing the release of grades would never grant students the same privilege. A child can complain that the grading system is unfair, the data is complicated and the teacher doesn't like them. But their grades remain the same and are released every nine weeks. In fact at many schools, student grades are posted online for daily parental review.
Should schools and their administrators be held to a lower standard than the children they serve?
Sadly, the ringleaders of the opposition are the same administrators who oppose nearly everything done to improve schools, people who fight basic graduation standards and use lawsuits to harass the parents of children with special needs. When Tulsa and Union school officials are the face of the opposition, it undermines the credibility of all administrators involved. Their rhetoric may embrace reform and school improvement, but their actions consistently undermine it.
The school grading system is an ambitious undertaking; some adjustment may be required. But even a cursory review refutes the claim that the A-F grading system is unfairly maligning schools. Only 11 out of 1,744 school sites were expected to get an F. Fewer than 9 percent were to receive a D or F. That's not punitive or even within a country mile of being punitive.
The vast majority of schools would have gotten a B or C; 158 would get an A. This is how it should be: An A should signify exceptional quality. The standard for public school performance shouldn't be “Everyone gets a trophy!”
Some administrators complain that too much weight is given to generating improvement among the lowest-performing students. However, there's good reason to place focus on those kids. Public schools don't exist just so well-to-do families can have a publicly funded alternative to private education. They exist so all children, including those growing up in challenging circumstances, have the opportunity to change their fate through learning.
Some administrators either don't understand this or don't agree with the core mission of public education. The call to substantially downplay at-risk students in school grade calculations is an example of what former President George W. Bush rightly labeled the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Oklahoma should soundly reject this attitude.
Oklahoma's education system needs improvement. National Assessment for Educational Progress scores show Oklahoma ranked 40th among the 50 states in fourth-grade reading, 41st in eighth-grade reading and 38th in math for fourth- and eighth-graders. School administrators bear much responsibility for those substandard performances. Their motive for opposing easy-to-understand grading of schools is transparent.
We can do better. We must. The school grading system isn't a silver bullet, but it will increase public awareness of school problems and incentivize much-needed improvement. It will result in a higher-quality education, benefitting all students with an impact that lasts for decades.
If the price of improvement is that highly paid school administrators feel the heat, then so be it. That's a trade-off Oklahomans should embrace.