“Failure to implement is the graveyard of good reform,” Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett once told me. Those words have become a guiding principle for work at the Oklahoma Department of Education. We can pass bold reforms, but they are meaningless unless they're implemented with fidelity.
2012 is a turning point for education in Oklahoma. We can move confidently into the future, or we can fall back into old patterns, relying on a status quo that's placed Oklahoma students consistently at the back of the pack.
We must shift our focus — from the needs of adults to helping students be successful; from an education system that obscures information to a system focused on transparency and accountability; from a system that crams information into a student's head (what to think) to a system that equips students with critical thinking skills (how to think); and from a system based on an outmoded industrial model to a system focused on choice.
As a critical year for education reform, 2012 is also year of convergence. A lineup of major reforms is taking effect for the first time in our state: ACE graduation requirements for high school seniors, first enacted in 2005, that help prepare students for real life in the 21st century; a new Teacher and Leader Effectiveness system to help educators go from good to great; a law on the books since 2009 requiring the state Board of Education to intervene in chronically failing schools; new statewide academic standards establishing more rigor in English language arts and mathematics; upcoming reading requirements for third-graders; expansion of choice for parents, and a new A-F report card system explaining school performance.
The puzzle pieces are now in place for these reforms to work, if we give them a chance and implement them faithfully. We should acknowledge the hard work, time commitment and stress these changes bring for educators. They're taking on a lot; they deserve our thanks.