“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.
I group these major reforms under a unifying goal: By the year 2020, each child in our state should graduate prepared for the demands of college, career and citizenship in the 21st century. I call it the C3 Plan, which has four major aims. One is to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective leader in every school building. Another is an emphasis on literacy and 21st-century skills. Third is a shift toward more accountability and rigor. Finally, an embrace of the learning revolution offered by innovations in digital learning and choice.
Ultimately, the C3 Plan is about em-powerment. We'll empower students by preparing them to be successful and informed citizens. We'll empower parents and citizens by providing them with easy-to-understand information about their children and school, and by providing them with more choices. And we'll empower educators by giving them targeted support, encouraging them to reach their potential.
Together, let's seize this moment of opportunity, this year of change. Let's work together to ensure these impressive reforms become reality.
Barresi, a Republican, is Oklahoma state schools superintendent.