GOV. Mary Fallin’s message to schools about the A-F report card system could not have been more clear: Don’t bite the hand that signs the state budget. But here’s another phrase that seems appropriate when it comes to education politics: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with the back-and-forth over education reforms, in general, and the A-F grades, in particular. Every day brings a new statement, study, letter or some other form of endorsement or slam. All this comes even before the release of this year’s grades.
Education reform is hard. Fallin’s frustration over the constant barrage of criticism over A-F is understandable. The goal is simple enough: Help educators, families and communities better understand how schools are performing as a means to improvement.
But the truth is that implementation hasn’t been smooth. Each flub provides ammunition for critics. From technology issues with testing to the challenges in providing schools with accurate preliminary grades, hiccups make it increasingly difficult to believe proponents’ assertion that the A-F grades are simple and transparent. There’s also that 30-page guide to understanding A-F that could easily undermine the “simple and transparent” testimony.
It’s a sign of the increasingly divisive nature of politics in education that school leaders seek to exploit the implementation issues. That’s disappointing, too.
What is truly the value of letters home or PR campaigns heavy on why parents should ignore or at the very least discount the state’s A-F grading system? Those same letters are light on detail about what’s happening to improve student achievement. Many educators also would have the public believe a study from researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University highly critical of A-F should put a definitive death knell in the report card system, but the study fell far short of that mark.
The A-F system can be a helpful tool for educators, parents and communities to help public schools improve. Its helpfulness could be even stronger once the kinks are worked out. While many of the educator critics say they support accountability, we’ve not seen a lot of evidence in support of their words. Even if they mean it — and that’s a pretty generous assumption — the amount of time, energy and resources they’re spending on criticism indicates the opposite.
It’s probably past time that Fallin stepped up and took some of the heat off the state Education Department. While state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi supports the A-F system, it’s also true the Legislature has the final say. But the message that schools might not get additional funding if school leaders keep up with the criticism is a bad form of tough love.
Money might be the only stick the governor has right now, but she should stop swinging it. The A-F grades will go public this week. And no matter how much superintendents wish the public will ignore the grades, they won’t. Smart school leaders will see the opportunity to mobilize educators, parents and communities to do better for kids.
Barresi made the case last week that common education needs $65 million more to go to directly to schools and an additional $16 million for schools that are beating the odds.
No matter how obnoxious critics might get, the answer is not withholding needed funds from schools at a time when standards are increasing and the stakes for children have never been higher. Policymakers can’t let students get caught in the political crossfire.