FOR three hours on a recent Monday night, members of the Oklahoma City School Board listened and asked questions about the operations and academic achievement of the charter schools in the district.
What percentage of students successfully transitions from eighth to ninth grade? What's the attendance rate? Why are test scores low? What's the faculty turnover rate?
Those are good questions — important ones that school board members should be asking. Board member Lyn Watson made perhaps the most telling request of the evening, at least from a policy perspective. She asked that all of the district's schools make similar presentations.
Board Chairwoman Angela Monson said such reports should be made to the board's academic performance committee, which would then report to the board. We question whether Monson's suggested approach is the best one.
This isn't a debate about charter schools versus traditional schools. They're all public schools, serving the children of Oklahoma City with taxpayer money. It's encouraging to hear school leaders delivering their results and answering questions from the people elected by our community to safeguard the education of the children and the taxpayer money allotted for that purpose. It's democracy in action.
But to the extent the practice of a public accounting is good for charter schools, wouldn't it be good for other public schools as well?
As Watson suggests, the idea of dozens of school presentations in one night isn't feasible. But over a period of time, board members might find themselves enlightened and with a better understanding of how their decision-making plays out at the school level on everything from staffing formulas to volunteer policies and of the needs of individual schools or groups of schools. Such discussions might even contribute to the public understanding.
Schools in Oklahoma City face staggering challenges. The demographics are tough. As one charter school leader pointed out, the issues in the communities where children live present a serious test for schools. But giving leaders at traditional schools a chance to state in a public way where their school is doing well and the areas that need improvement should be viewed as an opportunity to create more dialogue about public education in Oklahoma City. That would be even more the case if the school district would follow through on talk about finding a way to broadcast its meetings.
Transparency is the buzzword to describe what we're suggesting. But it's more than that. The school board is absolutely obligated to oversee the business of the district, which tends to dominate routine meeting agendas. But members shouldn't skip the chance to connect that obligation with the even bigger obligation to help students succeed academically.
Here's just one example: Wouldn't it be good to ask a principal if a large teacher training expense the board approved was well received and useful for faculty?
School board service is typically a thankless job that takes way more time than most people probably realize. But the decisions the boards make and the questions members ask are critically important to our city's kids and their future.
The more they know, the better decisions they can make.