HARDLY a day goes by lately without some news coverage of changes coming to public education. At the Capitol, at the state Department of Education and in local schools, conversations are happening about reforms that either are under way or soon will be.
On Monday, seven Oklahoma schools will find out for sure if the state Education Department will intervene in an attempt to improve poor student achievement. The superintendent over one of those schools — Santa Fe South Middle School, an Oklahoma City charter school — has objected to the school's placement on the list.
Schools also are sorting through new rules on the A-F grading system. The Legislature approved the new system last year, and late last month the state Board of Education approved rules to implement the system.
And by April 16, school districts have to settle on which evaluation systems they will use for teachers and administrators.
These changes are happening amid conversations at the Capitol about deregulation, budget and potential changes to high school graduation requirements. And don't forget, it's testing season for students.
Many of the changes hitting schools are unsettling for educators but hold a great deal of promise for teachers and students. Chief among those is the new evaluation system.
We've all heard that a teacher is the most important in-school factor impacting student achievement. Reforms should reflect that.
The decision schools face on selecting a teacher and administrator evaluation system is a big one. There are political undertones, to be sure. The state's Teacher Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Commission seemed headed toward picking one model for statewide implementation but eventually decided to let districts choose among three models, including one developed by Tulsa Public Schools with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
But at the core of all of the systems — and the reason for a new one — is to make sure students have the best possible teachers in the classroom. That means doing a much better job of identifying rock-star teachers and those who have shown they simply don't belong in a classroom. We suspect most teachers fall somewhere in the middle, and that's important information to have so schools can figure out how to best support them.
Absent a concerted effort to put quality teachers in every classroom, other reforms will fall flat. Students will continue to struggle with graduation tests. Letter grades for schools may prove helpful for some families in making school decisions, but unless the grades resulted in improved instruction, they're not as useful or helpful as it could be. The same is true for state interventions.
Individual district efforts in changing curriculum, changing school calendars and longer school days also aren't likely to have the positive effect hoped for if efforts at improving teacher quality aren't the top priority.
As the lead producer of teachers, higher education also needs scrutiny to see where improvements in teacher preparation must be made.
Public education as a daily conversation is a good thing and is long overdue. The conversations are difficult and full of emotion, especially when the talk is of changing the teaching profession and grading teachers. But change it must. No change is more important to the success of our state's students.