Oklahoma school leaders called on lawmakers Thursday to embrace a new vision for public education that focuses on research-based policies to improve student achievement and values the input of school and community leaders.
For the People: A Vision for Oklahoma Public Education is the result of two years of study and research by more than five dozen school administrators and school board members, representing CareerTech and urban, rural and suburban districts. The initiative seeks unprecedented collaboration among educators, policymakers, families and communities at the state and local levels.
“Oklahoma’s children need and deserve a public education system that delivers on the promise of a superior education for every child,” said Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano, who served on the initiative’s steering committee.
Siano said recent years have seen too many educators and policymakers at odds over well-intended policy. “We’re bringing forward solutions in the belief that the discussion table focused on how to improve public education is large enough for everyone. We must work together.”
Key recommendations include suggestions for lawmakers and local school district educators and board members. The recommendations are tied to seven key areas the research committee identified as key in improving student achievement:
- Culture, Climate and Organizational Efficacy
- Learning, Teaching and Assessing for Student Progress
- Early and Expanded Learning Opportunities for Student Success
- Governance, Leadership and Accountability
- Partnerships for Human Capital and Organizational Development
- Physical Resources
- Financial Resources
Specific recommendations for state policy include addressing the teacher shortage through improved preparation, support and compensation for teachers; an increased number of school days; and development of a sustainable funding plan that allows schools to focus on long-term planning.
For local school districts, For the People calls for local school leaders to engage their communities to build on strengths in the seven key topic areas and create plans to address weaknesses. Some of the local recommendations include more individualized learning opportunities, assessing and improving the quality of after-school programs and creating public-private partnerships to provide additional learning opportunities outside of the school day.
Siano, who is past president of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, urged lawmakers to focus their immediate efforts on developing multi-year plans for addressing the teacher shortage and an overall school-funding plan.
Oklahoma schools started the school year with more than 800 teaching vacancies. Budget challenges and increasing enrollment over the last several years mean schools receive less funding per-student than they did in 2008 despite increasing costs.
Siano said too many districts are struggling to find well-prepared teachers and are forced to increase class sizes, hire teacher candidates who may not be fully prepared and, in some cases, cancel classes. Districts also struggle to enact long-term improvement plans without certainty future funding will exist to see the plans to fruition.
Dr. Floyd Simon Jr., a longtime member of the Clinton Public Schools Board of Education and president of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said he’s hopeful state-level policymakers will embrace the idea that those working closest with children have the expertise and commitment to do what’s best for children and drive improvement.
“School board members dedicate their time and energy to serve the children of our communities,” he said. “The pride we feel when our students walk across the graduation stage ready for their next steps is immense. The heartbreak when Oklahoma students fall short is real. The great majority of our children in this state leave our schools successfully prepared for higher education and the workforce. Still, we know we can always do better and are committed to that.”
Ann Caine, superintendent of Stillwater Public Schools, said public education would benefit from a more holistic approach to improvement. She relayed the story of a first-grader who walked into a new Stillwater elementary school for the first time last fall and immediately proclaimed that it was beautiful and “somebody must love him.”
“Students understand that an investment and commitment to public education for all students is an investment in their success, even when they aren’t yet old enough to fully explain it.”
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister expressed her support for the initiative’s goals.
“For the People has reignited an important conversation about the virtues of a strong system of public education and what each Oklahoman can do to improve it. I look forward to working with all education stakeholders to ensure that our state’s policies and funding structures are capable of sustaining continuous improvement for our students their teachers and schools,” she said. “Let’s put the voice of the people who know our schools best back in the process of education policymaking.”
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration coordinated the initiative with support from the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma. OSSBA and CCOSA are providing training and support for members to help schools implement key recommendations in the project.
What school administrators and board members are saying about For the People:
Jarod Mendenhall, Superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools:
“For the People provides a road map for how we can address public education issues both in our community and statewide. It also is a great opportunity for educators across the state to work together toward one clear vision of how we can do what’s best for students in Oklahoma.”
Willa Jo Fowler, Board of Education, Enid Public Schools:
“For the People, a pioneering effort based on two years of research by statewide education leaders, will transform every aspect of public education to provide Oklahoma students the opportunity to learn more effectively and be taught by highly knowledgeable teachers.”
Pam Deering, Superintendent Midwest City-Del City Public Schools:
“Mid-Del Schools proudly supports For the People: A Vision for Oklahoma Public Education as we work together to transform education at the state and local level. We are excited to share the recommendations with our community and to craft similar recommendations, with our stakeholders, that meet local school district needs.”
Glen Cosper, Board of Education, Moore-Norman Technology Center:
“The time is now for parents, legislators, and educators to come to the table and get Oklahoma moving in the right direction. High standards, quality teachers and equal resources throughout the state of Oklahoma are what our children need and what we must provide. For the People is bringing solutions to forge a long-term plan.”
Jason Simeroth, Superintendent, Yukon Public Schools:
“Historically, educators have been negligent in putting forth a long-term plan to improve public education. This was such an incredible collaborative effort, and I was honored to participate and work with so many people who are passionate about children and public education. Many parts of For the People will be incorporated into Yukon’s strategic planning project.”
John Cox, Superintendent, Peggs Public Schools:
“It’s time that educators and others involved in education lead the conversation about education policy. We have expertise and training to know what’s best for children, and we need to work with lawmakers and our communities on policy that makes sense for children.”
David Goin, Superintendent, Edmond Public Schools:
“‘For the People sets a positive vision for Oklahoma public education. I believe the engagement of communities and policymakers in discussions of the related recommendations can result in concrete actions-steps that will fuel measurable results toward the goal of ensuring quality educational opportunities for children across our state.”
Steven Crawford, Executive Director, Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration:
“I am proud of the commitment and work of our state’s education leaders throughout the process of building a new vision for public education. Through this project, educators are promoting transformational changes within public education that will provide for continuous improvement in educator effectiveness and student achievement. I look forward to working with our education stakeholders and state policymakers to create the type of environment necessary to realize the goals of For the People.”
Shawn Hime, Executive Director, Oklahoma State School Boards Association:
“For the People is about celebrating the great things happening in our schools and about working together for solutions to make sure every child receives the education they deserve. Educators need to lead the conversation and partner with lawmakers, state leaders, the business community and families. Together, we can make great things happen for all children.”
By Shawn Hime
Are you battle weary?
I know that’s the case for a lot of local school leaders in Oklahoma. In fact, it’s a recurring theme throughout the country. School board members and educators feel under attack. For years now, our game plan has focused on defense. It hasn’t been terribly effective.
The prevailing narrative that public education is a failure isn’t true. Neither is it true that public education has served every child well.
Our children are learning more during the course of their school years than children in any previous generation. Much of what many of us were required to memorize in school is now available with a just few seconds of Internet searching. High school graduation rates in the United States are higher than they’ve ever been. Public schools are still producing scientists, lawyers, teachers and public servants who are changing the world as we know it. That is not failure.
At the same time, the business of teaching and learning has changed. Public education and educators must change with it. We’ve been guilty — we often don’t make changes quickly enough and aren’t always receptive to new ideas. In that resistance or simply inaction, educators left a void. Others were only too happy to step in and lead critical conversations about reforming education. Educators were on the outside looking in. And when we didn’t like what we saw, we said “no.” We said “no” a lot. Predictably, that became the storyline.
It’s been two years since I picked up the phone to hear my friend and fellow educator Steven Crawford talking about efforts in other states to focus less on reforming education and give educators the lead voice in a conversation about transforming education. Crawford, the executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration; Joe Siano, superintendent of Norman Public School; and Jeff Mills, the then-executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, wanted to start such an effort in Oklahoma.
The time was right. I was frustrated with the contentious battle over reforms that looked much better on paper than they did in practice. Those of us who were working closest with students knew that despite some noble intentions, the reforms were implemented poorly, were disconnected from everyday reality, and would not improve public education for all children.
By then, we were saying no in an echo chamber. Our voice was largely muted.
But the idea of a new vision for public education in Oklahoma based on research and created by Oklahoma school leaders provided hope. It took two years for this group of dozens of dedicated and committed leaders to complete its work. The final report is 140-plus pages of research, recommendations and best practices we found in Oklahoma and throughout the country. For the People: A Vision for Oklahoma Public Education is a solid starting point for conversations in our communities and at the state level about the present and future.
At OSSBA, we dedicated our fall region meetings to share the findings with school board members and superintendents and ask them to begin thinking about how to put the initiative to work in their districts. Several legislators attended the meetings and had their first introduction to For the People.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be making a more intentional effort to share the recommendations with other stakeholders, including additional lawmakers, business leaders, policymakers and parent groups. As an association, we’re looking for ways to support school leaders as they begin to apply transformational principles at the local level. OSSBA and CCOSA also are asking school boards and superintendents to say “yes” to this new vision for public education and formally endorse For the People via a board resolution.
The OSSBA’s voice at the Capitol will be a reflection of For the People’s vision and recommendations. To truly create a new day for public education, local board members and superintendents must be the voices of vision in their communities. Let us know how we can help.
Hime is executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.