The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 27, 2012

Education 2012: ‘Cart before the horse’ year

By Tom Deighan

ENID, Okla. — In May of 2010, the state legislature quietly passed SB 2033, arguably the most sweeping educational reform since HB 1017. These broad changes to school curriculum and teacher evaluations were passed under Brad Henry and Sandy Garrett and made Oklahoma eligible for federal Race to the Top funds. And while we did not win a Race to the Top grant, we were still obligated to the federally influenced SB 2033.

In January of 2011, Janet Barresi and Mary Fallin hit the ground running with their own slate of educational reforms inspired by various outside reformers. Most notably, the legislature passed the A-F School Report Cards, but several other large issues were passed as well in a new spirit of cooperation with commercial education interests.

The Democrats and Republicans have definitely been busy over the past two years on behalf of schools, and both have been truly well-intentioned. In this short time, hundreds of pages of school regulations and laws have been added that legislate how your children learn and how your teachers teach. In fact, no fewer than 9 major changes to how schools fundamentally operate have been mandated in just two years:

• Common Core

• Teacher Evaluation Changes

• Principal Evaluation Changes

• Teacher Tenure Changes

• Incentive/Performance Pay Plans

• Reduction in Force Changes

• Third Grade Reading Test Promotion Requirements

• A-F School Rating System

• Online Curriculum Requirements

But I can’t help but wonder when enough is enough, especially since all of the old reforms to fix our schools are still in place. Somehow, the new ones piled precariously on top of the old stack of mandates, and teachers across the state found themselves balancing a swaying Dr. Seuss tower of stuff ready to topple at any moment. We only lack a unicycle mandate to collapse the system.

I certainly do not wish to trivialize the incredible pressures suffocating public schools this year, but it is approaching the absurd. We have multiplied standardized testing burdens on our students, despite calls from both political parties for real-world learning and authentic assessments. We have multiplied the hours of paperwork that teachers and principals must document under new curriculum and evaluation guidelines. Educators now have more paperwork to document teaching than they actually have time to teach.

And while all of these changes could be wonderful for our schools if implemented strategically, none of the systems to make these changes are fully in place.

The Common Core Curriculum transition, for instance, has been a series of wait-and-see meetings, while the new evaluation system trainings were last-minute blurs. Similar situations arose with online curriculum and other new changes.

2012 has become the Year of the Cart-Before-the-Horse, and none of us can pull this load alone. Let’s harness the dedication and passion we share with a yoke of mutual respect, and we will have the horsepower needed to make all of our great ideas work. I know Oklahoma, and we can do a lot better than the Federally Controlled Commercial Education Complex currently evolving.

My humble plea: Let’s hitch to that wagon and pull together in a direction that makes sense for Oklahoma children.

Tom Deighan is superintendent for Ringwood Public Schools.