Education Reform: Part II — Suggestions to the Legislature – Bart Binning, Ed.D.
The weekly Thursday Morning Club 29 Breakfast meeting has had, over the past 5 months, about ½ of their topics involving education reform. The impetus for much of the discussion was from an earlier series on economic development with a conclusion that the primary change needed to encourage economic development is education reform. Access the article here
The analysis of the education reform discussions is presented in two parts. The first part was my personal reflections based on the many educational presentations and the brainstorming session by the Breakfast group. This Part II is recommendations to the Legislature.
It would appear that the solution to our crisis in the Oklahoma system of education will require short-term and long-term actions. For the long-term we should look at systemic change, reviewing best practices examples of other states that increased (or decreased) their rankings by (ex.) five places, and ascertain what they did to achieve that ranking change. The result of this long-term analysis should be a constitutional amendment.
Charge to the Legislature: Create an independent commission, with a two year life, of former educators, politicians, and business executives, charged with reviewing the Oklahoma System of Education and developing a constitutional amendment that structurally reorganizes the Oklahoma System of Education in a way that provides adequate long-term funding and accountability while limiting legislative involvement in day-to-day management and curriculum. The constitutional amendment will need to describe overarching principles (not details) and address:
• establishment of clear leadership and accountability for a combined Oklahoma System of Education: Common, Career Tech, and Higher Education.
• funding sources for both operational and capital infrastructure (ex, ad valorem, sales tax, general fund) with a combination of appropriated and non-appropriated funding controlled at state and local levels.
• independent methods and standards of accountability for both student outcomes and institutional accreditation
For the short-term, the legislature can implement changes that should not be part of a constitutional amendment. Items, with their rational, that the brainstorming group identified for potential legislative action includes:
It is recognized that Common Education is generally compulsory. As such, Part I suggests that the Goal for Common Education should be “to create independent, self-reliant adults that have the knowledge and skills to sustain themselves and their families in a democratic society.” This goal does not necessarily mean that all students should continue to higher education. However, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education has certified High School curriculum standards as being satisfactory for meeting college entrance qualifications. Yet, 40% of college bound Oklahoma high school students require remediation. By policy, most remediation is performed by Community Colleges. The question is: Are students being graduated by high schools who do not meet standards, or are standards too low? Should there be different standards for career bound students? The issue is who should pay for the remediation?
Legislative Proposal: Have community colleges charge back to high schools, 25% of the remediation cost of college bound students.
Statistics have shown that the best predictor of a student’s success, in common education, is not performance on tests, but the degree of participation of a student’s parents in some variation of a PTA (including athletics). The logic being that, if a parent is involved in the PTA (or the community involved in the school), then the parent will be also involved in the student’s educational progress. As a corollary, schools are centers for community involvement; the assumption being when a community is involved with the school, the community is invested in student success. However, many schools limit non-school activities due to liability issues.
Legislative Proposal: Provide a liability shield for schools that allow after hours non-school related activities in education facilities
Parents in the classroom, functioning as a teacher’s aide, will help the teacher with many activities, including classroom discipline. However, many low-income parents (grand-parents) cannot afford to volunteer to be a short-term teacher’s aid. The state should encourage parents to act as teachers aids:
Legislative Proposal: Allow state employees paid leave to act as a teacher’s aide in a common education classroom, up to 24 hours per semester.
Statistics tend to suggest that there is too much funding spent on education administration.
Legislative Proposal: Limit administration expense to 10% of the budget, and allow schools/districts to share employees and services
Many parents of children have learning deficiencies and they are unable help with their children’s homework.
Legislative Proposal: Allow schools to fund adult afterschool programs, with childcare, to teach parents how to help their children with their homework.
It is believed that mandatory statewide testing should be used as a measure of student competency and not as a measure of teacher or institutional effectiveness. Because children develop at different rates, when a child reaches the cognitive milestone of learning to read, they can benefit by teaching styles that assume the child can read to learn; typically occurring at the end of the third grade. Because higher education relies, in part, on nationally based admission tests, high school graduation tests should be based on whether the student can succeed as an independent self-reliant adult, not on whether they should be able to enter an institution of higher education.
Legislative Proposal: The State of Oklahoma shall administer statewide pass tests at the third and eleventh grades, which shall not be used as a measure of institutional or teacher effectiveness. A student shall not be passed out of the third grade without showing a minimum level of competency in reading and mathematics. A student shall not be allowed to graduate high school without passing a test, first administered during the 11th grade, which shows mastery of life-skills needed to be an independent, self-reliant adult. Certificates of completion may be given to students who are mentally challenged.
School Choice is thought by many to be a mechanism for common education `accountability. Others view School Choice as a vehicle to break the perception that schools are a “Monopoly run by a Monopoly”. Education Savings Accounts or School Vouchers, that would allow a portion of state funding for students to attend private schools, are tools that have been suggested to implement school choice. A recent analysis of the state Department of Education suggested that HB 2949 would divert $23 Million if 1% of students transferred to a private school.
Legislative Proposal: Provide for a phased implementation, over say 5 years, of any School Choice initiative to allow smaller districts time to adjust for the change.