Column by Bobby Griffith, Executive Director of Oklahoma Achieves, published in The Oklahoman on March 6, 2019
Oklahoma continues to rank near the bottom nationally on key educational outcomes. This unfairly limits Oklahoma students' learning opportunities and career prospects. It’s also detrimental to our economy as we seek to attract new companies.
As a state, we’ve made important strides toward enhancing our education system. Last year’s sizable pay raise boosted Oklahoma teacher salaries from last in the region to a much more competitive position. The State Chamber has also supported measures to improve teacher recruitment and retention. And we are encouraged by legislation that would lessen the financial burden on teachers — a main hurdle to entering the vocation in the first place.
Now it’s time to make investments in our children and their schools. Oklahoma must look for ways to measure our state’s educational competitiveness in a way that places the student at the center.
If we want Oklahoma children to have a “top 10 in the nation” level of education, we must be able to effectively measure outcomes. This requires accountability and transparency. We must give parents the right to know how their local school compares to others, so they have the opportunity to make the best decision for their child. This also helps businesses, school districts, the state and other stakeholders know how to best invest and allocate resources.
Hard-fought reforms approved in the past few years, including the A-F school grading system to assess school performance, shouldn’t be watered down. Rather, those reforms should be fully implemented to ensure extra funding invested in education last year — and any additional funding this year — is accountable to taxpayers.
Accountability matters. The state Board of Education has worked hard to develop and administer the A-F system. It doesn’t make sense to eliminate a thoughtfully designed program before the state has even seen how well it works. If A-F is eliminated, under federal law, Oklahoma must find another accountability measure. This would mean more time and taxpayer resources, when our state already has a promising assessment that Oklahoma is just beginning to implement.
By committing to accountability and transparency, our state commits to the idea that Oklahoma’s students come first. With tools like A-F at our disposal, the state is equipped to use data to better understand the changes needed to make sure our graduates are competitive in an ever-changing, technology-driven world.
Oklahoma must move our education system into the 21st century as we make data-driven decisions to improve education. Strong schools make a strong state, and accountability ensures Oklahoma’s students receive the education they deserve.