In the wake of education funding woes and potential changes in standards, both the Oklahoma State Department of Education and individual districts are looking to communities for input.
Last week, the state department released a second draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan—a required plan which will be submitted to the federal government that lays out the goals and plan of state education and how federal funds in education will be used. ESSA was signed by then President Barack Obama on Dec. 10, 2015, and replaced the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The legislation represented a shift in education policy at the federal level, with the policies restoring educational foundations, changing school accountability systems and pushing a goal of shifting control to the state level.
The passing of ESSA received bipartisan support and opened the door for the state to make several different moves, including eliminating End-Of-Instruction tests in schools, which reduced the number of required tests in Oklahoma from 26 to 18, with 17 of those tests being federally required. The state department has used the new legislation to begin shaping future policy and goals at the state level and the department has been collecting data and feedback from communities in the form of town hall meetings, polls and forums.
The state’s original plan was posted in November 2016 and a second draft is now available on OSDE’s website. Oklahomans have been encouraged to look over the plan and provide feedback to OSDE by June 30.
“Hearing from so many Oklahomans who care deeply about their public schools has brought valuable insight into what our focus should and will be to lift the outcomes of all schoolchildren and give them the skills they need to compete on a national level,” said Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a release accompanying the draft. “We are intentionally raising the bar for public education with this plan, and we are grateful to the many Oklahomans who already have provided meaningful input. It confirms that a diverse and rigorous education is important and reflects the values of our state.”
The state’s desire to receive input from stakeholders, parents and communities is reflected on the state level, with community input playing a large role in educational goals and endeavors. Kim Holland, Ardmore City Schools superintendent, said the community must have a voice in order for a school to succeed.
“It’s critically important,” Holland said of community input. Holland said Ardmore is an “involved community” that “asks a lot of questions and seek out information.”
Holland said schools can only succeed when an open channel of communication exists between the community and the school. Holland pointed to the Performing Arts Center, which has been making strides toward becoming a reality, as an example of community communication creating tangible change and goals.
The state’s plan sees the value of communication, as well, with a primary objective listed as creating “engaged communities,” according to the plan. That goal includes ensuring “families have access to high-quality educational options that align to community needs.” Other goals of the plan include increasing academic success, creating a strong infrastructure of educators and schools and developing internal capacity.
The state has also examined the school accountability method with the passing of ESSA and taken a look at the implementation of Oklahoma’s academic standards. The reduction of barriers in education (such as race, economic status, etc.) and creating multiple-pathways to careers and college opportunities round out the highlights of the plan.
Holland said, like the state, ACS is using community feedback to build a plan for the future and meet any obstacles—like funding, class size and keeping programs in tact—head on.
“I believe we’ll be able to look parents in the eyes and tell them ‘your child is going to get a first class education in Ardmore,’” Holland said.
The final ESSA plan must be submitted by Sep. 18 to the U.S. Department of Education.