As Board Member Patty Neuwirth shared at a recent board meeting, Academic Excellence is not just a big rock for Lawton Public Schools. It is our mountain, and this is one priority that will likely never change. After a decade of curriculum chaos in the State of Oklahoma, we finally have a curriculum in place, but the journey has been perilous. We replaced PASS with Common Core in 2010, only to scrap it a few days before it would have been implemented in 2014. We brought back PASS for a bit, only to replace it with our new Oklahoma Academic Standards. Meanwhile in 2015, No Child Left Behind was left behind for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but Oklahoma’s ESSA plan was not approved until 2017. During this same period, Oklahoma shifted away from End-of-Instruction tests in favor of the ACT or the SAT college entrance exams. As you can see, from 2014 to 2017, Oklahoma legislators have scrapped and replaced every major curriculum component – some of them more than once. It has been a roller coaster for public educators, but not the fun kind.
For these reasons, among others, Joy Hofmeister stated that our current curriculum “represents a new beginning and a total reset; no comparison is possible with student or school performance in past years.” As a result, we cannot compare anything we are doing now with anything from the past – not Common Core, PASS or No Child Left Behind. We cannot compare current test scores with old test scores. Nothing we are doing now aligns with what we were doing in the past, and since it takes 3 to 5 years to establish reliable testing data trends, it will take time to determine how all these changes ultimately impact our students, staff, and schools. For perspective, it took four years to implement Common Core, and we are only in our first year on the new path. God willing, we will keep on climbing this mountain without further curriculum chaos.
Academic excellence is our biggest rock, as it is for every other district in Oklahoma, but for the last few years it has more resembled a carnival ride than a steadfast, immovable mountain. I can assure everyone that our current curriculum path is not perfect, but it is 100% better than the roller coaster ride of the last few years. We need to stick with something long enough to see measurable results over a long period. When legislators ask me what public schools need most, my answer has consistently been, “Stability.” Our students achieve academic excellence only if we have curricular stability in our state and schools.
One of my greatest fears as a superintendent is that our decade-long roller coaster ride will be our new normal. We have grown so accustomed to knee-jerk changes that I fear we will do it again. The fatigue on classroom teachers and principals is demoralizing, but the impact on this generation of children is incalculable. Oklahoma’s public educators are ready to climb the mountain of Academic Excellence, but we need our curriculum to be as steady as a rock.
The LPS Board of Education has wisely chosen Academic Excellence as our biggest and most important rock for the 2018-19 school year, but the last few years have hurt every school district in Oklahoma, so we are not where we need to be. Nevertheless, LPS is ready to embrace the new system and march forward. We need our friends in the Legislature to keep things steady, however. Each year, Oklahoma should review and improve our curriculum, but we should never again scrap it on a whim. Academic Excellence is a tall mountain to climb, and we need time and stability for our ascent. I just hope and pray we do not get to the top to find another roller coaster to the bottom.
For more of Tom’s articles, visit tomdeighan.com