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30 Years of Reform (and Counting)

March 28, 2013

In the fall, I wrote “A Brief and Recent History of the Status Quo,” a 700 word post about education reform centered around the idea that schools and school people have always responded to reform with action. In short, the idea of the status quo is something of a myth:

For decades, the status quo has been that things change – in an orderly, collaborative, and productive fashion. This state has always had great teachers and administrators. And this state has always had leaders who insisted on reforming and improving the system. That process has always had bumps, but they have always been overcome by collaboration.

This week, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released a new 54 page report by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center titled “Educational Reform in Oklahoma: A Review of Major Legislation and Educational Performance since 1980,” going much deeper into the data, political history, and results of the various efforts to improve public education in Oklahoma.

One piece of advice: if you’re not following the Oklahoma Policy Institute – by Facebook, Twitter, or email, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. They’re a great source of news in addition to what we get to digest from the major state newspapers and television stations.

Another piece of advice is that you read the report. I find the visitors to this blog to be well-informed and capable of holding meaningful discussions of the issues we all face as we try not just to improve education – but to improve the lives of all students. Many of us have lived through all or some of these reforms, but I know that some readers here have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Even some of the reforms that occurred during the early years of my career were off my radar when I was just trying to survive as a brand new college graduate.

Probably my favorite part of the report’s executive summary was this paragraph explaining the problem with implementing too many reforms at once:

There have been so many reforms that it is impossible to state with certainty which ones have worked and which have not – with this amount of change from year to year, attribution of results is a problem. It is easier to assess the impact of programs for which in-depth data are published, but most of the reforms address broad themes that affect all schools and grade levels (e.g., implementing a new state curriculum). For programs such as these, the effects are so diffuse that it is difficult to determine the efficacy of any single set of reforms. The statewide student information system should make it easier to evaluate the effectiveness of specific reforms in the future, if reviewing those data is built into the system.

In other words, if anything has improved for students, we can’t pin down the specific reform that made it happen. With what we’re seeing in the anti-school climate pervasive in the legislature and at the SDE, with initiatives brought in from Jeb Bush and ALEC, that effect will only be increased in the future.

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