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School Spirit: Raising the Bar in Education

April 11, 2011

A Monthly Column from the Desk of ... Governor Mary Fallin

In my State of the State address this February, I told lawmakers that nothing is more important to the future of our state and our long-term prosperity than improving student achievement. To see that improvement, I’ve outlined a comprehensive series of reforms to increase accountability and transparency in education, get more money into the classroom where it can do the most good, and raise the bar for students and teachers.

Among the legislative items I am hoping to see signed into law are bills to:

Empower the state superintendent so that she has the ability to truly run the Department of Education:  Voters elected Superintendent Janet Barresi to implement the reform agenda she outlined during her campaign. She – not the unelected Board of Education – should have the power to run her own department.

End “trial de novo:” Under our current system, a teacher who is terminated for poor performance can initiate a lengthy legal appeal process known as “trial de novo.” It has become unaffordable and nearly impossible to fire a teacher who isn’t getting results, something that is unfair to our students as well as teachers who perform their jobs well.       

Create an “A-F” grading system for public schools: Parents need the ability to quickly and easily evaluate the quality of a school they are sending their children to.  Assigning an “A-F” grade for each school based on performance and improvement brings more accountability and transparency to our system.  Florida has implemented such a system and achieved incredible results.     

End social promotion:  It has been said that from kindergarten to the third grade, a child “learns to read,” but from the fourth grade on a child “reads to learn.” Unfortunately, our schools continue to promote many third graders who cannot read to the fourth-grade level in an effort to keep them with peers in their age group, a process known as “social promotion.” The result is a continuing cycle of failure, as children who are behind in their reading skills are not able to catch up and are unable to learn new material without the ability to read at grade-appropriate level. That practice must stop.

Get more money into the classroom:  The dollars we spend on teacher salaries, school equipment and in-classroom costs are the ones that most directly benefit our children and improve the quality of their education. Unfortunately, an unacceptably large amount of tax dollars are diverted to pay for administrative and bureaucratic costs.  I’ve asked the Legislature and Superintendent Barresi to work with me to get more of our money into the classroom where it can do the most good.

I’m happy to say I expect to sign the first two of these legislative items into law this week.  That’s a good start, but we’ve got a long way to go before we can say we are doing everything we can as a state to deliver the kind of high-quality education that our children need and deserve.

As former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told our legislative leaders during a trip to Oklahoma last week, we are in a unique position to pass meaningful, comprehensive education reform that can make a lasting impact on the quality of our schools and the success of our children. It’s not an opportunity we can afford to let pass us by.

Governor Bush is right, and it’s my great hope the Legislature can act on the remaining measures as quickly as possible and get them to my desk.  Our future, our economic success and the success of our children depend on it.

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