BY JULIE BISBEE
Published: August 30, 2009
Major changes could be made at the state Education Department after next year’s election.
Republican leaders say they’d like to see more local control and performance pay, while educators say teacher pay raises and data to measure individual student performance is on the top of their list.
The state agency that oversees common education will have a new leader for the first time since 1990. State schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, who has held the office for five terms, announced this past week she would not seek a sixth term. The office is on the ballot next year. The winner of the race would take over in 2011.
During the last legislative session, ranking Republican lawmakers were critical of the department and how testing data was evaluated. This past week, lawmakers spent two days discussing possible changes to student achievement standards and improving the state’s dropout rate.
"Philosophically, there has been more discussion on improving education today than we’ve had in many, many years,” said Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the task force. "We’re talking about concepts that in the last two or three years may have been off the table. But we’re all wanting the same thing, to enhance the system to better educate the children.”
GOP seeks changes
Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said he expects major changes at the Education Department.
"It’s going to be a huge change, no matter who gets in office, Democrat or Republican,” Jolley said. "Superintendent Garrett has been active in education ever since I was an education student. Her tenure has been molded by her philosophy. She has embraced several education reforms, and there are some she hasn’t. When the next person is elected, we will have a new generation of leadership who may have been in education way less time, but will be a little more open to innovation.”
Jolley has advocated for changes to state testing and how scores are evaluated. He is in favor of requiring all students to take the ACT college entrance exam as a requirement to graduate from high school.
Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, a retired educator, said he’d like to see fewer standardized tests and teachers given performance-based pay.
"We need to increase the salaries, but there should be performance-based pay for those teachers going above and beyond in the classroom,” Sears said.
Looking for better pay
Educators have their own wish list for a new leader of the state Education Department. That list includes pay increases for teachers, testing data that compares individual student data and a leader who supports teacher coaching programs, said Linda Hampton, vice president of the Oklahoma Educators Association.
Hampton said it would be helpful to see individual student data to determine progress, rather than evaluating teachers based on the scores for an entire grade of students.
"Testing is such an issue for us,” Hampton said. "Testing for testing’s sake is not useful. But testing to get data that a teacher can use makes it worthwhile. I don’t know any teacher in the state that minds being accountable, but we have to look at all the factors that play into student performance.”