What do Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Carolina and Georgia all have in common?
They’re all following Idaho’s lead in education reform, as are a number of other states. But this specific sampling came forward during the recent meeting in Coeur d’Alene of state school superintendents to unite in their determination to ditch the status quo in public education and ring in a new era of learning.
We confess to being fascinated by the energy and eagerness of the state education officials we interviewed last week. While their approaches vary somewhat, they’re all focused on several vital goals:
n Make school more relevant to students. That action alone will radically reduce dropout rates and lift those who underperform.
n Aim high and expect a lot from students. “If you raise the bar, they’ll meet the bar, no matter where you put it,” Oklahoma’s top education official, Janet Barresi, told The Press editorial board.
n Be innovative in approaches to teaching; just like those in business, don’t let fear of failure or temporary setbacks keep you stuck in the status quo.
n Ensure there’s a good teacher in every single classroom, and a good principal in every single school.
The group of state superintendents that met with The Press is bipartisan yet also agreed on several other things. One of those is that unions are an impediment rather than an expedient in improving public education. June Atkinson, a Democrat and the top public education official in North Carolina, said one of the reasons her state has been so progressive educationally is because the state does not allow teachers’ unions. John Barge of Georgia, a Republican and career educator, said the same holds true for his state. They agreed that being able to deal directly with educators, not layers of union representatives, has been instrumental in moving forward with reform and better results.
Together, the education officials are heralding a new approach to educating our children. They agreed that “kids don’t need us for information anymore.” Let that sink in for a moment. Kids don’t need educators for information because they’re already tapping into an endless source of information through the Internet.
Instead, educators’ focus should be on mentoring children, teaching them to think critically so they can decipher the most relevant and accurate information out there and then express what they’ve learned in multiple ways. Several states are at the forefront of preparing students from grade school on to select appropriate career paths that certainly can change but which afford an invaluable boost in making education relevant and goal-driven.
Finally, all agreed that under the leadership of Tom Luna, the Idaho Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter, our sparsely populated state stands tall in blazing education reform’s trail.
“I would call Tom a pioneer in reform,” said Georgia’s Barge.
“It’s an example of bold but realistic leadership,” said North Carolina’s Atkinson.
“We’re all facing those battles,” Oklahoma’s Barresi said of resistance to change. “It requires fearless, focused leadership like Idaho’s.”
We couldn’t agree more.