Governor Fallin signs bills Superintendent Barresi strongly pushed

 As widely anticipated, Governor Mary Fallin today (Wednesday, May 4) signed two more education reform proposals that Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi had desired since her historic 2010 election campaign.

House Bill 1456 fashions a report card system, with grades A-F for public schools as institutions. That seemingly unremarkable concept has been credited for educational transformation in other states.

Superintendent Barresi, in her prepared remarks today, asserted, “Parents have a right to know how their schools are performing without having to interpret obscure numbers. A new A-F report card for schools will also motivate communities to help schools improve.”

Barresi, speaking at the ceremony, promised use of “multiple metrics” to evaluate schools, including measurements of parental involvement and student performance.

Governor Fallin pointed to the recent visit of Florida Governor Jeb Bush at today’s signing. Bush reflected in comments to reporters during his March visit that creation of the A-F grading for schools was the start of the education reform wave he guided in the Sunshine State that have, cumulatively, yielded higher test scores and better student performance.

Fallin said, “Establishing a grading system like this empowers parents and communities by giving them an easy way to evaluate the quality of the schools they are sending their children to. The potential to earn high marks will also give students, teachers and administrators something to strive for.”

Senate Bill 346 is designed to limit social promotion after third grade and put new emphasis on reading instruction. A legislative staff summary contends the bill will “require students entering first grade in the 2011-2012 school year to master grade-appropriate reading skills by the end of third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.”

In remarks to reporters at a state Capitol signing ceremony, the governor said, “Studies have shown that from kindergarten through the third grade, a child ‘learns to read’, but from fourth grade on, they ‘read to learn’. This bill makes sure that every fourth grader has developed the reading proficiency they need to absorb new academic material and succeed in class. Sending an illiterate child on to higher grade levels is setting that child up for failure, and I commend the legislature for sending me a bill that puts a stop to that practice.”

Barresi observed, “”We’ll focus on early intervention so that educators can identify problems and adopt individualized learning strategies with children. Ending social promotion after the third grade will prepare children for success in their most critical learning years.”

She said, “Literacy is essential. If a child can’t read, they can’t learn.” Barresi said her passion on the issue was driven, in part, by the memory of her second grade teacher, Jane Foresman, in Kansas City. Barresi recalled, “When I got to second grade, I wasn’t reading. She took an interest in me and not only taught me to read, but to love reading. In many ways, the things I am doing are dedicated to her and to her memory.”

Barresi said the two bills are “not a cure-all, but two parts of the answer.” The superintendent appeared recently to testify before Congress as part of a group of state education leaders dubbed, “Chiefs for Change.”

Fallin, Barresi, Jolley and Denney each said cumulative Republican reforms in education this year represent historic shifts in state education policy. Early GOP priorities already signed into law include elimination of “trial de novo” for dismissed public school teachers, and new statutory language providing that a state superintendent can run the agency she (or he) is elected to administer. Previously, the superintendent was the sole statewide elected official subject to direct governance of an unelected board.

A legislative “who’s who” attended the bill signing. Sen. John Ford of Bartlesville and Rep. Ann Coody of Lawton, chairmen of the education committees in the respective houses, were present to support the legislators who shepherded the bill.

Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, sponsor of both measures in the upper chamber, was joined by House authors Lee Denney of Cushing, the sponsor for H.B. 1456, and Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, who pushed S.B. 346.

Joining the education chairmen and authors of the bill in the photo lineup for the signing were state Reps. Elyse Hall and Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa and House Speaker Kris Steele. Bill Frankfort, a prominent businessman who has assisted Superintendent Barresi with her 3R program, was also part of the ceremony, along with Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki.

Fallin reiterated her view that “my number one priority as governor is to create more jobs, and nothing is more important to Oklahoma’s long term economic success than improving the quality of our schools.
“We have both a moral imperative and a strong economic incentive to give our children the tools they need to compete in a competitive global economy. The reform measures signed into law today are all part of that mission.”

The bills signed today will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, “sine die.”