The Right Direction

The Right Direction

Today’s Omaha World Herald editorial, “OPS broadens leaders’ bench,” highlights exciting changes in the district. A new focus on principal placement strategies and training will improve the quality of education students receive. School leaders impact teacher effectiveness and parent engagement, leading to improved student outcomes.  

As OPS Superintendent Mark Evans remarked, “Without a high-quality principal and good teachers, it’s really hard to move a school forward.”  The story also notes that districts in cities like Denver have improved as a result of such practices.

While certainly a step in the right direction, the urgency to improve the quality of education for all students must remain. Though preparing future principals early is important, all educators should be hired, evaluated and retained based on effectiveness. Currently, the system values length of service over quality. This means that less effective educators get preference in hiring and retention policies, while also getting paid more.

Union imposed salary rules also make it more difficult to attract highly effective educators into the district and harder still to attract them to the highest need schools. As a result, educators working in Omaha’s suburban districts earn more. And OPS employees with seniority often move to less challenging schools. This means that the schools with the most need of drastic and swift improvement are the least likely to have high-quality principals and good teachers.  

In comparing OPS to Denver, we must also consider other changes that have impacted student outcomes in that city. According to a recent interview with Denver’s Mayor, Michael Hancock, school improvement can be traced to the following:

  • Improvement in how the city recruits teachers and administrators. Hancock credits this, in part, to partnerships with programs like Teach for America.
  • Becoming a national leader in how district schools work collaboratively with charter schools.     
  • Recruiting more teachers of color.
  • Creating a unique pay system for teachers that rewards performance.

Nebraska law currently prohibits programs like Teach for America, which places highly qualified individuals in high poverty schools, from operating in Nebraska. Opening the door to such programs would ease staffing shortages and draw effective educators into the system.  

Nebraska law also prohibits charter schools. This prevents families from choosing a high performing alternative immediately. As a result, many families in Omaha have no choice but to attend a failing school. While overall improvement is good, children cannot afford to wait. The prohibition on charter schools also limits opportunities to share best practices and collaborate with district schools.  

By expanding opportunity to enter the profession, and rewarding effectiveness, as well as opening the door to high performing charter schools, students in Omaha will benefit and the Omaha Public School district will continue to improve. At a time when most schools struggle to meet proficiency rates of more than 25%, students deserve urgency.