Achieving Educational Excellence through Local Control

Office of Public Instruction
  • Brian O'Leary
  • June 24 2022

An OpEd by State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen

State funding has never been removed from a school due to not meeting state accreditation standards. State accreditation standards measure how schools achieve educational excellence. The current accreditation system is twofold: (1) assurances as adult staffing ratios with programming standards and (2) student academics. Even if the assurance standards are met, the measure of academic success requires only 15% of students to receive a C grade or better to be state accredited. This old one-size-fits-all top-down accreditation is not working as the system focuses more on adults than our students. This is unacceptable to me, Montana parents, and Montana teachers alike. The common-sense approach is to allow locally elected trustees to uphold the Constitutional responsibilities granted to them in Article X, Section 8 – “The supervision and control of schools in each school district shall be vested in a board of trustees” – to follow their powers and duties as outlined in statute, §20-3-324, MCA, and allow communities and families to determine what is best for their students, their children, and the future of their community.

Data shows minimum standards are failing our students. Graduation rates have been stagnant since 2014, and dropout rates are higher starting at an earlier age. School districts far too often simply meet the current minimum state accreditation standards.

  • Do we want schools to simply meet an adult staffing ratio?
  • Do we want schools to only show 15% student proficiency in math, reading, and science?
  • Do we want schools to simply aim for an 80% graduation rate?

The answer I am hearing from parents and communities all across Montana is NO. We must reach higher. Expectations must be raised without lowering the bar as top-down mandates are not helping our locally controlled schools or students succeed.

The goal of revitalizing the accreditation standards is to create and implement local innovative solutions for students. Parental and community engagement in student learning is a necessary requirement for public schools to succeed. Now is the time to work together to build and strengthen trust with our school trustees, by refocusing efforts on student wellbeing and student learning leading to student success.

I am so proud that 143 school counselors were added to support our students this school year. This number puts many schools above the existing ratio of one school counselor per 400 students in the outdated accreditation rules. I applaud these schools for doing the right thing, the best thing, for their community and students’ wellbeing.

I am calling on all our school trustees to follow this great example. Support the effort to strengthen student mental health in a safe environment for learning. Encourage and reach for the best student success by utilizing resources and providing flexibilities.

Schoolyard bullies exist. Nationally funded special interest groups have been spreading misinformation on the process and purpose of the new student-focused accreditation proposals. Our teachers and parents have been overwhelmed by false comments and remarks at the expense of our children’s education. This fearmongering is protecting a system that has only benefitted staffing and the adults in education. Our most precious resources, our children have been left behind. It is time to put our Montana students first and focus on a local control system that allows flexibility for innovation to achieve educational excellence. This is the system our students deserve and our future demands. We, the people, demand better for our children.