Life of Illusion 2020: Conference Wrap-up

Tonight on the way home from Vision 2020, I tried to wrap the conference up in my mind. I have so many thoughts about the week, the conference, and Oklahoma education in general, that I’m struggling to get them coalesced into something that fits. I wanted to stick with the vision puns I’ve so enjoyed this week, but there are too many out there.

Then the magic of my iTunes library came through in the clutch for me, in the form of Mr. Joe Walsh. The song is a great one, but the lyrics really fit how I feel about where we are right now.

Sometimes I can’t help the feeling that I’m
Living a life of illusion
And oh, why can’t we let it be
And see through the hole in this wall of confusion
I just can’t help the feeling I’m
Living a life of illusion

This morning, what really hit me while listening to Scott Barry Kaufman’s speech was that all three of the conference’s keynote speakers, in their own way, told us that we shouldn’t rely so much on standardization or testing. I wondered if I was the only one who had caught that, so I went to Storify to capture what seemed to be the relevant tweets from the last three days. Reading through all the #OKVision2020 comments, I confirmed not only that, but the fact that so much of the conference’s offerings could be tied back to testing. There were sessions over VAMs, SLOs, and SOOs; testing updates; A-F Report Card updates; and the ESEA waiver. Even many of the sessions aimed at improving instruction circled back to test scores.

The problem is that these tests don’t tell us what they claim to tell us. They are the bricks that build the wall of confusion. We hold them in place with public policy, polished accountability reports, testing pep rallies (one of the most sickening concepts ever), and even more tests designed to predict how we’re going to do on the actual tests.

Pow! Right between the eyes
Oh, how nature loves her little surprises
Wow! It all seems so logical now
It’s just one of her better disguises
And it comes with no warning
Nature loves her little surprises
Continual crisis

If you talked to any high-level SDE staff on the first day of the conference – Superintendent Barresi, the curriculum people, the federal programs office, the assessment crew – they didn’t know what would become of the HB 3399 lawsuit. They all had contingency plans for different scenarios based upon what the Supreme Court might rule, but there was a lack of clarity in some of the information they provided. Maybe the ruling (or the speed with which it came) wasn’t a little surprise, but it certainly feeds the cycle of continual crisis.

A realtor once explained to me when I was looking at a house that activity begets activity. There were parts of the home that would need immediate updating. In doing so, other rooms would become dated. The same concept is true for us in education. For every professional obligation that makes us work in a frenzy, we produce outcomes that generate more work. It never ends. When we re-write the standards, we have to re-write the tests. If we have benchmark tests in place, we’ll have to re-write those as well. The accountability measures will need to be re-worked as well. Of course, if we’re implementing standards (science) in 2014 that we won’t be testing until 2016, then we have to decide how much transition to pursue. What will we really be teaching this year? These are the things that keep many teachers and administrators awake at night. Even the SDE staff with public school experience have expressed similar restlessness.

Hey, don’t you know it’s a waste of your day
Caught up in endless solutions
That have no meaning, just another hunch
Based upon jumping conclusions
Caught up in endless solutions
Backed up against a wall of confusion
Living a life of illusion

That’s what we do. We walk aisle to aisle, talking to vendors, seeking endless solutions to our problems with test scores. Some of these people (companies, really) have great products, but they have had to alter them for reasons that really have nothing to do with teaching and treating kids well. At least the school bus vendors are just school bus vendors. And they’ll always give you a hat.

The over-arching problem is that we have created a school culture in which the test matters more than the kids who take it. What was it Barresi said in November?

If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.

Sure, she’s on her way out, but that is only one part of fixing our profession. Most of her reform policies are still in place. Oklahoma will still hire a new testing company this fall to replace CTB/McGraw-Hill and spend many millions in the process. Even though HB 3399 overturned those unmentionable standards and took us back to PASS, the text of the law itself tells us that we need better standards and that we will be taking tests over them anyway. We’re paying a new company a ton of money to develop tests over standards that we think need to be replaced. We will spend every day teaching to help students do well on those tests. We will spend every professional development dollar we can find helping teachers do those things better. Then in 2016, we will start over.

On Day One, if you heard the compelling student from Tulakes Elementary say, “I matter. That’s why teachers matter,” she wasn’t talking about standards or tests. If you heard Day Two speaker Paul Tough say that we need to find a way to lower the stakes on standardized tests, then you had to wonder what conference you were attending. Today, during the keynote address, even the SDE Twitter account parroted the speaker, saying, “Engagement is an active, deep and personally meaningful connection between the student and the learning environment.” At least the PR firm running social media for them understands.

I should be happy because Barresi lost the election – and deep down, I am. Things are turning around. At times, I walked around the conference with that feeling. At others, I felt anxiety knowing there is so much more work to do. We must make school about the children again – not the tests or the reformers who value them. This is my life of illusion.

Too many of us work too hard to build relationships with our students and their families. We are over-tasked by the same SDE that promised us they would lighten the regulatory burden. We know what matters, but we spend most of our time on other things – because we have to. Still, we show up to help struggling students, coach their baseball teams, provide them with academic and personal guidance, and go to their art shows. We spot them money when our schools have a book fair. We go to their basketball games and high school graduations even if they were our students 10 years ago. Sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we teach alongside them a little later even. If you want to know when our students quit being our students, read Claudia Swisher’s post from yesterday. The answer is never.

I’m glad I had some drive time tonight. And I’m glad that Joe Walsh helped me organize my thoughts. Hopefully using the song tied my this together for you. If not, well, it could have been worse. The next song my iTunes played was by Chumbawamba.

2014-15 State Teacher of the Year Finalists

I wanted to write about this, but in a separate post from my musings on the conference, the SDE, and reform fatigue. Today, we learned who the state’s 12 Teacher of the Year Finalists are. These professionals should be congratulated and honored for their accomplishments. I wish each well in the state competition. They are:

  • Tonya Lynn Boyle, who teaches fifth grade at H. Cecil Rhoades Elementary School in Broken Arrow Public Schools.
  • Cynthia Brown, who teaches AP English Language and Composition and Humanities at Piedmont High School in Piedmont Public Schools.
  • Roger Clement, who teaches Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry and Chemistry II at Noble High School in Noble Public Schools.
  • Amber L. Elder, who teaches first and second grades at James L. Dennis Elementary School in Putnam City Schools.
  • Adam Forester, who teaches Chemistry, Pre-AP Chemistry, AP Chemistry and Earth Science at Bethany High School in Bethany Public Schools.
  • Monica Hodgden, who teaches Pre-Kindergarten at Woodward Early Childhood Center in Woodward Public Schools.
  • James LeGrand, who teaches AP U.S. History, America in the 1960s and Civil War and Reconstruction at Altus High School in Altus Public Schools.
  • Jennifer Luttmer, who teaches second grade at Liberty Elementary School in Sallisaw Public Schools.
  • Romney Nesbitt, who teaches art at Jenks West Intermediate School in Jenks Public Schools.
  • Jason Scott Proctor, who teaches Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah Public Schools.
  • Diane Walker, who teaches All-Honors Oklahoma History, World History, Government and Geography at Muskogee High School in Muskogee Public Schools.
  • LeaAnn J. Wyrick, who teaches Geography at McCall Middle School in Atoka Public Schools.
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Conjunctivitis 2020: A Less Eventful Day

No, not this.

Those are conjunctions – the things that hook up words, clauses, and phrases.

I was going with the clinical term for pink eye. Yesterday’s eye pun worked out so well, I thought I’d try another.

Honestly, today’s trip to Vision 2020 was less eventful than yesterday’s. That’s not a good statement if I’m trying to get page views, but it’s good if I’m trying to avoid going over 2,100 words again today.

Mostly, it seemed as if people had bloodshot eyes. Maybe it was the guests enjoying all of Oklahoma City’s amenities. Maybe it was the SDE employees staying up late making changes to their presentations after the Supreme Court upheld HB 3399. We have some direction on standards and testing at least. I guess I could have titled this Vision 2010 – since we’re going back to our old standards now.

Other than the revelation that Former First Lady Kim Henry is no longer a board member for the OPSRC, I can’t think of anything I learned today. Instead, I encourage you to read Rob Miller’s return to blogging. He presents a great argument for both the limits of standardization and the benefits of individualization. Here’s a preview:

So, even with the same academic standards, the suggestion that schools should all produce a standard “output” using widely disparate “inputs” makes little sense. Public schools work with the students who walk in their door, not just those hand-picked through a rigorous quality control process.

The idea for education standards comes to us from the business world. What the people Susan Ohanian refers to as “corporate standardistos” fail to realize is a simple, yet major difference between a classroom and a business office. In a business setting, if you have an employee that is slowing down production, lagging behind, refusing to do the work required, having problems working as a team player, and displaying a lack of concentration or focus, what do you think happens to that employee? The obvious answer is the reason a public school classroom is not like a business, has never been like a business, and will never be like a business. The moral here is we should STOP trying to “reform” schools like we would a business.

We saw the limitations of this approach with our rush to enact the former standards that I’m really not naming anymore. We see it with the third grade retention law. We see it with value-added measurements. We’re on the precipice of a revolt in public education. The public and educators don’t really see the point anymore. Reformers tried to do too much too quickly. They explained it poorly. They didn’t bother funding it properly. This goes back farther than Janet Barresi. Or Arne Duncan. Or even George W. Bush. Each of them have contributed to the problem, though.

We’ve lost the connection between what we do and what it’s supposed to mean. We teach children to improve their lives. How much of the testing we do really accomplishes that? We’ve narrowed our instruction because the stakes of testing continue to increase. I’m going to assume that’s the root cause behind the red eyes I saw today.

The people wearing sunglasses indoors, however, I can’t explain.

OPSRC Board (-1)

In case you’re interested, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center is down a board member. Former First Lady Kim Henry is no longer listed on their site. I’m not really sure what caused this, but if you plan to attend their open house, this is probably worth knowing.

As as I look at the list of Board members and funding sources, it’s really only the Walton Family Foundation that gives me pause. The rest are real Oklahoma philanthropic groups with a history of working in our communities and our schools. Even NWEA, the co-host of the event, is a reputable group whose services are utilized by many Oklahoma districts.

With the WFF, it’s all about the big picture.

Our core strategy is to infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities. When all families are empowered to choose from among several quality school options, all schools will be fully motivated to provide the best possible education. Better school performance leads, in turn, to higher student achievement, lower dropout rates and greater numbers of students entering and completing college.

As I’ve said before, WWF is the primary funding source for the OPSRC. Anything they can do for you comes with strings attached. Huge strings.

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Astigmatism 2020: An Eventful Day One

Last night, Rob Miller made it clear that I had to provide daily updates from Vision 2020.

Today was so incredible that I could easily break this up into two separate posts. I think I could probably manage several separate 1000-word blogs out of today’s events, but I’ll try to be more focused than that. Here are the things I want to cover:

  • Another kick to the REAC3H Coaches while they’re down
  • Comments from Superintendent Barresi’s Roundtable
  • Standards-writing process, as proposed
  • Supreme Court decision upholding HB 3399
  • Second annual resignation of Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education

First I want to explain the title. The definition of astigmatism is an irregular shaped cornea or lens that prevents light from focusing properly on the retina, causing vision to become blurred at any distance. A person who is near-sighted can have it. So can a person who is far-sighted. Even a person with 20/20 vision can have it. Basically, it’s a physical problem with seeing things clearly. I’m no optometrist, but I’ve been to one. Therefore, I’m basically qualified to diagnose Barresi as suffering from this condition.

The conference this morning was just surreal. There were no victory laps from attendees. Nor were there sullen faces from SDE employees. There really weren’t the hordes of people that usually attend this conference at all. I thought the exhibitor hall and arena were fairly empty. Then again, that’s just my perception. The numbers could be very different.

REAC3H Coaches

The first thing I noticed this morning was a sign on a door on the way to the exhibitor hall.

REACH Return

As we learned last month, the REAC3H coaches were unceremoniously let go by the SDE via email. Based on the response I received from that post, many thought – even if it had been necessary – that it could have been handled better. Why, then, would we be surprised that the coaches were asked to bring the things checked out to them back to Oklahoma City and return them to the SDE at a conference. They weren’t even invited back to the office for this. As one person commented on my Facebook wall, “I saw that and had to giggle a little!! That our OSDE had them return it at a workshop with a sign to a door that looks like a janitor closet!!!”

It’s funny, and it’s degrading, all at once. I don’t know how much equipment there was to return, and I don’t know how many of them still had to check that off their to-do list. I just think it shows an ongoing lack of awareness of how decisions impact people.

Janet Barresi, Unplugged

That leads in to the 11:00 roundtable session with Barresi. I promised myself I wouldn’t attend, but fortunately, others did. The reports were jaw-dropping, as usual.

In case you’re reading in email and the tweet isn’t showing up clearly, Brett Hill writes, “Q: what are things you did well and you didn’t do well? A: I won’t apologize, and I know I’ve pissed a lot of you off.” I’m quoting the tweet. I also had a reader message me on Facebook to say that since she’s not running for office anymore, she can say things like that. She simply doesn’t understand that her third-place showing in the primary is due to the fact that she’s done this job very badly. The way she sees the world is not at all affixed to reality. But at least she’s true to herself.

Standards for you, Standards for me

This afternoon, Barresi also hosted a breakout session (along with Teri Brecheen) to explain what the process of writing new Math and English/Language Arts standards would look like. She mentioned the long, iterative process that Brecheen had described to the State Board of Education last month. She also explained that though the process has not been technically approved by the SBE, she would be proceeding as if it had. She assured those in attendance that she had spoken individually with each board member and that they were cool with it. The problem with that is that now we’re getting into issues with open meetings. Technically, the Board can’t meet without proper public notice. Still, to say that a decision has been made when it hasn’t officially is at best in the gray area. She’s saying that the SBE has made up their mind. Barresi is either speaking on behalf of people or admitting to a violation.

At the same time that she was meeting with educators, the SDE issued a release about the standards-writing process. Actually, this is from the second release. The first one was incomplete.

CORRECTED: SDE begins inclusive process to develop new academic standardsOK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 07/15/2014 03:18 PM CDT

State Education Department begins inclusive process to develop new academic standards 

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 15, 2013) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) is encouraging Oklahoma educators, parents and others interested in public education to consider taking part in the development of new academic standards for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Coordinated by OSDE, the standards-creation process is designed to be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.

The process comes after Gov. Mary Fallin earlier this year signed a law repealing Common Core standards and paving the way for new ELA and math standards. According to House Bill 3399, Oklahoma common education will utilize existing Priority Academic Student Skills (P.A.S.S.) standards until August 2016. By that time, schools would begin the transition to new standards.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said the change presents an opportunity for educators to ensure stronger academic standards.

“These new academic standards will be by Oklahomans and for Oklahomans. They will reflect Oklahoma values, principles and commitment to excellence,” Barresi said. “That is why it is vital for the standards-creation process to include the voices of Oklahomans from all walks of life. Educators will write the standards in a collaborative process that encompasses critical input from parents, the business community and anyone else invested in making sure Oklahoma schools are second to none.”

An online application form for the various committees and teams involved in the process is available at ok.gov/sde/newstandards , along with other related materials.

The draft process is pending approval by the State Board of Education, but the timeline restrictions of HB 3399 require OSDE to begin the process of soliciting applications.

A steering committee will oversee the entire process. The executive director of the State Board of Career and Technology, Oklahoma’s chancellor for higher education, the state superintendent of public instruction, the secretary/executive director of the state Department of Commerce and two members of the State Board of Education will have seats on this panel.

The steering committee will appoint four executive committees — one each for math and ELA in grades Pre-K-5 and 6-12 — with a maximum of 21 members apiece. These groups will provide input, resources and editing throughout the process and will help facilitate public meetings and comments.

The executive committees will provide hands-on oversight from beginning to end, ensuring the consideration of a broad range of perspectives. Any Oklahoman can apply for membership.

Examples of groups that might seek representation on the executive committees are parents, educators, organizations for students with disabilities and English Language Learners, higher education, CareerTech, nonprofits, Native American tribes and the business community. At least one member of the Oklahoma State Legislature will serve on each of the four executive committees.

These committees also will be in charge of creating a rubric to appoint applicants to three of the other groups in the process: the Standards Creation Teams, the Draft Review Committees and the Regional Advisory Committees.

The Standards Creation Teams, comprised mostly of teachers, will draft all the new standards using resources and input from the executive committees. Applications are now being accepted.

There will be 28 Standards Creation Teams, one for each grade, from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, in ELA and math. These teams are designed to ensure representation of educators from all regions of the state.

Additionally, two members of each Standards Creation Team will be selected to serve on a Standards Development Team. This panel will start the process of designing assessments and ensuring that academic standards progress appropriately from grade to grade.

All Oklahomans are eligible to apply for Draft Review Committees, which will examine drafts of standards and related materials authored by Standards Creation Teams. Draft Review Committee members will provide feedback for changes before the would-be standards enter a public comment phase.

The Draft Review Committees represent one of several entry points for community members at large to provide input while the standards are being developed.

Throughout the entire process, 12 Regional Advisory Committees will organize meetings to update the public and gather community input to share with the other committees. There will be one advisory committee in each of 12 regions designated for this process. Each one will meet several times to guarantee that the standards-writing process is enriched by local perspectives from all corners of the state. These committees, open to all Oklahomans, will be appointed by the Executive Committees from applications.

Later in the standards-creation process, the State Board of Education will appoint an Assessment Design Committee. This panel will review standards content, alignment from grade to grade, and assessment design and structure. Due to the nature of this committee, it will only be open to educators and those with expertise in assessment design and delivery.

Once a draft of the new standards has been approved, it will be made available for 45 days of public comment. The Executive Committees will review submitted comments and recommend changes to the Standards Creation Teams. If a significant amount of changes result, the Executive Committee could call for another window of public comment.

Eventually, a final version of the draft will be brought before the State Board of Education for approval. Under HB 3399, the draft would require approval by the Legislature and the governor before full implementation by local school districts.

Do you have all that? It’s simple. And it’ll be all be handled by people at the SDE who have no idea if they’ll have jobs in January. What could go wrong?

HB 3399 – Now and Forever

This morning, about the time Tulakes Elementary School Principal Lee Roland was delivering his inspiring keynote address, lawyers were arguing before the State Supreme Court. I believe it had something to do with the legislative branch overstepping into the executive branch. Fortunately, the Court ruled quickly and decided that no, the Legislature did not get its chocolate in the SDE’s peanut butter.

It’s that simple. And it’s over. Schools will no longer speak of the Common Core standards that shan’t be named. I’ve said all along that if teachers believe they gained improved skills, knowledge, and strategies during the last four years as a result of the transition, nothing in PASS or the convoluted process described above will keep them from utilizing them. We’re just looking for a new framework.

Thanks for Stopping By

Lastly, I think it should be mentioned that Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education, Bob Sommers, is returning to Ohio. Last year, it was Phyllis Hudecki resigning that post. Sommers, who had just come to our state a few months earlier to lead the Career Tech system, was a surprise replacement. Here is a clip from Fallin’s office on today’s resignation.

Sommers said one of the biggest challenges ahead will be to develop new, higher standards that will replace Common Core.  Legislation was passed and signed earlier this year that replaces the Common Core standards with standards designed by the State Department of Education in Oklahoma.

“Regardless of how you felt about Common Core, it is absolutely essential that Oklahoma now develops better, stronger standards here on the state level,” he said. “We need input and buy-in from everyone. Parents, teachers, administrators, employers, community leaders and lawmakers all need to be involved in developing academic benchmarks that boost classroom rigor and ensure our children are getting the education they deserve.”

Maybe it’s coincidence that he would resign the same day as the Supreme Court decision. It’s no secret that Sommers was all-in for the Comm standards. It could be that family demands truly called him home. If so, then I wish him nothing but the best. Actually, regardless of the root reasons, I wish him well.

If you’re into conspiracy theories, by the way, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson wonders if perhaps Barresi will be Fallin’s choice to replace Sommers. It’s an interesting thought, but I can’t see that happening. Fallin still has an election to win. Our governor may be a lot of things, but never doubt that she’s politically astute. There will be none of that.

So there you have it, Rob. That’s Day One. Hopefully I can write about tomorrow in fewer than 2020 words.

Preview of the Final Vision 2020 Conference

Well friends, it’s Vision 2020 Eve. Soon, Santa will be coming down your chimney leaving PD points, nuggets of wisdom, and an endless stream of phone calls from vendors in your stockings. Well, since it’s summer, maybe not in your stockings – how about on top of your flip flops?

I know you can’t wait. Just like okeducationtruths, the conference is in its third year, and I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve had together. In 2012, when the newly-named conference had its debut, this blog was but two months old. Writing previews of each day helped my average number of readers skyrocket to a whopping 107 per day (or about what I averaged per hour last month). Here’s how I previewed it at the time.

Originally, the conference was going to cost $25 per attendee. This was going to include one day’s parking pass and one lunch session with a keynote speaker. Then, one day, the SDE realized that they couldn’t pay for open-ended parking passes, but everything else was the same. About a week after that change, registration became free on the SDE website, but attendees could still select a luncheon for $25. Then that changed too; luncheons were now $8.

So it took several iterations in planning, but now the SDE has a new conference. Content for breakout sessions was only posted this week. In that time, some of the content of the luncheons that people have paid for has even been altered, even if the program does not reflect this. In short, a lot of people are going to show up next week, hoping that their time isn’t being wasted.

While at the conference, I got a glipmse of the impact the blog was having within the SDE. During Superintendent Barresi’s keynote address, I was seated a few rows away from several SDE employees. They started discussing the blog (should’ve been paying attention to their boss, people). Among other things, they speculated about the author. Male or female? SDE employee or fired SDE employee?  Do you really think it’s just one person? All admitted to enjoying it, and one said, “whoever it is, I just hope I don’t piss them off.”

I know those people, and I can honestly say, that particular one never has. There’s still time, though.

The second Vision 2020 was even better. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the convention hall, and the big screen contained tweets about the event, including one of mine.

2013 V2020 Picture

I’ve been waiting a year to use that. In case you can’t see it on the right side of the picture, here’s the actual tweet.

Yes, at Vision 2020 last year, the SDE posted one of my tweets on their big screen. In the message was a link to a post mocking Vision 2020. Classic! Combine that with the conference being a three-day unveiling of The Road Ahead – the SDE’s marketing campaign for the rebranded Oklahoma Academic Standards – and it was high times at the Cox Center.

Fun fact: The website, Facebook page, and Twitter account for The Road Ahead are all gone. There was money well-spent on marketing!

That’s enough of the trip through memory lane. We need to focus on the here and now. There’s so much in front of us, and anyone attending the conference needs to go to key sessions in order to hold the SDE staff accountable for the things they say. Yes, there are some great sessions planned for collaboration, instructional practice, and technology integration too. And there are vendors – oh, so many vendors. See it all! Stop by the Capitol if you have a chance and see what a day in the life of the Supreme Court is like. Below are a few sessions I’ve highlighted that might be interesting from a policy perspective. Since I’ll be attending as a professional (rather than as a blogger), you may or may not see me in these rooms.

Tuesday, July 15

Superintendent’s Roundtable – Superintendent Janet Barresi – Exhibit Hall E (11:00) – Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi invites you to a roundtable for educators. Participants are encouraged to come with questions about education in Oklahoma.

  • I wonder what she’ll do here. Will she attend herself or send a lieutenant in her place? What will we discuss? I have a few suggestions, of course: special education percentages; telling people to go to hell; 2K4T; winning the bronze medal in your party’s primary. As we‘ve seen, I can think of many things I’d like to discuss. I’ll save my breath for someone relevant, however.

What happens if we lose the ESEA waiver? – Richard Caram and Kerri White – Great Hall A (1:30) – This session will provide administrators with information about Accountability and School Improvement under No child Left Behind. (repeats 7/16 at 11:00 and 7/17 at 11:00)

  • They are really eager for us to understand how serious this could get. We have no idea what the Court will do with HB 3399, so this is a situation in which I’m not really joking. We’re probably all in the same boat here – SDE and districts alike.

The standards revision process: Creating math and English standards for Oklahoma – Superintendent Janet Barresi and Teri Brecheen – Exhibit Hall A (1:30) – Learn about the process for creating new Oklahoma Academic Standards. Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and Executive Director of Literacy Teri Brecheen will discuss the plan and how community members, educators, and parents will be involved. (repeats 7/16 at 11:00)

  • I can’t think of two people who need to be less-involved in the standards-development process than Barresi and Brecheen (except maybe the legislature). The title is misleading. The charge given to the State Board of Education in HB 3399 is not revision. No, the law states that “the State Board of Education shall begin the process of adopting the English Language Arts and Mathematics standards.” They use the word adopt – not revise or write or develop. Adopt. If the Court rules that HB 3399 stands as written, that verb choice will be critical.

Wednesday, July 16

Addressing Oklahoma’s teacher shortage – Kerri White – Room 6 (1:30) – The Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force consid­ered root causes of the teacher shortage and made recommenda­tions to address those concerns. This session will detail the rec­ommendations, related legislation and how districts can improve conditions that lead to shortages. Administrators will learn about the recommendations of the task force, legislation introduced/passed to address the concerns, and how to improve local condi­tions in order to reduce shortages.

  • The mindset of the SDE is evident in the last line of this session description – how to improve local conditions in order to reduce shortages. In most cases, local conditions aren’t the variable causing teacher shortages. Teacher pay is declining relative to the cost of living, and it has been for some time now. The reform movement continues in earnest trying to suck the soul out of the public education system. Policy makers keep inventing new hoops through which to jump for the sake of no one. Working conditions for teachers definitely are in need of improvement, and while some of that includes factors that vary from place to place, generally it has to do with the actions of people who’ve never taught a single day in their lives.

Exploring Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) & Student Outcome Objectives (SOOs) for elementary educators – American Institutes for Research – Room 5 (1:30) – This session will provide an overview of SLOs/SOOs for elementary teachers, which will be used for the Student Academic Growth (SAG) component of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness. (repeats at 2:30 for secondary teachers)

  • Honestly, I haven’t researched AIR, the group helping the state develop our SLOs and SOOs. I had to include this one to laugh, once again at our state’s hilarious acronyms. Make your own jokes, people.

Everything you need to know about Value Added Measures (VAMs) and Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) – Jacqueline Skapik, Angel Johnson and Rohini McKee – Room 7 – 2:30 – This session will offer an overview of how Value Added will be used as a measure of Student Academic Growth (SAG) in the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) System. The discussion will cover basic concepts essential to understanding how the Oklahoma Value-Added Model works and highlight key benefits of including this type of student growth measure in the TLE system. (repeats 7/17 at 1:30)

  • This would be a great time to ask people who really don’t know anything about teaching in Oklahoma why it is that we’re supposed to use inaccurate tests to determine teacher quality using models that have already been tried and discredited in other states.

Informed by accountability: How can we use A-F data more meaningfully? – Mike Tamborski & Megan Clifford – Great Hall B (2:30) – Test-based accountability systems are a central feature of educa­tion policy nationwide. In this presentation, hear a brief, histori­cal overview of the purpose, key features, advantages, disadvan­tages, and limitations of Oklahoma’s accountability system, the A-F Report Card. Discuss how the A-F Report Card compares to accountability systems in other states and the differential ef­fects related to our chosen system. Learn about extensions to the use of data from the A-F Report Card and new research that uses these data to identify schools that are beating the odds by achiev­ing high academic performance despite challenges such as a large percent of economically disadvantaged or special needs students.(repeats 7/17 at 2:30)

  • The short answer to the question asked in the title is that we can’t. We can’t distill all the things that make a school unique into a formula that spits out a meaningless letter and then say it’s useful.

State testing update – Sonya Fitzgerald – Great Hall B (3:30) – This session will provide an overview of the Oklahoma School Testing Program and changes in testing for the 2014-15 school year.

  • Oh, where to start! We don’t know what standards we’re using so we don’t know what tests we’ll have. Therefore, we also don’t know who the testing company will be (other than the fact that it won’t be CTB/McGraw-Hill).

Thursday, July 17

2014 A-F Report Card overview – Mike Tamborski – Room 8 (8:00) – This session will illuminate how the 2013-14 school and district report cards will be calculated and reported. Learn about the data included in the report and the manner in which preliminary data are viewed and corrected. The timeline for correction and finalization of the report card will be provided. Updates to differences between last year’s version and the current version will be highlighted.

  •  Please, illuminate me. I think I already know how this is done.

E Card A-F Report Cards

Legislative update – Kim Richey – Room 4 (1:30) – No description in the program – pretty much self-explanatory.

  • This presentation could still change two or three times before Thursday afternoon. I guess that’s why they didn’t lead with it.

Enjoy the conference. Try to learn something that helps kids.

Categories: Uncategorized

About the HB 3399 Lawsuit

The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s summer conference (Vision 2020) is coming to Oklahoma City this week. If you’re going to be around anyway, you might want to drop by the Capitol for Tuesday’s hearing over the constitutionality of HB 3399 – the law overturning the Common Core – in front of the full Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Notice of Oral Argument

No. 112,974

Charles Edward Pack, II; Mara Novy;
Leonardo De Andrade; Elizabeth
Luecke; Nancy Kunsman; Heather
Sparks; Leo J. Baxter; Amy Anne
Ford; William F. Shdeed; and Daniel
Keating,

Petitioners,
v.

State of Oklahoma; President Pro
Tempore of the House of
Representatives; Oklahoma State Department of Education,

Respondents.

Oral Presentation before a Referee is hereby stricken and oral argument before the Oklahoma Supreme Court is set for 10:00 am on July 15, 2014, in the Supreme Court Courtroom located on the 2nd floor of the State Capitol.

I try to follow closely what happens at the SDE (and by extension, with the State Board of Education), because it is directly relevant to the profession and the things I choose to include on this blog. To a lesser extent, I pay attention to Governor Fallin and the Legislature. Yes, their decisions impact education heavily, but they also work on many issues that are not germane to this blog. I have never followed the on goings of the state Supreme Court. Occasionally, I’ll read in the Tulsa World or Oklahoman that some act of legislative overreach has been overturned. Beyond that, I really just don’t have a read for the people who wear the robes.

The actual petition to the Court is only 17 (double-spaced) pages, and is a very quick read. The legalese is minimal, in case you’re turned off by that kind of thing. Below are the petitioners’ claims (pages 7-10  tell us about the petitioners).

Petitioners are parents, teachers, and members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education (the “Board”) who ask this Court to declare HB 3399 unconstitutional on two grounds. First, HB 3399 allows the Legislature to encroach on the authority granted to the Board in the Oklahoma Constitution – to supervise instruction in public schools – by giving the Legislature exclusive authority to rewrite and approve the State’s subject matter standards for instruction in public schools. Second, HB 3399 violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by allowing the Legislature to exert coercive influence over the Board, an Executive agency.

Essentially, nobody is arguing that the Legislature lacked the right to overturn the Common Core. The question is whether HB 3399 gave lawmakers additional powers and depleted the authority of the SBE to a degree that violates the state constitution. What makes all of this even messier is the fact that outside groups helped frame the lawsuit. Even more complicated is the impact of the loss of standards on the state waiver to provisions of No Child Left Behind. That itself is the subject of two breakout sessions at Vision 2020. Keep in mind that these outside interests don’t care about the constitutionality question. They’re interested in whether or not Oklahoma reinstates the Common Core.

I know from the last several months that even among the community of education activists in this state, the most divisive issue we discuss is the Common Core. Many of my blog’s readers are adamantly opposed to the standards. I am not. I have read them and worked with fellow educators on their implementation. I think they are appropriate for the students. I also don’t think they’re the defining issue in Oklahoma education.

That would be testing. Common Core testing is more complicated. It is more expensive. We are ill-equipped to look at whatever results the tests yield and assign meaning. Still, I think most of the collaboration and professional development that has taken place over the last four years in preparation for this transition has been positive and provided a focus on effective teaching. Regardless of what happens with the standards (Common Core, PASS, or otherwise), Oklahoma schools ultimately hire teachers to teach and build upon whatever knowledge and skills they have to improve the quality of instruction provided to students.

Once high-stakes tests are in the equation, however, everybody’s focus is on preparing students for those. It isn’t the state standards or what we’ve learned about best practice that guides us. It’s predicting and planning for the test. What standards will be tested? How will the testing company word the questions? What can we learn from previous or released testing items? What was the cut score last year? What supplemental test prep programs can we buy and convince ourselves to be the most effective?

I believe in having high standards – expectations for what students can do. I believe in accountability – some measure of learning that the public can understand. I just don’t like what all of this has done to the public education culture.

Since I became active blogging and through social media in 2012, I have met (virtually) countless individuals – both parents and educators – who are passionate about public schools. None of them agree on every single issue, but there are points in which a preponderance of connected activists have seemed to converge. The biggest one is testing. There’s too much of it. We assign too much meaning to it. We make critical decisions based on tests that give us questionable results. We cut meaningful programs because of it. Though the Court’s decision on the constitutionality questions relative to this lawsuit won’t change testing, we know that the stakes are high.

If the Court rules for the plaintiffs, HB 3399 would be gone. The 2014-15 standards for English/Language Arts and math would be the Common Core. Teachers who have been well-prepared for this transition would implement instruction based upon that planning. Teachers who are not, would get as close to it as they could while making every attempt at finding the training opportunities to get close to it.

On the other hand, if the Court rules for the defendants, all schools will revert to PASS for ELA and math. What I hear from many is that they will not take alignment to Common Core out of their instructional plans. Rather, they will look for the places where the two sets of standards are aligned, and rearrange any remaining content so that they don’t have instructional gaps. Teachers who were ready to flip the switch all the way over to Common Core next month will probably still use whatever methods they have learned in the last few years. The standards themselves do not determine the extent of a teacher’s professional repertoire. Keep in mind that in several districts students entering the third grade have only been taught under the Common Core.

Rob Miller effectively captured this struggle a couple of weeks ago.

I have already received some constructive feedback on my suggestion that we just readopt the 2010 PASS standards and move on. There are a significant number of educators who believe strongly that the common core standards were a significant improvement over PASS. My own teachers tell me the same thing. There is a lot of frustration over the quick repeal of standards for which we had spent three years developing curriculum and instruction.

I also recognize that there is not a chance in hell that we will go back to the 2010 PASS standards, even if Janet Barresi tells us to go there. Let’s face it—the ACT, SAT, and NAEP tests will all be aligned to common core standards. Whatever we eventually adopt in Oklahoma will have to be similar to common core to allow our students to be competitive on these national assessments. That’s just reality.

Every bit of that makes sense, and Rob didn’t even mention Advanced Placement (and Pre-AP) courses, the content of which often supersedes whatever the state standards are. The problem is the time we spend chasing success on our useless state assessments. That was true under the previous SDE administration. It’s true now. It’ll still be true in January when there’s a new sheriff in town. Hopefully, the new state superintendent will work with others in state government to change this. Above all else, that’s what I’m looking for.

This is why while I’m interested in what happens at the Supreme Court, I’m not going to lose any sleep over whatever the decision happens to be. When school starts in August, teachers throughout Oklahoma will teach what they think matters and do it to the best of their abilities. If we don’t have a determination on the state standards, oh well. At some point, the SDE will figure out what to do about testing. As soon as they do, we will get a new state superintendent. And a bunch of new legislators. And possibly a new governor.

Then it can change again.

They Come Bearing Gifts

If you’re headed to Oklahoma City next week for the third and final Vision 2020 Conference (whoever wins the election will probably rename it), you may have received an invitation to an open house being held off-site for a new statewide service entity, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. Before you succumb to their promises of help to your beleaguered school district, however, here’s a little background information.

Last September, if you’ll recall, the State Chamber of Commerce applied for a Walton Family Foundation grant. While the creation of the OPSRC is separate from that effort, it does involve a lot of the same people. At the time, here’s how the Chamber described the purpose of their application:

This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.

The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.

The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.

The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.

For more on the State Chamber’s ongoing educational pursuits, see this Tulsa World piece.

I’ve written multiple times about how being a non-profit is not the same as being a charity. Technically, ACT and The College Board are non-profits. So is Measured Progress – our state’s currently in-limbo testing company. Non-profit corporations make money – in some cases a lot of money – without having to pay taxes for it.

The OPSRC is trying to recruit members (they aim for charter school members and rural school districts) but they have recently sent invitations to every school superintendent to come visit them in their new offices during Vision2020 because they are the “most helpful educator support organization you never heard of.”

The application also said that the Chamber was looking for a “super star” from the national reform movement.  Again, though it’s a different organization, OPSRC’s “rock star” executive director is Brent Bushey, who arrived in Oklahoma last year. Aside from being a former Teach for America teacher, he has shallow experience in public education. (I know – I had you at TFA). A glance at his LinkedIn resume reveals a career mostly in IT. Actually, if you Google “Brent Bushey Walton Family Foundation,” the first hit is Damon Gardenhire’s LinkedIn profile. Seriously – it’s not even Bushey’s own LinkedIn page. How does that happen? I Googled myself last night (for fun) and the results were all about me (real me, not blogger me).

Gardenhire, if you’ll recall, used to work for Superintendent Barresi – first unofficially, then officially. When he left for the WFF, here were his comments about Oklahoma school administrators in an email acquired by the Tulsa World.

Just keep in mind that the local supts will keep doing this on every reform until choice is introduced into the system. Until then, they will continue to play these kinds of games. Only choice can be the fulcrum to make them truly responsive. A big part of why I took the Walton gig was because I see real promise for bringing positive pressure to bear that will help cause a tipping point with enough (superintendents) that the ugly voices like Keith Ballard will begin to be small and puny.

As the OPSRC website shows, the Walton Family Foundation is not the only funding source for our new friend in Oklahoma. If my information is correct though (and it usually is), WFF provides the vast majority of money for this venture. Having the involvement of other organizations gives the Center in-state credibility. Without Walton money, the Center would cease to exist. As a member of the tangled web, Bushey’s marching order this past legislative session was to get Senate Bill 573 (which would have opened up all school districts in Oklahoma for profiteering charters school companies) passed. It failed, but will surely resurface next year.

The real danger of OPSRC is they are currently recruiting members – mostly rural school districts. Their model is that charter schools and districts join them and receive services related to finance, legal, technology and communication. These, of course are services that districts already receive from a variety of other acronyms – groups that don’t aim to turn public schools into a revenue stream.  It’s what they previously have done in Arkansas – with strings attached.

The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing technical support and advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.

APSRC’s values reflect what the organization expects of itself through the services provided to members and the values of the charter schools and rural districts serving the students of Arkansas.

Members of APSRC sign a commitment to the following values:

  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Choice
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Quality
  • Sustainability

If you sign on with the OPSRC, you get the WWF. You get Gardenhire. You get the honor of working with people dedicated to silencing the “ugly voices” and selling school choice throughout Oklahoma. Choice sounds harmless enough, but it is code for vouchers and charters – and not the kind of charter schools we see in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, either. The Foundation, and by proxy, the Center, want to open the door for profiteering charter school companies to take over schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas. That’s always been the end game of the reform movement.

One other thing I want to add is that a group I treasure, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, published a guest post from Sarah Julian, the Director of Communications for the OPSRC, yesterday. What Julian wrote is consistent with OPI’s submission policies, but I want whatever overlap there is between my readers and theirs to fully understand what’s happening here. When someone offers you a smile and a piece of candy, it might be wise to get your Stranger Danger alerts ready.

Willfully entangling your school district with the OSPRC is more or less hopping into bed with the Walton Family Foundation – a group that wants to replace us all with charter schools (until robots become a viable option). It’s not paranoia if it’s true. If you want information about how to get charter school startup money from the WWF, visit their website. This is their priority. This is why they’re here.

Proceed with caution.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty invisible for the last two weeks. I decided to step away from the blog (and social media, to a large extent) after the election. After writing 35 posts in all during the month of June, I was exhausted. Apparently my readers were too. Nobody has been messaging or emailing me to ask where I’ve been. Since you didn’t ask, here are some of the ways I might have been spending my down time:

  • Driving around the state telling people to “go to hell
  • Trying to get an okeducationtruths booth in the Exhibitor Hall at Vision 2020 (with my own chocolate fountain)
  • Working part-time for CTB/McGraw-Hill making up my own rubric for writing tests
  • Helping top SDE staff prepare their résumés for January
  • Searching the Internet for crafty ideas of how I can use all my leftover Brian Kelly for State Superintendent yard signs
  • Taking dance lessons from Rob Miller

Please don’t take my blogging vacation to mean that I’m satisfied, however. If the tantrums (tantra? tantrii?) at the State Board of Education meeting two days after the election and the finger-wagging editorials from our friends at the Oklahoman are an indication of anything, our fight to improve respect for public education and dispel reformer myths is far from over.

At the SBE meeting on the 26th, Superintendent Barresi made it clear that she is not finished fighting. At regular intervals throughout the meeting, she commented on being fought at every turn by the education establishment and other defenders of the status quo. She still has taken no responsibility for the things she did poorly – namely leading and campaigning. The Board acted on a motion to end the state’s contract with CTB, which they would have been able to do last year as well. They tabled ending the testing contract with Measured Progress, however.

Interestingly, they also delayed approval of a plan to begin the standards-writing process to replace Common Core and PASS. As you probably know by now, four SBE members (appointed by Governor Fallin) are listed among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to have HB 3399 (signed by governor Fallin) declared unconstitutional. Apparently, because of this, we can’t move forward on standards or testing. If the State Supreme Court reinstates the Common Core, we get to keep Measured Progress. If they don’t, we have to issue a Request for Proposals and select a new testing company really quickly.

Now fast-forward to July 9th (while I skip several other frustrating things from the SBE meeting and the editorial pages) as the Oklahoman seemed to be still lamenting Barresi’s loss. At issue is the selection of Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer to lead the Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability.

Commission members recently announced that Sherry Labyer, school superintendent at Duncan, had been hired as their executive director. Labyer has been a vocal critic of education reform in Oklahoma, opposing many transparency and accountability measures.

Labyer cheered lawmakers when they overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a reading proficiency bill this year. Thanks to the override, schools can now socially promote third-grade students shown to be illiterate on multiple measurements over several months. Nearly one-third of third-graders in Labyer’s district weren’t reading at grade level. Labyer also opposed A-F grades for school sites. Of seven graded schools in her district, none got an A. Two received Bs, four got Cs and one got an F.

Perhaps most troubling is that Labyer criticized state officials for increasing cut scores on state tests. To pass the Biology I end-of-instruction test, high school students previously had to answer just 52 percent of questions correctly. That’s been raised to 70 percent, which is hardly unreasonable. Labyer’s objection to such minimal standards is worrisome: She will have a major role in setting future cut scores.

Let me see if I understand this. The Oklahoman is against Labyer because she cheered for something that practically every superintendent in Oklahoma wanted – parental involvement in 3rd grade retention decisions. The combined vote of that veto override was 124-19. It was a no brainer.

Labyer also has the audacity to find the state’s A-F Report Card system to be highly flawed. Again, this is the prevailing opinion of people who actually work in schools. Researchers (airquotes removed for emphasis) have proven empirically that both iterations for the system actually mislead the public.

As for the Biology cut scores, this was one of the biggest slaps in the face to Oklahoma educators in recent years. The SDE actually brought teachers together to set passing scores, then went against their recommendation, causing passing rates to plummet. Students who went home for the summer thinking they had done well on one of the tests that counts as a graduation requirement came back in the fall and found something altogether different.

As far as I’m concerned, this hire is just what the newly formed EQA needs – an educator leading an education agency. That’s pretty much what last month’s election was about, right?

Opposing bad ideas and their lousy implementation does not make someone a defender of the status quo. As I’ve written time and again, most education leaders want to see change and progress. They just want to see it on the student level rather than the sound-byte level that those currently in power prefer.

This is why we keep fighting.

Remaining Focused after the Primary

We all still have work to do, so I won’t spend much time discussing the election or events leading up to it. Before we move forward, though, I would like to share a couple of videos with you. I’ve already pushed them out onto Facebook and Twitter in the last day or so, but if you didn’t happen to be online at the time, you may have missed them.

First is some raw video posted by the Tulsa World of the comments made by Superintendent Janet Barresi at the standards convening earlier this month. This is the Bible-quoting, go to hell speech. In case you can’t watch it on your mobile device, or if you’re trapped in a cubicle somewhere and don’t want to bother those around you, the World has also provided a transcription.

“I’m going to go look at the Legislature next fall, next year and I’m going to say folks, you want this done? Pay up, or you’re going to get the value for the money you put into it.”

“I’m determined. I am determined. Kids in Oklahoma deserve this. You deserve this. God has blessed this state and he blesses these children and I’m not going to let anything get in their way. They deserve the blessings of this state and the blessings of this country. And I need you to help me rebuild that. We are going to build a house.

“Anybody that has any question what we’re doing, read Nehemiah. Open up your Bibles and read Nehemiah. I want you to put on your breast plate and I want you to fight off the enemy at the same time you’re rebuilding the wall. Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of enemies are going to try to creep up the back of your neck and say you can’t do it, it can’t be done. Do me a favor and tell ‘em to go to hell. We’ve got a wall to build. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in there with you, too. I’m going to take the hits. I don’t care, I don’t care. And then we will be, we will be an example to the rest of the country about how you produce a wonderful child that is educated and ready to take control of their life. Are there any questions?

“Love you all. I pray for you guys every day. Every teacher in the state, I pray for you every day. I know there’s some that hate me and want me to lose my campaign. We’re not talking about campaigns right now. I don’t care, I love them anyway. I appreciate their service, I understand the toughness that they’re into and I just offer you up to God and ask him to hold you every day. Thank you all. God bless you.”

As I said at the top, I don’t want to live in the past. This becomes relevant, however, knowing what is on the agenda for today’s State Board of Education meeting. Several items catch my eye. They will be discussing where the state stands regarding our No Child Left Behind waiver. They may act to terminate our testing contracts with CTB/McGraw-Hill (for incompetence) and Measured Progress (because of HB 3399). They will also discuss the new standards-writing process.

That’s where the video comes in. She makes it clear that we’re going to write the best standards in the country, which is a laudable goal, but speaks in terms of holy war. What I would have hoped she might have learned in the last four years is that teachers function best when they are allowed to collaborate. Under heightened stress, such as what she describes, the threads connecting us are more likely to sever. Combine this with video of her speech Tuesday evening, and we have a clear picture that she intends to have these standards written before she leaves office in January.

HB 3399 gives the SBE two years to send them standards. School districts are still wiping the little rubber pellets away from where they’ve erased the words Common Core from all of their curriculum maps. The SDE has charged Teri Brecheen, who “led” the state’s efforts to implement the third-grade retention law. Brecheen also wrote (although it was signed by Barresi) the letter letting the REAC3H coaches know they were no longer employed. Read that again, and you’ll see more evidence of people who think this is a holy war.

If it is, by the way, what does that make the rest of us? Isn’t it possible that the people who think third-grade retention is for the best, along with those who don’t, all have the best interest of children at heart? Do we have to pull from the book of Nehemiah to state our case? I simply don’t think retaining third graders is a great idea. Developmentally, it’s too late. We are slamming on the brakes while emerging readers also develop a love of books, which is key to learning to read or reading to learn or whatever you want to say. I respect your opinion, if you believe differently, unless you stick your finger in your ear when opposition comes at you. It certainly doesn’t help when you call people pathetic.

This is why we must pay attention. This is why I will continue writing about anything that happens in Oklahoma education, if I feel I have something to add. We still have a state superintendent, and we must remain focused.

Then There Were Three

I told you this morning that it’s a beautiful day!

Now that tonight’s votes have been counted, we are certain that Oklahoma will be getting a new state superintendent in 2015. Voters have selected Republican candidate Joy Hofmeister to represent them on the November ballot. Meanwhile, Democrats have moved two candidates – John Cox and Freda Deskin – forward to an August run-off election.

This is the best-case scenario that I had hoped for. While I would have liked both parties to have decided their races today (to avoid further campaigning), I think we all saw that as unlikely.

I said nine days ago that we had to be all in for this to happen. If Janet Barresi was going to dump millions into her campaign, we had to fight back the best way we know how – with social media. Grass roots activism beat her money, her agenda, and her out-of-state handlers. Little did we know we’d be sending her all the way to a third-place finish!

How do I feel about the outcome? See below:

Shawshank Euphoric doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We all made this happen. It started when we just couldn’t contain ourselves. Our murmurs grew into an eruption. We would not be silenced. We demanded respect. But it’s not all about me. Here are some other reactions from across Twitter.

https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23oklaed&src=savs

Oh, and one last thing.

Go vote!

Wake up, people! Go vote! It’s a beautiful day!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Case Closed. Vote Tuesday.

As I was preparing for last night’s #oklaed chat on Twitter, I was also enjoying the World Cup match between the US and Portugal. It started ugly, with a defensive mistake leading to a Portugal score in the first five minutes. That score held until halftime, although the US seemed to be gaining momentum. After scoring twice in the second half, the US appeared headed to victory. Unfortunately, just as time was running out, Portugal scored on a beautiful crossing pass and header into the back of the net. The tie means that the US head into this week’s match against Germany guaranteed of absolutely nothing.

Similarly (pay attention, Janet Costello Barresi – this is how you develop an analogy), those of us fighting to elect a state superintendent who is competent and worthy of our respect haven’t accomplished anything yet. If we are complacent as the clock winds down, we could see a costly run-off ahead. Yes, we’ve all seen the poll numbers. Joy Hofmeister has a lead, but too many voters still consider themselves to be undecided. A win tomorrow without an outright majority is more or less a tie. The score will revert to 0-0 until August.

Those of us who’ve been using our outside voices have made an airtight case for why Barresi needs to be replaced. To which group has she shown real understanding of their needs and conditions?

  1. Students
  2. Parents
  3. Teachers
  4. Administrators

The answer, of course, is None of the Above. She doesn’t understand school finance. She doesn’t think rules apply to her. She listens to people outside of Oklahoma more than people inside of Oklahoma. She owes herself $2 million from this campaign. Her administration has no highlights. She has pushed reforms that few asked for, and she has implemented none of them effectively.

Polls open in 12 hours. They close in 24. Our job isn’t finished yet. The clock is running out. We can see the finish line, but we cannot relent, not even for a second. Keep talking, tweeting, posting, and sharing.

6.22.14 #oklaed chat wrap

Thanks to all who participated in tonight’s conversation on Twitter. It was my first time to host, and honestly, it was a blast. So many positive, hopeful people come together each Sunday evening to discuss ways to make our schools better for our students. Usually, we don’t spend the whole night on politics. Hopefully soon, we can get back to spending Sunday nights on collaboration and classroom solutions.

If you missed it, you can catch up on Storify (thanks to Anne Beck). The entire hour is archived there.

I closed with this Rush song (and quote from it): “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Vote Tuesday. It matters.

6.22.14 #OKLAED Chat Questions

After completing my honorable mention post, I began working on my lesson plan for this evening, when I will be moderating the #oklaed chat on Twitter. Depending on time available, these are the discussion questions I plan to use.

1. I’ve posted over 30 separate reasons this month to replace Barresi. Why should we vote FOR the candidate you support?

2. What should a new State Superintendent do on day one in office?

3. What direction would you like to see #oklaed take regarding the use of standardized testing?

4. In your work setting, where has the lack of #oklaed funding hurt the most?

5. Aside from State Superintendent, what other races matter to you in Tuesday’s primary, and why?

6. We have less than 2 years to get new #oklaed academic standards in place. Where should we start?

7. Over the past few years, what impact has #oklaed activism had on both policy-making and campaigning?

8. If Hofmeister wins the primary outright on Tuesday, what do you expect the next 6 months to look like before JCB leaves office?

9. What has been the most head-scratching moment of the past 42 months?

10. If all goes well, how do you plan to celebrate Tuesday evening?

See you tonight on Twitter at 8 pm. Remember to include #oklaed in all of your responses.

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After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

Counting down from 20 was so much fun (how fun was it?)…it was so much fun I added a new number one yesterday afternoon. Now I’m going to add 13 more! These are additional examples of things that Barresi or the SDE have done during the last 42 months to wreck public education. Whether an example of failure by design or incompetence, each is worthy of dishonorable mention. There is no particular order to the following list. Nor should they be interpreted as Reasons 22-34. Some could easily have made the top 20. Even after this, I’m sure I’m missing something.

For each, I’m going to limit myself to a paragraph or two and add a relevant link.

TLE Implementation

On many fronts, the SDE has mishandled the development of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. While the qualitative component that counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation has been met with good reviews overall, initially Barresi was reluctant to accept the TLE Commission’s recommendation for a model. She was hell-bent on anything but the Tulsa model (much as #oklaed is hell-bent on anything but Barresi right now). Validating the work of one of her staunchest opponents (TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard) was more than she could stomach. Unfortunately for her, more than 400 school districts went with the Oklahoma-grown evaluation model. Since the cool thing in 2014 all about growing our own, this should be ideal, right?

In 2012, when it came time to provide funds for districts to train teachers, principals, and other administrators in the models of choice, the SDE predictably dropped the ball. They had anticipated a cost of $1.5 million for training (after stating in legislative hearings that TLE would be a revenue-neutral initiative). The lowest bid received was $4.3 million. This was their solution:

Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.

Some districts had already tried to secure training independently of the SDE prior to that announcement, but the SDE had blocked them. They literally kept the entities authorized to provide the training from entering into contracts with individual school districts. This announcement by the SDE then was doubly frustrating. Districts trying to be proactive were blocked. They had to wait an extra 2-3 months for the training they knew their staff needed.

Test Exemption in Moyers

In April, a family in Moyers suffered a great tragedy. The school called the SDE to try to get a testing waiver for a student going through tremendous grief. It took a social media onslaught to get the agency to reverse its original decision not to grant the waiver.

Eventually, the SDE caved. They said it was a misunderstanding. Barresi was also quick to blame the federal government for setting such intractable testing rules. It’s a typical JCB story. Testing matters more than students or schools. If she looks bad, blame someone else – especially liberals or the feds.

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

Janet Barresi tells anyone who is forced to listen to her that her greatest accomplishments are transparency and accountability. As of October (or earlier – this was when I first noticed it) the SDE’s Accountability Page no longer contains API scores . The Academic Performance Index was Oklahoma’s school accountability system from 2002-2011. It was replaced in 2012 by the A-F Report Cards, which were one of Barresi’s hallmark reforms.

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

*Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.

Barresi likes to construct a narrative in which accountability didn’t exist before she showed up. As with most of her talking points, there is no merit to this. There is also no reason to hide old API reports. Nothing in the Act named above would require historical data to be removed.

Whole Language

In November, Barresi participated in a candidate forum that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. That video alone could have been the basis for a pretty solid top ten list. One of the outrageous things she said was that the reason Oklahoma students can’t read is because the University of Oklahoma still teaches Whole Language. She also insists that OU and OSU need to teach their education students how to teach reading and math. Maybe she was just still bitter about the research report discrediting her precious A-F Report Cards. In any case, she simply sounded uninformed and petty.

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

Early in the Morning of May 10th, Rob Miller received an email from the superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools. The news media had been reporting that the district had the worst 3rd grade scores in Oklahoma. Due to technical problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill (go figure), she had not been able to login to confirm their scores. The first news story reported that none of the school’s students passed the test. They corrected it at the 10:00 broadcast. Unfortunately, we all know that retractions don’t have the impact as an inaccurate report in the first place. If the SDE hadn’t been in such a rush to get scores out to the media and represent their reading initiative as a success, this misrepresentation never would have happened. Barresi doesn’t care about that – just about controlling the narrative.

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

The most-viewed post of all time on this blog is from March: How to Lose Your Appetite. The funny thing is that I really didn’t care for the post all that much. Based on screenshots and redacted identities, I piece together comments overheard from Barresi during lunch. She thinks Sandy Garrett had no accomplishments. She thinks the legislature is crazy. She thinks teachers are liberal. She blames everyone but herself for how badly she is doing in this job. Her commercials make that perfectly clear.

Illegal Hiring Practices

Normally, especially with state government jobs, an agency will post a position (and a job description). Under Barresi, nothing is done the normal way at the SDE. Did you know that Michelle Sprague, the Director of Reading/Literacy, is set to become the new Director of Elementary English/Language Arts? Funny, that position never posted to the SDE website. That must’ve been an oversight, as was the creation of the new position. Likewise, Sprague’s successor in the position she’s leaving has already been selected. That job never posted either.

Throughout Barresi’s tenure at the SDE, she has fired and run off good people, often replacing them with others who aren’t qualified for their jobs. The SDE has definitely found a few hard workers who try hard to help schools through all of the challenges they face, but their efforts are often stymied from above. Maybe it’s just as well that they’re not performing legitimate job searches. There’s no point for great people to leave good jobs to go up there now.

Vendor Favoritism

The SDE is supposed to help schools find solutions to their problems. This should not include a show of favoritism to certain vendors. I’ve covered the irregularities with the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hll and the bad decision to keep them after the first annual testing debacle in the countdown already. It goes beyond that, though. She has pushed specific professional development providers relative to the Reading Sufficiency Act and Advanced placement programs. And in one debate last week, she said that she hoped schools would go back to Saxon Math – which I’m sure thrilled all the other publishers. It’s not that I want all the vendors to be happy or all to be miserable. I just want them all to have a fair shot. Too many times, whether through sole source contracts or less-than-transparent bidding processes, they find the deck to be stacked.

Rewards that Nobody Wants

One component of the state’s ESEA Waiver is that the SDE will provide rewards to schools with high achievement and schools with high growth. In 2013, the first year anything other than certificates were given as a reward, only five percent of eligible schools applied.

  • 229 Reward Schools were eligible to apply.
  • 14 applications were received.
  • 6 grants totaling $400,000 were awarded.
  • 60 percent of the funds are to be spent celebrating the success of the Reward School.
  • 40 percent of the funds are to be spent on partnership activities benefiting both the Reward School and the Partnership School.

The catch was that schools eligible for a reward had to partner with a low-performing school to apply. Unless I missed it, the SDE announced no new awards in 2014. In that case, they could have used the $2.8 million set aside for that expense to make up the deficit in funding employee benefits, rather than yanking funds at the last minute from professional development and alternative education.

By the way, for some reason, the legislature raised this pool of funds to $5.4 million next year.

Favoring Charter Schools

In October 2013, Janet Barresi said during a radio interview that she is “embarrassed” Oklahoma doesn’t have more charter schools. She continues not to comment, however, on the fact that the ones Oklahoma has don’t perform as well as the state’s traditional public schools. Both years in which we’ve had A-F Report Cards, even though the formula changed considerably from 2012 to 2013, charter schools did not score highly. We know that not all charter schools are created equally and that by law, they are supposed to accept students on a lottery basis. We also know that some have ways of counseling out students who might be hard to serve. And we know that they don’t face all the same regulations as traditional public schools.

While I have written consistently that I oppose expansion of charter schools out of the state’s urban areas, I do not oppose their existence altogether. What I’d like to see is all public schools granted some of the flexibility charter schools have. I’d also like to hear politicians acknowledge these differences in their discussions of charters.

FAY/NFAY

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Janet Costello Barresi claim that under her watch, the SDE has transformed from being a regulatory agency to being a service agency. None of us buy that. For example, on January 15, 2014, the SDE notified schools that they had changed the definition of Full Academic Year to mean “part of the academic year.” Instead of previous definitions, which had included some logical starting point relative to the beginning of the school year, we would now be counting all students who remained continuously enrolled from October 1st and before.

Supposedly, there was a hue and cry from Oklahoma administrators to make this change. I have a hard time believing that. Yes, we want to teach all children we have, but the FAY/NFAY designation is really only an accountability issue. Schools with high mobility have a hard enough time without the SDE senselessly piling on via bureaucratic fiat.

Pricey Propaganda

In April, the SDE released 2,000 copies of the agency’s annual report at a cost of $33,000 to taxpayers. Printed copies. In 2014. Simply inexplicable. One senator felt the same way:

Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.

According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.

“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”

Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.

In four years, the SDE can’t make this switch, but they expect schools to make more drastic changes virtually overnight? Classic.

The Threat

I already covered in Reason #3 in the countdown how Barresi and the SDE threatened to revoke certification from one vocal critic. In January of this year, the SDE announced that all school districts would be required to participate in the systems tests of their computers for both testing vendors. If they didn’t, they might lose funding, accreditation, or certification of administrators. This was nothing but a bullying tactic. Districts that did not comply faced no sanctions. As for the instructional time lost, we gained nothing in return. Measured Progress, which seemed like a pretty decent outfit altogether (at least more responsive than CTB or Pearson, our previous testing vendor), is one-and-done. The bill revoking Common Core essentially kills our state’s contract with them.

If after all of these reasons, you have any doubts that Janet Barresi is a bully, just think back to a SBE meeting not too long ago when the elected state superintendent pulled aside an appointed board member, berated her, and shook her finger in her face, and began a fight that she will likely lose on Tuesday. Who was that board member again? Oh yeah, Joy Hofmeister.

Two days to go, people. Stay in the fight. Keep writing, sharing, and talking to your friends. We can’t afford for one educator, one parent, or one voter to stay on the sidelines. Too much is at stake.

24 Hours Later, a New #1: Barresi and Moore

I spent the last three weeks counting down the 20 biggest reasons to replace Janet Barresi when we go to the polls on Tuesday, knowing the whole time what would be the number one reason. Once it posted, I changed my mind within four hours. Thanks, Rob Miller! Thanks Janet Barresi!

Over the past year, I’ve tried to avoid writing about the Moore tornado because that is such a personal tragedy for so many people. I’ve known all along that Janet Barresi made promises she never intended to fulfill. I’ve had more messages from employees and patrons of the district than I can count. I think – even before Rob’s big revelation yesterday, if you’re in the footprint of that storm and have dealt first-hand with Barresi and the SDE since the tornado, this has been your #1 reason to elect someone new all along.

As an example, I give you this paragraph from an email I received last week from a Moore teacher:

To say that JB hasn’t been helpful is an understatement.  From the day she showed up uninvited at our district-wide meeting (on May 22–not even 48 hours after the tornado), took a seat on the stage (also uninvited), and then trotted out empty promises about all of the assistance SDE would provide…to the problems we had during the summer getting deadlines extended or communication that we needed…she and her staff have been far more hurtful than helpful.

If you’ll recall, about a month later, she sent an email to all MPS employees. This was equally intrusive, as she just took upon herself to send a message – a poorly written one at that – to a district that continues to function out of temporary workspace. She received no consent from the district to do so. Many found the action alarming.

Now she’s comparing the work we have to do as educators to rebuild the state standards to what Moore has experienced over the last 13 months. It’s not comparable, and it’s just not acceptable. One thing is the result of the folly of politicians. The other is the devastation of nature’s wrath. I think MPS Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines (who responded in the comments on Rob’s blog) is completely on target. Here’s an excerpt:

My response to Dr. Barresi’s comments will focus on Moore and its community because I am here and that is what I know. Our school district and its community are known for their resilient spirit, unwavering support for others, and determination – that is who we are and that is who we will always remain. These are attributes that we will continue to display in the event of tragedy or in something as simple as change. The 2500 plus employees of MPS are committed to doing what is best for our students, and we simply ask that the State Department of Education rely on the people in the trenches to help with making the changes needed over the next few years. We can do this without telling others “where to go” and asking for certain groups to “pony up”. Over this past year, not once did I have to tell anyone “where to go” or “pony up” and the school district and its people have accomplished much success! MPS and other communities have proven that great things can happen with the right attitude, spirit, and determination. In the future, I would humbly request that no one from the State Department of Education or any other agency use Moore Public Schools, our tragedy, and our rebuilding projects to help their cause.

This is precisely why I have avoided writing about Moore very much. I don’t think the district needs other people telling their story for them. Most who live and work there just keep their heads down and focus on the task at hand.

All that said, this is the most offensive action by Janet Barresi yet. She’s campaigning now as if it’s a good thing that the legislature and governor dumped the Common Core, but the truth is that she fought desperately to save it. Regardless of how you feel about the standards, you must acknowledge her lie here.

You also have to admit that her characterization of the SDE’s labors as something of a holy war is a bit disconcerting. Hers is the language of a delusional ideologue. She’s so committed to her cause that she doesn’t even listen to her own words anymore. She has no class and no clue. This may be all that overshadows her incompetence.

As for Moore – if all of those 2,500 employees vote – and everybody they know votes as well – June 24 will be the day all Oklahomans can say goodbye to Janet Costello Barresi. We won’t even tell her where she can go.

Reason #1 to Pick a New State Superintendent: FERPA Violations

Well, friends, we’ve reached the end – of the countdown. Not the race for state superintendent. And certainly not for the blog. No, this goes on no matter who wins the election. I could certainly use a little break though.

As I’ve counted down my top 20 reasons to elect a new state superintendent, I have found some glaring omissions. Based on page views, I definitely think many of you would have rearranged the list.

For example, the post introducing the list has the most visits. That makes sense; it’s been on the blog longest. Second-highest, though is the #5 reason: Fabricating Special Education Percentages. I don’t know if it’s because my audience doesn’t like it when Barresi just makes stuff up or because we collectively flinch when special education students are getting a raw deal. Every problem we’ve had with testing has been felt harder by that student group. Most of the students impacted by mandatory retention are on an IEP. Even my post this morning, which was little more than poor judgment by someone barely out of college, fired people up.

In fact, the 26 months in which I’ve been blogging confirm what I’ve always known about those of us who actually work in education. We are compassionate people who do not stand for anyone mistreating our students.

That’s why the number one reason why we need to pick a new state superintendent goes back to an event from two years ago this month – the SDE releasing names of students making appeals to the State Board of Education in order to graduate.

The issue lingering with me is the fact that the SDE posted student records online. I understand making students and/or their parents sign a FERPA release so that state board members can go into executive session and examine student records. That does not mean, however, that it is either legally or morally permissible to do so. An SDE spokesperson with about 17 months of institutional memory defended posting the information saying there is a “longstanding precedent” to make information available to the board also available to the public.

While the intention is good, there is also a line that needs to be drawn. Not all records the board reviews in closed session carry the same degree of sensitivity. Across the state, school boards often go into closed session to discuss sensitive matters involving students or personnel. Most of those boards rightly post an agenda item vaguely referring to that student or employee. Here’s an example of an Oklahoma school district that managed to note what was being discussed regarding a student’s appeal of a suspension without making the details of that student’s life known to the world.

As it should be.

At the best, this was a misinterpretation of the Open Records Act. Perhaps something more sinister was happening. The former high level employee who called Tulsa-area superintendents “dirtbags” was not reprimanded by Superintendent Barresi. It is also noteworthy that the feud between Broken Arrow (which originated many of these student waiver requests) and Barresi was made public when she accidentally hit the “Reply All” button on an email. Surely the release of student records wasn’t clumsy. Hopefully it wasn’t done as a deterrent to discourage future appeals. And it certainly wasn’t retaliation. What was it then? Simply inexplicable.

That was back when I thought one of my posts being shared 17 times on Facebook was a big deal. To me, this was the epitome of what’s wrong at the SDE, and with Barresi. She doesn’t understand special education. Or testing. Or people. Or procedures. Or instruction. Or finance. For as much as she proclaims the LNH Scholarship to be the best thing going, she sure doesn’t show special needs students respect.

I did give the SDE credit the next time they had student appeals to discuss. They actually learned from their mistake. They still haven’t reached proficiency, but they showed growth. Three weeks later, they were reeling from the appeals.

I wasn’t the only one who wrote about that. So did Diane Ravitch. So did Parents Across America. And Education News. Their actions also bothered at least one legislator from Superintendent Barresi’s own party. There’s no other way to say it: releasing student records publicly has disgraced the SDE.

Here we are three weeks later, and people are still mad about it. They should be! I know some members of the board have already asked questions, and I expect they will continue to. Barresi is one of a breed of education reformers who like to extol the virtue of accountability. Well somebody needs to be held accountable for what happened. Whether through design or incompetence, the public forum created by the legislature for students to appeal for a high school diploma turned into an embarrassing circus. Students were bullied. Excuses were made. And somewhere, in the time and distance, nobody forgot that any of this happened!

This agency, under Barresi’s direction, squanders opportunity after opportunity to lead. Rather than capitalizing on the momentum from the 2010 election and effectively pursuing the agenda that got her elected in the first place, she – along with her top staff – insist upon steering the ship directly into the iceberg. Regardless of whether you’re for her or against her – embracing her reforms or resisting them – you have to admit that the performance of the SDE has been consistently disappointing.

We found out last week that this really was a pattern of behavior. Earlier that year, the SDE had released names of special education students to the Barresi campaign. From the Tulsa World:

The mother of a special-needs student says State Superintendent Janet Barresi violated the privacy rights of her child and others receiving state-funded scholarships to private schools by providing their names and home addresses to her campaign for re-election.

The woman said she kept her concerns to herself for two years at the request of Joel Robison, Barresi’s chief of staff at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, but a new Barresi television campaign ad reignited her anger over the experience.

Barresi’s ad features a recipient of the state-funded Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships and accuses her GOP primary rival of “conspiring with education bureaucrats” to prevent other special-education students from obtaining the scholarships.

The mother of one such recipient said that in March 2012, her then-seventh-grader received an envelope in the mail from Barresi’s campaign.

Inside was a letter signed by Barresi to scholarship parents offering up to four tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game, plus T-shirts, and an opportunity to shoot baskets and high-five the players as they entered the court.

I’m sure that was a neat experience for the children, but releasing the names of LNH Scholarship recipients to the campaign is crass. Having this effort as part of your campaign itself is crass. Again, we see that students – especially special education children – are only a prop to our state superintendent.

In response to this report, the SDE confirmed that the incident had happened, but blamed it on two former employees.

Phil Bacharach, spokesman for the state Department of Education, provided a written statement saying, “The staff members who were involved are no longer with the department, so the best I can offer is that the State Department of Education helped coordinate the Thunder game offer on behalf of organizations that wanted to do something nice for families with special needs children.”

He added that “no privacy was breached.”

When pressed, Bacharach said no student list ever left the Education Department’s office and that former general counsel Lisa Endres and events coordinator Ashley Hahn had sent the invitations after hours but mistakenly in campaign envelopes rather than Education Department envelopes.

Way to drop the bus on two people you don’t have on the payroll anymore!

Student information – regarding an IEP or anything else – is confidential. There’s no excuse for breaching that. There’s no excuse for having your campaign envelopes up at the agency, either.

The last 42 months, simply put, have disgusted me. Tomorrow, I’ll do a wrap up post with about 10 things that didn’t even make the list – either because I forgot about them initially, or because there just wasn’t room.  I hate it when people implore you to do something for the children or claim that they’re acting for the children. It’s a phrase that’s trite and saccharine and usually false. This election – starting Tuesday with the primary – is FOR THE CHILDREN. They’re the ones in the schools that our policy-makers continue to defile.

I never intended this blog to be all about Superindentist Janet Costello Breezy Schedule J Barresi. Hopefully soon, she’ll be relegated to the status of a minor character in the narrative.

The choice is yours. Go forth and vote, #oklaed.

All together now!

All together now!

Categories: Uncategorized

Pick a Different Word

I’m probably not the most politically correct person. I don’t tend to make huge mistakes that land my foot in my mouth, but I occasionally wish I could get a do-over when I speak. When I use social media, I tend to be more careful even. What I write – whether under my actual name or not – is a reflection upon me and everything I stand for. Even if I have a disclaimer on the top of my Twitter feed that the views expressed are mine and mine alone, the fact is that what I say may cause my employer some grief.

I won’t make this a big lecture, but a few days ago, a reader sent me an image of an old tweet (2012) from Janet Barresi’s campaign manager, Robyn Matthews. I don’t know much about her, so I looked at her Twitter feed and found that she sometimes gets impatient while waiting for lunch.

I can relate to that. I too like to eat my soup while it’s still warm. What I can’t relate to is the use of the R word to describe people trying to scalp Thunder tickets.

RobynMatthews

I find it offensive. Perhaps it’s just how I was raised. I get that not all people are wired that way, and I really try not to be the word police, but I have been known to ask others around me to pick a different word when I hear that one. It’s senseless. It’s imprecise. It’s insulting.

I also don’t work for a politician who acts like she’s the state’s leading advocate for special needs children. Then again, as of May 8, 2012, neither did Robyn Matthews. At that point, according to her online CV, she was a “Public Relations Coordinator,” a few months away from becoming a “Freelance Social Media Coordinator.” In that case, she definitely should have known better.

Perhaps it’s a mistake of youth. We have all had those. In 2012, Barresi was still two campaign managers away from selecting Matthews to run this train wreck. Heck, in 2012, she was still for PARCC and the Common Core! In any case, it’s not a good reflection on the candidate. Someone with a degree in journalism from OSU and a promising career in public relations should know better. Then again, when I was four years out of high school, I don’t know how smart I was about everything I said. Thankfully, there was no social media around to capture my gaffes.

End of lecture. Back to the countdown later this evening.

Categories: Uncategorized

Reason #2 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The Settlement with CTB

As we spiral to the finish line of next week’s primary in the state superintendent’s race, the commercials are getting uglier. Liberal this. Conservative that. While I have a preferred outcome, I think I speak for many who are simply looking forward to getting past Tuesday. It’ll get worse before it gets better – sort of like the last four years!

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 – Vendetta against Jenks

#2 – The Settlement with CTB

As many of you may remember, two (Indiana and Oklahoma) states had to shut down all online testing in April 2013 because CTB/McGraw-Hill’s servers couldn’t handle the load. This disruption led to questionable test results and a pathetic settlement agreement:

  • A cash settlement ($367,205)
  • Professional development for teachers to help them become more acquainted with the type of items that can be expected on new English language arts and math assessments and how to adjust instruction so students will be successful on these tests. ($13,000)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement in the second grade. ($678,400)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement for grades 3 through 11. ($6,600)
  • The commissioning of an independent study to evaluate the impact of the disruptions on student test scores. HUMRRO, Inc. has expertise in the area of analyzing testing disruptions. They will provide an independent opinion that is expected to be delivered in late August. ($48,000)
  • Prior to testing, CTB will conduct a technology readiness assessment of each Oklahoma School District to: ($125,000)
    -Capture specifications regarding bandwidth, number of workstations, server
    configuration, etc. at each school site
    -Identify a technology contact at each school district
    -Perform online stress tests at every site
    -Conduct training and deploy implementation services at all sites
    -Establish a technology forum to deliver regular communications to districts

The SDE was supposed to distribute the cash at the top to schools. I don’t recall that happening. The last item – technology readiness assessment – did happen, but there was a threat from Janet Barresi along the way (a veiled threat, it turned out). The bulk of the “punishment” was that CTB would make available to schools a product they never wanted. That’s like going to dinner, sending back your steak because it’s over cooked, and being compensated with a fish that’s also overcooked.

I first take issue with the fact that CTB was merely punished. Why weren’t they fired outright? Barresi said the contract prohibited firing them for poor performance, but that’s simply not true. When it happened again this year, she made it clear she could and would fire them.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

As I mentioned in reason #19, the path taken by the SDE to hiring CTB to run our testing program was problematic. That was the highlight. Then they failed us once, and we slapped them on the wrist, so they could fail us again. In contrast, Indiana’s state superintendent showed more resolve in sticking up for her schools.

“I have spent the last several months talking with Hoosiers about the impact these interruptions had in the classroom.  Although Dr. Hill’s report found that the statewide average score was not affected by the interruptions, there is no doubt that thousands of Hoosier students were affected.  As Dr. Hill stated in his report, ‘We cannot know definitively how students would have scored this spring if the interruptions had not happened.’ Because of this, I have given local schools the flexibility they need to minimize the effect these tests have on various matters, such as teacher evaluation and compensation.  I have also instructed CTB McGraw-Hill to conduct enhanced stress and load testing to ensure that their servers are fully prepared for next year’s test and ensure that this never happens again.”

What I wouldn’t give for a state superintendent with that kind of attitude!

As for the study by our state, it revealed little. A small percentage of the scores wouldn’t count, which was fair. The SDE made it clear, however, that the impact on state averages was minimal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more concerned with each individual student than I am a teacher average, a school average, a district average, or the state average. If we’re going to spend all of this time and money testing and preparing for tests, we should get results that mean something.

Testing is the cog in Janet Costello “Schedule J” Barresi’s reform plan. It’s central to every other idea. When she was for the Common Core, it was because she wanted better testing. She wants this to be a part of teacher evaluations. She wants tests deciding the fate of kids. But when the company we pay millions to do what she values can’t finish the job, she does nothing – not even a healthy round of name-calling.

Keep your steak (and your fish). I want my money back – and a competent leader in that position.

Reason #3 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Vendetta against Jenks

Timing is everything. Yesterday, as I was poised to post the #4 reason in my countdown, I ran across the information about Janet Barresi’s campaign owing the candidate herself nearly $2 million. Apparently, that nugget of information is something my readers find interesting. In fact, twice in the last week or so, I’ve broken from the countdown to discuss something topical that was too new to make the list. The other time was when I posted the letter that the REAC3H coaches received from Barresi via their boss Teri Brecheen. In my mind, the common thread connecting the campaign contributions and the dismissal of the coaches is that both show how disconnected Barresi (and many of her top staff at the SDE) are from everyday people – even those who work for them.

Today, I have the good fortune of adding a late-breaking news nugget to the post that I had originally scheduled to run today. Here is what posted to the NewsOK website this afternoon

The campaign manager for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi alleged Wednesday that rival Joy Hofmeister broke the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts.

Hofmeister, of Tulsa, and Brian Kelly of Edmond are opposing Barresi in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Hofmeister said the allegations are “desperate attempts” by Barresi to “smear my reputation to distract voters from her failures.”

“I was a private citizen, during the time period of these conversations, responding to emails like most average citizens do,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “Janet Barresi is fast and loose with her accusations hoping to bully me with her personal fortune because I have decided to stand against her and fight for the school children of Oklahoma.”

This seems like a desperate leap to me. I hope it was worth the $1,500 her campaign spent to dig through the emails.

Here’s a recap of the Top Five (so far):

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 –  Vendetta against Jenks

The real story is the ongoing feud Barresi and the SDE have been waging against Jenks Public Schools. I started paying attention to it in May 2013.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.

“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.

The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.

Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.

The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.

“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.

In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.

Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.

“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.

Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.

Barresi, as Rob Miller (the Jenks Middle School principal), pointed out on his blog just last night, campaigned in 2010 telling us that she valued what parents think. Her actions ever since being elected show otherwise. Parents may matter, but not as much as testing. Although I suppose if you could test parents, you’d really have something that she values.

The investigation yielded nothing. The Tulsa World looked into how this started and found a very skeptical state superintendent pulling the strings.

Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.

In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”

That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.

“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.

By October, the SDE had quietly closed the investigation. Maybe they felt it was best not to keep this fire burning. After the World reported on the lack of findings, Rob Miller responded.

Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.

Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.

Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.

The numbers have grown so much, in fact, that a Jenks Public Schools parent is just six days away from possibly knocking Barresi out of her re-election campaign in the primary. Diane Ravitch took Rob’s story national.

In the spring, the SDE added to this story when they selected school districts for field testing and somehow missed a couple. To no one’s surprise, Jenks was one of them. (Owasso was the other.) Here was Rob’s reaction.

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

You could say that since Barresi took office, she has received a lot of grief from northeast Oklahoma. At one point, her Chief of Staff even called administrators from Jenks and Union dirtbags. She has ignored questions from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall. She even accidentally sent him the wrong email once, showing that she blamed the districts for the problems they were having with the ACE graduation law.

Her thirst for revenge is evident in all of these actions – and completely unacceptable for somebody who claims to be doing what she does to help children.

Reason #4 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Changing Biology Cut Scores

The response to yesterday’s countdown post has been surprising – and mostly private. The direct messages and emails I have received have been appreciative, and in a couple of cases emotional. Think about that for a minute. The vast majority of parents never have to deal with special education issues. The ones who do are often a fixture in conference rooms with administrators. Yet when someone with a forum takes the time to speak about the issues this group faces, support is overwhelming and from all angles.

Whether you’ve walked a mile in the shoes of a parent of a special needs child or not, you probably still have a good understanding of why it’s important for policy-makers, the SDE, and school districts to possess understanding and compassion. Most parents can send their children to school, check progress periodically, help with homework at night, and expect for the best. I wrote last night’s post with my mind on the parents who never know what they’re going to hear when they talk to their child’s teachers. For those of you who got that, I appreciate you letting me know.

Here’s a recap of the Top Ten (so far):

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

Late last summer, after many districts around the state had already started holding classes, in fact, the SDE announced that test scores from the previous school year would be released soon.

Superintendents and District Testing Coordinators,

Please see the calendar below for a schedule for the release of test scores.

Test Scores Released August 23
Districts have 30-day window
to verify tests scores
August 29 to September 30
Districts have a 10-day window
to review A-F Report Cards
October 10 to 23
SDE staff presents A-F Report Cards
To SBE for approval
October 24 BOE meeting

Then the timeframe changed. The testing company pushed the release back another week. Yes, schools had been working with their preliminary data for two months. They had begun planning for improvement. They had set up schedules for remediation. They just didn’t have all the information they would need for the accountability reports that would become a fiasco two months later.

Oh, and they had no science scores. The SDE was late in releasing those because they were still manipulating the data. A few weeks later, when schools had that information, teachers – especially Biology teachers – were furious. Parents and administrators were angry and confused. Not only were scores much lower than they had been in the past; they did not reflect the opinions of the committees that were in place to set them. One reader sent me this:

Now that test scores have been released to districts, there has been a lot of discussion about the impacts of these scores. I’ve been asked for my opinion about these scores by several teachers, so I thought I would share my (rambling, sometimes incoherent) thoughts with you, the advocates for education in this state. (Also, be aware that I am approaching this from the perspective of my background as a high school biology teacher, although I suspect that many of these points apply to other disciplines and grades.)

First, has raising the cut scores for passing a test ever improved education? I don’t know of any studies that suggest this is true. If there was any evidence showing that raising cut scores alone, without providing additional supports to teachers, improves student achievement, then I would be more willing to accept the SDE’s justifications. Also, if I had confidence that the OCCTs and EOIs test student understanding of science–which I don’t– then I would be more apt to agree with the SDE’s decision. But this will only be a hardship to students, families, schools, and teachers. What is the purpose of making it more difficult to pass a test when you don’t help teachers become more effective? Just telling teachers to “do better or your test scores will be awful and your job will be on the line” is neither motivating nor effective.

When I heard the cut scores, I went through my previous years’ scores to determine how they would have effected my students– the students that I know. I know whether these students had mastered the biology curriculum. And I determined that many of my students, whom I– as a professional educator– deemed to be proficient in biology– would not have passed. And my school would have had to spend scarce resources to remediate these kids. I get that we want to raise the bar– I want that, too. But I don’t want to raise the bar for proficient students, students who “get it”. I want support to meet the needs of the struggling students.

Finally, I want to share my experience as a member of the committee that “set the cut score” for this year’s biology EOI. I put that phrase in quotation marks, because we didn’t actually set the cut score. We began by working through the actual EOI (I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a single question, although I did struggle a LOT with three questions. I have a masters degree in science education; I’ve taken 40 hours of graduate-level biology courses. I’ve taken– and passed– every pre-med course offered at OU. I have earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I will earn a second masters in December before I begin a PhD program in spring. I have 248 hours of college credit under my belt. I taught biology for 8 years, and I served on several SDE assessment committees. AND I STRUGGLED WITH 3 QUESTIONS ON THE BIOLOGY EOI. Do you know what finally enabled me to answer those questions? I had to switch from the mindset of a person who is proficient in biology content, and instead think like a standardized test writers. What hope was there for our kids to answer those questions correctly?)

Like I said, if I believed in the ability of these tests to accurately gauge student understanding of biology, then I would not be writing this angry diatribe. But I’ve found that my own professional assessment of student understanding is far more reliable than the EOI.

I’ll skip all of the boring parts, but I will tell you that after we set our initial cut score recommendation, Meredith McBee from the SDE addressed us, and showed us data regarding how our cut score recommendations compare to ACT and NAEP data. Our cut scores did not align at all to the ACT or NAEP, but it was not sufficiently explained to us how the EOI comparable score was determined. We were also told that the legislature expected the biology test to be more rigorous than in the past. We were encouraged to reconsider our cut score based on ACT, NAEP, and the legislature’s intent. We did not deviate much from our original recommendation.

Now, here’s the part that should really concern teachers: When Meredith McBee presented cut score recommendations to the State Board of Education, she proposed a completely different cut score than the one that we came up with, and SHE TOLD THE STATE BOARD THAT THE CUT SCORE WAS DETERMINED BY A COMMITTEE OF TEACHERS. Now, I realize that the SDE has the ability to override the teacher committee’s recommendation. But it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.

If I were still a biology teacher, I would be passing this information on to every parent of every student who did not pass the biology EOI. Our students should not be political pawns.

In addition to so many other misguided beliefs, Janet Barresi feels that if you don’t measure something, you don’t really value it. On the other hand, if you measure something, and you have no idea what unit of measurement you’re using, it’s hard to place much stock in the result. It was an insult to the students who took the class and the teachers who prepared them. It was a slap in the face for those who served on the standard setting committee (and evidence of why the SDE has difficulty recruiting people to serve on such committees).

Students who take the Biology EOI have to pass four of seven EOIs to graduate. When they went home in May 2013, they had a pretty good idea of how ready they were. When the results came in, a lot of those ideas were dispelled.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has gone 10 years since completing a standards-adoption process in science; hence, schools are using textbooks that are falling apart. That doesn’t help.

These are the kinds of problems that linger to this day. The SDE shows little regard for what the schools tell them. Even when they ask our opinions, they don’t listen. This is evident in the deaf ear they are turning to the writing scores. Everything about this undermines the entire multi-million dollar testing process.

One thing we know as we await final scores for the 2014 tests this summer is that past is prologue. Later this month, the SDE will again host educators for standard setting for our social studies exams. At this point, I don’t expect a different outcome. The educators will go through the process to determine cut scores for the 5th and 8th grade tests, as well as the U.S. History EOI. The SDE will do whatever they want.

“Schedule J” Janet

We are a creative people. A time-honored tradition in American politics is the public issuing a nickname to candidates. The Gipper. Tricky Dick. Slick Willie. Honest Abe. Silent Cal. All the way back to Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. At our most mundane, we refer to our presidents by their initials – FDR, JFK, LBJ. Word had it that the first President Bush sometimes referred to the second President Bush as “Quincy,” a nod to our second and sixth presidents.

In our state superintendent race here in Oklahoma, I have seen several clever nicknames for the incumbent, Janet C. Barresi – Breezy and Superindentist come to mind. And while I don’t typically use the nicknames, they definitely ring true. Today, I’d like to introduce a new one.

Schedule J Janet

The image above is Schedule J – a public document required by the state of Oklahoma. It shows that the Friends of Janet Barresi 2014 committee owes Janet Barresi the individual $1,982,167.44 as of June 9, 2014. Yes, Schedule J Janet is out nearly $2 million of her own money for this campaign. As one of her few remaining political allies would say, HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Considering the fact that her campaign currently has a little over $73,500 on hand, I’d say the odds are against her getting that money back.

Schedule E also shows that she made a media placement and production purchase of $567,487.35 on June 5, 2014. She’s committed to a shock and awe finish this next week.

The same document shows that she is still paying her former chief of staff, Jennifer Carter – who is married to a member of the Oklahoman’s editorial board – for consulting services. Carter received $3,750 from the campaign in May, bringing her year-to-date total to 37,585.53. Does Barresi paying her own campaign and the campaign paying Carter amount to buying influence with the Oklahoman? That’s your call. He’s an editorialist. She’s a political consultant. Their jobs are bound to intersect, but full disclosure would be nice.

Quick math quiz: Referring back to PASS, would that tangled web be an example of the associative, distributive, or transitive property?

In contrast to the name of her committee, Barresi has few friends contributing anything of substance (cash or strategy) to her campaign. To be fair, I looked up campaign information on all the candidates for state superintendent. Information listed is as of June 16.

Candidate Loan Balance Cash on Hand
Barresi $1,982,167.44 $73,544.80
Cox $68,449.43 $128,611.16
Deskin $16,835.06 $110,279.93
Herron None Reported $5,914.46
Hofmeister $28,953.69 $27,527.36
Holmes $3,000 $5,745.73
Kelly None Reported None Reported

Interestingly, Republican Brian Kelly has raised and spent no money for this campaign. Why then are banners for him popping up in Oklahoma City? Who’s paying for those?

As I mentioned over the weekend, Barresi is all in. Only winning matters. The cost does not. Nor does the truth. While she’s busy stimulating the Oklahoma economy misrepresenting her one contending primary opponent, the rest of us are spreading the word every chance we get that another four years of Barresi just can’t happen.

Don’t let the lies or the cash fool you. Don’t let Schedule J Janet win.

Reason #5 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Fabricating Special Education Percentages

In case you missed yesterday’s endorsement of Superintendent Barresi from the Oklahoman, well too bad. I’m not going to link to it. At best, their praise was tepid. While I mentioned it briefly in yesterday’s post, I didn’t come close to the takedown provided by The Lost Ogle today. They mention the link between the paper and Barresi’s campaign:

Jennifer is a close ally of State School Superintendent Janet Barresi. She was Barresi’s first campaign manager, first chief of staff, and oversaw the creation of Barresi’s squadron of evil winged flying monkeys. She also pulled a Barresi in 2011 and referred to educators as “dirtbags” on Twitter. She’s now doing work for the Barresi campaign through her firm Jennifer Carter Consulting.

I’m telling you this because Jennifer’s husband, Ray, is a former PR flack who just happens to be an editorial writer for The Oklahoman. For a living, he regurgitates conservative talking points, protects the newspaper’s friends and allies, and attacks and destroys their enemies.

They conclude by expressing disbelief that anyone would vote to stay the course.

So there you have it, The Oklahoman thinks you should vote for Janet Barresi because… she’s an abrasive, alienating, bridge-burning tyrant lady who wants to improve education for all students? Uhm, can’t we find some nice qualified person who wants to improve education, too? In case you care, the answer to that question is “Yes.” Just don’t expect the Oklahoman editorial writers to tell you about it.

And that, my friends, is why I have a list.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

Looking back upon the first half of the Top 10, I see trends. For misinformation, see #10 and #6. For incompetence, see #9. For a combination of those two things, see #8 and #7. Today’s post is about a topic that amounts to part misinformation, and part bullying – which will be a running trend throughout the top five.

I feel I start a lot of paragraphs with the clause, One of the most outrageous/ridiculous/disingenuous things she Barresi has ever said was…. Well that’s where we start tonight – with a line that she has repeated and revised may times since November. To my knowledge, the first iteration was at the candidate forum in November that I often reference (because it is so rich with material). She told the audience that 75 percent of all special education identifications are incorrect; that the school just hasn’t taught children to read. Not only is this complete nonsense; she has to know it is. Sometimes, it’s actually 50 percent. Sometimes it’s a vague number. Whatever it is on a given day, she tends to repeat some version of this line every time she discusses reading.

This statistic is supposed to be evidence that she knows something that we don’t know. It’s a refrain with no intent other than to perpetuate a lie – public schools are failing – and to do so using special education students as a prop.

Few things anger me worse than mistreating students on an Individualized Education Program. This includes dismissing their needs as well as dismissing their abilities. For years, schools have worked to curb over-identification of special needs students, knowing that getting that label early can lead to a life of low expectations. At the same time, when students are struggling to the point that their education suffers – whether it be for cognitive, physical, emotional, or any other set of reasons – we would be wrong not to accept the fact that an IEP is necessary.

Statewide, schools have held steady at an average of 15 percent of students on an IEP for years. That doesn’t mean we can’t find instances of over-identification or under-identification. After all, Cottonwood, the district that Barresi’s executive director of literacy led for years, has one of the highest special education identification rates in the state.

The belief that we don’t know how to place special education students correctly is a terrible indictment of teachers in the early grades. Most students placed on an IEP start to receive services before third grade. With this made-up statistic that Barresi tailors to her audience on any given day, she calls into question the competence of every single teacher children have before age eight.

This is worse than the learning to read, reading to learn trope because repeating the lie as she does undermines the work we do with some of our most vulnerable students. As I’ve repeated on this blog and on social media, the exemptions in place for special education students under the third-grade retention law do not provide much of a safety net.

This is one of the shorter posts of my countdown, but honestly, it doesn’t take a thousand words to remind readers that Janet Barresi does not understand special (or any other kind of) education. Rob Miller explained this well last week in one of his Really posts, hitting several points that I will again raise as we approach the top of the charts.

Reason #6 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

In case you’re wondering, the number one reason to vote Janet Barresi out of office in nine days is that she is awful at her job. Furthermore, she’s surrounded herself with people who are awful at their jobs too.

That’s not how the countdown works, however. Apparently, I’m supposed to list specific ways in which she is awful at her job. As I do, feel free to grade this post for each of the five analytical writing traits separately. Hopefully I’ll get a 4.0 for coherence. On the other hand, I’ve written a lot this month in a short period of time. You can just give me a holistic score if you want. Pretend you work for CTB.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 –PASSing Around Our Standards

#6 – Learning to Use Reading for Political Gain

If there’s one thing I think Barresi has right, it’s the fact that reading is the most important skill our children learn. Within that topic, we disagree over everything else. Her mindset regarding reading instruction is that if a student can’t read after four years in the classroom, the school is to blame. Her mind is set. There is no room for argument.

Since the legislature updated the Reading Sufficiency Act in 2011 to include mandatory third grade retention that would take effect this school year, the SDE has made preparing for this moment a primary focus. At the same time, implementing TLE and CCSS were each a major focus, diluting the attention given to this effort. Still she found some federal money for one year and some Activities Budget money a second year to employ 60 REAC3H coaches, who she said were the cornerstone of the state’s efforts to prepare teachers and students for the test.

In the meantime, with a major assist from the Oklahoman, Barresi has taken every opportunity to show that only her opinion matters. She has controlled the narrative with talking points straight out of Florida, faulty research, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the tests in Oklahoma measure.

There are several points in time that would make sense for starting this discussion. For this piece, I’m going to begin with a campaign forum at which Barresi spoke in November, then hit several key moments that have happened since then.

“If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.”

-Janet Barresi (November 2013)

During this forum, Barresi was debating 1994 and 1998 Republican state superintendent candidate Linda Murphy. At the time, Murphy sounded like a potential candidate herself. At one point, a parent asks her a question, and Barresi defends the retention law.

Barresi fields an emotional question from a parent of a stressed out special education student. She responds by digging in on the third grade retention law. Again she blames school districts, claiming that they waited until this year to act. She conveniently forgets two facts. First is that until August, school districts had received no guidance from the SDE about how to take the six good cause exemptions written into the law from statute to action. Once again, here is the process: Statute to Administrative Rule to Guidance for Implementation. For all of the training that school districts have received (or not received, depending on the REAC3H coaches), in assisting third graders, the real trick is knowing how to enact the law. The second fact is that school districts received no RSA funding last year and still wait to receive their notices of funding for this year. Schools continue working with students and waiting endlessly on the SDE.

The first year the SDE had the REAC3H coaches, they were working their way into the schools they served, between periods of receiving training themselves. Not until the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, however, had districts received anything that resembled official guidance from the SDE. This past school year, the coaches probably spent almost as much time helping their districts with paperwork as they did on training.

The mindset of the SDE seems to have been that they would spend a lot of money and hope that what they were buying made its way into schools. As I’ve written previously, the REAC3H coaches turned out to be a big help. The problem is that they could not reach all the teachers in all the schools in a meaningful way. Sixty people can only be in so many places.

By January, the SDE had sent forms for districts to use to predict how many third grade students would score Unsatisfactory on the reading test. Shortly thereafter, she held a press conference and would only let members of the media ask questions. In fact, when a parent tried to have a word with her, she shut that parent down, asking, “Are you with the media?” She also tersely told those in attendance that “the time for debate is over.” That’s the Barresi way – always shut down dissent by putting her fingers in her ears.

This was also the first time I can remember Barresi using the trope about fourth grade being the age when “children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.” It’s a hell of a sound byte, but it’s completely meaningless. As reading guru Claudia Swisher points out all the time, we never quit learning to read. As for children still in the process of learning to read, they are still using their emerging skills to aid in other learning. In truth, every skill you gain in decoding information assists you in every other academic endeavor.

In February, the retention law came up at a parent forum in Owasso:

Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…

Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.

Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.

“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.

After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.

With minimal guidance from the SDE, school districts were doing everything they could conceive to help their students succeed. People who don’t understand instruction, measurement, or child development probably also don’t understand the lengths that teachers will go to in order to get their kids where they need to be. A week later, however, Barresi sent schools a condescending letter that made it sound as if she got it. Here is the opening:

Dear educators:

As you are well aware, this is a critical time for the Reading Sufficiency Act’s third-grade reading requirement. I know that those of you teaching K-3 are working hard to give your students the gift of literacy, and I have seen impressive reading plans in districts large and small across Oklahoma. With the OCCT testing window only a month away, I wanted to address some common questions about how to prepare for RSA today and in the months ahead.

As outlined by the RSA, by this point you already have identified struggling readers through benchmark assessments and have notified parents of the children who are struggling. In the coming weeks, keep doing what you do best — explore the fundamentals of reading with those students using whatever the techniques or resources you think will work most effectively. If you need assistance from one of our REAC3H coaches or the literacy department, help is only a phone call away.

Talk to parents or guardians. If you can reach out to families — especially those where education is not a priority — with accurate information about the RSA and the importance of literacy, you could help spark an entirely new future for those children.

I really took issue with that third paragraph. Schools had been reaching out to families, and yes, there are a lot of households where education is not a priority. When it came to having information about the RSA, however, that wasn’t the line of demarcation. I have had many conversations with parents holding advanced degrees in which I had to carefully walk through each of the six Good Cause Exemptions. For many, disappointment in the provisions for special needs students was apparent.

Here’s how the letter ended:

I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to write to me with your thoughts and recommendations. It helps those of us at OSDE make appropriate adjustments in the program and in the supports we provide to you. Also, thank you to all of you who have attended our trainings. I hope you have found them to be of value.

Finally, I want to thank you for the work you do for the children of Oklahoma. Your steadfast commitment and professionalism are a testament to the greatness of teaching. My prayers are with you and for you and the children you faithfully serve.

These are the same teachers she blames in the letter. These are the same teachers who fought for changes to the RSA law that Barresi would later call outrageous. Yes, teachers, you’re both a disappointment and an inspiration. That’s how this works.

In April, this campaign (not the election – the PR campaign for the retention law) turned even more bizarre. While debating Joy Hofmeister, Barresi said the following:

A child who scores unsatisfactory on a third-grade assessment can’t read and comprehend ‘Horton Hears A Who.’ But they’re being sent into fourth grade where they are expected to read and understand “Little House on the Prairie.

The pairing of these two books seemed bizarre to most educators (but not to Rep. Jason Nelson, one of the few legislators who still sometimes has Barresi’s back). Claudia had this to add:

Back to Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls. She identifies Horton as a first grade level, and Little House as a fourth. Jason James, who has written extensively about the third grade reading-language arts test, points out DDS Baressi’s two examples are really closer in grade level than she realized. Not a surprise…she is a dentist, not an educator.

Moving ahead to May, the SDE announced that a hotline would be established to help parents, teachers, or anyone else who called to understand the test scores when they were released. Then, inexplicably, the SDE released the scores to the media before schools could get onto the CTB server and pull them. Worse yet, parents could see that their child’s school had a certain percentage of students who received an Unsatisfactory score long before the school could notify them of their child’s status.

We were just getting going. Next came the legislature passing HB 2625, which allows for committees to decide whether students should be retained. Then came the governor’s veto. Then came the overwhelming override (without debate) by both the House and the Senate. Finally, we had another occasion for one of Barresi’s petulant outbursts. When interviewed about the override, she called it pathetic and outrageous.

Since November, we’ve watched and fought as the state superintendent has made crazy statements about the most important thing we teach children. She still thinks our third grade reading test (which is really more of a language arts assessment) can detect grade level. It can’t. She thinks giving parents a say in retention decisions completely guts the law. It doesn’t. She has spent every day of this campaign stomping her feet about the importance of reading. Sometimes, when the light is just right, you can even see the steam coming out of her ears. She blames the education establishment, when really, it was parents who provided the momentum for HB 2625.

As a side note, I’m still curious as to why overwhelming support for this bill held no sway over the governor as it did with HB 3399.

Barresi, when it comes to any education issue, digs in completely. There is no compromise. If a great number of teachers who cumulatively have thousands of years of experience tell her that their time in the classroom has shown them something that she doesn’t believe, she falls completely deaf. She is an ideologue first, a politician second, and an educator never.

The only thing her drive for mandatory retention has accomplished is that it brought fear into the classroom. Now that I look at that statement, I probably had this a couple of spots too low at six.

All In for #oklaed

I’ve mentioned to a couple of readers lately that with this countdown, I’m about to hit a wall. Every day, I am not only writing a new post that I hope is shared beyond the 2,000+ Twitter followers and 2,000+ Facebook friends of the blog; I am also remembering things that don’t even make the Top 20, which will probably lead to me writing more.

Lately, the reality of how close this primary is has begun to sink in. The campaign ads are getting meaner. The debates are more frequent. We’re a little more than a week away, and I honestly have no idea what the poll numbers are. All I do know is that the incumbent in the state superintendent’s race can fund her own campaign (reportedly dropping $1 million for a late media push), one challenger (Hofmeister) is running a grass roots campaign based upon small donors, and the third Republican in the primary (Kelly) has made one notable appearance in which he confused the RSA with the Common Core.

Among the Democrats, I really can’t tell who will emerge from the group of four. My guess is that none will hit 50% outright and that two will head into an August run-off. I just can’t guess which two it will be.

Here are some numbers worth noting. In 2010, there were 250,247 votes cast in the Democratic primary and 231,863 votes cast in the Republican primary in the state superintendent race. I expect those numbers to flip. More precisely, I expect both parties to see increases, but the Republican increases to outpace those of the Democrats by far. Further supporting this belief, I give you this, from the Enid News and Eagle.

An analysis by the Enid News & Eagle pins the number of educators who became Republicans over the past year at 1,253. But who are they?

They mostly come from small, rural school districts. More than half of them work in districts with fewer than 200 state certified educators.

These schools are spread throughout the state and don’t seem to fit a geographical pattern. Sentinel, Central and Frederick Public Schools had roughly a third of their teacher corps change parties.

Stringtown, a district of 19 certified educators near McAlester in the state’s southeast quadrant, saw more than half convert before the June 24 primary.

The analysis could only confidently identify 229 converts from the 10 school districts with the most employees, each with more than a thousand educators.

The state’s largest public school employer, Oklahoma City, had just 14 who switched, according to the analysis.

Enid, already a heavily Republican city, saw only a 1.2-percent conversion rate.

The review isn’t perfect, though. While voter registration data provided by the State Election Board includes information like birth dates and addresses, the education department’s list of certified teachers only provides first and last names along with school district where they work.

Because neither list shares a unique identifier, the results had to be calculated based on names. That effort showed 7,301 Oklahomans who were Democrat or independent switched to the Republican Party. Then that list was compared to the database of more than 50,000 teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators who are on file with the state.

Finally, out came a number: 1,253, which is 17.2 percent of all converts.

That is impressive research. I agree that it has limitations as far as accuracy goes, but it’s still pretty telling. The Eagle also talked with a couple of educators to find out why. Enid teacher Matt Holtzen explained his switch:

We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones who see the impacts of the decisions made by our elected officials. Teachers are the first to respond to any problems they see coming down the pike.

Elk City Superintendent Buddy Wood added this:

The morale in public education, in Elk City, is as low as I’ve ever seen it. Ever. In 34 years.

That alone is sufficient reason to replace Barresi. The Oklahoman, to no one’s surprise, feels that teacher frustration is precisely why we should re-elect the state superintendent in spite of the problems of her administration.

Barresi’s office has made mistakes. The rollout of her A-F grading system for the state’s schools, which puzzled superintendents across Oklahoma, should have been handled better. Releasing the names of students who were appealing the results of state-mandated graduation tests was a gaffe. Problems with the companies that administer end-of-year tests have been troublesome.

Spolier alert! They’re dipping into my top five before I even reveal it! And these are the people on her team. For good measure, they added this:

Barresi’s management style has left her open to criticism, but this shouldn’t be a personality contest. Playing nice and getting along well with others aren’t the only measures on the report card for state school superintendents. Barresi’s overarching goals are ones Oklahomans should support, regardless of party affiliation. She wants to improve education for all students. She wants to increase rigor so those students are well prepared to succeed in high school and college or in their careers.

Her pursuit of significant reform has naturally drawn protest, particularly from the education establishment. Yet Oklahoma doesn’t need more of the status quo, more of the same policies and practices that helped give the nation’s secretary of education plenty of fodder to ridicule this state.

Criticism of her management style goes beyond personality. She alienates the people she needs to have on board with her reforms. Her management style has made it impossible for her to achieve her overarching goals. Even the people who agree with those goals think so – with few exceptions.

Sometimes, I wake up in a cold sweat wondering what the future would look like with another four years of Barresi in office. For one thing, some of us have been quite outspoken – especially bloggers like Rob Miller and me. In fact, I picture something like this happening to us if she gets another term.

Nun GIF

The last two years have seen Barresi face not only opposition from the Education Establishment, but repudiation from her own party. In 2012, the legislature made it clear that they did not approve of how the SDE was spending the Activities Budget. In 2013, they re-wrote the rules for the A-F Report Cards, making comparisons from 2012 irrelevant. This year, they pulled a 2012 with the SDE’s Activities Budget again, included parents in the third-grade retention decisions, and repealed the Common Core, which Barresi had been pushing ever since taking office.

Still, she’s pumping money in for a late surge. Joy Hofmeister can’t counter that out of her own pocket, and while donations keep coming in, it’s going to take more than money. If Barresi is going to spend $1 million down the stretch (how much is enough, Janet?), then we need one million stories, shares, and likes. We need Twitter and Facebook lighting the way. With reports of low voter turnout among educators in 2010 serving as a reminder of how we got here, we have to do everything in our power to ensure we don’t have a re-run. Even with half the legislators in her own party openly opposing her, Barresi could still win.

Why do we fight so hard? Because every time Barresi opens her mouth, she insults the people working with Oklahoma’s children.

Because Oklahoma’s children continue coming to school, we must continue fighting to make school a better place. I believe in reform. I believe in school improvement. I also believe we all deserve a leader who is competent, understanding, and sincere.

Janet Barresi has pushed all her chips to the center of the table. It’s time we do too. It can’t just be the regulars who blog and tweet, either. We all have too much to lose.

Reason #7 to Pick a New State Superintendent: PASSing Around Our Standards

Ten days from now, Oklahoma voters will go to the Oklahoma polls to utilize Oklahoma voting technology and choose the Oklahoma candidate who best represents their Oklahoma values. If that seems to be a little bit over the top, it’s because I want to make it clear that this blog is not the part of some out-of-state entity, lurking in the shadows, trying to usurp our schools. I am, as the About page of my blog states, “a long time Oklahoma educator who thinks the false narrative about failing public schools needs to be refuted.”

The meandering path we have taken these last four years has left our schools in chaos this summer. Barresi’s leadership is a big part of why that road is anything but a straight line. Cumulatively, it is worthy of a spot in the Top 10 in this countdown.

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

#7 – PASSing Around Our Standards

Before discussing where we are now, let’s look at how we got here. As a reference, I present a timeline straight from the public relations campaign the SDE began last summer, The Road Ahead.

A Timeline of Academic Standards in Oklahoma1983 - President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education releases report “A Nation at Risk”, documenting the need for education reform in the United States. The development of new standards begins.

1996 - A coalition of Nation’s governors and corporate leaders form Achieve, Inc., a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards and graduation requirements.

2005 - Achieve, Inc. launches the American Diploma Project Network to align standards and graduation requirements to college and career readiness. Concept of the Common Core begins.

2005 - 2006 – Oklahoma joins the American Diploma Project Network.

2009 - Oklahoma joins other states in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led process to develop more rigorous, higher, and clearer academic standards.

2010 - Three Oklahomans selected for writing committees to draft PreK-12 standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

June 24, 2010 - State Board of Education adopts Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics for the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

July 6, 2010 - Governor approves adoption.

2010 - Transition to new standards begins. OSDE leads teacher development, local curriculum revision, and test development.

2011 – 2014 - OSDE provides ongoing assistance to districts for implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

2012 - State Board of Education adopts revised Oklahoma Academic Standards forSocial Studies and History, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2012 – 2013 - OSDE leads revision process for Oklahoma Science Standards, written by Oklahoma educators and content experts.

2013 - OSDE launches For the Road Ahead family and community engagement initiative.

Spring 2014 - For the final year, state assessments reflect the Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS).

June 2014 - Transition to new Oklahoma Academic Standards complete.

Spring 2015 - New state assessment administered, reflects the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

I don’t know how much they paid for the PR effort, but it came with its own logo. Maybe it’s one of those crazy-high expenses Rob Miller discovered for us last week.*

oas_logo

That’s a pretty selective summary of how we got where we are (minus the 2013 developments). Yes, three whole Oklahomans were on the committee that wrote the Common Core. Three! But prior to that – hey, wait. Something’s missing. Apparently, nothing happened between 1983 and 1995 regarding standards in Oklahoma.

Nothing except for PASS, that is. Yes, the state’s promotional materials left off the standards that arose out of HB 1017 in 1990 – standards that were written by hundreds of Oklahomans! For more than two decades, these were the state standards. Each subject area under PASS has seen multiple revisions, but the title of the overall document has remained the same.

Under Barresi, all academic standards were rebranded as C3 standards in 2011. You can still see it in the logo above. Then in 2013 came OAS – the Oklahoma Academic Standards. It got even more amusing when OAS for science, or OASS as we’ve come to know it, came into being.

standards_billboard

The SDE under Janet Barresi is serious about the business of rebranding. For 20 years, Sandy Garrett had a summer conference called Leadership. In 2011, it was rebranded as Innovation. In 2012 it became Vision 2020. It has grown from a two day conference with chocolate fountains into a four-day extravaganza with an assortment of expensive keynote speakers. It is vendor-palooza, which is fairly important now that public education is in constant chaos.

We’ve also rebranded our tests. In 2013, the SDE changed the name of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCT) to the Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessments (OCCRA) – which led to the realization that nobody copy-checks acronyms up there. Also, it spawned this image (have I mentioned how excited I am to have @FakeOKSDE back in the conversation here with us?.

OCCRAIn the meantime, we also dabbled in the PARCC consortium, until abruptly pulling out last summer. I digress – back to the standards.

The biggest problem we’ve seen regarding the standards (and similarly, to testing) is that we’re more interested in image and substance. Are the Common Core State Standards any good? That’s not the relevant question. What do people think of them? That’s what really matters. Last summer, when momentum was building across the country to dump them before full implementation, the SDE pushed us to accept OAS, but here was how they sold it to us.

What are the Oklahoma Academic Standards? OAS…

  • are custom-built for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma
  • prepare students with skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world
  • provide a route for partners in education to readily follow with fewer, higher, and clearer standards
  • include assessment stops along the way so students get additional help needed to achieve peak performance
  • put teachers back in the driver’s seat to make instructional decisions that set graduates on the road to being college, career, and citizen-ready

I do think the SDE and I have different operational definitions for custom-built. Aside from that, who can argue with these bullet points? We absolutely want to prepare our students for a rapidly changing world.  We want to allow more room for our partners to be … wait, partners? Who are these partners? Is this like how every vendor comes into your school and swears they want to partner with you on your school improvement efforts? Is that why so many companies flock to Vision 2020? Are they looking for fresh meat? The fourth bullet highlights the SDE’s mindset on testing (in spite of what Barresi said in her debate against Hofmeister Thursday night). The fifth is a farce. Nothing about the way the SDE has operated since 2011 indicates that the top leadership there trusts teachers to do anything.

The passage of HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards, has set off a frenzy of summer activity around Oklahoma. Right now (well, hopefully not at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night), teachers and administrators are working to retrofit the work they’ve done over the last four years into PASS. They can’t simply back out. Whereas under PASS prior to 2010, a specific math skill might have been located in one grade, and under CCSS, it is in another, simply switching back would leave gaps in the curriculum. No, this switch back will take considerably more finesse than what Janet Barresi and Mary Failin think.

And why rush? In 2016, we will have yet another set of standards. Every candidate for state superintendent guarantees that they will not in any way under any circumstances resemble the Common Core. They are all going to load up a room with an assortment of people from all over the state and not emerge until new standards are written. It will be interesting to see if the phrase Oklahoma values means the same thing everywhere. Or rigor. Or even a phrase like critical thinking.

In the meantime, we have PASS. Barresi says now that these standards are fine. That’s definitely not how she felt in October.

That’s why I’m excited about the new Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments being planned for students for the 2014-15 school year. They move students away from the fill-in-the-bubble, rote memorization tests that now exist. Instead, these performance-based exams include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge.

I know a lot of people who supported the Common Core. I also know a lot who fought against it. Most of the people I know in both camps are angry at the double-speak we’ve seen from Barresi. When it comes to education, it’s all about the façade. Nothing about her or the reforms she pushes helps children. The fight now is to get people who only marginally follow educational issues to see it.

We have 10 days, Oklahoma. Get it done.

 

*Actually, The Road Ahead was funded by the GE Foundation – yet another out-of-state entity.

Reason #8 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

Yesterday’s post covered a comedy of errors that ended in a giant snafu – the 2013 A-F Release. After putting it on the blog, I settled in for a quiet night of living vicariously through my blogger friend, Rob Miller. Rob, it seemed, was fortunate enough to attend the debate in Tulsa between incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Costello Barresi and her primary challenger, Joy Hofmeister.

There were several telling moments from the debate, and I fully expect a recap from Rob on his blog later. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite tweets (his and others) from the evening.

Here Barresi admits that a week before Governor Fallin signed HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core, she was aware of the decision. That probably would have been good information to have shared with those working in her curriculum department at the SDE. Until the final hour leading up to the governor’s announcement, they were still working with schools and lobbying hard to encourage a veto of the bill. Fortunately, the SDE has a solution handy.

Oh, my mistake. That’s not the SDE. That’s the Fake OKSDE Twitter account. He or she (what’s up with anonymity, people?) has been away from Twitter since the fall. Last night’s return was welcome and timely. It also came in handy when Barresi made a couple of serious mistakes.

Apparently, counting to two is hard.

This was the best one. She simply has no clue what she’s talking about. Fake OKSDE summed it up thusly:

Fake OKSDE Microfibers

After seeing that, I couldn’t help myself and added this one:

microfibers

I look forward to Rob’s recap of the evening, but if you want to read more about how little our state superintendent understands about the testing required of our students, check out the Tulsa World.

To refresh your memory, here’s how the Top 10 in our countdown began:

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

#9 – The A-F Rollout

#8 – The 2014 Writing Test Debacle

It’s always hard to know exactly where to place a current event within a list of things that have happened over time. Is this so high because the problem is ongoing? Hard to say. When it started, I figured it was steering towards the honorable mention. Before we look at this year’s test problem, let’s go back to October 2013. That’s probably when we should have known this wouldn’t go well.

Writing Assessment Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/07/2013 09:02 AM CDT

Dear Superintendent, Principal and District Test Coordinator,

It has been brought to our attention that some Grade 5 and Grade 8 Writing Assessments need to be scored by a third reader and will likely receive a new writing score.  The original two readers did not agree sufficiently to produce a valid score for the students’ writing.  You may or may not have students who will receive new scores.  If you do, the students whose papers are being re-scored are posted on the State Department of Education Single Sign On Site. Click below the chalk board in the Accountability A to F box. Next, click on the reports tab found on the blue bar near the top of the screen. The students are listed by school.

Please know that the impacted students will receive new writing assessment scores in the middle of October.

Yes, a week before the SDE released our A-F grades last fall, they were aware that CTB still needed to re-score some of our writing tests. With that in mind, why is it so difficult for the SDE to take seriously the irregularities that school districts are pointing out to them? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s fast-forward to the first of this month. When schools around Oklahoma started looking at their fifth and eighth grade writing scores they noticed some serious problems.

  • The rubric does not seem to have been used correctly.
  • Most students received the same sub-score for all five writing skills.
  • Students who properly cited a prepared text received deductions for plagiarism.

Several districts contacted the SDE about the concerns. One teacher even reached out on their Facebook page. This was the response:

Each test was assessed by two independent scorers – as well as a third when individual scores differed by more than one point on any trait – who employed a rubric made widely available to school districts and the public on the SDE website at sde.ok.gov. Initial reports from CTB/McGraw-Hill suggest that the test taker’s use of passage-based content and utilizing his or her own words were among the more prevalent issues in scoring of fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests.

The SDE public relations firm then linked to technical manuals.

Teachers who had taken the time to review student responses using the rubric were finding many instances in which their own professional judgment could not reconcile with the assigned score. Unfortunately, besides the three problems listed above, there is a fourth.

  • The cost to re-score student responses is ridiculous.

As one district put it to the SDE:

The fee of $125 is exorbitant. Scorers paid by CTB receive a low hourly wage and have to keep a relatively high production rate during the time they are under temporary assignment with the testing company. While we understand that some processing costs exist, none of that would explain the $125 fee. By our most conservative estimates, this amounts to a 90% mark-up of CTB’s out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, the fee is in place as a deterrent to keep districts from asking for tests to be re-scored.

The way I see it, this was a missed opportunity by the agency and Barresi’s campaign to side with schools and hammer another nail into the testing company. Unfortunately, the SDE just doesn’t take schools seriously. Teachers can’t possibly be right. The testing company knows the kids better than the teachers, right?

That might be true if it weren’t for the fact that the people grading our writing tests are temporary hires working for about $11.05 per hour. They don’t even have to have any background in education (which obviously isn’t a deal breaker for the SDE).

Earlier this week, several of the complaining districts received nearly identical three-page responses from the SDE. Lisa Chandler, one of the agency’s newest hires, quoted heavily from the technical manuals for interpreting the rubric, as well as the training protocol for scorers. She spent all that time telling the schools nothing. In short, just shut your mouths and move on with your lives.

Fortunately for those impacted by this issue, this isn’t the end of it. School districts are concerned about having the tools to give students and parents feedback about writing. Teachers and principals are concerned about the impact the flawed scores might have on teacher evaluations and school report card grades.

This issue is recent, but worthy of the top ten, partly because of what it symbolizes. As we continue struggling with an obtuse leadership that refuses to take an inept testing company to task, we face the larger burden of the fact that neither entity treats teachers with respect. We burn through a lot of taxpayer money, and the only proof that the scores are accurate is because they tell us so. If we question it, we’re protecting the status quo.

Eleven days left.

Glad you could make it back, @FakeOKSDE. You’re sorely needed.

Reason #9 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The 2013 A-F SNAFU

Since you’re reading a series about selecting a new state superintendent (and reasons not to keep the current one), it’s worth noting that six of the seven candidates showed up at a debate last night at Rogers State College in Claremore (Joy Hofmeister was not there). It was the first time I had seen any footage of Brian Kelly interacting with the other candidates.

There were several notable statements by the candidates – both good and bad. One confused the RSA with the Common Core. One continues to confuse A-F Report Cards with accountability. Several favor the ACT as the state assessment we will use for all things. Since I’m not going to go back through the entire hour and pick each candidate apart, however, I won’t single anyone out over this one event. If you have an hour, you should watch for yourself (or turn it on as background noise while you do other things.

As for Janet Barresi herself, I wish I had arranged my top 20 (and growing honorable mention) list into a bingo card. Between her responses and those of her opponents, we could have called several numbers during the debate, such as:

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Waiver

#19 – Hiring CTB/McGraw-Hill in the First Place

#15 – In and Out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

I would also include today’s post, as well as six of the eight remaining from the countdown (and three off the honorable mention list).

#9 – The 2013 A-F SNAFU

In October 2013, we learned that the state superintendent probably didn’t know what the acronym snafu means. Don’t get me wrong – it was the perfect word to describe the series of mistakes made by the SDE in rolling out last year’s A-F Report Cards. I just don’t think the tone of that word fits with how she usually speaks publicly.

To refresh your memory, let’s return to October 16, 2013 and go from there. Early that afternoon, I had this to write:

We already didn’t take A-F Report Cards seriously. They are statistically unreliable. They include calculations with arbitrary weights. And they are more subject to political narratives than they are to reality.

Today, after much fanfare, schools finally received their preliminary letter grades. There were some surprises, but nothing far off the expectations that had been communicated.

Thirty minutes later, that all changed. The SDE had applied their own formula incorrectly. Apparently, someone mistook the top quartile of students in math for the bottom quartile.

They recalculated grades, and schools saw drastic changes. Many dropped by more than a letter grade.

How can anyone continue expecting people to take this seriously? In thirty minutes, we saw the biggest problem with A-F Report Cards. They depend more on the formula than they do on the students. They are useless in highlighting school performance.

For many schools, grades changed again that evening. The next day explanations were in abundance.

Yesterday, when the grades were finally released, they looked a little high. Thirty minutes later, the SDE adjusted them, and they looked really low. Several schools received the explanation that the people plugging numbers into the formula had inadvertently mistaken the top quartile of last year’s test-takers for the bottom quartile. (Ironically, it was the math scores they had miscalculated.) And they had fixed the scores. And the grades were final.

The emails actually told administrators that the grades were final.

Then last night, I started receiving messages from people telling me that the grades had changed again. Now, they were somewhere in the middle of the first two iterations.

It takes months to calculate the grades, but only minutes to re-calculate them? And then a few hours to do it again – this time with no new explanation?

If anyone has ever doubted the idea that the biggest problem with A-F Report Cards is how easy they are to manipulate, this should be the day they stop. As Rob Miller says, the report cards are DOA.

That afternoon, the SDE released a memo explaining what had happened.

***SDE*** Report Cards Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/17/2013 12:42 PM CDT

Dear Superintendents, Principals and DTC’s,

It came to our attention yesterday that the bottom 25 percent growth on the A to F report card was calculated incorrectly.  A last-minute correction was made immediately before posting that inadvertently caused the errors. We are working to remedy this problem as swiftly as possible, and we will notify all districts once this has been corrected. The date for submitting Data Verification Forms for calculation errors is extended until 10:00 am, Oct 28th.

I deeply regret the challenges you experienced yesterday afternoon.  If additional calculation changes are needed, please submit the Data Verification Form and we will be happy to process it.

Maridyth McBee, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Accountability and Assessment

As I mentioned last night, the legislature simplified the way the SDE was to calculate A-F Report Cards earlier in 2013. Still, the SDE couldn’t make it work. By the end of the second day, many districts reported being on the fifth draft of their report cards.

All of this happened over the week that most districts took Fall Break, which gave many of us ample time to analyze every version that would come out. Eventually, some schools would report seeing their scores change more than 10 times.

By day three, though, Superintendent Barresi had to assert that someone was in charge, so she released a statement of her own.

**SDE*** A-F Report Card Update

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 10/18/2013 09:42 AM CDT

School districts and schools now have access to review their A-F report card and double check their data and calculations. I understand the experience of the past few days has been frustrating for school and district administrators. I am deeply sorry for the resulting delay and confusion, as are all of us at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

A commitment to transparency can have an embarrassing downside. That was certainly the case when the grades were posted Oct. 16 even as they continued to undergo several versions. A last-minute correction in the calculation resulted in errors that subsequently had to be fixed. To ensure transparency in this process, the decision was made to leave the grades up as they were modified.

Fortunately, the problems were addressed and corrected during the designated 10-day window for schools, districts and the OSDE to check for errors. That doesn’t excuse the snafu, but only explains it — and we thank you for your patience.

Because of the delay, districts and schools have an extended period, until 10 a.m. Oct 28, to review and seek corrections on their prescribed grades. After that point, the proposed grades will be brought before the State Board of Education at the board’s Oct. 29 meeting for final approval.

Some opponents of school accountability will no doubt seize on the recent delay as yet another reason to postpone, reconfigure or simply trash the A-F report cards. Oklahoma parents, students and all interested parties can rest assured that will not happen. The annual grades are critical to heightening accountability, arming parents with important information and furthering the simple proposition that all children can learn.

Janet Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Predictably, she blamed her opponents. She claimed that none of this would have happened if she – and her people – weren’t just so doggone transparent. She even faulted schools for missing deadlines.

And she called it a snafu. Rob could hardly contain his excitement. This word has been a source of hashtag fun for bloggers and social media magnates such as we are ever since.

SNAFUBAR - Copy

The fun lasted until November. First, the SDE had to delay the release of the A-F Report Cards for the second straight year. Barresi complained that complaining district superintendents were engaging in “cheap political theater.” She may not know much about public education, but on that topic, she is a subject matter expert.

I’m intentionally separating last year’s debacle from the overall conversation about the utility of simplifying school performance into A-F grades. This span of time showed clearly that the SDE can’t even manage to compute its own formula correctly. For all the things we can rightfully blame on CTB (such as the #8 post in the countdown), we still have the right to expect competence out of the people running the show. Whether it’s the SDE’s failure to listen to stakeholders, poor hiring decisions, creating a working environment that talented people would rather leave, or simply choosing the wrong vendor, I struggle to find evidence of what these people can do right.

The snafus end June 24 – not a moment too soon.

Reason #10 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Ignoring Researchers

We have entered the Top 10! I could introduce the list like Letterman and say that it was sent in from the home office in…wait, where’s the home office again? Not important.

Any of the issues covered in the previous ten posts would make for a decent stand-alone cause to fire Janet Barresi. Imagine a school superintendent hiring people illegally. Or burning time and cash on a testing program only to scrap it while it’s still in development. Or insulting the workforce time and time again. The only reason blogs like this exist is that under Janet Barresi’s watch, head-scratching decisions and mistakes are the norm. They cease to surprise us anymore.

With that, let’s review where we’ve been and get going with the next one.

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned

#12 – Holding Back State Aid

#11 – Evolution of the REAC3H Network

#10 – Ignoring Researchers

In January 2013, researchers from OU and OSU released a study that was critical of Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards (Version One). Their concerns were similar to those raised in other states that have run this play from the Florida playbook.

Accountability systems are only useful if their measures are credible and clear.  Despite good intentions, the features of the Oklahoma A-F grading system produce school letter grades that are neither clear, nor comparable; their lack of clarity makes unjustified decisions about schools. Further, A-F grades are not productive for school improvement because they do not explain the how or why of low performance.  Building on what has already been done, Oklahoma can and should move toward a more trustworthy and fair assessment system for holding schools accountable and embracing continuous, incremental improvement.

Among their findings were several complaints about the system of a statistical and academic nature:

  • Scores assigned “do not seem to correspond to any recognizable metric.”
  • The use of proficiency levels “introduces grouping error.”
  • There is “unclear conceptual meaning of the index” for student growth.
  • Whole school performance grades are skewed by “overreliance on attendance and graduation rates.”

The researchers went on to put their concerns in more accessible language:

  • By not making explicit threats to the validity of report card grades, the OSDE misinforms the public about the credibility and utility of the A-F accountability system.
  • Performance information from the current A-F Report Card has limited improvement value; particularly, it is not useful for diagnosing causes of performance variation.
  • The summative aspects of the accountability system overshadow formative uses of assessment and performance.
  • High stakes testing, as a cornerstone of school assessment and accountability, corrupts instructional delivery by focusing effort on learning that is easily measured.

It wasn’t just OU and OSU, by the way. An Oklahoma City University professor did a separate study showing that the report card results were largely tied to poverty. Apparently his multivariate regression analysis was too complicated for the Oklahoman, the SDE, and key legislators. They seized upon both studies as propaganda of the Education Establishment and evidence that teachers and administrators just used poverty as an excuse.

To deny the impact of poverty on student learning would be like denying the impact of the Internet on newspaper circulation (sorry, Tulsa World – I love you, but it’s true). We know that with high-poverty student populations:

  • More intensive basic instruction is often necessary;
  • The fruits of teachers’ labor often leave for another school in the middle of the year;
  • What works for one group of students may not work for another; and
  • Past performance doesn’t always predict future results.

Either the legislature heard the criticism and it resonated, or they were frustrated with how the SDE handled the formula development in 2012. During the 2013 legislative session, they wrote new, simpler rules for the A-F Report Cards. The report cards would be easier to understand (though obviously not easier to calculate, as I will discuss in my #9 post).

When the SDE was set to roll out the report cards (Version Two) last fall, the researchers from OU and OSU released another study showing even more statistical flaws. Simple wasn’t better. Poverty still mattered more than all other considerations put together.

In her typical manner, Superintendent Barresi dismissed the findings, famously using air quotes around the word “researchers.”

This act of anti-intellectualism shows that she will say anything to appease the base (the comment was made during a candidate forum). She later hired a researcher from Harvard, made her one of the highest-paid people at the SDE, and had her issue her own findings about the OU/OSU report. Though SDE spokesperson Phil Bacharach (whom the Lost Ogle discusses on their site today) said the agency wasn’t “casting aspersions” on the OU/OSU report; they were just saying it was completely wrong.

Under Barresi, the SDE denies researchers who don’t fit their agenda and expects the public to accept their own data crunching. When we don’t, we’re beholden to the status quo. Every piece of Barresi’s reform agenda has one overarching goal – discrediting the work of public schools. When empirical evidence contradicts this agenda, she simply sticks out her tongue and makes raspberries at us.

How the REAC3H Coaches Heard the News

A few hours after I posted Reason #11 last night, a reader forwarded to me a copy of the letter each REAC3H coach received in May, letting them know their jobs were being eliminated. I never liked the DJ who talked over the song, so I’ll post the letter below and then add a few words.

From: Teri Brecheen

Subject: Supt. Barresi

May 27, 2014

Dear REACH Coaches:

I am writing this letter to you with a heavy heart. When I spoke with you earlier this year, I told you that the REACH Coach program would be fully funded for the next fiscal year. At the time we met and I shared this information with you, I had been told that my Activity Fund Budget would be fully funded without any increase. Little did I know that funding for your program would be zeroed out and the money applied to other areas within the Activity Budget. The disappointment and sadness I feel as a result of this decision is palpable. I am truly disappointed because you and your wonderful work became the victim of politics. There are those in and around the state who oppose our work grossly, and they mischaracterized your mission. I am saddened because I wanted to see the remarkable work you are doing continue.

As much as I do not want to say this, I must release you from your duties for the next school term. Funding for your program ends with the end of the fiscal year. The contract between you and your districts will expire at that time. Whether you decide to go back to the classroom or take leadership positions within schools, the children at those schools as well as the teachers will be the lucky ones. Needless to say, if you need letters of recommendation, all you need to do is ask.

Teri and I have been hard at work trying to plan for the future. Essentially, we are trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Although the Legislature eliminated the $5 million REACH Coach line item in the budget, the Department did receive some additional funding for RSA implementation. We are working hard to develop a plan focused on using this additional funding to provide targeted services to the districts most in need. One of the options we are considering is to utilize individuals (former REACH Coaches) in a full-time capacity to focus on low performing districts that have a high number of students who scored unsatisfactory and limited knowledge within certain subgroups. We are also considering making professional development a focus of this plan, offering professional development to schools on weekends, after school, and in the summer, regionally throughout the state.

As we finalize this plan, we will be in touch regarding future opportunities within the Department. Obviously, if we move forward in this direction, all applicants for these positions will go through the normal hiring procedures established by Department policy. Certainly, the training you have received as a REACH Coach would serve you well in this capacity, and I hope this is a position some of you will consider once the plan has been finalized.

I know this is hard for you, and I want you to know how proud I am of each and every one of you. You are a blessing to teachers and children in Oklahoma. I do not know what God has in store for Oklahoma education, but I remain committed to follow His path and to only work for the good of His will. I will continue to pray for you and to offer thanksgiving for the opportunity to work with you.

God bless you,

Janet

The first paragraph is self-serving drivel. Barresi asked for funding increases to several line items of the Activities Budget in her October budget request for FY15. She got some. Others were cut. She also asked for $65 million to be added to the funding formula. She got about 2/3 of that. She asked for an increase to the instructional materials budget. She didn’t get it.

She also fails to mention that in 2012 (for FY 13) and in 2014 (for FY15) the legislature assigned the amounts within the Activities Budgets. The commonality is that those are election years. In 2011 and 2013, legislators gave the SDE that fund as a lump sum and allowed Barresi’s people to categorically assign the money.

Barresi states that the REAC3H coaches are a victim of the politics of the people who mischaracterized their mission. The general public really didn’t understand their mission. The SDE threw the REAC3H label onto so many loosely connected initiatives, that the word really lost meaning. Educators, on the other hand, who worked closely with the coaches, understood their purpose. At that point, the characterization probably depended on the quality of the coach. There were 60 of them. I assume some were spectacular and others were in a different range. It happens. We can’t all be the best.

When it comes to shaping education issues for political purposes, nobody is better than Janet Barresi. With the RSA law alone, she has mischaracterized:

  • What the 3rd grade “reading” test actually tells us
  • Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The strength of the safety net for special education students and English language learners
  • The movement to allow parents to have input in retention decisions
  • The efficacy of retention in other states

I’ve probably missed something there. In addition to RSA issues, just off the top of my head, I can think of several more things she has mischaracterized:

  • Special education placement
  • Poverty
  • Teacher preparation programs
  • Common Core
  • Contracts with testing vendors
  • Test results
  • The Education Establishment
  • “Researchers”

Again, I’m sure that’s not a complete list.

On the other hand, I definitely agree with the second paragraph. The REAC3H coaches have received a tremendous amount of training. Their knowledge base about literacy instruction strategies is without parallel. They have also seen the inner-workings of the machine that has brought us all of the reforms that their boss (or more accurately, their boss’s boss’s boss) has championed.

Whereas the rest of the letter reads like tract literature that someone might have handed you on your porch just as you were about to eat dinner, the second paragraph shows reveals the flaw in the design. As the Rev. Lori Allen Walke stated Sunday at the candidate debate (not attended by Barresi), “the system has no clothes.” The REAC3H coaches have seen that as well as anybody. They’ve had a foot in both worlds for the past two years. They were technically employees of one of the districts they served, but they were selected by the SDE. They received their orders from the SDE. Any decision to keep them (pending funding) would have been made by the SDE. Of the ones I know, none will be voting to retain the current state superintendent.

Based on a comment on last night’s blog post, at least one of the coaches feels like their story is being told correctly.

Thank you for giving a fair and honest opinion of the Reac3h Coaches. When asked what my job was, I always replied, “I serve and honor teachers and schools.” Yes, our focus was pre-k – 3rd literacy; but if a district needed help in other areas, many of us did our very best to get them help. When I was an administrator, all I had to do was ask myself this: IF IT’S BEST FOR KIDS, THEN WE DO IT. Reac3h Coaches were best for students, teachers, administrators, parents, and those who love education. Again, WE SERVED AND HONORED TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS!! Again, thanks for being fair!!

That’s all I’ve ever tried to do when it comes to this group – tell the story right. At first, I was simply trying to figure out what we had and if we really could use it. I tend to follow policy, policy makers, and the highest level officials directed with executing the policies. The REAC3H coaches didn’t fit into any of those categories.

Hopefully all the coaches will find good jobs that satisfy them personally and professionally. Hopefully they’ll also get a chance to put all that training to use in an environment where they don’t have more territory to cover than they possibly can. Hopefully, what we’ve invested in them the last two years will continue helping children.

Reason #11 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Evolution of the REAC3H Network

One of the fun things about this countdown is how much it reminds me of high-stakes testing. We spend all this time learning new material, and then we spend a few weeks reviewing for the test. As we reach the halfway point, maybe we should spend some time reviewing how to properly mark your ballot on in 15 days.

ballotThe line goes all the way across, y’all. No stray marks. And they’ll be looking for irregular erasure patterns.

#15 – Pulling out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned

#12 – Holding Back State Aid

#11- Evolution of the REAC3H Network

Beginning in 2010 with the adoption of the Common Core by the Oklahoma Legislature, schools in our state have faced a rapid onslaught of reforms. Most (TLE, A-F, RSA, Virtual Instruction) were enacted in 2011, but as a group, this represented the most significant education reforms in a generation. Together, they were going to help us have College, Career, and Citizenship readiness schools – C3 for short. It was natural, then, that the SDE would create a network of support (and fabulous logo) that somehow included this acronym.

C3LogoThus was born the Regional Educators Advancing College, Career, and Citizen Readiness Higher – REAC3H – network. Late in the summer of 2011, the state organized its 500+ school districts into 70 regions. Each region had a lead district, as this two page reference sheet shows. Each region would work together overcoming obstacles as they transitioned from PASS to CCSS. There would be statewide conferences for the lead districts. The first of these included something of an altar call in which district representatives came forward with their signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) vowing to do everything possible to help their fellow school districts.

The SDE was also developing toolkits that we could use together as we set forth on this productive struggle as partners. Toolkit #1 was named Making the Case for the Common Core State Standards. The PowerPoint for the meeting lists the goals as:

  • Understand the reasons for adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Oklahoma
  • Know what the CCSS encompass
  • Know the timeline for implementation of the CCSS and assessments

The toolkit included timelines and transition planning tools. All districts, large and small, rural and urban, would create four year transition plans that would be completed by…June 2014 – hey, that’s right now!

Soon, the scope of REAC3H would begin to drift. The term was used to describe the working groups that convened that fall to “help” the SDE work on Oklahoma’s waiver to No Child Left Behind. As we have learned, most of that work had been done in advance. The SDE just wanted high-level school district officials to sign off that they had contributed to the process. Here’s how they recruited participation:

With those ambitious goals in mind, I am asking for volunteers from districts within the REAC³H Network to participate in working groups toward this effort to develop a plan that the REAC³H Network can recommend for OSDE to take to the State Board of Education for approval.

As a grassroots effort, the REAC3H Network can be most effective as the larger group of volunteer coordinating districts divides into smaller working groups, each with a specific area of the application that they will address. After we’ve had the opportunity to review specific waiver guidelines provided by USDE, I will disseminate additional guidance on the path forward. Much of the working groups’ efforts on a waiver request can be accomplished digitally or via conference call, so I do not expect this to be an additional burden or a significant time commitment.

This is an exciting opportunity for all of us and one that will allow us to assure that we are empowered to focus more on what works for children.

Exciting opportunity indeed! You too can rubber stamp bureaucratic jibber-jabber!

After the April 2012 summit, the SDE sent out the following communication to those in attendance seeking input. In it, you can see the beginnings of dissent and confusion from SDE staff in how to deal with it:

I know that each of you is busy but if you have a moment I need your help with a few things.

  1. I have attached the Network Partnership handout that was distributed during this last summit (in your folders). Please look over all information related to you as a Coordinating District and let me know if there is any incorrect information listed under your district’s local network. I tried to communicate with each of you regarding this information before this document was created, but I am sure that there is information that has either changed or that I simply missed.
  1. I received a lot of feedback about the summit through the evaluations, but if you did not get a chance to complete the evaluation or if you have additional feedback please feel free to email me. I hope you were able to see that I listened to your comments from evaluations I received at Summit #2 and used that feedback to create Summit #3. I desire to continue this two-way communication with you and provide summits that are helpful and worthy of your time.  I would like to hear about the things you liked as well as the things you disliked about Summit #3.  I have attached the evaluations that were handed out at the summit.
  1. I want the REAC3H program to work successfully for the entire Network, which includes you as a Coordinating District, all participating districts, Career Techs., Higher Education, and OSDE. I ask that you communicate with your participating districts, and the Career Tech and Higher Education entity (if applicable). During this communication I need you to find out if the participating districts currently in your local network are satisfied with being in your local network or if they would like to move to another network. If they want to move, why? Is it because they already have a working relationship with a certain Coordinating District? Is it because of geography? Do they not feel they are getting what they need from you as a Coordinating District? Etc. Once you have the chance to gather this information (before school is out), please email the results to me.

The REAC3H program has endless possibilities and benefits for all of us, but I do not want any of us to move forward with blinders on if there are certain things in the network that are not working. If we need to move districts around and adjust, let’s adjust.  In order to be transparent I want to let you know I will soon start conducting random telephone surveys of participating districts from each local network to get a better feel for how things are going. I will keep a log of all information I gather and if you are interested I will share the feedback with you, but I will keep the district names anonymous.

While most districts simply signed their MOUs at the first summit, many chose to amend their partnership agreements the second time around. As the toolkits became less helpful, the networks had begun to unravel. We weren’t realizing our endless possibilities and benefits. Unquestioned loyalty to the agency or the process was becoming unrealistic. Plus the coffee was cold.

Later that spring, we received word that the SDE was set to hire 60 REAC3H coaches to help us with the transition to Common Core – all grades, reading and math. They were to be paid with federal jobs money. My first thought was that I didn’t understand how they were getting 60 coaches into 70 districts. Then I realized they were going to task these people with working with all grade levels and all subjects. None of this seemed realistic.

After the hiring was done, the SDE quickly had the coaches focus on literacy and spend most of their time with the elementary grades. Here’s how the SDE presented them to us formally in August 2012:

REAC3H Coaches Assist State Teachers with Literacy Goals

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 28, 2012) – As they undergo intensive training this week, a front line of 60 professional educators is preparing to assist Oklahoma schools with the implementation of new education reforms such as third-grade reading sufficiency and the transition to Oklahoma C3 Standards, which include Common Core standards in reading and math and new state standards in social studies.

After undergoing their second full week of intensive training this week at the State Department of Education, 60 REAC3H Coaches will be dispersed throughout the state to help train classroom teachers in the foundations for reading.

“These are highly trained professionals whose main focus will be job-imbedded professional development,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “The overall goal will be training in Oklahoma C3 Standards to increase proficiency and rigor in schools. Their primary assignment is in the area of prekindergarten to 3rd-grade literacy to assure that all children are successful on the third-grade assessment. It will be very difficult to be successful in our new standards if children at the earliest ages are not proficient in literacy”

REAC3H, Regional Educators Advancing College, Career, and Citizenship readiness Higher, is part of Superintendent Barresi’s overall C3 Plan, which will ensure each Oklahoma student graduates college, career and citizen ready. The plan is built on a number of reforms being implemented over the next few years, including the new curriculum standards, third-grade graduation requirements, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluations, the A-F School Grading System, and a new Student Longitudinal Data System.

Deputy Superintendent Chris Caram said the REAC3H Coaches have an amazing amount of energy and practical resources to share with Oklahoma classroom teachers. She said the coaches – all former classroom teachers or reading specialists, and some with administrative experience – will be the most highly trained teachers on Oklahoma C3 Standards. They will be the first to receive training on the next generation of assessments under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

The 60 coaches will train one week each month at the State Department of Education and then will offer training through workshops and one-on-one visits to classrooms to the more than 60,000 teachers in the state.

The state has been segmented into thirty regional districts, with 30 school districts agreeing to employ two of the coaches. The coaches will be housed at Career Technology Centers in their home region. Federal Ed Jobs funds from the U.S. Department of Education have been awarded to 30 Oklahoma school districts as a grant to offset the cost of salaries plus benefits of the 60 coaches, a total of about $4.1 million.

REAC3H Coaches will communicate with districts in their regions to offer before-, during and after-school training based on best times and dates available for teachers, substitutes and administrators. The coaches also will offer training to career technology teachers and higher education instructors.

By October, I had formed my own opinion:

Over the summer, REAC3H took on another meaning as 60 instructional coaches were hired to work with schools around the state. They are being paid this year with federal money that is set to expire, and Superintendent Barresi has included $5 million in funding in next year’s budget request to maintain the program.

Interestingly, the coverage areas for these coaches are not aligned at all with the REAC3H consortium. They operate in pairs, and for the most part, use office space in Career Tech centers around the state. Some serve only one or two districts.  Other pairs serve more than 20. They have been well-received in some places and kept at arm’s length in others.

At first, REAC3H coaches were going to help with every reform initiative. Now they are focusing on K-2 reading. Since many of the coaches were secondary teachers and may not even be certified in English/Language Arts, their impact may be questionable. (Though to be clear – many schools are reporting satisfaction with their REAC3H Coaches at this time.)

In all honesty, the REAC3H coaches haven’t been bad. I’ve attended training presented by several. I’ve worked day-to-day with some as well. The imbalance, however, is in what they’ve had the ability to learn versus what they’ve had the ability to teach. These individuals are professional educators who have had extensive training in methods for helping struggling readers. As they have worked with their assigned schools (amid heavy SDE interference from what they have told me) coaches have often found themselves to be simultaneously training and learning. As we have learned in the last few weeks, they’re out of a job now. Fortunately, the best of the REAC3H coaches will have no problems finding good work.

As for the original network with the 70 lead districts? We haven’t heard from that for a while. It’s not really a thing anymore. There was also a short period of time when the SDE was inviting district-level administrators to the Hodge Building for monthly, then quarterly REAC3H Checkpoint meetings. If I remember correctly, though, more were cancelled than weren’t. I think they just didn’t want to develop another acronym.

The SDE has even quit using the term C3 all the time. That used to be the piece of string holding our standards together. Then came the umbrella term Oklahoma Academic Standards (which gets its own top ten entry on the countdown).

The REAC3H concept at one point was the key to Common Core. Then literacy. Now nothing. It’s another big push – an all the expense that goes with it – straight down the drain.

Reason #12 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Holding Back State Aid

I know you’ve been expecting at least one post a day from me over the last couple of weeks. Maybe today the things that are necessary won’t get in the way of the things that provide release. Two-for-Tuesdays, right?

Maybe I didn’t show up yesterday because I thought there was a candidate debate and I was the incumbent! Wait, that’s not me. I’m thinking of someone else. In case you were wondering whether Dr. Barresi was still making public appearances, I assure you she is. In fact, here she is Thursday in Bartlesville at an event sponsored by ConocoPhillips.

Barresi Campaign 1 Barresi Campaign 2

To be fair, the guy in the second picture looks vaguely like fellow MIA Republican candidate Brian Kelly. Maybe she was debating him.

Janet Barresi, this spot in our countdown is for you. Since you never show up at debates anymore, we’ll make it our Long Distance Dedication. First, a reminder of the last few memories we’ve painfully relived.

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – Pulling out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned

#12 – Holding Back State Aid

While Rob Miller has been weaving through the tangled financial web of the SDE for the last few days, I have been wondering how things would have been different in this state if Janet Barresi trusted schools. She spends a lot of money on out-of-state firms to help us understand how to teach to Oklahoma values. She has increased personnel spending at the SDE (in spite of what her campaign ads say), while hiring (in many cases) inexperienced policy people to do a job that had previously been done well by a veteran educator. She even let a guy work via Skype for a few weeks and make more money than a beginning teacher.

As I mentioned when discussing the #17 reason last week, the SDE made the inexplicable decision in July 2012 to withhold more than twice the mandated amount of funding from school districts at the beginning of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The SDE has made the conscious decision to withhold a greater portion of state aid for schools. As the Tulsa World explains, “the education department withheld nearly $64 million, or 3.52 percent, of all state aid, compared to the $41 million, or 2.26 percent it kept in reserve at the beginning of 2011-12.” The article is a great read, with typical flimsy excuses from SDE staff, comments from Tulsa-area administrators about the real impact of this decision, and even a caustic remark from a legislator who is frustrated with all of this.

The World goes on to discuss the fact that all the large districts in the Tulsa area will receive less aid than last year. In short, the SDE tells districts not to worry – the money will come at the mid-term adjustment. In the meantime, it would be irresponsible for districts to set staffing levels based on what might happen in December. Districts that are growing at a fast pace will be teaching more students with less money. All of this occurs in the backdrop of numerous sea-change reforms to public education, all of which are costing school districts tremendous amounts of money.

This arrogant cash grab was made either in ignorance of the fact or with full knowledge of the fact that school districts need to make as many of their personnel decisions before the first day of school as possible. Holding out money until December forces schools to under-hire for programs such as tutoring. When they finally got the remainder of their allocation, it was less than expected.

This came at a time when Barresi was actively trying to increase charter school and virtual school enrollment – at the expense of your neighborhood schools. At the same time, districts were being forced to wait half a year on having their federal claims reimbursed by the SDE. In some cases, they were out millions.

Schools have to function with the funds they have available. During this particular school year, the SDE – partly by design, partly by incompetence – made sure those funds were low. If this really had been a good idea (doubling the amount of State Aid held back), the SDE would have done it twice.

I half-heartedly laugh now, thinking of all the places where the SDE has thrown the state’s money during the last 42 months. REAC3H (network and coaches) – gone! Common Core – gone! Measured Progress – gone! CTB – oh wait, they seem to have more lives than a cat! As Rob points out, we have hired all kinds of people from out of state to develop a statistical model for good instruction (which anyone will tell you is fool’s gold). Why couldn’t we hire our own university researchers to do that? It’s also a wasted opportunity to build on the relationship between Common Ed and Higher Ed in this state.

With that last paragraph, I’ve inadvertently previewed the next two spots on the countdown.

11 Evolution of the REAC3H Network

10 Ignoring the OU/OSU Researchers

If you need me today, I’ll be the one practicing my “air quotes.”

Reason #13 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Being Damned

I probably committed to this list of 20 reasons to elect a new state superintendent too soon. For one thing, I have inadvertently crowd sourced more ideas than that. People keep messaging me more ideas. I have been reminded of posts that I wrote many moons ago. I have been reminded of things that I missed along the way. I’ve been able to combine some ideas, but there will definitely be an overflow column along the way.

A second reason is that I’m trying to make this more than a series highlighting some of my favorite posts from the past 27 months. Since I tend to write these when I’m frustrated, none are really my favorites. There are some that are more important than others, though. Rather, I’m trying to highlight the impact of some of the bad decisions that have plagued public education for lo these many years. And while I’m using old material to do so, I am trying to add something new to each post. I don’t want this series to be like a long-running sitcom clip show because we’ve hit some milestone (although my 500th post should be coming up later this summer).

These are taking time, and I’m still finding, after the fact, that there are things I wish I had said. I left out of my discussion of VAM the fact that the American Statistical Association came out with a strong statement critical of this concept.

In recent years, use of VAMs has become more prevalent, perhaps because these models are viewed as more objective or authoritative than other types of information. Also referred to as value-added assessment (VAA) models, VAMs attempt to measure the value a teacher adds to student-achievement growth by analyzing changes in standardized test scores.

In response to the growing use of VAMs, including in high-stakes decisions such as determining compensation, evaluating and ranking teachers, hiring or dismissing teachers, awarding tenure and closing schools, the ASA position statement makes the following recommendations:

• The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models and designed experiments for improving the quality of education.

• VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to develop the models and interpret their results.

• Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model.

• VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs or schools.

The last few posts in this series thread together pretty well. We have people who don’t know anything about teaching, testing, or Oklahoma making capricious and arbitrary decisions about standards and testing that will be used to measure teacher effectiveness. Frame that with the empty promise of $2,000 raises for teachers and today’s topic – the infamous “I’ll be damned” remark – and we have a complete argument for changing the leadership at the SDE.

#17 – 2K4T

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – Pulling out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned     

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the unions or anyone else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children.”

-Janet Barresi, November 8, 2013

If I had known in November that I’d be making this list I would’ve been certain that this one would make the top five. It’s the most glaring insult to Oklahoma’s teachers that we’ve heard from her. To be fair, when she says education establishment, she may be talking more about administrators than teachers. Still, in the real world, most people teach for a significant amount of time before coming administrators. At the time of this statement, here is what I wrote:

What offends me though, more than the rampant misidentification and straw man fallacy, is the statement after the profanity. Which of the 2,000 regular readers (or the readers who receive this as a forward in your email) think you’ve contributed to the loss of a generation of Oklahoma’s children? If I were completely honest, the language she used in that statement would be mild compared to what I really want to say.

Instead, here are my nice words.

When the SDE needed help rolling out reforms such as TLE and the Common Core, they enlisted the help of veteran educators – some through the OEA, and some through CCOSA. Think whatever you want about teacher unions, but when the SDE needed someone to do the heavy lifting, they called the OEA. And those $2,000 raises Barresi has been clamoring for at campaign whistle-stops? Those would go to the teachers who have … what was the phrase again … oh yeah, lost generations of children.

Barresi doesn’t care about Oklahoma educators or what we think. Do you remember that letter written by Broken Arrow Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall last August? No response. She came into offices swearing she would transform the SDE from a regulatory agency into a service agency. She hasn’t. It has gone exactly the opposite of that.

When speaking to her base, we’re the cause of the lost generation. When she’s speaking to us directly, we’re brave, courageous, dedicated, and innovative. Nobody is fooled anymore. This was the moment when the true Janet Barresi became undeniable. Insincere people will show their true colors eventually.

That must be why she’s taken to skipping candidate forums lately – one Friday and one today.

When she speaks in public, it goes one of two ways. Either she’ll be damned, or her face will peel off from trying so hard to pretend she respects educators.

In 16 days, we get to unburden her.

Reason #14 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Value-added Measurements

Friday’s reason to pick a new state superintendent – anybody but Janet Barresi! – centered around  the time and money that our state has spent on two of the central reforms that we’ve now abandoned – Common Core State Standards and PARCC. This tweet from a superintendent frames the situation nicely.

This week, both camps (the CCSS supporters and detractors) are trying to figure out where we go at this point. We just blew $4 million on a contract with Measured Progress, and now we won’t even get to keep any of the questions we field-tested.

Blog reader okteacher posted the following comment on Reason #15:

I feel like milkshake has been dumped all over my head. This is such a mess. We have worked so hard to meet these rigorous standards and now we are going backwards?! This is like a warped time machine. I did have some issues with some of my 6th grade ELA standards, like requiring 12 year olds to be able to type a minimum of 3 pages in one setting, but we were doing our best to make this happen. Will going back to PASS make our students fall behind everyone else in the nation that is continuing on with CCSS? This is such a joke. All we can do is laugh at this point and pray that Janet’s days are numbered to 17 from this moment.

This doesn’t resolve our main issue of testing. This just makes things more complicated. I am so embarrassed to be represented by these fools. Every time I think we may take a positive step in Oklahoma education, they continue to dump milkshake everywhere.

The comment is spot on, and thankfully, we’re keeping the milkshake metaphor going. I will make the effort to continue in this post. First, here’s a rundown of the last several reasons:

#18The Hearing no one Heard

#17 – 2K4T

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – Pulling out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

For two years, I have said that there are things far worse than the Common Core. If they just consisted of standards that resembled (without completely mimicking every other state), they wouldn’t be so bad. We’ve totally convoluted our testing in this state, and I’m not entirely sure the Common Core is to blame. No, the greatest insult to the profession we’ve ever seen (even more than Governor Keating calling teachers slugs in the 90s) is the idea that we can measure the contribution of every single teacher on every single student.

Here’s how the SDE introduced Value-added Measurements (and more specifically, the process of roster verification) to us in the fall:

Roster Verification Coming Soon!

In order to successfully collect data for the 35 percent quantitative portion of TLE, teachers will utilize a process called Roster Verification to properly link themselves to the students they teach.Why is Roster Verification important?  This process is important because no one is more knowledgeable about a teacher’s academic responsibility than the teacher of that classroom!  Rightfully so, teachers should have the opportunity to identify factors that affect their value-added results (e.g., student mobility and shared-teaching assignments).In order to assist teachers throughout this process, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) has partnered with Battelle for Kids (BFK), a non-profit school improvement organization. Together, SDE and BFK will provide teachers with an easy-to-use data collection instrument, Roster Verification training, and communication resources. During February, 2014 the Office of Educator Effectiveness is hosting webinars on Roster Verification.  The webinars will explain how to use the Batelle for Kids program to link students and teachers accurately.  Five sessions will be offered at various times.  We encourage administrators and/or data personnel to sign up for a session.  The same information will be covered at each session, and one session will be recorded and posted on the TLE Web page to access anytime.

The question we’ve all had since the SDE started developing the quantitative measurements for TLE has been, How will they measure growth from year to year, especially when we keep changing tests? And once again, we’re changing tests. Unfortunately though, we have no idea what next year’s tests will be. In the end, someone in the field of research or public relations will tell us that we have found a way to compare scores. On the other hand, these are the same people who keep telling us that the 3rd grade Language Arts test is a Reading test, and that it actually diagnoses reading level. They’ll tell us anything.

Another comment on Friday’s post was made by fellow blogger Mad Ramblings of a History Teacher.

I served on the working committee for VAM. I attended 2 of the 3 meetings (I missed the 3rd because of the weather). Later we were told there were 4 meetings (Where that 4th one came from? I never quite figured that one out.) Anyway, these meetings were a mess from the beginning to the end. And pardon my vulgarity, but where the HELL they came up with their “formula” is still a mystery to me. I don’t even understand the formula, and there, I believe, is the answer to your question about the rebellion over VAM. No one knows or understands exactly what will happen when VAM is calculated into their evaluations. I think the rebellion will begin after the adverse effects of the VAM formula start showing up on teachers’ evaluations. Just look at Houston; several teachers are suing over the use of VAM. One thing is for sure; it’s going to get even more interesting around.

Mad Ramblings had a nice post about this in February called My Shameful Secret.

I have a terrible confession to make. I was one of the teachers on working group #3 for Oklahoma’s TLE VAM sessions. In my defense I thought I was doing something good. I know I am not the smartest person in Oklahoma, but I was vain enough to believe my fellow teachers and I could bring some much needed sensible experience to this “groundbreaking” ill-advised venture Oklahoma’s DOE was determined to try. Boy was I mistaken!

They had Mathmatica. This is the same organization that gave D.C. such wonderful advice. It was so good that D.C. wrongly fired some teachers, and the method used to interpret the data so inherently flawed it can’t be fixed. No matter, Mathmatica just moved on to another state spewing the same propaganda and pocketing the big bucks. But I digress.

I thought the teachers would be treated as professionals at these meetings. .. wrong again. If we brought up a topic they were unwilling to touch, we were too political or going off topic. Then to explain what they were wanting from us, they sent us papers written with grants from the Gates Foundation. Talk about being too political!

I’m just going to throw out there that if it’s not ok to have academic standards that were written out of state, we probably don’t need talking points for VAM that were as well. Again, the whole idea is that we can input a whole bunch of variables into a formula and determine who is effective. For the teachers in subjects that don’t test, we’ll just make up things that we can measure and do that.

The thing with VAM is that it manages to fly under the radar. The few times I’ve written about it, I haven’t had a lot of page views or shares. That isn’t to say that it’s not worth my time to listen; rather it’s as if CCSS is an in-your-face affront to so many while VAM is going to remain so low-key that we miss it. Maybe it’s that we can read the Common Core and very few of us could read (and fewer comprehend) the VAM formula.

This is worse. And the SDE can’t explain it even reasonably well. For the first year that they were developing the quantitative piece of TLE, the two people directing the effort had never even been in charge of evaluating teachers. This year, they added a former principal, but largely, we still have an experience gap.

My fear is that we’ll miss it until it’s too late. Worse yet, we’ll borrow other states’ talking points for adoption without paying attention to their experiences, unintended consequences, and then eventual extraction.

In other words, we’re going to spend years and millions on another acronym only to toss it later. Once again, instruction will suffer as a consequence. This is what happens when the amateurs running the show make decisions without consulting the people doing the work.

Speaking of the amateurs at the SDE, please read Rob Miller’s research on the myth of Barresi cutting costs at the agency. It’s a good companion piece for my #16 reason.

I know that teachers try not to be political. I know many of us have worked in school districts that flinch at activism. We have nothing to be afraid of. We have the momentum. And we have right on our side.

We have 17 days. We must continue being political and speaking loudly. Use your outside voice. Do whatever it takes.

Reason #15 to Pick a New State Superintendent: In and out of PARCC

This one is timely. As you probably know by now, Governor Fallin signed HB 3399 yesterday, which among other things, overturns the Common Core in Oklahoma. This was probably inevitable after Oklahoma’s clumsy withdrawal from our testing consortium last summer, but still, it creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

I agree with the conclusion that Oklahoma Middle School Principal of the Year Rob Miller reached. With all of the kvetching over Fallin signing the bill and Oklahoma possibly losing our NCLB waiver, it’s not as if Arne Duncan’s hands are tied. He has other options.

On the other hand, Oklahoma could have overturned the Common Core in 100 different ways. We could have held in place while new standards were in development. We could have passed a bill that didn’t give the legislature final approval over the standards and the ability to rewrite them in part or in whole. We could have decided this before June 5th, giving schools a chance to do something about it. We could still adopt the ACT’s standards and tests. So many options are on the table, and we seem to have taken the most obtuse one. It’s a pattern of behavior.

Before I specifically get to today’s entry to the countdown, here’s a reminder of the last several:

#19  Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

#18 – The Hearing no one Heard

#17 – 2K4T

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – In and out of PARCC

From 2011 through 2013, Oklahoma was one of the governing states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, which was one of two major groups set to prepare Common Core tests. We had sent several individuals, including SDE staff, school district teachers and administrators, and a few retired-educators-turned-consultants, to various PARCC planning meetings. There was to be an experienced cadre of educators who could come back to Oklahoma and train us all on what we will need in order to be ready for the new PARCC exams.

Then Janet Barresi decided it wasn’t working.

If we move ahead with this, we are going to be asking the state to drink a milkshake using a cocktail straw,” Barresi said. “If you look at what happened with testing this year — kids getting screen frozen, knocked off the test — those were technical issues that were from the districts’ end of things. (The testing vendor) crashed for two days because of server problems, but almost every bit of the rest of it was due to district issues. I’m not pointing fingers, but it is the reality.

I don’t know which sounds better right now – a milkshake or a cocktail. With all of the chaos we’re facing now, I don’t even care what time it is!

Barresi pushed for Oklahoma to be a governing state in PARCC. She made the decision to invest the state’s resources in the development and eventual training schools would need over the standards. Then she pulled us out and threw schools under the bus with a disingenuous but. Not that I’m pointing fingers.

A short time later, when the state released the Request for Proposals for the new testing contract, the language made it clear that we were looking for PARCC-like assessments. The difference was that we were going to call them OCCRA – and I’m too tired to spell out the acronym right now.

That led to the November selection of Measured Progress as our new testing company. It’s June now. We don’t know what our standards are really and we don’t have a clue what next April’s testing season will look like. Are we firing Measured Progress? Sticking with CTB? Going back to Pearson? I’d say the following Matt Groening cartoon sums up the current situation pretty well.

Pieces of CCSS & PARCC everywhere!

Pieces of CCSS & PARCC everywhere!

Before we develop our new standards, we need to decide where we are on the mindset that we have to test things for them to matter. With Fallin’s veto of HB 3170 (which would have exempted students from future high school EOIs after they had already passed enough to graduate), we seem entrenched. It’s as if we’re reverse engineering the milkshake/cocktail straw metaphor. Instead of drinking it up through the straw, we’re trying to pour the milkshake from one glass, through the cocktail straw, and into another glass. It’s wasteful. We’re getting milkshake everywhere. When we give students meaningless tests, it impacts how they perform. When we respond by making the test high-stakes just so they’ll take it seriously, the quality of instruction suffers. And we get milkshake everywhere.

It’s settled. I want a milkshake…for now.

How many teachers are going to want to participate in a standards-writing process knowing that the legislature can selectively delete or re-write any part of the product we present them? Yes, that’s in HB 3399. How long is it until the legislature wants final approval over item selection for the state tests? What sane educator will want to spend time out of the classroom to help write assessments?

Rushing into PARCC and then yanking us out abruptly was the first sign that we were headed nowhere. The things for which Barresi has been an enthusiastic cheerleader have fallen to the wayside. We have struggled for 3 ½ years to implement her precious reforms, and now we’re supposed to go backwards. What about the rest of the Reformer’s Guide to the Galaxy? VAM is far more damaging to the education process. When does the rebellion over that begin?

Hopefully, it begins June 24.

Reason #16 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Questionable Personnel Decisions

Elections have consequences. We’ve been dealing with that reality for the last 42 months. As we enter turn one on this lap down memory lane, today’s reason to vote for someone else is really an amalgam, covering the entirety of Superintendent Barresi’s term in office. In fact, it really began prior to her being sworn in.

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

#19  Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

#18 – The Hearing no one Heard

#17 – 2K4T

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

When Barresi took office, many expected she would overhaul the staff of the SDE, starting with many of the most high-level positions. Again, this is what happens when state agencies change leadership, especially via election, and even more so when the political parties flip.

The typically routine business of hiring top staff became contentious at Barresi’s first State Board of Education meeting, January 27, 2011. In all, the Board rejected three of her choices, for a variety of reasons. She decided to keep them on board, having their pay come from a private foundation. In essence, she had people making policy and personnel decisions while under the employment of an outside agency. As much as I’ve complained over the years about the appearance of outside influence, I guess this route eliminated all guessing.

When the SBE acted, a state senator asked the newly-elected state attorney general to rule on the legality of paying her people with the slush fund donor money. Here’s how he responded:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt today issued an opinion stemming from an inquiry made by State Senator Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) who wanted the ruling in light of State Superintendent Janet Barresi hiring three people over the objections of the State Board of Education, paying them through donations made to a third-party non-profit group. In the opinion, Pruitt says that a person “hired by someone who does not have appointing or hiring authority, who is hired over the objections of the governing body that does have appointing or hiring authority, is neither an employee nor a de jure or de facto officer… such a person is a usurper who lacks the authority to carry out the official duties of the State.”   Pruitt goes on to say that, “employees and officers may only be compensated as authorized by law. At present, Oklahoma law does not authorize an employee or officer to be directly compensated by a private entity or person.”

Eventually, the legislature authored the governor to fire the entire SBE and appoint replacements for each of them. This included Barresi’s primary opponent, Joy Hofmeister.

Side note: I’ve made it a point not to endorse candidates. Clearly I don’t support Barresi. The third choice in the Republican primary doesn’t seem to be campaigning any more than having a website. He hasn’t shown up at any of the candidate forums as far as I can tell.

I’m still not explicitly endorsing Joy at this time, but do the math.

Since that time, Barresi has hired and fired countless people. In many cases, they were folks who were long-time public educators who knew their field and could help school districts navigate the regulatory morass that goes with the territory. In part, I write this blog for them. Many have been replaced with less qualified individuals who don’t know a thing about their job or about customer service. While I still have praise for quite a few individuals at the SDE, the list seems to shrink daily.

To illustrate the questionable hiring practices, I will point to three specific, recent examples – all of which have been topics of blog posts in the last six months.

1. Megan Clifford – Though nobody can find record of the SDE posting the job or the SBE approving the hire, we know the SDE hired this Harvard graduate to serve as the Executive Director of Analytical Leadership. So far, all we’ve really heard from her is a resounding “nuh-huh” in response to the OU/OSU researchers who wrote about the flaws in the A-F Report Cards. The Tulsa World wrote at the time:

But Megan Clifford, a Harvard University Strategic Data Project fellow at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, conducted her own analysis of the system with input from her Harvard professors.

“We think that the conclusions of this study may be misleading to the public and have prepared this response in order to clarify some of the claims made by these researchers,” she wrote.

Clifford began in August with the department with the goal of increasing the agency’s capacity for data analysis and improving student outcomes in public schools.

One of the primary problems with the OU/OSU study is that it relied on a “small, non-representative sample of state data” for its conclusions, she said.

OU/OSU research scientists analyzed more than 15,000 student test scores from 63 schools — about 3 percent of available data — in their study of the grading formula.

The department’s analysis used data from the entire state to get more reliable estimates, Clifford said.

“When you have a really small number, your estimates on what the impact of being an A school is going to be really prone to error and bias,” she said.

And I can’t tell you what she’s done since. All I know is that a sample size of 15,000 buys you 14,999 degrees of freedom, as the kids are saying these days.  There’s nothing small about it.

This whole thing, of course, came on the heels of Barresi’s famous use of air quotes to describe researchers. If you can’t beat them, buy your own!

2. Wes Bruce –  If you look through the SDE list of employees, this name doesn’t appear anywhere. No, to find Wes Bruce, you need to look no further than Skype. As The Tulsa World wrote in March:

[SDE Director of Communications Phil] Bacharach said Wes Bruce, a nationally recognized consultant in the field who has been working with the department since before McBee’s decision, agreed to expand his role in assessments in the interim.

“We do anticipate a smooth transition,” he said. A national search is already underway for her successor. and Bacharach said there are some strong candidates in the field.

Bruce is the former chief assessment officer for the Indiana Department of Education under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost the election in 2012 for another term.

Bennett then became Florida’s education commissioner. He resigned less than eight months later amid accusations that he changed the state’s A-F grading formula to raise the grade of a charter school backed by influential Republican donors. Bruce retired last fall under Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz.

Bacharach said Bruce does not live in Oklahoma. “But under terms of his agreement with SDE, he is here for a number of days each month and is in routine contact via Skype, email, etc.,” he said.

It is unclear whether that will continue under his interim leadership.

We hired a guy with connections to Tony Bennett to work out of his mother’s basement in his pajamas commute via the Interwebs. My only problem with this is that I didn’t think of it first.

3. Lisa Chandler – In March, the SDE replaced veteran testing expert Meridyth McBee with a policy analyst. After the SDE sent us an announcement of this, I found her résumé on Indeed.com.  Here is an overview of her work experience:

POLICY CONSULTANT / GRADUATE STUDENT

Independent - Austin, TX 2010 to Present

• Earned master’s degree in public policy and administration, Northwestern University
• Substitute teach throughout the Austin Independent School District
• Provide expertise to nonprofit organizations in the areas of public policy and education
• Create evaluation designs to measure the effectiveness of instructional programs
• Develop communication strategies for nonprofit educational programs

NATIONAL MEASUREMENT CONSULTANT

Pearson - Iowa City, IA 2007 to 2010

• Acted as key advisor on large-scale assessment programs and accountability systems
• Secured more than $500 million in contracts with critical input on strategic planning and proposal development
• Evaluated national and international companies for business development and outsourcing opportunities
• Troubleshot critical and time-sensitive issues ensuring successful delivery of products and services to clients
• Monitored and analyzed state and federal legislation to shape policy and business agendas
• Synthesized and communicated complex assessment and accountability information to state and national clients

DIRECTOR, STUDENT ASSESSMENT

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX 2003 to 2007

• Directed the design and development of assessments in math, reading, writing, science, and social studies
• Oversaw the analysis and reporting of assessment results for more than 4 million students in 1200 school districts
• Engineered the redesign of English language proficiency exams to include listening, speaking, and writing skills
• Drove the development and implementation of online initiatives for training educators and testing students
• Guided technical psychometric procedures and research to ensure valid, reliable, and legally defensible assessments
• Directed a staff of 100 full-time employees including hiring, allocating, and evaluating personnel
• Managed multiple contracts totaling approximately $100 million annually and monitored numerous vendors
• Directed legislative analysis and research and testified before legislative bodies and state boards

SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: FINANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX 2001 to 2003

• Coordinated special projects and research related to school accountability, accreditation, and finance
• Analyzed student performance results and demographic data for accreditation hearings
• Evaluated improvement action plans for low-performing campuses and charter schools
• Coordinated a software development project to automate reporting of monitoring and accountability data
• Managed a pilot study on the accountability of alternative education programs for at-risk students
• Served on the Commission on Secondary and Middle Schools, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: CURRICULUM, ASSESSMENT, AND TECHNOLOGY

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX 1998 to 2001

• Conducted policy and fiscal analysis for the areas of curriculum, assessment, textbooks, and educational technology
• Provided key policy input on a multitude of topics including graduation programs and curriculum frameworks
• Collaborated with multiple governmental agencies to conduct studies on high school reform and teacher shortages
• Coordinated grant programs and evaluated incoming proposals and applications
• Acted as liaison for governmental relations, conducted policy analysis, and tracked legislation
• Built program and administrative budgets for a department of 350 staff and created legislative appropriations requests

POLICY AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR

Texas Education Agency - Austin, TX 1993 to 1998

• Coordinated the management and administration of policy and business operations
• Developed requests for proposals and established evaluation criteria and review procedures
• Established performance goals and analyzed achievement outcomes for short-term and long-term strategic planning
• Negotiated contracts and monitored multiple vendors for contractual and budgetary compliance
• Facilitated regional meetings to gather input on the development and adoption of a new statewide curriculum
• Coordinated state participation in numerous national and international projects

While she’s been around for a while and moved up the ladder in her career, she lacks the credentials that I would want out of the person running testing. It’s one thing to hire people out of their field to be your top political advisers. That is why – circling back to the top – I actually had a problem with the SBE rejecting Barresi’s choices at that first Board meeting. These were political operative being placed into positions to serve in that capacity. They were not educators running the curriculum, testing, finance, or federal program divisions.

Since that day, however, there hasn’t been a single personnel decision that has made sense. The SDE has spent the last 42 months running off good people and replacing them with political hacks. That doesn’t help the schools or the children they serve.

Just About Anybody can Score the Writing Tests

Today, the job announcement for CTB test scorers has been circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Thankfully. I was afraid I’d come home from work and have nothing to write. After all, tomorrow morning’s post for the #16 spot in the countdown is nearly complete.

Title Evaluator with Bachelor degree
Description Welcome! You have taken the next step towards putting your bachelor’s degree to work! Apply for a great opportunity with Kelly Services and CTB/McGraw-Hill.

As an Evaluator, you will be joining a group of people dedicated to improving education for our nation’s children. We invite you to continue this on-line information and screening process to determine if this is the right job for you. Qualified applicants will be invited to schedule an in-person interview. We have positions available at CTB’s scoring locations in Sacramento, CA, Indianapolis, IN, and Lake Mary, FL.

Evaluators assign scores to student responses for various assessment tests including, but not limited to, reading and language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies for grades K-12. Training is provided by content specialists using established scoring guidelines (rubrics) for reading and assigning scores to open-ended response items. Student responses take the form of essays, graphs and diagrams, to give just a few examples.

Work is performed at one of CTB’s scoring centers (locations to follow this introduction). Student responses are scanned and are viewed on a standard personal computer. Basic computer skills and experience, and ability to use a mouse and keyboard are required.

Position Requirements Applicants must have knowledge of standard English language writing conventions and/or other content specific knowledge such as science, mathematics, social studies, etc. Teachers and individuals with education backgrounds are encouraged to apply; however, teaching experience is not required.

WORK SCHEDULES

Evaluators work on a project basis, with most projects lasting from several days to several weeks. Projects run from approximately March through June. Work hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM or from 6:00 PM to 10:30 PM. Once assigned to a specific project, Evaluators must commit to completing that project. Employees may take time off between projects if desired, or ask to be reassigned to the next available project if available.

BENEFITS OF BECOMING AN EVALUATOR

As an Evaluator, you will be joining a group of people dedicated to improving education for our nation’s children. Many Kelly employees return year after year to work at CTB and we’re told by our employees that they enjoy the spirit of camaraderie while at work. Kelly employees can also take advantage of promotional opportunities within the CTB workforce, or put their skills to work at other Kelly customer locations during CTB’s down cycles.

Educational Requirements Qualified applicants must possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Verification of your degree will be required.
Salary $11.05 per hour
Location Sacramento/Rancho Cordova, CA

If you have a bachelor’s degree, can move to Rancho Cordova, and are dedicated to improving education for our nation’s children (and can survive on $11.05/hour),you can score for CTB. While the individuals responding to this announcement might not necessarily be the ones who work with our writing tests, the job announcement still gives a glimpse into the process. In spite of this, the SDE still thinks that these scorers are more qualified to tell us how our children are performing than their teachers.

Given the complexity of the fifth grade and eighth grade writing prompts, I don’t feel that great about that.

Reason #17 to Pick a New State Superintendent: 2K4T

This countdown has been more popular than I would have guessed. I’ve been receiving messages by Twitter, Facebook, and email with suggestions. Understandably, people really seem to be attuned to the state superintendent race right now. It could be that we’re a mere 20 days away from the primary election date. Yes, Janet Barresi has provided us with four solid years of frustration – and material!

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

#19  Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

#18 – The Hearing no one Heard

#17 – 2K4T

In August, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) conference in Oklahoma City featured the first state superintendent candidate forum for the 2014 elections. Seven candidates spoke, including Janet Barresi. Her appearance was notable for two reasons. One is that she spoke and left, rather than hanging around to hear her opponents and ceremoniously mingle with the audience, as candidates typically do at these things.

The larger splash came when she announced that she had figured out how to give every teacher in the state a $2,000 raise. All the school districts would have to do is crash their carryover funds and reduce administrative costs. That would cover – exactly one year. These were my thoughts at the time:

She called in her speech for districts to rearrange their budgets and give each teacher a $2,000 pay raise. This shows that she is either really savvy or really ignorant. In any case, she’s completely disingenuous.

On one hand, she is using flawed math to try to tell teachers that their employers are holding out on them. Yes, school districts aim to carry over funds from the end of one fiscal year to the next. This helps them meet costs that they face since they don’t get state aid checks right away. She also neglects to mention that by eating at the carry over, the raises would have to be a one-time thing. Districts wouldn’t have those funds available next year. She also employs straw man rhetoric, blaming districts for having too many administrators. She neglects to mention the increased requirements for administrators due to TLE and other reforms.

On the other hand, someone reading the headline and nothing else (and having spent the last three years not paying attention at all) might think Barresi supports teachers. This is her goal: to say that she’s been on the side of teachers all along.

If you really want to know what Barresi thinks of educators, read my True Colors post from 13 months ago. She doesn’t think teachers deserve more. She thinks they need to quit complaining.

Here’s what she did say two years ago:

Funding for education in this country has doubled over the last 10 years with flatline results. Do we just throw a lot more money at it? Respectfully, school choice is a right in this state. It is not a luxury. It’s an important part of the mix in education.

She has spent much of the last two years talking about the teaching shortage crisis – which is a real thing. Her solutions are either like 2K4T, which is not sustainable (or even possible for one year in all districts), or increasing support for programs such as Teach For America (TFA), which places short-term teachers with little training into classrooms.

She has also given the 2K4T issue its own tab on her campaign page. Fortunately though, teachers have seen right through this. If it was a ploy to turn teachers against their administrators, it didn’t work. We all know the score. Funding shortfalls, compounded year after year, have kept the budgets of school districts extra tight.

What’s worse is that Barresi knows one of the things that has hurt districts with money has been the way her own agency has handled it. During the 2012-13 school year, most districts didn’t start receiving reimbursements for their Federal Program claims until January or February. To explain this quickly, any school district receiving funding for Title I (support for high poverty schools) and Title II (professional development) pays for any personnel, materials, or training costs up front. Then they submit claims to the SDE for reimbursement. Several large districts were out more than a million dollars before the first claim came in. This lag was caused, in part, due to a change in the system the SDE uses. In part, it was also caused by frequent turnover in the Federal Programs division of the agency. In any case, It really put a lot of people in a bind. And it hurt districts with high-poverty populations the most.

The SDE also began the 2012-13 school year by withholding an excessive amount of funding from school districts, with a promise that they would receive the balance of their allocation in December (a decision that may be worthy of a top-ten post all its own). With this in mind, if you were a school superintendent or a finance officer, wouldn’t you try to maintain a healthy fund balance (carryover) each year? Or would you spend down to the crumbs?

Barresi’s 2K4T plan ignores every reality of school finance – a subject that she doesn’t remotely understand. She tries to patronize teachers, but they’re too well-informed to buy it. She tries to convince the public that their school districts are lying to them, but the balance hasn’t tipped in her favor. This, like everything else she has tried to do, shows a fundamental lack of respect for the people who elected her, and the people she supposedly serves.

Stunts like this get you nowhere. A person like Barresi can get elected once by flashing her money around. Getting re-elected after being herself for four years, is an altogether different subject.

Reason #18 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The Hearing no one Heard

We’re up to number 18 on the countdown. I’m starting to feel a little bit like Casey Casem doing American Top 40 back in the ‘70s! So far we’ve covered the origin of our NCLB waiver and the botched selection of CTB as our testing company.

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

#19Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

#18: The Hearing no one Heard

This one, like the #20 reason, pre-dates this blog, though just barely. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I started writing.

Early in 2012, the SDE issued proposed rules for the first round of A-F Report Cards. In March, they announced that they would hold an open forum to listen to input about the proposed rules.

A-F School Grading System Rules Public Forum on March 19

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 14, 2012) – The State Department of Education will hold a public forum on March 19 to hear comments on draft rules and a rule intent statement for the A-F School Grading System along with several other administrative rules, including proposed changes to the Bullying Prevention Act and a proposed draft of Oklahoma C3 Standards for Social Studies.

The public forum will begin at 10 a.m. in the State Board of Education room at the State Department of Education, 2500 N Lincoln Blvd.

The proposed rules have been posted on the State Department of Education’s website, http://ok.gov/sde/education-law-book. The rules are open for a public comment period through 4 p.m. March 19.

The State Board of Education will vote on the rules at its regular monthly meeting March 29.

A-F was one of several reforms passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin last year.

The A-F School Grading System will use assessment results from the 2011-12 school year in determining a ranking that is designed to encourage parent and community engagement and better understanding of school performance in a manner transparent to school leaders and easily communicated to the public, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. In addition to test scores, a school’s grade will include student learning gains, improvement of the lowest 25 percent of students in reading and math, and whole school improvement among other factors.

Yes, I save things. This one in particular makes the permanent collection – not because the memo from the SDE was remarkable, but because what happened next. If you’ll recall, at the SDE held the public forum, but the public was speaking to tape recorders. While I hadn’t started doing this yet, the godmother of Oklahoma education blogging had. This, from Claudia Swisher:

The Board Room was packed. Lisa Enders, the General Council, chaired the meeting. No Board members were present, but Enders assured us the Board will get the video and all the written responses before their next meeting…NEXT week.

I was taking notes furiously, and missed some names and titles. I’ve attempted to find evidence of names and school titles, but may very well have made mistakes! I was trying to listen, write, and worry about the fact I accidentally put my name on the list of people giving public comments.

NOT in order, but organized by job description, here’s a summary of my hasty, sloppy notes. Names are included if I could get them! I wanted the narrative to begin with one of the people who helped draft the law that allowed the Rules, and end with a plea to start over and get it right…

There’s so much more, and you should re-read the entire post. It’s a classic. To no one’s surprise, many of the concerns of those in attendance came to fruition.

Maybe this one should be higher in the countdown. Perhaps I’m experiencing the primacy/recency effect. The fact that the SDE held a public hearing without State Board members or top administrators (other than legal counsel) present was an insult to all who had taken the time to research the proposed rules, attend the hearing, and voice their concerns. It was more evidence that the Barresi and her top officials at the SDE just don’t care what people think.

Ten days later, they passed their rules and seemed pretty proud of themselves about it.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on March 29, 2012, approved permanent administrative rules for the A-F School Grading System. The system was voted into law last year. The rules give guidance to districts to implement the specifics of the law. The A-F system gives parents and community members the ability to see school performance as a clear-cut A through F letter grade. The State Department of Education anticipates releasing the first letter grades for school performance across the state before the beginning of the next school year, in August. The adopted rules will be posted on the State Department of Education’s website, http://ok.gov/sde/education-law-book.

Yes, the letter grades were so clear-cut that a group of researchers dismissed them as useless. They were so great that the legislature completely revamped the formula the next year. They were so simple that they sent a 14 page communications toolkit to schools to help them explain the results to parents. Surprisingly, districts created their own talking points, and they were vastly different.

It was about this time that the SDE also released its initial list of “Reward Schools,” which led to my first post – which was written about two weeks before I posted it. I even tried getting Claudia to put it on her blog – mainly because I knew people would read it if she did. In the 27 months since that empty gesture of a public hearing, Barresi has shown even less interest in listening to teachers and administrators. Schools – and the people in them – are her props for photo ops, nothing more. She will occasionally call teachers brave, but it’s a shallow gesture, typically followed by declarations that they don’t know what they’re doing…which gives me some ideas for the next installment.

The SDE Doubles Down on Writing Scores

Last week and over the weekend, Oklahoma educators blew up social media with outrage over the score reports that schools have received for the fifth and eighth grade writing tests. In short, very few of us have any confidence that the CTB/McGraw-Hill temporary scorers correctly applied the rubric correctly to the student responses. Some districts have written letters to the SDE, asking for relief (and received no response). Others are in the process of doing just that.

In case you are unfamiliar with the problems we are seeing, I will summarize from my post yesterday on this subject.

  • The rubric does not seem to have been used correctly.
  • Most students received the same sub-score for all five writing skills.
  • Students who properly cited a prepared text received deductions.
  • The cost to re-score student responses is ridiculous.

Rob Miller also wrote extensively about the test results over the weekend.

Today, one educator decided to ask the SDE about the writing tests on their Facebook page.

Writing Tests on Facebook

For those of you who can’t see images when my blog comes to your email, here’s the question:

SDE, will something be done about the issues being cited with the scoring of fifth and eighth grade writing tests? Since these scores will impact my son’s school grade (A-F), I am concerned. As an educator, I find it very unlikely that 81 percent of students received the same score across the board in the different subcategories. What does the SDE plan to do about this, especially given the excessive fee being asked for rescoring. Call me a cynic but who believes that the test co will admit errors?

And here was the SDE’s response:

Each test was assessed by two independent scorers — as well as a third when individual scores differed by more than one point on any trait — who employed a rubric made widely available to school districts and the public on the SDE website at sde.ok.gov. Initial reports from CTB/McGraw-Hill suggest that the test taker’s use of passage-based content and utilizing his or her own words were among the more prevalent issues in scoring of fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests.

If you need more information, you might want to check CTB’s Oklahoma testing manuals and contact information: http://www.ctb.com/netcaster/categoryIndex.html…

Another resource is the SDE page (scroll to the middle of the page) containing the rubrics and standards used for training and grading: http://ok.gov/sde/test-support-teachers-and-administrators.

Thanks. We already had that information. They’re giving us the equivalent of the KFC Double Down – which incidentally seems like a really bad idea. They have a losing hand and they’re trying to convince us otherwise.

This issue is quickly working its way into my Top 20 Countdown. Late last week, this seemed like it was possibly just another CTB SNAFU. Somehow, Barresi & Co. have conjured all the finesse and grace to which we have become accustomed and made it theirs.

Real Oklahoma teachers have read the student responses, applied the rubrics (which they already know how to use), and found major disagreements with the results. Meanwhile, the SDE is defending the CTB process, which utilizes temporary scorers from across the country.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at what the aforementioned process would mean, when applied to a student paper (using real scores from 8th grade students).

  Reader #1 Reader #2 Average
Ideas & Development 2.0 3.0 2.5
Organization, Unity, & Coherence 2.0 3.0 2.5
Word Choice 2.0 3.0 2.5
Sentences & Paragraphs 2.0 3.0 2.5
Grammar Usage & Mechanics 2.0 3.0 2.5
Composite Score 32 45 38
Score Range Limited Knowledge Proficient Proficient

The first reader found the response to be limited in quality. The second found it to be proficient. The student received a 2.5 across the board for each of the five analytical traits, and a score of proficient. In this case, the student got the benefit of the doubt. Look at the following scores for three different students, however.

  Response #1 Response #2 Response #3
Ideas & Development 2.5 2.0 2.0
Organization, Unity, & Coherence 2.5 2.5 2.5
Word Choice 2.0 2.0 2.5
Sentences & Paragraphs 2.0 2.0 2.5
Grammar Usage & Mechanics 2.0 2.0 2.5
Composite Score 35 35 36
Score Range Limited Knowledge Limited Knowledge Proficient

Riddle me this, Batman….

  • How is Response #3 only one Composite Score point better than Response #2?
  • How are #1 and #2 the same?
  • Why is it fair that one reader for Response #1 thought the essay was proficient and the other thought it was limited, and the second reader’s opinion prevailed?

These real student scores show the subjectivity capriciousness of having disembodied readers scoring student responses from afar. It also shows how convoluted the process of converting raw scores into composite scores is. The resulting information is not accurate, transparent, or clear.

The SDE’s terse response to the teacher’s question is yet another example of where their priorities lay. They trust the testing company – which has failed us repeatedly – more than they trust us. I know that painting the entire agency with such a broad brush oversimplifies this situation, but how are we possibly supposed to feel valued? This is another testing debacle. This is another piece of evidence that the administration – and the reformers’ obsession with all things testing – is an abject disaster.

Not that we needed it.

Reason #19 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Hiring CTB/McGraw-Hill in the First Place

Yesterday I debuted a new series on the blog: 20 Reasons to Pick a New State Superintendent.  Throughout the next few weeks, I will be counting down a list that will probably exclude some of Janet Barresi’s more impressive highlights foul ups. When the series is over, I’ll probably have regrets about where I placed certain items or things blatant omissions, but I have no doubt I can come up with at least 20. Maybe I can do an Honorable Mention post at the end.

#20 – Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

#19 – Hiring CTB/Mc-Graw-Hill in the First Place

This will be the first – but not last – mention of Oklahoma’s future former testing company in the countdown. In October 2012, the SDE announced that they would have to delay the 2013 Writing Tests (something that strikes a nerve this week!) because they had awarded the testing contract to its new vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, prematurely.

The February Writing Test has been delayed until Spring testing in April. Due to some administrative challenges, the SDE has placed the Grades 3-8 contract back out to bid.

We never found out what those administrative challenges were, per se, but we’ve been living with CTB ever since. The SDE re-announced the selection of CTB a short time later.

The list of problems we have had ever since them is long, and will be the subject of future entries to this countdown. Something tells me CTB will even have a top five appearance.

This was the point of origin, however. It was as if the SDE knew who they wanted to hire and would not be deterred from their choice. Be careful what you wish for, right?

Here were my thoughts at the time of the announcement that the SDE had to slow down:

Some administrative challenges? What does that even mean? Did CTB-McGraw Hill pull out after the fact? Did another vendor protest the contract? Did the Office of State Finance find an irregularity in the selection process?

This continues a pattern of inconsistency and poor communication of the testing process dating back almost two years. Throughout the spring 2011 testing cycle, school districts all around Oklahoma were struggling with Pearson – which at the time held all testing contracts for the state – to get student data pre-coded correctly into their files. As a result, batch after batch of test data came back incorrect during that summer. The SDE was not able to release test data to schools until October that year. Then, for some unknown reason, it took them another six months to issue the NCLB report cards.

During the 2011-12 school year, agency staff were falling all over themselves to assign blame to Pearson. From all indications, they deserved it. However, the lag between data being finalized and the ultimate issuance of federal accountability report cards was entirely the fault of the SDE. Yes they were shorthanded, but it was their choice to run off key personnel who were more equipped to calculate schools’ and districts’ API scores.

This summer, a new testing company was announced for the End of Instruction Tests: CTB-McGraw Hill. The big bonus was that they would be developing benchmark testing that schools could use for free (read: the cost is actually factored into your bid, Oklahoma). Those tests would come online this fall. Then they wouldn’t – the reason being that the SDE had also awarded CTB-McGraw Hill the testing contract for 3-8. Now they would be preparing benchmark tests for all tests (except social studies and science). So the roll out of these benchmarks would be in January. Maybe. Not to worry though, there will be more benchmarks later. Next year. Probably.

Those were simpler times then. I didn’t even know the correct placement of the dash or the slash in the company’s name. Sadly, now I do. I’ve had to write it dozens of times (not just here). I prefer just the three letter abbreviation now. It saves so much time.

A few months after this, Barresi would completely disavow any involvement in the selection of CTB. Another year later, she would claim that she couldn’t fire them before but would now. She still hasn’t, though.

As with the development of the state’s ESEA Waiver, this moment established a pattern. In this case, it was a pattern of mishandling contracts, testing, and every other major decision the SDE has faced. In fact with accountability as the cornerstone of Barresi’s 2010 campaign, the lack of transparency used in writing the ESEA Waiver and then selecting a testing company serve to underscore the SDE’s ineffectiveness in this regard. Few Oklahomans have faith in the test results or the school grades that result from them…which is a pretty good segue into the #18 reason…the Hearing No One Heard.

Writing Tests Gone Awry

This story is too new to make the Top 20 Countdown that I started earlier today, but in time, it may rise to that level.I have received messages from administrators in two school districts sharing letters that they have sent to Superintendent Janet Barresi and the SDE about the questionable scores received on the 2014 fifth and eighth grade writing tests. Rob Miller has already covered this issue thoroughly on his blog. I won’t rehash all of his talking points, but I’ll get into those too. Suffice it to say that at least three large districts are scratching their heads over the scoring process.

This is from District #1:

We have serious concerns with the state’s application of the writing rubric. It appears that readers looked at a paper and assigned it a number that they input in all the sub scores. When papers were re-scored by local teachers, administrators and literacy experts, the scores among the sub scores varied greatly. Students could produce a paper that had good mechanics, sentences, paragraphs, spelling, punctuation, etc. and lack important aspects about citation and coherence. Others presented good arguments and citations but did so with run on sentences and poor spelling. Needless to say, in our scoring, it was rare for a paper to receive the same sub score across the entire rubric. That being said, we see approximately 80% of 8th grade scores and 60% of 5th grade scores coming back with no variation across the five writing traits in the rubric. The problems we see with these scores make us question the use of the rubric at all.

CTB officials informed district test coordinators at their meeting on May 28, 2014 that the writing tests were scored to determine a percentage of “plagiarism.” This was the first mention of a reduction in scores due to a “certain percentage of plagiarism.” The actual percentage used was not shared with the attendees but was promised to be provided at a later date. We have grave concerns about this aspect of scoring because the students were asked to cite text evidence in their essays. The fifth grade test instructions stated, “Be sure to state your opinion and support it using information presented in both passages.” The eighth grade test instructions stated, “Be sure to state a claim and address an opposing claim using evidence presented in both passages.”

District #2 covered some of the same ground, and then added this:

With these fundamental concerns in mind, we will be requesting that a considerable percentage of our tests be re‐scored. We do not, however, feel that the district should be liable for these costs. The fee of $125 is exorbitant. Scorers paid by CTB receive a low hourly wage and have to keep a relatively high production rate during the time they are under temporary assignment with the testing company. While we understand that some processing costs exist, none of that would explain the $125 fee. By our most conservative estimates, this amounts to a 90% mark-up of CTB’s out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, the fee is in place as a deterrent to keep districts from asking for tests to be re-scored.

Our immediate plan is to continue reviewing our student responses and compiling a list of those that we wish to have re-scored. Our request to you is that we not be charged for the effort. The dedicated teachers of this district are reviewing these responses on their own time. At the very least, CTB could do the same.

The critical points here seem to be:

  • The rubric does not seem to have been used correctly.
  • Most students received the same sub-score for all five writing skills.
  • Students who properly cited a prepared text received deductions.
  • The cost to re-score student responses is ridiculous.

On the first point, Rob took a good look at the rubric.

There are five areas scored on the writing rubric. Both the fifth and eighth grade rubrics for the “transitional CCSS writing test” include the following scored standards. The scoring “weights” for each standard are also listed. I will come back to this in a minute because this is where things start to get fishy.

Ideas and Development—30%
Organization, Unity, and Coherence—25%
Word Choice—15%
Sentences and Paragraphs—15%
Grammar and Usage and Mechanics—15%

Both writing rubrics are on the OSDE website and can be viewed (5th) HERE and (8th) HERE.

Let’s get back to the scoring. Each of the five standards is graded on a scale of 1.0 to 4.0 in 0.5 increments. Again, using the 755 scores that I have at my disposal, let me show you how the scores for the 8th grade test break down at my school. The lowest score possible is a 15 and the highest score is a 60.

At first glance, it appears that the scores are derived by combining the point totals from each standard and multiplying by three. I have bolded those scores where this rule seems to apply. It is also evident that this is not always the case.

Total score:
5 = 15
5.5 = 24
6.5 = 25
7.5 = 29
8.5, 9.0, or 9.5 = 30
10.0 = 32
10.5 = 35
11.0 = 35 or 36 (36 is proficient score)
11.5, 12.0 = 36
12.5 = 38
13.0 = 37 (only one of these)
13.5 = 41 or 42
14.0 = 41 or 42
15 = 45
16 = 47
16.5 = 48
17.5 = 52
18.0 = 54
19.5 = 56
20 = 60

It is obvious from this chart is that the weights discussed above WERE NOT USED, or were used haphazardly. Any score of 12.0 earned a 36 regardless of how the scoring was distributed. Yet in one case a score of 11.0 earned a passing score of 36 with individual standard scores of 3/2/2/2/2 while another 11 (2/3/2/2/2) scored a limited knowledge score of 35.

However, a 10 always earns a 32, a 15 always earns a 45, and so on for most of the scores. The only exceptions were for scores of 11.0 (35 or 36), 13.5 (41 or 42), 14.0 (also 41 or 42).

Also note that the odd fact that a score of 7.5 earns a 29 while a 8.5, 9.0, or 9.5 only earns one more point (30). Suffice it to say, this doesn’t seem to make much sense.

On the second point, it seems pretty absurd that most students would receive the exact same score for each writing trait. It’s possible that it could happen for some, but not for 81% of the responses, as it happened at Jenks Middle School. Just from the things I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter this weekend, it is not an isolated problem.

Let me say this another way: they’re not just picking on Jenks this time!

My only explanation for this is that the scorers are rushed. They read a response, develop an overall impression, and then assign points – in many cases giving the essay a 2.0 all the way across (which seems to be the most common score).

For one trait in particular, Sentences and Paragraphs, here are the bullet points for a response receiving a score of two:

  • Limited variety of sentence structure, type, and length
  • Several fragments or run-ons
  • Little or no attempt at paragraphing

Teachers looking over the images of their student responses are adamant that these statements are not accurate descriptors of what they are seeing. An essay lacking in ideas and development might very well have appropriate use of Sentences and Paragraphs.

As for the first district’s concerns about plagiarism, apparently every single fifth and eighth grade language arts teacher in the state misunderstood the instructions. Believe it or not, the SDE and/or CTB were unclear about something. I’d be more willing to believe the scorers (who are temporary laborers) had no clue what to do with cited information. Maybe their training prior to scoring is in adequate.

Rob is right. The teachers and administrators up in arms throughout the state are right too. What is wrong, however, is the expectation that school districts generate a purchase order and gamble on having the tests re-scored. At that price, though, why would anybody risk it?

In case you haven’t noticed, the ramifications of bad A-F Report Card grades can be huge. They can force a good school to jump through countless hoops for years – hoops that really don’t foster school improvement. With the crazy change to define Full Academic Year as beginning Oct. 1, the elimination of modified assessments for special education students, and the number of high-achieving students who received exemptions from state tests due to 2013 legislation, many grades and subjects are seeing lower test scores in 2014.

Students deserve accurate scores. So do schools. And they shouldn’t have to pay out their eyeballs for it.

20 Reasons to Pick a New State Superintendent

With the primary elections coming up in a little over three weeks, I have been thinking about the best way to remind people how important the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is. Yesterday, I re-posted my earlier piece on the seven candidates who have filed for the position. Since then, more than 2,000 people have read it. More importantly, quite a few have clicked through to the webpages of the candidates.

If he were in the race, friend-of-the-blog Rob Miller would be in eighth place in this very unscientific straw poll.

I also wrote a short reminder that we all need to be turning up our efforts at raising awareness for whichever candidate we favor. That post generated the following comment from a reader, though one who is obviously not a huge fan:

I’m not voting for Janet Barresi either. But not because you repeated “Koch Brothers,” “Jeb Bush,” and “Foundation” as some sort of shibboleth. As far as I’m concerned, Janet Barresi is no more or less dishonest and one-sided than your own attacks on her have been.

I’m still curious. Where was the outrage when Sandy Garrett had us at #49, seemingly content to remain there forever? Was that OK, as in “Oklahoma values,” because she didn’t rock the boat, didn’t challenge the largely self-serving public education establishment?

As a person who takes constructive feedback seriously, I felt I had to respond.

If your point is that my use of those terms is just as much an attempt to evoke a predictable response from my core readers as it is when Barresi says “liberal” and “education establishment,” I suppose I’m guilty as charged. Yes, I too use loaded language. As for your claims that I have been “dishonest” on this blog, I’d love for you to point out specifically where that has been true. If you think I’m “one-sided” because I don’t criticize Sandy Garrett, please keep in mind that I started this blog a little over a year after she left office. I have been critical of many Oklahoma politicians – not just Barresi. When SG was state superintendent, I often pointed in my professional dealings to things with which I disagreed – just never to this extent.

I have also been critical of President Obama and Secretary Duncan, but on a more limited scale since I tend to focus on the Oklahoma education issues.

Most importantly, though, thank you for reading, and I’m glad to hear you won’t be voting for Barresi.

Surely we can all think back to a time prior to 2010 when we scratched our heads and wondered why Garrett and the SDE were doing things in a particular way. She led a major state agency for 20 years. We questioned many things. We also got answers. We had regular meetings with top SDE staff that included opportunities for meaningful stakeholder input. It was a very different time.

I began this blog in 2012 with a commitment to discussing the present state of public education in Oklahoma and how our elected officials’ decisions impact the future. When appropriate, I also discuss the past. That is why for the next three weeks, I’m going to be counting down the top 20 reasons to vote June 24 – for anybody other than Barresi.

The list is a work in progress, but I have a pretty good idea of what my top three will be. I have also received input from stakeholders, but unlike with reason #20 below, I’m interested in what you think. In any case, I am pretty certain that I will leave out a few of your favorite memories. I may do one a day, but if I know me, I’ll skip a day or two, and then double up somewhere down the line.  Let’s get this started!

Reason #20 –Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

About the time that Barresi took office, those crazy feds were developing a process by which states could request flexibility from the original requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (the title given to Congress’s 2001 re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Oklahoma, along with the other states that constitute the Chiefs for Change (C4C) group, relied heavily on Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in writing their waiver requests. By the time SDE staff met with educators that October, Oklahoma’s request had largely been written.

Fortunately, we have some historical accounting for how that process went. The non-profit group In the Public Interest compiled a database of conversations between state officials and representatives of FEE. One of my favorites includes a discussion, a few months later, between the SDE’s Kerri White and FEE’s Mary Laura Bragg.

[16 Oct 2011]

Mary Laura,

Thank you for a great conference this past week in San Francisco. The meeting helped provide a nice overview of the reforms that C4C are advocating for across the nation.

Superintendent Barresi asked that I contact you to get a better understanding of how C4C and the Foundation can assist Oklahoma as we are working on our ESEA Flexibility Request. We understand that there will be a lot of work over the next few weeks in determining identification definitions, interventions, and timelines, as well as actually doing the calculations in order to create our list of Reward, Priority, and Focus schools before November 14. Is the Foundation planning to provide general policy assistance to C4C states, or is there also help available in writing, editing, and revising the Request?

We will be meeting with LEA representatives all day Tuesday to construct the basic outline of our request based on the principles for which C4C are advocating. We are looking forward to their input and guidance and to put it in the context of the work of the Foundation.

Thank you so much for your assistance.

We also have record of the invitation Ms. White sent to those nominated to serve on the working groups (from a reader – some people save everything).

[6 Oct 2011]

Congratulations!  You have been nominated and selected to serve on one of three ESEA Flexibility Working Groups.  Please see the attached list to verify which working group you have been selected to participate in.  We will need you to participate in two meetings.

The first meeting will be held via webinar (so you can participate from your own computer) on Monday, October 10 at 10:00 a.m.  In order to register for this webinar, please go to http://oksdetraining.webex.com; click on the “Upcoming” tab; and click on “Register” next to “ESEA Flexibility” on October 10.  You will receive an email confirmation with instructions for how to sign-in to the session.  This meeting should last less than one hour.

The second meeting will be in Oklahoma City at the State Department of Education on Tuesday, October 18 from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.  You will receive more details about this meeting soon.

I am attaching two documents from USDE’s Flexibility Website that should be beneficial for your review prior to Monday’s webinar.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Thanks,

Kerri

Congratulations, indeed! As anyone who was there will tell you, very little was on the table for discussion. The major decisions had already been made. Suggestions that were unanimous by the working group were not even considered. Those running the meeting were very direct about this.

Another favorite is this one, which is a general playbook of all the reforms favored by C4C, FEE, as well as Arne Duncan and the USDE. It includes everything that our state has adopted since 2011: A-F Report Cards; tying teacher evaluation to test scores; college and career readiness standards; and third grade retention. In case it is unclear to anyone why Barresi’s entanglements with these groups bother me so much, it’s because she has tied every action of the SDE to what Jeb Bush wants. Oklahomans who occasionally appear in her working groups are usually there only to fulfill a nominal requirement for stakeholder input. It is never meaningful.

Barresi and her top officials at the SDE established this pattern early in their tenure there. It has continued with every major decision. And it is one of the top 20 reasons that I will be voting for someone else June 24.

June Starts Now

Following the Legislature’s override of Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 (and Superintendent Barresi’s comically awful response to it), I took a little break. I’ve even had a few questions about this. Yes, there have been a few tweets or retweets, but I really have been focusing on other things. I need to recharge from time to time.

That time is over. We have 24 days until the election primaries in Oklahoma, and whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, much is at stake. There is a real possibility that the incumbent in the superintendent race loses her primary. There is also a possibility that she doesn’t. That is why we have to know enough about all the candidates to make an informed decision.

I decided a while ago that I would not make an explicit endorsement on my blog, and I’m sticking to that. Just the same, I’m with the thousands of Oklahomans who will not vote to re-elect Barresi under any circumstance (or her maiden name). Now that the legislature is not in session and school is out across Oklahoma (except in a few places), I’m going to spend the next three weeks or so reminding readers about the ways she has treated schools, educators, and students with complete and utter disrespect.

That probably means I should watch her campaign ad that I’ve heard so much about on social media.

Ok, I just did. Yowza!

In the opening, the impressive voice-over man asks, Who can we trust to defend our values? and then proceeds to use the word conservative three times in the 30 second spot (cue the lesson on loaded language now).

Which conservative values are those? Violating student privacy laws? Insulting teachers? Writing off entire regions of the state? Re-hiring CTB last year after their colossal SNAFU? Her own agency’s mishandling of the school report cards?

He says Barresi cut millions from her own budget. Actually, the legislature did most of that. Whatever she has cut, I would bet we could find quite a few school districts that have cut more – none of which was by choice.

He says she took on the liberal unions and education bureaucrats. If by took on, you mean, hired the OEA’s top lobbyist and made him her Chief of Staff, then I’m with you. In actuality, her staff would never have been able to make any headway with implementing the Common Core and teacher evaluation reforms she cherishes without the OEA and CCOSA. The SDE partnered with their staff and even used their facilities for key meetings with these initiatives. At the same time, when she has needed the appearance of stakeholder input, she has brought representatives groups of teachers and administrators together, only to disregard their advice.

Janet Barresi does not represent or protect Oklahoma values. That she is a reformer is probably the truest statement in the ad. As I’ve pointed out many times before, she’s following the playbook of Jeb Bush and his Foundation, with a little help from the Koch brothers and ALEC. She’s trying to tell us what our values are, but she shows no interest in hearing from Oklahoma parents or teachers.

We have 24 days. Know the options.

Veto Override & the Power of #oklaed

This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2.

Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before. Even U.S. Senate candidate T.W. Shannon bothered to show up to vote today.

On the other hand, maybe those supporting the veto were feeling a little sour after the vote. In particular, Superintendent Barresi took the news badly.

Barresi has been a strong supporter of leaving the reading law unchanged. In a statement issued by her office, she said children must be able to read and that “today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back and returns us to a failed system of social promotion that has served the education establishment and little else.”

“I applaud Gov. Fallin for her steadfast support of our children. Her veto was absolutely the right thing to do, and the Legislature’s override of it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”

Pathetic and outrageous. Let that sink in for a minute. This is what we’ve been dealing with since January 2011. Our public education system is being run by someone who thinks that those who oppose her are pathetic and outrageous. She thinks that all ideas that don’t align with hers (or Jeb Bush and ALEC) only serve the education establishment. If she had managed somehow to fit an excoriation of liberals in there and blamed the override on Obamacare, she would have hit for the cycle.

I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely sick of Barresi treating us this way. I am sick of being invited to serve on commissions that only convene to ratify decisions that were made in advance. I am sick of the lies she tells about special education students. I am sick of her using our students and teachers as campaign props. In short, I am just completely sick of the disrespect she continually shows us.

And I’m not just speaking as a proud member of the education establishment. I’m speaking as a voter – one who is also sick of the way the governor has treated us. Meanwhile, I’m happy to say that 124 members of the legislature showed that they are listening to their constituents.

Tonight, long-time blog reader, Twitter friend, and Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Hime made an observation about the power of social media activism over these last several months.

He’s right, too. I remember those discussions, trying to decide how we would tag our conversations about education in this state. For about the first 10 months that I blogged and tweeted, I don’t think I used many hashtags, if any at all. After we decided upon the #oklaed label, I often forgot to include it in the box for how new blog posts would appear on Twitter. It took a while for it to sink in. Now, when I go to Twitter, the first thing I usually do is search #oklaed to see if I’ve missed anything.

What we’ve become is a community that gets together on Sunday night to chat – one that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. We even have SDE staff using the hashtag. Yes, the community has dissonance, but that’s what makes it whole. It’s not one unified voice. About the only thing we all agree upon is the idea that voices mustn’t be silenced.

In the last two days, Fallin and Barresi have shown who they really are. And their voices deserve to be heard too. They just should accept that there are other opinions that will sometimes prevail.

Pathetic and outrageous? I can think of at least ten more appropriate adjectives to describe the override.

  • Appreciated
  • Decisive
  • Reassuring
  • Impressive
  • Insightful
  • Thoughtful
  • Conscientious
  • Compassionate
  • Sensible
  • Clearheaded

If Barresi didn’t like today’s vote, I wonder what words she will use when she loses her party’s primary in 34 days.

Shame Squared

Yesterday, Governor Fallin announced at 3:30 p.m. that she would veto HB 2625, the measure that gives teachers and parents a voice in third-grade retention decisions.  If you’re angry about this decision, prepare to be angrier. Next she apparently took a victory lap back to her office as legislators stayed in session, waiting for the opportunity to override her. Last evening, she made it clear that she would stall as long as possible.

Emily Virgin

Fallin’s petulance only delays the inevitable. The House will vote today to override her veto. Then they will send the measure to the Senate. I don’t know what would have changed in the last 10 days that might reverse the combined 132-7 mandate from before.

Fallin is using our third-graders as political pawns. She spent yesterday morning calling teachers heroes. Now she is showing how little she trusts them. It’s one of the most two-faced acts I’ve ever seen.

Call or email your representative and senator. Then pick at least five more and contact them as well. As for the governor, last week I suggested sending her a pen. This week, we should think of something else to give her.

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Shame on Governor Fallin!

Towards the end of my weekend post in which I called upon Governor Fallin to sign HB 2625 into law, I asked the following question:

What does a combined vote of 132-7 from the state legislature mean, if not that the will of the people is clear?

Those are the numbers: 89-6 in the House, and 43-1 in the Senate.

This afternoon, Mary Fallin announced that she had vetoed HB 2625. She claimed it would “gut” the Reading Sufficiency Act. The opposite is true. Everything in the RSA would remain. Added to the fold would be a committee that includes the child’s teacher and a parent. The committee would have to be unanimous in recommending promotion for a third-grade student who did not pass the test or meet one of the six “good cause” exemptions. In quite a few cases, the student would still have been retained.

She threw around the usual trite nonsense at her press conference. Remediation. Prison. Poverty. She said the law protects special education students and English Language Learners. She’s either a really good liar, or she’s spent even less time in schools than I thought.

Starting early this afternoon, those following the legislation were anticipating on Twitter what Fallin might do.

 

After she announced the veto, reaction was swift and fierce.

 

One other thing is important to remember. Fallin is the current chair of the National Governor’s Association, which actually has written about how states should approach third grade retention policies (p. 38).

In the case of Florida, the retention policy is part of a multi-pronged strategy that reformed teacher preparation and certification requirements, professional development, intervention strategies, and education funding policies. For example, over the last decade, Florida retrained elementary school teachers on evidence-based strategies to teach reading and further reinforced the training through reading coaches in low performing schools. During a five-year period, with support from federal funds, the state provided professional development workshops based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel to all 35,000 K-3 teachers. In 2005, the state legislature established a research-based reading instruction allocation as a permanent categorical aid in the state’s school funding formula. These funds are allocated to districts each year to support development and implementation of districts’ research-based reading plans and to pay for reading coaches, particularly for low performing schools.

State leaders considering a retention policy should use caution in selecting assessment instruments to ensure they are valid and reliable for the purpose of such decisions. Policymakers should also weigh the costs and benefits: While retention may reduce the costs of remediation later on, the policy incurs the immediate cost of an extra year of schooling for retained students. Finally, looking down the road, both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are developing K-12 assessments that are aligned to the CCSS and have higher cut scores for reading proficiency. The implementation of these assessments, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014, is likely to dramatically increase the number of third-graders deemed reading below grade level, and state policymakers should consider – and prepare for – the ramifications of a retention policy under these new assessments.

Did we tie substantial funding to the retention law? No. Did we make professional development available? More of late, but the coverage is sparse. Did we use caution in selecting reliable and valid instruments. No. Did we consider the impact of the impending switch to next generation assessments? Not at all.

Fallin simply followed the ALEC-approved, Jeb Bush-certified playbook. She provided political coverage for Janet Barresi. She refused to listen to the parents and teachers who know the impact of this decision to a far greater extent than she. Rob Miller aptly identifies what’s happening here as hubris.

There is one hope left. The legislature has to override the veto. Call your representative and senator. Hell, call them all. Email them. Do whatever you can. There are 7,970 children depending on you.

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Budget Deal Changes Nothing

The governor and legislative leaders were proud to announce on Friday that they had reached a tentative budget deal for the 2014-15 fiscal year (FY15). Rob Miller had a good summary earlier on his blog.

On Friday, we learned that legislative leaders had reached a tentative budget agreement with the Governor’s office. Based on the figures released, total appropriations for FY2015 will be about $7.121 billion.

This includes an increase of about $80 million for common education—$40 million of which will go to the funding formula and the rest used to offset increases in employee Flexible Benefits Allowances (FBA). Additional appropriations of about $35 million are also in place for Ad Valorem (property tax) reimbursements.

For historical perspective, remember that appropriations for common education in the FY2010 budget totaled $2.572 billion, or 36.4% of the $7.063 billion state budget. With the new budget deal, common education will get approximately $2.48 billion from a budget pie of $7.121 billion, or about 34.8%. Note that even with the increased appropriations, state funding for common education in FY2015 will continue to lag about $100 million behind FY2010 figures, with at least 35,000 additional students.

It seems that I have to write something similar every year, but the added funding is a pittance compared to what we’ve lost. Here’s what I wrote last year at about this time.

From FY09 to FY14, the funding formula specifically has lost over $198 million. Restoring this amount would fund roughly 3,366 teaching positions. Unfortunately, even if all $74 million in new common education funding went into the formula, it would barely make a dent. That’s why everybody from administrators to teachers to school board members to parents is frustrated that the allocation includes a mere $21 million for the formula.

We’re pretty much in the same place now. Adding $80 million back to the common education budget helps, even if only half will go back into the formula.  I haven’t seen a spreadsheet showing exact figures yet, but based on what the SDE released last May, and adding $40 million into the formula, the seven year trend looks like this.

Fiscal Year Funding through the Formula Students
FY08 $1,992,584,507 641,721
FY09 $2,035,970,233 644,777
FY10 $1,882,300,431 654,542
FY11 $1,754,757,581 659,615
FY12 $1,816,091,355 666,150
FY13 $1,816,091,355 673,190
FY14 $1,837,579,777 681,578
FY15 $1,877,579,777* 688,221*

*Projected

The second column above shows that we schools have still not recovered from pre-recession levels. While formula funding will be at a five-year high, student enrollment will be higher (using average yearly growth for the sake of a projection) too, to the count of an additional 46,500 students.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator for Consumer Price Index, we can see that the funding situation is even more severe than what these numbers show. A dollar in 2014 has about 91 cents buying power, in 2008 dollars. Here’s another way to look at where these cuts have left us.

Fiscal Year Per Pupil Formula Funding Per Pupil Funding in 2008 Dollars
FY08 $3,105.06 $3,105.06
FY09 $3,157.63 $3,168.90
FY10 $2,875.75 $2,839.44
FY11 $2,660.28 $2,546.32
FY12 $2,726.25 $2,556.56
FY13 $2,697.74 $2,493.30
FY14 $2,696.07 $2,448.50
FY15 $2,728.16 $2,477.65

School districts, since 2008, have lost about 20 percent of their buying power. I would argue that the cost of textbooks, technology, and transportation has increased at an even greater rate than this. Meanwhile, mandates and class sizes keep rising. As I’ve said on many occasions, those who favor school choice seem hell-bent on creating a public school system that none of us would select. Art, music, and PE in the elementary schools continue to lose time. Computer labs are more utilized than ever, but usually for the test prep program du jour, rather than the research and code writing that our tenuous state standards require.

High school students, more than ever, have fewer electives available to them. Considering all the rhetoric claiming that we need to make students both college and career ready, we sure have made the path for students to take Career Tech classes in high school harder with all of the different graduation requirements that the state has added. At all levels, testing drives hiring, instruction, spending, and decision-making. It should be what’s best for children that drives our decisions.

If the state of Oklahoma wants schools to be test-prep factories devoid of the innovation and relationship-building skills that our best teachers have always carried into the classroom, this is the blueprint for doing so. The ALEC term for this is starving the beast. That’s what the numbers show is happening. Rob astutely placed the “new” $80 million in the context of the overall state budget.

The state government is paying a smaller percentage of the cost of public education than at any time in recent memory. Yet they’re increasingly taking local control away from schools. While the $80 million is better than nothing, all it really does is give politicians cover during an election year. I refuse to be overjoyed.

Categories: Uncategorized

Pen Drive for the Governor!

All of us who’ve been in public education for a while have been through any number of causes that materialize as drives – food drives, toy drives, book drives, fitness drives, to name a few. Today, while reading through the assorted commentary on Twitter, thanks to @JacksonGirl79 I had a wonderful idea for a new drive.

I hadn’t thought about this possibility, but maybe the reason – nearly a week after the House passed HB 2625 by a vote of 89-6 (after a 43-1 vote in the Senate) – that Governor Fallin hasn’t signed the people’s revisions into law yet is that she doesn’t have a pen. After all, we know that the Capitol is crumbling. Perhaps the executive branch supply closet is sealed off from her staff as a bio-hazard  right now.

Maybe supplies aren’t the problem at all. Perhaps she’s listening to Janet Costello Barresi (who is also now signing with all three initials) and her incessant lobbying to get the governor to veto the bill.

Since the recipient list is redacted, I suppose we should submit an Open Records Request to retrieve it. After all, snooping into the emails of your political opponents is all the rage these days. And by the way, the word you were trying to spell there is spread, not spred.

The email pictured in that tweet refers to an editorial that ran in the Journal Record this week. In the piece, OCPA “Distinguished Fellow” and OCU law professor Andrew Spiropoulos opines about why the governor should veto the bill. Spoiler alert – it’s because we’re all liars.

Lying has become a foundation of our state and national education policy, however. Our leaders lie when they say that these students are being held back because they just didn’t do well enough on one test. No, the law gives them multiple ways of demonstrating they can read, including submission of a portfolio of work or a sufficient score on another test. All that is being asked of the students is that, at the end of third grade, they show that they can read at above a first-grade reading level. A proficient third-grader, never mind fourth-grader, is reading and writing about the novels of Roald Dahl and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The students who are failing stumble through Corduroy or The Cat in the Hat. These students are not failing tests because they are nervous. They are failing tests because they can’t read the questions.

What is especially painful is that this debacle demonstrates that we have managed to elect people who have no clue about what it means to be a conservative. If forced to put it most simply, I would say the main difference between modern liberalism and conservatism is that liberals believe people are naturally good and corrupt society is responsible for their failings. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that human nature is a complex mixture of the good and bad. Most of us want to do the right thing, but are overly influenced by our passions, especially self-interest. We need the help of institutions, including faith, community and the law. If left to our own devices, we will lie to ourselves, even if it harms our children.

This law is a noble and necessary attempt to stop the lies. It tells parents and schools that, at some point, the community can’t allow you to pretend anymore.

Actually, he cites two reasons. In addition to educators (who don’t actually make education policy) being liars, modern Republicans aren’t conservative enough. Truthfully, labels don’t matter to me. You can call yourself a conservative, moderate, liberal, or whatever. If you consistently do the right thing for kids, you have my undivided attention. If you consistently do the wrong thing for kids, I notice that too.

Surely Fallin isn’t listening to OCPA – a group dedicated to the destruction of public education – over parents and teachers. What does a combined vote of 132-7 from the state legislature mean, if not that the will of the people is clear?

For a week now, we’ve been calling Fallin’s office. Her voicemail has been filled, and emptied, and filled again. We’ve been emailing. We’ve been doing everything possible to let her know that HB 2625 matters. If Barresi believes that a veto will “save reading,” as if those of us who have actually taught want to kill it. If Fallin signs the bill, third graders will still be retained – but not without a meeting with parents first. What we gain, while still emphasizing reading, is an opportunity to consider things that the flimsy good cause exemptions don’t.

I’m sticking with the pen theory. And I think we should send them to her now. And maybe some Clorox wipes for whatever that is running down the walls.

The Office of Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

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