Two Stones with One Bird

October 21, 2014 1 comment

Last Friday, the State Board of Education had a special meeting to consider two items of note. First, they helped schools by authorizing districts to create fundraising exemptions to the new child nutrition standards. In short, the new standards prohibit the sale of all unhealthy foods during the school day. While I think banning the sale of junk food during lunch hours may be appropriate, I disagree with the total ban. For example, cookie sales for clubs like DECA are critical fundraisers for their activities. Additionally, without these exemptions, schools would not be able to sell concessions at tournaments that occur during the school day. The SBE showed common sense here, and I haven’t spoken with anyone who thinks differently.

As long as they’re feeling generous and sensible, maybe they should look at the SDE’s Federal Programs office, which has drifted to a posture even more restrictive than the Feds regarding schools providing food for parental involvement activities. And that’s just one example of their overreach. But I digress.

The other major undertaking of the SBE was approving a contract for winter testing. If you’ll recall, the Board rejected the $2.8 million proposal by CTB/McGraw-Hill to provide this service for the state at their September 25 meeting. Only 22 days later, the Board approved a contract with Measured Progress for about $600,000 more.

I’m torn. Yes, we fired CTB because they sucked at their job for two straight years. Spring testing in 2013 was a catastrophic failure. In 2014, it was only an embarrassment. Still, it was a pattern of behavior. Nonetheless, I don’t recall them screwing up the winter testing. So I have to ask if it’s worth $600,000 more? Online notes for the October 22 meeting include documentation showing Measured Progress’s statement of work. The previous meeting’s notes contain no such documentation for CTB’s proposal.

To be clear, I’m not saying anything is fishy. I’m just concerned that we spent a lot of money out of spite.

As I’ve previously stated, Measured Progress has done nothing to disappoint us. All things being equal, I’d much rather see the state do business with them than with CTB. Things aren’t equal, however. They’re 21% more expensive than CTB was. I agree we shouldn’t hire them as our general contractor. Using them for odd jobs (such as whitewashing the fence for Aunt Polly) would be fine. This is not the major testing contract; it’s an odd job.

I don’t know that I fault the SBE for the decision. Politically, it’s probably a no-win position.

On the other hand, I don’t see any Measured Progress t-shirts for sale on the Internet.

Now that's what I call spite!

Now that’s what I call spite!

There it is – a solution to testing and fundraisers! Much better.

Who Will Create the Jobs?

Great comment on last night’s post:

Thank you for your continuing efforts in getting to the reading public worthwhile analyses for all of us to consider as we develop (or solidify) our opinions about the “direction” of Oklahoma (and American) public education. As you might guess, I have some very strong beliefs, based on my 45 years of observations in the public schools of our nation.

Common Core State Standards and other standards developed across the nation purport to “develop” our children for college and career readiness. However, who is creating and developing the jobs they will be seeking after they have completed college or are “career ready”? For, a high percentage of the jobs available in 2014 did not even exist when today’s college graduates first entered high school and were “challenged” by PASS standards.

As Yong Zhao so aptly stated (with my addition), “Stop the Common Core (AND other state-developed standards) OR ready your basement for your college graduates.” Public education must focus on problem identification, job creation, innovation, problem solving, and entrepreneurism—not standards developed by a small group who have defined the skills and knowledge which our youth should acquire and/or possess . . . or our fabulous democratic republic will (rapidly) dissolve and permeate into a government in which some (perhaps many) of us really do not want to reside.

Just some thoughts.

Thanks again for your time and expertise in communicating factual information, interspersed with a few opinions, to Oklahoma’s reading public.

Kirby Lehman

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About the State Regents Certifying PASS

October 19, 2014 3 comments

Much has happened here in Oklahoma while most of the school districts in the state have been on Fall Break the last few days. Below is the short version of lastweek’s events, with links to more information about each.

Regents Certify PASS

State to Reapply for NCLB Waiver

SBE Authorizes Fundraising Exemptions

SBE Selects Measured Progress for Winter Testing

For now, I’ll just focus on what happened Thursday. Hopefully I’ll have some serious blogging time this week to get to the rest, as well as the two major political races that impact public education.

Thursday – the State Regents and the Waiver

We knew last week that the State Regents would finally decide whether or not to certify PASS as College and Career Ready, but their decision had remained pretty secretive. After cross-walking PASS to ACT’s standards, the committees in place for both language arts and math determined that there was significant alignment between them. This decision befuddled our current state superintendent.

Posted by SDE media on Thu, 10/16/2014 – 5:15pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 16, 2014) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi comments on the Oklahoma Regent’s for Higher Education decision to consider Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards college- and career-ready.

“I am confused and unsettled by this decision. My understanding of the definition of college- and career-ready standards is that students who graduate high school should be able to enter college without needing to take remedial coursework or enter a career without the need for retraining. In Oklahoma, our college remediation rate for entering freshman has hovered at about 40 percent for years. With that said, however, I am withholding further comment until I have had time to thoroughly review the Regents’ findings.

“In light of the Regents’ decision, however, we have already begun the process of reapplying for our flexibility waiver from No Child Left Behind. If a waiver is granted, the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it would not take effect until the 2015-2016 school year.”

Barresi has a history of using loaded adjectives when she doesn’t get her way. It’s unfathomable to her that actual Oklahoma educators could create a set of standards with any merit. This doesn’t stop her from using the existing tests over those standards to rate schools, but that’s beside the point. The State Regents actually had a rationale. As the report explains:

ACT organizes its standards according to ACT score ranges. For example, for a score in the range of 16-19, ACT has identified standards that must be met to achieve a score in that range. For this review, standards corresponding to score ranges of 20-23 and 24-27 were used for alignment with the PASS standards. These score ranges were selected because OSRHE set the minimum ACT cut score for remediation in each of the four subject areas of English, Mathematics, Reading and Science based on OSRHE policies (3.19 Assessment Policy and 3.20 Remediation Policy) and previous research. In 1994, OSRHE established the requirement for all students to be remediated if they did not earn at least a 19 on the ACT Mathematics subject test. Approximately every five years, OSRHE contracts with ACT to conduct a course placement study using Oklahoma student data.

Review of these findings by COI is used to verify the ACT cut scores. The 2011 ACT study predicted that 74 percent of students with an ACT subject score of 19 would earn at least a grade of C in English composition, 63 percent in general mathematics, and 57 percent in college algebra. A brief summary table outlining this extensive study can be found in Attachment 8. In 2004, OSRHE received a final report from the Student Preparation Task Force recommending the continued use of the ACT standards as benchmark competencies. For 2014 Oklahoma high school graduates, students with an ACT score of 27 in English are in the 87th percentile; in Reading, the 82nd percentile; and in Mathematics, the 93rd percentile for Oklahoma test takers. [p. 9]

This is similar to a process the SDE and Regents completed 10 years ago, although I can’t find it online anywhere. The point is that Oklahoma, in the 20+ years we have been developing standards, has never operated within an insular vacuum. We have always had an eye on what’s going on elsewhere. Even four years ago, when the Oklahoma Legislature adopted the Common Core, the SDE took the time to crosswalk them to PASS.

The Regents used committees of higher education officials and professors for each set of standards, then had the Southern Regional Education Board check their work. Ironically, one of the SREB consultants was Jennifer Watson, who was promoted by Barresi to Assistant State Superintendent at one point. The committees and consultants have concerns about PASS, which include recommendations for improving the state standards.

Math [p. 11]

CONCERN 1: The ACT College and Career Readiness Standard for “work with numerical factors” did not appear to be specifically addressed in high school PASS, but it is necessary to demonstrate mastery of other high school skills, such as the PASS “simplify and evaluate linear, absolute value, rational and radical expressions” or “factor polynomial expressions.” Since “work with numerical factors” was at a score range of 24-27, there was much discussion about the intent of this standard. Upon review of some possible ACT questions, this standard seemed to imply more number-theory concepts than computational or procedural use.

RECOMMENDATION: Standards should be clear as to the intent of the standard to avoid differences in interpretation. For example, clarification may be needed to reflect a level of number theory or conceptual understanding rather than computational or procedural use.

CONCERN 2: In some instances, the wording of the Mathematics PASS standards was more vague than in the ACT standards, and the faculty had to decide whether the specific ACT standard was implied in the more general PASS standard. For example, the ACT standard is “recognize Pythagorean triples,” while the PASS standard is “Use the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse to find missing side lengths and to determine acute, right, and obtuse triangles, and verify using algebraic and deductive proofs.”

RECOMMENDATION: Specific wording from the ACT standards should be included in the more general PASS standard, such as a “must include” or “for example” insertion.

CONCERN 3: In some instances, the level of rigor may not be consistent from ACT to PASS. For example, the ACT standard of “order fractions” was addressed in PASS grades 5, 6 and 7. However, this ACT standard is at a score range of 24-27, which implies a higher level of rigor than typical middle school mathematics. The faculty members were concerned that the level of rigor expected by ACT might not be addressed in the high school PASS.

RECOMMENDATION: If they are considered maintenance skills, then the intent should be clearly stated in PASS standards with the appropriate level of rigor and/or the intent for how the standard should be used to increase the rigor of the high school standard.

CONCERN 4: Some Mathematics PASS standards are listed with an asterisk, meaning they are not assessed at the state level through the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests, and few of the process standards (problem-solving, communication, reasoning, connections and representation) are included in the state assessments.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that all standards be included in the state assessments to reinforce the teaching of all standards to all students.

CONCERN 5: The faculty expressed concern that the high remediation rate in mathematics is not the result of the standards but is impacted by many other issues, such as assessment, curriculum, instruction, and type or number of mathematics courses taken in high school.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that more efforts be made to emphasize the importance of implementing standards thoroughly, comprehensively and with fidelity; align curricula; and assess all standards.

In essence, they’re saying that the standards need tweaking in some places, and that high school course selection may account for a significant portion of the remediation rate.

English/Language Arts [p. 12]

CONCERN 1 (COHERENCE): While thorough and comprehensive, the intentional development of knowledge and skills across grades is not always transparent in the ELA PASS document.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • A K-12 matrix, or scope and sequence, of the standards for each strand would show the progression of knowledge and skills through grade levels. Such a matrix would help teachers, supervisors, districts, parents and others to identify when students are introduced to a standard and at what point they are expected to have mastered it.
  • A reorganization of some of the standards and substandards under each strand would improve coherence. For example, Reading Standard 4, Research and Information, might be separated to help clarify that there are many purposes for reading informational and non-narrative texts beyond conducting research.
  • Stressing the interconnectedness in the skills and knowledge students need in order to develop college- and career-ready vocabulary would provide greater coherence within this critical standard. Context clues, structural analysis, wide reading, and reference tools work together and within a framework of the specific reading task. Consult best practices in the systematic teaching of vocabulary when new standards are being written.

CONCERN 2 (SPECIFICITY): In total, the language of ELA PASS is straightforward and specific; indeed, PASS is often more specific than the language of the ACT ELA College and Career Readiness Standards. In point, the committee found that the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards for English and Reading contain many examples of “vague language,” such as use of the phrase “and so on” to indicate other assumed but unnamed elements of a standard. However, some language of ELA PASS can be more specific.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Construct every learning standard statement with a verb that is “assessable.” Teachers, curriculum writers and test designers would appreciate the specificity of having students “defend,” “distinguish,” “estimate,” “paraphrase,” “predict” or “summarize” rather than “understand” or “appreciate.”
  • Specific language throughout the Reading and Writing standards that addresses both the interpretation and construction of critical text structures would underscore their importance. Students should be engaged every year in analyzing and composing texts that use cause/effect, problem/solution, complex narrative sequence, claim/counterclaim and other predominant structures.
  • Distinguish between argumentation and persuasion in writing standards. Argumentation is a common mode of writing in college and should be emphasized and practiced in middle school and high school.
  • Update the ELA PASS Glossary to provide definitions of a broader range of terms. Many will look to PASS to clarify what is meant by “complex texts,” “grade-appropriate” and “readability” (as examples).
  • A close review of substandards within the Grammar/Usage and Mechanics Standard at each grade level would resolve some vague expectations for student writers and editors.

CONCERN 3 (PURPOSE): The purpose-setting statement that frames ELA PASS should highlight some additional expectations for learners.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • The five-paragraph essay is the foundation, not the culmination, of high school writing. The form should be mastered by the freshman year of high school and used as the basis that supports students to write frequently in multiple and more sophisticated formats.

  • The ability to read independently in a range of disciplines is paramount to academic and career success. Learning how to interpret literature and informative, highly technical and often lengthy reading passages should be an overarching goal of ELA PASS.

  • The purposes should include the habits of mind that help any person be successful: persistence, responsibility, self-analysis and reflection, and independence.

Side note: Is it any wonder that the comments on the ELA standards are wordier? Just a harmless observation.

In all seriousness, these are some strong recommendations. The ELA standards have always lacked for clarity in terms of the depth of skills learned by grade level. I especially like the example of reinforcing the fact that informational and non-fiction text have purposes beyond research. Then, as the math committee points out, we really have to push students to take more courses that will help with college preparation.

My own research

As you would expect, I’m not content thinking that the standards are the only contributor to college readiness. While student course selection is important to college preparedness, there is more to the story than that. Using data from the graduating class of 2013 at Oklahoma’s 453 high schools, I explored the relationships among several variables. Keeping in mind that correlation does not always indicate causation, consider the following correlations:

Variables Correlated to School Free/Reduced Lunch Percentage
Seniors in Career Tech Programs 0.17
Average ACT Score of Graduates -0.60
Oklahoma College-going Rate -0.30
College Remediation Rate 0.57

Once again, we see that poverty matters. Schools with more of it have strong correlations to low ACT (-0.60) scores and high college remediation rates (0.57). We should also, however, consider the impact of expectations. At home, students with resources and support are pushed more towards college. That explains the lower college-going rate among schools with high levels of poverty (-0.30). Interestingly, we also see that schools with more poverty have slightly more students involved in Career Tech programs (0.17). Knowing that many of the high-poverty schools in Oklahoma are also small, rural schools, I decided to look at the impact of school size on these same variables.

Variables Correlated to Total High School Enrollment
Seniors in Career Tech Programs -0.23
Average ACT Score of Graduates 0.35
Oklahoma College-going Rate 0.26
College Remediation Rate -0.20

The first thing I should note is that these correlations should not lead anyone to think (or believe that I think) that large schools are better than small schools. I do think that most of the larger high schools are in the suburbs or near colleges, which impacts expectations, however. I also know from experience that larger high schools can offer a wider variety of classes. This may impact the amount of math and science content students have available. It’s not a knock on smaller schools. It’s just an observation. I would also guess that smaller schools don’t have as much access to content specialists and other professional development opportunities to help them with turning standards into curriculum. Now that we’ve changed tracks twice in four years, and we’re planning to do so again before 2016, maybe we should cut the teachers and students a little slack.

That said, the biggest variable of all related to college remediation rates seems to be poverty. If I had been running multiple regression tests, we would probably see that students in small schools with low poverty fare about as well as students in large schools with low poverty. If we had a way to capture 12 year numbers on mobility rates, that would probably factor in too.

My conclusion, based on the work of the State Regents, the SREB, and my own rudimentary calculations, would be that our standards, when controlling for poverty, aren’t the thing that determines college readiness. It still has a lot more to do with family characteristics and overall expectations than anything else. Adopting Common Core won’t change this. Adding or eliminating tests won’t change this. Parents and teachers having high expectations for all students is important, but so is coming to school having your basic human survival needs met.

Superintendent Barresi, there is no reason for confusion. The only unsettling thing is that after four years in your position, you still don’t understand the hard work that Oklahoma educators do every day. You don’t understand that schools have differences – large and small; affluent and poor; rural, suburban, and urban – and that these differences matter.

As my friend Rob Miller said last week, just mail the damn letter to the feds and be done with it. Then get out of the way! Soon enough, this will be someone else’s concern – someone who gets it.

Introducing the Winter Testing Fellowship (WTF)

September 29, 2014 4 comments

Last week, the Oklahoma State Board of Education sent shockwaves through the state when they declined to vote on a bid by CTB/McGraw-Hill for winter End-of-Instruction testing. With that testing window due to open December 1, time is critic…never mind. It’s probably too late. Today, CTB – who the Board fired over the summer – withdrew their bid. As of today, nobody has a bid in place for the winter contract.

The SDE press release today reeked of exasperation.

CTB/McGraw-Hill withdraws from bidding process for state winter assessments

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 29, 2014) – In the wake of the Oklahoma State Board of Education decision last week to delay action on selecting a vendor for winter assessments, proposed vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill has indicated it will withdraw from the bidding process.

The board voted Sept. 25 to table a would-be sole-source contract with CTB. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) had recommended using CTB for the winter assessment window. An estimated 51,000 tests are expected to be given during that period, the bulk of them being end-of-instruction (EOI) exams necessary to meet high school graduation requirements.

OSDE is continuing its work with Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to see if any other viable solutions exist. In addition, last week the OSDE submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the spring EOI exams to OMES for review and approval since OMES is responsible for issuing the RFP.

OSDE staff had recommended CTB/McGraw-Hill for the $2.8 million contract because of limited time to realistically initiate an entirely new testing platform before the testing window begins in mid-November.

At the request of OSDE, the Board of Education voted in June to terminate the state contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill. The action came after glitches during the spring 2014 testing.

The board is expected to hold a special meeting within the next several weeks to take up the matter.

I’m at a loss. At this point, I have a hard time believing that this problem is solvable. While it’s tempting to laugh at the cherry on top of the SDE’s ongoing incompetence over the last four years, I just can’t. Students are counting on these tests. Students who need to re-take their EOIs to graduate, as well as those in schools on a trimester system, could really suffer because Barresi’s regime ultimately failed at the one thing that matters the most to them – testing.

While I’m not laughing at the situation, I am laughing at Rob Miller’s take on it. I also think it’s worth reading Jason James’s thoughts on the crazy last couple of weeks.

Maybe this is why Barresi’s chief-of-staff ALLEGEDLY tendered his resignation over the weekend. I’ve only had a few emails asking me to look into it and this comment on an earlier post.

Rumor has it Joel Robinson, SDE Chief of Staff gave notice of resignation over the weekend and the State Dentist was pissed and asked he keep it quiet as long as possible.

Also if someone wanted to do some investigating, Kim Richey received a nice pay increase around May 2013 making her salary about $90,000. general counsel and the state board secretary and administrative staff still fall under control of the state board. If you look back at state board agendas around that time there was not an agenda item regarding this pay increase nor state board approval. At the same time the other two attorneys in that office were bumped up to $80,000.

If that is true, I wonder what she’ll call him!

Maybe the answer is right in front of us. I think we have the expertise here in this state to get us through this short-term crisis. Maybe a collection of bloggers and discarded SDE employees should band together to form an assessment collective. We could call ourselves the Winter Testing Fellowship™.  I haven’t figured out the hierarchy of the Fellowship yet, but I’m pretty sure I want to be its president. This is a $2.8 million dollar contract! I’m a long-time Oklahoma educator, so that’s way above my pay grade. Rob and Jason could join the crew. So could Claudia, Brett, and Seth. Even though we really don’t have time for it, I’m going to put Rob in charge of field testing!

We could have a Jeopardy! Style format – it has to be more valid than what the SDE has been shoveling at us for the last few years, right? Would you like to make this a true daily double to pass your Biology I EOI and possibly graduate from high school?

Maybe we could go with Who Wants to Re-Take an EOI (hint: nobody). On the next question, feel free to use a lifeline. You may phone a friend, but you can’t choose the 50/50 option. That would constitute a modification, and as you know, Arne Duncan wouldn’t like it.

Actually, when it comes to game shows, I’m a fan of the classics. I grew up on a steady diet of Tic-Tac-Dough and The Price is Right. Both of those seem appropriate when it comes to testing contracts.

All I’ve heard for months is that we need Oklahoma standards that represent Oklahoma values. The cycle might as well culminate with Oklahoma assessments written by Oklahoma educators who keep all of their profits in Oklahoma. In fact, we could even form a non-profit in order to shelter all of our profits. Trust me; it’s a thing.

In all seriousness, we own the test questions. We probably also own reams and reams of paper. We also own a huge mess. We have to find a solution and soon.  Just print tests and hand score them. It’s less than ideal, but it would get us through the winter. Otherwise, the students who need one more test to graduate won’t get it – through no fault of their own. This is Janet Barresi’s ultimate – and hopefully last – SNAFU.

Don’t care how, I want it now!

September 26, 2014 12 comments

Janet Barresi needs to resign – yesterday. Tomorrow would be fine too. Hell-bent on exacting her wrath, she continues to be an embarrassment to the state of Oklahoma.

As you know by now, she has created a new assistant superintendent position over accreditation and hired the SDE’s lawyer’s husband to fill it. This man has nearly 40 years experience in law enforcement, but none in public education. Yet he’s going to help school districts stay in line with all the state mandates. And oh, there are many. Here is an overview of information that state accreditation officers have sent to schools regarding upcoming deadlines and reporting requirements. Keep in mind that this is just for October.

OCTOBER 2014

Prior to October 1 superintendents shall designate Test Coordinators for the district and all buildings; names, email addresses and telephone numbers of District Test Coordinators (DTC) shall be provided to the SDE Office of Assessments in the fall semester of each school year; Assessments (405) 521-3341. [OAC 210:10-13-4]

S Each district shall send a District Test Coordinator and all building coordinators to the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP) Test Preparation inservice sessions; Assessments (405) 521-3341. [OAC 210:10-13]

S Advanced Placement Grant applications available; Advanced Placement (405) 521-4288.

S Submit Annual Student Dropout Report to local board of education in October or November; Alternative Education (405) 522-0276. [OAC 210:35-25-3]

F IDEA Special Education Child Count: Prepare and begin data entry for IEP students enrolled in your district on October 1, 2013; Special Education (405) 521-3351. [70 O.S. § 18-200.1] and [70 O.S. § 18-200.1(E)]

Due Date

1 S Historical Graduation Cohort Report is available via the WAVE, contingent upon the completion of the Comprehensive Exit Report and Fourth Quarter Dropout Report; Accountability (405) 522-5169. [OAC 210:10-13-22]

1 S Begin preparing site data to be used in the Annual Accreditation Application via the Single Sign-On; Accreditation (405) 521-3333. [70 O.S. § 18-113.3]

1 F Submit annual Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Student Survey online; Bilingual Education/Title III (405) 522-6249. [Title III NCLB § 3121 (a)]

1 F Verification process of Child Nutrition Programs free/reduced price applications must begin; Child Nutrition Programs, (405) 521-3327. [7 CFR, Part 245]

1 S Submit one copy of either the Estimate of Needs or the Budget (for those districts on the School District Budget Act) to SDE and the County Excise Board; Financial Accounting/OCAS (405) 521-2517. [70 O.S. § 5-128.1; 68 O.S. § 3002]

1 S Local Advisory Committee on Gifted Education must convene/meet or have convened/met; Gifted and Talented (405) 521-4287. [70 O.S. § 1210.308]

1 S Submit Reading Sufficiency Act student count; Reading/Literacy (405) 522-3219, or (405) 522-3241. [70 O.S. § 1210.508C]

1 S Deadline for submitting Initial Certified Personnel Report and Initial Support Personnel Report via SDE web-site, Single Sign-On; School Personnel Records (405) 521-3369. [OAC 210:27-1(2) (1); OAC 210:25-3-4(e)] [70 O.S. § 18-200.1]

1 S Local board of education shall prepare a schedule of salaries and fringe benefits paid to administrators, including a description of the benefits, for any superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, and assistant principal in both “teaching” and “nonteaching” positions (submitted as part of the Initial Certified Personnel Report); School Personnel Records (405) 521-3369. [70 O.S. § 5-141(C) (D)]

1 F Child Count for IDEA Special Education; Special Education Services (405) 521-3351.[70 O.S. § 18-200.1 and 18-200.1(E)]

1 S Class Size Audit forms are available via the SDE Single Sign-On Reporting Site; State Aid (405) 521-3460. [70 O.S. § 18-113.1] (Class size audits will no longer be required of the districts.)

1 S First Quarter Statistical Report (FQSR) is available to school districts via the SDE Single Sign-On reporting site; State Aid, (405) 521-3460. [70 O.S. § 5-128]

3 F Homeless Census Report; Federal Programs Title X/Homeless Education (405) 521-2846. [NCLB P.L.17-110]

5 S Fourth Quarter Student Dropout Report for 7-12 grades, by site, is required to be submitted by all public schools via the Wave; SDE accredited private/parochial schools are required to report via the Single Sign-On submitted by a superintendent, principal or head teacher; Alternative Education (405) 522-0276. [70 O.S. § 35e]

10 S ACE Exemptions/Exceptions Report, high school only; ACE/Counseling (405) 521-3549

10 S District ACE Remediation Report due via SDE School District Reporting Site; ACE/Counseling (405) 521-3549 [70 O.S. § 1210.522]

10 F Claims for reimbursement for lunches, breakfasts, snacks, and/or milk (Special Milk Program) served during previous month; Child Nutrition Programs (405) 521-3327.

[7 CFR, Part 210.8 (b)]

10 S OPAT Monthly Data Report, Special Education Services; (405) 522-4513.

11 F Deadline for entering the Special Education October 1st Child Count without penalty; Special Education (405) 522-1463. [70 O.S. § 18-200.1]

15 S No later than October 15, the district’s annual Accreditation Application to the State Board of Education must be certified online by the district superintendent; Accreditation (405) 521-3333. [70 O.S. § 3-104]

15 S No later than October 15, any district application for a Statutory Waiver or a Deregulation that is for the span of the entire school year, must be submitted; Accreditation (405) 521-3333 [70 O.S. § 3-126]

15 S No later than October 15, the Wave Comprehensive Exit Report is due certified by the District Superintendent; SDE Customer Service (405) 521-3301, or Office of Student Information (405) 521-4892.

15 S No later than October 15, the Wave October 1 Consolidated Report is due certified by the District Superintendent; SDE Customer Service (405) 521-3301, or Office of Student Information (405) 521-4892.

15 S Preferred date to renew Advanced Placement courses with College Board; Advanced Placement (405) 521-4288.

15 F Fresh Fruit/Vegetable Program claim for reimbursement for fresh fruits and vegetables served during the previous month; Child Nutrition Programs (405) 521-3327. [7 CFR, Part 210.8(b)]

15 S Child count report due for Gifted Educational Plan Update and Summary Budget; Gifted and Talented (405) 521-4287. [70 O.S. § 1210.307]

15 S Prior Year Noncertified Teachers deadline for response; School Personnel Records (405) 521-3369. [OAC 210:25-3-4(b)]

15 S Deadline for Driver Education Application for Prior Year Reimbursement; State Aid (405) 521-3460. [OAC 210:15-19-6]

19 S Student Dropout Report Re-entry Checklist due; Public schools submit via the Wave Fourth Quarter Dropout Report; Private/parochial schools submit via Single Sign-On; Alternative Education (405) 522-0276. [70 O.S. § 35e]

21 F Computer-generated school district expenditure reports are due; Federal Programs (405) 521-2846, or School Support/School Improvement (405) 522-3395.

30 F Submit annual Limited English Proficient (LEP) Student Survey online; Bilingual Education/Title III (405) 521-3196. [Title III, P.L. 103-382, § 7134]

31 F Civil Rights Compliance Checklist – Report must be completed and maintained in school district files; Child Nutrition Programs (405) 521-3327. [7 CFR, Part 210.23(b)]

For anyone who has never seen a list like this, it’s something that superintendents and other administrators see each month. The number at the beginning of the line is the day of the month that the information applies. The “S” or “F” after the number refers to whether the requirement is state or federal. The bracketed information at the end of the line refers to the statutory or regulatory foundation for the requirement.

Again, this is just for one month, albeit one of the busiest reporting months of the academic year. Still, some guy with no public school background is going to help schools through this process? Not likely.

A reader sent me some insight yesterday that I found hilarious. At some point during Barresi’s administration, apparently it has been suggested that Regional Accreditation Officers should get badges and sidearms. Can you imagine an RAO showing up in your superintendent’s office, casting a shadow in the doorway, tapping his/her holster suggestively, and asking ala Clint Eastwood, Where’s your GT Child Count? Punk. Better yet, would your RAO pull a John Wayne while inspecting your school’s Child nutrition records, Got Milk, Pilgrim?

The Freaking Duke

A gun and a badge would just be a costume. Logic would dictate that your RAO isn’t going to use either in any meaningful way. Instead, we would be taking a group that tries to help schools and turning them into a caricature. Speaking of which, I should probably get back to discussing our state superintendent.

Yesterday, at the State Board of Education meeting, one member was clearly channeling the Duke. Lee Baxter, a retired major general, echoed Rep. Smalley’s call for Janet Barresi to resign from office immediately. As reported in the Tulsa World,

“I want the venom stopped. I’m sick of the lack of collaboration and blatant disrespect for our school administrators, and I think it needs to stop soon,” Baxter said. “The way I think that needs to happen is for the state superintendent to relinquish her role now. I don’t believe that will happen.”

Baxter’s comments came at the end of Thursday’s meeting in the State Capitol. Barresi sat lock-jawed during Baxter’s comments, which went on for about five minutes.

She quickly adjourned the meeting and turned and watched as Oklahoma City board member Bill Shdeed shook Baxter’s hand and told him, “That took a lot of courage.”

Then Barresi turned to board member Bill Price of Oklahoma City and gestured animatedly with one hand and said, “He’s a son of a b—-!”

Come to think of it, many of John Wayne’s movies ended with someone calling him that, so Baxter is in good company.

We have just over three months left that we have to work with Barresi. As there was in 2011, I expect there will be many people shown the door ungraciously on the first day of a Hofmeister or Cox administration. Kim Richey and her crony husband should be in the first wave.

Baxter also rightly said that Barresi’s continued presence and antagonism taints the standards-writing process that the state now faces. Because of some of her top staff in curriculum and in assessment, school districts lack the confidence that their input will be meaningful. I suspect those positions will also turn over quickly in January.

Another reader sent me this after the SBE meeting.

As I sat in the State Board of Education meeting this morning, I tried to keep my poker face but a few times almost gasped at what I heard:

  1. Teachers need the SDE to instruct them in how to teach to PASS curriculum objectives in order to pass the state test.
  2. No one has assessments aligned to PASS, or they are not interested in doing business with the state of Oklahoma because it’s not worth their time in sheer dollars. And, no one seems to know how many testing companies there actually are.
  3. Schools couldn’t possibly run a new program to test the few students who really HAD to test in November. I mean, heck, that’s only six weeks away. The current OSDE couldn’t get an RFP out for the Winter Tests in three months, so I’m sure no one else could.

Really. … Actually, it was so far from reality, I could no longer look her in the eye.  I was embarrassed for her because, as you know:

A. Oklahoma teachers who started teaching after September 1992 and most other successful teachers throughout our state are already aligned to PASS. The only problem they are having is helping their students prove they’ve learned what will be tested.

B. Lots of educators have formative and summative assessments aligned to PASS. More importantly, the OSDE should own a dozen years’ worth of valid, field-tested and reliable test items. Not all testing companies have been asked if they are interested.

C. In just 3 ½ years, the OSDE has become legendary at changing programs – hardware, software and bureaucratic data collection – or standards and penalties on schools, and expecting educators to make it work on a dime. Maybe some students could test in December or January.  What difference should it make?

These observations are spot on. The Barresi regime has failed us, in part, because they arrogantly believe they know things that actual educators don’t know. They don’t know the truth about PASS. They don’t understand the testing process. They haven’t even released a Request for Purchase (RFP) to select a new testing company. The writing tests are five months away, if you believe the calendar for that. Every debacle of the last four years is explainable because of the SDE’s sheer arrogance.

The reader who sent me the information about the badges also sent me this note:

So, when I read about the new head of accreditation being an “investigator” who will start a new program of investigating schools, I’m with you — this is all about retribution before she leaves. It’s a good thing you stayed anonymous, although I would not be surprised if one of his jobs is to find out who you are and punish you!

I don’t talk about my anonymity much, but yes, I worry about retribution. I have sources in a variety of places. I have close friends in the profession. I don’t want a hatchet-job investigation to target me and the people with whom I most closely work. I doubt I’m public enemy number one or anything like that, but yes, the threat of retribution is a real concern.

Fearing people in positions of power who think they’re above reproach is normal.

We know that the tone at the SDE will change in January. Those of us trying to get work done have grown impatient. It can and should start now.

I like the Spite in you!

September 25, 2014 5 comments

As you start your Thursday, I have several things I would like you to read. Collectively, they represent the culmination of four years of incompetence, spitefulness, and rule-breaking by State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her minions at the SDE.

First, let me backtrack a few days. Last week, when the SDE released their A-F Report Cards to barely a whimper, I had a few emails about them. Soon, however, I started receiving messages from a variety of sources about a hire that had been made at the SDE. Barresi had created a new Assistant State Superintendent position, filled it without posting it, hired an executive staff member’s husband, and run off a long-time employee. I had this information from a variety of sources, but I wanted some confirmation before writing the story.

Yesterday, that confirmation came in droves. Here’s the Tulsa World’s account of the story:

Outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi has created a new assistant state superintendent position and hired the husband of a top Education Department official to fill it, raising questions about cronyism.

State Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, called it “a good ol’ boy hire” and is calling for the immediate resignation of Barresi, her general counsel Kim Richey and Larry Birney, Richey’s husband and the new assistant state superintendent.

Further in the article, the World discusses how this decision impacted the accreditation division as a whole.

Lynn Jones, a longtime regional accreditation officer who was promoted last year to executive director of accreditation, resigned over the matter.

“I was surprised,” Jones told the Tulsa World on Wednesday. She said Barresi called her into her office on Sept. 15 and informed her that she had created the position and hired Birney to fill it. Jones said Barresi told her that Birney would be her new supervisor.

On Sept. 17, Jones said she submitted her resignation to Chief of Staff Joel Robison because he had been her immediate boss.

“I determined that wouldn’t be a good situation for me. I was uncomfortable,” she said. Jones had been the head of the accreditation department for 13 months and was a regional accreditation officer for eight years prior to that.

I agree. It’s hard to work for someone who has no idea what you do or why you do it. She was placed in an untenable situation and made the only decision that she could. The word you’re looking for is integrity. Jones has it.

In contrast, here is the SDE’s announcement about the new hire.

OSDE announces Larry Birney new superintendent of accreditation, compliance

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 24, 2014) — Dr. Larry L. Birney has been named assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The new position will help OSDE’s accreditation standards division ensure local schools are operating in compliance with state laws.

Birney served as executive director of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Standards in Oklahoma from June 2008 until May 2011, when he retired. He was a 35-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department, rising to the rank of acting deputy chief and later director of police human resources.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said Birney brings a needed expertise in investigation.

“OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters,” she said. “One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation. Larry Birney is uniquely qualified for this role, combining significant experience in law enforcement and education.”

Birney holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio, a master’s degree in educational administration from Texas A&M University at Kingsville and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas State University in San Marcos.

In addition, he is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy in Quantico, Va., and is a certified advanced peace officer and instructor through the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).

Birney is the husband of Kim Richey, OSDE general counsel. They reside in Ada.

“It has become clear that our accreditation standards division would benefit from the skills of a professional investigator,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. “Adding someone with experience in education and law enforcement to our team also adds a new well of resources and investigative approaches. It’s an additional form of support for that division.”

“Mr. Birney had previously applied to serve as a Regional Accreditation Officer, which is when I became familiar with his impressive background. He has decades of experience in fields that combine law enforcement, education and human resource management, and he will be very effective in his role here,” Barresi said.

With three months left in her term, Barresi has hired someone who will certainly be fired in January, if not sooner. With all due respect to Rob Miller, whose brilliant piece My Little Crony, paints this as a case of favoritism, I believe something more nefarious is at play. Janet Barresi has created the post of in-house private investigator to harass and sully the names of her biggest critics. Anyone who has crossed her is now a target. She will find you, and she has the tool(s) to find your dirt.

In my professional years, I have worked with many accreditation officers. Rarely do they operate from the posture of trying to catch schools and districts doing things wrong. Rather, they focus on helping leaders solve problems and avoid non-compliance. Theirs is not a gotcha game. Maybe that’s what bothers Barresi.

She mentions that schools need investigating for law-breaking. Isn’t that what the police are for? This is not the domain of the SDE. Rep. Smalley knows this well. Here’s his press release:

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Smalley said today he is calling for the resignation of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey.

“I am calling for an immediate hiring and firing freeze at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and calling on Superintendent Janet Barresi, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey to immediately step down,” said Smalley, R-Stroud. “This past week a new position was created within the agency for what I view as a good ol’ boy hire.”

Lynn Jones, a knowledgeable and experienced regional accreditation officer who was serving as executive director, stepped down last week as she was informed she had a new boss, Smalley said. Jones was previously one of the most experienced in her field and was promoted last year to executive director from the field office, he said.

“I have personally worked with Lynn; she is extremely knowledgeable and gifted in what she does,” Smalley said. “She has an abundance of knowledge and was an amazing resource to myself and all of the schools she served.

“It seems to me that we would want to keep our best and brightest close to us to allow a less of a learning curve come January when a new leader takes office. To replace someone and create a new position with only eight weeks left is inexcusable and shows that the SDE, a bureaucratic monster, is out of control.

“This is irresponsible and accomplishes nothing, it hurts public education and decisions like this should be left until the new superintendent is sworn in.”

The new hire is Dr. Larry Birney, a law enforcement specialist who served as the executive director for the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training. He resigned in 2011 after a formal panel was formed to investigate an ongoing personal inquiry. Dr. Birney served with the San Antonio Police Department for 35 years and was with CLEET since 2008.

“I don’t question his law enforcement experience, I question his education expertise and qualifications for this newly created position,” Smalley said.

It just so happens that Larry’s wife is Kim Richey, who serves as general counsel for the state education department. Dr. Birney and Mrs. Richey worked together at CLEET as well.

“My question is why we are hiring individuals that have no K-12 education experience to come in and now be in charge of the accreditation standards of our schools,” Smalley said. “As of right now our standards are subject to change in Oklahoma. We need to keep the most experienced people we have to help with the transition. That is what’s best for our schools and our children in Oklahoma. Not hiring spouses and friends, to secure jobs.”

Smalley also noted the financial cost.

“As a legislator every year school funding is a top priority,” Smalley said. “It concerns me when the state education department adds a $90,000 salary and then continues to ask for more and more operational costs.”

In short, this is nothing more than an abuse of power by Barresi. She has enemies, and she wants to take them down before she walks away. This story is a bigger deal than the fact that nobody cares about the A-F Report cards. Public officials, until their last day of service, need to be held accountable for their actions. Barresi’s actions are at a minimum unethical. They may even be criminal. If it is the latter, then somebody needs to have charges filed.

Later this morning, the State Board of Education will convene to, among other things, re-hire fired testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill on a technicality. Our state will pay them (if it is approved) millions to administer the winter tests. Good luck with that.

Another interesting nugget on the agenda is that the Office of Educator Effectiveness will propose penalties – including withholding State Aid – for districts they find not to be in compliance with reporting under the Teacher-Leader Effectiveness program. Again we have more spite.

Barresi’s administration got off to a poor start nearly four years ago when she hired unqualified staff and paid them with a slush fund donor money. The state attorney general ruled it illegal and gave her a stern talking to. This pattern of behavior cannot be allowed to stand. She’s still breaking laws, and must be treated accordingly. I’m with Smalley; these three must go now!

A Gentle Reminder: Poverty Matters

September 21, 2014 1 comment

The Oklahoman has an article this morning on the front page of the paper in which officials from several suburban districts downplay the importance of the state’s A-F Report Cards. The catch is that these districts have fairly good performance. While the article itself is currently only viewable by subscribers, the graphic associated with the article is viewable to anyone. Showing Oklahoma City Public Schools and five other large districts in pie charts, we see percentages of each letter grade for each district. For the sake of comparison, I looked up the 2013 free/reduced lunch rates of these six districts as well.

District Schools with A or B Schools with D or F Free/Reduced Lunch
Edmond 100% 0% 26.6%
Moore 74% 3% 41.0%
Norman 55% 23% 49.1%
Mid-Del 36% 24% 68.9%
Putnam City 23% 23% 75.3%
Oklahoma City 20% 64% 86.4%

In other words, if we were to rank the districts by overall performance, they would fall in the exact order of their poverty levels. This is no coincidence.

In previous years, the SDE has also posted a spreadsheet of school performance, which allowed me to cut-and-paste, and then align columns with another database. This year, there is no spreadsheet. And there is no need. The linkage between poverty and test scores is well-established.

Last year, I found that poverty had a strong, negative (-0.60) correlation to A-F Report Card Grades. It was even stronger than the year before (-0.44). While I wonder what the data would show this year, I’m not going to hand-enter the grades into a spreadsheet. I don’t have time for that.

Tulsa area school leaders are similarly unimpressed.

Sapulpa schools have seen sliding grades the last three years, but Superintendent Kevin Burr said what the grade card doesn’t show is the growth taking place among students at those schools.

“What we prefer to look at, which is a stronger indicator to us of whether or not we’re making progress, is an assessment that is independent of politics and manipulation of any kind, and that is the ACT (college entrance exam),” he said.

On Wednesday, the same day the state released the A-F school report cards, Burr said he learned that Sapulpa Public Schools got the highest composite ACT score in the history of the district.

“It’s beyond ironic that we face the kind of grade card speculation and scrutiny we are when in fact we’re enjoying knowing that the kids at the end of the spectrum, who we are responsible for, are being better prepared than they ever have been,” he said.

We strive for things that matter. Getting our students ready for college matters more than the state tests do. It takes teachers committed to students in Pre-K and beyond. It takes all the classes. And it takes focus, even in the face of constant political disparagement.

To those who are busy saying so – telling their communities to look away from these monstrosities masquerading as accountability – we say “thank you!”

There's nothing to see here!

There’s nothing to see here!

2014 A-F Report Cards: Nobody Cares

September 17, 2014 5 comments

In “Assume the Position,” friend of the blog Rob Miller wrote over the weekend that we should greet today’s release of the A-F Report Cards with a collective yawn. Sorry, Rob. You know I just can’t do that. This stuff is my bread and butter…my sweet spot…my raison d’être. Inside of me is a little “researcher” who lives for identifying Type I errors in everyday life. That’s what A-F Report Cards do best!

For those of you who haven’t tested a hypothesis lately, a Type I error is, more or less, when the data leads you to detect something that isn’t there. A Type II error, then, is rejecting the presence of an effect that actually exists. The education reform movement is built upon a framework of both types of error.

With the A-F Report Cards, we are primarily looking at Type I errors though. Following the conversation of the State Board of Education today as they adopted them shows this clearly.

The second tweet refers to a report that the US Chamber of Commerce released last week giving Oklahoma’s entire education system an F. In short, they don’t like the fact that we’re not reformy enough. Here were future former State Superintendent Barresi’s comments last week:

“The Leaders & Laggards report is yet another indicator that Oklahoma’s public education system is in dire trouble. It would be tempting to label this a ‘wake-up call,’ except that alarm bells have been going off for many years.

“Oklahoma is among a handful of states that received an F in both academic achievement and academic achievement in low-income and minority students. It is clear, then, that we are doing a disservice to far too many students regardless of their socioeconomic status. This is a problem that affects us all.

“Unfortunately, many of our reforms have been watered down or weather constant attacks from defenders of the status quo. Our parents and students deserve better — much better. That means accountability, school choice and a continued focus on improved academic standards and proficiency in reading by third grade.

“We must not defer to mediocrity. This report is more evidence that PASS fails. It is beyond me why we are taking so much time reviewing the Priority Academic Student Skills, which we left behind in 2010.

“Oklahoma must move on and begin the process of writing rigorous academic standards that our children need and deserve.”

It would be shorter to list the people she isn’t insulting than to highlight the ones she is. In short, you’re screwed, Oklahoma, and you only have yourself to blame. She knows we’re tired of hearing her say these things, though.

Yes, she realizes that even the SBE is tired of hearing from her. I don’t know why she’s so glum; twenty percent of Oklahoma Republicans seem to think she’s right on target. The rest of us – Republican, Democrat, and otherwise – know differently.

The SBE also discussed an issue with how students count in a school district that works with students in a juvenile detention center. They seemed flummoxed that this was an issue.

Yes, they have to count somewhere. Let’s just give another example to show how inflexible the report cards are. One board member thinks there’s room for a tweak here.

Then he said this.

So close, Bill Price. So close. Fun fact here – the SDE is scrambling to find someone to calculate API. Additionally, for the last few years, the SDE has had the API scores that existed from 2002 through 2011 removed from its website, citing bogus privacy concerns. It’s like they have been trying to wave that thing from Men in Black in our eyes, hoping we’d forget API ever existed. I doubt anyone has actually run the correlation between A-F to find how the grades relate to API. If someone has, I’d love to see the evidence.

Men in Black

Not everybody was drinking the Kool-Aid, however.

Before the meeting adjourned, Barresi had one final jab at real educators.

So a day after celebrating the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year process, she has nothing but scorn for how Oklahoma administrators honor one another? That seems about right. Teachers are chosen by their peers for their site and district honors. The same is true for principals and superintendents. I guess she just can’t handle that her biggest critics have risen to the top. For their part, CCOSA had this to say.

September 17, 2014

Oklahoma City, OK – Responding to claims offered by outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi that disparage Oklahoma’s public school administrators of the year and the process used by CCOSA affiliate organizations to select them, Steven Crawford, Executive Director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), offered the following comments:

“CCOSA proudly supports our past and current administrators of the year.  These successful instructional leaders are nominated and selected by their peers.  Our process for selecting these individuals is rigorous, member driven, and annually reviewed to ensure that our award winners are accomplished educators and excellent representatives for public education.”

As one superintendent on Twitter pointed out, the process works pretty well. Dr. Ann Caine, Stillwater superintendent and CCOSA Superintendent of the Year, leads a district with 4 As and 3 Bs. If the report cards mean something, she certainly earned. I prefer to think she deserved the honor in spite of the report cards being meaningless.

For her part, Governor Fallin also commented on the report cards.

“The A-F grading system is designed to empower parents by providing them with an easily understood measurement of how a school is performing. This year’s grades demonstrate that Oklahoma has hundreds of “A” schools and many pockets of excellence. It also continues to show – as we have known for years – that there are many schools that are struggling. The superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action. Parents should also understand that we are absolutely committed to helping these schools succeed in the future.

“Knowing where we have difficulties is the first step in working towards improvement. The challenge now is to rally around those schools and the students in them to improve results. That will take an all-hands-on-deck effort, with parents, teachers, administrators, and local and state governments working together.

I love how politicians continue to act as if schools didn’t use data prior to 2011. We did. Extensively. I also love how they act as if these grades aren’t punitive. They are. They have little bearing on reality, but they color public perception.

Finally, nearly five hours after announcing that the report cards would be released at 4:00 this afternoon, the SDE had them ready for public viewing.

Unfortunately, the media had them first. Oklahoma Watch posted the database earlier.

The myth of failing schools is critical for reformers. They target high-poverty, high-minority schools that struggle with not just education, but every societal ill imaginable. We’re not talking about your run of the mill Title I school. We’re talking about the poorest of the poor – the schools that are hardest to staff. These are the schools that feed the charter schools in Oklahoma. And the students there are often better for it. This is not, however, a model that lends itself to rural and suburban areas.

As I always do, I will look at the data in the coming days and show the correlations that actually exist. I will analyze the results of our state’s charter schools too.

In the meantime, I’m yawning, just as Rob said I should. It’s 1,000 words later, but I am in fact yawning.

Categories: Uncategorized

About the Remediation Ruckus

September 3, 2014 7 comments

I am proud to work in public education. That means wherever I go, I am willing to teach or support the education of any child who shows up. Yes, we teach them all. The smart ones. The well-behaved ones. The talented ones. The adorable ones. The ones who struggle. The ones who test our patience. The ones who, bless their hearts, just try so hard. The ones who sometimes are hard to appreciate. We do it because they matter – all of them.

This separates us from our friends in private schools. I don’t doubt the hard work they do. Nor do I begrudge them the working conditions they’ve chosen. In many cases, they teach for lower salaries and have less job protection than public school teachers do. The trade-offs are more parental involvement and fewer requirements to acquire their teaching positions. In any case, they teach children who have chosen to be there, and whom the school has chosen to accept. At any point, the school, if certain conditions are not met, can send them back where they came from. Public schools can’t do that; as such, comparisons between the two are rarely meaningful.

That’s why I found the Oklahoman’s foray into the discussion over college remediation rates a bit disingenuous. You’re shocked, I’m sure. The graphic below shows how they compared public schools to private schools when it comes to college remediation rates.

But who doesn't love a stacked deck?

But who doesn’t love a stacked deck?

As you can imagine, the fact that the schools on the left are also high-poverty high schools never comes up either. Since I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like data out of context (which reminds me – A-F Report Cards are just around the corner!), I thought today was a good day to dust off the correlation machine (by which I mean Microsoft Excel) and explore the relationship between two sets of numbers. First, I would look at the high schools – all of them – and see what other statistics correlate to a school’s college remediation rate. In all, I ran 10 tests. Since there are 454 schools in the dataset, the results all maintain statistical significance.

Things Correlating to College Remediation Rate

Free/reduced lunch % 0.56 Moderate, positive
Household income -0.38 Moderate, negative
College-going rate -0.35 Moderate, negative
Parents with college degrees -0.33 Moderate, negative
Parents not completing high school 0.33 Moderate, positive
Student mobility 0.30 Weak, positive
Absentee rate 0.28 Weak, positive
Special education percentage 0.27 Weak, positive
Single-parent families 0.22 Weak, positive
Students completing college-bound courses 0.01 Non-existent

Here’s a reminder of what these numbers mean, for all of you who haven’t had a stats class in a while. All correlation values fall between zero and one (or zero and negative one). For positive relationships, the numbers go in the same direction. For example, as free/reduced lunch rates go up, so do college remediation rates. For negative relationships, the numbers go in opposite directions. For example, as household income goes up, remediation rates go down.

Based on accepted convention, none of the relationships would be described as strong. The top five variables would be described as moderate, with the two indicators of poverty ranking at the top. Interestingly, the schools with more students going to college seem to have fewer students needing remediation. I guess that indicates something about expectations. It should also come as no surprise that parental education is also a factor in college remediation rates. It would seem that first-generation college students who come from a background of poverty struggle at the beginning of college.

Just on the outside of moderate are the next four relationships. Although the strength is not as pronounced, the relationship is nonetheless there. Schools with a lot of mobility and a lot of special education students are more likely to have higher remediation rates than schools without those challenges. This makes sense, but it says a lot about the schools that these relationships are weak. Additionally, students who are frequently absent and those who come from single-parent families (two statistics that often correlate as well), tend to need remediation at higher rates too.

Surprisingly, the correlation between the percentage of students completing college-bound courses (students completing all the ACE required courses, as opposed to those whose parents opt them out of the ACE requirements) is non-existent. I’m struggling to explain this one. Maybe it means that we place too much value in taking choices away from kids. Maybe, if students had fewer required courses for graduation and more students could pursue their actual interests, we’d have more college-ready freshmen.

To make things interesting, I picked two schools from the Oklahoman’s graphic and plugged some numbers into a spreadsheet. From the 12 public schools represented on the above bar graphs, I selected two. See if you can figure out which is which from the data below:

Statistic School A School B
Free/reduced lunch % 18% 81%
Household income $98,568 $44,588
Parents with college degree 51% 18%
Parents not graduating HS 4% 16%
Absences per student 8.6 14.6
Mobility rate 5% 11%
Students in special education 11% 14%
CareerTech program participation 16% 68%
Oklahoma college-going rate 69% 41%
Out of state college going rate 10% 5%
Oklahoma college remediation rate 15% 55%

Obviously, School A serves an affluent population with parents whose own experiences lead to high academic expectations. School B has a lot of poverty and mobility. More students are steered towards the career part of College & Career Readiness. Overall, though, it appears more students at School B have some sort of a post-secondary plan.

I took the easy way out. I used the school in the middle of each side of the graphic. School A is Edmond North High School. School B is Muskogee High School. If you want, you can look up data for any school in the state. The more information you have, the more complete your picture is.

When any reasonable person knows the whole story, simple accountability measures, such as the A-F Report Cards, just don’t impress. Muskogee High School, for all the challenges faced by the students and teachers there, seems to have the vast majority of their students thinking about something after high school. And that is why we’re here.

Whether the State Regents decide to certify PASS as C&CR…whether the USDE gives us back our waiver at some point…whether Congress eventually rescinds No Child Left Behind (which is long overdue), we have high schools all over this state, serving all kinds of student populations, that are helping children prepare for life after the PK-12 world we occupy. Career Tech is part of that picture. So is college. And so are choices that can’t be captured statistically. That doesn’t make them less valid or meaningful.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Yes, Mr. Nelson, it is a Big Deal!

September 1, 2014 10 comments

Thursday’s announcement that Oklahoma has lost its No Child Left Behind Waiver was a bombshell that we knew was coming, ever since Governor Fallin signed HB 3399 into law in June. On the day before Fallin signed the bill, the SDE made a presentation at the CCOSA conference explaining what would happen if we lost the waiver. Then in July, at the Vision 2020 conference, the SDE gave a more polished presentation explaining what would happen. Two pieces are most relevant to many Oklahoma schools.

First, under the provisions of the waiver, Oklahoma has not had to reach the unrealistic targets that go into effect this year, established by NCLB in 2001. Instead, accountability has been determined by our A-F Report Cards since 2012, as well as by obscure targets for three specific student populations (Hispanic, black, and special education). Without the waiver, our soon-to-be report cards mean even less than before. They are merely window dressing. They have no teeth.

Second, without the waiver, Oklahoma will go from having about 400 schools on the various improvement lists to about 1600 – although the SDE says they haven’t run the numbers yet. Because of the targets for every single sub-group of students, we will have many A and B schools on the needs improvement list. If those aren’t mixed signals, I don’t know what are. For the schools receiving Title I funds, this will likely limit how that money is spent, beginning with next year.

Rep. Jason Nelson, who authored HB 3399, was quick to understate the impact of losing the waiver.

 “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Nelson said. “I think the big deal is the fact that you’ve got the federal government trying to exert this kind of control. In terms of what practically is going to change here as a result of that, I think is not a big deal.”

“Not much is changing. There is no loss of money. They’re not even going to require the set-aside of the 20 percent of the Title 1 funds for use by parents to do tutoring. I really think it’s a non-event.”

Asked whether teachers would have to be laid off, Nelson said, “I have no reason to think that. There is no loss or set-aside of funds.”

He said despite the loss of the waiver, he thinks passage of the bill to end Common Core without having new academic standards to replace it was the right thing to do.

“Since education is uniquely a state issue, I think it’s in the best interest of the state to do what’s in the best interest of our education system without deferring to Secretary (Arne) Duncan. So from that perspective, I think we did the right thing.”

To those of us who work in those schools, it is quite a big deal. Eligibility for Title I services is determined by the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch. Depending on the depth of a school’s poverty and the size of the school, a Title I program might provide enough funds for more than one staff position. It also might barely fund one position. If we automatically hold 20 percent off the top, there will be schools that have to cut staff. Yes, Secretary Duncan delayed that requirement for a year, but it is a real possibility for 2015-16.

Our elected leaders may not realize this, but the Title I teachers in our schools are real teachers. They work with children. They may manage the Title I program for the school – including budgets, forms, and paperwork – but they also provide individual and small-group instruction for struggling students. The Title I budget provides instructional materials and gives schools funding for before and after school tutoring, as well as summer school. All of that will be jeopardized with the 20 percent set-aside.

In place of these things schools will lose will be only two allowable expenses. First is school choice – students will be able to choose a transfer to a school that actually made Adequate Yearly Progress under the old provisions of NCLB. Since the SDE only expects 10 percent of schools to make AYP, parents won’t have many options, if any. Second is the utilization of Supplemental Educational Services. There is little regulation of SESs. If an entity goes through the process to be on the state’s approved list of SES vendors, then parents can choose them. Schools have no say in this. And there is no accountability over the SESs for the results of their students. It’s a wild, wild, west of vendors.

More than likely schools will have to cut staff and set aside funds for nothing. If the money is used at all, based on prior experiences with SESs, it will be wasted. As usual, this will only impact high-poverty schools.

Nelson, to his credit, always engages his critics. His logic is often mind-boggling, but at least he shows up, as he did last night on Twitter for the weekly #oklaed chat. His purpose seemed to be to convince his audience that although losing the waiver isn’t that big of a deal, it represents HUGE federal overreach by Duncan and President Obama. His singular supporting evidence is Section 9401 of the ESEA – which specifically mentions waivers. In Nelson’s mind, since the statute does not specifically mention standards, the USDE had no right to revoke our waiver based on us dropping the Common Core in favor of standards that have not been certified as College & Career Ready.

Although the section does not mention specific requirements to adopt C&CR standards, the link to state standards is fairly clear.

(b) REQUEST FOR WAIVER-

(1) IN GENERAL- A State educational agency, local educational agency, or Indian tribe that desires a waiver shall submit a waiver request to the Secretary that —

(A) identifies the Federal programs affected by the requested waiver;

(B) describes which Federal statutory or regulatory requirements are to be waived and how the waiving of those requirements will —

(i) increase the quality of instruction for students; and

(ii) improve the academic achievement of students

While I’ve repeatedly said that teachers matter way more than standards do, the fact that Arne Duncan feels differently is no secret. Back in 2011, when we applied for our waiver, the USDE gave states two options for standards:

Option A Option B
The State has adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics that are common to a significant number of States, consistent with part (1) of the definition of college- and career-ready standards. The State has adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics that have been approved and certified by a State network of institutions of higher education (IHEs) consistent with part (2) of the definition of college- and career-ready standards.

This is pretty straight-forward. Option A gave us the option to adopt the Common Core, which we had already done in 2010. We were not lured into it by the waiver request. Option B gave us the option of going our own way, so long as the State Regents approved of the way we chose. Since we switched from A to B on a dime this summer, the Regents were pressed to certify that PASS – the standards we dumped in 2010 – were good enough that students meeting them would not require college remediation.

The May 2013 version of the State Regents Annual Student Assessment Report (the most recent version posted to their website), is a good place to look for information on how the state’s colleges and universities place students into remedial classes.

The purpose of entry-level assessment is to assist institutional faculty and advisors in making course placement decisions that will give students the best possible chance of academic success. Beginning in fall 1994, the State Regents implemented a required score of 19 on the ACT in the subject areas of English, mathematics, science, and reading as the “first-cut” for entry-level assessment. Students may also demonstrate curricular proficiency by means of an approved secondary assessment process. Students are enrolled in developmental courses after being unable to demonstrate proficiency in one or more subject areas. These courses are below college-level and are not applied toward degree requirements. A supplementary per credit hour fee is assessed to the student for these courses.

The easiest way to understand this is that students who score at least a 19 on each of the four sections of the ACT are clear of remedial courses. While each institution may have different requirements, it is also important to note that remediation is not the same across all subjects.

RemediationFall12(Chart)

Over five years, the math remediation rate hovers between 30 and 40 percent. The reading remediation rate is close to 10 percent. (I guess we mastered that whole reading to learn thing even without third-grade retention!) This is really a math problem, not an overall preparedness problem.

Look at the chart again: what does the remediation rate really tell us about C&CR? Can you be ready for college and not major in math? Absolutely. Should we as a society value math more than we do? No doubt. Besides, this is just college. What metric does the state or the USDE use to measure career-readiness? Oh yeah, they don’t have one. Again, it’s not the standards that determine C&CR. It’s the teachers. And maybe the students. Let’s not forget the most important people in our schools.

Taking a slightly different approach, Rep. Josh Cockroft posted to his blog today his own thoughts on where losing the waiver leaves us. He starts by chastising us for choosing sides and blaming either the state or the feds for landing us in this predicament. He then blames the feds.

With the news this past week that the federal government denied the extension of Oklahoma’s Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) No Child Left Behind waiver, the finger pointing immediately began. Democrats like House Minority Leader Scott Inman blamed all Republicans for their “abysmal” record on issues in education like common core and education budgets which resulted in the federal decision. Republicans like Governor Mary Fallin blasted the federal government for “playing politics” with our children’s education. As with many decisions which are handed down from Washington, D.C., the lines of partisan politics have quickly been drawn. To my fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle, public servants, and educational organizations who have had these type of responses, I have a simple message: Stop it. We must stop playing politics with our future, because our children deserve better.

Instead of drawing lines between political parties, shouldn’t we be looking towards the best interests of the children who are affected by these decisions? Why don’t we start talking about the failing schools across Oklahoma and not just skip over the students being swept under the rug for an agenda’s sake? These aren’t policies we are talking about, they’re lives. They are our future. Perhaps if we took a step outside of political halls and into the classrooms of the real world we would start to see this reality. Unlike the perception which the analysts and political talking heads will have us believe, having a locally controlled education system with rigorous academic standards is possible. It begins with proper recognition of the role of government and the will of the people whom those in public service represent.

If anything, those who have sharply pointed fingers at each other across Oklahoma’s political landscape should instead direct blame towards a federal government which is grossly overstepping its bounds of responsibility. It is overtly apparent this decision comes as a political punishment for the repeal of common core this past spring by the Oklahoma legislature; something a massive majority of Oklahoma parents were pleading for. Allowing bureaucrats in Washington to dictate our educational landscape in Oklahoma is unacceptable whether you are Republican or Democrat. I believe in our parents, teachers, and administrators much more than career politicians in D.C.

Now these decisions are in the past and we must work towards a brighter future. The reality is that we have lost the waiver. That was today; what about tomorrow? Shouldn’t our failing schools and failing grades gain as much focus as political headlines? No matter what your feelings are on the A-F school grading system and what your individual school’s grade is, you have to be blind to not see room for improvement in our schools. Let’s focus on that.

To my Democratic colleagues: Using this decision to spread the fear of lost funds among lawmakers and teachers alike is misleading and dishonest. This decision doesn’t change anything for funding levels. The federal government did not even state that there would be the 20 percent of Title 1 funds set aside for tutoring by parents, forcing the state to lose flexibility as has been incorrectly rumored. Additionally, to demand additional support from the federal government is completely hypocritical to the cries coming from your caucus over the last four years for “more local control”. You can’t have it both ways.

To my Republican colleagues: The party of less government and conservative principles cannot pause in its fight to point out the proper roles of the federal, state, and local government. If you believe in less government, fight for it! Unfortunately, many within the Republican party today are not controlled by ideas, but by the desire to be in control. This is a posture which creates little motivation for bold change. The public is looking for bold change, not the hard-to-control desire for power in our system today. Not political winds, nor contributor’s dollars, should sway the truth one way or the other. Never apologize for doing what you believe to be right.

Rep. Cockroft, which definition of “failing schools” do you accept? Is it the narrative of the A-F Report Cards, or the reality of Oklahoma’s return to the policies of George W. Bush? I’m sorry you’re upset, but I blame both parties. And I blame both levels of government.

I agree that blame doesn’t move us forward, but you all know I can’t just let a false narrative guide public policy decisions. Nobody in power (Fallin, Barresi) hated the Common Core until popular opinion turned. Oklahoma willingly wrote our waiver application with pride in having adopted the standards. We knew that we had to meet all provisions of the waiver to keep it. We chose a different route.

For the next few months, we still have a state superintendent who will go on Flashpoint and claim that the valedictorian from a high school in Edmond would be a middle-of-the-pack student nationally. (This was right after Mike Turpin asked Barresi whether she lost the election because of the message or the messenger.) This claim is nonsense. I’m guessing that many of our high school valedictorians score more than 10 points above the national average of 21 on the ACT.

Those in power still falsely insist that our schools are failing. What they mean to say is that we have schools in which students coming from the worst living conditions have low standardized test scores. What they mean to say is that schools are bad for not completely making up for the learning that doesn’t occur in some homes from birth to age four. They’re saying that privatizing public education would work better.

Going all the way back to 2001, we have been faced with education reformers who haven’t put the tim e into shaping the lives of children. The architects of NCLB, President Bush and Senator Kennedy, are the products of elite private schools. They’ve never taught the 90 day kids – and if you don’t know what that means, ask a Title I teacher or principal.

As we look to pull ourselves out of this mess, we shouldn’t minimize the frustration of the people actually invested in the schools by saying this decision – this inevitable decision – isn’t a big deal. All you’re really saying at this point is that it won’t affect you, Mr. Nelson.

Categories: Uncategorized

What a Week Today Was!

August 28, 2014 11 comments

I had big plans for today. Go to work. Come home. Do a little yardwork. Paint a little bit. And then settle down with some bar food and herald the return of live college football. Maybe I’d blog a little bit about the decision by the State Board of Education to reject the cumbersome SDE plan for writing new standards. That was the plan.

Then all hell broke loose.

It actually started out well. At 10:22 this morning, the SDE issued a bulletin that resolved a long-standing issue from the summer:

Supt. Barresi announces 5th- and 8th-grade writing scores will not be part of A-F this year

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 28, 2014) — In an abundance of caution, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi announced today the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) will withhold fifth- and eighth-grade writing scores from the calculation for the overall grade of this year’s A-F school report cards.

Some districts expressed concern about the writing test scores earlier this summer when they saw many instances of across-the-board scores of the same numerical value from testing vendor CTB-McGraw Hill. Preliminary figures indicate about 130 of approximately 430 contested test scores were changed, which represents about less than 1 percent of scores for all Oklahoma fifth and eighth students tested for writing.

By lunch, I was thinking about taking each paragraph and discussing it on its own merit. While I may still do that over the weekend, this wasn’t the biggest news of the day. Superintendent Barresi could have decided in June that the SDE was going to set aside the writing test scores. Instead, her department doubled down and told schools they just needed to do a better job. This was in spite of the fact that the flaws in the scoring process were obvious and pervasive. It was also right before the election primary, in case that mattered to anyone. There’s more to the bulletin than these two paragraphs, but since this will probably turn into a 3,500 word post, I’m going to limit the amount of attention I pay to this.

Early in the afternoon, we also learned that a district court judge ruled the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships to be unconstitutional.

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bernard Jones has ruled unconstitutional a portion of a law that allows the use of public funds to send special-needs students to private religious schools.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he would appeal the ruling, which says that funds from the scholarship program cannot be used to send students with disabilities to religious schools. The judge’s order has been stayed pending appeal, which means the scholarship program remains unchanged for now.

“Prohibiting the use of Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship funds from being used to send students with disabilities to religiously affiliated schools would require the state to discriminate against those schools,” Pruitt said in a written statement. “That is highly troublesome and why we will appeal the ruling.”

So for now, nothing changes. Four years into this fight, something tells me we’re not even halfway finished with it.

Then, at 2:03 this afternoon, the SDE issued another bulletin:

News Conference: 

OKLAHOMA LOSES WAIVER FROM “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND”

STATE SUPT. BARRESI WILL SPEAK ABOUT WHAT’S NEXT, ANSWER QUESTIONS

WHAT: The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced today that it is rejecting Oklahoma’s application to extend its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. This decision will impose serious new federal mandates on Oklahoma schools. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi will address the USDE’s decision, speak about what schools will now face and take questions.

WHO: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi; Oklahoma State Department of Education staff

WHEN: Thursday, August 28, 3:15 p.m.

WHERE: State Board Room

My first reaction to this news was alarm.

Fudge

We all knew this would happen. As soon as the HB 3399 was signed into law, this moment became inevitable. Quickly, Twitter learned of the news and tweeters began responding. The retweets and speculation paused briefly, as Governor Fallin issued her own response to the decision, blaming President Obama, of course.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today called on the Obama Administration to stop playing politics with children’s education and reverse its decision to strip Oklahoma of its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. The federal government today announced that it would not continue to grant Oklahoma schools a NCLB waiver. The change in designation came in response to the state’s decision to repeal the Common Core State Standards and replace them with college and career ready standards developed by Oklahomans. As a result of Oklahoma losing its waiver, schools may have to reexamine their budgets to comply with NCLB federal requirements.

Common Core was repealed when the governor signed bipartisan legislation that passed with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate (HB 3399 passed 71-18 in the House and 37-10 in the Senate).

“It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” said Fallin. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students. I join parents, teachers, and administrators in being outraged by this decision, and I will fight it with every tool available to the state of Oklahoma.”

I smell a lawsuit – another perfect waste of taxpayer dollars. The truth is that Mary Fallin has nobody to blame but herself. Yes, our legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 3399, but up until the week she signed it, she was still all for the Common Core. She had ample warning that this would happen. It’s the natural consequence of her actions. Blaming the president is just a convenient by-product.

Still trying to follow the story before Barresi  spoke, I found the actual news release from the USDE. Interestingly, they didn’t frame the story as Oklahoma loses its waiver. No, the headline was, Obama Administration Approves NCLB Flexibility Extension Requests for Indiana and Kansas. They only mentioned us in the third paragraph.

Also, the Administration announced today that it is denying Oklahoma’s request for a one-year extension for flexibility. Since its initial approval for ESEA flexibility, Oklahoma can no longer demonstrate that it has college- and career-ready standards in place, a key principle of ESEA flexibility. The Department is providing Oklahoma with additional transition time to implement supplemental educational services and public school choice, which are required under NCLB and must happen no later than the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

Oh, by the way, you disappoint me, Oklahoma. Too bad, too. We had such a good thing going. Fellow blogger Jason James wondered if the difference was a red state/blue state thing.

That’s not it. The last time Oklahoma and Kansas voted differently in a presidential election was 1948. Oklahoma went with Dewey. So that’s not it. The difference is that Indiana replaced the Common Core with something new while we reverted to something old. Politico had a good explanation.

The Education Department said it’s yanking Oklahoma’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, making it the second state to lose its reprieve from the law. But Indiana will receive a one-year extension of its waiver because it did what the Sooner State could not: find a suitable replacement for the Common Core.

The move marks the latest battle between states and the Obama administration over what has been perceived to be heavy-handed federal education policy that will continue for the next few years.

Since some Oklahoma children have already started the school year, the Education Department will phase in some of the consequences of No Child Left Behind that Oklahoma had escaped under the waiver: The state must provide tutoring services and public school choice options no later than the 2015-16 school year. But schools that will need a total overhaul must begin that process this school year.

Yes, we don’t have to face the harshest penalty yet. We have a year to phase that in. If only the Legislature had thought to do the same thing, we wouldn’t have lost the waiver.

Also before Barresi spoke, the leaders of OSSBA, CCOSA, and USSA issued a joint statement on the waiver rejection.

“The U.S. Department of Education’s denial of the waiver request is disappointing but comes as no surprise. This was a foreseeable consequence of the passage of House Bill 3399.

Today’s announcement means schools throughout the state could have a change in school improvement designation. The change means schools will have to re-examine their budgets and employment contracts to comply with the No Child Left Behind requirements.

It’s unfortunate this decision was hastily made without first conferring with our State Regents for Higher Education, who are currently reviewing the state’s Priority Academic Student Skills standards and could very well certify them as “college and career ready” for the purposes of keeping the waiver.

Our commitment is to work with state and federal officials, as well as local educators, to pursue possible appeals, write a new waiver request, and provide guidance as our members take their next steps under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

No doubt this is an unsettling development for schools. Staffs for the associations are working to determine the ramifications of the denial, and we will keep you informed as we know more. Please be assured it is our intention to provide a high level of support as districts navigate this change.”

That raises another important point. Oklahoma had until August 12th to submit our application to extend the NCLB waiver. If the State Regents had been able to certify PASS as college/career ready standards by that date, then we probably would have been able to keep our waiver. And we wouldn’t have to worry about all of the federal intrusion that comes with reverting back to the original provisions of No Child Left Behind (the ultimate #TBT).

While I was still waiting for Barresi to speak, I thought it would be fun to look up the provisions of the state waiver. This bulletin from February 9, 2012 explained it fairly succinctly.

Oklahoma is one of the first states in the nation to gain flexibility from federal restrictions under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), providing the state with an opportunity to move forward quickly with its own reforms.

“This is a game changer,” said State Superintendent Janet Barresi. “We now have added urgency to press ahead with implementation of reforms and a chance to help schools in our state improve. Having this flexibility will empower Oklahoma teachers to focus on each individual student and their growth. No Child Left Behind was a positive bipartisan reform that brought focus to accountability and rigor, and now it’s time to take the next step. With today’s announcement, no longer will schools in Oklahoma struggle to meet artificial goals. Instead we can focus on effective instruction in the classroom.”

Governor Mary Fallin said, “More flexibility to pursue Oklahoma-based education reforms is a good thing for the state, our teachers and most importantly our students. Acquiring a No Child Left Behind waiver allows our schools to more accurately measure progress in student achievement without a rigid federal formula. The results will be a more dynamic learning environment for our children.

“Moving forward, accountability, transparency and a commitment to improving student achievement remain as important as ever. Oklahoma passed several landmark education reforms last year, and we expect those improvements to our educational system to continue to improve the quality of our schools, raise performance levels among students and ultimately lead to a better educated and more highly skilled workforce.”

What were those Oklahoma-based education reforms? Common Core (not Oklahoma-based). Test-based teacher and principal evaluations (not Oklahoma-based). Third grade retention (not Oklahoma-based). An A-F grading system (not Oklahoma-based). Focus and Priority Schools (not Oklahoma-based). Everything in the waiver falls into the “something borrowed” category, yet Fallin and Barresi were beaming with pride in their handiwork.

This makes me think maybe we should just say “screw the waiver” and get rid of the rest of the Florida Oklahoma-based reforms that went into it. I hated NCLB from day one. I wasn’t terribly fond of the waiver either; I just thought it was a split-hair better for students. Maybe after all, if we have to sell our souls to get it, we shouldn’t consider it much of a prize.

Finally, Barresi spoke. Then the SDE issued its third bulletin of the day.

Oklahoma begins task of compliance with NCLB after loss of flexibility waiver

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 28, 2014) – In the wake of the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) decision not to extend Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi today directed state education officials to immediately begin the task of compliance with NCLB, which is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“This decision by the federal government is disappointing and frustrating. Oklahoma has made significant strides forward in strengthening our schools, progress that has largely been possible because of the flexibility of the waiver,” Barresi said. “The State Department of Education worked hard making Oklahoma’s case to USDE. The state’s congressional delegation provided staunch support for the waiver extension, as did many others.

“Unfortunately, the USDE decided otherwise. The loss of the waiver will be a significant challenge for our districts and schools, as well as for this state agency. But Oklahomans are resilient and resolute, and our education community will do what needs to be done to meet the requirements of NCLB.”

On Aug. 28, USDE notified the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma is losing the NCLB Flexibility Waiver that gives the state and districts relief on 13 federal regulations.

Although USDE directed Oklahoma to comply with the bulk of NCLB as soon as possible, federal officials stipulated that a key component of that law won’t have to be implemented until the 2015-2016 school year. USDE said Oklahoma will have one year to comply with a requirement that 20 percent of Title I funds be set aside for supplemental educational services (SES) and transportation for school choice.

That additional time will be helpful to districts, said Kerri White, OSDE assistant superintendent for teacher and leader effectiveness.

“In this era of teacher shortages and minimal per-pupil funding, the additional year to prepare for a set-aside for SES and choice-related transportation will likely spare districts from laying off additional teachers and support staff,” White said. “Students will have direct access to services and supports they need to improve their reading and math skills this year, while administrators plan for these additional funding restrictions and federal requirements to go into place next year.

In the meantime, OSDE will be required to monitor district compliance with all other regulations that have been waived for the last two school years, including limiting how districts can spend many of their federal dollars.

No Child Left Behind regulations also limit which schools may apply for certain grants, what annual targets must be set for improvement in each school, and even which schools are eligible for Title I funds. Most notably, NCLB regulations will require some schools to replace staff, change curriculum or possibly shut down.

The OSDE first applied for the flexibility waiver in November 2011, with the waiver eventually granted the following February.

But the signing into law of House Bill 3399 earlier this year placed Oklahoma’s waiver in danger.

The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use standards that are considered college- and career-ready. HB 3399 required Oklahoma’s K-12 schools to return to using Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and math for two years, during which time new academic standards would be crafted by Oklahomans.

Immediately following the passage of HB 3399, Supt. Barresi asked the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to review PASS standards in ELA and math for alignment with college- and career-ready guidelines. Higher education officials were unable to complete that task before the Aug. 12 deadline to submit the waiver’s extension request.

As a result, Oklahoma submitted its application without an assessment of PASS by higher education. USDE had indicated an assessment by higher education officials would be essential in determining the adequacy of PASS.

Now that the application has been rejected, Oklahoma schools will now fall back under the mandates of NCLB.

“Because the State Department of Education has oversight authority for a number of issues relating to federal education funds such as Title I, it will be critical that SDE personnel provide immense district technical assistance training on the rudiments of ESEA’s No Child Left Behind Act,” said Ramona Coats, SDE assistant state superintendent of federal programs.

“Districts will need a clear understanding of both fiscal and programmatic requirements regarding maintaining the integrity of both the program and the funds under ESEA. Some district superintendents are new to their positions this year and may have never served under ESEA compliance requirements. This will be a steep learning curve for some. For others, refresher trainings will be necessary.”

Upward of 90 percent of Oklahoma schools are expected to be affected to some degree by the loss of the waiver. Under NCLB, schools must meet 100-percent proficiency on a number of benchmarks to avoid being designated as a school in need of improvement. The number of failing schools in need of improvement could now swell from its current 490 to more than 1,600, according to NCLB definitions of failing.

“The loss of the waiver became all but inevitable with the passage of HB 3399. That became more of a certainty when higher education did not evaluate PASS to be college- and career-ready and the State Board of Education delayed starting the process toward new standards. The federal regulations being imposed on Oklahoma are counterproductive and overly rigid, but the time for hand-wringing is over,” said Barresi.

“Oklahoma must craft and implement outstanding academic standards for ELA and math that are college- and career-ready. To simply take PASS standards and attempt to improve them and call them college- and career-ready may satisfy the federal government to allow flexibility in spending, but it relegates our children to the same sad culture and set of expectations that existed when I entered office.”

If you back that bus up, you can see remnants of the Barresi-Fallin friendship in the tire treads. You can also hear what we’ve all feared in the warning that the number of schools in improvement status will triple with this ruling. You can also see she still has contempt for everything that ever happened before her and everything that will follow.

There have been some interesting reactions tonight. While I can’t find any response from John Cox, there was this from Joy Hofmeister on Facebook.

In revoking our ESEA Waiver before the current academic standards review process could be completed by our State Board of Regents, the Obama administration has rushed to penalize Oklahoma for the repeal of Common Core.

This is an example of a punitive overreach by the federal government that shows a lack of caring for our students, and I consider it an outrage to penalize students and children simply because the administration is angry that our state has chosen to chart it’s own course on educational standards

It is the right of a state to chart its own education standards. I have confidence in our State’s Board of Regents and their process to review our academic standards. It is unfortunate that the administration has shown a lack of willingness to work with Oklahoma children, their teachers and their schools.

I have full confidence in our teachers’ ability to navigate standards and focus on student learning. However, the redirecting of funds away from our school classrooms to outside supplemental providers is a terrible waste of our taxpayer dollars. I witnessed this waste in the early years of No Child Left Behind. Our children cannot afford to lose teachers and classroom funding due to this required diversions of funds. It’s wrong and our children deserve better.

I will continue my work to fight the federal over-regulation of this failed national initiative. We must focus on what’s best for our students.

Yes, federal over-reach. That’s all true, but our Republican legislature voted to join the Common Core movement four years ago. I don’t think they were a fan of federal over-reach then either. They had plenty of warning that this would happen, and they did it anyway.

I drive to work on a particular highway that is populated with patrol cars – speed traps. I don’t appreciate the fact that they’re there, but I acknowledge that they do exist. One day, maybe I’ll decide to thumb my nose at their presence and hit the gas hard. That’ll show them! My defiance won’t change the fact that I’ll have a hefty consequence to pay.

Such it is with Oklahoma losing the waiver. I blame President Obama and Arne Duncan. This is a sick power trip for them. I equally blame Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature. They knew this would happen and they acted in their own political interests rather than with the children and schools in mind. By thumbing their nose at the federal over-reach, they knowingly allowed more of it into the state.

Our entire congressional delegation seemed to channel the show Newhart after the announcement. It was like listening to the local version of Larry, Darrell, Darrell, Darrell, Darrell, Darrell, and Darrelwayne. It’s all Obama’s fault. No Oklahoma leaders share the blame. Typical.

newhart

A host of pride and miscalculation led us here. For four years, Oklahoma’s educators, parents, and students have chased the things that Obama, Duncan, Fallin, and Barresi have told us to chase. When the state pulled back, we knew what the feds would do. Then they did it. And our leaders had the audacity to act shocked. It makes it hard to take any of them seriously – Oklahomans or the feds, Republicans or Democrats.

There is so much to read and synthesize; I am just getting started. There’s a long weekend coming up. I’ll catch up on football, chores, and blogging eventually. Today started with the hope from a rare decision that seemed to make good sense. Maybe that was merely a diversion from Barresi, who knew that the day would end with the promise chaos. Good job, leaders. You need to act like the adults in the room and fix this soon. To much lies in the balance.

Then There Were Two

August 27, 2014 3 comments

Congratulations to John Cox, who won the runoff election last night to claim the nomination as the Democrat in the race to replace Janet Barresi as state superintendent. Over the next 10 weeks, he will turn his sights towards Republican Joy Hofmeister, who annihilated Barresi in June. And no, saying that never gets old. Hopefully we will see a clean, positive, issue-oriented campaign. It’s politics, though, so I assume we’ll see some of the nasty stuff too. Maybe there will be more on the good side.

On the blogger side, Brett Dickerson was out of the gate early this morning with his take on the top issue in the campaign.

Charter School Debate Is Not Over

Investors believe that corporate charters paid for by taxpayers is a huge market waiting to be sprung open. So there are millions that have been spent and will be spent lobbying for laws that will usher in charters as direct competition with public, democratically controlled  schools even in the rural areas.

In April I published two posts against the corporate charter school approach that ALEC and it’s affiliate organizations were promoting:  Bill Allowing Charter School Debt Threatens Education Funds in Oklahoma, and This Is What Happens When Bankers Run Public SchoolsBoth pieces point out the weaknesses and even dangers of corporate charter schools, cynically called “public charter schools” by proponents.

Eventually the radical charter schools proposal, SB573 was defeated. But something similar will be back. “Money never sleeps,” as the saying went in the movie Wall Street.

Brett is right to point to charters as a huge issue moving forward. If I were a venture capitalist rather than an educator, I’d be all excited about corporate education reform, including charters and virtual schools. If you can extract school funding with fewer quality controls than public schools have in place, you can turn a nice profit. That’s not what the charter schools in Oklahoma currently do, but widespread expansion would lead to that. Still, with all due respect to Brett, this is not one of my top four issues as we decide in 69 days between Cox and Hofmeister (as well as between Dorman and Fallin).

Teacher Shortage

As you know, we are about 800 teachers short in Oklahoma right now. Imagine sending your child to kindergarten or Algebra I or any other class and finding out that a long-term substitute is in place. You’d be frustrated at the least. You might be furious, even. I hate paraphrasing any part of No Child Left Behind, but every child deserves a highly qualified teacher in every class every day. I don’t think it makes sense to be mad at the schools. They can’t conjure applicants from the atmosphere.

The problem lies in the allure of the education profession at this time. People entering the profession never expected to get rich. They loved children. They loved their content area. They came from a family of educators. They had friends who had taught and told them how meaningful it was. They had a teachers who changed their lives. Any of those things could have inspired someone to become a teacher. Any still could. But the likelihood of a confluence of factors serving to recruit future educators decreases every year that salaries lag and the profession faces public caning by politicians who lack the … nerve to teach. I still wouldn’t trade my career for anything. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I do. Fewer people are choosing to follow this path though, and it’s a huge problem.

Excessive Testing

Recently, Arne Duncan himself said that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” I want a state superintendent and a governor with a plan to restore sanity – a workable plan. While I’d like to see the ACT and it’s suite of testing replace our current state tests, there are legislative obstacles to that happening. It also would cut out all of the other companies who bid on such things. What we have right now is a system by which we spend tens of millions of dollars for test results that are ill-fitted for the high stakes we’ve attached to them. We have tests over high school subjects that colleges ignore. We have little alignment between the third grade “reading” test and the alternate tests that can be used in its place. We have testing companies that fail us time after time. It’s insane.

Assessment has always had a place in public schools. Decades ago, we had the ITBS in all grades. We had the Otis-Lennon. We had all kinds of diagnostic instruments that helped us understand the students we taught. We’ve gone away from that. At this point, who can point to what we do and give a succinct statement (15 words or fewer) explaining why we test? That’s where the conversation needs to start.

VAM

We slayed the Common Core in Oklahoma, and now other states are looking to our example to figure out how to do the same. In turn, Oklahoma should look to states such as Tennessee and rid ourselves of teacher evaluations tied to test scores before they ever fully take effect. We should never be in a position to let someone’s mysterious algorithm replace qualitative observation by an administrator. In many cases, we’re just making things up so we can measure them. It’s like the EOIs all over again.

On the other hand, we have a colossal teacher shortage. Will school districts really be able to fire teachers with low VAM scores? Who will they get to replace them?

Funding

Oklahoma schools lost about 20% of state aid from 2008 to 2013. We got a piece of that back this year, but still, our class sizes are rising and our infrastructures are suffering. Many schools are using old, out-of-date textbooks held together with duct tape. This is not the picture of a state that supports public education.

The state salary schedule has not been adjusted since 2006. Some district have made their own increases to the scale, but others have not been able to. At this point we need a drastic bump for anything positive to happen in terms of teacher recruitment. I’d propose a 10% increase to each line on the scale, but that actually seems too modest. It hardly moves the conversation. All aspects of school funding need an increase. Districts shouldn’t have to use bond money to buy textbooks. Technology and buildings should be bigger priorities. Duct tape shouldn’t be a classroom supply.

We have a long way to go until November. All of these issues deserve serious discussion – not empty rhetoric. The candidates need to spare us the clichés and loaded words that typify campaigning. When I hear a real solution, I’ll make it known on here.

Today’s Runoff Election

August 26, 2014 3 comments

Across Oklahoma today, voters will make their final selection of candidates for the November elections. In the race for state superintendent, Either John Cox or Freda Deskin will emerge as the Democrat to face Joy Hofmeister. While I have a preference between these two, I’m still not sharing it here. The bottom line is that any of the remaining candidates would be a tremendous upgrade over the incumbent.

I have plenty of contacts – both as a blogger and as a real person – who are passionate about this race. They love Deskin because of her varied experiences in public education. Or they love Cox because he is a school superintendent. Conversely, they worry about Deskin’s charter school experience or the fact that Cox’s district is very small.

I don’t worry about those things. Deskin has repeatedly stated that she’s against the expansion of charter schools outside of the urban school districts. I take her at her word. Peggs may be a small district, but then again, so are most Oklahoma school districts. Both are veteran educators who have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of children.

I have two requests today. First, if you are a registered voter, please go to the polls. I don’t care the race or the party, the fact that so many ballots go unused in this country is sickening. Second, if you are a Democrat voting in the state superintendent race, and your candidate loses, quickly lick your wounds and get back in the game. Oklahoma deserves an education leader who can rally support. In November, one of three people will get the nod. If my preferred candidate doesn’t make it all the way, I’ll be fine.

Our next state superintendent deserves our support, our ideas, our hope. Even those of us who didn’t vote for Janet Barresi in 2010 tried giving her a chance when she came into office. After all, it took me 15 months to start a blog! Her replacement – Democrat or Republican – will merit our attention. There is too much collateral damage from failed reforms all around us to have half of the passionate education voters on the sidelines. Whoever wins, I’m all in. I’ll do whatever it takes to help.

Help Wanted: 800 Teachers

August 21, 2014 4 comments

The most important news story this week relative to public schools in Oklahoma is the fact that as children have returned to classes, districts still have over 800 teaching vacancies. This is the count released by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association in a survey of districts this week. According to the Tulsa World, about 70 of those vacancies are in Tulsa Public Schools. According to the Oklahoman, 70 more are in Oklahoma City Public Schools. This is not just an urban schools problem. Across the state, all kinds of districts are struggling to find teachers. The OSSBA survey also found:

  • More than half of districts with vacancies said they have sought emergency certification for teachers who aren’t fully qualified to teach the subject and/or grade level for which they were hired.

  • About half of the districts also said they will use long- or short-term substitute teachers to fill vacancies.

  • Many districts that reported no vacancies said they have hired short- and long-term substitutes in place of full-time teachers.

  • The shortage is hitting districts of all sizes in every area of the state.

  • Special education is the most difficult teaching area to fill, followed by elementary education, high school science and high school math.

  • A handful of districts offer incentives to improve teacher recruitment and retention, but most districts do not, citing financial constraints.

  • Not only are local school officials deeply concerned about the scarcity of applicants, they are worried about the quality of educators who do apply.

This is a problem on many levels. Students deserve good teachers, whether it is at the foundational level, such as in first grade classes, or in specialized upper-level courses, such as chemistry and calculus. No principal wants to hire a teacher just because he was the only applicant. Yet sometimes that happens. The third point in the findings – that special education positions are hardest to fill – has always been true, just never to the magnitude that schools are experiencing this year.

When I posted the story to Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday, one reader had this comment:

Let me get this straight… Not many people want a job where they get to put up with undisciplined youth, unclear standards, and low pay? Plus completely inept leadership at the state and federal level? Hmmm….. One does wonder….

That’s a pretty good summary of what keeps people away, but I’d say the top three reasons go in this order:

  1. Pay
  2. Lack of respect
  3. Working conditions

Every story on the shortage circles back to pay, and that’s a big part of the problem. Oklahoma has not increased the salary scale for teachers since 2006. While districts have added incrementally when they are able to, there is no additional state funding to support this. In fact, state aid to schools is still below 2008 levels. The things that teachers have to buy for themselves and their families, however, are not below 2008 levels.

Teacher salaries in Oklahoma have always been below our neighboring states and most of the nation. When I started teaching, we used to always say, “Thank God for Mississippi!” Fortunately, we still have them, plus an occasional Dakota, to make us look good. Why is this impacting staffing now? In the past, teachers have had more job satisfaction. It’s a big deal to know you’re making a difference in children’s lives. You may be the only adult who is kind in their lives. Or you may be one of many. In any case, you know that you’re needed, and you stick with it – until you can’t.

Over the last 15 years, respect for the profession has eroded, pretty much as the influence of for-profit education has risen. The private sector thinks it can do a better job, and they’ve convinced enough politicians they’re right that they’re getting a turn at the wheel. Politicians (in both parties) bash the teachers unions. The problem I have with that is you can’t bash the union and say you support teachers. Who do you think populates the unions? And are the NEA and AFT so powerful that teachers are making states go broke? Hardly!

We hear all the time about using test scores to evaluate teachers, but in the corporate world, these models are being shelved. Even Microsoft has gone away from this kind of quantitative ranking of employees! Salaries are stagnant, but politicians would rather listen to the Fordham Foundation, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Campbell Brown, and the Waltons talk about education than the teachers doing the job. Yes, pay matters, but respect is important too.

Over time, we’ve also seen schools become a harder place to teach. I should mention that after decades in the profession, I still love students. If you can’t go a day without lamenting that these kids today are different, you probably shouldn’t be a teacher. Yes, they’re different. And no, they’re not. They still want to feel safe and be accepted. They still have hopes and dreams. And just as when we were kids, they still think that the adults are out of touch. They don’t get that we were their age too – which is perfectly fine.

More than ever, though, teachers are burdened with tasks that have nothing to do with instruction. The paperwork demands with justifying their own employment are ridiculous. This has led to more and more veteran teachers taking retirement at the first possible opportunity. It would be different if the policy churn and regulatory climate of public education were meaningful. Instead, schools are increasingly houses of frustration. It’s hard to see the difference you are making when you constantly have to document minutiae. Budgets also impact class size, custodial services, and the availability of instructional resources. These things matter to teachers too.

Ours is a profession that fewer people want to enter. While this disappoints me, I completely understand. Just the same, if I could talk to the 20 year-old me who picked this career path, I would simply say, “go for it.” I still have positive relationships with my former students and their families. I enjoy meeting new teachers and working with veteran educators. I see the difference we make every day, and when we can find committed people who want to impact lives, I still have no problem advising them to enter the teaching profession.

Many of us are fortunate enough to live in communities that support education and help out where the state and federal governments merely interfere. Overall, though, the world will never truly grasp what we do or why we defend it so fiercely. Right now, the state needs about 800 more people who understand.

Writing the New Standards: No Rush

When the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 3399 and Governor Fallin signed it into law, school districts throughout the state scrambled to turn the clock back to 2010 – sort of. In many places, the transition from PASS (our old standards) to the Common Core had failed to launch. Teachers, aware of the fact that the state tests were still aligned with PASS, focused on those standards. In other places, the transition was fairly thorough; teachers were using a hybrid of CCSS and PASS. In many of those districts – especially those using some form of curriculum mapping – teachers will continue to use a hybrid set of standards. They will simply align to pass and employ strategies or enhancements from the Common Core as necessary.

My point is that if you walk into any good veteran teacher’s classroom in 2014, you won’t see the exact same thing you saw in 2010, 2006, 2002, and so on. Though some may not like to admit it, our state’s dalliance with de facto national standards has changed us. When the SDE submits new Mathematics and English/Language Arts standards to the legislature in 2016, the finished product will likely reflect that.

I know I have readers who hate the Common Core with a blood red passion. I also know they disapprove when I mention that I do not. I don’t like that the state adopted them when they were in draft form. I don’t like the ratio of non-educators to educators who were on the drafting committees. I don’t like the fact that their development seemed to be for the benefit of testing companies and other vendors, rather than children. The language of the standards was rather boilerplate, if you ask me – which you didn’t. If you were to look at the ACT College Readiness Standards from 2008 or any number of Advanced Placement course syllabi on the College Board website, you’d find similarities to many of the Common Core standards.

So on one hand, good teachers are constantly evolving. On the other hand, some things never change. Children learn to count before they learn to add. Students who can read and write can learn and communicate what they’ve learned. Meanwhile, students who excel at reading and writing stand apart from those who are merely competent. We have always had students at various levels in our schools – struggle, competence, and mastery often sit side-by-side-by-side in the classroom, then eat lunch together in the cafeteria, and then run in a pack on the playground. We can call our standards whatever we want. We can use different words to describe performance levels. We can even spend millions developing new tests to tell us the exact same things we already know. Some children struggle. Some meet the mark. Some excel.

What we do for each of these groups of children is far more important than the standards or the tests. How do we provide remediation? Do we integrate it into instruction or do we pull students away from activities they actually enjoy, essentially sucking whatever joy they feel out of the school day for them. With our competent students, do we push them to find the places where they can stretch their comfort zones, or are we content with their competence? And what energy do we have at the end of the hour/day/year for the students who could have completed our work at a high level before we even started teaching?

I have always believed that a clear standard is a good target for us to have in place. And part of me is still naïve enough to think that some of the Common Core’s developers and promoters believed that too. As much as Oklahoma’s critics have found fault either with the standards or the process by which they came to exist, the larger problem is with the way the SDE stumbled in implementing them. Kevin Hime explained this well on his blog yesterday.

The year is 2011 and Janet is the new state superintendent.  She is attacking public schools and decides common core will save us.  Her stump speech rhetoric centers on how Oklahoma students will fail the Common Core at an alarming rate and how these new standards will make our students college career ready but, WHAT IF Janet Barresi would have be championing the awesome teachers in Oklahoma.  WHAT IF she would have said, “Standards do not make students College and Career Ready, Teachers do!” She may have followed up with “What Oklahoma’s teachers need is the legislature to provide the resources needed to prepare students for the 21st century not new standards.”

As right as he is about the tone Barresi took with educators, one thing we all need to remember is that the Legislature adopted the Common Core in 2010, while Brad Henry was governor and Sandy Garrett was state superintendent. What they adopted, they left to their successors to implement. We also need to remember that Barresi and Fallin were all in on the Common Core, until they started campaigning for their primaries earlier this year.

We already know that Barresi will be replaced. Six months ago, few of us thought Fallin would be in a tough fight for re-election, but she is. Part of the reason is that she still can’t entirely shake the stigma of the Common Core. While she still has to be considered the favorite in the race, momentum is a funny thing. Yes, there is a chance we will have both a new state superintendent and a new governor. Even if only Barresi goes, we should not be excited about the leadership she has in place to do this job for us. It will be a new state superintendent and new staff beneath him or her who will present the new standards to the Legislature in 2016.

Twice already the State Board of Education has balked at approving the SDE’s standard-writing process. Barresi told attendees at Vision 2020 in July that she had discussed the process with Board members, and that they would approve it. That’s just one more thing she has been wrong about.

Even though no process is in place, the SDE has kept the application to serve on committees and a rough calendar of dates on its website as if it were. If you would like to serve on one of the Executive Committees, you’re out of luck. The deadline to apply was Friday. If you want to serve in any capacity, the deadline is still two weeks away.

The same people who failed at implementing the Common Core are forming committees in spite of failing to get SBE approval to begin the development of new state standards. Does that sound like a good plan to you? Their successors will inherit a process that is heading in direction that they might want to change. Start. Stop. Reset. Start over. After the last four years, that is the last thing we need.

Yesterday, Democratic candidate for governor Joe Dorman issued a press release highlighting the approach he favors for developing the new standards. Here’s an excerpt:

“For the third phase of my Classrooms First plan, I am proposing a system that will involve participation by parents, educators, students and administrators,” said Dorman. “Together, we will develop rigorous, but developmentally appropriate and workable standards that reflect Oklahoma values.”

Dorman said he will create a Blue Ribbon Commission to craft these new standards. The Commission will consist of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma college education professors. These Oklahomans will represent the different schools, communities and regions throughout the state. This includes urban, suburban and rural educators, elementary through high school teachers, and both gifted and special needs educators.

“These people are involved directly in education and have an in depth understanding of the needs, abilities and challenges facing our students today,” said Dorman. “No one else — certainly those outside of Oklahoma who have been used by Fallin and Barresi — will better craft quality standards for our children.”

Dorman added that the standards developed by the Commission will ensure a challenging curriculum necessary for gifted students and provide accommodations and modifications for special needs students. The Commission will fund, develop and provide remediation programs for those who struggle to meet the standards and who cannot perform at grade level.

“To ensure accountability, once the Commission writes the standards, town halls and public forums will be held around the state, allowing Oklahomans to voice their opinions and concerns,” said Dorman. “The Commission will then refine the standards based on this feedback.”

Along with the Commission, Dorman said he will establish a Superintendents Advisory Board to develop the best ways to implement these policies in individual school districts while maintaining local control.

Sidebar: what exactly are Oklahoma values? Hard work? Faith? Community? Find me a state whose leaders don’t think those values describe them. I know mincing a politician’s words is futile and that buzzwords get the ballots punched. This phrase has no meaning to me, though. Both sides are going to use it, so I guess it balances out. The same is true for college and career ready. It’s always been our goal to prepare students for all things that come after high school. That’s just a reformer’s way of pretending differently.

What I read in the process Dorman describes is similar to what the SDE has proposed. It will include all kinds of people from all kinds of schools in all parts of the state. It will be similar to what we did for the Social Studies revisions in 2011 and Science revisions last year.

Take a moment and fast-forward to 2016. At a town hall somewhere in Oklahoma, a member of the community will take a microphone and make a comment about the newly-written standards. At least once, the person speaking will do so without having read the standards. For the most part, the people of Oklahoma will listen to those around them who are well-informed. Whether the new standards written by Oklahomans and demonstrating our values gain broad acceptance depends mainly on the leadership presenting them. Few members of the public will ever actually read the content.

If we are to have new standards, we can wait a few months to start writing them. We can’t afford to have any part of the process tainted by the current occupants of the SDE. Start in January with a new state superintendent and possibly a new governor. That still leaves enough time to meet the requirements of HB 3399.

Mary Fallin’s Education Record

August 7, 2014 2 comments

This morning, the Oklahoman published a puzzling editorial about the alliance between Governor Mary Fallin and Republican nominee for State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister. Probably the best way for me to describe it is that I agree with their premise, in part, but dispute their analysis of her record over the past four years. Here’s a teaser:

GOV. Mary Fallin and Republican state schools superintendent nominee Joy Hofmeister have announced that they’re “working together on an agenda to strengthen Oklahoma public schools and produce better outcomes for Oklahoma students.” Problem is, published details of that agenda are notable mostly for their lack of specifics.

The release was notably silent about Fallin’s first-term education agenda. That’s disappointing because Fallin has compiled a strong record on education. After the 2011 legislative session, she issued a report declaring it a “banner year for education reform in Oklahoma ….” She specifically identified the creation of an A-F grading system for public schools as a success, as well as a reading law that prevented illiterate students from being promoted to fourth grade. During her State of the State speech this February, Fallin again cited both laws as major achievements and also praised adoption of Common Core academic standards. She fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to preserve the third-grade reading law this year even as lawmakers worked to gut it.

Several people commented on the clause to which I added bold emphasis. This was my favorite:

Yes, saying Fallin’s record on education is strong only works if you’re writing parody. Initially, she was a consistant ally of the corporate reform movement – issues such as vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, union busting, teacher evaluations. Now we really don’t know what she is. She seems to have softened on the third-grade test. Or maybe that’s just what she says now. She changed positions on the Common Core when popular opinion was overwhelming for repealing it. Maybe she’d be succeptible to a different position on value-added measurements too.

One other piece from that quote above stands out to me: the use of the word illiterate. This is the most offensive way possible to describe eight year-olds who struggle on what the state calls a reading test. As districts around the state have learned, even with the exemptions in place, the amended Reading Sufficiency Act, as passed in 2011, really hurts special education students and those learning English. Fallin vetoed HB 2625, which gave parents a voice in retention decisions. The Oklahoman likes to say that “lawmakers worked to gut” the law. It would be more accurate to say that they added a measure of sanity to it.

The Oklahoman also mentions that for each of the last four years, Fallin’s proposed education budget was lower than the Legislature’s, which was in turn lower than Janet Barresi’s. Even with the gains that have been made, the 2014-15 budget still gives less state aid to schools than they received seven years ago. And for some reason, the money added to the formula hasn’t exactly translated into gains to districts on the funding notices they received late last month. In other words, Fallin sure has waited an awfully long time to start supporting schools.

Mary Fallin briefly poked the bear on school consolidation. She hired an Ohio charter school purveyor to run our Career Tech system and then gave him the dual title of Secretary of Education. He never moved here, and resigned after 13 months. She threatened to cut school funding if administrators didn’t quit speaking their mind on the A-F Report Cards. She toured the KIPP Charter School campus in Oklahoma City with Jeb Bush and waxed poetic over its virtues. Yeah, she’s been a peach to public education.

All that being said, I don’t hold it against Joy Hofmeister that she’s presenting herself as a team with Fallin. And I hope she doesn’t hold it against me that I will determine my vote on those two positions independently. I assume when the Democrats finally have a nominee, that person will make appearances with Joe Dorman. This is politics. It’s just how it works.

In the back of my mind, however, I have a little voice that keeps warning me. It says, “The only thing that scares me more than an incompetent corporate education reformer is a competent one.” The voice talks to me quite frequently. With the three remaining candidates for Barresi’s job, we have platforms and vagaries to consider. With Fallin – as we did with Barresi – we have a track record. The sum of her actions are really no better than Barresi’s. She’s just more polished. She has better handlers. And she’s fairly astute, politically.

Fallin’s re-election campaign was supposed to be a cake-walk. It isn’t. Now that she’s in an unexpected battle with a legitimate challenger, she’s talking a different game. Her words aren’t worth much to me. Her accomplishments are. She brought political competence to the Barresi agenda. Dorman has repeatedly called her out on it, and she simply has no answer.

One of my readers commented on my Facebook page today with a quote from Star Trek: Next Generation:

“Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.” – Jean-Luc Picard

It’s a great way to sum up what I’m thinking today. As I’ve said before, with a governor, you have to look at all the issues, not just education. But when I look at her education track record, I’m convinced we can do better.

New Teachers: Welcome to the Profession

August 6, 2014 2 comments

All across Oklahoma, teachers are finishing their vacations, earning some last-minute professional development points, and putting their classrooms together. They may not be on contract, but many are already putting in the time. Their commitment may not be completely visible to parents, students, and those who never set foot in schools, but their colleagues and administrators surely notice.

There is another group getting ready for the school year right now: new teachers. Yes, there are still college graduates in their early 20s entering the profession, just as there are people transitioning careers later in life and becoming educators. This group needs our respect and support as well.

I don’t know if I’d be the best person to stand up in front of a group of new teachers and motivate them, but if I had that opportunity, I’d dig deep into my memory and try to remember how I felt, at age 22, when I started teaching. Actually, I’d dig into a file that I’ve carried around since the end of my student teaching semester. Inside is a two-page paper I wrote a long time ago titled, “My Educational Philosophy.”

I probably shouldn’t include the whole dot-matrix thing for two key reasons:

  1. Some of what I wrote would be too revealing. At that point, I would basically be holding my hands in front of my eyes and yelling, “You can’t see me!”
  2. I have a much better command of language now. Some is definitely better than all.

Instead, I’ll include a few excerpts of younger blogger with some commentary from today. Bear with me; I’m trying something new here.

Students and teachers alike rarely take the time to reflect on the purpose of education. “Why are we here?” Presumably, school prepares its students for life – all aspects of it. To better prepare students for the world beyond school, the education process should teach students the learning process, effectively model communication skills, and promote a sense of self-awareness.

That’s how I perceived school at 22. I thought I was the only reflective person around. I now know differently. Yes, on a given day, we all may be caught up in the details of our lives, suffocating under pressure and demands. We may even have long stretches of times when our jobs don’t exactly look like we pictured them. Still, we must take the time to consider the impact we have in our jobs. For some reason though, we keep coming back. Most first-year teachers become second-year teachers. (And yes, I used the word process twice in the same sentence. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.) Oh, and apparently, I was thinking in terms of College and Career Readiness decades ago. I should have trademarked it way back when.

Not to be overlooked is the importance of analysis on a job. An employee with the ability to take apart a situation and understand it is likely to advance in his/her workplace. Without this ability, the worker stays running in place for forty years without a promotion.

Maybe what I was trying to describe then, without exactly having the life experience to explain it well, was initiative. Just as we don’t want students to hit their peak in high school, we don’t want adults to top out their first year in whatever careers they choose. There’s nothing in the world wrong with being content, but most of us want more. And when you feel stalled, you want to have options. That’s the power that a good education provides. You should be prepared for more than one thing. Sometimes your dreams change. Sometimes your circumstances change.

Teachers should show students that they can hear as well as speak. One of the largest gaps in communication is between people who do not listen to others. Sometimes teachers are even guilty of this. When this is the case, students observe the behavior and may adopt it for themselves. A teacher who does not listen to the students does not give them a model to encourage them to listen to each other. Listening to each other will produce cooperation, which is a communication skill in and of itself. By showing the students that their input is valuable, the teacher will receive more of it and be more credible in the students’ eyes.

This was far more important to me at the end of my student teaching experience than it was at the beginning. I actually had thought the entire room was just going to be in awe of my decision to be there. I quickly learned otherwise. During those four months, and every year that has passed since then, I have learned new ways to show children and adults that I value their opinion. I don’t necessarily know what each child needs. I do know some things that they don’t know, and I do know that there are some parts of their future they haven’t even considered yet. I also understand that it’s okay to wonder. It’s even ok to wander. No six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, or eighteen year-old needs to have the future entirely planned out. At 22, I thought I did, and it’s safe to say that my career has been a very different journey than I what I thought it would be.

Most importantly, schools should encourage students to get to know themselves better. A young mind is creative (not that older minds are not). Sometimes, teachers force students to put this aspect of themselves away. Assignments are often too rigid to allow for the students’ curiosity and creativity. If this natural ability to stand apart from a crowd is stunted, students lose a critical tool for all of life.

I think what I was trying to say in this word salad was that too often, we put kids in a box. We put our whole class in a box. We don’t think about the work we assign students and why it might not interest them. And this was before the age of hyper-standardization and high-stakes testing.

Confidence and self-esteem are traits of leaders – people who are secure enough in themselves to follow their own desires and not be pressured into the traps of the world. Life has plenty of obstacles and school can’t point them all out. It can prepare students to face them on their own and wisely.

As a new teacher, you’re going to be faced with decisions you’ve never had before. It will be a year of firsts, and at times, this may overwhelm you. When you do stop to reflect, however, ask yourself if you’re helping the students you see gain or lose confidence. I would never suggest sugar-coating the truth or minimizing the importance of standards. However, every teacher, every school, and every district should be all about building leaders. We do that by finding out what interests our students and running our schools with that in mind.

Ideally, a school would do all of these things and much more. As a future teaching professional, I plan to see that any student who sits in my classroom has the analytical, communication, and self-awareness skills to get through life. That isn’t to say I will always succeed, but if I can know myself as well as I try to teach my students to know themselves, I’ll do my share. I chose this career because I wanted to have a hand in the preparation of the next generations of leaders, workers, parents, and citizens. School only has a role in preparing students for life, but that role has to be played to its potential for students to achieve theirs.

Can you tell I wanted my students to be self-aware? It’s subtle. After years in the classroom and following trend after trend of education policy, my advice now to new teachers is quite simple.

Make. Lives. Better.

Work hard and contribute something. Be the first teacher that some student has ever liked. Don’t try to measure everything. Take pictures of the first group of students you teach and look at them from time to time. Make friends at work and defend your profession fiercely. Treasure your mentors. Cherish what you do. Most importantly, if you ever get to the point that you don’t love working for the children every day, leave. And if that’s the path you choose, leave on the highest note possible.

All you can do right now is work hard and make a difference. Somebody must have done that in your life, or you wouldn’t be here now. If it’s possible, thank that person. Teachers never get tired of that.

Bart Simpson

Oh, and don’t worry about that first paycheck. It gets better.

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About the Governor’s Race

I’ve been quiet the last couple of weeks, mainly just enjoying my summer. I go to work. I come home and do things not related to my job or education policy. I catch up a little on Twitter. Otherwise, I’ve been staying low key regarding politics, and enjoying every minute of it.

In June, I was the blogger who wouldn’t shut up, and it wore me out. Before work, I was researching and writing. After work, it was more of the same. I was tired, but it was worth it. As David Blatt pointed out today, the rise of activists on social media probably contributed something to the defeat of Janet Barresi in the Republican primary.

The anti-Barresi movement was united by frustration with high-stakes testing and inadequate funding of public education. The A-F school grading system, mandatory third-grade retention and efforts to expand charter schools all stoked the feeling that the superintendent and her supporters were bent on implementing an ideologically driven agenda at the expense of teachers, students and parents.

The movement, which identifies itself by the Twitter hashtag #oklaed, includes many strands playing different roles. Statewide organizations of superintendents, school board members and teachers spread information to their members across the state. Civic groups like the Parents Legislative Advocacy Committee, the PTA, and Voice effectively educate parents and bring them to the Capitol to lobby their legislators.

This year, these advocates showed their organizing muscle by mobilizing 25,000 Oklahomans for a rally at the Capitol. They showed their political muscle by defeating legislation to expand charter schools and getting the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of a bill to give parents and educators more control over retention of third-graders. And of course they delivered their knockout blow to Barresi in June.

When I started this blog in 2012, it was never my intent to focus so much on one individual. I’m still more pro-public education than I am anti-Barresi. In most political races, I have no desire to endorse candidates. When I’m not blogging, I’m quite free with my political views – much to the chagrin of family, friends, and colleagues. On the blog, however, I don’t think I need to endorse candidates. I’m not a newspaper with an editorial board. I’m an individual with strong views about my profession and the children we serve. On the other hand, when the preponderance of evidence shows – as it has with Janet Barresi – that a public official has actively harmed public education, I have no problem stating the case that we should elect someone else.

At the same time, I’m not a single-issue voter. Public education is probably the biggest focus I have when it comes to state politics, and with the state superintendent’s race, it’s an easy focus to maintain. With our legislators and governor, however, we have to ask ourselves how much our passion for public education matters when we look at the big picture. When I ask myself, “Is Mary Fallin the best possible governor for Oklahoma,” the analysis is much more complicated than one issue.

Over the next few months, I will occasionally break down the race between Democrat challenger Joe Dorman and Fallin. Today though, I want to start with yesterday’s news that Fallin and Joy Hofmeister – the Republican who ousted Barresi – have pledged support for each other in this November’s elections.

“Joy Hofmeister is a teacher, small business owner and a mother who cares deeply about public education in Oklahoma, which is why I was proud to appoint her to the Oklahoma State Board of Education. I know Joy will work tirelessly to unite parents, teachers, employers and lawmakers as we work to support and improve our schools. I am proud to support her in her race for superintendent.” – Governor Mary Fallin

“Governor Fallin has always said that improving education is the most important thing we can do to support the long term growth and prosperity of our state. She should be applauded for highlighting the importance of public education, not just in the individual growth of our students, but for Oklahoma’s long term economic well-being. I encourage Oklahomans to get behind Governor Fallin to ensure we have a pro-education governor for the next four years.” – Joy Hofmeister

These are both very nice statements, but as many in the print media and social media have noted over the last few weeks, Fallin has actively distanced herself from Barresi. I noticed this late last fall when the state superintendent always seemed to mention the governor’s name, but with no reciprocity. It’s clear that attaching herself to Barresi’s toxic personality would not benefit Fallin politically. Surrounded by many astute handlers, the governor kept putting more space between the two of them.

While Mary Fallin may not be tight with Janet Barresi anymore, however, their education policies remain intertwined. As chairperson of the National Governor’s Association, Fallin has pushed strongly for the Common Core. She opposed HB 2625 which gave parents a voice in the retention decision of third-graders – in lock-step with Barresi, who called the Legislature’s override of Fallin’s veto pathetic and outrageous.

By the way, it was after that override (by a combined 124-19 margin) that I realized the power of the #oklaed movement. Apparently Fallin did too. She flipped her support for the Common Core into a signature of HB 3399, which eliminated it in Oklahoma (a change of heart that could have major unintended consequences in terms of increased federal oversight). Even her campaign website still proclaims her love of all things Common Core.

Fallin Website

Though Fallin received good press after speaking to the state PTA last week for backing off the third-grade reading test, her actual words do not show much of a change. And her website still shows she supports high-stakes testing for eight- and nine-year olds. Here’s how Rob Miller explained it.

In her prepared remarks to the PTA delegates, Governor Fallin said, “If we can get to a system where we are measuring a student throughout the progress of their education versus one test — one high-stakes test — we are better serving the children.”

As you recall, just two months ago the Governor made waves with her controversial veto of House Bill 2625. This legislation allows districts to implement “probationary promotion” by incorporating a committee of school personnel and parents in making final determinations on student retention. Her veto came despite the fact that the bill was passed by large majorities in both the Oklahoma House and Senate. At the time, the Governor was adamant that the RSA law should remain unaltered, saying HB2625 “returns us to a system that has failed Oklahoma children for decades.” Despite her strong objectives, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to override Fallin’s veto.

The “thump thump” sound you may have heard later in the Governor’s remarks was the sound of Superintendent Janet Barresi being thrown under the bus.

This happened when Governor Fallin remarked that testing accommodations should be restored for children in special education or English language learners. This year, all students but the most severely disabled were required to take the same standardized tests as their peers despite their disabilities.

When asked to clarify her remarks on special education students, Fallin said she always felt they should be accommodated and attributed the current Education Department policy to State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

“That’s been her position. Now I’m telling you what my position is as governor. The superintendent is an independently elected official. She has her ideas. I have my ideas,” Fallin said.

Thump thump!

She also still supports the A-F Report Cards and Value Added Measurements for teachers. These are positions far more insidious than the Common Core. I don’t care what standards are in place; if we insist on using flawed tests (or any tests, for that matter) to measure teacher quality and make critical decisions for students, our path is sorely misguided. Fallin is part of the reason that we will have to remain vigilant against the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. She has done even less than Barresi to restore funding to public education.

In the end, I don’t know how much the other issues impacting our state matter to you. I’m not a straight-party voter, and some of the things I support would probably surprise you. When I consider the state of public education in Oklahoma, though, I cannot in good conscience support Mary Fallin. She has damaged public education. Sure, I understand that these two Republicans supporting each other is a political thing. I am also pretty sure it helps Fallin a lot more than it does Hofmeister. Yes, Joy would work well with Fallin, but based on my own meetings with her, I think she’d work pretty decently with Dorman too. Besides, there are two other state superintendent candidates, and once they sort out their own differences, Hofmeister will have to demonstrate why she is better than the one who remains. Oklahoma may be the reddest state in the country, but that doesn’t mean we vote with our eyes closed.

I want a governor who supports public education. Since we can’t bring back Henry Bellmon, I’m looking for the one who is close.

HB1017signing

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!

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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.

https://twitter.com/RobynMatthews89/status/478954580084940800

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.

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