Jeb, FEE, and the SDE: Why Entanglements Matter (Part Two)
In Part One, I gave as brief an overview as I could of the key entities involved in the email database. Here I am going to link to seven specific emails that collectively show a pattern of hypocrisy, entanglement, and disregard for Oklahoma’s voters and schools. Obviously, there are other selections that could further support my point, and upon your own reading, you may find some that better support it. But Part One was already over 900 words, so I wanted to be selective.
These five sample emails are arranged in a way to make a point. They are not in chronological order. As emails are customarily informal, I have not corrected them or imposed a [sic] notation where convention might otherwise dictate I do so.
August 10, 2011 – Superintendent Barresi asks the Foundation for Excellence in Education for guidance in developing Oklahoma’s NCLB Waiver.
Sec. Duncan called the governor and asked that Oklahoma send a framework document to him next week prior to USDE releasing guidelines. I assume other C4C folks received the same call. I have a meeting tomorrow with gov staff to discuss. I am putting together my ideas but want to bounce some things off of your or anyone working on this.
This email is important for at least two reasons. First is that it establishes a pattern of the SDE running important ideas through FEE before making them public. This was two months before the Department asked for volunteers and nominations to serve on the three committees that were convened to provide input on writing the waiver.
January 31, 2012 – Three FEE staff members describe the waiver process alternately as “strong-arming” and “bribing.”
Jeremy Ayers, Senior Education Policy Analyst:
…there is appetite among states for a strong, but more flexible, federal role in accountability. … 11 states have already signed up for adopting state-defined performance targets, within federal parameters specified by the waiver package. 27 states propose to do so in February.”
Mike Petrilli, Executive Vice President:
Excuse the conversation folks but this is incredible. The federal government forces states into certain “parameters” in order to get flexibility, and the fact they many are willing to go along means they don’t actually want (or need) more flexibility? What choice do they have? And what I’m hearing from states is that what you call “a constructive back and forth” amounts to strong-arming by Uncle Sam.”
Terry Ryan, Vice President for Ohio Programs & Policy, Fordham Institute (but with FEE email account):
It is not so much strong-arming as bribing. Ohio has largely kept its state department of education functioning on federal grant dollars, and this is apt to continue for at least the next biennium. Bet it is similar in other states.
State education agencies couldn’t do their work without the support of federal dollars. That is both unfortunate and true. At the same time, the reformers couldn’t do their job without entities such as FEE to clear the political underbrush. I find it ironic that FEE staffers complained about having to deal with the USDE’s demands when states were simultaneously begging for approval of their plans. Lesson: Be careful what you wish for.
February 8, 2012 – The Oklahoma SDE Assistant General Counsel circulates draft rules of the A-F Report Cards.
Attached for your review is a revised draft of the A-F rule – which incorporates all of the edits we made today. We will pick up tomorrow morning at 9:00 am with section (f).
On this one, it’s not as important what was said, but who received it. In addition to Superintendent Barresi, eleven other people at the SDE were recipients. There were also two FEE staff members on the recipient list. The final person listed was somebody using a meridianstrategiesllc.com email account. A Google search for Meridian Strategies, LLC, comes up with this web front with no links to content. The website corporitionwiki.com indicates that this is a Tallahassee firm with one active officer – Patricia W. Levesque (also the CEO of FEE). Meridian was founded in 2007, about the same time as FEE and Chiefs For Change.
That means there is another affiliate of this Florida-based group influencing Oklahoma policy, and we know next-to-nothing about them. The pattern continues…
August 28, 2011 –Teri Brecheen of the SDE and Mary Laura Bragg with FEE discuss draft rules for Oklahoma’s newly-written 3rd Grade Retention law.
Good Morning, Mary Laura,
I hope you had a wonderful Weekend…
I have these 2 Rules and Technical Document to finish. I want your input to finish them… we will have to work with what Oklahoma has in place at this time and add in the future those pieces that are making Florida Reading the model it is…
Do you have some time today?
And in response:
I’m really concerned, as you are, about the “other” on the good cause piece – as the rule reads, it allows any kid to be promoted – which would negate the entire law. So I’m trying to work on ways to close that loophole with my legislative person.
In the meantime, it would be helpful if you could get a decision on where the legislature was going with paragraph L – and is the portfolio they mention in L DIFFERENT from the one set up in K(4)? We would recommend that it be the same, which would allow some control over the subjectivity of the teacher/principal. We are worried that creating a list for the “other cause” is too prescribed and if you leave something out, you’ll be stuck, and also you give an excuse to promote anyone, which goes against the intent of the law. I’ve cc’d Jessica, hoping she can shed some light.
This exchange shows that going back at least to 2011, the SDE has valued the opinion of FEE staff more than teachers and principals, who clearly need to be controlled. Keep in mind that we’ve often heard a narrative of distance from policy decisions in the 2+ years Barresi has been in office. Well, the legislature wrote the A-F laws. The legislature passed the 3rd Grade Retention law. The State Board requested a budget of…
It’s nonsense. No reform has passed through the legislature that didn’t emanate from the SDE. And nothing began there; it all started in Florida.
June 8, 2011 – Patricia Levesque introduces Superintendent Barresi to Scott Laband.
I want to introduce you to Scott Laband the vice president of Colorado Succeeds an education advocacy group in Colorado.
In conjunction with Stand for Children Colorado, they would like to host a 3rd grade literacy forum to influence the literacy task force created by Gov. Hickenlooper. One of the goals is to get the task force to adopt an Oklahoma style test based promotion policy in 3rd grade.
They would like to invite you to speak on a panel. I will be speaking on the panel as well.
After the 2011 legislative session, Superintendent Barresi was a hot commodity on the speaker circuit. She had a triumphant first few months in office in the sense that she had orchestrated the passage of several game-changing reforms. The “Oklahoma style” 3rd Grade law Levesque references is really a “Florida style” law. But it had a new messenger.
This is a good place to cut myself off. There are other gems in there, if you’re willing to dive in and search. In a way, it’s like art. We all can look and see different things, based on our own experiences. Cumulatively, the emails make two key points:
- Barresi and her staff knew what laws they wanted before they had any idea how they would implement them.
- The SDE’s reliance upon “policy by think tank” is a slap in the face to local control.
What a tangled web we weave.