Blogger Challenge & The Heartbreakers

April 18, 2015 3 comments

I’m over a week late getting to this, but fellow #oklaed blogger Blue Cereal Education issued a challenge a few days ago to write about content for a change:

Most of you are or have been classroom teachers – whether that classroom is actually in Oklahoma, in a traditional public school, or whatever. We talk policy a great deal – and rightly so. From time to time we’re inundated with pedagogy – which can be either helpful or a tad pompous depending on who’s doing the inundating. But it’s not all that common to use the wonders of the interwebs and edu-blogosphere to get all giddy sharing something content-related that gets us all tingly in our hoo-ha.

I don’t know about that last part. It must be Latin or something.

Lesson: Introduction to poetry, featuring Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty (solo, without the Heartbreakers actually)

In 1989, Tom Petty released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. I already owned every Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers record (yes, record), so I had to buy this one too. Since then I would have to say that Free Fallin’ (which is a colloquialism rather than a nod to our current governor) has become my favorite song, conveniently located on my favorite album, and recorded by my favorite artist. In fact, Full Moon Fever is one of three Tom Petty (and/or the Heartbreakers) I keep framed on the wall of the home office.


Early into my career teaching high school English, I came to realize that my favorite things weren’t always my students’ favorite things. And that was, as Stuart Smalley would have said, okay. One of the things I have always enjoyed was poetry. Among my favorites:

The thing with teaching sophomores is that you can’t just lead with Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Sordid boon? What’s that, Mr. Cobb? Plus, the next line contains the word bosom. There’s nothing wrong with the word, but you don’t start there when your audience is a bunch of teenagers. So I introduced poetry with song. I’m not the first to do this. I’m probably not even the first to do this with Free Fallin’.

I would start by showing them the lyrics. This was the late 90s and early 2000s, so most knew the song, but few could say they knew all the words.

If YouTube had been a thing back then, I would have made them watch the video. Even in 1999, the we would have had a good time with what people were wearing in 1989!

I would start by reading the lyrics without inflection. It was probably something of a Ben Stein or Steven Wright type performance.

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

I’d get about that far and they’d stop me. Mr. Cobb, you’re doing it wrong. You need to read it with some emotion. I would continue, just as before.

It’s a long day living in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy ’cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

And I’m free, [LONG PAUSE] free fallin’
Yeah I’m free,[LONG PAUSE] free fallin’

Again, they’d interrupt. You’re not really … [searching for words] … performing it. I’d ask, do you want to try it? Usually someone would. They’d read it with slightly more feeling than I had, and then we’d discuss the song, section by section. Through the few years I did this lesson, the conversation went about like this:

Me: Who is the speaker?

Students: Tom Petty

Me: No it’s not. That’s lesson one. The author is usually not the speaker.

Students: Well then who is it?

Me: Look at the lyrics. Who is narrating the song here?

Students: [after an uncomfortable silence] A bad boy?

Me: Yes, a bad boy. Maybe the song is autobiographical, but we don’t have enough evidence from this one song to assume that Tom Petty is a bad boy. So we know the speaker is a bad boy. Why is this? Why is he bad?

Students: [much faster this time] For breaking her heart!

Me: That’s right. For breaking her heart. But does that necessarily make you a bad boy? Sometimes, things don’t work out, right?

Students: But he doesn’t even miss her!

Me: No, he doesn’t. What do we know about her?

Students: [simply parroting the lyrics] She’s a good girl! She loves her mama! She likes horses!

Me: Okay, we have a list of reasons she’s a good girl. She loves a predictable set of things. Her mama. America. Horses. Jesus. Elvis. There’s nothing wrong with this list, is there?

Students: Not really.

That one student: Well, kind of.

Me: What do you mean?

That one student: It’s a predictable list of things. It’s boring.

Me: Fine, but does that mean she’s not a good girl, as the speaker has suggested?

That one student: No, but that doesn’t mean the speaker has to stay with her.

Me: Well of course not. So is he really a bad boy? I mean he doesn’t even miss her? What’s the deal with that?

That student with recent experience: Sometimes you just feel you’re better to rip the band-aid and move on.

That student who used to date the previous student: And sometimes you just don’t care about other people’s feelings.

That awkward moment: [silence. long, uncomfortable silence]

Me: [with vigor] Let’s look at the rest of the song.

All the vampires walkin’ through the valley
Move west down Ventura boulevard
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
All the good girls are home with broken hearts

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’
Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m
Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m

I want to glide down over Mulholland
I want to write her name in the sky
Gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Me: So, what does Tom Petty mean by vampires?

Students: Speaker.

Me: What?

Students: What does the speaker mean by vampires?

Me: Yeah, right. What does the speaker mean by vampires? Who are vampires? Why are they vampires?

Students: Because they just walk around with glazed-over looks on their faces.

Me: You’re thinking of zombies. Vampires are the blood-sucking ones.

Side note: I think I should get some credit/blame for re-igniting the vampire book craze. I’m sure that’s when it started.

Students: Where’s Ventura? And Mulholland?

Me: They’re in California. That’s a good point…do we necessarily need to know anything about these locations?

Students: Not really?

Me: Would it have mattered to you if the line had been, I want to glide down over El Reno?

Students: That would have been weird.

Me: Agreed.

Keep in mind that the above conversation is an amalgam of comments from several years of classes. In the end, opinions would vary as to whether or not the speaker was in fact a bad boy. Sometimes, students would even argue that the girl wasn’t actually all that good. There’s so much we really don’t know from the lyrics, and that’s part of the beauty of poetry. Writers can use language, with economy, and stimulate thought or tell a story. We discussed speaker, word choice, tone, and many other literary elements within the framework of this one song.

As a classroom teacher, I probably was never more effective than when my students were engaged with a work of literature that I could discuss passionately. From here, we moved to songs they brought to class to poetry of different eras chosen by me to poetry that they found from different anthologies that I made available for them. Now, with fairly universal access to the Internet, we would have an endless anthology from which to choose.

One year, at the end of the poetry unit, I had a boy walk up to me after class and say the words that should be on my tombstone someday.

Mr. Cobb, that didn’t totally suck.

That may be the single biggest compliment I ever received as a teacher. All of my former students are in their late 20s and early 30s now. I am friends with quite a few of them. More mention the song Free Fallin’ to me than anything else we ever did in my classroom. And that doesn’t suck at all.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Blogger Challenge: The Things We Pretend

April 15, 2015 4 comments

The Education Land of Make Believe

We are deep inside another blogging challenge. And I have one from last week to make up. In fact, I’m way behind on my blogging. I’ll try to do some catching up the next few days. For now, Blue Cereal Education’s 1200 word challenge will have to wait. In the meantime, if you’ve ever thought of starting a blog, I suggest jumping in on one of these challenges. This is a great way to crowdsource our ideas – and we need more of them.

This time, the prompt comes from Iowa’s Scott McLeod. Somehow, I’ve never read his blog, Dangerously ! Irrelevant. That stops now. Sign me up.

Seriously, I wish I could go back three years and come up with a catchier blog title. Okeducationtruths? What was I thinking?

Here’s my short list:

We must stop pretending…

  1. …that homework tells us what students know and what they’ve learned. In reality, it tells us how compliant they are, and sure, there’s value in that. We don’t know how much help they had or if it turned into a group project. Likewise, an assignment that is not turned in tells us even less. I could cheat and say this exact same thing about grades.
  2. …that seat time equals learning. I saw a headline yesterday about parents of a straight A student being pulled into truancy court. What does it say if a student has 20 absences and still has an A in every class? School isn’t a must be present to win scenario, is it? Sure, I think that attendance increases the likelihood that learning will occur. And yes, the students who have a lot of absences and high grades are the exception. Then why punish the exception?
  3. …that we can buy curriculum better than we can make it. Find out how much your school district spends on textbooks. Then ask teachers if they could browse the Internet for free content and collaborate on lessons, units, and assessments that would be cheaper and better than what the publishers are selling us. Think about shifting that funding to the pockets of our teachers. Think about the professional growth that would come from such collaboration. Think of the technology that we could put directly into students’ hands. And by the way, I feel the same way about all the computer programs we buy for reading and math interventions. Sure, some are good, but they’re pricy as heck. Teachers are always a better bargain.
  4. …that poverty has a binary impact on student learning. Some students are poor and have tremendous home support for education. Some students are wealthy and don’t. Also, there’s a difference between poor and destitute. Some situations are harder to address at school than others. As researchers, defenders of public education, and even reformers, we all fall into the trap of talking about poverty as a singular problem. While schools serving populations with a high concentration of deep, generational poverty are harder places to teach, there are some that have been successful.
  5. …that we should create public policy based on the outliers. Some schools defy trends when it comes to poverty and student achievement. A lot of what the teachers do there is replicable in other situations. Some isn’t. We can learn lessons from these schools about hard work and seizing on opportunities – such as smart use of grant money when it becomes available.

It took restraint to stop at five. Here are some other entries from Oklahoma bloggers:

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Teaching from Here

Mrs. Waters English

Educating Me

And here’s a video from the Pretenders:

Just because.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Signs, shirts, and pics from the #okedrally today

March 30, 2015 2 comments

Added without commentary…enjoy!

IMG_2788 IMG_2787 IMG_2786 IMG_2785 CBXKnaWUkAATvB5 CBXItbZUIAAFOOZ CBXEy-fUUAAnwMu better sign 11083590_10206042846933917_859656974139409438_n 1484690_10153776227552796_2350888460970215893_n IMG_2812Rick and JoeIMG_2810 IMG_2809 IMG_2808 IMG_2807 IMG_2805 IMG_2804 IMG_2803 IMG_2802 IMG_2801 IMG_2800 IMG_2799 IMG_2798 IMG_2797 IMG_2796 IMG_2795 IMG_2794 IMG_2793


Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Pictures, Signs, and T-shirts, Please

Last year after the rally, I collected pictures of some wonderful signs and shirts. Feel free to send me more today! I’ll post a blog later showing the best ones I receive.

For now, I’m starting the day off with a little help from Joe Cocker.

And a few of my favorite pics from last year…

Noble - Copy Underfunded - Copy Union - Copy Behind is not pretty - Copy Dont Test Me Bro - Copy Enough - Copy Erick - Copy

See you at the Capitol tomorrow, with all due respect

March 29, 2015 5 comments

I’m going to the Capitol tomorrow – to the rally and into the building. It’s clear that our legislators need to meet with us face-to-face. It’s important that they hear us tell them what’s important to us. They need to hear about our budget cuts, the testing, the seemingly endless vacillation on standards.

Many also need to hear our gratitude. Since passing HB 2625 adding a parent voice to retention decisions for third grade students, we haven’t had a chance to thank them for quickly and decisively override the governor’s veto. For all the frustration we feel, we have our champions as well. Let them know that you know this.

Not everybody is happy we are going, however. The Oklahoman ran an editorial today suggesting that we’re all just going to show up and complain without offering any answers. I won’t bore you with all of it – just their concluding remarks:

Oklahomans undoubtedly want better schools. But improving student achievement requires far more than vague platitudes and hazy funding plans. Rally organizers should offer a credible, serious plan to improve student outcomes, instead of blanket demands simply to spend more money.

If I learned anything from fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby, it’s that you can begin any sentence with the phrase “With all due respect” and have immunity from offending anybody at all.

With all due respect, the Oklahoman still doesn’t have a clue about public education.

With all due respect, they’re still trying to win last June’s primary.

With all due repect, the Oklahoman is one of the main reasons we need to rally in the first place.

Fortunately, the state has more than one newspaper. The Tulsa World editorial page ran an acknowledgement of what the rally organizers hope to accomplish:

It was the biggest mass demonstration in state Capitol history, and, sadly, it’s hard to see what it accomplished. Many legislators shook hands with passionate constituents who attended the rally and then voted for the very legislation the ralliers opposed.

Time passed and the echoes of the rally died away. The Legislature cut the state income tax and undercut revenue from petroleum taxes, making adequate school funding all the less likely. At the end of the session, education funding only rose 2.1 percent and little of that money made it into classrooms.

The Oklahoma PTA with support from the Oklahoma Educational Coalition has called another mass rally for Monday. Oklahoma PTA President Jeffrey Corbett has predicted an even more massive turnout — 50,000 supporters.

That would truly be an unprecedented achievement, although, frankly, we don’t see it happening.

Tulsa Public Schools originally canceled Monday classes, allowing teachers to join the protest. But a severe storm left so many schools without electricity on Thursday that the district had to use its final snow day. Monday’s protest holiday was canceled.

Some Tulsa teachers will still be attending, but the news was the latest reason to suspect the 50,000 prediction will be hard to achieve.

That doesn’t make the rally’s platform — Our Children Deserve Better — any less reasonable. Its specifics: More money for schools, a moratorium on policies that push high-stakes testing and removal of the sunset provision of last year’s reforms to the Reading Sufficiency Act.

Those aren’t radical ideas. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, a conservative Republican, has called for a $2,000 teacher pay raise and a two-day extension of the school year. She also has called for reconsideration of the state’s high-stakes testing laws. The changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act was sponsored last year by Rep. Katie Henke, a conservative Republican from Tulsa. She is pushing for making the change permanent.

But with a $611 million gap in the state budget, it is difficult to see an increase in education funding. Earlier this month Hofmeister had to argue against a legislative cut in school spending while Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman ominously responded that all state agencies should expect funding cuts.

Tomorrow is our day to remind legislators of all of this. Yes, there’s a $611 million dollar hole, but whose fault is that? I know it’s foolish to bite the hand that feeds you, but the hand seems reluctant. We’re not showing up to bite, but we do expect our elected leaders to listen, answer questions, and ask questions of their own.

Public school teachers are struggling to teach more students under more mandates with bigger class sizes and fewer resources than they were seven years ago. Yes, the legislature found $40 million to put back into the funding formula last year, but as Oklahoma approaches 700,000 public school students, that doesn’t get us very far. To the extent that districts are still buying textbooks and technology, they’re using locally-generated bond revenue to do it.

Teachers also haven’t had raises during that time. Seven years. Maybe in most districts they’ve had minimal step increases (a few hundred dollars here and there), but nothing that keeps up with the cost of living. The Oklahoman also provided space today for Joy Hofmeister to make her case once again for raising teacher pay:

The exodus of teachers is alarming and unprecedented, yet not surprising. Given how our teachers endure low compensation, poor morale and burdensome mandates, perhaps the bigger surprise is that so many of them choose to stay in Oklahoma classrooms. They do so because teaching is a calling they don’t want to abandon.

But even the most selfless teachers need to know Oklahomans appreciate their worth. The average teacher pay in our state is $44,373 — about $3,000 below the regional average and $10,000 below the national average. The average starting teacher salary here is less than $32,000, hardly an incentive for a recent college graduate when they can move elsewhere and earn more.

Such obstacles don’t minimize all that Gov. Mary Fallin and the Legislature have done to protect education funding in recent years. Indeed, the state Department of Education has received $150 million in new monies since fiscal year 2014. While many state agencies endured slashed budgets after the 2008 recession, schools have received increases since fiscal year 2011 mostly to keep up with health care. When school leaders, teachers and parents rally at the Capitol on Monday, it’s important that lawmakers receive the thanks they deserve.

I get this question a lot, so I’ll answer it again. The figure Hofmeister cites – $44,373 – is technically correct. I just think we’re using the wrong term. The average teacher’s salary is about $7,500 lower. If you take out health insurance on your spouse and children, it’s lower than low. This is the average teacher’s compensation package as defined for all states by the National Center for Education Statistics. And yes, we’re still 48th. Here’s how I put it back in January:

Below, I have created a table showing Oklahoma’s historical average salary for each of the years in the NCES dataset. The figures included represent actual dollars.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $6,882 $8,626
1979-1980 $13,107 $15,970
1989-1990 $23,070 $31,367
1999-2000 $31,298 $41,807
2009-2010 $47,691 $55,202
2011-2012 $44,391 $55,418
2012-2013 $44,128 $55,383

As you can see, 45 years ago, Oklahoma teachers made 79.8% what teachers around the nation made. Two years ago, our state’s teachers made 79.7% what teachers around the country made. Basically, we have a long-standing tradition of paying about 4/5 of what teachers make nationally. The NCES dataset also looked at the salaries with each value set to 2012-13 dollars based on the Consumer Price Index.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $42,149 $52,830
1979-1980 $39,060 $47,592
1989-1990 $42,034 $57,152
1999-2000 $42,772 $57,133
2009-2010 $50,907 $58,925
2011-2012 $45,130 $56,340
2012-2013 $44,128 $56,383

Relative to the overall economy, I guess Oklahoma’s teachers are about in the same place they were 45 years ago. In 2009-10, however, teachers were having a pretty good year. This is what we need to aim for.

This has always been a problem, but prior to 2010, we were on our way to improving our placement.

This rally is also about the places we live. As we do every year, this year we have a push for school consolidation. Although I work for a large school district, I have also worked for a small, rural one. I see the value of both. Consolidation of small districts has brought minimal savings to states that have forced the issue. Every year, though, a community or two decides that it can no longer support the district to consolidate on its own. This is what we need to continue doing.

Finally, if you need more rallying points, check out this list of goals, facts, and solutions from the state’s largest parent group – the PTA.

Rally for Students. For Teachers. For Schools. For Communities.

Show up early. Stay late. Be respectful. Eat food truck food. Wear sunscreen. Drink plenty of water. And let’s do even better than this:

Sky Shot - Copy


Is the State Board of Education Puttin’ on the Ritz

I’m afraid we’re on the verge of following Indiana again. It seems that certain State Board of Education members, who are in cahoots with members of the Legislature, are flexing their muscles for a power grab at the Oliver Hodge Building.

What are you talking about, Rick? May I call you Rick? What’s with all the vague references already?

What I’m talking about is yesterday’s SBE meeting, which should have been pretty routine. The agenda was so unremarkable that I forgot about it until last night. Then I read Andrea Eger’s reporting from the Tulsa World.

At the conclusion of three hours dominated by the board’s consideration of routine rule-setting, Hofmeister adjourned the meeting with the bang of a gavel and was met with angry objections by three board members.

Bill Price, a board member from Oklahoma City, said he had wanted the board to consider a recommendation of his under “new business.”

Lee Baxter, of Lawton, stood up and questioned Hofmeister’s adjournment of the meeting and stormed out of the room as Amy Ford, of Durant, said she wanted to consider Price’s recommendation.

Hofmeister said, “Mr. Price, I called for new business. Nothing was said. I moved to adjourn.”

But then Price interrupted, saying, “Five seconds later you said ‘public comment.’ No. That is not the way to run a public meeting.”

Members Dan Keating, of Tulsa, and Cathryn Franks, of Roosevelt, were absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Member Bill Shdeed, of Oklahoma City, who was recognized for his service earlier Thursday because it was his last meeting on the board, made no remarks during the exchange.

After the meeting, Price and Ford spoke in raised voices to Lance Nelson, who Hofmeister introduced to the board Thursday as her newly hired chief of staff. Ford vowed to “uniformly vote down every issue” until the dispute is resolved, and Price concurred.

Price told the Tulsa World that he had been trying unsuccessfully since January to get the matter heard publicly. He said conflicts over the board agenda had never arisen under the administration of Hofmeister’s predecessor, Janet Barresi, who Hofmeister defeated in the June 2014 Republican primary.

Asked for examples of agenda items board members are seeking, Price told the Tulsa World, “For one, I would like a legislative update to be presented. We had that every time for four years. I’d also like to have for next month a resolution in support of this child abuse bill, Senate Bill 301.”

Sponsored by State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, SB 301 would require school officials to report allegations of misconduct by their employees not only to law enforcement authorities but also to the State Board of Education to investigate.

Ford said, “That’s my bill. Well, I requested it. I’m kind of grumpy about that because the superintendent was in the Duncan Banner (newspaper) saying it is a ‘growing of government.’ ”

My first thought was that this came out of nowhere and escalated quickly. That’s not accurate, though. This has been brewing since June. Ford and Price are loyal to Barresi, and Loveless’s bill is a front for usurping power away from the elected state superintendent. Maybe I should start there.

The short description of the bill is that it allows “the State Board of Education to suspend or deny teacher certification upon certain findings.” It does more than that. You can read through the entire 20 page bill if you like, but the only changes to existing statute come on pages 8, 9 and 19. The bill adds new language to the role of the State Board of Education, taking the number of enumerated duties of the Board to 24. Here’s from pages 8-9, which pick up in a subsection discussing the revocation of a certificate from a teacher who has abused children:

b. the State Board of Education may take appropriate action, in accordance with Article II of the Administrative Procedures Act, to deny certification to and revoke or suspend the certification of any individual pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,

c. the State Board of Education may appoint, prescribe the duties, and fix the compensation of an investigator to assist the Board in the issuance, denial, revocation or suspension of certificates pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,

So the crux of SB 301 is that the Board gets to hire an investigator, set his or her salary, and allow him or her to investigate sex crimes. That’s what Hofmeister needs: a high-profile employee at the SDE who doesn’t work for her. Moreover, an employee whose job it is to accuse people of crimes.

But wait…there’s more! Yes, SB 301 goes on and on and on before adding one final paragraph of duties – section 24:

24. Have the authority to conduct investigations necessary to implement the provisions of this title.

Oh, so now the SBE will have the authority to conduct investigations over anything listed in sections 1-23. And they will do so with the help of an employee whom the state superintendent can’t control at all?

Brilliant! Even Amy Ford was happy when this bill passed the Senate:

How cute. She thinks SB 301 protects children. Or she thinks we think she thinks that. Or something. Apparently not everybody thinks they think that, however. Today, Sen. Loveless took to the editorial pages of the Oklahoman to defend his legislation:

We have seen its prevalence rise in the last several years, but more and more teachers are having inappropriate sexual relations with children under their care. Senate Bill 301 hopes to close a loophole that allows these predators to move from school district to school district without being caught.

Here is a far too familiar scenario: a teacher rapes a child, and both the teacher and student say it was consensual — even though it’s still legally rape and there are some cases where the victim is as young as 12. The school district and parents don’t want the public scrutiny so the district, parents of the victim and the predator agree that the perpetrator will no longer teach in that school district. Everyone agrees and the cover-up has begun.

The predator needs to keep working, so he or she moves to another school district that has no idea of the situation that led to the resignation; school districts can’t communicate with each other on personnel matters.

SB 301 would do several things to close this loophole. First, school districts would be required to report to the state Board of Education when a situation rises to begin an investigation. Secondly, the state board would have an investigator on staff to get to the bottom of allegations and make recommendations to the board regarding suspension or revocation of licenses. Finally, the board would then decide whether to turn over its investigation to the local district attorney’s office.

So many things are wrong with these four paragraphs. I’ve seen Sen. Loveless do this when talking about school consolidation on Twitter before. He makes wild assertions that can neither be proven nor disproven and then tries to engage detractors in an argument. Since you haven’t proven him wrong (other than the people who have caught him quoting highly flawed numbers), he wins! Isn’t that exciting for him?

Is this situation with students and teachers really common place? I hope not, but even if it is, the rest of his argument falls apart completely. Any school employee who suspects a child is being abused already has to report it to DHS. If we suspect a child is a victim of a crime, we already have to report it to law enforcement. If we fail to do this, we have already broken the law. Passing SB 301 doesn’t do anything new. It just makes the size of government bigger. More specifically, it gives the SBE a henchman.

They’ve already had one of those. And when he tried bullying a few superintendents during his brief tenure at the SDE, they found it ridiculous. As Rob Miller suggests, maybe the Board has the same guy in mind.

This is where it starts sounding like Indiana to me. For those of you who may not be familiar, in 2012, Indiana voters chose Democrat Glenda Ritz over incumbent Republican (and friend of Barresi) Tony Bennett. Since then, the governor and legislature have methodically stripped her of as much power as possible.

She put her name on the ballot in 2012, she campaigned and she won.

She won easily because many Hoosiers, whether you agreed with them or not, had grown tired of the way education policy was being conducted.

That’s apparently a pill that, for some, still won’t go down. And, so, Statehouse Republicans are intent on doing something, anything, to overturn as much as they can the impact of the last education superintendent’s election.

There they were on the fourth floor of the Statehouse this week, passing out of a Senate committee a bill that would essentially remove Ritz as chairwoman of the state Board of Education, a body that is made up of her and 10 members appointed by the governor.

It’s an adversarial, dysfunctional board if ever there was one. That much is true. But it’s also one that the voters created in 2012 when they elected both Glenda Ritz and Mike Pence. And while plenty of people are furious about the nonstop petty board fights — I know I am — few teachers, parents or other rank-and-file Hoosiers I’ve talked to see a political power play as the solution to the mess. (Actually, if a vote were held on this issue today, I’m fairly certain Ritz would win.)

Those pushing the measure to diminish Ritz’s power talk about their grievances with her administration’s policies and competence, and about the proven inability of the Board of Education to work out its problems. They talk about a troubling lack of communication and advancement on crucial issues, and the impact all of this will ultimately have on schools and students. Those are all fair points of discussion.

But at the core of this power grab is a lingering frustration with an election in 2012 that went in a surprising way.

I get the frustration. Nobody likes to lose. But ain’t that America? You win some, you lose some.

That’s exactly right. Barely more than two months after taking office, Hofmeister has to face a board that wants to work around her. If SB 301 becomes law, they might get their way.

The person who can stop this madness is Governor Mary Fallin. The Legislature – when the SBE bucked newly-elected Janet Barresi in 2011 – gave Fallin unilateral powers to replace any board member at any time. Maybe now is the time to use those powers. Or maybe the time was last summer when four members sued to have HB 3399 (which had recently been signed by Fallin) ruled unconstitutional. Two members basically disqualified themselves from continuing service when they stomped out of the room and told Hofmeister’s new chief of staff that they would block everything the elected state superintendent brings to them.

This state has important business that requires adults acting like adults. Having a pity party when the chips don’t fall your way doesn’t benefit children. Let’s focus on what matters. Don’t turn this into another Indiana.

Blogging from a Prompt: If I Were King

March 23, 2015 5 comments

Towards the end of last night’s #oklaed chat, Jason James asked a great question that I thought would make a good topic for all education bloggers in Oklahoma.

Rob Miller even suggested a word limit.

First thing I’d do? Second thing? That’s tough, because there are about 25 things I want to do. And limit myself to 600 words? Even tougher! I’ll start with my Twitter response to the question.

  1. Our current state superintendent has been tireless in her effort to fix some of the broken things at the SDE while continuously advocating for our teachers. She has proposed a five year plan to raise the average teacher pay in Oklahoma by more than $5,000. I love it – so much that I want to double it. Raising the average teacher pay by the suggested amount would put us ahead of Utah. Raising it by $10,000 would put us ahead of Hawaii – and still below the national average. We have to consider that teacher pay is a moving target, except in Oklahoma, where it has been a sitting duck for the last eight years. Since the figures used to compare pay nationally include the cost of health insurance and retirement contributions, we also know that we aren’t likely to see the entire amount in our paychecks. A true 5k salary increase would cost the state much more than 5k. Superintendent Hofmeister understands that we have a huge unmet need in this state. Every kind of school district – big and small, rural, suburban, and urban – has teacher shortages. We have to make the profession more attractive to draw the best candidates. We have to fight to make the good teachers want to stay. It matters to our schools. It matters to our students.
  2. No Child Left Behind needs to go. In 2002, I liked the idea that we would use test data to identify and close achievement gaps. I did not think we would slide down the awful path we’ve taken, however. Some of the email news briefs I used to love reading for their teaching and leadership strategies are nothing but test prep and propaganda now. It’s very disillusioning. I’ve seen great teachers reduced to a shell of themselves. Even worse, I’ve seen them leave the profession. Our federal waiver is only better in the same way that draining pus provides slight relief from an infected wound. High-stakes testing is a constant shell game. The design ensures that there will be winners and losers. Losers become the targets of corporate education reform. While I’m all for Title I programs and the extra services they provide to schools serving high concentrations of poor students, I don’t like seeing their programs focused on the miserable part of education – testing. Learning should be fun. The closer you are to being on the dreaded list, the less likely it is that school remains so.

That’s it, and I kept it brief. Now, when do I start, and how much does it pay?

Since I didn’t use my entire allotment, here are a few other entries to the 600 word challenge from my blogeagues (I’m trying something there).

Tegan Teaches 5th – Queen for a Day!

Choosing the Road Not Taken – Another Brick in the Wall

Fourth Generation Teacher – #oklaed Queen for a Day

Nicole Shobert – Thoughts and Ramblings

Teaching from Here – If I Am the #Oklaed King for a Day!

Blue Cereal Education – #OklaEd ‘King for a Day’ Submission

The Principal’s Cluttered Desk – King for a Day of #OklaEd

This Teacher Sings – Challenge Accepted: Queen for a Day

View From the Edge – If I Were King of #Oklaed

John Thompson – Schools and L’Dor V’Dor; From Generation to Generation

momof4teacherofmany – Queen for a day…finally!!!

Admin Graffiti – King for a Day in 562 Words

Thoughts on Oklahoma Education – If I was King for the Day

Educate Me – If I Were King…for whatever reason

I’ll also include Joy’s contribution from last night, though it’s not necessarily a response to the chat question.

Categories: Uncategorized

All the Battle

March 22, 2015 3 comments

I hope you’ve all had a good Spring Break. I’ve spent most of it catching up on work, reading, doing a few chores, and sporadically paying attention to education issues. As we get set for the fourth quarter of the school year and the second half of the legislative session, I’ve also been looking for something to tie together the task we in the #oklaed community have ahead of us.

In times like these, I often turn to quotes from songs or from movies. With the major league baseball season beginning in about two weeks, I thought about pulling down a Crash Davis monologue from Bull Durham. On the other hand, although I agree with his views on pretty much everything, especially the designated hitter and opening presents Christmas morning, it’s not really an appropriate rant for an education blog. Instead, I’m going to use one of the shortest speeches ever from a Kevin Costner movie. This clip is only six seconds long.

In the Untouchables, as Elliot Ness takes his men north of the border to interrupt Al Capone’s liquor supply line, a Canadian Mountie implores Ness to remember that the element of surprise is “half the battle.” Ness responds:

The surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle, losing is half the battle. Let’s think about what is all the battle.

We sometimes fall into the half-the-battle line of thinking in our own conversations. I’ve heard school leaders say that when it comes to effective instruction, relationships are half the battle. Relationships are certainly the most critical element in effective classroom management and instruction, but it is one of at least a dozen elements that contribute to someone being a good teacher. Passion for your content area is critical as well. So is school culture. Collaboration matters too. As does having adequate instructional resources. You get the idea.

A similar thought holds true when it comes to our focus on education policy. Most of us can’t carry the flag into battle for or against every piece of legislation that affects public schools in this state, so we focus on the ones that matter the most to us. Maybe we think, stopping vouchers would be half the battle, or reducing testing would be half the battle. Admittedly, in the limited time I’ve had to write in 2015, I’ve focused on only four things: teacher pay, APUSH, replacing the EOIs with the ACT (SB 707), and Clark Jolley’s voucher extravaganza (SB 609). I’ve tweeted about other issues, but I have to pick my fights. In the process, if I’m lucky, I’m focused on half the battle.

Our friendly Oklahoma Legislature, on the other hand, has time to focus on all the battle. In addition to the above issues, they* also want to restrict how teachers who choose to belong to OEA or AFT have their dues drawn. One legislator explained his vote against this bill saying those supporting it just wanted to poke the union in the eye. Among those who voted for this bill on the House floor are several legislators who usually earn the praises of the #oklaed community. The reason we must praise the ones who support us in tough times is that we need to have their attention when they do things like this too. Ultimately, if this passes the Senate and earns the governor’s signature, I imagine the various local bargaining units will still manage to collect dues from teachers.

They also want to increase the number of third graders having to prove their worth to a committee to include those scoring Limited Knowledge (rather than just Unsatisfactory) on the third-grade reading test. Never mind that the Speaker Hickman refused to hear Katie Henke’s bill in the House that would have made the promotion committee (including a parent) a permanent part of the RSA process. No, they’re just going with the convoluted senate version instead. It keeps the committee in place for another four years, but it will nearly triple the number of students for whom a committee needs to meet.

Again, while any of us focus on the part of the battle we can personally handle, the Legislature continues fighting all of it.

As an aside, you may also be wondering, why does it have to be a battle? That is an excellent question. I don’t get it either. You’d think the people responsible for not providing any funding for teacher raises during the last eight years would at least care enough to support the people who actually work with students. They give lip service to it, but lip service doesn’t solve the teacher shortage. It doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t show that our elected leaders respect teachers.

Meanwhile, the policy attacks continue. Last year, the voucher battle wasn’t even close. This year it was. While we focused our blogs and phone calls tirelessly on that, legislators ran other bills to chip away at the remaining strengths of public education – all while saying they have a $611 million hole and no way to fill it.

Yes, it’s promising that we have a state superintendent who is willing to sound the alarm and let the world know that the teacher shortage will only widen if we don’t get more funding. We also have a governor who hasn’t said a word.

The battle is not unique to Oklahoma. Nor does it just impact the teachers. Parents who speak out against corporate reform and high-stakes testing also face marginalization. Meanwhile, even within his own party, Jeb Bush is no longer seen as the expert on education. Florida is fighting back, as are the states that have adopted Florida’s model.

We had our own little revolt against this anti-education machine last June. It went well. Since then, we haven’t exactly been complacent. The attacks just keep coming. Parents and educators uniting to fight back must be half the battle, right?

It’s a start. All the battle is about money and respect. Simply put, that’s all we’ll be asking for on March 30th.


*When I say they, obviously I don’t mean all. Since support varies from bill to bill, though, it’s hard so give any legislator a pass at this point.

Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part III)

So far, I’ve written about ten reasons why we should dump the EOIs and use the ACT as our high school test. You want the ubiquitous College and Career Readiness? It’s there; both higher education and career tech can make use of the results. You want to preserve instructional time in schools, save parents and the state money, and improve critical relationships? We can do that too.

Still, I keep getting questions, and the answers aren’t all easy. You see, punting the EOIs and running with the ACT is not a perfect choice. No such thing exists.

Here are the ten reasons I gave for making this switch in Part I

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs.
  2. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either.
  3. This measure would save Oklahoma families money.
  4. This measure would save the state money.
  5. The ACT would fulfill NCLB requirements.

    …and Part II of the series.

  6. Counselors would have more time to be counselors.
  7. Teachers would have more time to be teachers.
  8. The ACT unites K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech.
  9. Feedback will be timely .
  10. Schools can quit begging for volunteers during testing season.

On the flip side, I tend to get these five arguments against doing this pretty consistently:

  • ACT is Common Core – This is false. ACT is a test that is aligned both to its own college readiness standards and the Common Core. The truth is that a single test question can be aligned to multiple standards. ACT has always paid attention to state standards. Half the country is still using the Common Core, and ACT is responsive to the marketplace. I have no problem with this.
  • ACT is too closely aligned with Pearson – At this point, who isn’t? It’s true that Pearson makes a ton of profit from testing. They also make a ton of profit from textbooks, online instruction, educational software, and probably the air we breathe. Yes, ACT is running their Aspire assessment program (3rd through 8th grade) off of a platform developed by Pearson. Paying for every student in the state to take an ACT wouldn’t really be padding Pearson’s pockets anyway. Tests on the national test date are still paper/pencil tests. Most Oklahoma high school students will take the ACT at least once anyway. We’re not going to make Pearson go broke by boycotting the ACT – no more than we’re going to make the Oklahoman go broke by – oh wait, too close to call on that one! As much as I want the Gates Foundation out of education policy, I’m also not going to make Microsoft go broke by switching from a Windows computer to a Mac – just my school district.
  • Some kids aren’t going to college – This is also true. The problem is that I can’t look at them and know which ones. Sometimes, I can’t even talk to them and know. They don’t always know themselves. I propose giving all students an ACT during their sophomore year (some are suggesting the junior year) because it would give parents and counselors something to look at in terms of course selection. It also might ignite the interest of a student who didn’t know he/she would score so well. Taking the ACT doesn’t obligate a student to go to college. It just puts a number on the table that may help people make some decisions about the future before the future is right in their faces.
  • The ACT doesn’t have science and social studies sections – Again, this is true. I know some of the people who loved me when I was fighting for APUSH a few weeks ago will despise me saying this, but I really don’t care if we test in those subject areas. I think the teachers benefit from not having their subject area tested. It gives them a better chance to focus on the students and the standards – all the standards. It goes back to my first two points above. If the students don’t care about the results and the colleges don’t care about the results, then what are we testing for?
  • The science reasoning of the ACT doesn’t align well enough to course content to meet NCLB requirements – This may be the most valid of the five points. Federal statutes say nothing about testing social studies.

NCLB required assessments

The way I see it, Oklahoma would have two options to meet this requirement if we replaced the EOIs with the ACT: (a) Explore the extent to which ACT’s standards align to Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science and submit this analysis to the feds with our updated waiver request; or (b) develop a separate science test (basically, keep using the Biology I assessment we have in place now). This could be a road bump, but it is far from a dead end. Ultimately, I don’t know how much a Biology test that most students have to take in ninth or tenth grade says about their readiness for high school graduation or college entrance. This is one of the massive problems with No Child Left Behind and the main reason we should be working together as a state to minimize the damage it brings to our students and schools.

With the last several posts on this blog (save one calling for a no vote on a voucher bill), I have been trying to make a case, more or less for supporting SB 707. Nowhere does the bill specify that ACT will be our high school testing vendor. Most people I talk to read it that way. Still, the process would include multiple state agencies and public hearings – real ones this time. Recommendations would be made in 2016, and implementation would begin during the 2017-18 school year. This is not a rush job. It’s also not a rock to which we are chaining ourselves. Should the vendor fail to meet our expectations, we can fire them. The legislation can change the law at any time.

That’s why I support this bill – and pretty much by default, replacing the EOIs with the ACT. It passed through the Senate Committee on Education by a vote of 11-1. It passed through the Committee on Appropriations by a vote of 37-6 (yes, nearly the full Senate serves on that committee). It sounds like a done deal, at least in the Legislature’s upper chamber, right?

Keep calling. You can never tell.







Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Yes on Senate Bill 707

In spite of the snow days, I haven’t really had much time to continue writing about my thoughts on replacing the EOIs with the ACT. Word has it, however, that opposition is mounting. In response, CCOSA sent out this action alert to members today:

Legislative Action Alert
Senate Bill 707:
Common Sense High School Testing

Please contact Your Senator TODAY and urge them to VOTE YES ON SB 707!

SB 707 would allow the State Board of Education to:

  • Eliminate End of Instruction tests AND replace those assessments that generate data relevant to students, educators, and are indicators of college and career readiness.
    • Currently Oklahoma spends over $17 million annually on student assessments that do not generate actionable data to improve student learning.
  • Select ACT or another assessment(s) to be used as a high school exit exam.
    • The selected assessment(s) must be used by Oklahoma institutions of higher education to determine college readiness/course placement.
  • Select other graduation requirement criteria, in addition to a designated assessment(s).
  • Select alternative assessments to demonstrate college and career readiness.

Facts about the ACT:

  • Currently 21 states administer the ACT Test statewide, either to every student (statewide administration) or at the school district level (district choice).
  • The ACT Test is used by some states as part of their accountability plan submitted to US Department of Education with their requests for waivers under ESEA.
  • The ACT Test measures College and Career Readiness described by ACT’s College and Career Readiness Standards – but it is an 11th grade test accepted by post-secondary institutions for enrollment and placement purposes.

 Please contact your Senator TODAY and urge them to VOTE YES on SB 707!

So far, I’ve provided ten reasons why we should proceed with this plan. You can read Part I and Part II on the blog. I’ll try to work on Part III tonight and have it posted by morning.

The EOIs are a $7 million a year boondoggle. And that’s just the direct cost. Indirect costs associated with the program make it probably double the price. We have the power to put an end to that this year, saving families and the state a lot of money.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

An Hour of Your Time

Today we’ve been given the gift of time. Since most of Oklahoma’s schools closed today due to the weather forecast, we have time to do some critical work. If you haven’t read Senate Bill 609, which would create the Oklahoma Education Empowerment Scholarship Savings Program (that’s a mouthful, so I’m going to use the term voucher), you should. Here’s an excerpt from page 2:

SB 609 Image 1

It all sounds harmless until you realize that there is no accountability for how this money is spent. Parents will have to report receipts to the State Treasurer’s office, but nothing in the bill directs the state to itemize expenditures or at least list them categorically (as schools have to do). I assume most parents would use the money wisely, just as most schools do. However, as a parent, I could choose to spend the majority of my child’s voucher on section 1(d), co-curricular and extracurricular activities.

The bill also has no accountability for student learning, ironically, since this is the main reason voucher proponents insist children need to escape – and I’m using this phrase as they use it – government schools. We will never see EOI averages of the voucher students, mainly because they won’t have to take them. Parents can, however, use the voucher to pay for ACT exams – which you probably realize I would like to see the state provide for all students in lieu of the EOIs. In short, this bill would let parents do things they wish their children’s public schools were allowed to do.

[Incidentally, the version of the bill that the full Senate will consider no longer has the merit pay provision that was in the committee draft, so I’ll let that sleeping dog lie for the time being.]

I also want you to read one other thing on this lovely snow day – an editorial from yesterday’s Oklahoman. You can follow the little blue line and read it yourself, but here’s a preview:

ESA opposition could easily cost a Republican lawmaker his job. Yet five Republicans joined with liberal Democrats in opposing an ESA bill in committee, where the final vote was 9-9.

Those votes contradict Republican stances on supporting the free market and opposing “one size fits all” government mandates. If the five dissident Republicans hope voters will ignore those contradictions, two words suggest otherwise: Melissa Abdo.

Abdo is a strident opponent of an existing state program that provides scholarships to children with special needs, such as autism. Abdo also was a candidate for a state House seat in the Jenks area last summer. Once her opposition to school choice was publicized, she quickly went from front-runner to losing a runoff. Her opponent, current Rep. Chuck Strohm, is among the authors of ESA legislation.

This editorial refers to the House version of the voucher bill. It died in committee, although legislation often has the properties of zombie soap opera characters who somehow find the wherewithal to survive a tumble down an elevator shaft*. You also see that the Oklahoman can’t resist taking a pot shot at Jenks Public School board member Melissa Abdo, who has never shied away from being a conservative who proudly supports public education. If you read between the lines here, the editorialists are saying that if you don’t agree with them, then you must not be a real conservative.

Anyone who knows me understands how much this drives me crazy. You shouldn’t have to check all the right boxes to be a conservative. After all, the Oklahoman opposes replacing the EOIs with the ACT, but the Senate Committee on Education passed that bill 11-1, with the Committee on Appropriations passing it through to the full Senate by a vote of 37-6. The Oklahoman opposed the sanity clause in the RSA (the parent committee), and it both chambers were able to override Governor Fallin’s veto last spring by huge margins, without discussion. They opposed the repeal of the Common Core, and well, here we are.

My point is that they’re not only out-of-sync with the state on education issues; they don’t even align with their own party most of the time**.

For whatever reason, they’ve decided this is the issue by which they will draw the line in the sand. You’re either with us, or you’re with those liberals.

This is why I’m asking for an hour of your time. In the Committee on Finance last week, the vote to pass SB 609 to the Senate Floor was only 8-6. It was not a vote decided upon party lines. It’s almost as if the people we elected were listening to their constituents rather than the out-of-state groups threatening punishment for committee members who don’t fall in line.

We need to keep those calls flowing. We need to call as many members of the Senate as we can today and give them a simple message about SB 609. Angela Little, an Edmond parent and education activist, asked on Facebook yesterday for some simple messages about why we might oppose this bill. Several of us replied, and she made these little message cards.

Little 3

Little 2

Little 4

Little 3


Any of those would be a good message for our elected representatives to hear. You can also pick anything from this voucher post I wrote in 2014. You can even come up with your own message. Just be polite and clear. Remember, last year, this same idea failed in a House committee, and the vote wasn’t even close.

It took me an hour to write this post. I encourage you to take an hour and see how many members of the senate you can contact today. Let them know how you feel. And do whatever you can to get more parents and teachers to call.

Senator Phone Number    Email Address
Allen, Mark 405-521-5576
Anderson, Patrick 405-521-5630
Barrington, Don 405-521-5563
Bass, Randy 405-521-5567
Bice, Stephanie 405-521-5592
Bingman, Brian 405-521-5528
Boggs, Larry 405-521-5604
Brecheen, Josh 405-521-5586
Brinkley, Rick 405-521-5566
Brooks, Corey 405-521-5522
Brown, Bill 405-521-5602
Crain, Brian 405-521-5620
Dahm, Nathan 405-521-5551
David, Kim 405-521-5590
Fields, Eddie 405-521-5581
Floyd, Kay 405-521-5610
Ford, John 405-521-5634
Fry, Jack 405-521-5584
Garrison, Earl 405-521-5533
Griffin, A J 405-521-5628
Halligan, Jim 405-521-5572
Holt, David 405-521-5636
Jech, Darcy 405-521-5545
Jolley, Clark 405-521-5622
Justice, Ron 405-521-5537
Loveless, Kyle 405-521-5618
Marlatt, Bryce 405-521-5626
Mazzei, Mike 405-521-5675
Newberry, Dan 405-521-5600
Paddack, Susan 405-521-5541
Pittman, Anastasia 405-521-5531
Quinn, Marty 405-521-5555
Schulz, Mike 405-521-5612
Sharp, Ron 405-521-5539
Shaw, Wayne 405-521-5574
Shortey, Ralph 405-521-5557
District 11 405-521-5598  
Silk, Joseph 405-521-5614
Simpson, Frank 405-521-5607
Smalley, Jason 405-521-5547
Sparks, John 405-521-5553
Standridge, Rob 405-521-5535
Stanislawski, Gary 405-521-5624
Sykes, Anthony 405-521-5569
Thompson, Roger 405-521-5588
Treat, Greg 405-521-5632
Wyrick, Charles 405-521-5561
Yen, Ervin 405-521-5543

*from what I hear

**technically, newspapers are non-partisan – technically

Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part II)

Soon after I posted Part I, Claudia Swisher asked about high stakes and cut scores – especially for students who aren’t going to college. This is a critical issue to address, and probably the one that drove the stake through the heart of the Common Core last year.

In my perfect world, we would have no test tied to graduation. That being said, I live in this world. The Oklahoma Legislature is going to demand something to replace the EOIs as a graduation test. I don’t have the perfect solution to this issue, and I don’t feel it needs to be addressed at the legislative level. This is something for the State Board of Education and the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to establish through administrative rule. We must have safety nets for students on IEPs and for English Language Learners. We must have a system that serves all students.

Most importantly, we must remember that a freshman who doesn’t plan to go to college might become a sophomore who does (and then a junior who doesn’t, and so on). My goal isn’t to get every child to college; it’s to get every child ready to do something after high school. College and career tech are the obvious paths, but not the only ones. When a high school has more than 90 percent of graduates either enrolling in college or participating in career tech programs, I feel that students are taking advantage of their opportunities. The other ten percent (or whatever the percentage is at a given school) matter too, and should ACT become the test that replaces the EOIs, this group’s needs have to be considered.

So Claudia, I thank you for that segue into my next point, after a recap of the first five:

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs.
  2. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either.
  3. This measure would save Oklahoma families money.
  4. This measure would save the state money.
  5. The ACT would fulfill NCLB requirements.
  6. Counselors would have more time to be counselors – Of all the people in schools whose jobs are not what they imagined them being, I think counselors have the worst of it. For all the principals who imagined themselves as instructional leaders but spent more time chasing dogs off campus, unclogging toilets, and settling disputes in the school drop-off line, there are even more counselors who spend way too much time securing test materials. testing and scheduling, counselors have little time left to provide actual guidance to students. Yes, we all have complicated jobs, but if the news from around the country tells us anything, it’s that our counselors need more time to meet the social/emotional needs of students.

    Last night’s #oklaed chat was a perfect illustration of that. The topic was bullying, and Claudia moderated the discussion. You should go back and read it if you weren’t able to participate.

    Social media has made bullying more prevalent and more complicated than ever. The hardest part of dealing with bullying in schools is helping the victims find the courage to report what’s happening to them. They need a relationship with their counselors more than they need a sharp #2 pencil. High school testing could be completed via the ACT. The counselors wouldn’t have to secure all the materials, beg for volunteers, collect forms from test administrators and monitors, and sign away their first-born to Rumpelstiltskin every spring. Tracking for remediation would be easier. They’d have more time to help kids.

  7. Teachers would have more time to be teachers – Yes, overtesting is a real thing. Those who write editorials love to point out that students only really have to take one or two EOIs per year in high school. This just shows they have no clue as to the disruption testing causes. I suppose you could argue that the benchmark testing and review weeks are the schools’ choice. You can’t argue, however, that a school having to turn every computer lab into a testing lab for weeks at a time is anything other than a disruption. If you believe that, ask a high school computer education teacher. You’ll soon learn differently.No matter what we use for testing – high-stakes or otherwise – schools are going to focus on the results. This might mean ACT prep classes, but many high schools have those already. What it won’t mean is more schools drilling for EOIs that aren’t well-linked to college-readiness. If we’re going to over-think our test results, let’s focus on a test that actually means something to students and colleges.
  8. The ACT unites K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech – Because the ACT has WorkKeys® as part of its assessment system, providing the ACT to high school students can help inform Career Tech placement decisions. From their website:ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce. This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs. As part of ACT’s Work Readiness System, ACT WorkKeys has helped millions of people in high schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies build their skills to increase global competitiveness and develop successful career pathways.

    Because of this connection, Oklahoma’s career tech centers have always had an interest in working with students and parents to interpret EXPLORE scores (for eighth graders) and PLAN scores (for tenth graders). The State Regents have also utilized staff to help schools make the connections between these assessments and planning for the future. Even with EXPLORE and PLAN going away in the near future, letting students take an ACT during their sophomore year will help them if they choose a career tech program of study.

  9. Feedback will be timely – Do you know how long it takes us to get back our EOI test scores each year? Let’s see…we take them in late April or early May…we get preliminary scores in late May or early June…we get initial score reports in July (usually)…and we get final reports, if we’re lucky, right before school starts. With the ACT, students will have score reports in three weeks. If we choose a school day test date (as other states have done), we’ll have our own scoring window. If we choose to give students a ticket they can use on any national test date (making the in-school disruption even less), then we can get results back early in the year. Here’s how one reader put it in the comment section yesterday:I would love to see every 10th & 11th grader take the test in the Spring–and the most-motivated seniors can spend their final year trying to advance their scores.Depending on the “stakes,” of course. I’m fearful that this would push schools to force every student into ACT Prep classes, eliminating choice-electives, & maybe undermining the importance of the exam itself.

    Still, I think that this is such a simple solution. Kids will get an exam that actually has purposes and insights regarding their futures. Teachers can teach to the limits of their disciplines without pressures to “teach to the test.” And eliminating 7 EOIs will free-up so much time for teachers, various counselors and support personnel, and the KIDS. Anybody who has spent time in a large high school during testing-season knows that our current system is an administrative nightmare. And nothing really gets done, anywhere. What a waste!

    Lastly, maybe discussion can shift toward COLLEGE READINESS in a real way–we use that word a lot in my school, but I fear that it’s just lip-service. Maybe we don’t do a good enough job identifying kids that aren’t college-bound and providing them with realistic alternatives. Maybe a yearly-ACT check would help us serve this population better before it’s all too late.

She pretty well touches on several of the points I’m making today. Most importantly, schools can receive information we can use early. If students test twice, we can see if course selection is making any difference. We can offer assistance with whatever remains of the ACE remediation funds once the EOIs are gone.

  1. Schools can quit begging for volunteers during testing season – I think parental engagement is a great thing. I’ve seen this be the critical variable in a school that turns the corner. Sometimes that starts with a new principal or an influx of new staff, but school success comes down to parenting, more often than not. Does the school make parents feel welcome? Do parents treat the school with respect? Is this a relationship or a transaction?The current testing process makes school seem like a transaction. Sign this. Watch that. Keep everybody under watch. How much could we do with the same parents in our libraries? On our playgrounds? In capacities I’ve never even imagined?Parents are an often untapped resource. Eliminating the EOIs would be a step towards changing that. If we could similarly unburden our elementary and middle grades, imagine how powerful that would be!

    I’ll pick up there in Part III.

Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part I)

On Twitter and in this blog, I have often expressed support for the idea of eliminating the seven End-of-Instruction tests (EOIs) that our state requires and replacing them with the ACT. I have probably never explicitly spelled out my reasoning, though. While there is probably more momentum throughout Oklahoma for this idea now than there ever has been, I still know many educators, parents, and policy-makers who are not convinced. Fortunately, our new state superintendent is on board with the idea:Why I support replacing the EOIs with the ACT (Part I)

Over the next few blog posts, I will spell out my logic with ten eleven reasons (and counting) to make this change and five possible obstacles the state might face. First, let me give you a little background on my experience with the EOIs.


Prior to 2000, I really didn’t pay much attention to education policy. I was in my twenties (which is no excuse) and comfortable in my classroom at Mustang High School. Then, in 2001, the state rolled out two end-of-instruction tests: English II (which is what I taught all day) and US History. I wasn’t concerned with how my students would do on the test, but I didn’t appreciate the disruption. Two years later, as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the state introduced the Algebra I and Biology I EOIs. The English II test became part of the NCLB accountability package. The US History test was optional under federal law, as it remains. Let’s put a pin in that thought for now.

In 2006, the state passed the Achieving Classroom Excellence Law (ACE) requiring that high school students, beginning with the freshman class of 2008-09, pass four of seven EOIs. Two of these would have to be English II and Algebra I. In 2008, the final three EOIs were put in place – Geometry, Algebra II, and English III. As a teacher, I never had to care how my students did on the tests. We had them for information only (those were the days). I just taught and hoped I taught well. I didn’t use any test results to confirm or disconfirm that.

As an administrator, though, I can’t remember a time I haven’t been at least partially focused on the scores. I’ve watched them move with the political whims and just hoped that whoever I happened to be working for came out well in comparison to the state and surrounding communities. Meanwhile, I hear the complaints of teachers and principals everywhere telling me that testing narrows the focus of the curriculum.

With that said, let’s start the list…

Reasons to Replace the EOIs with the ACT

  1. Students don’t care about the EOIs – In December, I participated in a High-Stakes Testing (HST) Summit along with members of several groups from around the state. The 50 or 60 people there came from the classroom, the school office, the central office, parent groups, church coalitions, community groups, tribal leadership, various advocacy groups, and elected office. Most importantly, we also had two high school seniors with us. We divided into three smaller groups, and I met with the one tasked with discussing state and federal testing requirements.As often happens in groups, we pulled out chart paper and began brainstorming. Never one to throw out good ideas – mine or those of other people – I took pictures of each page. I won’t fill this space with all the pictures, but I will share the one titled, “Concerns With Testing.”

    Concerns with Testing
    For those of you reading in email and perhaps not seeing the picture, we had several issues listed, including the fact that students are focused on tests that colleges use. For most Oklahoma children, this means the ACT. The two seniors both mentioned that they had passed enough EOIs early in high school to graduate, making their remaining tests irrelevant.

    For many students, Advanced Placement courses are also a greater focus. If you’re a junior taking AP US History, which is more important to you? The AP test, or the EOI? One of them could earn you college credit. Passing the EOI is equivalent to getting an extra gold star on your high school transcript. Sure, it makes your teacher look good – and I’m all for that – but it does nothing for the student.

    While I would love to see Congress pass a replacement to NCLB that didn’t require annual testing in reading and math and then testing once in high school, it’s not realistic to think that this option has a chance. Let yourself dream for a moment, though. If this somehow happened, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma students would still take the ACT. Whether you like the test or not, it matters to our high school students.

  1. Colleges don’t care about the EOIs either – In the four years that Oklahoma spent wading in the shallow end of the Common Core swimming pool, the funniest thing I heard was that colleges were going to start using PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments (the Common Core testing groups) as part of the college admission process. Maybe this isn’t as laughable as the thought of colleges using the EOIs, since there would have been some level of national comparison possible from the tests. Still, it wasn’t going to happen. The SAT (a College Board product) and ACT (owned by ACT, Inc.) are exams with decades of history.Yes, both tests are going through a redesign. They do this every so often. When I took the ACT in the late 80s, it had a Social Studies section. When my wife took it in the early 90s, it didn’t. More recently, both the SAT and ACT have added writing components. As the tests changed, the respective companies communicated these changes to the colleges and high schools that utilize them.
  1. This measure would save Oklahoma families money – Each ACT a student takes costs $38.00. If the student adds the writing section, the cost jumps to $54.50. While this isn’t a back-breaker for most families, the reality is that many students take the exam multiple times. They want to increase their score, or they’re applying to a college that uses superscoring, which takes the highest subsection from each test to generate a higher composite score. If the state paid for one test for each high school student – and did it during the sophomore year – this would help parents out a little bit and give students an early idea of how much work they need in order to prepare for college.
  1. This measure would save the state money – For fiscal conservatives such as the naysayers on the Editorial Board of the Oklahoman, this reason should really punch their ticket to the show. Our current battery of EOIs costs the state just a hair short of $7 million. That’s just the testing contract. This figure doesn’t count the cost of staff to manage the program, interpret the results, lead all the committee work that goes into the development of test items and standard-setting, or the legal staff necessary to pull us out of contracts (or negotiate settlements) when the testing program breaks. Every student taking one ACT, by the SDE’s math, would cost about $1.5 million.I haven’t heard a proposal to do this, but I’d like to see the state go a step further. If students took the ACT during the sophomore year, they would quickly know what areas need the most improvement. This could drive course selection (a bonus for the people who like rigor) and remediation opportunities – in real time, rather than months after testing concludes. Then, the state could pay for a student to take a second ACT during the junior year – any time during the junior year. Now we’ve subsumed the ACE remediation budget into testing. That’s another $8 million, based on the budget for the current school year.

    In a year with a $600 million shortfall, leaders need to find ways to save money without hurting schools. This would be the epitome of such an effort.

  2. The ACT would fulfill NCLB Requirements – In spite of what the Oklahoman published this morning, all we have to do to comply with No Child Left Behind and its waiver is test reading, math, and science once during high school. The ACT would take care of that. We’d have to write this plan into a revision of our NCLB waiver, but that process is about to start anyway.

Still to Come in Part II

  • The benefits of using a test that K-12, Higher Ed, and Career Tech all value
  • Overtesting – yes, it’s a real thing!
  • The value of timely feedback
  • Schools making better use of all those parent and community volunteers (in case anyone still believes private schools have the market cornered on parental involvement)

Contact Info for Senate Finance Committee

I suppose it would be good to give you the email addresses for the Senate Finance Committee. I know the out-of-state forces that Rob Miller discussed last week have these. In fact, here’s the email I sent the committee this morning:

Sent: Mon 2/23/15 7:35 AM
To: (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (

Dear Senators,

I strongly urge you to vote No on SB 609. I have three critical reasons for opposing this measure.

First is that the bill fails to do what the rhetoric surrounding Education Savings Accounts proclaims: save poor students from failing schools. Even with ESAs in place, private schools don’t have to accept all students who apply. Public schools do. Instead of diverting funds away from the one organization that takes all children who come, maybe the legislature would better serve the state by properly funding public schools.

Second is that the bill provides no accountability. If the goal of the committee is to give parents a modicum of choice, maybe the better path would be to let them choose which school regulations apply to their children. As an administrator in Moore, I can tell you that most parents who have called me have been against the third­grade retention law since day one. That’s just one example. I know of many others, but most involve testing.

Third is that this bill sets up some kind of mysterious merit pay scheme. Until ALL teachers have significant raises, this idea is not worth pursuing. Rather than starving public education, the elected servants of the people of Oklahoma should look to heal it. Supporting SB 609 is the most divisive action you could pursue.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Say NO to Vouchers

February 23, 2015 3 comments

I have one simple goal for #oklaed this week. Let’s not make national news. For me, the nadir of last week was my mom texting me that Whoopi Goldberg was making fun of Oklahoma on The View.  In part, my consternation was that I knew something that was happening on The View. That’s really not my thing. Mostly though, I hated the fact that the House Common Education Committee voted 11-4 to make teaching the current framework of Advanced Placement United States History illegal – using state funds, that is.

What I found gratifying, however, was the response. Not the blogosphere response necessarily. Not my fellow educator friends on social media. I’m talking about students and teachers. There seemed to be universal understanding that a narrow interpretation of state law could threaten all AP courses in Oklahoma. There were also countless testimonials from students (current and past) about the extent to which AP courses helped them prepare for college. It turns out that critical thinking matters.

For now, I believe the APUSH push is shelved. If I’m wrong, I’ll come back to that. As of right now, we have a bigger threat:


Yes, we have members of the legislature still pushing the title Education Savings Accounts, as favored by their friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council. I prefer the term vouchers, though. It’s part of the common language we share. It’s not a euphemism.

The Senate Finance Committee will hear SB 609 Tuesday, I believe. It’s a 71 page bill, but the last 60 or so are just in there to ensure parents don’t have to report their vouchers on their taxes. The first ten are the meat.

As I’ve previously written, this bill has problems beyond just the existence of vouchers. Remember, if a kid has a voucher, that doesn’t guarantee he/she has somewhere to take it. It’s not like the private schools will suddenly have open admission. There’s no accountability attached to this bill, whatsoever. We as taxpayers will never get a rendering of student performance. The schools won’t get a letter grade to wear around their necks. And we’ll never know how much money goes into the classroom. There will be no OCAS reporting for the schools/individuals using the vouchers.

Beyond that, the bill creates a system of merit pay that for now we must leave completely up to the imagination.

The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights calculated pursuant to subsection B of Section 5 shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.

How are these bonuses to be calculated? Will all schools get bonuses, or do you have to be a school that loses students to vouchers? Does having more voucher kids in my district mean more bonuses for the teachers we can still afford to hire?

I’m writing the members of the Senate Finance Committee this morning to ask them to ask these questions. I don’t think this bill deserves their support. I encourage you to do the same.

APUSH: What you can still do

February 19, 2015 2 comments

It seems we’ve come a long way since Monday. National press has been brutal. If anything that happened in the House Common Education Committee Monday made you lose faith in the people of Oklahoma, the response since then should have calmed you. In spite of the people we elect sometimes, this is a great state. We are smarter than we act.

As evidence, I show you survey results from four questions asked by Norman Public Schools about the APUSH debacle.

Final NPS AP Poll results

Over 6,600 people responded to their 24 hour survey, and 96% basically said, Make this go away.

Oklahomans get it. Our legislators will get it too. One thing you can still do to help with this is remain vocal, yet polite. Much of what will happen now is to be determined by the House Speaker, Jeff Hickman. Reach out to him. I suggest a simple message, much like the following.

Mr. Speaker, kill HB 1380. It is bad public policy. Oklahomans (and now the rest of the country) know this! And tell the senate that SB 650 will not be heard.

Feel free to craft your own message. I’m not some out-of-state think tank ready to impose discipline should you not stick to the script.

Jeff Hickman (405) 557-7339

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Vouchers: Not a Gift for Students

February 17, 2015 3 comments

Yesterday, two bills proposing Education Savings Accounts Vouchers made their way to committee in the Oklahoma Legislature. In the Senate, SB 609 breezed to its next stop – the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 6-3. There, the impact of the bill will be discussed by the 45 committee members. It’s a much harder hill to climb. Later in the day, the House did not pass HB 2003. The committee failed to advance the bill, even after the House Speaker (Jeff Hickman) came to save the day. It fell by a 9-9 vote. The outcomes surprised me. I would have guessed for a flip to this script, with the Senate voucher bill failing and the House voucher bill passing.

The House bill is pretty much a copy of the measure that Rep. Jason Nelson couldn’t even get to a tie vote. Vouchers will be awarded proportionally to students who can demonstrate certain levels of poverty in order to attend private schools that they still wouldn’t be able to afford. Apparently, that hurt some feelings.

The Senate bill, on the other hand, is a free-for-all. Any student eligible to attend public school would receive a credit for 80 percent of the formula funding that he/she generates for his/her resident school district. They could spend it on anything that loosely counts as an educational expense. This could include books, supplies, a laptop, voice lessons, athletic coaching, field trips to The Louvre, and probably even a Trapper Keeper or two.

Another fun fact of SB 609 is that the SDE would have to figure out how to disburse the other 20 percent as bonuses to teachers in the districts students aren’t attending. The more students who flee your district, the greater your bonus. That makes all the sense in the world. No, nothing could go wrong here at all. Here’s the language from page 10 of the bill:

The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights calculated pursuant to subsection B of Section 5 shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.

Another way this bill gets fun is that right now, thousands of students don’t attend public school. This measure would add them to the funding formula. This will reduce per-pupil funding.

I get the feeling that this bill was supposed to fail and the other one was supposed to pass. I base that feeling on an email thread among its supporters that circulated widely this morning. Before I had a chance to really analyze what was in it, Rob Miller had written a brilliant piece discussing the outside influence on our legislative process. Even the conservative McCarville Report discussed the email exchange with what seemed to be a measure of disgust.

Normally, I try to post small portions of other bloggers’ work. Tonight is different. This is critical to understand. Our non-compliant legislators are being strong-armed by out-of-state politicians and activists.

The people our state elected to protect us from people from out of state are listening to people from out of state – not to Oklahomans.

Here’s a long excerpt from the middle of Rob’s The Voucher Wolves are at the Door! today:

Later in the day the positive mood was tempered when Nelson’s House version failed to clear the education committee. The following email was part of the same email chain from above. It was written from former Wisconsin House Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen. Jensen was forced to resign his office in disgrace in 2006 after numerous ethics charges. More about this later. (emphasis is mine)

On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:18 PM, Scott Jensen <> wrote:

Dear Team,

I decided to take my kids out for dessert tonight after the disappointing vote in the House Education Committee. Amazingly, they wanted frozen yogurt despite the single digit temperatures here in Wisconsin.  Now, that I have calmed down, I still have two serious frustrations:

First, the Chair of the House Education Committee cast the deciding vote against a proposal by a membership of the House leadership (Nelson) – a bill that the Speaker and Majority Leader came to the committee to support. As a former Speaker, I find this stunning. At a minimum, Chair Coody should have expressed her concerns with the bill, voted to advance it out of committee but said she would not be able to support it on the floor unless her concerns were addressed. Instead, she felt completely comfortable choosing the education establishment over her leadership team. It is very early in the session for this sort of challenge to the leadership. If the Speaker does not have a swift response to this vote, he can count on chaos for the rest of the session.

Second, when your team is in charge you should never lose a vote. If you don’t have the horses then the bill should be set aside and no vote should be held. I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short. Was Rep. Nelson unable to ask for the vote to be delayed so he could address some members concerns? Was Chair Coody so interested in sticking it to her leadership that she went ahead with the vote? Most legislators are conflict avoiders so they are very open to a request to delay the vote on a bill. If we didn’t have the votes, no vote should have been held. That is one of the greatest powers of the majority, deciding when a vote will be held.

If I were Speaker, it would now be a matter of honor to me that the Senate version of the ESA bill pass on the floor.

Whether or not the Speaker and his leadership team choose to instill some team discipline, we should do so. I would recommend that several organizations on this email list conduct robocalls and emails to voter lists educating them about the votes by Representatives Coody, Nollan, Thomsen, Casey and Henke. The message should be simple: these Republicans joined with liberal Democrats to defeat an important education reform supported by conservatives and the Republican leadership. Their voters should know they joined with the liberal Democrats to cast the deciding vote against giving parents more educational options. The ramifications of this vote should echo in the House chamber.


Notice Jensen’s liberal use of the terms “team” and “we”? As far as I can tell, Mr. Jensen has never spent a day in our great state, yet he is inserting himself smack dab in the middle of an Oklahoma policy debate.

I find it frightening that Jensen would write, “I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short.” Assured by whom and for what reason? Why would ANY Oklahoma legislator ASSURE Jensen of ANYTHING!!!!

And who invited him to be part of our damn team anyway? Who is this PUPPET MASTER who is attempting to coerce and threaten our state legislators into compliance?

Well, let’s just say, Mr. Jensen has quite a colorful history. His illustrious past: rabid voucher supporter, unethical scoundrel, convicted felon…you know, just the type of person we want influencing our elections and controlling our legislative process.

There are lots of articles about Mr. Jensen online. Here is a small piece from one that ran recently titled, “Wisconsin’s Voucher Vultures.”

After a couple of years, he ran for public office himself and served as an Assembly representative for fourteen years, including as the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly for some of that time.

Then he fell from grace as he was charged and convicted of three felonies in an abuse of power and illegal campaigning scandal that rocked the statehouse and landed several top pols in jail. After more than four years of legal maneuvering, Jensen managed to get a mistrial declared by the state court of appeals and appealed all the way to the state supreme court in order to move the venue of the next trial to his home county of Waukesha.

Eight years after Jensen was caught illegally using legislative staff and resources to work on partisan campaigns and charged with felony misconduct in office, he made a deal with Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel to plead guilty to one misdemeanor, pay a $5,000 fine, reimburse the state for legal costs incurred on his behalf before he resigned, and promise to never run for public office again.

But that hasn’t kept Jensen out of the state capitol. These days he can be seen prowling its halls, unelected but more powerful than ever, throwing his influence around. For the past three years, he’s been working as a high-paid lobbyist for school vouchers, raking in over $200,000 a year to do the arm-twisting work of the Walton and DeVos families, two of the richest in the nation.

A few moments after Jensen’s email, he received a response from Leslie Hiner. She is also a school choice PUPPET MASTER who is pulling strings in states across America from her perch at the Friedman Foundation. You can read more about her

From: Leslie Hiner []
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2015 10:25 PM
To: Scott Jensen

Subject: Re: Tonight’s ESA Vote in the House

Yes. As the former chief of staff to the Speaker in Indiana, I agree with Scott 100%. Wisconsin and Indiana are leading the nation in advancing educational choice, and this has not happened by accident. Leadership matters. Time for Oklahoma’s leaders to draw a line in the sand and act decisively. Until then, Oklahomans need to get the word out about who is, and who is not, supportive of families in Oklahoma.

Thank you, Scott.

And thanks to Jason Nelson for a stellar testimony today. Well done.
Friedman Foundation

Wow, don’t you think it is great that these out-of-state corporate lobbyists care so much about the children of Oklahoma? To the point that they are urging Oklahoma’s leaders to “draw a line in the sand” and “instill some team discipline” to ensure this voucher bill gets passed “for the kids?” Or else, “they can count on chaos!”

Are you starting to see the connections? We have Damon Gardenhire from the Walmart Family Foundation in Arkansas, with voucher lobbyists in Wisconsin and Indiana, along with conservative propagandists and law makers in Oklahoma, working together to implement legislation that very few people in Oklahoma are asking for.

This is serious business for these people and they are pulling out all the stops to get vouchers passed in Oklahoma. They have the money and influence.

But we have thousands of individual voices. This is why you MUST share this message with all who are concerned about the future of public schools in our state.

Make no mistake, the Oklahoma legislators who voted NO yesterday will face incredible pressure from these voucher wolves to change their vote. They need to hear from us TODAY, TOMORROW, and EVERY DAY until we defeat this legislation in Oklahoma.

Sorry Rob. I know that the scoring experts at CTB/McGraw-Hill would consider direct citation of such a long passage to be plagiarism, but you really nailed this one. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought it was fun to see the return of such buzzwords as liberals and education establishment! It’s not even Throwback Thursday! Gee, we’ve sure missed that one lady.

Friends, we need to take back our legislature. It’s not the job of think tanks and disgraced bullies from Wisconsin to hold our elected leaders accountable. THAT’S OUR JOB! The more sway we allow these outsiders to have at our Capitol, the less we have. We pay the taxes. We vote for these people. We have to live with the misguided policies they produce. The least they could do is answer to us! We must fight their robo-calls, their Walton Family Foundation money, and their agenda to destroy public education with our voices, our feet, and our relentlessness.

I’m also interested in the fallout. The political junkie in me loves sneaking a peak of how the sausage is made. Will Coody lose her spot as committee chair? Will this bill come back as zombie legislation next week? How many House Speakers from the Midwest will show up to shepherd the legislation? Will any of the legislators who voted to kill APUSH because it is not tied to state standards see the irony in supporting a voucher education that is not tied to state standards?

I oppose what this group of anti-public education activists call school choice. Vouchers help the people who don’t need help. It puts money in the pockets of people who already have the ability to provide the school setting of their choosing. It does not get the poor and needy into the game, as they love to pretend. Meanwhile, these same reformers attack public schools, tying our legs to anvils in the middle of the lake. When we don’t sink, they add more – because anvils are always funny.


We didn’t choose this. Neither did parents. Nor did students. Let’s not pretend differently or go down without a fight.

Save AP

February 17, 2015 12 comments

This fight is bigger than we thought. We’re no longer talking about simply saving APUSH. We’re talking about saving all of our Advanced Placement courses. As the Tulsa World reports, the House Common Education Committee voted 11-4 (along party lines) yesterday to make teaching AP US History illegal. If this measure were to go forward, all AP courses could be in jeopardy. This is a product of 2014’s HB 3399 which overturned the Common Core.

The legality of teaching Advanced Placement courses in Oklahoma public schools was raised Monday during a House Common Education Committee hearing on a bill aimed at the AP U.S. history guidelines.

That measure, House Bill 1380, by Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, would direct the state Board of Education to review those guidelines and bar the use of state funds for AP U.S. history courses.

During discussion and debate, however, it was suggested that AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.

It was also suggested that AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core, with state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, saying she has asked the state Attorney General’s Office for a ruling on the matter.

That legislation gives sole control of curriculum and assessment to the state, although it was not immediately clear whether the requirement applies to all courses or only to required courses.

Although HB 1380 specifically targets U.S. history, a ruling that it violates state law related to curriculum and assessment could apply to all AP courses.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave space for Southmoore High School teacher David Burton to explain how this course is no less patriotic than the previous iteration of APUSH. Nonetheless, the committee heard myth after myth, evidence to refute the falsehoods, and carried on as if nothing had happened. I listened to much of the committee meeting, and I was struck by the sheer ignorance of what I heard. It was depressing.

I don’t have a lot of time to write this morning, but we really need to be active and fast on this issue. Legislators need to hear from parents. They need to hear from students. They need to know how these courses have impacted your education, and how these courses have saved you money in college. Teachers and administrators have spoken. The legislature hasn’t heard us, apparently.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

Say NO to Vouchers. Rinse. Repeat.

Friday, CCOSA sent members the following legislative alert:


There are two bills being considered on Monday by two separate legislative committees that have the potential of expanding VOUCHERS in Oklahoma.  Please contact members of both committees and your State Representative and State Senatorand ask that they vote NO on these bills!

SB 609 by Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) will be heard at 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 16, by the Senate Education Committee.

HB 2003 by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-OKC) will be heard at 3 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 16 by the House Common Education Committee.

Both bills would create a voucher program and distribute state funds to parents via “Education Savings Accounts” or ESAs. ESAs would be funded based on a percentage of the student’s WADM.  Parents of eligible students would be able to use those funds to pay for personal tutors, homeschooling costs, online classes, sports team fees and many types of therapy, including horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. They can also spend the money on private school tuition or save some of it for college.  ESAs currently exist in Arizona and Florida. In fact, Politico reports that one family from Florida “recently sought to use their child’s funds on and ‘educational vacation’ to Europe.”

Educators and parents should be concerned about this type of voucher program!

ESAs reduce the already limited amount of resources available to public schools and threaten to exacerbate the current teacher shortage!

ESAs do not have a built-in component to ensure that student participants are receiving rigorous or well-rounded educations!

ESAs would cause the OK SDE and/or State Treasurer to hire investigators and auditors to review and audit the private decisions of parents – allowing for government intrusion into private family matters!

ESAs are NOT revenue neutral – in both Florida and Arizona students were able to apply for ESAs even if they had never attended public schools in those states. This meant that both states ended up subsidizing private or home-based educations for children whose families previously covered those costs themselves/

Florida ESA costs as reported by Politico in Feb. 2015: $18.4 million

Arizona ESA costs as reported by Politico in Feb. 2015: $16.3 million

You can read more Education Savings Accounts at Politico.

These bills pretty much contain the same language as the voucher bill that died in committee (by a vote of 14-8) last February. The issue hasn’t changed. A few legislators want to take tax dollars to help a few families send their children to private schools. But wait, there’s more. Rob Miller tears the arguments in favor of vouchers to shreds in his post from yesterday, Education Savings Accounts: Facts, Myths, and Bovine Excrement!

Under bills filed by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, much of the per-pupil funding used to educate a child could instead be deposited in an individual bank account. Parents would be given a debit card and allowed to use that account to customize their child’s education. The money could be used for a wide range of education options, including tutoring, online courses, private school and other services. Money left unspent could continue to accumulate and be used for future educational needs. (In other words, parents could get a portion of their child’s education funding on an ATM card to use for home schooling, online courses, or private school tuition in their sectarian school of choice.)

Many Oklahoma lawmakers say they support parental involvement in K-12 education(seriously, is there anyone saying they do not want parent involvement in schools). The bills by Nelson and Jolley provide an opportunity to back up that rhetoric with action.

Rob’s post is long and detailed, and very much worth reading.

Also worth reading is the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs position on school choice:

In case you can’t see the tweet from the OCPA think tank, it says, “The price for more funding #oklaed is tougher standards, genuine accountability and increased parental choice.” How does giving parents the education funding and the choice to do anything under the sun with it amount to genuine accountability? What standards will be in place for the use of the ESAs? Which parents chose A-F Report Cards, EOIs for graduation, a third-grade retention law, and every other reform nightmare of the last few years? I ask because as with the ESAs, none of these laws were hatched in Oklahoma. They are the product of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Oklahoman and OCPA are just the Oklahoma mouthpieces for this Koch-brothers hobby. It’s all double-speak.

As Dr. Jason James pointed out last night, most families couldn’t get their children into a private school with the voucher described in these bills:

Everything about these bills misleads the public. If you find yourself with some downtime today, given the weather conditions we’re facing, I encourage you to respectfully call your own legislator and state senator, as well as the members of these two committees. Remember that they represent you – not OCPA, not the Oklahoman, and not ALEC.

Senate Education Committee

Senator District Phone Email Twitter
Senator John Ford . Chair 29 405.521.5634
Senator Ron Sharp . Vice Chair 27 405.521.5539
Senator Josh Brecheen 6 405.521.5586 @brecheen4senate
Senator Earl Garrison 9 405.521.5533 @garrisondist9
Senator Jim Halligan 21 405.521.5572
Senator Clark Jolley 41 405.521.5622 @ClarkJolley
Senator Susan Paddack 13 405.521.5541
Senator Marty Quinn 2 405.521.5555
Senator Wayne Shaw 3 405.521.5574
Senator Jason Smalley 28 405.521.5547 @smalley101
Senator John Sparks 16 405.521.5553
Senator Gary Stanislawski 35 405.521.5624 @SenStanislawski
Senator Roger Thompson 8 405.521.5588


House Common Education Committee

Representative District Phone Email Twitter
Rep. Ann Coody 64 405.557.7398
Rep. Chad Caldwell 40 405.557.7317 @chad4ok
Rep. Ed Cannady 15 405.557.7375
Rep. Dennis Casey 35 405.557.7344
Rep. Donnie Condit 18 405.557.7376 @ConditDonnie
Rep. Dan Fisher 60 405.557.7311 @ElectDanFisher
Rep. Katie Henke 71 405.557.7361 @KatieHenke
Rep. John Paul Jordan 43 405.557.7352
Rep. Sally Kern 84 405.557.7348 @SallyKern
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel 78 405.557.7334 @JeannieMcDani14
Rep. Michael Rogers 98 405.557.7362 @rogersmichael21
Rep. Jason Nelson 87 405.557.7335 @jasonnelsonok
Rep. Jadine Nollan 66 405.557.7390
Rep. Shane Stone 89 405.557.7397
Rep. Chuck Strohm 69 405.557.7331
Rep. Todd Thomsen 25 405.557.7336 @ToddThomsen

The Importance of Writing

February 13, 2015 2 comments

It doesn’t take a perceptive person to understand that I love writing. It’s why I majored in English in college. It’s why I became a teacher. Fundamentally, I believe that writing well opens doors for people. In desperate times, it can be the thing that feeds the soul.

It’s why I got so worked up during the summer when the state writing test went so badly. It’s why I was excited to hear that we wouldn’t be participating in the Field Test later this month. It’s why I tilted my head like Nipper, the RCA dog, when I heard yesterday that the 5th and 8th grade operational prompts would be in the narrative mode.


I wasn’t upset or frustrated – just surprised. Moreover, I was in the middle of scoring posters for a writing contest at West Junior High in Moore. This was a true Writing Across the Curriculum event, and I was excited to read what so many of these students had written. If the sample I saw was any indication, our students would have done well on the state test answering any kind of a prompt.

The event organizer, literacy coach Kathy Shaw, didn’t just stop there. She asked some people outside the school (including State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister) to address the importance of writing at the evening showcase for their parents, which was held last night. In Kathy’s words:

Our committee wanted to have a video of community leaders (and hopefully celebrities) to address the importance of writing at our Thunder Up for Writing event.  We wanted successful leaders to explain how writing is a tool that will be used beyond the walls of the classroom.  I emailed Joy and her staff immediately responded that she was thrilled to help us with this event.  I appreciated follow up conversations with her staff as they wanted to understand the event and the topic we wanted her to address.

I am pleased to say that Joy addressed the topic, and went beyond anything Kathy expected. What West Junior High received was a video that is nearly five minutes long. You can see it below.

Here are my nine favorite things Joy said in the video (with commentary by me in italics):

  1. “Writing sharpens your skills in everything.”
  2. “It makes you a more interesting person.” I’ve been counting on this!
  3. “Once you find your voice, it stays with you your entire life.”
  4. “For many, online sites and blogs have replaced newspapers as the news source of choice.” Yes!
  5. “Using Twitter has also helped me to sharpen my views.”
  6. “People are much more willing to work with you when you communicate well.”
  7. “I think an important part of being state superintendent is to encourage discussion.” Such a refreshing change!
  8. “If you can write well, you can express yourself well, and that means you will be heard.”
  9. “Your words matter.”

I’ll be honest; that last one got me. Talk about your teachable moment! Our students always need to be told they matter. Their ideas, their words, their voices…every bit of them matters. We have a state superintendent who gets that and takes the time to think about how she wants to express that to our junior high kids in Moore. Hopefully this message will be heard throughout Oklahoma.

Categories: Uncategorized

The legislative APUSH push-back: a teacher’s perspective

February 4, 2015 8 comments

I’ve been wanting to write about the APUSH legislation proposed in each of Oklahoma’s legislative houses, but I’ve been tied up with my arm in a sling for the better part of two weeks. Given the lengths of some of my rants, I didn’t want to type it all one-handed.  I’m getting back to full-strength, so I’ll be adding my thoughts to the blogosphere soon. In the meantime, I’ve really enjoyed Blue Cereal Education’s compendium of research and snark on the bills and the men behind them:

Oklahoma Turns Against APUSH?

We’ve Found A Witch… May We Burn Her?

Noooobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Meet Senator Josh Brecheen, Part II – Books on the Bonfire

Meet Senator Josh Brecheen, Part I – Fire From Heaven

OK Senate Bill 650 – Brecheen the Ice

OK House Bill 1380 – Something Seems Fisher About This

Since I’ve been sidelined, I have asked a teacher I respect tremendously to give me his thoughts on the bills. David Burton is the Social Studies department chair at Southmoore High School and a long-time APUSH teacher. He was also the Moore Public Schools Teacher of the Year last year. Everything from this point on is what David has written.


Greetings! My name is David Burton. I’m in the 15th year of my teaching career in Moore Public Schools. For 12 of these 15 years I have been a proud teacher of Advanced Placement (or AP) United States History (commonly known as APUSH): five years at Moore High and now in year seven at Southmoore. For those not aware, APUSH is one of the numerous AP courses designed by the College Board which include an end-of-course exam on which high school students have the opportunity to earn college credit prior to ever leaving the high school environment. This June will mark my 10th year of joining 1300+ high school APUSH and college history professors in working for the College Board to score the essays these high school students will compose as part of their APUSH exam.

I am humbled that my friend and colleague Rick Cobb, author of okeducationtruths, has offered me this opportunity to communicate with you.

On Monday, January 26th, I was forwarded an e-mail and opened its attachment. To my utter dismay I read the following:

Burton 1

These words are from Senate Bill 650 as submitted by Senator Josh Brecheen for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of SB650.

That Monday became a stressed-filled day with e-mails, phone calls, and meetings with interested leaders within my school, my district, and the state department of education as they could be worked around my teaching duties. Unfortunately, prior to settling into bed that night I found and read the following:

Burton 2

These words are from House Bill 1380 as submitted by Representative Dan Fisher for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of HB1380.

This APUSH course, that I teach and love, must have done something horrible to have found itself under the direct attack of two separate bills being considered by the Oklahoma legislature this session. What on earth is all this fuss about?

Beginning this past August, APUSH classrooms throughout the world (yes, the whole WORLD—U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, and a host of private schools which draw the children of Americans working within other countries also teach APUSH) began using the College Board’s new APUSH course framework in preparation for the newly redesigned end-of-course exam which students will take this coming May.

The APUSH course redesign now being used is the product of a multi-year endeavor to:

  1. better align the teaching of the course and the evaluation of its concepts and relevant historical thinking skills with college caliber expectations, and
  2. better align the historical thinking skills and exam formats among APUSH and AP World History and AP European History; the new APEuro framework/exam goes live in 2015-2016 with APWH to come in another year or so thereafter.

Brecheen’s SB650 and Fisher’s HB1380 each express concerns with the framework. Similar concerns were expressed by the Texas Board of Education and the Republican National Committee in the summer of 2014 as well as the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado in September 2014. The Texas BOE backed off from its threats to suspend the teaching of APUSH state-wide and opted to reiterate that, regardless of the College Board’s framework, the state-curriculum standards for American history which the BOE had previously adopted had to be fully taught within Texas’ schools. The Jefferson County board backed down following two weeks of student-led walk-outs from class in protest of the attacks on their course.

Concern One:

The newly adopted APUSH framework does not provide a comprehensive list of all of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. which APUSH students should learn within this American history course. These bills threaten to prevent the teaching of APUSH in Oklahoma until the College Board retracts the new APUSH framework and returns to the course guide used in 2013-2014 and before.

My Response:

The genius of the new APUSH framework is its lack of any attempt to create a comprehensive laundry list of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. that the College Board believes are imperative to learn.

  1. Any laundry list which seeks to be all-inclusive is bound to leave out some name, date, event, fact, etc. This will subsequently ignite the vitriol of some person somewhere in America. “You left my favorite topic out! How dare you!!”
  2. Nearly every state has its own curriculum format for a high school American history course. Such states, like Oklahoma, often hold lengthy meetings which include a wide-range of interested parties to create laundry lists, or some variation thereof, which seek to pacify these diverse interests. Click here for the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies. Interestingly enough, I am absolutely positive that there are Oklahomans who will still claim “something is missing.” Further, many school districts have detailed local guides to clarify and/or add to the guidelines set by the respective state.
  3. The College Board’s new framework for APUSH provides broad yet descriptive Key Concepts which span over the nine defined periods for historic study. Very rarely is there an inclusion of any specific or imperative fact to be learned, but rather does provide overarching concepts for the big-picture. The thought process here was that this provides the perfect opportunity for APUSH teachers to go in-depth on those topics which: (a) are important to the local/regional interests or requirements state law; (b) the individual teacher believes are quality examples of the key concepts; and/or (c)the students in the classroom express interest in exploring.

    Example: If the College Board did provide an exhaustive laundry list on the imperative names, dates, events, facts, etc., for the 1940s-1960s Civil Rights era it would most assuredly omit Civil Rights leaders, like Clara Luper, which Oklahomans would prefer to highlight. However, with the key concept framework now in use, I as a teacher in Oklahoma have the opportunity to help my students explore in detail the local/regional examples of the big-picture of Civil Rights. After all, Clara Luper and the Katz Drug Store sit-ins predated the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins by two years and yet Greensboro would most assuredly get the coveted laundry list spot.

  1. Additionally, I find the contention that the College Board return to the previous course guide to be laughable if it is truly the goal of Brecheen and Fisher to have a comprehensive laundry list. The old APUSH Topic Outline was a skeletal outline of concepts which also omitted the vast majority of proper names and events. Thus, as a disclaimer to the Topic Outline the College Board declared:

Burton 3

Further, take a look at these samples from the old and new APUSH frameworks and see which one looks like it serves as the better guide to facilitate student learning:

The Old (click here for full outline)

Burton 4

The New (click here for full framework)

Burton 5

Concern Two:

The newly adopted APUSH framework fails to provide a comprehensive listing of primary source documents from American history to which APUSH students must be exposed. To solve this problem, the proposed legislation provides identical and lengthy lists of primary source documents from American history which ALL of Oklahoma’s students within an American history classroom, APUSH or otherwise, must receive instruction (thus, these two bills impact much more than just the teaching of APUSH).

My Response:

  1. For the most part, see my comments above about laundry lists. While the lists of documents Brecheen and Fisher provide include a collection of primary source documents that, by-and-large, most APUSH teachers, within Oklahoma or otherwise, actually use and have been using for years, there are still going to be documents that someone else believes to be imperative that are not on this list.
  2. Something of special note is that each of these document lists are not only identical to each other, but they are also identical to House Bill 588 from North Carolina’s 2011 Legislative Session (I’ll come back to North Carolina in a moment); it’s almost as if Brecheen and Fisher did a copy/paste out of someone else’s work (we call that plagiarism or cheating in my classroom).
  3. Some of the documents are actually problematic for a realistic study of traditional American history:

    a. The Mecklenburg Declaration: There is significant historic scholarship suggesting that this first declaration of independence did not even exist in 1775 as claimed. There are copies of some “Mecklenburg Resolutions” that sought some change in behavior from the British government which date to 1775. However, the earliest copy of anything resembling the incorporation of those resolutions into a formal break with Britain only dates to a news article in 1819. Why is this declaration included in SB650 or HB1380?—because there was coping/pasting from the North Carolina bill!! Why is it in the NC bill?—because the alleged declaration was made in North Carolina!—see another ideal example of a local issue that can/should be incorporated into an APUSH within that local area but is Mecklenburg really relevant to Oklahomans?—NO!

    b. I can see the direct connection of the Magna Carta to the early creation of rights/liberties within British identity. I do use Magna Carta along with the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights to show the legacy of British rights the American colonists believe were being violated. There is a direct legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. While I do love the Ten Commandments, I cannot see a clear justification for the development of this legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. Of course I’m sure that the Justinian Code is simply thrown in there to prevent claims that the Ten Commandments’ inclusion was purely for religious agenda purposes. Any other relevance of the Justinian Code to American history?

    c. Both Brecheen and Fisher have the Constitution, the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights listed distinctly. Once an amendment is ratified it is now is part of the Constitution. Further, those first ten amendments are the Bill of Rights. Basically the listing process has simply become a case of governmental/legislative redundancy.

Concern Three:

The newly adopted APUSH framework was created by the College Board, a non-profit company, which does not have to abide by the same levels of “transparency” which would be required by the legal framework in most states which includes the oversight of a legislature and/or state-wide school board accountable to the people. Further evidence of the College Board’s lack of transparency is evidenced by the fact that the sample test in the new format was hidden behind a secure-access portion of the College Board website. If the College Board is hiding the sample test it must be because they have created something shady and don’t want the general public to see it.

 My Response:

  1. The test redesign committee used by the College Board was comprised of college history professors and high school APUSH teachers. I personally know one of these APUSH teachers and he is held in high regard among the nation-wide community of APUSH teachers. Further, throughout the process of the redesign consultants from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Coalition for History, and the National Council for History Education were called on to provide their insight.
  2. Throughout the redesign process the College Board sent out surveys to APUSH teachers and college professors with samples of the framework’s Key Concepts and sample test questions for evaluation. I personally participated in three of these surveys offering my insight into the design of the conceptual framework and the merit of the proposed test questions in balancing the evaluation of course concepts and historical thinking skills.
  3. The new version of the test is NEW!!! There are not, as of yet, large stockpiles of sample questions created by the College Board which teachers can use within their classrooms so as to assess student progress. Of course the ONLY full-length practice test was in a secured location so that only audit-approved APUSH teachers could access it. If the general public could access this sample test then our students could access it since they are also part of the general public. If all of our students can readily access the one and only one full-length practice test then what type of valid results can a classroom teacher expect to see when using such test for evaluative purposes? This quite simply is a no brainer!!
  4. By the mid-Fall 2014 the College Board had completed another full-length practice test and was able to release the original sample test to the general public. Guess what? That test truly evaluates a well-rounded course in American history as well as legitimate ways for students to use their content knowledge within the scope of using appropriate historical thinking skills to complete each the multiple choice, the short answer, and the essay portions of the exam. Click here to see the full-length sample test.

Concern Four:

The newly adopted APUSH framework is a far-leftist liberally biased attempt to force students to solely be exposed to a revisionist and negative view of America, thus limiting or preventing the development of a nationalistic patriotism. SB650 and HB1380 simply seek to prevent the hijacking of traditional American history from the clutches of those evil, commie, über liberal teachers.

My Response:

  1. This is actually the primary rationale for the walk-out protests by the Colorado students. They didn’t want some sanitized American history course for APUSH or otherwise. They want a class that lets them see America in all of its glory and mire. After all, it’s more often than not the story of how we as a people grappled with the mire and learned to overcome such that has helped us to become progressively a better people overtime.
  2. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am probably the furthest thing from an evil, commie, über liberal. In the grand scheme of the totality of political topics (especially those topics non-related to APUSH or education), I am probably more in agreement with the politics of each Senator Brecheen and Representative Fisher and the majorities within Oklahoma’s two legislative chambers than I am with my friend and colleague who has provided me with this forum on this blog. As such, I have yet to see anything within the APUSH framework which seeks to force a biased study of American history upon APUSH students.
  3. Rather than make outlandish claims, or rely upon such made by others, I implore Brecheen and Fisher to actually read the framework and tell me where you see evidence of such claims. Seriously! Read the APUSH framework that you seek to circumvent with this legislation.

Ultimately, I see no clear convincing need for either of these pieces of legislation. Brecheen and Fisher seek to save Oklahoma’s children from a fabricated enemy. The reality is that if one of these bills successfully becomes law we will see a significant negative economic impact upon Oklahoma’s families. Consider this:

  1. If the teaching of APUSH is banished then students will not receive the required instructional strategies necessary for success on the APUSH exam.
  2. If students are not prepared for success on the APUSH exam they won’t earn a score which qualifies them for college credit.
  3. If students aren’t able to qualify for college credit then they and/or their families will be responsible to pay for taking U.S. History in college.
  4. Currently at each OU and OSU, the tuition and fees for one credit hour of course work is $248.05. Most students will be required to take one 3-hour U.S. History credit in order to graduate while many others will be required to take two 3-hour U.S. History credits. As such, the economic impact on Oklahoma’s families is $744.15 to $1488.30.
  5. Which seems more reasonable: approximately $90 to take the APUSH exam or hundreds of dollars in college?

In conclusion, simply imagine what would have happened to the education of the students represented in the chart below if either SB650 or HB1380 had been enacted five years ago. This chart represents the numbers of students who earned a qualifying college credit score on the APUSH exam since 2010.

Burton 6

AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5; a 3 or higher is considered to be qualified, or passing, for college credit.

I am okeducationtruths

January 18, 2015 54 comments

Hi! My name is Rick Cobb. I am the author of okeducationtruths.

In this post, I’m going to write about myself. You have no idea how uncomfortable that makes me. For the most part, I won’t resort to humorous images, classic rock, or references to Shawshank. I’ll just try to be as real as possible.

My first teaching job was in Muskogee in 1993. As my winding career path has led me to the position of Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Moore, I had only ever worked under one state superintendent – Sandy Garrett – until 2011. During Janet Barresi’s campaign against Sen. Susan Paddack in 2010, she had said several caustic things about teachers and about schools, but you never really know how campaigning will translate to leading. I voted for Paddack, but I was willing to give Barresi a chance. Elections have consequences, after all.

Then that crazy first State Board of Education meeting happened. Barresi wanted her own people, and she didn’t care how they were paid. She fired many great educators with a long history of helping schools help kids. I resigned myself to waiting out her four-year term in silence.

Obviously that didn’t last. Below, I attempt to capture the journey that led to me being an outspoken blogger, and eventually more vocal in real life.

Why did I start blogging?

Three events during Barresi’s first 15 months really accelerated my frustration.

  1. Serving on the ESEA waiver committee – In the fall of 2011, I was invited to serve on one of three subcommittees at the SDE to help draft Oklahoma’s waiver request. By the first break, many of us had come to realize that we were just there as window dressing. The essence of the waiver had already been written, with greater input from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence than any of us.
  2. Nobody to listen to the A-F public comments – In March of 2012, when the rules for the A-F Report Cards were still in draft form, the SDE held a forum for public comments. Apparently, attending this forum was not a priority for Barresi, her top staff, or the state board members.
  3. Observations about the reward schools – The next month, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony at the SDE to receive certificates for the schools in my district that were deemed Reward Schools by the SDE. We have more than 30 campuses in Moore. Of these, 17 have a Title I program. Eight of our nine Reward Schools were not. While all of these schools have staff that work hard, so do our schools that didn’t make the list. I inquired about the criteria, but I couldn’t get any answers. I got a complete list of the schools, though, and I started doing some research. There was a strong correlation to free/reduced lunch percentages. The system artificially creates winners and losers. In the process, it demeans both groups. We have a lot to be proud of in Moore – more than just those nine schools.

I wish I could find the picture of Barresi, SBE member Baxter, and me posing with those nine certificates. It would have been a great image to include here. After the SBE meeting in which he called for her resignation and she called him a name, that picture immediately popped into my head. Unfortunately, it was probably lost in one of the moves our Administrative Service Center has had to make in the last couple of years. No, I never framed it.

Why did I write anonymously?

Fourth Generation Teacher, Claudia Swisher, is a long-time family friend. Her son and I graduated from high school together. She drove our basketball carpool in middle school. After the Reward School ceremony, I put some numbers and language together and sent her an unsolicited guest post for her blog. I emailed her the draft of my first blog post on April 17, 2012. We tried, but we couldn’t make it work with all the tables I had made. After some consideration, I started okeducationtruths eight days later.

I didn’t want to put my name to the blog for several reasons. I didn’t want the attention on me or my school district. I didn’t want the principals, teachers, parents, and students in Moore to think that I didn’t appreciate the schools that were rewarded. My point, which I was afraid might get lost, was that we have great schools NOT being rewarded – including two Title I schools that had recently been named Blue Ribbon Schools by the USDE.

I don’t know how I came up with the title, or the motto, when the record on public education in Oklahoma needs to be set straight. I guess they’ve worked pretty well, though.

As the number of readers grew, I did occasionally receive interview requests and invitations to speak at events. I seriously considered these. However, I decided that what made this blog work was the ideas – not the personality.

I’ve had many people send me information that has helped me shed light on public education issues that otherwise would not receive attention. I can’t count them, and I’ll never name them. Their anonymity is just as valuable as mine has been.

Who knew, and when?

Other than Claudia, my wife was the only person I told right from the beginning. My only promise to her, as far as the blog was concerned, was that I would never publish anything using Comic Sans.

Until the last few months, I hadn’t even told anybody in Moore. Until the last few days, I hadn’t even told my mom, who was a 29 year special education teacher.

Over the last three years, a few people have figured it out, either through mistakes I’ve made (like tweeting from the wrong account), or just similarities between things I say publicly and the content of this blog. I’ve even had people let me know they had figured it out but that they wouldn’t tell. I assume more people know than I realize. The discretion of those in the know has impressed me. I’m grateful beyond words.

I will mention, however, how I revealed my identity to fellow blogger Rob Miller. (This is almost identical to how he told it last night on A View From the Edge, which was funny to me because I already had this section written.) I wanted to introduce myself to him at the March rally at the Capitol. There were so many people, that we couldn’t connect. I told Rob that if I saw him, I would identify myself with a gesture (yes, it’s the same image he used). Since The Sting is one of my all-time favorite movies, I chose this:

Newman Nose

In early June, I saw Rob in Norman at a conference and made the gesture and introduced myself. Until then, he didn’t know who I was. He told me he had suspected, based on some of my comments under my real life Twitter handle (@grendelrick). Since then, we have shared a number of ideas.

Did I ever consider quitting?

There have been a number of times I wanted to quit. One of the biggest reasons is time. Almost all of the countdown from last June (20 reasons to vote for anyone other than Barresi) was written over coffee and cereal. I find writing both cathartic and exhausting. After June, I was exhausted. That’s part of the reason I haven’t written as frequently since then.

From the beginning, I never planned on being a blogger. I wanted to write one piece, present it as something of a white paper to Claudia for her blog, and go back to my under-the-radar life. I was in the middle of writing my dissertation, and I needed to focus on that. I did find that writing the blog helped me get into a zone and finish my dissertation, though. So that was a nice thing. I successfully defended in March 2013 and figured I would write more. Two months later, everything changed.

Those who personally know me understand why I don’t like to talk about the tornado. For a while after the storm, I figured the blog really didn’t matter. Eventually, it was one of the things that helped me heal. I have rarely mentioned the storm or our district’s recovery on okeducationtruths because I don’t feel like that’s my story to tell. It’s a shared experience among all of us who’ve been through it. I decided this really wasn’t the place to open a window into the district.

The next month, when Barresi sent every Moore Public Schools employee an email – a really badly written email – explaining state aid, I decided not to write about it. Then I received several copies of it in my blog email account. I decided I should share it. Then last June, when Barresi compared recovering from the tornado to the state losing CCSS, I lost it. Rob let me know he’d be writing about it, which gave me some time to calm down before I started. When our superintendent, Dr. Robert Romines, commented on Rob’s blog, I was proud of both of them. I don’t speak for the district, especially when it comes to the tornado.

There have been many times I just haven’t felt like blogging. I’m like each of you with jobs and families. Sometimes, other things are more important than what I do Because of this, I’ve probably missed a few news cycles. When I do, it’s really no big deal. There are always other bloggers out there to catch things I miss. When I take little breaks, I miss it for a few days, then not at all. So far, something has always brought me back.

Has blogging interfered with my job?

No, it hasn’t. Barresi’s SDE has interfered with my job, but blogging has not. If anything, it has helped me do my job better by broadening my professional learning network.

As Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Moore, I wear many hats. I supervise a talented group of curriculum specialists. I serve on the district’s Professional Development Committee. I directly manage the Title II program and indirectly supervise the Title I program. With so many responsibilities that were new to me when I came to the district in 2008, I came to find value in several groups that met at the SDE. One of these was the School Improvement Advisory Council.

For years, the SDE had hosted SIAC once a month. Most who attended were in similar positions in other districts around the state. Individuals from higher education and career tech also attended. We discussed initiatives in our own district and legislative/policy issues. At some point during Barresi’s first year, those meetings stopped. A group of nearby schools formed the Metro Teaching and Learning (MT&L) consortium in its place. This is still the group I call when I have questions or ideas that need vetting.

In fact, this group gave me much of the language I needed when I wrote about A-F, RSA, and countless other issues. On occasion, they would even wonder openly about the identity of okeducationtruths. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or uncomfortable. Honestly, given the early content, it could’ve been any of us.

Early on, I decided that if I said something at work, I wouldn’t use it on the blog. I might write about the same issue, but I wouldn’t use the same language. My commitment to the people who pay my salary is greater than my commitment to blogging.

This stance changed last June. Principals and teachers in our district were upset about the irregularities with the state writing tests. We had too many examples where we disagreed with the score to just sit idly by. The MT&L consortium had an impromptu meeting at the CCOSA conference, and we decided somebody should speak at the next State Board of Education meeting. My superintendent was fine with me speaking, so I did. Below is a picture of me addressing the SBE two days after Hofmeister won the primary.

Speaking at SBE

What I said that day was the same message I had on the blog. It was the same thing I was saying to the people at work. I trust our students and teachers more than I trust the testing company. In August, when the SDE threw out the writing tests, it was for reasons similar to what I had said in front of the SBE in June. Much of the language came from the MT&L consortium. More came from people in Moore. Some even came from stories my readers were sending me and details posted to other blogs. It showed me how interconnected we all really are.

What are some other awkward moments I have had as a blogger?

One of the first worlds colliding moments I ever had was when a co-worker sent me my blog via email. I think I just replied that it was really interesting. Then in August 2012 – four months after I started blogging – I was sitting at a funeral in Norman when Superintendent Barresi sat down right beside me. I didn’t introduce myself.

By the first Vision 2020 conference, I began to realize that I was making an impact. I overheard SDE employees talking about the blog during one of the general sessions. I also began hearing about the blog from several of my colleagues around the state. Soon, I would see long-time friends posting my blog to Facebook. Social media is the lifeline of this blog, and learning how to use it effectively has been a trial-and-error process. I must be doing something right. Thousands follow the blog’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, and that still blows my mind.

I have heard me quoted back to me now more times than I can count. It’s probably the highest form of flattery I can imagine.

What do I think the blog has done well?

Rob has told me that he owes his blog to me having mine. Similarly, I owe mine to Claudia writing hers.

This blog has helped me find my professional (and occasionally unprofessional) voice. It has rekindled my love of writing – something graduate school had killed. When I’m firing on all cylinders, I think I effectively articulate common frustrations. Also, since I used to work at the Office of Accountability (now the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability), I am fairly familiar with some of the more useful sources of data concerning education. I think I do a pretty good job of putting those numbers in perspective for others.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve united the #oklaed community, but I have started a lot of important conversations. I’ve been in the middle of some pretty nasty spats too. I’ve enjoyed watching more and more educators start writing themselves. I think they look at mine and think blogging is so easy even a caveman can do it!

Collectively, we have turned back a wave of people who seek to destroy our schools. Most Oklahomans support public education. Those who don’t have to manufacture a crisis to chip away at us. I think people understand this better than they did before I started writing.

Do I have any regrets?

I have many.

My best posts are well-researched, but some miss the mark. Occasionally, I have taken shots at some of Barresi’s hires, intending to focus on the position and process rather than the person. I have not always effectively made that distinction. One such employee began an email conversation with me last year and explained that to me. It made me feel as if I had become the bully. While I regret nothing I have written about Barresi, I wish I had been more matter-of-fact in discussing some of the SDE employees. None Few of them have ever done anything to me personally.

I also hate that my blog became so focused on Barresi, but I don’t know how I could have avoided that. She is the embodiment of the false narrative that Public Education is failing. For four years, she was Oklahoma’s messenger. I have written about the Oklahoman and it’s obsession with preserving her legacy. I have written about other policy-makers. I have even written about the national parallels to what we’re dealing with here. Mostly, I have written about Barresi, though.

Smaller things bother me too.

For example, I had several good sources when I wrote in the fall that Barresi’s chief-of-staff Joel Robison had resigned. That turned out not to be true. I respect journalists too much to think that I am one. Someone with training probably would have avoided that mistake. He’s gone now, but I was wrong at the time.

Those aren’t the only regrets, but it’s a decent sample.

Why reveal my identity now?

Honestly, I wanted to open when I spoke to the SBE in June with the same thing I have at the top of this post. I would have loved seeing their reactions. For that matter, I would love seeing the look on many of your faces right now. That would have made everything I said after that pointless though. I never wanted the blog to be about me. It has been a great place to share and discuss ideas.

At the same time, I really didn’t want to draw the SDE’s attention to my employer. After everything else, we really didn’t need that extra hassle. We do our jobs and serve our community. We follow the rules. Nonetheless, with Barresi’s reputation as a vindictive leader, I didn’t want to invite her wrath. Ask Rob Miller. Ask any number of employees at the SDE who feel fortunate to still have their jobs. This was a concern of mine until noon on Monday.

Now that I’m not writing as much and that I don’t worry about retribution, I don’t see the point of staying anonymous. I didn’t want to take any of the attention away from Superintendent Hofmeister this week, so I waited. She was gracious at her reception at the SDE, and she was on point when speaking at the OASA Legislative Conference on Wednesday. On Thursday, coincidentally, she was in Moore to speak to a group of stakeholders from around the state who had come together to discuss high-stakes testing. Revealing my identity before that meeting didn’t seem right either.

Will I continue writing?


What I write isn’t that different than what I say or do publicly. I don’t have a separate set of opinions or values for the two separate worlds. I also don’t claim to speak for anyone else.

Of everything I’ve ever written, my favorite post was probably I am a Teacher; I Add Value. I wrote that two years ago as Oklahoma was just starting to try to figure out how to measure a teacher’s contribution to each child’s education. I don’t believe you have to measure everything to show that it matters. I also don’t believe you can ever assign a number to a teacher’s effectiveness. I will say that to anyone, anywhere, anytime. In case you’ve missed it, some of the administrators in our district have done a great job of explaining what’s wrong with the quantitative portion of the TLE.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the content or the video, which just shows that I don’t have to be the one speaking all the time in order for the message to be heard. Our state leaders are listening – to all of us. I’m no more insightful than anyone else. I just took the time to say what I was thinking.

If you think you can make a difference, start your own blog. Just buckle up first. It’s quite a ride.

Parting Shots (Part IV)

January 11, 2015 5 comments

Over the past 20 hours, I’ve said my goodbyes. In Part I, I explained an emerging school funding crisis. In Part II, I discussed Janet Barresi using the state’s editorial pages in her waning weeks in office to play the misunderstood victim. In Part III, I wrote about Barresi’s defenders at the Oklahoman continuing to push a narrative that Oklahoma schools are failing using a metric that shows things got worse under her watch.

This, barring something completely unexpected, will be my final discussion of Superintendent Barresi. I’m sure her name will pop up in the future and I will discuss her as an ex-superintendent, but for now, we’re finished with each other. And we’ve had a good run.

[cue the sad music]

As you probably know by now, Barresi’s last week in office included a number of personnel decisions. Based on conversations with sources at the SDE and confirmations in the print media, the moves included new hires, promotions, job description changes (with the intent of excluding certain in-house applicants), and one last-minute dismissal. The Tulsa World called it a hiring spree:

All told, her new hires total about $653,000 in base salary costs, and the salary increases that accompanied promotions, not counting one executive’s unknown bump in pay, total $62,000.

On Monday alone, five new employees with salaries totaling $290,500 were hired. Among them is the executive director of the new Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, with a salary of $90,000.

On Wednesday, Michele Sprague was promoted to executive director of literacy and Kayla Hindman was promoted to director of early childhood education and elementary English language arts. Both received $5,000 raises.

On Friday, Todd Loftin was promoted to assistant state superintendent for special education services with a salary of $80,000, but officials were unsure how much of a raise that salary amount represented because the decision came so late in the day.

I’d say that constitutes a spree. So much for fiscal conservatives, right? Maybe this is an appropriate way for Barresi to leave office. After all, her first days were marred by hires that the attorney general ruled illegal after the State Board of Education rejected them. Congratulations, new people! And enjoy those well-placed targets on your backs!

Questioned about the new hires, Barresi defended herself, in her typical, defiant fashion:

“It is my right as superintendent of public instruction to make personnel decisions, and the literacy position is critical for this state.”

I suppose that’s true. In theory, she could go to work tomorrow and fire and promote more people if she chose to – until 11:59, at least. In related news, tomorrow’s new state superintendent was not impressed.

Asked to comment on the hirings and inter-departmental musical chairs, Hofmeister called the situation “disappointing.”

“Instability in any state agency is a hallmark of failed leadership. Future staff decisions will be made with careful consideration and respect for all involved,” she said.

“I look forward to joining the State Department of Education next week. I know there are hardworking people in the department and I look forward to getting to know them better. Plans are underway to conduct a formal capacity review of the agency to ensure we have the right people in the right places to best serve our state.

“My focus remains the schoolchildren of Oklahoma. Monday marks a new day for education.”

I suppose the easiest thing for Hofmeister to do after her open house tomorrow afternoon would be to go in and click the undo button. In a few cases, I wish that she would. I won’t single anybody out, but several of these are horrible choices. At a minimum, Hofmeister should review all personnel moves that have come in the last 30 days or so.

It’s very tempting for me to give a list of people that I think Hofmeister should rid the SDE of as soon as possible. I would assume that of the 10,000 people who answered her survey, many did precisely that. I mentioned specific names of SDE staff whom I find helpful. I mentioned different offices that seemed to be in disarray overall.

Still, if Barresi promoted you during the last week of her tenure because you’ve been a stalwart of her administration and a good steward of her vision for public education in this state, there’s a good chance that you’re pretty out of sync with the voters who summarily dismissed her in June. The last week was nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to preserve what she has tried to do – in other words, she’s still trying to tell the voters that they’re wrong.

One reason, as Brett Dickerson wrote today, that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for massive changes overnight, is that there is a tremendous amount of damage to undo. At the beginning of her term, Barresi fired most of the people with any institutional knowledge. As a result, school districts and parents could not get quick answers to our important questions. One of Hofmeister’s first tasks will be to re-populate the staff at the SDE with competent, knowledgeable, helpful people. To do this, she will also have to clear some room.

It’s going to be bumpy for quite a while. With a new testing company in place, standards to write, TLE to reform, Congressional and Presidential whims to absorb, and ongoing questions about adequacy and equity in school funding in Oklahoma, Hofmeister faces, as Barresi stated in one of her editorials last week, a steep learning curve. The difference this time will be that she’s going to be listening to educators and parents in this state rather than following Florida and Indiana everywhere they go.

Just like that, I’m finished writing about Superintendent Janet Costello Barresi. Where has the time gone? When will we see her again? And who really cares?

Let’s just move forward, diligently. Monday is a new day for public education, indeed.

My Parting Shots (Part III)

January 11, 2015 4 comments

For the third installment in my long and labored farewell to our departing state superintendent, I want to focus a little more on the mindset she has brought to office, rather than on Janet Barresi herself. This week, Education Week released Quality Counts – a grading scale for education in each state – for 2015.

The good thing about this scale is that Education Week uses – yes, you guessed it – LETTER GRADES! Oklahoma received a D+, good enough to beat three other states: New Mexico, Nevada, and Mississippi. As always, thank God for Mississippi!

Letter grades, as we’ve been told, are easy to understand. That’s the beauty of them. If Oklahoma received a D+, then by gum, we probably deserved a D+

What’s not remarkable at this point is how each of the state’s largest papers treated the news. Both the World and the Oklahoman took up major space with articles on the rankings. Both papers also included caustic remarks from Barresi.

From the World:

Outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who lost a re-election bid after her first four-year term in office, said in a written statement that the Quality Counts results, “while not surprising should be a wake-up call to all Oklahomans concerned about our children and the future of this state.”

“There are serious flaws in our system — flaws that begin in the failure to adequately prepare teachers for the classroom and continue when we tell ourselves that our only problem is with children in poverty. Indeed, with abysmal results like this, the problem is with academic achievement of each child in our state,” Barresi said in the statement.

“The longer we as a state ignore the reforms needed to turn around our schools, the longer it is we sentence our young people to a mediocre education,” she said.

From the Oklahoman:

State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, whose last full day on the job is Friday, said the report should serve as a “wake-up call to all Oklahomans concerned about our children and the future of this state.”

“To put this report in context, it’s important to remember that the National Council on Teacher Quality recently found serious deficiencies with teacher preparation in Oklahoma,” Barresi said in a statement. “There are serious flaws in our system — flaws that begin in the failure to adequately prepare teachers for the classroom and continue when we tell ourselves that our only problem is with children in poverty.

“Indeed, with abysmal results like this, the problem is with academic achievement of each child in our state.”

The percentage of Oklahoma students rated “proficient” or better on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests for reading and math in the fourth and eight grades is below the national average, according to the report.

Additionally, the report found just 13.6 out of every 100 Oklahoma students taking advanced placement tests achieve a high score — about half the national average of 25.7 students.

“While I have reservations with how Quality Counts determined pre-K enrollment, the stark truth is that Oklahoma teachers are condemned to working in a broken system and our children are set up for failure,” Barresi said. “These are our children. We cannot continue to let them down. The longer we as a state ignore the reforms needed to turn around our schools, the longer it is we sentence our young people to a mediocre education.”

First, let me remind Barresi that only members of the education establishment liberal union status quo are supposed to challenge a report card’s methodology. Second, I find it especially telling that she continues to peck away at teacher quality after writing for both papers this week about how hard they work. It is especially notable that she cites the NCTQ, which gets most of its funding from the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad – you know, the people hell-bent on the narrative that public schools are failing.

Unlike the Oklahoman, Andrea Eger and the World broke down the components of Oklahoma’s overall grade.

Education quality indicator Oklahoma National average
Chance for success C- C+
Early foundations 78.8 81.3
School years 67 75.6
Adult outcomes 72.7 76.5
School finance D+ C
Equity 88.7 85.1
Spending 44.5 65.4
K-12 achievement D C-
Status 51.9 65.6
Change 61.7 68.3

Basically, Oklahoma’s grade takes a major hit from spending. We spend equitably, though. I guess that means we are fair about how badly we fund schools. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, urban or rural, big or small – we keep you on the same scraps.

No, unlike the World, which put more facts into the story, the Oklahoman thought they should put more editorial and snark into it.

DEFENDERS of the status quo often blame Oklahoma’s low education rankings on poverty. Certainly that plays a role. Yet the new edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report suggests that Oklahoma students at all income levels are falling short.

Quality Counts ranks states based on a student’s chance for success, school finances and K-12 achievement. The report gives Oklahoma an overall grade of D-plus and ranks it 48th in the nation. In the area of K-12 achievement, Oklahoma was given a D.

What Janet Barresi and the editorialists at our state’s largest paper failed to realize is that Oklahoma’s grade on the Education Week scale has fallen during the last four years. Fortunately, not everybody missed it.

Perhaps, now that she has some spare time, Barresi should learn to research, so that later she might research to learn. In 2010, Oklahoma’s grade on this index was 76.4, a C. We were above the national average. If letter grades matter (they don’t) and we should take rankings such as these seriously (we shouldn’t), then why isn’t Barresi owning the fact that she presided over our state’s precipitous fall.

Her supporters – few as they are at this point – can’t point to defenders of the status quo on this one. Barresi entered office four years ago with a legislature and governor of the same party. They even re-wrote laws to allow Governor Fallin to relieve the entire State Board of Education of their duties and appoint new members who ostensibly would clear a path for the Reformer-in-Chief. To whatever extent the state has rejected Barresi and even slipped during her tenure, assigning blame to teachers and administrators is disingenuous.

No, she failed as state superintendent because she never honestly engaged the people who work with children and tried to understand their perspective. She failed because she antagonized people who opposed her. She created an echo chamber in which nobody dared question her. Those who fought her Nehemiah-esque  battles, Barresi cleared out competent people and arranged promotions – up to and including her last day in office.

That’s where Part IV will pick up later this evening.

My Parting Shots (Part II)

January 11, 2015 2 comments

While Rob Miller bade adieu to Janet Costello Barresi last weekend, I have only started to say my formal goodbyes. With a few things on my mind, I’ll spread my parting shots out over the course of the weekend. Last night, I started with a review of Barresi’s last email to school superintendents. That leaves me with a few things I still want to get off my chest:

  • Barresi’s recent editorials
  • The Oklahoman inadvertently making one of my own points for me
  • Barresi’s hiring spree

I should probably clarify that one of the things I’m calling an editorial is actually self-aggrandizing extended interview at her home-away-from home – the Oklahoman – from two weeks ago. Still, it’s pretty much Janet being Janet.

Then this week, the World (subscription required) and the Oklahoman each published the thoughts of an ousted politician who finished third in her party’s primary. To her credit, she wrote different editorials for each. Since the one she sent to her Tulsa readers is behind a paywall, I’ll just present you with the opening:

From my first day as state superintendent of public instruction, I knew I would be drinking from the fire hose. There is much to learn and do in this job, and the work is hard. But there is nothing more important or rewarding than ensuring each child in our state is truly prepared for college, career and citizenship by the time he or she graduates high school,

This mission sounds so simple, yet it has proven one of the most difficult to accomplish, because everyone has a different idea of the best method to achieve success.

I read the whole article through a news digest, and honestly, there isn’t much you’re missing. I still see no evidence that she’s learned anything. To learn, she would have had to attend class and paid attention. Instead, she spent four years insulting the state’s teachers and copying her work off of Jeb Bush. When she says that “everyone has a different idea of the best method to achieve success,” she shows selective memory. It has always been her way or no way. Those who disagree with her (such as the vast majority of the legislature and voters) are simply pathetic and outrageous.

Two days later, she wrote this for the Oklahoman:

But thanks to the vision of Gov. Mary Fallin and state legislative leaders, Oklahoma embarked several years ago on a package of education reforms. The agenda was ambitious — improve school culture, increase academic rigor, tighten accountability, recognize the importance and usefulness of analyzing data — but critical if our youngest generations are to enjoy economic opportunity and the path to happy, successful lives.

The A-F Report Card for schools gives parents and communities an easily understood snapshot of how schools are doing in subject areas and various barometers of success. The report cards enable struggling schools to consider best practices of peer schools with similar student demographics. The Reading Sufficiency Act puts long-overdue emphasis on ensuring that children can read at an appropriate level instead of sentencing them to academic failure. The Teacher Leader Effectiveness program helps strengthen teachers and professional development. The Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) initiative begun by Gov. Brad Henry makes sure high school graduates understand what they have been taught.

Charting a new course is hard. A number of reforms have been controversial and sparked fiery opposition. Given that what’s at stake is the future of the children — and, by extension, the future of Oklahoma — I’d expect nothing less than a tough fight. But turning back now would be a grave disservice to our students, parents and teachers.

Sadly, nothing she and Governor Fallin have done improved school culture. They have maintained a consistent focus on the ill-fated pursuit of punitive reforms that punish students, teachers, and schools. Teachers are scared to do what they think is right. Principals worry about their report cards. We’ve allowed politicians who know nothing about education to turn teachers’ lounges into data walls. If we really want to improve our letter grades, we have to focus exclusively on what’s measured.

And yes, those reforms go back to Brad Henry. Then again, who co-chaired the ACE taskforce? We’ve created so many loopholes to award diplomas even for students who never achieve a passing score on the state’s End-of-Instruction exams that the students who actually don’t graduate are anomalies – tragic anomalies. The law especially penalizes, predictably, special education students.

Maybe our politicians have (state and federal) have intentionally created a public education system that focuses on the wrong things to build momentum for the vouchers they so desperately crave. If parents turn on the schools – through no fault of the teachers – that’s gravy for the voucher crowd, right?

As for the fiery opposition, I’m just glad to have done my part. Think about it. I have a (mostly) anonymous blog. As much as I want to pretend differently, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in this space opposing Dr. Barresi. While other elected officials and bad writers have had my attention, she has been the root cause of the most damage to public education in our state in the last four years. I have nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter and 2,500 on Facebook. I may have struck a nerve, but she just has made it so dang easy. If I had been retained in third grade emotionally, I might even say, but she started it!

I hope the publishers in this state soon realize that the state’s readers don’t care to continue hearing from a failed politician who was rejected by 80 percent of the voters in her own party. For one paper, I doubt there’s much hope. For those of you who aren’t regular readers of The Lost Ogle, you may have missed a story they wrote in November mocking the Oklahoman for pulling together a focus group of technophobes who love their editorial page. That’s the target audience in central Oklahoma, I guess. That will be my focus of Part III later today.

Categories: Uncategorized

My Parting Shots (Part I)

January 10, 2015 4 comments

While Rob Miller bade adieu to Janet Costello Barresi last weekend, I have yet to say my formal goodbyes. With a few things on my mind, I’ll spread my parting shots out over the course of the weekend, though. Things I’d like to cover include:

  • Barresi’s last email to superintendents
  • Barresi’s recent editorials
  • The Oklahoman inadvertently making one of my own points for me
  • Barresi’s hiring spree

That’s right, at 10:00 on a Saturday night, I’m committing to (at least) four blog posts this weekend. For the first one, we’ll start with Friday at 3:54 p.m., when Barresi sent the following email message to district superintendents:

Dear Superintendent:

As you might recall, I emailed you after the Dec. 18 Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting to let you know about a change in the method of calculation of the mid-year adjustment.  At that time, we had not received the information our agency needed from the state Tax Commission to begin our mid-year adjustment calculation that would be aligned with the 1992 law.  I wanted to follow up and let you know the current situation regarding the mid-year adjustment and what you can expect moving forward.

As I stated in the earlier email, the change you will see in the calculation is that commercial and agricultural personal property taxes will be capped at 11 percent.

In past years that cap has not been utilized. Nevertheless, a statute effective in 1992 requires the cap to be placed on those elements of local ad valorem used as a chargeable in the state aid calculation.

My office became aware of this fact this past August.  I moved quickly to correct the issue.

We received the majority of the information needed from the Tax Commission late last week. Some information discrepancies still need to be worked out, but State Department of Education staffers are working hard and will continue to do so this weekend. Every effort is being made to complete mid-year calculations by our statutory deadline of Jan. 15.

The payment scheduled to be made to schools on Jan. 15 will be made.

The payment will either be based upon the new mid-year allocation or your current allocation if we do not have sufficient time to complete the adjustment. Any differences in the current and mid-year allocation will be made up during the remainder of the fiscal year. While I understand this will be a significant burden to districts, I wanted to get this information to you as quickly as possible to facilitate planning and your communication with your boards and constituents. As you know, the accuracy of these calculations is of paramount importance.


Janet Barresi

Superintendent of Public Instruction

In other words, you’ll either get the correct amount on Monday, when the new state superintendent takes office, or you won’t. You’ll get something, and then maybe it’ll be corrected later. That’s a nice last missive, and a funny position from a state superintendent who has repeatedly threatened to withhold funds from districts that failed to meet statutory reporting deadlines…but I digress.

As many of us have suspected, the SDE Finance Office is limited to the information the Oklahoma Tax Commission provides them. It is the fault of no one at the SDE – past or present – that this 22 year mistake hasn’t been corrected until now. Last month, the Oklahoman wondered aloud why nobody was blaming the administration prior to Barresi’s.

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard told the Tulsa World, “This is the result of gross incompetence on somebody’s part and I don’t know whose.”

Ballard has routinely lambasted Baressi, a Republican, for education woes in this state. He has every right to do so. But it’s notable that he declined to aim similar venom at Sandy Garrett, the Democrat who was state superintendent from 1991 to 2011. She was in charge when the allocation changes were implemented.

Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, is also notably reticent. Hime was an assistant state superintendent for Garrett from 2004 to 2008, around the time Pennington says agency officials ignored him. Hime’s bio says he “provided oversight of allocations and payments of the state’s $2 billion education budget,” suggesting that he played a direct role in supervising the funding formula.

The problem seems to be with the information provided to the SDE. They don’t collect the revenue; they merely run numbers through the funding formula. They work with what they have. As I’ve previously stated, I’m less concerned with what happens this year than with what happens when a district (or districts) that has been on the short end of the funding mistake for 22 years sues. If they receive a favorable ruling, and districts that have been overpaid are then docked future aid payments, the outcome could be devastating. Nonetheless, a school board would not adequately be representing its community if it did not pursue the funding it had been shorted. This is going to be messy.

In her four years in office, Barresi has sent out some wacky emails. She’s even investigated the emails of others. After all that we’ve been through together, I was expecting a bigger bombshell in her last direct message to schools. I guess she was saving, as Rob put it, that one last turd, for her usual litterbox, the Oklahoman.

Come Monday

January 9, 2015 1 comment

What you’re smelling right now is a breath of fresh air. It’s crisp and full of hope. It’s right around the corner.

Come One Come All

I can’t promise you that next week all your public education dreams will come true. It won’t happen in a month or a year, either. It’ll take some time – and I assume that I won’t get everything I want out of the Hofmeister administration. Neither will you. Honestly, Joy Hofmeister probably won’t get everything she wants out of her time in office either. That’s not how this works.

Still, I’m looking forward to day one. We’ve waited four long years for this. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Welcome back (to reality)!

If it’s Monday morning, then it’s January 5th. We have things to do, people. Put away your snowmen. Quit crushing candy. It’s time to get back to work.

Here’s in an overview of some tasks administrators will need to complete this month (with special appreciation to the Regional Accreditation Officers who prepare the monthly lists for us. Remember, S is for state; F is for federal (as if we need reminding of that).


S Bullying Prevention Policy uploads open on January 1, 2015, for submission via SSO reporting site, due January 31; ACE/Counseling (405) 521-2106. [70 O.S. § 24-100.4]

S Parents applying for an Open Transfer for school year 2015-16 may submit their application to the Receiving District no later than May 31, 2015; Accreditation/Transfers

S Receiving District must data enter all 2015-16 Open Transfer applications no later than May 31, and no later July 15, must data enter online their decisions to approve or deny; Parents must be notified in writing of district’s transfer application decision by July 15; Accreditation/Transfers (405) 521-3333. [OAC 210:10-1-18 effective November 2014]

S Parents with an approved Open transfer must notify the Receiving District by August 1, in writing, if they still intend for their child to enroll there as a transfer student in Fall 2015; Accreditation/Transfers (405) 521-3333.

S Dependent/C Districts: Notify parents who have a child attending your district’s highest grade level that they must apply for an Open Transfer for next school year, to a receiving district of their choice; Accreditation/Transfers (405) 521-3333. [70 O.S. Supp. 2004 § 8-10]

F Impact Aid application is due to Washington D.C. on the last working day of January; Financial Accounting/OCAS (405) 521-2517. [Title VIII, 1995, 34 CFR 222.4]

S Oklahoma Technology Survey is available on the SDE School District Reporting Site; Instructional Technology (405) 521-3364. [62 O.S. § 34.23 (D) (1) (b)]

F IDEA Independent Audit Investigations; Special Education Services (405) 521-3351 [IDEA 34 CFR § 300.149]

S Oklahoma Teacher of the Year (TOY) award application for 2014-15 is available; SDE Events office; SDE Customer Service (405) 521-3301.

Due Date

3 S Application from Independent Auditors for State Auditor and Inspector approval; Financial Accounting/OCAS (405) 521-2517. [70 O.S. § 22-104]

9 S OPAT Data Report is due; Special Education Services (405) 522-4513.

5 S First Quarter Student Dropout Report for grades 7-12 is due from superintendent or principal of each public school site; SDE accredited private/parochial school sites report via the Single Sign-On; Alternative Education (405) 522-0276. [70 O.S. § 35e]

15 S Deadline for Reading Proficiency Test reimbursement claims for the first semester are to be filed with the SDE no later than December 15; Assessment (405) 521-3341. [OAC 210:10-13-15]

27 F Computer-generated school district Expenditure Reports are due; Federal Programs (405) 521-2846; School Support/School Improvement (405) 522-3395.

31 S Bullying Prevention Policy is due via Single Sign-On reporting site; ACE/Counseling (405) 521-2106. [70 O.S. § 24-100.4]

31 F Impact Aid application is due to Washington D.C. on the last working day of January; Financial Accounting/OCAS (405) 521-2517. [Title VIII, 1995, 34 CFR

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Shortage of Teachers, Shortage of Pay

January 4, 2015 22 comments

It all goes hand-in-hand.

Yesterday on social media, a Washington Post article on state-by-state teacher pay made the rounds again, so I went ahead and retweeted it. The image illustrating differences among the states is particularly interesting.

(from the Washington Post)

(from the Washington Post)

The article is 13 months old. The data are from the 2012-13 school year. Visualized another way, we clearly see Oklahoma in its usual place – 2 from the bottom (blazing by  South Dakota and Mississippi).

(from Washington Post)

(from Washington Post)

We know that our state minimum salary schedule hasn’t changed since 2007, so no matter how old the data, it serves to remind us what our state thinks of our profession. Fortunately, the Post also provided links to the source data from NCES. If you follow the link, you can see historical data for all 50 states, and the District of Columbia.

Below, I have created a table showing Oklahoma’s historical average salary for each of the years in the NCES dataset. The figures included represent actual dollars.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $6,882 $8,626
1979-1980 $13,107 $15,970
1989-1990 $23,070 $31,367
1999-2000 $31,298 $41,807
2009-2010 $47,691 $55,202
2011-2012 $44,391 $55,418
2012-2013 $44,128 $55,383

As you can see, 45 years ago, Oklahoma teachers made 79.8% what teachers around the nation made. Two years ago, our state’s teachers made 79.7% what teachers around the country made. Basically, we have a long-standing tradition of paying about 4/5 of what teachers make nationally. The NCES dataset also looked at the salaries with each value set to 2012-13 dollars based on the Consumer Price Index.

Year Oklahoma Nation
1969-1970 $42,149 $52,830
1979-1980 $39,060 $47,592
1989-1990 $42,034 $57,152
1999-2000 $42,772 $57,133
2009-2010 $50,907 $58,925
2011-2012 $45,130 $56,340
2012-2013 $44,128 $56,383

Relative to the overall economy, I guess Oklahoma’s teachers are about in the same place they were 45 years ago. In 2009-10, however, teachers were having a pretty good year. This is what we need to aim for.

I should also mention that ever since I posted the link to the article, I have been receiving comments along the lines of these averages not matching reality. I will try to explain what I believe to be the methodology. According to published data (from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability)  for the 2012-13 school year, the average teacher in Oklahoma had 12.5 years experience. A quarter of the teachers in the state had a master’s degree.

The state salary schedule for that school year (for about 7 years, really) would give a teacher with 12 years experience and a bachelors degree $36,800 in salary. The flex benefit allowance for that school year was $5,495. Throw in the districts paying over the state minimum and any portion of teacher retirement included as fringe, and I can believe that state average. Still calling it teacher salary rather than total compensation is probably a little misleading.

Another question that has come up on twitter regards the extent to which cost-of-living plays into teacher salaries. I would say that it does to an extent. We know qualitatively that Oklahoma is a cheap place to live. I always hear transplants from other states comment on the relatively inexpensive cost-of-living here. I thought I’d apply a quantitative perspective as well. Using Oklahoma City as a reference point (since it’s our state capital), I will use an online calculator to compare how far the dollar goes in reference to every song named in Mark Chestnutt’s 1993 country hit, Blame it on Texas (because Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere would have taken too much time).

$45,000 in Oklahoma City would be worth …
$48,913 in Beaumont, TX
$44,648 in Amarillo, TX
$46,906 in Santa Fe, NM (using Rio Rancho as a proxy)
$80,819 in San Francisco, CA
$44,799 in Tulsa, OK

If you aren’t transplanting to a major coastal city, or to a remote location (such as Alaska or Hawaii), the cost-of-living isn’t going to be that big of a factor – not a 20% difference, in any decade.

That leads me to another inevitable line of argument: Teachers fared no better financially when Democrats controlled state government. That’s absolutely right. This state has never valued the teaching profession. Until the last few years, though, Oklahoma had never worked this hard to make teaching so unattractive and drive good teachers into other career or other states.

On a related note, Clinton Superintendent Kevin Hime posted on his blog today that the biggest issue facing us today is the teacher shortage.

I have been pushing for #oklaed to have a one issue legislative session.  I believe the only issue we should be discussing until fixed is #teachershortage.  Recently looking at SDE documents I noticed #oklaed employed almost 60k teachers in 2008 and a little more than 52k in 2014.  Mathematically it looks like we should have almost 8K Teachers looking for a job but we started 2015 over 1000 teachers short.  We are setting records for alt certs and emergency certifications every year.

He also touches on other issues that impact teachers, some of which we indicated were most important to us on Superintendent-elect Joy Hofmeister’s recent survey: Testing, Teacher Evaluations, Retirement, School Funding, Reform Overload. These issues – along with compensation – have all contributed to the shortage. Nonetheless, he’s right. The fact that we no longer have a surplus of applicants for our vacancies hurts students. Every other issue in the state contributes to this problem.

To me, it still comes back to money more than anything else. Pay people something attractive to enter the profession. Make earning an advanced degree worth their while (one-quarter of teachers having masters degrees is way too low). Appreciate the careers of those who choose to stay in the classroom more than a decade or two. In other words, 49th still isn’t alright. Nor is 80 percent.

How WordPress summarized the year on okeducationtruths

December 31, 2014 1 comment

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 270,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 12 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized

2014 #oklaed Year in Review: The Mixed Tape Version

December 28, 2014 1 comment

Note to readers: If you’re viewing this post in email, please consider opening a browser. Otherwise, you may miss some of the embedded media.

I hope you’ve been enjoying your Christmas Vacation. I have – in part by watching Christmas Vacation…and A Christmas Story, and Scrooged, and Elf, and about a dozen other great seasonal classics, up to and including Die Hard. I even enjoyed yesterday’s unexpected snowfall. I’ve had great times with friends and family, minimal travel, and enough unhealthy food to last…well, at least until next year. Talk about your first-world problems, right?

I’ve even had the time to do some writing – including four unfinished blog posts. I think I’ve lacked focus the last few months. The June primary election was so satisfying that even when Janet Barresi or the Oklahoman would do something that irritated me, I just knew that it really didn’t matter that much.

That’s why I barely scoffed at reading the Oklahoman’s puff piece on Barresi yesterday. The article comes with an interview for which, in another mindset, I would have provided insightful commentary. By insightful, of course, I mean snarky. Instead, I took to Twitter and had the following conversation with long-time friend-of-the-blog, Jennifer Williams:

mix tape

I woke up this morning determined to make said mixed tape. I will write my wrap up as if I were making a mixed tape. If you want commentary on Barresi’s ongoing delusions of competence and thoughts on what might be next for her, I encourage you to read Brett Dickerson’s excellent blog from earlier today. In short, he doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

For those of you younger than I am, before the age of iTunes playlists, some of us had to work really hard to piece together musical compilations. In my case, since I didn’t have a dual cassette player, I had to buy records (yes, I’m that old) or try to record songs off the radio. This meant that while I was “doing my homework” (really, mom…I was) I would keep the stereo on with a blank tape inside. If I heard the intro of a song I liked, I would quickly hit the record button on my stereo.

Then when the need arose, I would ride my bike to Sound Warehouse and buy blank tapes, borrow another cassette player from my neighbor and BFF, and figure out how many songs I could fit on a 90 minute tape. (Again, talk about your first-world problems.) If I were making the tape for say, romantic purposes, it was sure to have Journey’s “Open Arms” and “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. If it was an upbeat mix for the pool or the basketball court, it had to have “Panama” by Van Halen. Those were the basic rules.

Since it’s 2014 and we’re speaking in theoretical terms, I will employ a few basic rules for this list. While I often use music (both the earworm and the classic rock variety) on this blog to illustrate a point or thread together my ideas, I will not use songs that I have previously included on my blog. That means no Good Riddance (Green Day), Life of Illusion (Joe Walsh), or even that disco classic Hotline (The Sylvers). I will try to limit myself to one song per month, even in June. And I will only use songs that I actually have in my iTunes library. Maybe we can get K-TEL to package and sell this for us to shore up the education budget (since apparently the lottery hasn’t helped).

My first post of 2014 contained this admonition to our cobbled community of bloggers and education advocates:

We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.

In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.

That’s exactly what happened. We engaged the decision makers and voted en masse. We defeated an incumbent Republican who only managed 21 percent of her party’s primary vote. For any of that to have any meaning, it can’t stop in 2014.

January – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles)

For some reason, Barresi’s people decided that we would now define Full Academic Year as any student who was continuously enrolled from October 1st through the beginning of the testing season. The effect of this decision (which isn’t legislated or written into the administrative rules) was that more student scores were included in the calculation of A-F Report Cards. Including the highly mobile population in school grades serves no purpose other than to penalize the schools who serve the most vulnerable students. This has always been the motive of the school choice/corporate reform groups out there.

February – The Old Brown Shoe (The Beatles)

While it’s tempting to make the entire month about the fact that Rep. Jason Nelson failed to advance his voucher bill (an Education Savings Account by any other name) out of committee, for me the highlight of the month was listening to Governor Fallin talk about the condition of the Capitol building.

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

In fact, this is the topic of one of my unfinished posts. Just last week, the Oklahoman published a report detailing problems with the Capitol’s dome.

Engineers have discovered significant cracking in the cast stone panels that form the exterior of Oklahoma’s Capitol dome, completed amid much fanfare just 12 years ago.

“Cracks exist at a total of 172 units, or approximately 10 percent of all cast stone units on the dome. Most of the cracks occur at the base of the dome,” stated a report by Wiss, Janner, Elstner Associates, or WJE, a Chicago company that did a detailed examination of the building’s exterior as a prelude to repair work.

I love the symmetry of this. The year begins as it ends, discussing the fact that our Capitol building is in bad shape. This time, though, it’s the decorative – rather than the functional – part. In public schools, we refer to problems like these as deferred maintenance. We handle this by meeting with school patrons and making  a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be repaired, we determine how much money we can commit to those projects, and then we establish priorities. When it comes to fixing leaky roofs and replacing old, inefficient air conditioning units, there is always a lag between acknowledging the need and addressing it. There is also always more need than capacity.

I also love that the article talks about how the budget for repairs will be inadequate to cover eventual cost overruns – something just about every school superintendent understands. Don’t get me wrong; I want the Capitol looking nice. I want it safe and sanitary for the people we elect and the staff they hire – not to mention for the busloads of students who travel there for field trips.

March – Best Day Ever (Spongebob Squarepants)

First, let me make it clear that I’m not the only person who has access to my iTunes library. Still, as I was scrolling through the titles in it, this is the song that made me think about the day that I spent at the Capitol (on the outside, thankfully!) with about 25,000 of my closest friends. The rally in Oklahoma City brought people together from all over the state to speak collectively to our representatives about all the things wrong with the direction of public education in our state. Here was my summary of the day:

First was Peter Markes – Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year. He drew great parallels between farming and education, weaving both the funding issues and senseless mandates into his metaphor. This is the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him speak, and he does not disappoint. He’s exactly what Oklahoma’s teachers expect in an ambassador – someone who believes in the profession and who fights the lie that public education is failing our children.

Next was Asher Nees, a student from Norman and the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Student Councils. He commented on the things he has noticed in public education, namely increased class sizes and policies that diminish student choices. He said he was there to fight to restore public education to something better for his younger siblings. (That is definitely a paraphrase. There was a lot of noise around me at this point.)

The one who really lifted the energy of the crowd was Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. He hit the funding points, but he concentrated on a more important theme: respect. Every reform that has passed during the last few years shows that those making policy don’t respect the work that those of us who work with kids do. So many talking points from the governor, state superintendent, and countless legislators have come with a Let them eat cake attitude. The lack of concern for teachers, their working conditions, and most importantly, their students has been consistent. Disparage people long enough and they’ll let you hear about it.

Yes, I could have used some Aretha Franklin for the month, but somehow, I still haven’t upgraded that from vinyl. For the record (pun intended), this is still the biggest issue in our state. We need more evidence that our policy makers respect the people who actually teach the kids.

April – The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin)

I only use this song because I don’t have “Oops, I Did It Again” available. Also, I needed some of my credibility back after using a Spongebob song. In April, predictably, we had some problems with the online testing that reminded us of the 2013 problems we had with online testing. Barresi’s response was to call the failure unacceptable and assure Oklahomans that the glitch didn’t impact third grade testing. Her reasons as to why we didn’t fire them in 2013 were hollow, of course.

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.

“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.

This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.

CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.

The State Board of Education went on to fire CTB over the summer – one summer too late.

May – I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty – as covered by Johnny Cash)

Most of the month of May saw the various politicians in this state debating HB 2625, which inserted a little slice of sanity into the third grade retention law. The critical piece was a provision to include a committee to make final decisions about retention, and to include parents on that committee. During this month, we also saw the SDE release third grade reading scores to the media before schools could view them.

The Legislature sent HB 2625 to the governor by a margin of 132-7. Fallin waited until the last minute to veto the bill, then played games with sending her official veto message to them, and then they turned around and overrode her veto without debate – by a margin of 124-19.

June – Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

There really was no other choice for the month of June. This was the month that those of us who’ve been using our outside voices for some time now felt a collective sense of pride…of relief…of hope. It was affirmation that we matter. It’s the month in which I actually moderated an #oklaed Sunday night chat. It’s the month in which I did a top 20 list of reasons to defeat Barresi, followed immediately by a new number one right after Barresi told a group to tell their critics to go to hell, followed by an honorable mention list with a dozen additional reasons. Most of all, it’s the month when Oklahoma Republican voters eliminated her by a four-to-one margin.  Even the people who agreed with many of her reforms rejected her sorry implementation of them. It was beautiful.

July – Be Yourself (Audioslave)

After losing her primary, Barresi made it clear that she would not fade away quietly. A couple of weeks later, she attended the SDE Vision 2020 conference and just let Janet be Janet. She held a roundtable session and told attendees that she would never apologize for anything she had done in office and that she knows she’s “pissed a lot of you off.” My only question was her use of a lot rather than all.

August – Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)

In August, the Democrats had their runoff election, and John Cox defeated Freda Deskin, setting up the November election against Joy Hofmester for state superintendent. That news, however, was overshadowed by the fact that the USDE had revoked Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Waiver. This was followed by the revelation that nobody at the SDE knew how to calculate the Academic Performance Index that would have to be used in the absence of the waiver. It was a distressing time, because schools that had Title I funds faced the threat of 20 percent of those resources being tied up in federal bureaucracy rather than on services that actually help kids. With that in mind, it was hard to simply be amused at the ongoing ineptitude of the SDE.

September – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)

On a side note, I don’t know how I’ve gone this far through my life without backup singers. This needs to happen.

In spite of the fact that she had a perfectly good former teacher, former principal leading the accreditation division at the SDE, Barresi created a new position and appointed her staff attorney’s husband to it.

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.”

This was Barresi’s way of saying, I know you school people do all kinds of illegal stuff. Now I want to find it and punish you for it. This bad hire in particular is the first thing Joy Hofmeister needs to address on January 12th after taking office.

October – Everything to Everyone (Everclear)

Probably the biggest news from October was the State Regents finally certifying that Oklahoma’s PASS standards would prepare our students to be College and Career Ready (a phrase that needs to be on our New Year’s resolution list of tropes never to use again). There were caveats to the certification, but it proved enough to appease our federal overlords, who eventually reinstated our waiver (sparing the SDE the embarrassment of trying to calculate a formula they hardly understand).

November – The Remedy (Jason Mraz)

On November 2nd, Oklahomans overwhelmingly elected Joy Hofmeister as our next state superintendent. Although there are still some out there who are reluctant to accept the fact that she is in fact VERY different than Barresi, I have been very pleased with how she has prepared herself for office. From her transition team to her trips around the state, she continues to show that she will learn what there is to be learned. She listens to the people who elected her and to the people who work directly with students. Four years from now, if she has disappointed us, I will gladly eat my words.

The morning of the election, this is what I wrote:

When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.

Make no mistake about it. We have someone who wants to know what’s keeping us from helping kids and what she can do about it. We won’t always get our way, but she is listening. That’s huge.

December – Money (Pink Floyd)

Right before Christmas Break, word broke that a flaw in the funding formula has been unearthed. This means that state aid to school districts has been calculated wrong for each of the last 22 years! Apparently, this miscalculation was first presented to the SDE 10 years ago. While I question the timing of the revelation, the fact is that when the current school year’s state aid is recalculated, there will be a group of winners and a group of losers. Beyond that, I have no idea what will happen. (This was the topic of another one of my unfinished posts.)

If I’m leading a district that has been shorted by the error for more than two decades, I want to get it all back. It’s probably not possible, but this error, compounded over 22 years, could be a huge deal. If the state (probably through litigation) has to fix the error, it will cost a number of districts more than they will be able to afford. This would be similar to losing in a game of Monopoly and having all of your mortgaged assets redistributed. Eventually, we will have to sort out how this happened. On this rare occasion, I happen to agree with the Oklahoman, which suggested we not forget this problem started under the previous administration at the SDE. That said, I can’t say for certain who is to blame – SDE people or the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This just isn’t something that’s in my wheelhouse.

In any case, state leaders need to be mindful that wrecking small school districts over funding issues they didn’t cause could devastate several communities.

Moving Forward

I can’t wait for 2015. This year was better than 2013; why not continue the trend! As for our friend, Superintendent Barresi, whom we bloggers will surely miss, I have one final long distance dedication:

As the song says, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Happy New Year, y’all.

A Funding SNAFU

December 18, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this week State Superintendent Janet Barresi sent all public school email addresses a Christmas card. Then came the warning that we better take our TLE and like it. This afternoon, she sent schools a message that is going to take a while to soak in.


The time for calculation of the midyear adjustment is upon us. I wanted to alert you to changes in the calculations of the midyear and a possible delay in the release of the midyear adjustment.

Earlier this fall, the Department became aware of a statutorily required cap in the formula dealing with agricultural and commercial personal property. The calculation, as prescribed in law, requires that the Department cap these two segments of personal property at 11 percent. The Department historically has not applied the statutory cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We believe that plain language of the statute requires the Department to place the 11 percent cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

The Department faces a number of challenges in applying this cap to the state aid mid-year allocation. The State Department of Education (SDE) has been in communication with the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and has been told that the information needed to apply the statutory cap may not be available until mid-January. If the Department were to delay the midyear adjustment until we obtained the needed information from OTC, the SDE would risk violating its own statutory Jan. 15 deadline for release of the midyear adjustment.

It is important to note that this language was placed in the statute in 1992 when the formula used prior year Ad Valorem even though the OTC was not able to provide that specific data by districts at that time. When the formula was changed to use current year Ad Valorem this section was not adjusted, creating an inherent conflict in the two provisions of law. The statutes require the Tax Commission to provide to the SDE the data needed to implement the statutory requirement. Until this year, the data has not been provided to the State Department of Education by the Tax Commission in order for the Department to impose the cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We currently do not know the outcome of this redistribution, but we wanted to alert you to the possibility of an unanticipated change in your districts calculations and a possible delay in the receipt of the mid-year allocation.

We will calculate the midyear adjustment using the capped Ad Valorem and post the midyear allocation as soon as we receive the necessary data.

School districts will receive their Jan. 15, 2015, payment.

Janet C. Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The short version of this is that a small part of the funding formula has been miscalculated for more than 20 years. I don’t know how much of that can be rectified or how that will impact already strapped public schools, but this could be catastrophic. As the Tulsa World report stated, this could be a windfall for some districts and disaster for others.

Merry Christmas, #oklaed! Hallelujah! Where’s the Tylenol?

Barresi Issues a TLE Warning

December 17, 2014 1 comment

Oklahoma’s Teacher/Leader Effectiveness System (TLE) is highly flawed. Ask anybody in a school, and you will hear that. Sure, some like the qualitative part that will eventually comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating. They say it has improved the language of the evaluation process. Unfortunately, it has also increased the extent to which teachers and principals are over-burdened with paperwork. It is a thorough process, but it is also terribly cumbersome.

This disruption to the status quo, however, has nothing on the impending disaster of the other 50 percent. When the quantitative component of TLE becomes reality, the bottomed-out morale of teachers will find a new low. Anybody who teaches or supervises teachers understands this. The future former state superintendent does not. Last night, Janet Barresi posted one of her final missives (at least in an official capacity), this time defending the TLE and refuting some of the concerns we’ve voiced for years. As usual, though, she misrepresented many, many things. I will attach a few excerpts and then respond.

When properly implemented by districts, TLE is not an excuse to fire teachers. We cannot and will not fire our way to a better education. TLE allows for focused professional development. It is a carefully designed system that helps good teachers become great, and struggling teachers become good.

Actually, this sounds like the justification of someone who hasn’t read the statutory language associated with the process. I understand – the relevant section doesn’t appear until pages 13-14. By then, most politicians have stopped reading to learn and commenced handing the document off to the underlings with instructions to brief me at a later time. Here’s the short version. Both career and probationary teachers who receive a less-than-effective TLE score for consecutive years can lose their jobs. Even if the principal observes good instruction happening in the classroom, an algorithm can override human judgment. Also, as I discussed Sunday, teachers who have the opportunity to make their own assessments (pre- and post-tests) will have a huge advantage over their counterparts. Still, Barresi warns us against the perils of abandoning evaluation by test score.

Some critics contend that TLE gives too much weight to student performance on assessments, but I believe the system we have designed strikes a good balance. It is important to recognize that student data is valuable. How can school leaders make informed decisions without indicators and data to guide them? How can parents feel assured they have an impartial measure of their school’s success if they only hear qualitative observations? Removing student data from TLE would threaten Oklahoma’s waiver from disastrous No Child Left Behind regulations, but even worse, it would usher in an accountability system that lacks measurable accountability itself.

Remember, Barresi and her ilk share the belief that anything you don’t measure doesn’t matter. As for me, I count two negatives in the previous sentence. It matters.

Seriously, though, Barresi still believes school leaders need her help to make informed decisions. We do use data, even if she won’t give us credit for it. As for assuring parents, I guess that’s what disembodied algorithms developed by out-of-state non-profits that have taken millions from our state are for. I’ve seen too many examples from this year’s VAM data that show great teachers with low scores. Even in cases where every student passes the state tests and most are advanced, the teachers are being labeled ineffective. Explain that to parents. Furthermore, we’ve lost the waiver once. If we lose it again, we’ll cobble something together and get it back. I’ve seen us do it.

Our work in school turn around has shown that as the hard work moves forward to improve instructional processes and practices, change the culture of the school and initiate the use of data as an integral component of improving instruction, that TLE scores also improve.

Rob Miller effectively took down this talking point recently. The SDE thinks they’ve discovered how to turn schools around. As Rob showed, they’ve also effectively discovered how not to turn schools around. Essentially, in any ranking system, there will be winners and losers. The system can’t help it; it was born that way. This is true for schools, for teachers, and for kids. Some will score high, and some will score low. Left to their own devices, some will rise, and some won’t. Placed under intensive scrutiny from the state, some will rise, and some will fall. It is a natural by-product of the system; often, what appear to be gains (or losses) are merely statistical corrections. No state agency deserves credit for schools that regress to the mean.

I don’t believe that the “sole purpose” of TLE is to fire people. I know that it will happen, though. Good teachers will lose their jobs because of bad data. Whether or not the intent of TLE is to shame teachers and schools, this will be the outcome. No amount of spin from Janet Barresi, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, or anyone else will change that. As Superintendent-elect Hofmeister has traveled the state, she has heard some version of these concerns again and again. Our legislators have heard them too, and most seem to understand that something has to give. In policy terms, it probably will come down to a choice between delaying implementation of the quantitative score or tossing the entire TLE system.

The timing of this letter is curious. It makes me wonder if Barresi has a last-minute surprise for us at tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting. This will be her last one (unless they do not choose a vendor for spring testing, in which case there may be a special SBE meeting early next month), and the agenda for it should post this afternoon. We can only wonder right now if this is a clue to what we’re going to see on it.

Report as Spam?

December 15, 2014 9 comments

This afternoon, the SDE sent this image out to all Oklahoma educators.

 I bet Rob Miller got two copies!

In case somehow you missed yours, I wanted to make sure you had it.

You’re welcome.

Categories: Uncategorized

Time Keeps on Slippin, Slippin, Slippin…

December 14, 2014 1 comment

One of my favorite songs of the 70s is Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band. Maybe it’s the trippy, psychedelic sound from the people who also brought us The Joker. Maybe it’s their concerts I attended back in college. Or maybe it’s the lyrics.

Who are we kidding? This is me we’re talking about, here. Of course it’s the lyrics! In particular, this one verse has always spoken to me:

Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

It’s a simple idea. See a problem and meet it with a solution. It doesn’t take a committee or a convoluted algorithm to figure this out. Not every problem has clear roots and clear solutions, however. In the #oklaed online community – as well as in the non-digital discussions we have of education issues every day – those of us who discuss and debate are often met with the same response. It is some variation of, if you’ll pardon the grammar, You’ve told us what you’re against; now tell us what you’re for.

I agree with the idea that we should all be solution-minded advocates of children and the public schools that serve them. I’m probably as guilty as anybody of saying what I oppose. Maybe I just assume that in telling you what I’m against, it’s obvious what I’m for. Maybe I’ve assumed wrong.

In general, I’m for ideas, policies, and practices that unburden teachers so students can learn. By extension, I’m against their antitheses. Too often, education policy is a solution in search of a policy; hence, my 501 previous blog posts opposing the litany of corporate education reforms and their lousy implementation.

If you’re a stickler for being positive, however, I will try to summarize some of the things I oppose and what I would rather see us do instead.

I oppose high-stakes testing for students in PK-12.

What would I do instead? Absolutely nothing. I don’t want high-stakes testing. I don’t want it for third-graders. I don’t want it for high school students. Not in a boat. Not with a goat.

As you know, the state of Oklahoma forces public schools to give even more tests than the dreaded federal government requires us to. These tests form, among other things, the exit exams for Oklahoma high school students. In spite of the fact that many students begin taking these tests in middle school, passing four of seven is a graduation requirement. Meanwhile, these tests mean nothing to higher education.

I have said on this blog and on social media more times than I care to count that we should replace all of our high school tests with the ACT. I don’t have exact percentages, but a vast majority of Oklahoma graduates have taken it at least one time. Maybe if we quit paying unreliable vendors to create tests that our students could care less about, we could afford to pay for one college-entrance exam for each graduate.

On the elementary and middle school end, we could adopt ACT’s Aspire tests for third through eighth grade, or we could find another battery of tests to give students in those grades. While I would love to see Congress repeal No Child Left Behind in its entirety and start over with reasonable education policy, I am also a realist. If we’re going to test in reading and math, let’s keep it simple and test for growth. And for the love of all things decent, let’s make the reading test an actual READING test!

There would be no more re-testing students who performed poorly on a criterion-referenced test by giving them a norm-referenced test as a follow up. That’s the least sensible solution I’ve ever heard. Instead, when we get the original results, the schools and parents can decide what’s best in terms of retention or promotion.

I oppose high-stakes testing for teachers and principals too.

Maybe it would suffice to give a blanket statement that I oppose high-stakes testing, but these are really two separate issues. Besides, the harm to students is immediate. The harm to teachers builds over time. More importantly, we do what we do for the kids – not the adults. Perhaps a better way to put this is…

I oppose the use of test scores in any form to evaluate educators.

As you probably know, one of the Florida Oklahoma reforms adopted by our state in 2011 was the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. Using the legislative guidance and the models adopted by the TLE Commission, most Oklahoma districts have been using the qualitative (observational) portion of TLE for one or two years. I hear mixed reviews of the system from around the state.

Generally, the people who like it say that they have had better conversations about what quality teaching looks like than ever before. Generally, though, the people saying this have been principals. On the other hand, many of the people who have told me they don’t like the qualitative portion of TLE complain that it is so time consuming they can’t attend to their other job duties. For both principals and teachers, this amounts to massive increases in paperwork. Still, the qualitative portion of TLE is angel food cake in comparison to the quantitative part.

Unless something changes in state law, beginning with the 2015-16 school year, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be quantitative. All teachers will get to pick an Other Academic Measure (OAM) to count for 15 percent of their overall evaluation. In most cases, teachers have picked measures that all but ensure high scores. It is a paperwork exercise in futility. The other 35 percent will be determined through either a Value-added Model (VAM) score or a Student Learning Objective (SLO) score.

To get a VAM score, teachers have to have students who take reading in math in consecutive years. PK-3 teachers will not get a VAM score. Neither will most middle and high school teachers. In all, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of Oklahoma teachers will get a VAM score, which is a measure of actual student growth against predicted student growth. To determine VAM scores, the state uses a formula that considers prior performance, demographic factors, and possibly ambient temperatures – nobody is quite sure, really. If it’s publicly available, I haven’t seen it. In all, the state has contracted with at least three companies to develop and implement our VAMs.

The remaining teachers – the vast majority of them – will be able to create their own SLOs, cherry-picking standards to emphasize throughout the year. They will be able to create their own pre-test and post-test. They will be able to set their own instructional and testing conditions. In other words, they can totally stack the deck.

If you were a principal, why wouldn’t you let them? Think about this for a minute. If you work 180 days a year with someone and observe them in their classroom at least four times a year, you probably know whether they are doing a good job or not. The last thing you want would be for some disembodied formula to override the good evaluation you’ve given that teacher. Not only are good teachers hard to find; so are bad ones.

In this system, teachers evaluated with SLOs will be able to protect themselves. Meanwhile, teachers evaluated with VAMs will be subject to the whims of the formula. These are two vastly unequal systems. Teachers who get a low overall TLE score for multiple years will be eventually lose their jobs.

What I would like to see in place of this system is districts using an observational teacher evaluation tool that allows principals to embed professional development that teachers actually need: classroom management, content knowledge, pedagogy. Teacher effectiveness can be observed a lot more than it can be measured.

I oppose ranking schools.

I probably spent more of the first year (2012) of this blog discussing the A-F Report Cards than I did discussing all other issues combined. The reason was twofold. First, I oppose taking everything that schools do and distilling that information into a single letter grade. Second, the methodology employed by the SDE was convoluted and completely illogical. It got better in 2013, but still was thoroughly eviscerated by researchers at OU and OSU.

In place of ranking schools, I would rather see the state release as much school information as possible, without adding interpretation. The closest we come to this right now is the annual School Report Cards released each May by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (formerly the Office of Accountability). They have test scores, demographic data, longitudinal college data, census data, and even figures from the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

Say, for example, you were considering moving to Broken Bow. You could look at the SDE’s report card for the high school and see that they earned an A-, or you could look at the EQA report card and see all kinds of data. You can see that on four of seven EOIs, their students were above the state average. You can also see that they exceed the state average for free/reduced lunch eligibility. In spite of the fact that the district population is less educated overall than the rest of the state, and the school’s relative poverty, student performance seems to be pretty good. And this comes with a less experienced group of teachers than what the state has overall. Perhaps the four percent mobility rate helps them. Who’s to say?

The point is that if I’m moving to SE Oklahoma, I want a lot more information than a single letter grade. If you want to make a decision on where to move your family based on something this shallow, you probably don’t deserve someone else putting all of the pieces of information in a formula for you. You should make the effort yourself.

That said, there are two things I would like to see different about how the EQA reports this data. First is that by the time they published the 2013 test results, we had already administered the 2014 tests. Those scores are available much sooner than that. Make the school/district results visible before the report card is published. (Why the SDE doesn’t do this is beyond me.) I know the EQA gets data from several different agencies, but they should be able to put together some kind of a searchable database online that makes those pieces available in real time. They have great financial data that many Oklahoma legislators could stand to review before embarking on misguided task forces.

The second thing I would like to see different is that on some of the EQA reports, the office adds a checkmark or a star if certain benchmarks are met. Again, this oversimplifies information and is subject to the politics of standard-setting at the state level. It’s a completely superfluous feature.

All of this being said, I understand that we are not likely to be rid of a school ranking system anytime soon. While I am excited that Superintendent-elect Hofmeister is utilizing OU and OSU researchers in reforming the system, I will have to wait and see just how much enthusiasm I can muster.

I also oppose Merit Pay, Vouchers (Education Savings Accounts by any other name…), the Parent Trigger, and Funding Cuts.

This post is approaching 2,000 words very quickly, though, so I will come back to those another time. In the meantime, I will continue believing in the simplicity of these lyrics…

Oh, oh, there’s a solution…

Categories: Uncategorized

The Rob Miller Rule?

December 8, 2014 2 comments

In case you missed it, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has some proposed administrative rule changes posted to its website. Many of them are minor language changes, or instances of revision caused by legislation. One in particular caught my attention, however. Read it and see if you can guess why the proposed rule was written:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation

At the direction of the State Department of Education, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments.

In 2013, if you’ll recall, a large contingency of parents in a school somewhere in the Tulsa area (I forget where) decided their students didn’t have to take field tests. Coincidentally, the testing company claimed it did not have enough usable data from the field test to give an operational 7th grade geography test the next year. More comedy ensued in 2013 when the SDE renamed the field tests item tryouts, which fooled no one. Then in 2014, the SDE exempted two entire districts (in the Tulsa area) from having to take field tests.

I love this. It’s like the SDE is saying, enough of the hijinks and shenanigans, Rob. Seriously, I expect every sentence of the proposed rule to end with a direct address. Below is my rewrite:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation, Rob

At the direction of the State Department of Education, Rob, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments, Rob.

To be fair, the SDE has a non-Jenks Public Schools rationale for the new administrative rule. You can read their entire rule impact statement, but here are the first three points:

What is the purpose of the proposed rule?

The purpose of the proposed new rule at 210:10-13-24 is to articulate the statutory requirement, under 70 O.S. § 1210.505 et seq., for Oklahoma school districts to participate in field testing of assessments conducted under the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP). The rule codifies existing State Board of Education and State Department of Education policy, and ensures the validity and reliability of assessments through appropriate field testing.

What classes of persons will be affected by the proposed rule change and what classes of persons will bear the costs of the proposed rule change?

The proposed changes will affect public school students and teachers, public school districts and public schools, and charter schools. The agency does not anticipate any additional costs to result from the rule amendment.

What classes of persons will benefit from the proposed rule?

The proposed changes will benefit students and teachers as well as public school districts, public schools, and charter schools.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss the comedy of Janet Barresi and her legal staff when she’s gone. No amount of field testing will ensure the validity and reliability of our state tests. And no amount of testing – field or otherwise – will benefit public school students.

This rule, as often is the case, solves no problem. I don’t know of a school or district that refused to administer a test. Parents refused to have their students sit for tests, which is perfectly acceptable. We shouldn’t let those little details called facts get in the way though.

That’s our job.

The public comment period for the proposed administrative rule changes is open now and ends December 19. The full list of rule changes is available on the SDE website. Comments can be submitted by email.

Put Your Hands in the Air; Waiver Like You Just Don’t Care!

November 24, 2014 2 comments

Our short, federal nightmare is over. Today, the USDE announced that Oklahoma could have its No Child Left Behind waiver back after all.

U.S. Department of Education restores Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Flexibility Waiver for remainder of school year

OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 24) — The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced today it is reinstating Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Flexibility Waiver for the 2014-15 school year. Although the waiver had been pulled after state lawmakers repealed Common Core academic standards deemed college- and career-ready, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reconsidered that earlier decision after Oklahoma higher education officials determined the state’s existing academic standards were sufficient.

“On behalf of Oklahoma educators, parents, students, lawmakers and all Oklahomans invested in better schools, we are grateful for this decision to reinstate  the state’s flexibility waiver,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

“The ramifications of losing the waiver would have been significant and with potentially disastrous consequences. Instead, Oklahoma now has an opportunity to build upon the innovations and successful reforms of recent years.”

On Aug. 28, the USDE told the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma was losing the waiver that provides the state and school districts with relief from 13 federal regulations and flexibility in spending Title I funds. Federal officials indicated they were impressed by how many Oklahoma schools had improved under the waiver, but an obstacle remained. The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use English language arts and mathematics standards aligned with college- and career-ready guidelines, and the Common Core repeal made that problematic.

Federal officials indicated at that time that the state could reapply for a waiver to take effect in the 2015-16 school year.

OSDE requested immediate reinstatement of the waiver, however, after the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education concluded Oct. 16 that existing Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for English and math are college- and career-ready.

In addition to that development, OSDE pointed to significant progress made under its school improvement program, with 51 out of 175 Priority schools improving their letter grade this school year, and more than 100 Targeted Intervention schools raising their grade. Priority and Targeted Intervention schools are schools that need the most intensive help in raising student achievement.

In a letter today, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle praised Oklahoma for education reforms made in an effort to strengthen rigor and improve academic performance.

“I am confident that Oklahoma will continue to implement the reforms described in its approved ESEA flexibility request and advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students,” she wrote.

As state leaders look ahead to the spring of 2015 and the likelihood of requesting another NCLB Flexibility Waiver, Supt. Barresi said it is critical that Oklahoma remains committed to reforms that will spur academic achievement.

“While the USDE decision certainly allows districts and schools to breathe a little easier, this reinstatement cannot be misinterpreted as a concession to low expectations,” she said. “Oklahoma should forge ahead with creating stronger academic standards and shoring up a system of true accountability.”

The SDE’s press release didn’t mention this, but apparently, Arne Duncan signs all of his Christmas cards with Just Kidding instead of Best Wishes. Or perhaps this is Secretary Duncan’s version of pardoning a Turkey. Essentially, the last three months were like that season of Dallas that never really happened.

I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately, and today is no exception, but here are four quick thoughts on the announcement.

  1. Barresi couldn’t just let the announcement happen without taking more shots at everything associated with PASS. The first paragraph can best be described as a word salad – not the kind that people find appealing, but rather a USDA school lunch-approved word salad. I’ll translate: Even though the Legislature killed the awesome Common Core, costing us the waiver in the first place, the State Regents saved their bacon by determining that PASS was good enough. You know, I’m going to miss that rare combination of bitterness and insight here in a couple of months.
  2. Barresi lauds the SDE’s School Improvement efforts, maintaining the illusion that nothing of the sort was happening before her. As you can see here used to be able to see on the SDE’s website, schools received an API score (and subscores for reading and math and different student populations) from 2002 through 2011. Each year, they would also publish a list of schools not showing enough improvement. The last list is still posted. The historical API data is still hidden from view for no good reason, though. The catch is that schools moved back and forth, on and off the list, all the time. This did not just happen because of the Barresi administration or because of the A-F Report Cards. Reforms come and go. The people working with students make the difference.
  3. It’s somewhat surprising that the reinstatement happened this fast. I’m skeptical about the motivations. Could it be that the feds are finally attuned to the fact that nobody who actually knows anything about education believes in NCLB or the waivers? What does this mean for VAM, since we still have to have a quantitative measure of teacher effectiveness, under the rules of the waiver? Does Oklahoma’s action provide a blueprint for other states wanting to shed the Common Core?
  4. When will the SDE publish this year’s list for School Improvement? Under the waiver (I assume this hasn’t changed – the SDE hasn’t actually published the new waiver anywhere publicly) all D schools are on the Targeted Improvement list, and all the F schools are on the Priority That part’s easy. Then, using a formula almost as complicated as the one we’ve paid someone else to construct to calculate VAM, they determine which schools have landed on the Focus list. This seems like the kind of thing that will come out the day before Christmas Break, along with each district’s mid-term funding adjustment.

In all seriousness, the announcement is a welcome relief. I don’t know anybody in the state who would feel differently. Going back to the draconian NCLB regulations would have forced many Title I schools to cut staff positions – staff who work with students who struggle. For that, we are thankful.

It’s Election Day. Go vote!

November 4, 2014 4 comments

With apologies to every songwriter…ever:


Though the weather outside is crappy,
I am very happy
Because I’ve one place to go:
Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe!
Oh Mary may still be leading
But the lead is slowly bleeding
So go where you need to go:
Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe!
When we finally get to count
All the votes that were cast at the polls
An upset Joe will mount
And the people will regain control.
I think the rain now is slowing
So get up, get out, get going.
On Dorman your choice bestow,
Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe!
Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

And now for a non-election blog post…

November 3, 2014 3 comments

One of my more popular blogs lately was the one at the end of September in which I listed all of the accountability requirements for districts and schools during the month of October. Following up from that, here is the November list. In case you’re scoring at home, the “S” before the item means that it is a state requirement. The “F” is for federal.


S Annual Student Dropout Report is due to local school boards; Alternative Education (405) 522-0276. [OAC 210:35-25-3]

S Oklahoma Native American Day: On the third Monday in November of each year, teachers and students of the schools of this state are requested to observe the day with appropriate exercises; Indian Education/Curriculum (405) 521-3361. [25 O.S. § 90.12]

S First Quarter Statistical Report (FQSR) deadline is 10 days following the end of the first nine weeks; State Aid (405) 521-3460. [70 O.S. § 5-128]

Due Date

1 S ACE End of Course Project Report, high school only; ACE/Counseling (405) 521-3549.

2 S Oklahoma Technology Survey is available on the SDE School District Reporting Site; Learning Technologies (405) 521-3994. [62 O.S. 1995 § 41.5 m (D) (1) b)]

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

11 S Celebrate Freedom Week observed during the week of November 11; Office of Instruction/Social Studies (405) 522-3253. [70 O.S. § 24-152] [OAC 210:15-33-1]

15 S AP Participation materials due to College Board; Advanced Placement (405) 521-4288.

15 F Low-Income Student Count Report; October’s Claim for Reimbursement must be processed prior to submission; Child Nutrition (405) 521-3327. [7 CFR, Part 210.9 (b)]

15 F Verification of Free/Reduced-Price Meal Applications; Child Nutrition (405) 521-3327.

15 S By November 15 districts must inform SDE Financial Accounting of any district level changes made to financial transactions already submitted to the SDE; no data submitted by law can be changed or altered by the district or SDE Financial Accounting after November 15; Financial Accounting/OCAS (405) 521-2517 [OAC 210:25-5-4(c)]

15 S Deadline for submitting the Local School District’s Salary Schedule; School Personnel Records (405) 521-3369. [70 O.S. § 5-141 (A)]

15 F School Improvement Plan for each designated Priority school or Focus school currently in improvement must submit an improvement plan to SDE; School Support/School Improvement (405) 522-3253. [PL 107-110, NCLB 2001, 1116 (b) (3) (A)]

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

26 F Title III Part A: Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient (LEP) and Immigrant Student Annual Performance Report online; Bilingual Education/Title III A (405) 522-6249. [NCLB, P.L. 107-110]

It’s not quite as cumbersome as last month’s reporting requirements, but the list includes many tasks that an amateur or non-educator, such as the Assistant Superintendent for Accreditation and Compliance, probably wouldn’t understand. That’s ok. He can ask one of the qualified people who work for him.

Interestingly, this list of requirements did not include the following, which came out in a weekly message from the SDE to administrators:

The Mid-year promotion report is now uploaded on the Single Sign On and can be found on the Reading Sufficiency Act Survey under the “Third Grade Promotion and Retention” tab. Please note that the due date has been changed to Nov. 14, 2014.

That’s a pretty big reporting deadline. And if you did keep a score sheet, that’s another “S.”

Coming up in December…all kinds of fun A-F Report Card reporting:

ACTION REQUIRED/DEADLINE: 2015 A-F Data Reports are Now Open, first deadline Dec. 19  

2015 A-F Data Reports are now open for submission of data. Data must be submitted or certified by you before the close date of each report. As a reminder, your 2015 A-F School Report Card and Federal Report Cards will be comprised of the data from these reports and is dependent on the accuracy of the data you submit.

Which Reports Are Open?

The following reports are open in the WAVE ( Please sign in and click on the WAVE to access reports.

Report How-to Video/ Instructions Current Status Close Date State Status
Historical Adjusted Graduation Cohort Report


Open Dec. 19, 2014

Which Reports Are Not Yet Open?

The following reports will be open in the A-F Application ( ). Please sign in and click on the A-F Application to access reports.

Report Open Date Close Date
A-F Advanced Coursework  April 1, 2015 July 3, 2015
Annual Statistical Report (ASR)  TBD 10 days after the end of school
SMART Report  TBD 10 days after the end of school
Grades 3-8 & EOI Assessment Post-Code Correction June 4, 2014 July 3, 2014
OAAP Testing Data Correction Mid-June Mid-July
A-F Calculations Review Mid-August Late August

Where Do I Submit My Data?

The Historical Adjusted Graduation Cohort Report is available via the WAVE ( ).

How Do I Submit My Data?

For training webinars on how to complete these reports, please visit the SDE Webinar Sign up Page , and select the training you would like to attend. Where available, instructions and how-to videos have been included for each report above. Please click on the link for each report. 

What If I Don’t Submit My Data?

The Historical Adjusted Graduation Cohort Report reports goes through a submission process in which the Principal must “Confirm” and the Superintendent must “Certify” the report. Failure to certify any report by the close date will be considered passive agreement that the data are correct and will be used as is in all accountability measures, including A-F.

Do you ever wonder why your district’s central office has so many employees or what keeps them busy? This would explain part of it.

A Time for Unity

November 2, 2014 9 comments

For one of the few times that I can recall, the editorialists at the Oklahoman and I are on the same page. Today, they listed all the people we should vote for on Tuesday. In the case of their endorsement of Governor Fallin, I disagree. In fact, I disagree with quite a few of their choices. One paragraph, however, caught my eye.

State Schools Superintendent

Democrat John Cox faces Republican Joy Hofmeister. Cox is the longtime superintendent of Peggs Public Schools. Hofmeister owned a private tutoring service and briefly served on the state Board of Education. The Oklahoman makes no recommendation in this race.

This is only a hunch, but I do believe they’re still sore that their horse came in dead last in the June primary. Go figure.


As for me, I too will make no endorsement – probably for different reasons. I like both candidates – one more than the other. I also have concerns with each, though nothing that I would consider a deal breaker. If my choice doesn’t win Tuesday, I can cheerfully support the candidate who does.

What I can’t support is the divisions that have surfaced recently among educators and education voters during the last few weeks. What Cox and Hofmeister have done this fall – traveling the state and making numerous appearances together – is incredible. Governor Fallin only debated Joe Dorman once. Some candidates for statewide office have avoided their opponents completely. There are differences, and they are significant.

Two people whose writing I enjoy reading are Rob Miller and Marisa Dye. Both have insight regarding public education. Both have endorsed candidates for state superintendent this weekend. Yesterday, Dye endorsed Cox. Today, Miller endorsed Hofmeister. Each has sound reasons that work for them. Both have done their homework. Neither wrote their endorsements while vilifying the other candidate. The fact is that we’re all people concerned about reversing the political climate that attacks public education. We all have different triggers that make us mark our ballots for whomever we choose.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too much of the negative turn lately, and it falls along predictable divides: large schools vs. small schools; rural vs. suburban; Republican vs. Democrat. Sometimes these differences matter, but in this race, they shouldn’t. Unlike Janet Barresi and Mary Fallin, neither candidate has done a thing to hurt public education. I’ve even seen the campaigning turn negative, which is bound to happen in a tight statewide race. To be honest, it hasn’t been as ugly as the primaries, which is a good thing.

When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.

If we want effective public and publicly-controlled schools in Oklahoma we will have to step up and aggressively defend the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, no matter who wins, Democrat John Cox or Republican Joy Hofmeister.

Why? Won’t it be enough to just move Barresi out? Sorry, no.

If the forces in power – whether they are all Republicans or a mixture of both parties – want to mute us, they will start by marginalizing the office that Cox and Hofmeister seek. Then they will build upon the divisions that have surfaced during the campaign. Get the urban/suburban schools going in one direction and the rural schools going in another. Push consolidation to the constituency that wants it and drive into the rural communities saying you’ll block it. Meanwhile, we’ll be griping about federal intrusion into our schools in spite of the burdensome regulations the state has given us.

Vote your heart on Tuesday – even if it’s taking you in a different direction than mine. Then, we need to come together, unite, and fight for public education. June 24 was step one. November 4 is step two. After that, we still have to endure the legislative shenanigans of people who work from February through May and think they know our jobs better than we do.

For that, we’ll need to stick together.

Why I’m Voting for Joe Dorman

October 28, 2014 17 comments

We are a week away from Election Day, and I’m ready for the campaigning to be finished. This is the time when close races between fundamentally good people devolve into nasty accusations and contorted truths. I’m a fan of neither of these practices. They don’t influence me in a positive way.

How I will cast my vote for governor probably comes as a surprise to no one. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I don’t think Mary Fallin has been good for public education. You also should know that I’m not a single-issue voter or a straight-party voter. If I agreed with Fallin on every single issue outside of how she’s treated schools, I would have to consider supporting her.

Well I don’t support her, and truthfully, I decided that long ago – probably about the time she vetoed HB 2625, which allowed for parental input into the third-grade retention decision. In fact, she didn’t just veto the bill; she delayed sending official notification of her decision to the Legislature in an effort to out-maneuver them. In other words, she wanted the win so badly that she thought cheap stunts would circumvent the will of the people. In the end, a combined vote of 124-19. Neither chamber debated the decision. They simply took the veto notice and voted it away in a matter of minutes.

This is not a contorted truth. This is a documented accounting of how events unfolded. Similarly, in June, Fallin waited until the last possible minute before deciding to sign HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards and brought back PASS as the state’s reading and math standards. Since she was one of the main reasons Oklahoma adopted the CCSS, the decision surprised me. As recently as January, she was still defending CCSS to the rest of the country’s governors. It was also the first indication I had that her campaign viewed Joe Dorman as a legitimate threat to unseat her.

It was also at this point that I began researching whether my decision would be a vote against Fallin or a vote for Dorman. It will be both of these things. Below, I will explain why.

Funding Education Properly

Since the start of the recession in 2008, states have struggled to fund all basic services. Most have begun restoring funding to public education. Unfortunately, a recent study showed that per pupil funding in Oklahoma is still 23 percent below the 2008 level.

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

This represents the worst loss of education funding in the country. As much as the State Board of Education wants to give teachers a substantial raise, it’s not up to them. We need a governor who will work with the Legislature to make this happen.

Throughout the summer, Dorman released his education plan in phases. The first installment specifically addresses funding issues. It is a three point plan to ensure that adequate funding reaches the classroom, and it is sound and realistic. It will require the executive branch and legislative branches working together, but that also seems more likely now than at any time in the last several years. His press release at the time made his case:

Joe Dorman’s “Classrooms First” plan dedicates 100% of funds from the existing Franchise Tax to in-classroom instruction and prohibits using these resources in the general fund for any other purpose. These funds will not be subject to political games and special interest giveaways and subsidies. This plan does not raise taxes one dime, and it stops the political sleight-of-hand the politicians use to cut school funds. This plan ties the state legislature’s hands from playing politics, arbitrarily cutting our public schools’ funding and harming our kids and our economy. This is good for parents and kids, good for our business community and economy, and is a fiscally sound policy for our state.

Fallin’s main emphasis during her term has been cutting taxes. Unfortunately, most of those cuts are corporate and geared at the energy industry. While there’s no doubt that this state is reliant on the oil, gas, and electricity producers, there is a middle ground in which we can support basic governmental services like schools and roads without biting the hand that feeds us. Also, Fallin’s proposal to cut income taxes would impact most Oklahomans by dozens of dollars a year. This doesn’t change the lives of the working class, but it does contribute to the decline in support of schools.

When we say that schools have lost funding, we should be specific about the fact that that loss squarely falls upon the state. As the table below illustrates, Oklahoma has seen a gradual decline over the last 15 years of support from the state, coupled with increased reliance on support from the federal government and local revenue.

School Year % Federal Funding % State Funding % Local Funding
2012-13 12.5% 48.0% 39.6%
2011-12 13.6% 47.8% 38.6%
2010-11 17.0% 47.0% 39.0%
2009-10 17.4% 46.5% 36.1%
2008-09 13.6% 52.0% 34.5%
2007-08 11.8% 53.3% 34.9%
2003-04 12.7% 53.4% 33.9%
1998-99 9.4% 57.1% 33.5%

It is appropriate to discuss 2008 as a reference point because that’s the generally agreed upon date of the recession. As you can see, since that time, the percent of district budgets supplied by the state has fallen by 5.3% since that time. I threw two more points of reference into the table as well. First is 2004, since that’s the last year Democrats controlled the Legislature. As you can see, the state and local shares of school funding stayed pretty constant for the first four years that Republicans were in charge. Going back five more years, to 1999, we can see that the percentage of school funding from the state used to be even higher.

That changed after President Bush and Congress passed NCLB in 2001. With extra funding from the feds came extra regulations and controls. Conversely, school districts in Oklahoma now face an increasingly burdensome regulatory morass from the state, even though the state picks up far less of the bill than it used to. Keep this in mind the next time you hear teachers and administrators talk about the loss of local control during the last four years.

This happened on Fallin’s watch. The recession that began two years before she took office gets some of the blame – the funding part at least. The regulatory burden schools face now falls squarely on Fallin and outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Standards and Assessment

Fallin and Barresi gave us Common Core, and then Fallin and the Legislature took it away. They gave us mandatory retention for third graders based upon a single test, and they reacted poorly when the Legislature modified the plan. They gave us Value Added Measurements (based on junk science) for teachers and principals. They also gave us A-F Report Cards for schools. Fallin, if you’ll recall, hinted last year that if superintendents didn’t quit complaining about that last reform in particular, she’d be less likely to support increases to education funding. Her State of the State address from February outlined her record and priorities. Below are a few education quotes from that speech:

No child should ever fail to get a world-class education because our policymakers believe success is too difficult.

That’s why we need to work relentlessly on two fronts:

First, we must continue to improve K-12 public school results.

We know that we are graduating high school seniors who aren’t ready for the workforce or college.  That has to change.

Second, we have to increase the number of Oklahomans who continue their education beyond high school, either by attending college or a career technology center. A high school diploma is not enough.

We are taking active steps to address this crisis; and it is essential we continue to move forward.

For instance, too often, we set up children for failure by sending them on to higher grades without the reading skills they need. We’ve changed course – by requiring that third graders learn to read before moving on to the fourth grade.

We’ve also implemented the A-F grading system that lets parents, students, teachers and administrators know how their school is performing.

In 2010, the Legislature voted to adopt new, higher standards in English and math, and those new Oklahoma standards will be fully implemented this year.

The new standards focus on critical thinking – the kind of skills our children need to get a job or to succeed in higher levels of education.

While we are raising standards, we aren’t telling teachers how to teach that lesson or what books to use.

Those are decisions that will always be made locally.

And here’s the pay-off: we will start graduating seniors that are truly ready for the workforce AND for college or a career technology education.

Because I don’t like to take things out of context, but I also don’t like 3,000 word blog posts, you should probably go back and read the entire speech. This was when Fallin wasn’t in campaign mode and she was expecting to coast to an easy victory. What she believes is clear. We need more testing and we need the Common Core. Without these in place, schools will continue doing their own things, and we just can’t have that.

Dorman, in contrast, understands that Oklahomans will respond better to standards that are developed locally. Here are the bullet points from his plan:

  • A Blue Ribbon Commission consisting of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma education college professors will work to set new education standards. The Commission will represent Oklahoma’s different schools, regions and communities. Gifted students, special needs students, and students requiring remediation will receive assistance.
  • Once the standards are written, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hold town halls and forums across the state to hear input from citizens on the standards. The input will be used to refine and finalize the new standards.
  • The Blue Ribbon Commission will continue to meet annually to assess the standards and make any changes as needed.
  • A Superintendents Advisory Board will implement the new educational policy and develop the best ways to implement policy in individual school districts while maintaining local control.
  • The Governor will host an annual student forum consisting of high school sophomores and juniors from across the state to discuss how to improve education, how to make them more college and job ready and how to improve standards to make them more ACT ready.

He also proposes scrapping the current testing system for the ACT and its cycle of tests that are developmentally tiered for 3rd through 12th graders. While I would just like to see state testing go away, I know that’s not realistic. Instead of giving students a battery of exams that have little meaning to them and none whatsoever to those in higher education, we would be better off using exams from a national college testing company. Are the questions written to the Oklahoma standards? No, and frankly, I don’t care. Do they include science and social studies content? No, and the colleges who look at ACT scores don’t care. While a lot of the frustrated educators around the state disagree with me on some of this point, I hope they will at least consider the futility of the current testing system and the fact that it has had more than its share of unintended consequences.

The Company You Keep

Dorman seems to get his ideas on education from the people working in and attending our state’s public schools. He even hangs out with teachers. Mary Fallin, when showing education reform guru Jeb Bush around Oklahoma chose a charter school to visit. It wasn’t just any charter school, either; it was KIPP – which is a franchise of a national chain of charters.

Failin Bush

From The Oklahoman

It’s like inviting another state’s former governor to Oklahoma City for a steak and taking him to Outback instead of Cattleman’s. For all of KIPP’s accomplishments, keep in mind that they play by a different set of rules.

Oklahoma teachers voted to change the leadership in education last July. Voting Barresi out was the only smart decision they could make. Below, I have compiled average teacher salaries from before the recession to now.

School Year Average Teacher Salary with Fringe Average Years of Experience Insurance Costs
2012-13 $44,118 12.5 $5,568
2011-12 $44,145 12.6 $5,394
2010-11 $45,714 13.0 $5,394
2009-10 $43,998 12.7 $5,314
2008-09 $43,584 12.7 $4,909
2007-08 $43,275 12.7 $4,371

As you can see, teacher salary – including fringe (insurance, retirement) – has changed very little in this time. I added the Experience column because I was curious if we had more veteran teachers retiring, which would account for some of the stagnation. That really isn’t happening. Meanwhile, when you look at insurance costs, you see that teachers are bringing home less now than they were six years ago. While average compensation has grown by $843, the cost of Healthchoice has increased by $1,197 per year. If teachers have a spouse and children on their insurance plans, it’s even worse. And before we get all worked up about Obamacare, remember that the increase from 2008 to 2009 is higher than all other years combined.

For all the inherent rewards of teaching, the pay just isn’t there. In fact, it’s less than it was just a few years ago – significantly less. And this happened on Mary Fallin’s watch, while she continued with her tax cuts that neither stimulated the economy nor benefitted average working families.

There’s a reason Fallin was completely shocked when she posed with the guy wearing the “Mary Failin’” t-shirt after her sole debate against Joe Dorman. The Lost Ogle corresponded with said man, who reported,

Fallin’s aid told her that he didn’t think she “wanted to take a picture with a Mary Failing t-shirt.” She then looked at my shirt and said, “You’re being mean to me!” Her staff started rushing her through the stairway completely bypassing the elevator and she said, “I just assume everyone is going to be nice.” A man from her campaign followed my group to the elevator, took our pictures, and said, “We’ll be seeing you soon.” I laughed and proceeded to get on the elevator!

Well, governor, not everybody is going to be nice. On some level, you must understand this. Otherwise you would have debated your opponent more than once. I personally know a lot of teachers in this state who don’t feel you’ve been very nice to them. They would probably adopt the respect the office in spite of its occupant approach – as many Oklahomans also do with the President.

From TLO

From TLO


One of my favorite ads that currently runs is the Geico ad wherein the teenagers scurry to hide from an axe murderer and make a lot of poor decisions.

I’m not saying that educators voting for Mary Fallin would be as stupid as teens hiding behind the chainsaws. It wouldn’t even be as stupid as voting for Janet Barresi. It would just be self-defeating.

A vote for Joe Dorman, on the other hand, is a vote for better working conditions, competitive salaries, and restoring education that is geared towards our students rather than the publishers and testing companies that are bleeding us dry.

Be informed, and vote wisely.

Teachers can’t be bought, but can they be rented?

October 25, 2014 3 comments

Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting, Janet Barresi delivered her final budget proposal as Oklahoma’s state superintendent. Overall, Barresi’s budget request for 2015-16 is about $298 million higher than what PK-12 education received for 2014-15. The highlight is a $213.4 million line item increase for teacher salaries – about $2,500 per certified teacher (excluding superintendents). In other words, most of the budget is for teacher pay raises. That’s the part she got right.

(Read OSSBA’s live tweets from the SBE meeting for more detail.)

The raise comes with a catch – lengthen the school year by five days. Truthfully, I’m not opposed to this idea either. However, if we’re going to have a discussion about how much more instructional time we need, we should also probably discuss how we use the instructional time we have. With $11 million in the budget for testing, $12.7 million for Reading Sufficiency, and $8 million for ACE Remediation, I’m not sure I want five more school days – not if it’s just more test prep time.

Over the last 13 years – ever since No Child Left Behind became law – we’ve been all about those tests (with apologies to Meghan Trainor). School should be a place where children can figure out who they are and get the skills they need to get there. Instead, school has become a place where children are data points. Student artwork in the teacher workroom has been replaced with data walls. Author visits have been replaced with testing pep rallies.

Teaching, always a noble but underappreciated profession, has become less attractive than ever. Yes, a salary increase will help with that, but not if the school culture remains all about testing. Later in the meeting, Barresi proved she still doesn’t get that. The following tweet probably best illustrates this.

Apparently our future former state superintendent doesn’t get the role that extracurriculars (such as band, choir, athletics, student council) play in the overall education of our students. In spite of this, I have to give her credit for one thing: this is several steps ahead of last year’s 2K4T gimmick. Barresi admits it’s only a start. In my mind, it’s step one of four. What I’d like to see is the legislature fund such a pay increase every other year until each step on the minimum salary scale is $10,000 higher than it is now. Funding that is another issue.

For each of the past four years, Barresi has proposed large funding increases, only to see Governor Fallin propose quite modest increases – so small that most schools (because of growth) would actually see a loss in per pupil funding. The Legislature has then come through with funding somewhere in the middle.

Back in February, this is what I said we should ask for in terms of funding:

  1. Refill the funding formula.Last year, the Legislature had more money to appropriate than at any other time in state history. Even so, state support for public education had not been restored to the level of FY 2008. At a minimum, schools need support at that level, plus consideration for growth in enrollment and a cost of living adjustment.
  2. Fully fund reforms.Three years ago, Superintendent Barresi told superintendents that the reforms she was pushing could be implemented with no new funding. Now she is asking for more than $26 million in new money to fund them. Common Core, TLE, RSA, and ACE all take money to implement well. They also take time. School districts can get students where they need to be with both of these resources. Most critical is Reading Sufficiency. At current funding levels, many schools have to decide between tutoring during the school year or having summer programs. The supports they do provide span less time and may not include all the grades principals would like to serve. Also consider that we keep increasing what we spend on testing. If the Legislature would reduce the amount of required testing, this expense could be lessened.
  3. Plan long-term for raises.Supporting a teacher raise of $2,000 by adjusting the state minimum salary and dedicating funding to the formula would be a start. Don’t stop there. Be bold. Think five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to see public education in the future. While state voters rejected a plan to trigger automatic teacher salary increases a few years back, they would probably support raises for teachers if the Legislature phased them in over time. We don’t know what Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas will be paying their teachers in five years. There’s a lot we don’t know. We can be certain, however, that we will continue to see shortages in the profession without taking strong action. A one-time $2,000 stipend that only a few districts would be able to afford is not a game-changer.

I’m still where I was eight months ago with this. If the state has more money to spend, why hasn’t education funding been restored to pre-recession levels? Until legislators do this, we’re going to doubt the motives of all the politicians. For example, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson thinks this is a transparent attempt to buy teachers’ loyalty:

Reformists still stubbornly believe that teachers can be bought. It’s amazing. And it is the same contempt for education and educators that we have seen before. It caused right-wing elites to spend big money to push in a dentist for superintendent. It’s the idea that you can throw a few dollars at teachers and they will settle down.

People who have not dreamed of teaching and then taught for years just don’t get it. They think that more money can make us do things differently or change our motivations.

We only ask for more money sometimes so that we don’t have to work a second job mowing lawns, or at a clothing store, or delivering pizzas late into school nights to make ends meet. I actually did all of those things, by the way. It was when I had one of those lucrative “union” contracts that others are supposed to resent us for having.

We want more pay so that we can afford to spend all Summer going to conferences that help us get better at teaching our students. We want more pay because we want to spend our evenings and weekends reading the latest books on teaching so that we can get better at teaching our students.

Committed, long-term teachers don’t teach for money. If we did, then we could be bought.

We teach because we love it. We teach because we can’t imagine much else. We rally, write, speak, and vote to make sure that our students get the education that they deserve.

I disagree slightly. I only think they’re trying to rent us. Actually, at this price point, it’s more like a lease. They’re flashing money in the short-term, but they really don’t want to put many miles on the vehicle. Whether the SBE is sincere about this gesture or not is irrelevant. Teacher raises don’t come from the Hodge building. They come from the Capitol.

Ultimately, reformers want their reform agenda implemented. That can’t be done without teachers. I also believe that teachers can still swing the upcoming election – the governor’s race, the state superintendent race, and several key legislative races.

Two Stones with One Bird

October 21, 2014 2 comments

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

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

About the State Regents Certifying PASS

October 19, 2014 4 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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 13 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.


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 7 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

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,072 other followers

%d bloggers like this: