So much thanks

I can pretty much assume that if we’re going to talk about our blessings this Thanksgiving, that there will be some common things 90 percent of us say. Our families and friends. The servicemen and women who protect this great country. Sunsets. Bacon.

Just a few days ago, I even wrote about how thankful I am that former students from more than a decade ago still reach out to me to let me know I’ve had some kind of impact on their lives.

I want to push myself farther this year and give 45 very specific reasons to give thanks – one for every birthday I’ve had. So we’ll take the ones from above as givens and shoot for a more personalized list.

  1. Jazz bands

  2. The #oklaed online community
  3. Reruns of Thanksgiving episodes of Friends
  4. Coffee and donuts
  5. Books
  6. Free songs from the Foo Fighters
    IMG_4325 1
  7. Taco Bueno after bad banquet food
  8. A leadership team that really gets me

  9. A former staff that did too
  10. A great boss and mentor in Moore
  11. Really, a lot of great leaders and co-workers throughout my career
  12. Getting to meet Diane Ravitch
  13. Bloggers, parents, and other rebels throughout Oklahoma who fight for children and their schools
  14. Superhero day at elementary schools
  15. Speaking of superheroes, Baker Mayfield

  16. Speaking of superheroes, Russell Westbrook (featuring unicorns and rainbows)
  17. The first day of school
    IMG_3087 (1)
  18. Breaks
  19. High school classmates who are long-time Mid-Del teachers
  20. Tom Petty

  21. Friends who can quote Hemingway
  22. Friends who can quote Shawshank, Princess Bride, and Seinfeld, on command
  23. Birthday wishes from Joe Dorman
  24. Nerd humor
  25. Humble beginnings
  26. Independent thought
  27. Guilty pleasures
  28. Austin being weird
  29. A state superintendent who is the real deal
  30. A school board and community that took a chance on me
  31. Students in leadership
  32. Students in leadership volunteering to moderate chats
    IMG_4012 (1)
  33. Running
  34. Skiing
  35. Surprise reunions at holidays
  36. First-world problems
  37. Words
  38. Old movies
  39. Students who step outside their comfort zones
  40. Teachers who step outside their comfort zones
  41. The finales of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and Letterman
  42. A new Sarah Vowell book
  43. Reporters who give public schools a fair shake
  44. The opportunity to work with graduate students
  45. The future, whatever it holds

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. And if you get tired of leftovers, go get a taco or some Funyuns. And read a book or two.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Sometimes, Knowing is Enough

November 22, 2015 2 comments

It’s that time of year when we all share things that make us thankful. As with most people, I have many blessings about which I can reflect this year. One of them is that I’ve had the opportunity to impact so many young lives throughout my career. Because of social media, many of my former students even let me know what they’re doing with their lives.

I started my career at West Middle School in Muskogee (which isn’t even a school anymore) in 1993. These were my eighth grade students, and my sixth grade academic team.

I was only there a year, but I had a great principal and great colleagues on our eighth grade team. I’ve occasionally seen names of students from this group on Facebook, but there are only a couple who I really know anything about. I would say this group probably shaped who I became more than I shaped them.

My years at Mustang High School, however, have given me many friends – both from among the colleagues I had, and the students I taught. Since I left the classroom in 2002, all the students I ever taught are in their 30s now. They have families and careers. Some are even teachers. Some have found happiness and success. Some have found hard times. I told them all that when they graduate from high school, they need to get used to calling me Rick, rather than Mr. Cobb, since it was my intent that they become my peer as adults.

Of all the groups I taught, I probably have the fondest memories of the students I had the good fortune to keep for two years. At the end of the 98-99 school year, I had been teaching freshman for four years. I had two sections of regular English and three sections of honors English. Because one of our teachers was moving into an assistant principal position, I had the opportunity to move up. On the first day of school, rather than covering the syllabus and the student handbook, I opened with, “so, when we left off in May…” and then we started learning.

This was before I had ever read anything about building relationships with students and how much that impacts their learning. It was just obvious to me. When I was coaching volleyball, and I had some of my players in class, it was easy to connect with them. The better you know your students, the better you can teach them. It’s not rocket surgery.

This is also the group of students I taught that has connected with me as adults in the greatest numbers. The two pictures below show my honors classes from that year. Of the students pictured, I’m friends with 25 of them on Facebook. I’ve actually seen most of them since they finished high school, which is even more notable since I left Mustang the year they graduated.

Some would come back to me when they were juniors and seniors and ask for advice with their AP papers. Even after I moved to Medford as a principal, I had students who reached out to me.

The last year I was in the classroom, I had a student named CM. He was funny and smarter than he knew. What he probably didn’t realize was that when we were discussing some story or a writing topic, I would give him a little latitude to circle around to the point. He didn’t always take the most direct line from the question to the answer. He made it there, but indirectly. And he’d stick the landing. It was worth the processing time to get to the result.

It was with CM’s class that I stopped in the middle of a class discussion one day in April and just stared blankly at my students. I had already accepted the Medford job and was in the process of selling a house and changing everything. I just had this clear moment of what I was leaving behind. After a few silent, awkward moments, one of the students asked me if I was ok. I said something along the lines of how I just had realized everything I was giving up. My job was to discuss books I love with some of the most interesting people in the world. It was like Oprah, but without her paycheck.

I still think that’s a pretty cool job.

Eight months later, as I was in my office getting ready for a much needed break, I got a phone call from Mustang. It was CM and two other students from that class. They just wanted to tell me Merry Christmas and ask me how I liked being a principal. We probably talked for five minutes or so, and that was that.

Until this August, I hadn’t heard from CM for nearly 13 years. Out of nowhere, I received this Facebook message:

Hey Mr. Cobb, this is CM… I had you for AP English II at Mustang.., I am doing my student teaching at Mustang this semester and I have sophomores in English II LOL… My mom said I needed to friend you on Facebook and I thought it was a good idea so I sent you a request and here is a message attached. Anyway, I just thought I would say hello and let you know what I was doing… Just FYI I wanted to let you know you are a big reason why I decided to go into teaching. You were a great teacher, awesome person, and a great influence so thank you for everything!

I love it when my former students become teachers. I quickly tried to hire him because, well, you know, there’s a teacher shortage. Mostly, I just love hearing stories about how the people I taught turned out. I know their parents influenced more than I did. I know they had other teachers. But when one of them takes the time to tell me that something I did shaped their life in a positive way, I feel like I’m watching a SportsCenter highlight of myself.

After leaving the classroom, I spent two years as a principal, four years as a state employee, and then seven in the central office before becoming a superintendent. For the last 11 years, I haven’t had the direct day-to-day contact with kids. I have made friends at each of those places. I have provided training for teachers all over the state and developed a professional network that I treasure. I know that my work has made a difference. And sometimes, knowing is enough.

But I have to take it on faith. I don’t see the students and watch them from May to August. Sure, principals can give me their data points, but I think we all know how I feel about data points. They’re not people.

I knew once I left the classroom, I would never have that kind of relationship with students again. If anything, that’s probably what motivates me to be in schools as much as I can be right now. I love opportunities to work with kids, but more than that, I get to see teachers building those relationships with students, and with families. I take selfies with classes because it reminds me why we do what we do.

Sometimes, though, I get messages that my nine years in the classroom mattered to someone else besides me. And for that, I’m thankful.





Thoughts on Obstruction and Serious Conversation

November 19, 2015 2 comments

If my math is correct, and it usually is, Oklahoma school districts have lost over $900 million in State Aid since the 2008-09 school year. Even if the Legislature could pull a minor miracle and keep funding for schools flat for the 2016-17 school year, the total revenue decline would be more than $1 billion in just eight years.

The funny thing about losing that much money is that you miss it. It hurts. The only thing that hurts worse is when you realize it isn’t coming back. That’s when you have to act boldly.

To me, that is what we’re seeing with Governor Senator OU President David Boren’s penny sales tax plan. Born of necessity – because frankly, nobody is proposing any other credible solution – it stands as the only option on the table. Sure, the Oklahoma’s Council for Pushing ALEC – or whatever OCPA stands for – came up with an alternative. It includes several one-time solutions – such as selling off art collections (that the state doesn’t technically own) for teacher raises.

Oklahoma's Council for Pushing ALEC.jpg

Here’s a fun fact for people who’ve never had to cobble together a school district budget and worry about paying thousands of teachers and support employees: you can’t use one-time funds for raises. What are you going to do the next year if nothing to match those funds is in place?

Then again, why would we expect a group that has invested decades trying to destroy public education to bring anything serious to the conversation? I only bring them up because they carry water for and to certain obstructionist legislators who share their voucher-centric agenda. They’re part of the conversation, whether they have any business being in it or not.

I haven’t yet written about the Boren proposal for a couple of reasons. First, I have a lot of friends and colleagues working in municipal government. I fear that a state penny sales tax will limit their ability to continue generating local revenue through their own initiatives. We need well-funded schools, but we need well-funded city governments as well. It’s not a trade-off for me. They’re both critical needs.

Second – and maybe this should be first – is the fact that over the last ten years, our state government has methodically reduced the tax base by passing income tax cuts (that really didn’t benefit the middle class or the working poor), increasing tax credits for corporations, and pushing nebulous amendments to the state constitution that limit growth in ad valorem collections.

As Oklahoma Watch points out, some who are critical of the Boren plan feel like the state is replacing income taxes that are progressive with  sales taxes which are, by definition, regressive. As Boren points out, however, “Our choice is to either do this, or nothing.” In other words, we can lament the fact that our elected leaders knew they were tying their own hands, or we can propose a solution.

high anxiety.jpg

That billion dollar projected hole in next year’s state budget reflects the billion dollars in lost state aid that schools have seen over the last seven (going on eight) fiscal years. Reversing this trend through legislative means is a feat that is against all odds. While I’d welcome some teamwork and help from our elected leaders, until that happens, why not let the people decide if a penny sales tax is the best way to help public education.

Then again, one of the OCPA’s side ventures has filed suit – against the reigning State Teacher of the Year, among others – claiming the Boren plan violates the Oklahoma Constitution. In short, they claim the initiative constitutes a “textbook example of logrolling.” By logrolling, the plaintiffs mean that the proposal violates the state’s single issue rule. The fact of the matter is that the proposal is for one thing – a penny sales tax, and what should be done with the proceeds of that penny. The plaintiffs know this. Then again, as I said, they have a long, long history of trying to block all things that would benefit public education.

What they forget, however, is that public schools are responsible for teaching 90 percent of students in this state. What they forget is that parents and communities support their local schools and the people who work in them. What they conveniently try to forget is that those parents and communities are sick and tired of budget cuts and teacher shortages, and that voters increasingly realize that the school districts didn’t create these problems.

Oh, and 2016 is an election year. Every House seat and half the Senate seats are up for grabs. I recently read that more than 30 seats will be impacted by term limits. If incumbents have opponents, they all can be. If incumbents throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do to prevent cuts to education funding, then we should see more challengers.

With all that said, one conservative Oklahoman I respect tremendously is Phyllis Hudecki. She has been – among other things – Governor Fallin’s first secretary of education. She has been involved with the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition for more than a decade. She recognizes the problems that shrinking education budgets and stagnant teacher pay have brought to our schools. She published a strong editorial in this Sunday’s Oklahoman saying as much:

Our teachers are leaving the state in droves. In fact, schools began this year with about 1,000 teacher vacancies and a record number of adults in classrooms without teacher preparation.

Teachers haven’t had a state-funded raise in nearly a decade, which is, in part, why the state ranks 48th in teacher pay. We have a moral and economic imperative to fix this now.

While money is not the only answer for all that ails our schools, it is certainly a large part.

The Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition recently commissioned a study of teacher attrition and pay in Oklahoma, Texas and comparable jobs in the private sector. The study showed that teacher salaries in Oklahoma are about 16 percent lower than teacher salaries in Texas and 28 percent lower than median salaries for similar workers in Oklahoma’s private sector.

Nibbling around the edges and tinkering with smaller changes may save a little, but it will not catapult funding to the levels needed now.

The only comprehensive funding plan on the table is the ballot initiative to add a penny sales tax.  The measure would provide approximately $426 million to increase teacher salaries.

Ideally, the upcoming legislative session would include serious movement towards rolling back tax credits that really haven’t proven to stimulate the economy. Failing that, we have the Boren plan. At the least, Oklahoma voters should have the right to decide its merits – and to do so without obstruction and misinformation from right-wing lobbyists.

A-F Breakdown: Let’s Define #ourschool Ourselves

November 8, 2015 2 comments

Each of the last two weeks the Journal Record has published columns by individuals affiliated with a certain right-wing non-partisan think tank in which the writer is critical of those of us who have been critical of the A-F Report Cards. I enjoy watching people defend the indefensible as much as anybody, but it’s probably good to run a scorecard of the responses we’ve seen so far.

First, it was Oklahoma City University professor Andrew Spiropoulos who wrote about being puzzled that Governor Fallin didn’t even defend her own reforms:

But when you don’t control the debate, you lose control of the government. Look at what has transpired this month concerning the issue of education reform. One of the most important and bitter fights of the Gov. Mary Fallin years was the establishment of the state A-F school and district grading system.

While managing the system is always a difficult work in progress, the system’s benefits are evident. Every month, it seems, you read an inspiring story about a school, usually in the inner city, that used a failing grade as a spur to transform itself and, because of these efforts, improved both student achievement and its state grade.

But the education establishment isn’t going to allow proof that a reform is working to temper their lust to repeal it. As you would expect, the bureaucrats took the certification of this year’s grades as an opportunity to once again criticize the system and call for its repeal. The state superintendent of public instruction, the education establishment’s hired hand, refused to promote or even defend her own department’s work.

Did he really just call us the education establishment? That’s so 2014 of him.

I also find the governor’s silence telling. Maybe she’s busy managing the boon to our economy that a decade of tax cuts has brought the state. As deeply moved as Spiropoulos is by anecdotal stories of schools making great gains, he fails to see that outliers prove nothing  when it comes to dispelling trends. For most of those schools, the gains have come with the infusion of federal school improvement funds and a narrowed academic focus. One of those is a good thing. The other is a narrowed academic focus.

As I’ve said in different ways countless times, a singular focus on testing sucks the passion out of both teaching and learning. Curiosity – not test prep packets and the loss of electives – is the root of learning.

Michael Carnuccio, the outgoing president of said think tank also expressed his disdain for our collective show of frustration with the A-F grades.

When Oklahoma’s new A-F report cards were released last month, many in the education community were quick to pronounce the grading system “flawed” and “unfair” and to insist that the grades don’t accurately reflect student performance.

Tulsa World columnist Jay Cronley noticed the defensiveness and remarked (sensibly, I thought) that “if people focused more on improving themselves and their families than complaining about everything from the headline in the newspaper to the testing procedure, maybe more schools would improve their grades.”

First, I’ll take issue with Jay Cronley. I can’t speak for the entire education establishment, but in the course of my typical 60 hour week, I maybe spend an hour or two complaining about public policy issues. I do some more on my own time, as if that’s a thing. The truth is that we’re too busy trying to teach kids and run schools to sit in our palaces and dwell on every bad idea. Yes, we have increased our advocacy against those who insist on repeating the false narrative that public education is failing. We do plenty more than that, though.

Carnuccio then lists every other report card known to man. For each, I could have a separate response. I’ll be brief, however. Oklahoma schools have more students in poverty than most other states. Oklahoma is outperformed by most other states. The US has more students in poverty than most of the comparison countries. The US educates ALL students; other countries don’t. So yes, there are statistical differences there too.

With Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards, if we were to compare school sites’ poverty levels to the report card grades, we would see a strong correlation, just as we did in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Similarly, if we ranked states and countries by poverty levels, we’d see similar trends. Oh, wait, that’s already been done.

Thanks, Rob.

For what it’s worth, in case you missed it, Dr. Joe Siano (Norman) and I wrote a brief message expressing our thoughts on the A-F Report Cards. The Oklahoman was kind enough to run it. It wasn’t just two OKC metro-area superintendents, though. CCOSA sent the letter in advance to their members, and over 230 superintendents around the state signed off in agreement.

Are we dodging accountability? No, just mythology. Here’s how we ended the letter:

Fortunately, a task force is working with researchers to study options and solutions to address flaws that have been identified. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have questioned the methodology and the usefulness of the A-F calculations. And, the creation of the task force, proposed by our own state leaders, clearly demonstrates that inaccurate and misleading information is being distributed to parents about Oklahoma’s schools.

As teachers and administrators, we should be held accountable for our work. However, any accountability system should be an accurate measure of the comprehensive work that contributes to the overall success of our students and schools. In spite of the millions of state dollars spent annually on the current system, it is not helpful in guiding districts. Instead, district and state officials spend countless hours tracking data errors for a product that has no instructive value.

Regardless of the accountability system used, we remain committed to student success and will continue to advocate on behalf of our state’s future leaders. We hope that ongoing research and commitment by state leaders and school district officials will lead to an improved measure that we can use in helping patrons understand all the indicators of school success.

Others who came out against the report cards include State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist. Hofmeister’s press release points out that even the USDE has problems with the system. In fact, few in the Legislature who still support it. That’s why they ordered a study about ways to reform it. That study includes researchers from the state’s flagship universities who have criticized the grades from the first year moving forward.

All this is to say that the scorecard stacks more heavily to the side of those of us who think these report cards are a slap in the face. Maybe it’s a breakdown in confidence that caused the governor’s silence.

(Did I say breakdown? Hold on for some gratuitous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.)

I’ve always objected to the letter grades on a very basic level. If all you want to tell me about my school is that we are an A or an F or something in between, you’re missing the bigger picture. We do things that aren’t measured – always have, always will. Sometimes, that one thing that keeps a child in school is something that a test or a report card just can’t capture.

That’s why I floated the idea of a new hashtag to a couple of blogger friends the same day that Spiropoulos published in the Journal Record. None of us could come up with a good one that we could use to capture what’s right with our schools. They were either to clunky or too easy to mock if you’re a middle schooler.

That night, I was excited to read Seth Meier’s post on his blog, Excellence in Mediocrity. It was simply titled #OurSchool. He included several sources of pride for Jarman Middle School. It was something I could appreciate as both a blogger, and his superintendent. Here are some of the things Seth highlighted:

  • #ourschool examined referral data that focused on student demographics, which allows us to individualize positive behavior supports for students.
  • #ourschool provided a huge basket of goodness for a teacher that recently endured a heart attack.
  • #ourschool had school-wide team competitions to help build unity within our grade-level teams.
  • #ourschool gave food to families that do not have any.
  • #ourschool teaches with integrity, even when we feel that we aren’t appreciated.
  • #ourschool has worked with amazing parents.
  • #ourschool has been parents to those that need it.
  • #ourschool has helped homeless families.
  • #ourschool has challenged our kids in the best ways.
  • #ourschool has grown as a family.

This is what we should all be doing. We should be fighting back with the things that bring us pride. Instead of letting think tanks that want to destroy public education define us, we must do it ourselves.

All Star Edition of #oklaed #studentsask Chat

October 25, 2015 1 comment

Here are my favorite responses to tonight’s chat questions, all in Twitter form. Since I had the chance to sit with three high school seniors while co-moderating the chat, their reactions are a factor in my choices. Drew Price, I think you were the fan favorite at my table at Starbucks.

chat at Starbucks

Q1 How can schools balance the need for increased security measures with having a welcome climate for students and parents?

Q2 What has your school or district done to make high school schedules align with research on teenage sleep patterns?

Q3 What should schools do to help students use technology more effectively and responsibly?

Q4 How can schools give students more academic choices and autonomy?

Q4b How can schools make electives as important as core classes?

Q5 Should high schools students be asked to select a major or area of academic emphasis?

Q6 What can we do to make teachers feel less rushed and less focused on testing?

Q7 How can schools help students with testing anxiety?

Q8 How can schools hold teachers and coaches accountable for the balance between homework, activities, and life in general?

Q9 Should all students have a career path chosen by the end of high school?  

Q9b What should schools do to help students explore careers?  

Q10 Should schools limit the number of AP classes students take at any one time? Why or why not?

If you want to review the entire chat, it’s up on Storify. Thanks to all who participated!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

10.25.15 #oklaed chat questions

October 25, 2015 1 comment

I hope you can join me tonight for the weekly #oklaed chat from 8:00 to 9:00. I will have three co-moderators: leadership students from each of the high schools in the Mid-Del school district.

We have a group of 24 students – juniors and seniors, eight from each school – who meet monthly to discuss a variety of issues. They are nice enough to invite me to join them, so I’ve spent a couple of days asking them to come up with questions they’d like to ask us.

Here’s where we’re headed tonight:

Q1 How can schools balance the need for increased security measures with having a welcome climate for students and parents? #oklaed

Q2 What has your school or district done to make high school schedules align with research on teenage sleep patterns? #oklaed

Q3 What should schools do to help students use technology more effectively and responsibly? #oklaed

Q4 How can schools give students more academic choices and autonomy? #oklaed

Q4b How can schools make electives as important as core classes? #oklaed

Q5 Should high schools students be asked to select a major or area of academic emphasis? #oklaed

Q6 What can we do to make teachers feel less rushed and less focused on testing? #oklaed

Q7 How can schools help students with testing anxiety? #oklaed

Q8 How can schools hold teachers and coaches accountable for the balance between homework, activities, and life in general? #oklaed

Q9 Should all students have a career path chosen by the end of high school? #oklaed

Q9b What should schools do to help students explore careers? #oklaed

Q10 Should schools limit the number of AP classes students take at any one time? Why or why not? #oklaed

We’ll start promptly at 8:00 with introductions, and begin with the questions at 8:04. About every 5 minutes, we’ll add a new question, but as always, feel free to keep the conversation going on anything that you feel remains unfinished.

And get your own students to participate, if you can. We need to hear their voices too.

See you tonight!

School District Size; School District Spending

September 23, 2015 1 comment

I’m used to reading ill-informed attacks on school funding. They come from newspapers. They come from think tanks. They come from academic-type folks. Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman from Ph.D. economist Byron Schlomach with the 1889 Institute hits the myth trifecta.

Among his claims:

  • The 300 smallest school districts in Oklahoma account for less than 13% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 largest school districts in the state account for 40% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 spend about $500 more per pupil than the 300.
  • Oklahoma districts overall spend more than $10,000 per pupil.
  • The state makes it hard to find information about school spending.

I’ll start with the last claim. It’s not that hard to get data on school districts and spending or really anything else. Just contact the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and ask for their most recent database. This one happens to be for the 2013-14 school year. They’ll send you data going back to 1997 if you ask.

I’m against using geographic or other differences to pit school districts against each other. On the other hand, I’m superintendent of one of those 12 mega-districts that Schlomach thinks should be torn asunder. Using the 2013-14 database, I ran a few numbers on the whole state, the 12 largest districts, and the 300 smallest ones.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Enrollment 249,916 83,087 668,054
Economically Disadvantaged Students 157,461 56,260 413,578
Special Education Students 34,463 15,626 101, 090
ELL Students 31,536 1,885 42,271

The 12 largest districts in the state actually educate 37% of the state’s students. The 300 smallest districts educate about 12% of the state’s students. The numbers of economically disadvantaged and special education students follow within a couple of percentage points. The ELL population heavily leans towards the biggest districts; these 12 have 67% of all the state’s ELL students. Hold that thought.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Total Spending 1.95 billion 777 million 5.26 billion
Local Funding 47% 43% 10%
State Funding 35% 52% 14%
Federal Funding 40% 48% 12%

The 12 largest districts spend a lot of money. According to these figures, during the 2013-14 school year, they accounted for 37% of all school spending in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the 300 smallest districts accounted for about 15% of all spending. This sounds about right. It’s pretty close to the enrollment percentages too.

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts have a number of factors that complicate their districts, but overall, this group has the ability to provide broader, unduplicated services in their larger settings. Small districts can’t be as efficient. It’s a fact. It’s just not a clarion call for consolidation. Remember, I’ve worked in rural schools too. I see their value.

The other issue with his research is the $10,000 amount. He’s including bond debt – twice. That’s what happens when you count debt repayment and the sinking fund separately. They’re the same thing. He’s also counting activity funds. Yes, that volleyball cookie dough fundraiser is counted as revenue and expenditures in his methodology. Technically, it is money in and money out, but it is not tied to the direct instruction or operation of the school district.

The problem with bond debt is that it’s very localized and quite varied. More than 130 districts have no debt repayment listed. That means either their patrons haven’t passed a bond recently or that they just don’t have the assessed property valuation to make a bond issue worth it.

Whether you’re one of the 12…

Or one of the 300…

300 movie

…one thing is certain. State aid is still lower than it was in 2009 – to the tune of about $149 per pupil. The districts that have the bond indebtedness have moved more instructional and operational costs into here than ever before. This stymies capital improvement, such as modernizing heat and air systems for aging schools.

This is nothing but a distraction from the fact that schools still teach more students under more mandates and with fewer teachers and less funding than they did 6 years ago.

I’m no economist. I’m just an administrator who wrote his dissertation over Oklahoma school district expenditures, with a focus on economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. If you were one of the 12 people who read it, you would’ve been dazzled with passages such as this:

Ok, none of it was really exciting. It’s a dissertation.

I also did a little research on the group Dr. Schlomach represents, the 1889 Institute. According to their website:

The 1889 Institute is an independent non-profit 501c3 education and research organization that analyzes and develops state public policies for Oklahoma based on principles of limited and responsible government, free enterprise, and a robust civil society. We disseminate analysis and recommendations to both public policy makers and the general public. Our focus is on education, healthcare, welfare, economic liberty, and state finance.

The 1889 Institute does not engage in policy advocacy but does provide policy expertise to public policy makers and advocacy groups. The Institute does not have members or engage in grassroots organizational activities.

Funny, his editorial sounds like policy advocacy to me. Maybe I’m just reading this part wrong:

Diseconomies happen when enterprises get so large that it is impossible to manage them well. The state’s 12 biggest districts seem to have entered diseconomies territory. Instead of a big effort to consolidate our smaller school districts, let’s work to split up some of our largest.

Sure, there’s no real plan there. Sure, the facts are quite specious. Still, he’s taking a position.

Since they’re a non-profit, I decided to look up their funding sources on GuideStar. What I found is that this organization formed in 2014. Since they’re that new, there’s no 990 tax form on their website as of yet. I can make some guesses, based on the people who were excitedly retweeting the article today. That would be speculation, however. I’ll stick to facts I actually know.*

*On the other hand, since the 1889 Institute shares the same physical address as a prominent right-wing Oklahoma non-profit think tank, maybe I wouldn’t be speculating all that much.

mic drop

Guest Post on the Teacher Shortage from a POed Parent

September 20, 2015 18 comments

I received the following this week from UCO professor and #oklaed advocate, Dr. Dan Vincent. I present it to you, unedited. 

I’m a public school parent and I’m pissed off. I keep hearing that our state has a teacher shortage but I don’t see it this way anymore. I see an unusually high causality rate from the WAR ON TEACHERS.

Dan Vincent BAT

Let me explain….

As a parent with two kids in public school I try to keep informed on issues related to education. I read the news, follow legislation and even research topics to be more informed. For the past few years, at the start of the schoolyear, I have read stories about the growing number of vacancies in Oklahoma classrooms—vacancies that districts cannot fill. Class sizes get larger and courses get cancelled. This number has gradually been creeping up and it has hit larger urban districts particularly hard. Now, even large suburban districts, where there has historically been an abundance of qualified applicants, are being hit by this shortage.

Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.

So what I fail to understand with the ‘teacher shortage’ in our state is why –  WHY – legislative leaders have stood by and allowed this to happen. The teacher shortage is not an unforeseen consequence of a poorly timed tax cut, but the steady attrition of teachers who have HAD ENOUGH of nonsensical educational reform policy and poor pay. The teacher shortage is not an unavoidable crisis caused by federal laws, but a compounding of state-level educational policies that fly in the face of what is known about learning. And as a parent, I hold legislative leaders responsible; they have created a WAR ON TEACHERS and our teacher shortage is a sad result of this war. It is a moral failing by our state leaders in not taking seriously their job of properly supporting a free public education.

We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.

Imagine if we had a shortage of qualified STEM candidates to fill the jobs in our state. Do you think our current legislative leaders would do anything to attract quality candidates? Do you think they would initiate policy to help the STEM industry will those positions? Do you think they would be advocating for the STEM industry? Would our leaders actively seek out leaders in the STEM industry for ideas on how to attract applicants? Would they try to fill the STEM pipeline with qualified applicants?

You bet. In fact, Gov. Fallin says there is a STEM shortage in our state, and our leaders have already done the things above (in fact, our governor’s 3rd annual STEM Summit is a few weeks away). But not for our teachers. Not for our kids. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

A few weeks ago, I felt a glimmer of hope when I read House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders calling for a “more cooperative approach” to address the teacher shortage. Not three weeks later however, Speaker Hickman wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Oklahoman blasting district administrators for not doing more themselves to pay teachers a higher salary; I also suspect School Boards felt targeted. I wonder if Hickman cooperated with any Oklahoma administrators on the ideas for this OpEd? I doubt it. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

Just this week, the Republican leadership offered up a plan to allow retired teachers $18,000 per year to come back to the classroom and teach. On the surface, this sounds admirable, but honestly, how many retired teachers would be willing to work for that pay under the same educational environment that drove many to retire in the first place? Does this address the current issues our teachers face—pay and climate? Sounds like a Band-Aid solution to a war-time wound. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

In short, the solutions offered up by republican leaders thus far only deepens my suspicions of how serious they are about addressing our state’s desperate need to put well-qualified teachers in EVERY classroom. My kids deserve better. Our state’s kids deserve better. So here are some things I would offer as solutions. I would encourage every parent, grandparent and relative that has a kid in school to write their legislator and tell them to end the WAR ON TEACHERS with some of these bullet points (no pun intended):

  1. First and foremost, do your part to fix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
  2. Stop the High Stakes Testing (found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
  3. Seriously rework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
  4. Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a pretty good summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
  5. Publicly support teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
  6. Develop a workable plan to increase teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
  7. Either UNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.

In closing, I honestly hope our legislative leadership can do something soon to refresh the souls of educators in our state. I hope parents will a) get pissed off with me and b) constructively express their frustration to leadership in our state. Their current attempts are a far cry from the real, workable solutions needed to address the root causes of our teacher shortage. With the upcoming session being near an election cycle, I think more ears will be open to listening.

Let’s end this war.

Dan Vincent is a former public school teacher, turned university professor who has two kids in elementary school. Although he was not teaching in the K-12 schools when many of these educational reforms were passed into law, he and his wife are frequent volunteers in schools and have seen firsthand the impact of these reforms on classrooms, teachers and kids.

With All Due Respect, Vol. 3

September 13, 2015 10 comments

This morning, while I was out on a run, my phone was buzzing with friends responding to an editorial written by House Speaker Hickman and published in the Oklahoman today. The piece purports to address the Oklahoma teacher shortage with facts. I seem to have missed some of them, and I’ve read through it three times now.

The first paragraph sets a negative tone. Pretend it’s 2002, you’re in my English II class, and note the author’s diction:

Recent claims that Oklahoma schools can’t fill 1,000 teaching positions have education proponents again demanding the Legislature provide more taxpayer dollars to increase teacher salaries. Education organizations argue that schools are unable to find quality applicants because Oklahoma’s best teachers move to neighboring states to earn more money. Yet Oklahoma’s starting minimum wage for first-year teachers is higher than Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and New Mexico.

The first thing I notice is the word claims. We aren’t claiming anything. We’re reporting the conditions that impact our ability to  provide the best possible education to all of Oklahoma’s public school children. We  really don’t have the applicants. Next is his use of the phrase taxpayer dollars, which is really all we have access to in schools. During Hickman’s time in the Legislature, state aid for schools has decreased. Later in his editorial, he claims that school funding is at an all-time high. I’d love to know his methodology for that claim.

It’s good to note here, even though it’s not germane to the teacher shortage per se, that the Legislature last spring cobbled together a budget with one-time funds from the cushions of the couch in order to fill a $600 million dollar budget shortfall. Well, it’s happening again. We’ve all been warned – not just education.


The third and fourth paragraphs of Hickman’s piece squarely lay the blame for low teacher salaries on local school boards:

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education shows it may be because local school boards have committed a growing percentage of their funding to salaries and benefits for administrative and nonteaching staff.

Between 1992 and 2013, enrollment in Oklahoma schools increased by 14 percent while the number of teachers increased by 11 percent. Administrative and nonteaching staff increased by more than 33 percent. If nonteaching staff had increased at only the same rate as enrollment, Oklahoma schools would have nearly $300 million more available annually to pay teachers higher salaries.

The problem with newspaper editorials is that they don’t link to source documents. That’s why I only read them when they’re blowing up my social media accounts. Perhaps the report Speaker Hickman references is actually this report from the Friedman Foundation, which uses data collected by the USDoE. I suspect it is, since Oklahoma’s leading non-profit conservative think tank trots it out from time to time (and since the editorial’s language mirrors that of the report; see page 19), failing to mention that the foundation’s namesake, Milton Friedman, was all about abolishing public schools. In Friedman’s own words:

A radical reconstruction of the educational system has the potential of staving off social conflict while at the same time strengthening the growth in living standards made possible by the new technology and the increasingly global market. In my view, such a radical reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system–i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. Such a reconstruction cannot come about overnight. It inevitably must be gradual.

Yes, that’s been the political agenda for a segment of conservatives in this state, and in this country, for more than two decades. On the other hand, in the very same paper, Friedman also said this:

If the widening of the wage differential is allowed to proceed unchecked, it threatens to create within our own country a social problem of major proportions. We shall not be willing to see a group of our population move into Third World conditions at the same time that another group of our population becomes increasingly well off. Such stratification is a recipe for social disaster. The pressure to avoid it by protectionist and other similar measures will be irresistible.

Surprisingly, the aforementioned think tank never addresses income inequality, except to dismiss it.

Wow, I’ve really digressed from the main point. That’s what happens when I don’t have much free time to blog.

Sorry, back to Speaker Hickman, who deserves my undivided attention at this point. He was talking about the growth of non-teaching positions. Others have previously pointed out, as I will here, that much of that growth is to help meet ever-increasing state and federal mandates.

Allow me to illustrate. Each school district communicates and reports information through the Single Sign On (SSO) system with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Different users have different access levels in the system. As a superintendent, I can see them all. The next seven screenshots show them. Indulge me, as I show you why we’ve added staff.

The top of the alphabet has so much of the good stuff: A-F Report Cards; Accreditation (featuring Highly-qualified teacher verification); three separate areas for the Achieving Classroom Excellence morass; and a place to check allocation notices.


Page two starts and ends with routine reporting and plans. Let me point out right in the middle of this page is the District Arts Assessment Report. There are mandates that make me mad (ACE, A-F, RSA) and mandates that just make me want to say, Really!?! (Sorry, Rob – I know that’s your schtick.)


When you click on that report, you see this notice:

As stipulated by Oklahoma law, 70 O.S. § 1210.508, “each school district shall administer to each student in the district in Grades 3-8 an assessment designed to assess the student in the fine arts of visual art and general music.” This method of assessing the arts in Oklahoma public schools has given school districts greater control and flexibility in integrating and assessing the arts in the classroom.

The new online assessment report is similar to the .PDF documents you are used to completing. For each grade that your district serves, data must be entered for at least one Visual Arts standard and one Music standard. Please save each page before going to the next screen or the data will be deleted. Once the report has been submitted, the superintendent will need to certify the report.

This is how some school employees spend their time. One sentence of the instructions is so important, they’ve added emphasis. Twice.

Why are we assessing the arts? If it’s to ensure that students get to experience it, then the moment has passed. I don’t want to audit the amount of time that we spend on the arts in grades 3-8 – in my district or any other. Too often, schools have cut this time (or taken it for remediation) because of the other mandates. In my mind, the logic goes like this: We’ve sucked the soul out of education with all of this testing. Let’s make sure the arts aren’t lost. Let’s test them too! I’ve never ascribed to the if you value it, measure it mentality. You can’t measure love or passion. At one high school’s open house last month, I heard a parent express excitement over her daughter’s love of music. That matters. I value that. I can’t measure it. I won’t try.

Page three is where any of us who have ever managed Federal Programs budgets and plans for a district formed those red spots on our foreheads. They came from hitting our heads on our desks repeatedly while operating in the Grants Management System application. I’m tempted to get more screenshots inside the tab, but trust me – there are just some things that can’t be unseen.


Page four is another place district employees have to spend a considerable amount of time. I personally spent two hours last week signing RSA forms. Some were for retentions. Some were for promotion. If I, as a superintendent, spent two hours just signing and dating papers, how much time was spent by the school and district staff preparing documentation, remediating and retesting students, contacting parents, and meeting as committees?


Page five is just old tabs of school personnel records going back several years. There are a lot of records in there. When you have more than 14,000 students, you have a lot of employees. I know I’ve only been in my new role about six weeks, but I haven’t found one we don’t need yet.


The highlight of page six is the Wave. I even like the logo, although a surfer on an actual wave might have been better. This is where all the student data lives.


All the free/reduced meal data, academic records, online courses, testing, and so forth is stored. I can see this portal, but I’m afraid to enter it. If I do, I might have to read messages like this:

We were having issues sending the STN’s back to local SIS systems earlier in the week, and have corrected the issue. If you are missing STN’s in your system and you have zero students on the STN Wizard please send in a help desk ticket and we will have them re-published back to your local SIS.

And this:

If on the Data Validation Wizard you are seeing the warning “Lunch Eligibility Determination” was not provided, check the spelling of the word “Determination” in PowerSchool for the SIF agent.  If it is missing the letter “a” that is the issue that needs to be corrected.  If you have corrected the spelling and still have the same error, be sure to restart your SIF Agent so the change in the spelling can be applied to the agent.

On the last screen, we have a few more reports for Federal Programs and the TLE Reports. Inside of this well of data, I can view the value-added reports for teachers and administrators. Well, I could, but they’re not in there. Or maybe they’re just not loading for me. These things happen.


I’m just fortunate I have great people around me who take care of all of these very detailed reports. They may not be classroom teachers, but their positions are important too.

The Hickman piece continues with a suggestion: just eliminate the minimum teacher salary scale:

Roughly half of states have no statutorily mandated minimum salary for teachers, and it is interesting how they compare to Oklahoma. On our borders, neither Kansas nor Colorado has a mandated salary, yet they pay teachers an average salary of $48,000 and $51,000, respectively, compared with the average salary of $44,000 in Oklahoma. This is basic economics: Mandated minimum salaries restrict wage growth potential. In states where no minimum salary is mandated, schools pay what they feel the market warrants to attract and retain quality teachers. It should also be noted that, unlike Kansas and Colorado, Oklahoma provides health insurance for our education employees.

First – and this always comes up – anyone claiming the average teacher salary in Oklahoma is $44,000 should note that this figure includes insurance and retirement. That means the teachers in Colorado have a larger total compensation package, even though they have to find their own health insurance. For 2015, the health benefit for teachers is $499.42/month – roughly $6,000 per year. Teachers struggling to feed their families – and there are many – get rightly frustrated hearing the larger amount when they know their taxable income is far lower. Eliminate the minimum salary? I don’t think so. It’s a safety net.

I’m still in the same place I’ve been since I began blogging when it comes to the treatment of teachers. It’s going to take serious money to recruit more people into (or back into) the profession. We need higher starting salaries, bigger annual increases, and more of a bump for earning advanced degrees. We need fewer mandates. We need elected leaders who don’t think that testing is how you tell the value of teachers or kids. We need respect for the teachers we have, however they got here.

The shortage is real. These 506 emergency certifications granted at the August SBE meeting aren’t a figment of anyone’s imagination. I should know. I signed the request for several of them.

Good luck in Austin

August 16, 2015 6 comments

Normally I don’t write personal things here, but today I’m going to make an exception. If you’re not interested, I won’t be offended if you stop reading.

As most of you know, for the first 33 months I had this blog, I wrote it anonymously. Other than a handful of people I told and a handful more who figured it out, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to write include personal stories here.

That was really hard for me in 2014 when my son Jordan graduated from high school, moved into an apartment with friends, and took a trip to Italy, all within a week. As proud as I am of my profession, I’m even prouder of my children. Jordan is brilliant and lives about five miles away, attending his second year of college. He’s one of the most considerate kids young men I’ve ever known. Every time I see him, I feel like his mom and I have done something right.


I also don’t want to slight my youngest, Duncan, who is a sophomore at Norman North. As an eighth grader, she managed to raise $2,000 by herself to go on a mission trip to Haiti. She has been an athlete and is a talented actress and singer. She has had the same group of friends, more or less, since early in elementary school. There are a lot of them, but they are great kids. She has more honors and accomplishments at this age than I probably have had by the time I was twice her age. She has unlimited potential and drive, and I can’t believe we only have three years left with her at home.

Duncan Haiti 1

Today though, is about our middle child, Stockton, who leaves tomorrow to start college at the University of Texas. I’ll see her soon enough; Friday, I’m going down to Austin to help her move into her dorm. Still, for a while anyway, tonight is her last night at home, in her own bed, secure with her parents down the hall.

As last year unfolded, I can’t tell you how many people asked me where Stockton was going to attend college. She started with a long list of schools. Ultimately, she was going to be at one end of I-35 or the other. Her final choices were UT and the University of Minnesota. She didn’t apply in-state. Most of the people at work asked me how I could let my daughter go so far away.

It’s easy. I’m a realist. I know this child. Just try to stop her.

This world is bigger than Oklahoma. She wants to see more than the area where she’s lived her whole life. She has academic interests and career goals, most of which could have been met had she matriculated from Norman High School to the University of Oklahoma. After all, that’s what I did. I took the safe route; I just rolled down the street.

Probably what I admire most about Stockton is that she’s willing to shed comfort for adventure, for opportunity. She doesn’t take the safe way out of anything. I guess another way of saying that is that sometimes she infuriates her mother and me by making things harder than they have to be. Still, I think it’s this strong will that will serve her well as she fiercely takes on the world.

Stockton has always marched to drums that no one else necessarily heard. When she was a toddler, she would just make up words, and they would stick. When she was learning to count, and we introduced her to abstract concepts like a million and a billion, she naturally assumed that the next level up was a stillion. A stillion is still the hyperbolic word choice around here for large sums of money. For example, your back to school shopping budget isn’t a stillion dollars! She also gave us the word skrunkle, which is a measure of cheese. This is an actual conversation that happens here:

Would you like a skrunkle of cheese?

-Could I get a half-skrunkle?

I think most families are like this; they have a sub-language that only makes sense to them. I also know that what I’m experiencing is hardly unique. Kids grow up. They go to college. They move away. For a while, I probably won’t want to go in her room. Or maybe I’ll knock on the door, expecting an answer. Perhaps I’ll be so busy with the new job and Duncan’s activities that this will seem normal sooner than I expect.

As a parent, I don’t second-guess every decision we’ve made. I look at the big picture, though. Is Stockton ready for the world? Yes. No. Maybe. Probably. Is it ready for her? Who knows…

My belief as an educator is that our job is to prepare the students to have as many choices as possible by the time they graduate from high school. I think we’ve met that standard as parents. I think the Norman Public Schools did their part too. It’s more than that though.

This child


has become this young lady


yet there are times I wish they could be like this forever:

Selected Pictures from CD as of 11-29-03 001

(yes, they’re going to be furious at me for that last one)

Stockton, you have an unbelievable future ahead of you. The only thing that could stop you is you. I feel I have inadequate words for telling you how proud your mom and I are of everything you’ve already done, and everything you can do. Since my own words fail me now, I’ll close with my favorite lines from your favorite Billy Joel song, Vienna.

You got your passion, you got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Good luck, Stockton. Good luck, Austin. And as much as it pains your Sooner-grad parents to say this, Hook ‘em!*

*offer not valid Oct. 10

Welcome to New Teachers

August 9, 2015 3 comments

Tomorrow, I get to welcome new teachers to Mid-Del Public Schools. I’ve been involved in new teacher training for the last seven years while I was in Moore, but this is my first run at it as a superintendent. I feel I have more to say than I have time for, and I’m not well-known for sticking to a script once I get going – especially when coffee and donuts are in my line of sight. For those of you who made tomorrow’s schedule, I apologize in advance.

With that in mind, here’s what I would like to say, again, if the script mattered.


Welcome to Mid-Del Public Schools! For the next 9 months, and hopefully longer, you will be responsible for educating the 14,500 students in this school district. First of all, we want to thank you for accepting that responsibility. These are children who need you, who need a good education, who need to know that what we do everyday has relevance to their lives.

We have school for one purpose – to teach children. Parents send their kids to us for one reason – so they can learn.

Before that, though, we have to promise those parents one critical thing – that we can keep their children safe. We have to be on our toes because with this many children and thousands of adults around, we have a lot of moving parts. We all know what it means to treat each other with respect and with dignity. Most of the people who work for us know it too. I’d even go so far as saying that most of our children know it too. It’s an inherent quality – maybe it’s the golden rule. Whether we’ve formally been taught this or not, we know from an early age that we want to feel safe and that other people do too. That’s why you see children run to hug other crying children that they don’t even know.

Most of us understand this, but unfortunately, there are no absolutes when it comes to human behavior. There will be students, teachers, even parents who cross these lines. Some may not even realize they’re doing it, and what we’re left with are students who hate school from an early age.

Think about a four year old you’ve known in your life. If you’re a parent who’s driven your children across the country, did they try to count to 100 or to whatever high number they could reach? Did they sing? If you stopped at a national monument or a historical marker, did they listen intently as you read it to them? A four year old who can’t read, but who has been exposed to parents who not only can, but do, will pick up a book and make up a story. A four year old will play in the dirt, swing from a tree limb, dance, and color on the walls. They’ll even watch TV and learn a foreign language if you show it to them.

When you think about it, there isn’t a single academic content area that a four year old WON’T participate in. So why does that change? Do we do something to change it?

First of all, not all of the children we get are anything like the four year olds we were or the ones that we have raised. Some children come to us hungry and scared. And some just come and go, come and go. Our job then, is to teach them as well as we can for as long as we have them, and to remember that we might be the best experience they ever have in school.

Sometimes, the difference we make is obvious. We see students succeed academically. They win awards. They get scholarships. They come back from college and slap us on the back and tell us they never would have made it without us. Sometimes, though, we don’t see it at all.

I’ve carried a note around with me from job to job for the last 17 years. It was written by a freshman who was having a bad day. Apparently, I said something to help. She wrote: 

Mr. Cobb,

I just want to thank you for your concern. Not many people would take the time to ask how someone was doing. My friends don’t even seem to care sometimes. Thank you again. It means a lot to me.

At the time I received the note, I didn’t remember what I had said to her. Years and jobs later, I really don’t recall. I messaged that student on Facebook a few weeks ago and showed her a picture I took of the note. She remembered it even better than I did.

student letter

Maybe another story illustrates our importance even better. One time when I was a principal, the chief of police was waiting for me in my office at 7:00 am on a Monday. We had a student – a ninth grader – whose parents had been in a fight the night before. It took all night to get the dad out of the house and get him to jail. Our student, who was often in trouble and really didn’t care about school, also had his own temper. Little things would set it off. This was no little thing.

I addressed my staff that morning at our scheduled faculty meeting and gave them the details I could. Since this was a small school and everybody knew everybody, there wasn’t a teacher who didn’t need to know that the student would be even more on edge that day. Towards the end of the meeting, I asked them to show some understanding, and if he needed to excuse himself from class because he was about to explode, that they needed to let him come see me voluntarily. One teacher stood up and said, “But Mr. Cobb, rules are rules!” Without thinking, I responded, “Yeah, but we have to love the kids more than we love the rules.” I think for most of my teachers, that was my defining moment as principal.

Rules are important. We can’t have chaos in our classrooms, our halls, our lunchrooms, our playgrounds, or on our buses. We also have to know when to bend. You have to love the kids more than you love the rules. You have to love the kids more than you love lots of things: the rules, your test scores, your won-loss record, your quiet little piece of the master schedule.

First, you love the kids. Then you keep them safe. Then you teach them.

So before we get to the first thing, we have two other things. Yes, school is about teaching and learning. Yes, it’s ok if you love physics or Spanish or English or programming or music.You should be passionate about what you teach. You should just be more passionate about who you teach.

How many times have we heard about the impact of music on math and literacy scores? While this is undeniable, what we forget is the impact of music, and art, and drama, and reading, and just all around curiosity, on the soul. All of these things matter in their own right, not just for some outcome tied to high-stakes testing.

Four year olds get this. We should too.

Let me close with a few words that I wrote last year at this time.

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

Those comments were written specifically for first year teachers, but I think they apply to all of us. I could tell you who my mentors have been, and rest assured, I treasure them. I also still have the picture of the first group of kids I taught in Muskogee in 1993. 

For all the evidence my students have given me through the years that I’ve made an impact in their lives, I have more proof, tangible and personal, that they have made mine better. I used to say that your career doesn’t define who you are. I quit saying that a few years ago. This is who I am. I’m an educator. I’ve done this for half my life now. There’s no denying it. I’m proud of it, and I hope you will be too. I hope you’ll tell the world, too, after this year, two very important things:

  1. This is a great profession.
  2. This is a great place to work.

Have a great year!

182 Emergencies and Counting!

First thing first: if you’re teaching in an Oklahoma classroom next year, I’m rooting for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to have students you love, parents who support you, colleagues who help you grow, and administrators who provide you with the resources you need. Once you’re signed, sealed, and delivered,  I really don’t care about how you got here.

You might have been a 4.0 student in college, or you might have just squeaked by. You might have chosen the teaching profession at age 20 or age 50. You might be in that classroom for one of 100 different reasons, and you might have taken one of 100 different pathways to get there. I don’t care; I wish you well.

I say this because, as you may have heard, the State Board of Education issued 182 emergency certificates this week. Think about that number: 182. These aren’t alternatively certified teachers. These are people who’ve reached agreements with schools to fill classrooms while working on earning a teaching certificate. Here’s how state law (p. 269) explains the distinction:

Nothing in the Oklahoma Teacher Preparation Act shall restrict the right of the State Board of Education to issue an emergency or provisional certificate, as needed. Provided, however, prior to the issuance of an emergency certificate, the district shall document substantial efforts to employ a teacher who holds a provisional or standard certificate or who is licensed in the teaching profession. In the event a district is unable to hire an individual meeting this criteria, the district shall document efforts to employ an individual with a provisional or standard certificate or with a license in another curricular area with academic preparation in the field of need. Only after these alternatives have been exhausted shall the district be allowed to employ an individual meeting minimum standards as established by the State Board of Education for the issuance of emergency certificates.

In other words, if a school district can document the tall buildings it has leaped in trying to find a teacher, when there are just no suitable applicants (yes – we still reserve the right to interview and decline to hire people who we just can’t imagine putting in a classroom with children) it can petition the SBE for an emergency certificate for a prospective teacher. Keep in mind that there are many pathways to gaining either a traditional or an alternate teaching certificate.

Procedures published by the Oklahoma State Department of Education provide nine columns of pathways to earn a teaching certificate. That’s right – there are eight ways in addition to simply going to college, earning a degree, and beginning your career in the classroom at 22 or 23 years old.Teacher Pathways 1

  • Option 1 – Traditional
  • Option 2 – Alternative
  • Option 3 – ABCTE PassPort to Teaching
  • Option 4 – Troops to Teachers

Teacher Pathways 2

  • Option 5 – Teach for America
  • Option 6 – Four-Year-Olds and Younger Certificate
  • Option 7 – Career Development Program for Paraprofessionals to be Certified Teachers
  • Option 8 – Out of State Teachers Seeking Oklahoma License or Certificate
  • Option 9 – Non-traditional Special Education

So these teachers getting emergency certification don’t fall into any of the above categories – 182 of them. Allow Tyler Bridges to put that number in perspective:

It’s staggering – 182 emergency certificates this month, but 189 for the entire year of 2013.

As I said at the top, though, I’m rooting for these people. I’m cheering on all of our teachers. Still, even with the pathways and emergencies, we just don’t have enough teachers to staff our schools. Back in March, during the #oklaed chat prior to the rally at the Capitol, several of the usual suspects commented on how the teacher shortage has impacted their schools.

Last year, hundreds of positions were never filled by a permanent teacher. I’ve heard more than one legislator say that businesses have this happen all the time; there are always an acceptable number of positions open.

This is yet another reason that public education doesn’t fit a business model. Maybe these numbers are acceptable at AT&T, Apple, and Dell. They aren’t acceptable where we’re trying to teach seventh grade math, AP Physics, or first grade everything. If you don’t believe me, ask the parents and students impacted by these shortages.

If the AT&T store is shorthanded, I have to wait a little longer for my service. If a school is shorthanded, instruction can grind to a halt. If a teacher materializes two months into the school year, that time is just lost.

This is still the most critical issue in public education. It’s going to take a serious investment to get more teachers into classrooms – an even greater one to get them to stay.

Why Teach Here? Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

A few weeks ago, I answered the blogger challenge, Why Teach, and ended with a promise to write a sequel, Why Teach Here? Well, since then, I’ve been a little distracted. I’ve started and stopped several times.

One distraction in particular has been the adjunct class I teach for Southern Nazarene University. This past week, I showed my grad students this 10 minute clip discussing motivation.

It’s been on the Internet for years. Rob Miller even wrote about it (and the book Drive by Daniel Pink that inspired it) back in 2013. In the first few minutes of the video, the speaker talks about the research on incentives and how poorly they serve as motivators. Our take in class this Wednesday night was that money is important, but that people who have a job they love would need significant sums of money to leave what they’re doing. In other words, if you are a teacher and love your job, you’re not going to a neighboring district for a $500 or even $1,000 pay raise. The amount of money that it would take to disrupt their lives was varied, but in all cases, much more significant than that.

After we finished the video, we went back to the five minute mark and listened to what I consider to be the key takeaway.

Drive - Motivation

The screenshot shows three factors that Pink says lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. But what does that have to do with this post?

Using this framework, I’m going to try to answer the question Why Teach Here? in a general sense – rather than trying to sell you on a specific district or school.


As a teacher, you want to know that you work for a district and for people who value the unique qualities you bring to the classroom. The more decisions that are taken out of your hands, the less comfortable you become. Yes, there will be mandates – local, state, federal. No teacher has absolute autonomy. Districts and schools do, however, have some discretion over how to implement those requirements – or how many more to add.

The key to achieving this balance is to get teachers involved in agreeing to common expectations in a school. What are all teachers expected to do? What decisions to teachers get to make for themselves? A high-performing school with many veteran teachers can slide that continuum pretty far to the high-autonomy side. Too often, though, leaders will take over a school and want to make a huge imprint right away – in the process, damaging many of the conditions that make veteran teachers want to stay where they are.

Additionally, we need to realize that just as no two students are exactly the same, neither are any two teachers. We all have gifts and skills that make us who we are. No student ever wants to hear, I wish you were more like so and so. Teachers don’t either. I can’t teach English the exact same way as the people I admire the most in my discipline. My work is informed by their example, and I have appropriated many of their ideas – always with my own spin, though.

In class, I like to say that our goal for Curriculum & Instruction should be to get people on the same page without literally getting them on the same page. (If you know me and how much I detest the overuse of the word literally, then you understand how serious I am right now.) We need a common set of goals across the state for subjects such as fourth grade math. These are the standards. We may exceed them, if our students are ready and willing. We may improvise in how we reach them. We just shouldn’t be carbon copies of the next classroom, school, or district.


Pink says that mastery manifests as the desire to get better at stuff – or words to that effect. Think about that for a minute. If you are an exceptional teacher, you were either born that way or you worked really hard to get there. For most of us, it was the latter. We had principals who supported high-quality professional development and allowed us to take risks. We had colleagues who were experts in the state or nation in our disciplines. We were young and teamed with veterans who never lost their idealism.

Even if we were rock stars as young teachers, with shining moments that set us apart in our buildings, how many great days did we have in a year? I can still remember my first year teaching. Before school started in August, we had a week-long training from the Oklahoma Writing Project in writing across the curriculum. I had activities that I could use for weeks and ideas that I could modify for other purposes. I had that principal who supported me. I had that eighth grade team that collaborated for the best interest of our students. Still I believe I had more days that year in which I struggled than days in which I didn’t. The struggle fueled my desire to learn – to get better at stuff.

Think of the best teacher you ever had growing up. Was he/she better with content or better with people? One of my all-time favorites, Bill Fix from Norman High School, was my Physics teacher in 12th grade. His class was the first time I ever enjoyed math. Yes, I know Physics is a science course, but there’s a ton of math in there too. I had always done well in math, but never enjoyed it. Mr. Fix was good at teaching the content, but he was also good with people. It was, for me, the perfect mixture of lecture (probably about 15%), deskwork (maybe another 15%), labs (65%) and tests/quizzes (at most 5%). We did stuff. We launched things across the room and then worked with our groups to determine how the different variables worked together. We didn’t look up formulas and then take off to the lab. We did the labs and then worked to create the formulas. When it was frustrating, he made it less so. When we got it right, even though he’d seen it before a hundred times, he was thrilled for us.

I think Bill Fix enjoyed teaching because he was good at it. Or maybe he was good at it because he enjoyed it. Either way, it worked for me. What also probably worked for him was that he had the autonomy to develop the mastery he needed to be successful in the classroom.

No one can hand you a packaged curriculum and tell you to master it as a teacher. That’s not how it works. You have to find your own way, and for each of us, the path to mastery is different.


The last quality ties back nicely to Mindy’s original challenge and some of the responses to it:

“no personal reward in my career is as meaningful as when one of my students takes what he or she has learned and uses it to impact their world.” – David Burton

“I teach because I believe in children and families.  I believe that community and relationships can have a positive effect on education and vice versa.“ – Room 20 Awesome

“I want to make a positive impact on the next generation.  I did this for years in public high schools, teaching math and coaching soccer.  Each year was fun and different, the students were new (most of them) to me and we would start our year long journey.  I enjoyed coaching soccer as well.  I have had the opportunity to coach both boys and girls and they were fun young people to be around.  I did not get into teaching to coach soccer, far from it.  I knew nothing about soccer when I first started.  Soccer coaching wasn’t who I was, it was another place that I was able to teach.” – Scott Haselwood

All of these are great examples of how we as educators find and restore our sense of purpose. In spite of the mandates, the interlopers who want to bless our profession with a corporate style of management, and the salaries that lead many teachers to take second jobs, we do what we do because we know it matters. That’s our purpose. That’s our drive.

Why Teach Here?

All three qualities work together. When one expands, the other two seem to expand with it. When one contracts, so fall the other two. If you love your job you likely have at least an abundance of two of these things. If it’s only two, please tell me that purpose is one of them. On the other hand, if you don’t love your job, or if you’re an administrator whose teachers don’t love their jobs, think about ways to increase at least one of these three traits.

One more thing: if autonomy, mastery, and purpose matter to you, imagine how much they matter to your students.  Keep that in mind as summer winds down over the next few weeks.

I changed hundreds of lives…CLICK HERE to find out how!

That title, in Internet parlance, is what’s  known as clickbait. Surely you’ve seen examples such as these during your web-browsing adventures…

Here’s the secret to cheap car insurance your state doesn’t want you to know…

17 fun facts you didn’t know about #oklaed bloggers…

This amazing ingredient is the hidden key to permanent weight loss…

I clicked on the last one. The answer is hemlock.

I start today’s post with the clickbait hook because fellow educator Mindy Dennison has challenged those of us in the blogosphere to answer the question, Why Teach? Given that we’re always discussing the teacher shortage and policy conditions that diminish the profession, this is a very hard question to answer. I want to do while sounding neither cliché nor like authentic frontier gibberish.

I also want to turn it into a two part question for administrators, with the second one being, Why Teach Here? We not only need to sell our profession; we also need to sell our own schools and districts. Sure, it’s a little self-serving, but most of us have chosen to teach/work where we are. There have to be good reasons.

Those of you who know me understand that I’m not much into hype. I say what I think. I won’t try to tell you why teaching is better than every other profession in the world. I’ve met people who thought they wanted to teach and found out they were wrong. I’ve also met people who left some other more lucrative career and never looked back.

From 22 years in education, I can pretty much sum up most people’s reason for entering teaching into three categories –

  • Kids
  • Content
  • Convenience

Each of these can be valid reasons, but they don’t equally translate to likelihood for success. I’ll expound a little bit on each:

(Passion for) Kids

The best reason to enter the teaching profession, hands down, is that you are driven to make the lives of children better. You don’t care who or where you teach; you just want a room full of kids. It could be that you were raised by teachers or that you remember a teacher who reached out to you when it seemed as if no one else would. It could be any number of things. On the other hand, what 18, 20, or 22 year-old knows for certain that he/she would love to spend the next 35 years around kids of any age? I didn’t. I learned within the first month that helping students learn and find success in this world is my passion. I just can’t pretend that this was my initial motivation.

(Passion for) Content

I love writing. Have I mentioned that before? I love reading too, but at 17 when I chose English as my major, it was because of my love of writing. I chose teaching because I thought it would be enjoyable to emulate some of my favorite English teachers. I could see myself teaching students, having a similar impact on them to what my teachers had on me. I loved the idea of reading my favorite books with students and discussing what they mean.

Similarly, I know plenty of teachers who are passionate about the various subjects they teach: biology, French, math, music….really anything – including athletics. They feel that part of their job is to help more students find passion in those subjects as well.

This is great to me. Students love it when teachers care about the subject matter. Still, I can’t say that all my students were converts. No teacher can. On my best days, though, I could share my passion with a room full of people who would at least indulge my interests and consider – be it ever so briefly – that what got me riled up might work for them too. They didn’t all enjoy reading Shakespeare, but that doesn’t make the kids bad or strange.  Making Shakespeare more interesting, more fun, and more engaging was my job. And it was an enjoyable challenge.


This reason isn’t as bad as it sounds. I knew a lot of people in college who had picked majors without picking a career. Studying history as an undergraduate student sounds nice. Maybe you thought you’d go to law school with that degree, but you’ve come to find that you really just don’t want to be a lawyer. Meanwhile, your roommate is an education major. You decide to give it a try.

Yes, there are people in our schools who teach because when it came time to convert a line of study into a career, they simply said, sure, I’ll try it. Some who have done this have thrived and now can’t imagine doing anything different. Others, just as some in the first two groups, have entered the profession and quickly left.

The myth that teachers teach to get summers off probably has a root somewhere. Surely that has motivated someone somewhere to teach. That said, most teachers I know work second jobs in the summer or spend as much time as possible taking classes or going to conferences.


Any of these reasons can be good reasons to begin teaching, but there’s only one reason to stick with it: kids. I want more people in this world to have a passion for making the biggest difference they can in the lives of children. I want every teacher to have the seemingly paradoxical attitude of wanting to be the best teacher these kids have ever had while hoping that they have someone even better somewhere down the road. And I want teachers to be honest and reflective enough to say when they just don’t have the drive for it anymore.

I still remember students from my first day in the classroom. If I pulled out the picture of our 8th grade team on the steps of the Oklahoma Capitol, I bet I could even remember many of their names, 22 years later. I don’t know where they are now, what they’ve become, or their year with me has made any difference in their lives. I’ll probably never know that. I can say with certainty, though, that each of those students helped shape me into the teacher that I became, which means that they in turn impacted every student I had after that.

I’m 44 and I became a teacher half my life ago. I still can’t imagine choosing any other career.

Teach because it will mean something to you. For the second part of the question, teach here because…

…well that will have to wait for my next post.

One Year Later: How Far We’ve Come

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it has. On June 24, 2014, Oklahoma voters not only elevated Joy Hofmeister over the incumbent state superintendent; they did so with a more decisive margin than any of us had imagined. Many of us went into the day worried that Hofmeister would fall just short of the 50% tally necessary to avoid an expensive run-off election. As the evening unfolded, Hofmeister not only won the primary, she comfortably surpassed 50. Furthermore, if she had faced a run-off election, it wouldn’t have been against the incumbent. Janet Barresi had finished in third.

Among the Democrats in the race, voters had narrowed the choices to two. John Cox would eventually defeat Freda Deskin in a late summer run-off. Then something amazing happened. Hofmeister and Cox went around Oklahoma debating one another. In public. Pretty much everywhere. It was one of the most civil things I had seen in politics in a long time. When I finally saw them at Westmoore High School in October, the general election was but a few weeks away. By then, they probably didn’t have many surprises left for one another. Most of the discussions were on point. A few barbs by each were political in nature, but very few. It was largely a substantive discussion.

SIDE NOTE: I had this picture in the back of my head of the two of them driving all over the state in an old VW van continuing their debates as they moved from stop to stop. Yes, I know that’s not how it all happened, but don’t ruin this for me.

Meanwhile, Barresi had more than six months remaining in her term. During that time, she continued the work of the previous 42 months. The only difference was that more of us were speaking out against her. She defended herself rather crassly at the Vision 2020 conference. She created a crony position for an in-house investigator who paraded around Oklahoma trying to intimidate leaders in various district. Board members called her out. She swore at one of them. Even on her last day in office, she fired people pretty much just because she could.

At noon on January 12, Hofmeister took office. She then had an open house at the SDE to greet people and set a new tone for her upcoming administration. The big WELCOME #OKLAED banner in front of the building did that. As I chatted with several old friends, we all expressed optimism.

For me, that feeling hasn’t faded.

Superintendent Hofmeister has had some early victories in her administration. She eliminated the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing and announced that the prompt would ask students to write in the narrative mode. A few months later, when the tests came back with the exact same problems as last year, she wasted no time in announcing that the scores wouldn’t count in the A-F Report Card calculations. Last year, if you’ll recall, it took an entire tortured summer for Barresi to finally make that decision.

To me, the most impressive thing she’s done, is gather her assessment team and get Measured Progress to change the practice of a student’s score range appearing on the screen after finishing each state test. She did it quickly. Most Oklahomans were appreciative.

She worked with legislators to try to curb testing. If it hadn’t been for a few in leadership positions, they would have been able to eliminate the writing tests.

This needs to happen, by the way. Nobody values writing instruction more than I do. Lousy prompts on lousy tests lead to dubious writing that is scored by temporary labor who are poorly trained and poorly compensated.

Hofmeister even came to the rally at the Capitol in March and has continued fighting to curb the teacher shortage. At times, it has seemed as if her ideas are left hanging in mid-air because we still have the same governor, representatives, and senators we had before. She hasn’t won every political fight for us, but it was only the first year.

She still has some critics on the fringe of each party. Many of them hold dearly to petty, perceived slights and are susceptible to every conspiracy theory they can imagine. It’s to be expected.

The Oklahoman also hasn’t warmed up to Hofmeister, but then again, they still have Barresi’s first campaign manager’s husband writing editorials. Similarly, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs continues pushing back against her and all things public education. Expecting something different would be like asking the sun not to shine.

In spite of this, I do still feel optimistic. More importantly, I feel respected. I feel that my profession and the children we are passionate to serve have a voice – and that her voice will only become more influential during the next several years.

Going back a year – actually, a year and two days – I hosted the Sunday night #oklaed chat and asked several questions about the primary election. I want to share a few responses to the second question, which was, “What should a new state superintendent do on day one in office.”

Yes, there were a few snarky, Paul Lynde “center-square” type answers in there, but most were along the lines of inviting parents and educators to the SDE (done) and helping remaining SDE staff understand their role as a true service agency (visible progress on that front).

A year has made a huge difference. I’m still excited. I owe that feeling to Joy Hofmeister and the people of this state who decided a year ago that they had seen enough.

6-14-15 #oklaed Chat: Teaching and Assessing Writing

6-13-15 #oklaed Chat: Teaching and Assessing Writing

I don’t want to spend much time talking about the fact that for the second straight year, Oklahoma’s fifth and eighth grade writing assessments won’t be used in calculating the A-F report cards. I was appreciative when Superintendent Hofmeister made the decision to throw the scores out, although there was a small amount of backlash from her usual critics.

How much did we spend on that test?

I don’t know. How much did you spend on the food that went bad in your fridge during the last 12 months? Just because you spent the money doesn’t mean you have to eat the rancid cheese. It will make you sick, for crying out loud!

To me, this sequence of events highlights the Legislature’s failure to act in any meaningful way to deal with education issues during the 2015 session. They’ve ordered the SDE to study the A-F Report Cards. Meanwhile, we’ll still receive them.

They also put off the elimination of any state tests until the new math and English/language arts standards are in place. I can see the logic there, to an extent. On the other hand, I don’t care what standards we have in place; the writing tests we currently give students have always been – and will always be – a complete waste of money. I also – as you might have gathered last year – have a complete lack of faith in the ability of the testing industry to assess student writing ability.

That’s enough about that. As I have mentioned before, I became a teacher because of my love of writing.


Even now, as an adjunct professor, my favorite part of teaching is reading what my students write. I have strong opinions on writing instruction by the language arts teachers, but I also have strong opinions about other teachers’ expectations for student writing. Some of the best writing instruction I received in high school was from my tenth-grade U.S. History teacher, who I seriously underappreciated at the time.

The ability to write effectively is a key to unlocking more doors as adults. Dare I say that it’s critical to college and career readiness? Maybe I should change it to what Tyler Bridges suggested yesterday: future ready.

With that in mind, Sunday night’s #oklaed chat, which I will be hosting, is over the instruction and assessment of writing. Below is a preview of the questions; the first one is huge and will likely require follow-up discussion.

Q1: How should writing instruction look at the various grade levels?

Q2: Should writing expectations vary from subject to subject in school?

Q3: How has writing instruction changed as a result of technology?

Q4: What mode of writing (descriptive, informative, narrative, persuasive/argumentative) is most critical for students to learn?

Q5: How could blogging or tweeting be used in the classroom?

Q6: What is the best way to provide grammar instruction to students in order to improve writing?

Q7: Should writing and reading be taught as a combined discipline or two separate subjects?

Q8: What would it take for a state writing assessment to mean something to students, teachers, and parents?

See you on Twitter Sunday night at 8:00! Remember to use the #oklaed hashtag with all of your responses.

On the State Budget Agreement

Yesterday when legislative leaders announced that they had come to an agreement on the state budget, in conjunction with the governor’s office, I immediately checked to see how education funding looked. We had been warned that with a $611 million hole in the state budget, we could expect cuts from two to four percent.

I was relieved to see that funding for public schools was held flat. Of course flat doesn’t mean even. More students, higher expenses, and the reduction of oil and gas production in the state mean that we’ll have less per pupil to spend during the 2015-16 fiscal year than we did this year. Still, flat was as good of an outcome as could be expected. Then again, the Horse Racing Commission was also held to flat funding.

It could be worse. Higher Education took a 2.44 percent cut. Career Tech took a 3.5 percent cut. And the State Ethics Commission took a 42 percent cut. See, flat funding isn’t so bad. In light of this, I’m not going to pick through the inconsistencies and try to make sense of them.


I will, however, reprint the words of State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who released the following statement yesterday.

Supt. Hofmeister comments on state budget agreement

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 19, 2015) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister made the following remarks in reaction to the recently announced state budget agreement:

“With Oklahoma in the midst of a serious revenue shortfall, I am thankful the Oklahoma State Department of Education budget was not reduced.

“It’s a severe disappointment that this agreement was unable to address a crippling teacher shortage that continues to negatively impact Oklahoma schoolchildren. The longer we fail to make our investment in common education a priority, the more likely it is we will pay economic and societal costs down the road. Our teachers deserve better than salaries that are among the lowest in the nation.

“In the months ahead we will renew our efforts to establish common education and our teachers as the very top of priorities for the children and citizens of Oklahoma.”

Again, I will not editorialize about the things they could have done differently to avoid the $611 million hole in the first place. That subject has been covered elsewhere.  It took a lot of hard work to hold funding for the House, the Senate, and the Legislative Service Bureau flat while cutting the Department of Transportation budget by 6.25 percent. With the cumulative cuts to education over the last seven or eight years, it’s probably even farsighted that the agreement increases funding for the Department of Corrections by nearly three percent.

The small, mostly term-limited group that worked behind closed doors to reach this budget agreement was thinking to the future. And apparently, the future is when we’ll begin to address the teacher shortage in Oklahoma. Bills on testing, teacher evaluation, and the A-F report cards have also yet to make any serious threats to earn a signature. This is all being saved for 2016, an election year, I suppose.

To paraphrase J. Peterman from Seinfeld,

incoherent drivel

Kudos on a job….done.

Categories: Uncategorized

Biting their thumbs and capping revenue

One of my favorite dialogues from Shakespeare comes in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet (SPOILER: after that, it’s all downhill).


Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them;
which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.



Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?


I do bite my thumb, sir.


Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?


[Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say




No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I
bite my thumb, sir.

Today’s thumb-biting comes in the form of House Bill 2244, which appeared through spontaneous generation in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget. With no budget agreement in sight (which could mean it exists Charlie Pride-style – Behind Closed Doors), today we began to see several bills emerge that were on no one’s radar last week. This bill in particular has great potential to both hurt education and also twist the knife in the backs of all of us who support public schools. Since there’s no record of this bill coming through the regular legislative process, we are left to imagine.

Maybe one day last week, our legislative leaders were sitting around trying to figure out how to plug the hole in the state budget. They looked at all available revenue sources and noticed that one in particular – the motor vehicle tax – was actually growing. They decided to cap the revenue source at current levels and divert the remaining money in future years to the general fund. Whatever this tax produces for education funding in the current fiscal year is the maximum it will ever produce. Never mind that enrollment and expenses are rising. This fund could yield as much as $20 million next year above the cap and start to chip away at the $611 million deficit in the budget that they created.

You Serious Clark

In other words, they can’t fund education because of the budget hole, so they’re going to divert money away from education to try to very partially fill the hole. In case you’re wondering, HB 2244 passed through A & B on a 13-4 vote after minutes of debate. With that kind of transparency and consideration, I just have to ask why we keep electing these people.

The Legislature has been in session more than 100 days. Is this really the best they can do? What other surprises await us this week? Will they bite their thumb again, or show us an altogether different digit?

This is a time when your voice matters. Call your representative and senator. Call someone else’s too. If you have time, call them all. Tell them you’ve had enough of the nonsense. They’re either serious about funding public education or they’re not. It’s time to quit pretending.

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Oklahoma House Directory

Two Weeks to Go: Will the Legislature Act to Curb the Teacher Shortage?

In January, Kevin Hime, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, did everything he could to push the Oklahoma community of education supporters to view the 2015 legislative session through a singular lens:

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. Why is my issue so much more important than yours?  What is your issue?

One of the leading conservative minds in Oklahoma has accused us of blowing this issue out of proportion, but these numbers don’t lie. We have fewer teachers and larger classes. Imagine if we had kept all the closed positions open; we’d have several thousand vacancies!

With less than two weeks to go, how are our elected leaders doing? Let’s look at Kevin’s six criteria and assess.

Testing: In a recent survey conducted by our State Superintendent elect, testing was the first issue she needs to address.  How many teachers have left our profession because they feel students are over-tested.  If teachers are indicating in a survey that testing is the #1 issue, how can we fix teacher shortage without correcting our testing problems.

As of late last week, word reached several of us who follow the Legislature that SB 707 is still alive, but barely. Although it appears that a majority of members in both chambers support this legislation, it also appears that a small few in the leadership do not. This is not the time for the few to bully the many. This is the number one issue – even more than pay – decimating our teaching force. Some of the opposition has centered on the ACT, which the bill does not explicitly name as the replacement to the EOIs.  We have to start somewhere with reducing the emphasis on testing in Oklahoma schools. This bill does that.

Teacher Pay: Ask the governor or any legislator how are we going to fix teacher shortage and most will mention teacher pay.  So instead of starting with teacher pay start your discussion with teacher shortage.

I would love to see many changes in the way we compensate teachers in Oklahoma. Starting pay should be better, but veteran pay should be a lot better. The distance between lanes for degrees earned should be widened. And state aid should be solidified through dedicated funding that will not be exhausted in one year. The scheme that has been floated to use money dedicated for teacher retirement fails on both counts. It is not a recurring source of revenue, and it hardly moves the needle. A $1,000 raise for teachers would be appreciated, but it would move us from 48th to 48th in teacher pay. Oh wait, that’s no move at all!

Teacher Evaluations: Does anyone think VAMS, SLOs, SOOs, are any other acronym are good for teacher recruitment and retention.  Without fixing our evaluation system we will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention.

So far, nothing is fixed. We have hit pause on some things, but the terrible quantitative measurements of teacher effectiveness still loom.

Teacher’s Retirement: Just the threat to change scares current teachers.  If they change the system it will have a negative effect in the present climate.  I hate to be against an idea until I know what the idea is but change today when teachers have zero trust for those proposing the change will not help teacher retention and recruitment.

Technically, the legislators haven’t touched teacher retirement yet. Again, though, I should mention that the idea is being tossed around to divert funds for salaries – this one time only. The state treasurer is against it. The Oklahoman is against it. Don’t screw with retirement. Just don’t.

School Funding: Have you looked at Texas, Arkansas, or Kansas school buildings lately.  Recruiting teachers based on facilities if a non-starter for #oklaed. When you are 49th in school funding teachers find another state to work.

Again, we seem to be getting nowhere. During the March rally, many legislators blamed the economy. Others blamed their leadership. Here’s a fun fact: your constituents didn’t vote for the House and Senate leadership. They voted for you! Own your agenda. Represent your constituents and answer to them. Forget the leadership. Forget the lobbyists who buy your coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Make things better or admit to the voters that you failed them.

RSA, A-F,  and other REFORMS are all legislative burdens that have landed in the middle of teachers desks and hamper teacher recruitment and retention.

We seem stuck on these reforms. We still have the A-F Report Cards, and some in the Legislature are determined to make the Reading Sufficiency Act even more complicated. Let’s double the number of committees for our finishing third graders and have some for first and second graders as well. And let’s not fund any of this. And let’s make it clear to the dastardly education establishment that this is the price for keeping retention decisions in the hands of human beings.

So far, I can’t point to a success. Yes, the Legislature managed to make dues collection for teachers’ associations harder, but that’s hardly a selling point. They make promises, but promises don’t buy bread. Promises don’t restore priorities and balance to teaching. Promises don’t entice college students and recent graduates to pursue teaching careers in Oklahoma.

Action makes a difference. Nothing else.

Concidentally, the teacher shortage was the topic of tonight’s #oklaed chat on Twitter. Here are some of my favorite comments from the discussion.

Throughout the chat, we kept coming back to the fact that salary matters, but so do the working conditions of our schools.  I still believe that we’re losing teachers equally to both of these factors. We’ve tried and tried to explain this, but I don’t know if the politicians get it yet.

We have two weeks left to make them get it. Call. Write. Email. Visit. Don’t limit your time to your own senator and representative. Pick several. Call the leaders. Even if they tell you to call your own people, be persistent. They chose to lead. This is what they get.

Oklahoma Senate Directory

Oklahoma House Directory

Find their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Post articles using your own social media and get more parents and educators (and other citizens who care) involved.

We have two weeks to make sure the people we may or may not vote to re-elect listen to us and do something of value to stem the teacher shortage. Use it well.

Third Grade Reading Scores – Pick a Headline

Today is the day that many third graders, their parents, and their schools have been anticipating. Schools now have online access to student scores on this year’s third grade reading (featuring language arts) test. The data portal seems to have worked for administrators retrieving results, and statewide, scores are up from last year.

For fun, let’s play a matching game. In the box below, on the left are three headlines. On the right are the sources of each. Try to guess which came from where.

Headline Source
Slight improvement seen in state third-grade reading test scores Oklahoma State Department of Education
More than 7,000 Oklahoma third-graders failed reading test, face retention Tulsa World
At least 85% of state’s third-graders pass to next grade under RSA The Oklahoman

This is the fun thing about data. All of these things are true. Let’s see how each source framed today’s results.

From the OSDE:

osde rsa

From the Tulsa World:

tulsa world rsa

From the Oklahoman:

jokelahoman rsa

How did you do? If you thought that the OSDE would have the most positive approach and that the Oklahoman the most negative, you’d have been right. Also, keep in mind that the writers don’t typically write their own headlines.

Here’s the rest of Superintendent Hofmeister’s press release:

At least 85 percent of Oklahoma third-graders pass to next grade under Reading Sufficiency Act

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 15, 2015) — Preliminary results from this school year’s third-grade Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) reading test indicate that at least 85 percent will be promoted to the next grade.

Out of more than 50,000 test-takers, 67 percent statewide scored “Proficient,” while 14.6 percent scored “Unsatisfactory.”

Preliminary results are as follows:

  • Unsatisfactory: 14.6 percent
  • Limited Knowledge: 15.9 percent
  • Proficient: 67 percent
  • Advanced: 2.5 percent

Under the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), third-grade students who score “Unsatisfactory” on the assessment and fail to meet an exemption are subject to retention for intensive remediation in reading. Students who score “Limited Knowledge” are not held back, but must receive reading remediation in fourth grade.

However, students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery in the area of reading.

  • According to the RSA law, “any student who demonstrates proficiency on a screening instrument which meets the acquisition of reading skills criteria shall not be subject to the retention guidelines.”
  • Students can be evaluated with one of seven good-cause exemptions.
  • Probationary reading teams consisting of parents and teachers can meet to determine retention or promotion for students who scored “Unsatisfactory.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said renewed focus on reading as a result of RSA has shown signs of improvement among Oklahoma’s third-graders.

“Literacy is critical for success in academics and throughout life, and the RSA plays a valuable role in ensuring that skill,” she said.

“While these numbers are preliminary and will change slightly, it appears the percentage of ‘Unsatisfactory’ has decreased. And more students evidently scored ‘Limited Knowledge,’ showing improvement between ‘Unsatisfactory’ and ‘Limited Knowledge.’

“But it is important to remember, too, that the current third-grade OCCT test given to satisfy federal test requirements was not designed to measure reading level the way it is being used for RSA. Instead, a valid reading test should include five essential elements: fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

“For this reason it is very important that students who did not pass the OCCT reading test now be assessed by an RSA committee. These panels will examine other specific reading evidence to determine the need for retention or targeted intervention for next year. As these committees are essential to ensuring success, I urge the Legislature to keep their voices in the RSA process.”

The RSA committees are scheduled to dissolve at the end of the current school year unless lawmakers pass legislation to extend their existence. Additionally, lawmakers are considering a measure that would include “Limited Knowledge” students under the provisions of RSA. This year, for example, that would mean an additional 7,900 students evaluated for possible retention.

Over the next few weeks, school districts are required to contact parents and legal custodians of students who scored “Unsatisfactory” and determine the most effective course of action for these children.

Approximately two-thirds of students who scored “Unsatisfactory” are English Language Learners, on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or both. That same designation also applies to roughly 39 percent of test-takers who scored “Limited Knowledge.”

Hofmeister’s words make me want to reiterate several important points that I’ve made at other times:

  • Scores have improved (slightly, as the World indicates) from last year.
  • This test is a poor measurement of reading ability.
  • The RSA promotion committees have worked well around the state.
  • Doubling the number of students in the promotion/retention committees dilutes the work needed for our most struggling students.
  • Without the RSA committees, we will be retaining special education students and those just learning to speak English at highly disproportionate levels.

This is why we all need to be aware of ongoing legislative discussions. Senate bill 630 is out of conference committee. The Legislature’s bill tracking site shows the most recent version with a date of April 22. Here are the key changes:

  • Keep the RSA Committees for promotion through the 2019-2020 school year (p. 4).
  • Add an RSA Committee for students not meeting benchmarks on screening instruments in first and second grade (p. 5).
  • Add students scoring Limited Knowledge into the retention discussion (p. 11).

The 2015 legislative session is almost over. Let your representative and senator know what you think about these changes.

Questions for #oklaed chat 5.10.15

The theme for tonight’s #oklaed chat on Twitter is, Why? Many of the chat questions come directly from the class discussions and writings of the grad students I’ve had at (shameless plug) Southern Nazarene University. Others may be just things that make me scratch my head. This won’t be a purely political chat, but we will wander down that path too. I hate to disappoint you.

For each question, the current state that exists may be the result of state/federal policy, tradition and school culture, or other outside factors. I’m not asking the questions to be difficult or to assign blame. That’s your job!

Seriously, for each of these questions, I look forward to a healthy, intellectual discussion on all sides.

Q1: Why do we require three years of math for all high school students?

Q2: Why do push most of our high school students towards college (or why don’t we do a better job of promoting CareerTech)?

Q3: Why do we use a half reading/half language arts test to evaluate third grade reading ability?

Q4: Why do we even need standards?

Q5: Why do we insist on using expensive, unreliable standardized tests to have students demonstrate proficiency in core subjects?

Q6: Why do we more or less forget about middle grades (4-8) when we focus on student remediation?

Q7: Why do some school districts have such a hard time generating parental involvement?

Q8: Why don’t we use more project-based learning (PBL) in teaching?


Q9: Why don’t we just let the students tell us what they need?

Categories: Uncategorized

Guest Post: To Thank a Teacher

Today I’m loaning this space to #oklaed advocate and West Field Elementary (Edmond) parent Angela Little. She wrote a thank you to her sons’ teacher and asked me to share it with you. Enjoy!

Dear Mrs. Foster,

For an entire 8 months, I was extremely nervous about my little boys becoming 3rd graders. I worried, on the spectrum of worry mine was extreme, but every parent who was familiar with the RSA worried about sending their babies into a place where one test would define them. For many of us, third grade was the first time we felt like we couldn’t protect them. I had several sleepless nights and spent many hours of my life at the State Capitol fighting for my children and all children in this state. Finally we found resolve and this law was changed to allow my voice to matter in their education but I knew this wasn’t enough. I would still need the perfect teacher who would make this transitional year a positive one. Even if I had a voice in a retention decision, this test and this year would shape their self worth and their confidence for the rest of their lives. They needed growth and success not driven by fear but by a passion for learning. As the year comes to an end, I feel there are some things you should know.

You are the best kind of teacher.

You can tell my boys apart without hesitation.

You know the name of our dog and how much he means to us.

You know that Cannon loves yellow and Boston loves red.

You understood immediately that Boston only needed self confidence to bloom and that Cannon feels best about himself when he’s helping others.

You knew within weeks that my boys have sweet, sensitive hearts and are hardest on themselves if they feel like they have let you down.

You taught them that reading is done for enjoyment not for doing well on tests. At home, they will sneak flashlights into bed so they can finish just one more chapter.

You describe their compassion towards others as if you’ve known them for years.

You watch them laugh with their friends. Some days, they goof around during work time and you don’t punish them. It makes you smile to see them enjoying school and most importantly their childhood.

You radiate positive energy and I smile, because like the children in your class, I feel the warmth of your words. We all want to be one of your friends.

You have a little boy of your own, yet every day, you teach our children with seemingly endless patience.

You respond immediately to a text containing a question that I have asked you two times before and you are always kind. You understand that single working moms have very full minds and are pulled in a million different directions.

You have rock star status in our house.

“How did we get so lucky,” I say, “she’s exactly who we needed in such a volatile year.”

You are a dedicated third grade teacher. I know lots of teachers avoid third grade like the plague. You have to base their success and yours on a test that you don’t believe in.

You eased my worries.

Last year, I would have paid an exorbitant amount of money to buy the best third grade experience for my boys.

I hit the teacher jackpot. Every day, you give 26 kids exactly what they need to succeed.

I worried that my boys would feel defeated but they feel empowered daily.

Each day, I am at peace because I know you love and protect them like they are your own.

You help them feel unique despite them being identical.

You’ve made a difference in all of our lives.

Thank you,

Foster 1 Foster 2

Reading Sufficiency: Don’t Overthink This

In 2014, the Oklahoma Legislature did one of the smartest things I’ve seen from them in quite a while. They passed HB 2625, authored by Katie Henke. Then when Governor Fallin vetoed it, they quickly passed it again – overwhelmingly. This bill kept the heart of the third grade retention law – the Reading Sufficiency Act – in place, but correcting the fact that the retention decision was automatic and completely tied to the third grade reading test.

The handful of people opposed to the bill just couldn’t seem to understand that the six good cause exemptions were going to leave a lot of kids stuck in a holding pattern. The safety nets for English Language Learners and special education students just weren’t sturdy enough. They also, in typical form, expected the worst from educators. In their minds, if a committee that also included a parent were to meet to discuss promotion to the fourth grade, the teachers and principals would cave to pressure every time.

They didn’t. Committees met. Many students were promoted. Some were retained. For both groups of students, committees have continued meeting.

For my school district, this has meant the creation of 12 new forms. Keep in mind that our staff (collaborating with specialists from other districts) made these forms with no help from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. When we would ask questions, we would receive answers that were merely quotations of the law or administrative rules. Also keep in mind that large school districts such as Moore have the ability to employ curriculum specialists. This state has many districts that do not, in which case, the task of creating documentation would have fallen to principals and teachers.

RSA Forms

These are the forms we use when our committees meet, when we make recommendations on our students who scored Unsatisfactory last year, and when we communicate with parents. If SB 630, which has passed both chambers with amendments and still needs to go to conference committee, were to pass as written, this process would become much more complicated. We would now have to go through these same steps with all of our students who score in the Limited Knowledge range as well.

My understanding is that adding the Limited Knowledge group in with the Unsatisfactory group is the price to extend the time of the parent/teacher committees. Last year, HB 2625 put this step in place for two years. This summer will be the second year. Passing SB 630 would extend that provision through the 2019-2020 school year.

Keeping parents involved in retention/promotion decisions is critical. The rest of the work is important too. My fear is that when we take the same number of teachers, principals, and reading specialists and double their paperwork and meeting time, we will dilute the impact we are seeing on our neediest students. How much extra  time do we really need to spend on students who are one or two questions short of passing the test? The short answer is as much as it takes. With the students who are farther behind, this undefined amount is much, much more.

Only a few of the people I talk to want to do away with the RSA altogether. What most of the rest of us want to do is give the current configuration some time to work. We believe, other than the fact that it’s not fully funded, that we’re making it work. We believe, with recent changes at the SDE, that we’re even getting a little guidance finally to help us with the bureaucratic part of it. More paperwork and meetings aren’t the help our students need.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

With All Due Respect, Vol. 2

In March, I wrote the first installment of what apparently will turn into a series, based on the rhetorical premise that you can say anything you want – as long as you preface it with the phrase, with all due respect – and you have complete immunity from criticism. Since this verbal construct owes itself to Ricky Bobby, and today is the Talladega 500, I figure it’s time for part two. Besides, if Rob Miller can go back to the well with Really!?! then I can hit the repeat button with this particular phrase.

Today’s source of inspiration comes in the form of a column written for The Journal Record by Oklahoma City University law professor, Andrew C. Spiropoulos. He wants us to know that there really is no teacher shortage:

Give the politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks that shill for the education establishment extra credit for their success in spreading and milking the myth that we have a teacher shortage in Oklahoma. They could teach a master class on how to deceive with numbers. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, however, they are pulling off this con all over the country.

ricky bobbyThat’s the first paragraph from Spiropoulos, who is also the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. As a man of letters and easily the most effective writer affiliated with OCPA , I expect better. Maybe I shouldn’t.

Let’s break down the language he uses to call educators collectively a bunch of liars.

  • First, he lumps together politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks. This disreputable group of cretins audaciously influences public discourse, for certain. What is less clear is which of these three groups he considers his people. He’s at least a policy wonk. All the OCPA – a non-profit and allegedly non-partisan organization – does is spew policy talking points. To my knowledge, they’ve never had one that supports public education. When they do discuss schools, it is usually some form of argument about how districts actually get too much. Many of our state’s politicians are closely aligned with OCPA and regularly parrot these talking points. If you’ve heard a state representative ask How much is enough? once, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times.
  • Next he uses the verb shill. This is a word chosen to make the reader cringe at the actions of special interest groups – you know, the people who’ve dedicated their careers to educating children. In my mind, someone who shills is a person with mercenary loyalties. Think of Peyton Manning in…every commercial ever. Just keep humming to the tune of Nationwide is on your side. Here are some examples:
    • I like class size really large.
    • Teachers make too stinking much.
    • Why do buses smell like cheese?
    • OCPA ___ ___ ___! (Treat this one as a Mad Lib)
  • He then completes the sentence with the prepositional phrase for the education establishment. I don’t care if it’s the Oklahoman, any number of OCPA’s fellas, or the third-place finisher in last June’s state superintendent primary saying it, I never tire of hearing that phrase. Who exactly are the dastardly EE? Is it the OEA, PTA, CCOSA, OSSBA, and any number of other organizations representing actual teachers, parents, administrators and school board members? Tell me again why these people are the bad guys. Is it because they spend every school day with Oklahoma’s children and actually care about what becomes of them? No, that’s not it. Yes, these groups each have a lobbying arm and collectively comprise a lobbying force. Did you know that in 2014, Oklahoma officials received nearly $200,000 in gifts from lobbyists? Here’s a snapshot of how that breaks down. For the first half of the year, there were more than $157,000 in lobbying gifts. You can look for yourself, but few of those came from entities you would normally associate with the education establishment.
Lobbying Group Amount
Oklahoma State School Boards Association $649.41
Professional Oklahoma Educators $103.58

That’s it. We always hear that teachers don’t vote very well. Apparently the establishment doesn’t lobby very well either. Nothing from OEA or CCOSA during that time (when the legislature was in session) In comparison, here are the lobbying expenses of a few other groups from the same time period.

Lobbying Group Amount
AARP Oklahoma $678.87
AEP/Public Service Company of Oklahoma $18,548.29
Apex Wind Energy $987.05
AT&T $1,477.62
Beer Distributors of Oklahoma $870.25
BP America $924.07
CMA Strategies $2,117.30
Continental Resources $1,428.37
Farmers Insurance Group $10,709.15
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber $668.08
Huddleston Investments, Inc. $12,367.13
OCPA Impact, Inc. $783.87
OG&E $3,222.80
Poultry Federation of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma $1,208.60
The State Chamber $3,047.00
The George Kaiser Family Foundation $827.20
Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce $1,433.09

Face it. In terms of lobbying, education is being outspent by poultry and beer – not to mention the distinguished OCPA of which Spriopoulos is a distinguished fellow. Throw all the shade you want, but I don’t see the education establishment buying all these breakfasts and dinners for lawmakers.

  • Spiropoulos also gives the unholy lot of us bonus points for our success in spreading and milking the myth about the teacher shortage. In return, I give him bonus points for alliteration. Nicely done, good sir! As for the myth itself, I guess those kindergarten and high school physics jobs really didn’t go unfilled. The empty applicant folders were just a figment of our imaginations…or bad math.
  • He then explains that we deceive with numbers and that we are pulling off this con all over the country. I can’t speak for the entire Rebel Alliance, but our numbers are real. And not use a tired explanation, but this has never happened to us before. We’re not used to having all these positions we can’t fill. As one rural superintendent told me in November, we’re hiring people we wouldn’t even have interviewed ten years ago.

The rest of the column meanders into predictable drivel. Spiropoulos explains that 800 vacancies out of 40,000 positions really isn’t that bad. In the sense that it’s a low percentage, I guess that makes sense. In the sense that we had to combine classes or not offer advanced courses, though, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s one thing for schools and districts to create these conditions intentionally, but that’s not what has happened here. Rather the legislature has created a work environment that people with choices are avoiding. Yes, there are certified teachers choosing other career paths (or not to work at all). In that sense, there’s actually a surplus of teachers. It doesn’t do our students any good if they’re not applying for jobs.

Looking up at the last 1,000 words, I realize I’ve been as guilty of loaded language and selective information as Spiropoulos was before. Let me be more clear, then.

During the current school year, Oklahoma  school districts have hired a record number of teachers on emergency certificates. We have also had a record number of positions go unfilled. Because of the lack of incentives for doing so, fewer teachers than ever are earning advanced degrees. Fewer teachers are completing teacher prep programs at Oklahoma colleges and universities than ever before. A high number of those who are continue to leave the state. Many of those who stay and teach leave the profession quickly because they don’t want their worth (along with their students) to be judged by tests. They don’t want their entire existence reduced to testing. Many teachers retire the instant they can because the profession has changed so much. And teachers haven’t had a  pay raise in seven years.

For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:

For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:Christie Paradise – A Teacher Shortage or Not a Teacher Shortage: That is the Question…Apparently

Tyler Bridges – The Teacher Shortage Is …

Remembering HB 1017

April 27, 2015 3 comments

I was in college when it passed – landmark legislation to reform and increase funding for public education. Having grown up in an education family, I heard the reasons why we should support this: smaller classes, better pay, new Kindergarten and early childhood programs. As a future teacher, it all sounded good to me – even the parts I didn’t understand at the time.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of its passage, the Democrats in the Legislature marked the occasion with a press release and a cake:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 27, 2015) – House Democrats on Monday marked the 25th anniversary of House Bill 1017, the landmark school reform measure enacted in 1990 to substantially improve the state’s common education system.

The legislators were joined by educators for the celebration, which was replete with a custom-baked cake, in the House Lounge at the State Capitol.

“We gathered here today to commemorate the passage 25 years ago of this historic piece of legislation and to reflect on its legacy,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

“But we also think it’s appropriate to point out that three of its primary pillars – smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and increased funding for public schools – have been systematically eroded over the intervening years.”

Genesis of HB 1017

Prior to 1990, Oklahoma steered away from drastic reforms that departed from the core of public education in the state since the 1960s and ’70s: local control.

However, realizing that education reform needed to be broader in scope to ensure that all Oklahoma children would benefit, both the executive and legislative branches of the Oklahoma government began to work with various stakeholders to attempt to bring Oklahoma to the forefront of achievement.

Then-Gov. Henry Bellmon, this state’s first Republican governor, signed House Joint Resolution 1003 creating “Task Force 2000” in May 1989, sparking what has since become a constantly changing tide of reforms and budget battles over education for the last 25 years.

Later that same year, then-House Speaker Steve Lewis began to develop his own education plan, “Education: Challenge 2000.” The Legislature went into a special session dedicated to the bill and spent seven days ironing out the myriad provisions of this singular piece of legislation.

House Bill 1017 was the culmination of Task Force 2000 recommendations and Speaker Lewis’ plan, and was endorsed by several thousand school teachers who thronged to the Capitol for a rally in support of the measure. The bill was signed into law by the late Governor Bellmon on April 25, 1990.

HB 1017 is widely deemed to be the single most important piece of legislation regarding education reform in Oklahoma. Yet in the quarter-century since passage of the bill, Oklahoma has experienced a substantial increase in students, fluctuating budgets, and the dismantling of several key reforms.

Reforms Implanted in HB 1017

Among the host of reforms incorporated into HB 1017:

  • Progressive increases in the minimum teacher salary schedule were scheduled.
  • Maximum class sizes were established at 20 students for grades 1-6; 36 for grades 7-9; and 120 students per day for grades 7-12. Also, class sizes were incorporated into a school’s accreditation criteria.
  • Statewide curriculum standards were introduced. In the future, high-school graduation would be based upon attainment of specified levels of competencies in each area of the core curriculum, rather than upon simply the time a student had spent attending school.
  • Norm-referenced testing was established for grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, to provide a national comparison.
  • HB 1017 intended for millions of additional dollars to be pumped into this state’s public school system.
  • The legislation mandated that members of local school boards and the State Board of Education had to have obtained either a high-school diploma or a GED diploma, and continuing education was required for members of local school boards.
  • Half-day kindergarten attendance became compulsory in 1991-92, and school districts were encouraged to offer all-day kindergarten starting in 1993-94. In addition, school districts were permitted to offer pre-K for at-risk children, to supplement the federal Head Start program.
  • The office of County Superintendent of Schools was abolished.
  • Hands-on vocational programs for all students were encouraged.

1017 cake

These were great reforms and made an impact in Oklahoma for a generation. That almost didn’t happen, however. As soon as Republican Governor Henry Bellmon signed HB 1017, the repeal effort began, culminating with the vote on State Question 639 on October 15, 1991. It took 126,796 signatures to get the question to the ballot. In the end, the initiative was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%.

639 a

For some reason, I’ve saved the bumper sticker and brochure all these years.

639 b

I thought I had also saved the column I wrote for the OU Daily at the time (which triggered a few angry phone calls from 639 supporters – my first experience with that). I can’t find what I wrote anywhere online, but I can find what then-Oklahoman editorial writer Patrick McGuigan wrote. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s a laundry list of reasons for the state question’s supporters to have hope.

The group trying to keep 1017 had their own reasons:

639 d639 c

I don’t remember the graduation test that came from 1017. Do you? Honestly, don’t these reforms sound familiar? Standards…check. Financial accountability…check. Firing bad teachers…check. School consolidation…check. Some ideas just never get old. We hear the same things from reformers now, but without the funding promised in 1990.

For their part, the House Democrats enumerated the ways in which the reforms of HB 1017 have been rolled back:

Where We Are Today

  • In the 1988-89 school year, Oklahoma ranked 48th in the nation and next-to-last in the region in average teacher salaries.
  • The average teacher salary in Oklahoma 24 years later, in 2012-13, was 48th lowest in the nation, last in the seven-state region (Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma), and almost $12,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
  • HB 1017 provided that in 1994-95, the salary for a beginning teacher in Oklahoma would be $24,060. In comparison, the lowest salary on Oklahoma’s minimum teacher salary schedule 20 years later, in 2014-15, is $31,600. Oklahoma’s minimum salary scheduled has not increased since 2008. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary is just 78% of the national average.
  • At least in part because of relatively low salaries, the ratio of public school teachers in Oklahoma with advanced degrees today is 24.8%. In contrast, 41% of Oklahoma’s teachers held advanced degrees in the 1989-90 school year.
  • School accreditation is no longer tied to class size; today all 500+ school districts in Oklahoma are exempt from the mandate. The current average is 17.8 students for each teacher, and 11.9 teachers for each administrator – the highest ratio in 20 years. Schools may be deregulated from any mandate that does not affect the health and safety of the students without losing accreditation.
  • Dan Nolan, an AP History teacher at Norman North High School, said he has “29 chairs but 36 students” in one of his classes. Nolan was a finalist for State Teacher of the Year in 2009.
  • A week ago today a House Democrat was contacted by a veteran teacher in Davenport who said she is responsible for “about 130 kids a day, 4th-7th grades.”
  • Testing mandates have been amended by the Legislature every year except two since passage of HB 1017 in 1990.
  • Norm-referenced testing has been replaced with criterion-referenced testing for grades 5, 8 and 11; the number of tests has grown substantially; a revolving door of five different testing vendors has caused concerns among educators, parents and legislators alike; and the state continues to spend tax dollars on testing results that do not provide a method to track progress from year to year as the standards change, nor to track a student’s fundamental growth of knowledge.
  • Oklahoma has spent $81.7 million on testing since 2004.
  • Educational standards in Oklahoma are in flux since passage of House Bill 3399 last year, which repealed Common Core. The State Board of Education has been directing multiple committees to develop “Oklahoma standards.” Oklahoma nearly lost a federal waiver last year due to the earlier standards, to which this state reverted, because they did not meet the State Regents for Higher Education definition of “college and career ready.”
  • Revenue allocated to Oklahoma public schools remains below funding levels of a few short years ago. Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor have cut public education funding by 23% — more than any other state in the nation.
  • The $2.507 billion appropriated for public schools for Fiscal Year 2015 was $64.5 million less than the $2.572 billion appropriated five years earlier, in Fiscal Year 2010.
  • The instructional budget declined in four of the five years between the 2006-07 school year and the 2011-12 school year.
  • As the “1017 Fund” has grown, legislative appropriations for common education have decreased. For example, the 1017 Fund increased by $91.2 million from FY 2012 to FY 2013. In comparison, state appropriations to education during that same period declined by $93.3 million.
  • Local and county funding for public schools has increased four times faster than state funding; consequently, districts that have lower property valuations are able to generate less funding per student.
  • Public K-12 schools in Oklahoma receive 38.4% of their funding from local revenues (33rd highest in the U.S.), 48.9% from state appropriations (23rd highest in the country), and 12.7% from the federal government (11th highest in the nation).
  • In the fall of 1990, enrollment in Oklahoma public schools numbered a little over 579,000 students. Student enrollment in 2015 is almost 684,000, an increase of nearly 105,700, or 18%, in 25 years.
  • Yet Oklahoma has the third-lowest average per-pupil funding level in the nation, leading only Nevada and Utah.
  • Oklahoma schools are no longer required to have media and library assistants.
  • The Legislature voted in 2010 to allow school districts to divert their annual textbook allocation and library media program funds to general school operations for the next two years. That exemption has now been authorized three consecutive times, through school years 2015 and 2016. As a result, some schools are using textbooks that are up to 14 years old and in tatters, held together with tape.
  • “My school district has not purchased textbooks in 10 years, and my library has not had funding in almost as long,” a Skiatook teacher wrote to a House Democrat on April 20.
  • Full-day kindergarten and a marked increase in pre-K participation led Oklahoma to be recognized as #1 in the nation for early childhood education. However, the Legislature voted to repeal that mandate in 2013.
  • HB 1017 directed schools to provide technology education. Today, roughly 60% of this state’s rural schools still do not have funds needed for technological upgrades.
  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ranked Oklahoma 48th among the states last year in meeting the needs of the “new economy.” The ITIF index employs 25 indicators in five categories (knowledge jobs, economic dynamism, the digital economy, innovation capacity, and globalization) to assess each state’s fundamental capacity to transform its economy and incubate innovation.
  • “We call today for a renewal of the principles that made House Bill 1017 such a groundbreaking measure when it was adopted 25 years ago,” Inman concluded. “This is a bittersweet anniversary, looking back on what might have been.”

It took long enough, but I guess they have finally passed SQ 639. I think I’ll pass on the cake.

Ten Observations on Three Years Blogging

April 25, 2015 9 comments

This blog turns three today, which is 21 in dog years. How do we celebrate 21st birthdays? I forget. Besides, I don’t own a dog.


I don’t know that there’s much significance to the blog turning three. A lot has changed during the last 36 months, and no, I’m not particularly taking credit for any of it. Here are 10 observations from my first 535 posts.

  1. Three years ago, Oklahoma educators were fed up with policy makers who were ripping apart our education system. They’ve had to slow the pace of implementing corporate reform, but they’re still on the move. We’re still fed up. The agenda is still moving forward.
  2. Parents are the best voice for public education. As many educators as there are blogging and contacting legislators, we only impact policy to a point. Parents move the needle. Even better is when parents and educators band together to advocate for children.
  3. Electing a state superintendent who respects teachers is a game-changer. There’s been a change in the mood among educators since January, but there is only one meaningful difference in terms of the elected leaders of this state. We still have the same governor. We still have the same senators and representatives dredging up the same bills. We still have RSA and ACE; A-F Report Cards; TLE and VAM (though maybe with a delay); and funding for public education is still critically low. The difference is that we have replaced the state superintendent who blames teachers for everything with one who goes to bat for them. Joy Hofmeister understands that teachers aren’t bad people. Rather they’re the people who spend all day with our children. They deserve respect.
  4. High-stakes testing is unpopular with most students, parents, and educators. It’s only certain politicians and “philanthropists” who love it. This seems obvious now, but remember that my first post was filled with frustration that we were sorting and ranking schools by test scores, without regard to poverty. Over time, okeducationtruths has become one voice among many expressing anger over this. Those of us calling for testing reform don’t always agree on solutions, but when it comes to the harmful effects of using tests to label people and schools, we’re together.
  5. I enjoy reading blogs probably more than I enjoy writing them. This isn’t a humble-brag statement. If I didn’t think I could write, I wouldn’t. I just know that I’m not the only game in town. At various times, I’ve tried to capture a list of Oklahoma education blogs and national blogs I read regularly. That list is sadly out-of-date. I’ll probably work on it again when the school year ends. Among my fellow Oklahoma educators are writers who say it better, and bloggers who are more popular. There are also some who are just getting started. I try to read them all.
  6. I treasure the friends I’ve made from blogging. These aren’t just shallow acquaintances who happen to share a common interest in saving public education. These are real people with students and families and stories and histories that make them who they really are.
  7. Sometimes I just can’t tell what’s going to be a hit. For example, last week I wrote two posts. In the first, I described how I would introduce poetry to my students 15 years ago. I spent hours on it. In the second, I heaped praise on Hofmeister for acting quickly to find a solution to a tough problem. I wrote that in 15 minutes while waiting to pick up my daughter from play rehearsal. The second post has been viewed five times as many as the first one. I’ve received several comments – both privately and publicly –stating that the first was one of my best, which is how I feel as well. That isn’t to say that people are wrong. I am probably just a poor judge of what will stick.
  8. Teachers will band together to protect their content areas. There’s a reason the APUSH legislation in both houses of the Legislature fizzled into a joint resolution with all the impact of a greeting card. My Save AP post from February is sixth for page views all time on this blog. It’s the most-viewed post that doesn’t talk about the third-place finisher in last summer’s Republican primary. Well except for one…
  9. Teacher pay in Oklahoma still hovers around the bottom of the country. My January post discussing teacher pay jumped to number three when it made another viral run around social media in March. In 1970, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In 2013, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In between, there’s been little fluctuation. At the rally in March, we heard every excuse imaginable from our elected leaders about why teachers can’t have raises right now. This from the same crowd who don’t want to hear excuses from legislators. What they’re really lacking is resolve, and it’s apparently a generational problem that spans decades and knows no partisan preference.
  10. Blogging anonymously was fun, but getting to know my readers has been better. At edcamp in February, I was able to participate in a roundtable discussion about advocacy and blogging with the likes of Joy Hofmeister, Jason James, Rob Miller, Kevin Hime, and Claudia Swisher. At this year’s education rally, I had many candid conversations with people about what they’re dealing with at their own schools. I wondered how taking off the mask would impact the blog. It’s more popular than ever. Page views, Twitter followers, and Facebook likes affirm that. I just wish I had more time to write.

As Rob explained this morning, we still have much to keep us angered. We don’t fight for self-interest. If that were our motivation, many of us would have changed careers years ago. We fight because we want our schools to be places that help children thrive rather than places that demoralize them. We want teachers to be taken more seriously than tests. Thanks for reading; here’s to another year!

birthday paddlin


A Sense of Urgency

April 20, 2015 8 comments

When I was 16, I began my official days as a wage earner at Mazzio’s Pizza on the north side of Norman. At the very minimum wage of $3.35/hour, my goal was to make enough money in one shift to pay for the gas it took my 1974 LTD to drive there and back from the south side of Norman. Sure, gas was something like 79 cents a gallon, but this was one of the great American land yachts. By my admittedly sketchy math, it wasn’t worth my time to work fewer than four hours at a time.

photo (1)Once I was at work, I’m not sure I was even worth what they were paying me. I remember my very first night there. I was washing dishes with one of those hoses that hangs down over an industrial size sink, just casually rinsing a rack of plates that was ready to go into the big, bad commercial dishwasher. The assistant manager walked up behind me and asked, “Rick, do you know what the phrase, ‘sense of urgency’ means?”

I said something along the lines of, “I think so.” She said, “Good, because if you want to have a second night here,” you’ll show me. Well, I did want a second night. I was 16. I had a gas guzzling car. Most importantly, Mazzio’s had a promotion featuring cool, colorful sunglasses that the rest of my high school surely would mistake for Ray Bans™. I spent the rest of that night washing dishes, busing tables, and mopping floors like a mad man. I had entered numbers and words onto a W-4 for the first time and I was not to be denied.

That was 1986, and to this day, the phrase “sense of urgency” makes me think of my first night of a seven year run in food service. It’s also the phrase that has come to mind frequently during the past week as I have watched Joy Hofmeister work to right a wrong.

In case you missed it, last Monday night, social media was buzzing with the information that most students taking online state tests were receiving instant scores and performance levels upon submitting their last answer. While I’ve always wondered why getting scores back to the schools takes so long after testing, I wasn’t exactly looking for an instant answer either.

After attending a work event, Joy noted on Twitter that she wasn’t ok with this practice either.

What I found out several days later was that she called testing staff into the office that night and immediately tasked the testing company, Measured Progress, with fixing it.

That’s a sense of urgency.

What I also didn’t know at that time was that this new feature of online testing was a surprise left for all of us by the previous administration. In fact, it’s right in the 2013 Request for Proposals (RFP) for the testing contract.

Oklahoma’s online testing program stems from the need for students and educators to receive the results of testing quickly as required by law. The online system must provide to students immediate raw score results (and performance levels for pre-equated tests) and complete student results within two weeks for schools and districts. The supplier should provide a detailed description of the system that addresses each of the topics below. In addition, the SDE prefers an online management system that enrolls and tracks paper and online testers within the same program (p. 20).

How did we miss that at the time? I guess we were all busy looking up the new testing vendor to realize that the state was asking for new features. Measured Progress actually had to write new code to make this feature possible. I don’t know if it was a large or small undertaking, but they did it, meeting the terms of the contract. When asked by Joy to undo this as soon as possible, they did – in under a week.

I won’t get into the horror stories of students seeing the word Unsatisfactory on the screen and bursting into tears. I will say that fixing this problem is a good cap to a solid first 100 days by the new state superintendent. She ended double testing in junior high math. She eliminated the writing field test. She announced the mode of writing for February’s fifth and eighth grade tests. She’s lobbied the legislature for testing relief and money for teacher pay. She actually showed up at the education rally, and other than a slam poet from Mustang, she stole the show.

If the first 100 days of her administration have been marked by urgency, I hope the next 1000 will be marked by persistence. There are many more battles to fight. Many are much larger. All involve the same goal – doing right by the students of this state.

Blogger Challenge & The Heartbreakers

April 18, 2015 8 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, then 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.

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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.

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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


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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 6 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 55 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.


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