Archive for May, 2013

May Wrap-Up, and Sorry for the Spam

It’s been a heck of a month. We’ve had the fallout from a failed testing cycle, the end of the legislative session, and a month of tornadoes that have done so much damage that we can’t really focus on anything else. I hope the people in Moore who have lost so much are still in the forefront of your mind; but I hope the people in Newcastle, Shawnee, Bethel Acres, Carney, Little Axe, and everywhere else in the state are in your thoughts too. These communities didn’t all lose schools, but they lost homes. People’s lives and livelihoods are impacted in ways that may not be clear at first glance. While we’re in the spirit of giving, please remember all the people who have been impacted.


Here are the top five posts from May:


  1. Malfeasance or Nonfeasance? – When the Oklahoman reported that Superintendent Barresi disavowed any responsibility for choosing a testing vendor, I had to ask this question. Does this admission constitute an elected agency head doing her job badly, or not doing her job at all? Those are really the only two options.
  2. Alert: Funding Priorities and Possible Senate Action – Astute readers know that the size of the education budget is only one dimension we have to consider. The legislature still has not fully restored education funding cuts from the last several years, even though state revenue collections are higher than ever. Compounding this is the fact that very little of the new funding will go into the formula.
  3. Anticipating a Testy Meeting – Last Tuesday, the SDE held a meeting for district testing coordinators. I heard from a reader that it was in fact testy: It was a little hostile, but enjoyable at the same time. For three hours DTCs were allowed to ask questions and voice concerns. We were told that SDE will have CTB’s contract renewal on the June board agenda and scores will count for A-F. McBee said beacuse it’s a state law and “out of their control.” They told us to contact our legislators because they were the only one who could say the scores are invalid. SDE bashed the WAVE and blamed student data errors on them. Obviously, with the totality of last week’s events, I didn’t feel that griping about testing was really in order. Still, I wish I had given this more attention. School districts are now dealing with the after-effects of a testing program that yields both usable and unusable data. Passing the buck to state law and the limitations of the WAVE doesn’t help DTCs or teachers or students.
  4. World of Jenks – The SDE has decided to open an investigation of the unusual number of parents opting their children out of field testing. Apparently, they don’t believe that this parent protest happened organically. The SDE’s conflicts with the Tulsa-area schools – Jenks in particular – is a well-documented saga. This comes off as petty, but I’m interested in seeing how the investigation proceeds. My guess is they’ll find nothing untoward and then never comment publicly on it. And that Jenks will not receive any sort of acknowledgement or apology.
  5. Hit Me – Again, after detailing where the education budget will go, I make the case that it’s just not enough to overcome the successive years of deep cuts that schools have endured. The cumulative impact now is that schools are cutting into the quality of instruction. It’s a disgrace.

After the May 20 tornado, I haven’t written much. I didn’t even pay as close attention as usual to the end of the legislative session. Funding is still inadequate, and the Common Core State Standards are intact, at least until next year’s session. As June approaches, there’s not much that can be done to harm public education, right? Towards the end of the month, as more information becomes available, I’ll begin covering the build-up to Summer Camp 2013 Vision 2020.

In the meantime, find somebody who needs help today. And thank you for reading.


By the way, several readers who not only subscribe to the blog posts but to the comments as well have mentioned to me that more and more spam is getting through the WordPress filters. I’m not sure what to do about that. I don’t really want to limit comments on the blog. And I’m not always in a position to remove unwanted comments. If you have any suggestions, please pass them along.

Market Forces? Really?

As usual, Thursday’s editorial about testing showed the Oklahoman’s one-sided interest in protecting the State Department of Education. It is flawed on many levels.

The opening sentence is but the first false claim: “Critics of state testing, often citing their concern for students to mask their opposition to the accountability tests create, have tried to make hay of recent glitches.” First of all, nobody says makes hay anymore. (Except farmers, and then only when they’re actually making hay.) Second, it’s pretty crass to spend any energy this week questioning the commitment of educators to students. While correctly pointing out that other vendors have had testing glitches and that this occurred under the previous state superintendent, the editorial misses the opportunity to discuss the real flaws with the testing process.

Until recently, the state tests have been used to provide insight as to specific skills that are lacking in students and to identify areas of the curriculum that need. Only in the last few years have they been a means of denying students a high school diploma. Beginning next year, they will also be a way to retain third-graders. After that, they will be a measure of teacher and principal effectiveness.

These stakes make it imperative that we get it right. Unfortunately, few in the schools have confidence in that. The gnashing of teeth over the flawed A-F Report Cards pales in comparison to the din that will result from holding back a third grader based on one data point rather than a year of experience with a child.

The Oklahoman also tries to absolve the agency and Superintendent Barresi from their role selection process. Regardless of the centralized state purchasing process, it was SDE officials who selected a testing vendor. Barresi is the agency head, and as I said before, this program is too expensive and too high-profile for her to get a pass for taking a hands-off approach. I’m as interested in the selection process as I am in the yet-to-be described penalty for CTB/McGraw-Hill. While the other testing companies have made mistakes and had data issues that have caused reporting delays, none have experienced a wide-scale systems failure such as this – in multiple states simultaneously.

Finally, the title of the editorial itself is ridiculous: Market Forces Can Resolve Testing Woes. Apparently, the Oklahoman expects us to believe that the millions of dollars we spend on testing through giant multi-national corporations will allow these problems to just sort themselves out.  When all else fails, continue with the refrain that the free market cures all.  Oh, and tell that to the other testing behemoths that didn’t win the contract.

C is for Caring

May 24, 2013 Comments off

This was on my Facebook page today, courtesy of a reader of this blog. I agree with every word.

“C” is for Caring. Today as parents were leaving my school for the summer, I realized something that the corporate puppet masters of public schools may have overlooked. Parents want some of our schools to be “C schools”, where corporate measures of success are moderated by virtues that can’t be measured

I realized this as a parent and 2 adorable children were leaving. The parent looked the part of a sub-urban mini-van soccer parent. But I know the back story of the kiddos and knew that one of the students will not likely be the corporate version of an ideal student, no AP classes or gifted and talented, or National Merit Scholar.

At a “C” School parents don’t have to worry that their kids will be excluded because of their inability to meet the corporate version of “excellence.” “C” schools provide a fertile soil of acceptance for children to grow to their ultimate ability regardless of challenge. And parents of children with unique learning challenges may rather send their child to a “C” school than a school where “high achievement” is typical.

Parents also want their children to learn from teachers who model unconditional commitment to teaching every student who comes with economic and cultural challenges. By observing this, day in and day out, children witness the level of painful commitment it takes from some adults to walk along side the most challenging of children. And witnessing this, makes children more caring and more equipped to serve their community in difficult situations.

  • “C” is for Caring and its good enough for me.


May 22, 2013 Comments off

I don’t feel like writing much this week. One thing that comes to mind is that billionaire foundations spend a lot of money on tests and reforms that serve political interests rather than children. If these people really want to help kids, maybe they can help fund safe rooms and other unmet building needs for schools. A billion for tests or a billion for safe rooms? Every school in Oklahoma would love to have one if the funds were available.

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The Real Meaning of “For the Kids”

Every education discussion about policy, reform, funding, or anything else eventually dissolves into both sides saying some version of “It’s for the kids.” In times such as these, we find out what it really means. Story after story of teachers protecting children with their own body in Moore yesterday reminds us that the very essence of education is ensuring that tomorrow is better than today.

After this teacher used her own frame as a shield over children, she explained herself to CNN by saying, “It’s just our job.”

Remember that our classrooms are full of potential heroes who hope they never get that chance.

Pray. Hope. Cry. Collapse. Wish. Help. Do what you need to do. For the kids, their teachers, their families, and their community.

In-depth Look at the Education Budget

As we approach the end of the legislative session this week, it is worth taking one last look at the $74 million being added to the education budget. The spreadsheet is too involved to reproduce in a neat, bloggable format, so to fully understand what I’m talking about, you’ll need to follow this link and look for yourself.

Columns H through N show the line items that received specific funding amounts from Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 through 2014. If you don’t typically operate in the world of fiscal years, let me quickly explain. The 2013-14 school year is known financially as FY14, and it runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. Each fiscal year runs from the first of July through the end of June and is known by the last two digits of the ending year.

State aid is still the largest source of school funding. The money that goes through the formula (Line 3: State Aid – Financial Support of Schools) is where districts get the fund to pay for most of their support staff, teachers, and administrators. While some federal funding and line item funding is also used to pay personnel costs, this is much less significant. As a rough number, districts typically use a figure between $55,000 and $60,000 to estimate the cost of a teacher. So for the sake of this post, I’ll estimate that every million dollars in the funding formula can support the hiring of about 17 teachers.

From FY09 to FY14, the funding formula specifically has lost over $198 million. Restoring this amount would fund roughly 3,366 teaching positions. Unfortunately, even if all $74 million in new common education funding went into the formula, it would barely make a dent. That’s why everybody from administrators to teachers to school board members to parents is frustrated that the allocation includes a mere $21 million for the formula.

While I am happy to see increased support for ACE Remediation (Line 6) and Reading Sufficiency (Line 39), there are other programs that just don’t make as much sense, given the fiscal limitations of the overall budget. I will give a few big-ticket examples.

Line 28 (Oklahoma Student Information System Data) is listed as a new expense in the amount of $2 million. I was under the impression we already have a student data system. I’d love to hear why we need this new expense, in this amount, at this time.

Line 34 (REAC3H Coaches) includes $4.25 million for salaries and support. We have to ask ourselves if the investment is worth it. They spend one week a month in OKC receiving training and then turn around and spend less than a day a month on average in each of the schools they’re serving. For as sharp as they are, and with everything they’re learning, the return-on-investment just isn’t there.

Line 47 (School Rewards Competitive Grants Pool) is another new item, to the tune of $2.8 million. I understand that the SDE wants to reward high-achieving and quickly-improving schools. However, when funding for the basics is lacking, we can’t afford to be picking winners and losers and throwing competitive grant money at the winners.

Line 52 (Teach For America) includes $2.5 million in new funding to recruit teachers into the profession. While TFA has some success stories, and regularly places a high percentage of those completing training in hard-to-staff urban schools, the length of service of their teachers is pretty inconsistent. Supporting graduates of research-based teacher preparation programs from our colleges and universities should be a higher priority.

The budget also calls for $2 million for TLE (line 54), $3 million for testing (line 56), and $1.8 million for Think Through Math. Since the SDE made schools pay out of pocket for training principals and teachers last year, the TLE amount could be seen as compensation. However, the vast majority of training is done, and schools will not be able to recoup that cost. On testing, if this is an increase of $3 million, I’m against it. Since CTB/McGraw-Hill is slated to receive $8.9 million a year with the current contract, I don’t see making a deeper investment in testing as something we should support. As for the Think Through Math Program, I hear some districts are using it, but others already had purchased programs to provide support, intervention, and remediation to students. It’s something the SDE bought for all of us without asking if it was needed.

These seven line items amount to $18.35 million. While this would hardly solve our funding problems, placing that amount back into the formula should be a higher priority than such ancillary concerns.

I should also point out that the spreadsheet has hidden columns. If you’ll unhide columns B through G, you can see funding for each fiscal year going back to 2002, which happened to be another year in which districts suffered major cuts. You’ll see that following that dip in the economy, it took schools four years to get back to where they had been.

For this cycle, it’s been five years now. And we’re nowhere close to being back.

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World of Jenks

No, the title isn’t a reference to the marginally popular MTV show of the same name; it’s a statement about the obsession that the SDE and the Oklahoman editorial page have with Jenks Public Schools.

I’ve commented before on editorials that randomly take shots at Jenks. This time, it’s the SDE opening an investigation because too many parents opted their children out of field tests. They want to make sure the school didn’t coax the parents into the opt out movement. From the Tulsa World:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems to me the SDE is more concerned about not compromising this witch hunt than they are with the extent to which the whole test process has been compromised. Typically, they only investigate irregularities such as excessive erasure marks. This is altogether different.Why do they find it hard to believe that a group of parents would object to field testing? They send their children to school to learn – not to serve as unpaid subjects of a testing company.

Malfeasance or Nonfeasance?

“I had zero involvement in the entire process from start to finish personally.”

-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi
on the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hill
as Oklahoma’s testing company

Carrie Coppernoll’s story this Sunday in the Oklahoman is a must read for people who care about the present state of public education, as well as its future. It leads with Barresi disavowing any involvement in the process for the selection of a testing vendor. This claim is problematic on at least two levels.

Option 1: It’s true – Say you’re the elected leader of the agency that spends one-third of the state’s tax dollars. After having problems with your testing company, you release an RFP (request for proposals) to select a new one. Testing is one of the most expensive and high-profile activities of the SDE. You want the right price. You want the right services. And you want assurances that the vendor is up to the task. You do not delegate that to your staff. You include them in the process. You seek and weigh their input. But you do not abdicate your responsibilities.

Option 2: It’s not true – In that case, she’s just running from the problem. The agency response thus far indicates exactly this. CTB will not be fired. They will commission a study to see if the disruption impacted scores and provide training and curriculum development for the state. Sounds to me like they’re getting off easy. Will the training be easy to access? Will teachers in Wilburton and Vici have the same opportunities as teachers in the Tulsa and OKC areas?  Will it be of high quality? While we can’t know that, we can be certain that this glitch will not drive a wedge between the state and CTB; rather it will make both entities more dependent upon each other. This sounds a lot like the solution to the testing problems we had with Pearson. They gave us a bunch of stuff that didn’t help anybody, and testing was still screwed up.

The concerns I have don’t stop there. The CTB official interviewed for the story shrugged off the problems with something of an aw shucks attitude. When he spoke of online testing as a “brave new world” (and I’m not even touching the literary reference there), he misses the point that we’ve been administering online tests in Oklahoma for years. He also misses the fact that there were problems with the paper-pencil tests as well. There were questions with no correct answers. There were shipments sent to the wrong districts. Nothing about this test administration has gone well, and it’s not all about the computers.

This all goes back to October, when the SDE initially awarded the contract to CTB and then had to cancel it due to administrative challenges*. They blamed the hold up on a combination of staff error and decision-making by the Office of State Finance.

After the December 9 special State Board of Education meeting – called specifically to reaffirm the selection of CTB as the state’s testing vendor, the SDE issued the following release:

State Board of Education Meeting Highlights
Dec. 6, 2012

Grades 3-8 Testing Contractor Recommended
The State Board of Education during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, voted unanimously to recommend that CTB/McGraw Hill be awarded a one-year $8.9 million testing contract for grades 3-8. The contract has four additional annual renewals for a total price of $28 million. The contract will still have to be approved by the state Department of Central Services. If awarded, CTB/McGraw Hill would develop tests in all subject areas for grades 3-8 as well as benchmark assessments in reading, mathematics and writing. The company already has the contract for Oklahoma end-of-instruction exams. This was the only item on the board’s agenda.

For some reason, no minutes are posted from this meeting on the SDE website.

Superintendent Barresi leads the SBE. Superintendent Barresi supervises the people who brought the recommendation forward. Hopefully she was at least briefed about the selection process and the relative merits and concerns of each prospective vendor. Otherwise, we might as well not even have a state superintendent.

Maybe it’s one of those situations where it depends on what your definition of is is…because that’s what she’s doing to public education.

*By the way, the standard setting that the SDE told us in the memo would be completed in June is now scheduled for July – the same week as Vision 2020. This means scores won’t be available until the end of July. And that some poor people have to miss a “valuable” learning experience.

A-F: What Will the Rules Be?

May 17, 2013 Comments off

The Oklahoma Legislature continues making rule changes to the A-F Report Cards. The school year is complete in many areas (and close in the rest). And they failed to pass the emergency clause, meaning the rules won’t take effect until the fall.

Meanwhile, the changes that the SDE passed a couple of months ago remain in limbo. They have neither been ratified nor tossed aside. The changes were so vast, it took four blog posts to cover them. (one, two, three, four)

Throw into the mix that thousands of test results are in question this year, and it’s going to be very difficult to take whatever the product is to parents and communities and say with a straight face that it means anything.

School: We got a B on our report card.

Parent: What does that mean.

School: Very little.

Would we tell students the grading rules after the school year ends? Would we look parents in the face and say that we’ve crunched the data nineteen different ways and come up with a formula that’s close enough?

Alert: Funding Priorities and Possible Senate Action

This from a reader (with some emphasis added by me):

At 9:30 today Senator Anderson will attempt to amend the Common Education appropriation bill  to redirect SDE REACH funding and other vendor or non-public school  based appropriations into the State Aid Formula. Please contact your Senator for support.

Talking points to share with your Legislator:

Year Enrollment State Aid Appropriation Per Pupil
2009 644,777 $2,037,000,000 $3,159.23
2010 654,542 $1,924,000,000 $2,939.46
2011 659,615 $1,894,000,000 $2,871.37
2012 666,150 $1,816,000,000 $2,726.11
2013 676,049 $1,816,000,000 $2,686.20
2014 $1,838,000,000
2014-2009 (199,000,000)

Only $21 million out of the $74 million will go to the funding formula to pay for day to day operations.

The 2014 funding formula will be $200 million short of what it was in 2009 with approximately 40,000 more students.

Over $40 million from the Common Ed budget will go to SDE vendor based programs or special projects. This number will increase by over $10 million in 2014.  These programs include:

  • SDE REACH coaches $4.25 million
  • Teach For America – (Tulsa and Oklahoma City only)  $2.5 million
  • OU K20 Center – 3 line item appropriations $1.2 million
  • SDE student Information – $2 million
  • SDE determined vendor grants – $2.8 million
  • TLE VAM formula for test scores to evaluate teachers – $2 million
  • Think Through Math vendor program $1.8 million
  • Kaiser Foundation 3 year old program  – $10.5 million

The 2014 Oklahoma budget will be the largest budget in state history while the common education appropriation will still be  $124 million less than 2009.

The SDE Agency budget is at an all-time high with a 30% increase in testing and several new agency determined grant programs.

The common education share of the state budget has dropped from 36.1% to 33.8% since 2008.

33.8%  will represent common education’s smallest share of the state budget since before 1991.

Call your state senator early and often. Remind them that when we fail to fund basic services through the formula, the reforms don’t have anywhere to land. Paralyzing district budgets in favor of SDE and vendor-based programs is not better for anyone…except the vendors.

Also, remind them that the biggest vendor of all – CTB/McGraw-Hill – is a colossal failure.

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