About the Governor’s Letter
Governor Fallin has called upon all parties to end the drama, assuring us that “the time for theatrics is over” when it comes to this week’s roll-out of Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards. In a letter published yesterday by the Tulsa World, she completely misses the point of much of the dialogue that has taken place around the education accountability system.
The main points of her letter are:
- A-F Report Cards are easily understood.
- The grades leave little doubt about the relative standing of an A or an F school.
- Accountability is not about assigning blame.
- A-F Report Cards are used in other states.
- Opposition to the accountability system is partisan.
- Releasing the grades is the beginning of the school improvement process.
Responding to each:
- There’s a difference between something that is easy to understand and something that doesn’t require much thought. Narrowing everything a school (or district) does into a letter grade is misleading. Some schools have a relatively easy time getting an A because they are located within highly affluent neighborhoods. That doesn’t mean their teachers don’t work hard. It just means the outcomes on state tests don’t leave as much to chance as those in other schools. Compound that with the fact that schools get bonus points (for elementary schools, it’s 10 or nothing – all based on attendance), and grades can flip pretty easily. Conversely, nothing about serving a high-poverty population means that a school can’t have good test scores. Getting there is just much harder, and staying there is even less likely.
- First of all, the premise is patently false. The OU/OSU study found that the raw score differences between students in A and F schools were negligible. Secondly, even if true, this would leave those concerned wondering what to make of the B, C, and D schools. Is a B school with an 85 but no bonus points actually less successful than an A school with a 90, but with 10 bonus points for attendance? I’d argue that the B school’s accomplishment might be more impressive, having had higher student achievement with more absenteeism. Schools in the middle – especially the B schools – will likely stay off the SDE’s radar, which is probably the safest place to be.
- Every bit of this process is about assigning blame and furthering an agenda that benefits corporate reformers more than it does public school students. Remember that time in 2012 when Barresi accidentally emailed the wrong person, defiantly proclaiming, “I will no longer take the heat for districts failing to do their job!” That was over the first group of students who had to pass graduation tests in the state. This will also be the undercurrent in her reaction to this week’s D and F schools, next spring’s 3rd grade retentions, and – if she stays in office that long – the reckoning that will come with the state’s first Common Core tests in 2015. I am not naïve enough to believe for a second that Governor Fallin is that naïve.
- The use of A-F Report Cards in other states has been a debacle. They can’t get them right in Florida. They can’t get them right in Indiana. These states have been our models, but the grading of schools, even if well-intended, has consequences that surprise reformers. Sometimes, the grades aren’t very flattering for their pet project schools.
- Superintendent Barresi likes to pretend that she is a pure conservative, yet she has serious opposition within her own party – and not just at the ballot box. Poorly-conceived education reform measures tend to upset people on both sides of the aisle. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and the whirly-gig of social media in general, I get a diverse menu of opinions. Among them are a 3rd grade teacher, a retired 40+ year veteran of many classrooms, an assistant superintendent, superintendents from Sapulpa and Sand Springs, parents groups, newspapers from Ada and Clinton, the organization representing most school administrators, and even a former Republican candidate for state superintendent. These are not particularly cries from the bluest map dots in the nation’s reddest state. Governor Fallin has to understand that this uprising is a reaction to something of questionable merit being executed very poorly.
- This is not “where the real work starts.” The real work started months ago, as students were finishing the previous school year and teachers were busy communicating the needs of each child to the teachers who would have them next year. It continued during the summer with site and district level analysis of preliminary test scores. Teachers and principals gave up time for professional development to understand reforms and learn more about ways to make instruction more engaging. Then when students came back in August, it continued with effective and accurate communication with parents. Over the course of the first quarter of the school year, school improvement has been an ongoing process centered around understanding the needs of students, both on the whole, and individually. Nobody was waiting for the report cards to have a starting point. Only someone who has never worked in public education would think that.
Having a system that lacks meaning – not the various responses to it – is what threatens to undermine efforts at increasing accountability in Oklahoma. Ignoring research by people who do that for a living just makes it worse. It also brings national attention, as you can see here, here, and here. Come Wednesday, the predictable proclamations and responses will add to the misplaced focus.