Archive for January, 2014

Barresi RSA Conference

January 29, 2014 Comments off

This is the first 20 minutes of Superintendent Barresi’s press conference from Monday, January 27, 2014. It cuts off before she gets into the Q/A time.

The Stress Test

January 28, 2014 8 comments

Today, students across Oklahoma will suspend learning for two hours to participate in a state-mandated test of the computer systems that testing companies – CTB/McGraw-Hill and Measured Progress – will be using in a few months. Each of these companies gets millions from Oklahoma, but it is the students and teachers across the state testing their system for them.

Wargames_Computer_Screenshot - Copy

The frustration caused from this is threefold. First, tests are way more important than they should be. They determine graduation, promotion to fourth grade, and public perception of our schools. We want the systems to work. More importantly, though, we want time to teach. Reading. Math. Science. History. Music. Computer education. Every time we go into the computer lab to test or pretend test, we lose valuable instructional time. In many schools throughout the state, computer classes get the worst end of the deal.

Second is the fact that with some of this, we are taking a practice test for practice tests. Measured Progress is developing tests that we will use next year. They are going to conduct field testing item tryouts during the testing window this spring. The hour schools spend on this will be a complete waste of time. Hopefully this doesn’t become the new standard for how we operate.

Third – and this one lingers from the original message schools received – is the threat handed down by the SDE for anyone who dares to teach from 9:00 to 11:00 today. Even though schools received a message with a much softer tone on Friday, the score hasn’t changed. I don’t believe the SDE really has the power or the will to revoke funding or credentials over this. I also don’t know anyone planning to test that belief right now.


Are You With the Media?

January 27, 2014 13 comments

Upon further consideration, yesterday’s post, Barresi Holds a Press Conference, should have been titled Barresi Holds a Photo-Op. I suppose it’s accurate to label it a press conference, in the sense that only the press were allowed to ask questions. Apparently, when non-media tried to ask Barresi about the third grade retention law, she put them off and never returned to them.

A quick search of Twitter coverage of today’s event using the hashtag #oklaed shows that Barresi trotted out a few of the REACH Coaches, a superintendent, and Amber England with Stand for Children to stand with her during the press conference.

From those reports, here were the press conference’s main points:

  1. We need to dispel the myth that retention is about one test given over one day.
  2. Some districts are creating a 3rd to 4th grade transition year.
  3. All interested parties need to make the legislature understand the funds needed to help students meet the provisions of this law.
  4. It is time for debate to be over.
  5. Schools will have 3rd grade test scores by May 9th if they test that grade at the beginning of the testing window.
  6. Ten years ago, Florida had lower reading scores than Oklahoma. Now they are higher than we are.

Here are my thoughts on those main points.

  1. She’s right and wrong. The state will use the test to generate a list of students in the pool for retention. Then, depending on who can qualify for the good cause exemptions, some will move on. We’re either using the test to override what the teacher knows about the child or using what the teacher knows about the child to override the test. Around the state, most third grade teachers are collecting student work in case they need to build a portfolio. In either case, the test is way too important.
  2. I can’t even fathom how this will look, other than the fact that it will vary considerably from school to school. If you’re in a district with one elementary school, and you have five or six children retained under this law, how are you going to pay for that extra teacher? If it is a district with multiple elementary schools, will they centralize that transition class? And how much of a stigma will that create?
  3. Right now, many districts have taken RSA funds designated for reading support for students in 3rd grade and below and prioritized 3rd grade alone. Tutoring, summer academies, and instructional materials are heavily focused on trying to keep this law from adversely impacting a large number of children. Any help schools, parents, or organizations like Stand for Children can give in educating members of the legislature about the need for targeted funding to support this reform would be appreciated.
  4. She’s not trying to stop debate as much as she’s trying to stop dissent. This is a political tactic. There are bodies of research supporting retention and bodies of research that highlight how ineffective and harmful it can be. We know that the state superintendent only likes research supporting her own agenda. Anything else of a scholarly nature she discards with sarcasm.
  5. This will be a neat trick. I have to ask how CTB/McGraw-Hill can manage this when they couldn’t handle any part of the testing process last year. And since Measured Progress will be taking over for them in the future, how motivated will CTB be to put a rush on scoring our tests. Another thought is that we might actually do better to test students towards the end of the testing window. That’s 3-4 weeks of additional instruction before a high-stakes test.
  6. I’m not sure where Barresi gets her information that Florida’s third graders were reading a grade level behind Oklahoma’s a decade ago. The NAEP scores don’t show this at all. Oklahoma was never ahead of Florida in reading. Since 2003, both states have shown growth, and Florida remains ahead of Oklahoma. I don’t know if that can be attributed to the 3rd grade retention law, improved funding for K-12 education, another reform, or something altogether different.

The questions that I asked yesterday on my blog and that my readers added in the comments remain unanswered. Unfortunately we learned nothing from today’s side show.

Barresi Holds a Press Conference

January 26, 2014 14 comments

Late last week, the SDE issued the following press release:

***Media Alert***

State Supt. Barresi holds news conference on third-grade reading

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/23/2014 02:40 PM CST*

Who: State Superintendent Janet Barresi

What: This is the first year that third-grade students scoring unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) and who do not qualify for an exemption will not be promoted to fourth grade. Supt. Barresi and other interested stakeholders will discuss the state’s good cause exemptions as well as the importance of the law.

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2014

Where: Blue Room, second floor of the State Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd.

As most of the state knows, 2014 is the first year in which third graders will be held back because of the results of a single test. For the past two years, school districts have been informing parents of this law and working to implement policies to deal with this reform. Tomorrow, Superintendent Janet Barresi will hold a press conference to discuss this. I wonder if she’ll take questions. In case she does, here are a few that I would like answered:

  1. Where do you get your information that 75% of all special education placements are a mistake?
  2. Why should a student on an IEP be retained, even when he/she has made gains under the classroom accommodations and modifications as prescribed in the student’s plan?
  3. Why should students still learning English be penalized just because they are still in the language acquisition process?
  4. Why did the SDE take so long to issue administrative rules for the six good cause exemptions?
  5. Is the SDE prepared for a spike in third grade retention similar to the one Florida saw the first year they had their law (from 2.8% to 13.5%)?
  6. In an election year?
  7. How will the OCCRA tests impact retention rates a year from now?
  8. Why has the SDE not ensured that each school district in the state has access to high quality, sustained professional development prior to this law taking effect?
  9. Do you really think promoting students to fourth grade in the middle of the year is a good idea?
  10. Has the SDE’s new $85,000/year researcher reviewed studies on the effects of third grade retention laws around the country?

I don’t have all the answers. Neither does Janet Barresi, however. I suspect the teachers who have spent their entire careers working with our youngest students know a lot more about what’s best for our students, though, and they don’t have a seat at the table.

What other questions should be asked? Add them in the comments below. And hold on tomorrow. This could get interesting.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part II)

January 25, 2014 4 comments

On Tuesday, I posted Part I, looking at specific language in HB 3398, which would create Education Savings Accounts – or vouchers, if you prefer – for qualifying students to take a portion of the state aid they generate to a private school.  Before I get deeper into this, I want to respond to a few of the comments that readers left me.

From Nicole Shobert:

Thank you! I had to turn off twitter last night. I was getting lost and confused and ready for bed. I do not like holding twitter conversations, although I am impressed that Rep Nelson sticks around. I think he has good intentions but gets his material from the wrong sources, like ALEC.
Great post. But I did not realize the per pupil was that low. I saw a figure from 2010 that I thought was 8000$. Hmm.
Ironically, my family qualifies for the 30% savings account. It could help us over that edge. Maybe if Barissi is re-elected…

Nicole had engaged the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson, in a lengthy conversation on Twitter over the weekend. Much of that conversation was the reason Part I was so lengthy. To answer her question, I looked up data from the 2011-12 school year. At that point, the average district was spending $7,648 per pupil. Of that, 47.6% was generated by state aid. This would come to about $3,640 per pupil. With the weighting that occurs for different student factors (grade, transportation, special education, gifted, etc.) will make the available amount vary a great deal for parents.

From Rob Miller:

You shine the light on some key points. (1) Most families in poverty will not have the capacity to “make up the difference;” (2) most will not be able to provide transportation; (3) private schools will not be held to same mandates or accountability; and (4) private schools can pick and choose their students. The more I read about programs like KIPP, the more upset I get. If we tried to treat students like they do, we would be sued.

I like Rob’s summary of my post, and I want to at least try to make these figures more concrete. Below is the table used for calculating free/reduced lunch in Oklahoma for the 2013-14 school year.

Federal Income Chart For 2013-14 School Year

Household Size




































Add for each additional family member




For the sake of this illustration, let’s apply these income levels to the legislation. The Voucher Bill states that a family at or below the income threshold would be eligible for 90% of the state aid generated for their student. A family with up to 1.5 times the income threshold would be eligible for 60%, and a family with up to 2.0 times the income would be eligible for 30%.

Applied Income Levels

Household Size


Yearly x 1.5

Yearly x 2.0

































Estimated Voucher per Child (with weights)




The typical Happy Days size family (four, in case you’re under 35), at or below the income cut-off, would have a hard time affording private school with this voucher – even with nearly 5k in state aid. The family in the next column could probably use the voucher and make up the difference. The family in the last column may or may not need the voucher to afford private school, but certainly wouldn’t turn it down if they were choosing a private school in the first place.

Let’s be perfectly honest about the first column, though. We know that poverty matters, but we also need to understand that the depth of poverty matters more. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, each with about 90% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, a great majority of the households don’t come anywhere close to approaching the cut-off.

If the authors of the bill are serious about the narrative that this helps poor kids escape schools that are failing them, they should probably do a little more math. While I contest the premise that a school’s letter grade tells you anything about its quality, I detest the thought that politicians might use them – combined with a voucher – to convince parents to send their children somewhere else.

Another fallacy of school choice, as Rob states in the third point, is that we honestly have no idea that parents using vouchers would be placing their students in better schools. When you think about it, we don’t know anything about private schools. We don’t know how their students perform, their teachers’ qualifications, attendance rates, disciplinary problems, or mobility. I don’t have a problem with that, if that’s what parents choose to do with their own money. Once we start using tax dollars in private schools, however, that all changes. I want to know the quality of the public investment. Everything we ask public schools to do in the name of accountability and transparency should be on the table for privates accepting vouchers.

From ropeok:

I look at this argument of ‘vouchers’ as a taxpayer issue. i am in no way against public schools. I believe public education to be part and parcel of our American heritage. Here’s where I have the beef; If I pay taxes to a public school that doesn’t work for my family, if I have money to burn, I put my kids in private school and don’t think twice about it. If I’m cash strapped, I’m stuck in the crummy school. I can home school, but only if our family can make it on one income. If I can’t, I’m stuck in the crummy school. Even then, say you are able to homeschool (as I now do all three of my kids still at home) – I’m not paying for a private school education, but I still have expenses; books, tutoring, online classes, activities, etc. Why should I pay twice? Granted, we pay sometimes 4x for things in taxes these days, but does that make it right? I’m not going to go out and willfully pay for something that isn’t going to benefit myself and/or my family, but I will be forced by the state to do just that. I don’t see how that isn’t criminal, frankly. If I went to someone’s house with a gun and told them they had to buy a car with a shot transmission, I wonder what would happen.

I am reluctant to use the terms private money and public money because essentially, all money the government collects is private money. It would be well for all public officials to remember this. That said, I still don’t get much from the argument that parents paying taxes and paying for private school (or homeschooling expenses) are paying twice. Depending on their income levels, they may actually be paying more than twice. At the other end of the scale, some of the families that the authors of HB 3398 most claim to want to help aren’t paying once even.

The taxes we pay do not equate to chits that we can cash in for various goods and services. My taxes have not bought x amount of military protection, y amount of drive time on the state’s roads, or z amount of protection from law enforcement. Taxes fund the public services that a government deems necessary. In this case, the state has determined that students must reach a certain set of standards to be educated in a way that will benefit society. Parents choosing other avenues for meeting those (or different) standards are currently on the hook for the costs. While I don’t always agree with the positions taken by those at ROPE, I enjoy Jenni White’s contributions to education conversations and her comments on my blog and social media accounts.

Less Reader Mail…More Part II

It was not my intent to spend the first 1,300 words of this post that way, but now that I have, I want to spend about 1,000 talking about why ALEC matters in this conversation. As you may recall, what prompted Tuesday’s marathon post was this Tweet from Rep. Nelson:

First, I should probably point out that Nelson doesn’t even use the Straw Man fallacy correctly. He’s thinking of a Red Herring – a person or thing introduced into an argument in an attempt to distract from relevant facts. A Straw Man is an intentional misrepresentation of another’s argument, usually through exaggeration or extrapolation.

Still, my reference to ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – in the discussion is neither Red nor Straw. Understanding the source of policy-making in Oklahoma is just as important as understanding the policy that is made.

Rob Miller has previously written about the connection between Oklahoma’s Voucher Bill and the model legislation presented by ALEC:

The entity I am referring to goes by the innocuous-sounding acronym ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. From their website, ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C., and defines itself as “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” It provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.

An integral part of ALEC’s influence comes from the creation of so-called model legislation. Legislators and policy makers from across the nation contribute through involvement in various task forces and summits. According to ALEC, each state legislator and their constituents then decide which solutions are best for them and their states. As ALEC Treasurer Rep. Linda Upmeyer (IA) has said, model policies are like “a file cabinet. If something can help my constituents, I can take what I need; and if it doesn’t help, I leave it alone.”

The 35 active members of ALEC in the Oklahoma Senate and House (all Republicans) go to this “file cabinet” quite often. Representatives Nelson and Newell may claim credit for this Education Savings Voucher legislation, but they clearly made extensive use of ALEC’s model legislation in drafting this bill.

What’s the harm in this? Governor Fallin copies executive orders from other states. Superintendent Barresi copies idea after idea from Florida (via Jeb Bush). An idea doesn’t have to be original to be good, right?

That’s why it’s important to get to know ALEC. From their website:

A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.

That all sounds harmless enough. Free markets. Liberty. Conservative. Nonpartisan. Each of these words, by their nature is loaded against its very own red herring. If you don’t agree with our positions, you’re a socialist liberal who wants to take away our rights. None of these words is a position of substance. Nor are their antitheses.

ALEC receives more than $7 million annually in contributions to help shape policy. Their donor list reads as a who’s who of the energy (Koch and ExxonMobil), pharmaceutical (Pfizer), insurance (State Farm), tobacco (Altria and Reynolds), and retail (WalMart) industries. Their agenda, in every policy domain, centers around one overarching principle. Clear the way so those we serve can make money.

Again, I have nothing against money, the people who make it, or the people who use it to exert extraordinary influence over our elected officials. Well, the first two of those things are true.

I do have a problem with the mentality that everything can be done better when left to private markets. We see time and time again that left to their own devices, big corporations will not take care of their consumers, employees, or surroundings. Yes, regulating the free market stunts it. Leaving it unregulated, however, leads to chemical spills, market collapses, and harmful side effects in our medication. There is a balance in the middle in which the economy can grow, and people and their surroundings can be safeguarded.

What should concern us most about ALEC and their education policy, however, is that this particular piece of legislation is but one page in their playbook. Rob has linked on his blog to ALEC’s Report Card on American Information and discussed how the reforms they have supported are the tip of the iceberg. Reading further into rest of the document shows a desire for complete privatization of education. Whether it be ALEC or one of the groups they support (such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, listed on page 120), every reform proposed is the extent to which they believe privatization can be achieved right now.

Perhaps this sounds like another great logical fallacy – the Slippery Slope. As I said, however, ALEC and their acolytes spell out the ideal support for public education: zero. The path to privatization is slow and deliberate. Manufacture a crisis in education. Develop flawed tests and use them to establish flawed ratings for schools and teachers. Leach students off of the “failing” schools and put them in private schools or for-profit charters (not locally-run charters, which have a much better track record than the charter chains). Have different rules for each set of schools, making it a lot harder for traditional public schools to succeed. Eventually (see Chicago and New Jersey). Be humane about it, though. Call it restructuring. Say you’re doing it to save money. All the while, continue draining resources from public schools and throw your hands up, claiming you’ve done everything possible to help them succeed. What ALEC wants is private, unregulated schools. And a piece of the pie for their puppet masters once the money comes free.

I’m not suggesting for a minute, by the way, that Nelson and the bill’s other sponsor, Tom Newell, want to eliminate public education. Nelson frequently mentions on Twitter that his own children are in public school and that he is very supportive of that school. I don’t doubt that if he felt differently, they would be somewhere else. Whatever Nelson and Newell’s motives are, we are wise to understand the role this particular reform would play in the ALEC master scheme.

I don’t believe this bill will help poor children. And for the middle class families with the means to take advantage of vouchers, I don’t believe the benefits are substantial. The truth is that we’ll never know. Any system that places our tax dollars behind a wall of secrecy and says, “Trust us,” deserves scrutiny and ultimate rejection.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part I)

January 21, 2014 14 comments

Since issuing a press release for the forthcoming school voucher bill, Rep. Jason Nelson has been all over Twitter engaging with various Oklahoma educators about it. While I often find his answers to be question-adjacent, and I usually disagree with him, he gets credit for being there and maintaining the conversation with critics.

One limitation of Twitter is that discourse is often stunted. I find 140 characters to be horribly inadequate. And then there’s the drive-by tweeting. I read an article this morning before leaving the house ant then shot off the following message…

…followed by this response from Nelson.

And then I didn’t have time to follow up. So I committed to writing this now gigantic blog post.

While I disagree with his assertion that I am somehow making a straw man argument, I do agree that the idea of his voucher plan should be discussed in terms of its merits and faults. Nicole Shobert held serve quite well with Nelson over the weekend in a lengthy Twitter exchange that unfortunately culminated with both of them accusing the other of changing the subject. Still as a fellow critic of vouchers, I do feel some of Nicole’s questions remain unanswered. That is true with some of the other conversations I saw today as well. So I will try to incorporate my concerns with those questions into my discussion of the voucher bill as well.

The first thing people need to do is read the text of proposed House Bill 3398 – it’s only 21 pages long, and most of that is double-spaced. If you’re responding to what you think is in it, rather than to what actually is, you probably serve neither side of the discussion well. Below is my summary of key points of the bill.


A. For a student who is determined to be an eligible student pursuant to subparagraph a of paragraph 7 of Section 3 of this act, the annual amount to be deposited to the education savings account for the student shall be as follows:

  1. If the total household annual income is equal to or less than the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to ninety percent (90%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year;
  2. If the total household annual income is greater than the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program but is less than one and one-half (1 1/2) times that amount, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to sixty percent (60%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year; and
  3. If the total household annual income is greater than one and one-half (1 1/2) times the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program but is less than two (2) times that amount, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to thirty percent (30%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year.

B. For a student who is determined to be an eligible student pursuant to subparagraph b of paragraph 7 of Section 3 of this act, the annual amount granted to the education savings account for the student shall be equal to thirty percent (30%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year.

Students will be means-tested for participation in the program. Any student taking a voucher will not receive the full state allocation. The remainder will cycle back into the funding formula, causing a slight increase to per-pupil funding amounts. The key word is slight.

Weighted state aid per pupil is $3,032 for the current school year. Keep in mind that different students carry different weights in the formula. Allocations are determined by WADM – Weighted Average Daily Membership. The SDE website has an updated WADM file for all districts (current as of last week). The last page of the file shows that the state has an ADM of 677,879.07 students but a WADM of 1,079,621.13 students. This means on average, that each student produces about 1.6 WADM. Run that through the formula, and we get an average of $4,851 in state aid per child.

Parents qualifying for and choosing a voucher would then receive something along the lines of $4,366 (90%), $2,911 (60%), or $1,455 (30%). Of course, given all the categories for which different weights are applied, those figures could be all over the place.

Not being familiar with private school costs, I did a little window shopping. Using the OSSAA classifications page as a guide, I selected the five largest private high schools in the state and compared tuition rates. I also selected two private schools from outside the OKC and Tulsa metro areas because I understand that there are some big differences among private schools.

School High School Tuition (not including fees)
Bishop Kelley $7,500 (+ $2,300 if non-Catholic)
Bishop McGuinness $8,350 (+ $3,350 if non-Catholic)
Mount St. Mary $7,800 (+ $1,500 if non-Catholic)
Victory Christian $6,058 (less for lower grades)
Metro Christian $9,265 (less for lower grades)
Oklahoma Bible Academy $5,600
Wesleyan Christian School $5,695 (less for lower grades)

I realize there are probably cheaper options in Oklahoma, that elementary costs will be lower as well, and that in some cases, schools will probably supplement the voucher amount with at least a little bit of need-based scholarship money. In many cases, though, even with a $4,400 chit from the state (I’m rounding for convenience), many students will not be able to attend private schools.

Acceptable Uses

a. tuition and fees to a participating private school, virtual school or virtual course-work provider, or eligible postsecondary institution,

b. purchasing, renting, or subscribing to a service that provides textbooks and other learning materials. Any funds from the sale of items purchased using the account funds shall be deposited into the account. Failure to deposit the proceeds may result in the removal of the student from the Program and forfeiture of the account balance,

c. educational therapies or services for the eligible student from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider, including licensed or accredited paraprofessionals or educational aides. The State Board of Education shall promulgate rules defining which therapies and services are eligible under the Program and setting the required qualifications for paraprofessionals and aides,

d. tutoring services. The Board shall promulgate rules setting the required qualifications for tutors. Tutors shall be registered with the State Department of Education. Account funds shall not be used for tutors who are related to the student within the second degree of consanguinity,

e. curriculum for a complete course of study for a particular content area or grade level, including any supplemental materials recommended by the curriculum,

f. services provided by a public school, including individual classes and extracurricular programs,

g. fees for a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, advanced placement examinations or any exams related to college or university admissions,

h. contributions to a Coverdell Savings Account established pursuant to 26 U.S.C., Section 530 for the benefit of the eligible student, except that money used for elementary or secondary education expenses shall be for expenses otherwise allowed by this act,

i. fees for management of the account by firms or institutions selected by the Treasurer, and

j. insurance or surety bond payments as required by the State Board of Education; and

The SDE gets to decide who can and who can’t tutor. And parents can pay fees to eligible management firms so they don’t have to handle the money themselves. I don’t like the sound of that. On the flip side, what isn’t allowed?

Unacceptable Uses

a. purchasing computer hardware, electronic equipment, assistive technological devices, or educational equipment or instruments. Nothing shall prohibit the renting of such items,

b. transportation of the student, and

c. consumable educational supplies including but not limited to paper, pens or markers.

In other words, parents can’t use their voucher for school supplies or transportation.


Participation of private schools in the Education Savings Account Program shall not expand the regulatory authority of the state or any school district to impose any additional regulation on private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce the requirements expressly set forth in the Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act.

Let me get this straight. You’re going to use state money in private schools, most of which have a religious affiliation, but the state can’t impose rules over things like testing, cost expenditures, standards, and the like? Every school in every district in the state has to code every dollar spent according to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. This bill will require parents to submit quarterly reports of expenditures. The private schools accepting the funds will not have to account to the state for where the dollars are spent. This is how Nelson answered Jason James’s question about when private schools will have to report how they used their state aid.

That’s a thinker. Without saying as much, we now know that none of the same rules will apply to private schools. Is it possible that if we did away with the overly burdensome legislative and regulatory requirements that plague public schools, many of the students (and staff) would be happier there? Take away the testing, the state textbook committee, the burdensome reports, the unfunded mandates, the ever-increasing graduation requirements that limit the access students have to electives…and we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

As long as the private schools maintain instruction in the four core subject areas, they will not have adhere to the state’s adopted standards. And just as parents have no evidence going in that they will be putting their children in a better school, the state will have no evidence on the back end that the students learned. Remember, we have absolutely no data showing how private schools perform. After vouchers, we still won’t. Superintendent Barresi has repeatedly stated that if it matters, we should measure it.

Nothing about how the money will be spent is transparent. Nothing in the bill requires accountability. Remember, these are cornerstones of the reform agenda – but only for public schools.


Anytime a politician proposes a new law, I ask myself three fundamental questions:

  1. Does the solution address an actual problem?
  2. Who benefits most from this law?
  3. What are the unintended consequences?

Regarding this bill, here are my answers:

  1. The bill stands on the twin premises that we have too many children in poverty and that the schools they attend are largely failing them. I agree with the first part and disagree with the second. Even if the second were true, I don’t believe this bill fixes either situation. Yes, more than 60% of Oklahoma’s school children are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Even with vouchers that will be true. We know that much of Oklahoma’s school-age population moves around frequently. And we know from first-level data and regression analysis that our A-F Report Cards are better at finding poverty than achievement.
  2. I can see marginal benefits for students in poverty, but greater benefits for those families barely capable of putting their children in private schools. A partial voucher might also be a tipping point for those families interested in private school but teetering on the edge as far as finances go. I also see tutoring mills winning big with this law – as long as they get approval from the state. Private schools themselves also stand to benefit. Many – as their public counterparts understand – teeter on the edge financially. This could really help private schools that are barely making it. It could also spur new private schools coming into business.
  3. Public schools and private schools have very different missions. Sure, there’s some overlap to the Venn Diagram; both try to educate children. Public schools accept all children, however, and private schools – like charters – get to pick and choose. Unlike charters, however, private schools have no accountability or transparency. Since most of the private schools in Oklahoma are faith-based, they wouldn’t accept the government interference anyway. The worst thing about vouchers is that they redistribute children – middle-class and the rung just below that – to schools that the poorest of the poor still won’t be able to access. That family living on what constitutes twice the threshold for free/reduced lunches might be able to use $1,455 to offset some tuition costs. Meanwhile, a family living well below that point might not have the ability to take the $4,400 and change anything.

Another time-tested Nelsonism is to ask anyone who dares to question him about money to give him an amount – How much is enough? The answer, of course is that it varies. We’ll never know how much is enough because the legislature will never provide it anyway.

There’s my case based on the merits of the bill. No, they’re not too much for me. I would never avoid a debate that is topical. As for your straw man argument… that’s another five page post for another day.


Full Academic Year – By the Numbers

January 20, 2014 7 comments

Recently, the Oklahoma State Department of Education announced that beginning immediately, for accountability purposes, the definition of Full Academic Year would be enrollment from Oct. 1 to the time of testing with no lapse of enrollment greater than 10 consecutive days of instruction. Out of curiosity, I reviewed the academic calendars or the five largest school districts in the state. Using what I found online (not adjusting for snow days), I calculated the number of school days between October 1 through the beginning of testing.


First Day of School

School Days Between Oct. 1 and April 10

Oklahoma City

August 6


Tulsa (traditional)

August 22


Tulsa (continuous)

Aug 8



August 16



August 20


Putnam City

August 19


The testing window listed on the SDE website is April 10 to May 2, 2014. However, the state writing test for fifth and eighth graders is February 26, 2014. That means students will have about five weeks less instructional time before taking those exams. (It is also important to note that the SDE is encouraging districts to give the third grade reading test early in the window to expedite scoring of those exams.)

This change in definition really doesn’t affect students. Wherever they go, they’ll test and get scores. The impact is on schools in terms of accountability. Specifically, it impacts the schools with high mobility rates. Those schools also tend to have high levels of poverty. Is it fair to punish a school for the score of a student who was only enrolled for 53 percent of the school year? Or best case scenario 67 percent?

I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t the school care about educating all of its students, even the ones who may only be there for a little while? ABSOLUTELY! Every student deserves the best we can offer – every minute of every day. But if we accept the premise that A-F grades are about accountability and the reality that the starting point matters, it isn’t realistic to think that 98 to 117 days is enough time for a receiving district to remedy every area in which a child may be short.

No, this change is about numbers. Adding more students means that schools will have more subgroups with enough students to count against them. And since we’re adding from the high mobility population, scores will go down.

Conversely, schools need 94 percent attendance to get the bonus points for that measure. We know that time matters. We just have selective ways of accounting for it.

Here Come the Vouchers

January 17, 2014 9 comments

National School Choice Week ™ started early in Oklahoma. Late this afternoon, the Oklahoma House of Representatives issued this press release:

Lawmakers Unveil Education Savings Account Act
1/17/2014 3:23:00 PM

State Rep. Jason Nelson
State Rep. Tom Newell
(405) 557-7335

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would provide education options to families across Oklahoma was unveiled today at a press conference at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Under House Bill 3398, by state Reps. Jason Nelson and Tom Newell, low-income public school students would be able to receive a portion of the state aid dedicated to their education and use it to expand their education options.

“This is an exciting and timely proposal that will help address one of our state’s most pressing and challenging problems – the effects of poverty on our families,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “Two thirds of the births of children in our state are paid for by Medicaid. More than 60 percent of the public school students in our state are eligible for free or reduced price lunches. Educators I’ve talked to say that students living in poverty present the greatest challenge in our education system. This bill would begin to help these children and help schools with one of their greatest challenges.”

“If you are a parent who has the means to pay for education alternatives, you have true freedom over how your child is educated,” said Newell, R-Seminole. “If you have a lower income, your options are more limited. This legislation is about expanding those options for low-income families.”

Under the legislation, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch under federal guidelines would be eligible to receive 90 percent of the funding they would have generated at their resident public school through the school funding formula. Students in families whose household income is up to 1.5 times the threshold for free or reduced price lunch will be eligible to receive 60 percent of the amount they would have generated through the formula. Students in families whose household income is between of 1.5 times to 2 times the threshold will be eligible to receive 30 percent of what would have been generated through the formula.

The education savings account money could be used for tutoring, virtual school, higher education courses and private schools, Nelson said.

“There is not a private school in every community,” Nelson said. “But there are alternative options to be found in every community.”

The president of a non-profit Oklahoma City school for impoverished and homeless children applauded the legislation.

Susan Agel, president of Positive Tomorrows, said the legislation could provide some funding for her students. Positive Tomorrows serves children who are homeless or in really difficult living situations.

“The Oklahoma City public school district estimates that there are about 2,000 homeless children in that school district,” Agel said. “There are a number of them that are really living in some difficult situations. Those are the children that we can do the most for. So far this year, we’ve turned away about 50 kids. We’ve done this because we have a lack of space in our building and because of staffing considerations.

“Every child that we take relieves some pressure on the burdened public school system who has to be all things to all children. We can take children who need some special care and we can take care of those kids and in the end we can save everybody a lot of money.”

Dr. Cris Carter, the superintendent of Oklahoma City Catholic Schools, said the Catholic Church has historically been an option for immigrants and the poor.

“We believe we have much to offer families who desire not only strong academics, but also a community rooted in a message of love and hope,” Carter said. “Representative Nelson’s previous legislation for special needs students has already begun to bear fruit. I have witnessed its impact most significantly at Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, our school for children with autism.”

Lauren Marshall, member of the National Board on Public School Options and Tulsa resident, said parents need options.

“There are not enough school options right now for parents,” Marshall said. “This legislation will expand those options and we are grateful for Representative Nelson’s work on behalf of parents.”

Pam Newby, executive director of Special Care, also spoke in support of the legislation.

“This bill is incredibly important to our families,” Newby said. “Most of our families are single parents with children who have respiratory issues, or learning disabilities, or autism. They desperately need an education plan that is not one-size-fits-all. Education should not be one-size-fits-all.”

Authors will use every tool at their disposal to convince the public that this is not a voucher program – it’s a Savings Account. See, it’s right there in the title?

Don’t be fooled by such a ridiculous semantic ploy. Vouchers take money from heavily regulated public schools and release them to unregulated private schools, which in turn do not face the stream of accountability measures so cherished by ALEC and the rest of the corporate reform movement. If this legislation passes and survives the inevitable legal challenges, the public will never know whether it was money well-spent.

Research is mixed on the outcome of vouchers in other states. Think tanks supporting vouchers have found that they make a huge impact. Under scrutiny, the methodology of those reports usually falls apart.

I also have a problem with the last line of the press release. The same people responsible for increasing the frequency and duration of standardized testing have no credibility making statements such as, “Education should not be one-size-fits-all.” It fails the logic test.

Ultimately this act would do a lot more for families in urban and suburban areas than it does for those in rural areas. As the authors mention, not every student lives in an area with a viable private school option. They offer up virtual school as a choice. Don’t buy it. The legislature already made that choice available to kids two years ago. Without any further legislation, any student in Oklahoma already has the option to attend school virtually.

Don’t be fooled by the label. This isn’t what they want you to think it is.

On Double Standards and Opt Outs

January 17, 2014 3 comments

As I mentioned Wednesday, Superintendent Barresi has made a very big deal about the fact that she has told the federal government that our kids have had too much testing. Rob Miller then pointed out last night that it’s such a big deal, she’s taken to bragging about it on her campaign website. It’s not just that, however. She also blames schools for the excessive testing:

Even though the state only requires one round of testing each year in the spring, many districts choose to add additional tests and benchmark exams throughout the school year, and parents have expressed concern about the number of tests their kids are required to take.

Technically that’s true. Benchmark testing is a strategy utilized by many school districts in order to plan remediation strategies throughout the school year. It’s even a component of the Other Academic Measures many schools have chosen as part of the new teacher evaluation system.

Benchmark testing is so prevalent, in fact, that it was the centerpiece of the settlement with CTB/McGraw-Hill last summer after they completely botched our state testing in the spring. To refresh your memory, here is a breakdown of what the state received for its troubles:

  • A cash settlement ($367,205)
  • Professional development for teachers to help them become more acquainted with the type of items that can be expected on new English language arts and math assessments and how to adjust instruction so students will be successful on these tests. ($13,000)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement in the second grade. ($678,400)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement for grades 3 through 11. ($6,600)
  • The commissioning of an independent study to evaluate the impact of the disruptions on student test scores. HUMRRO, Inc. has expertise in the area of analyzing testing disruptions. They will provide an independent opinion that is expected to be delivered in late August. ($48,000)
  • Prior to testing, CTB will conduct a technology readiness assessment of each Oklahoma School District to: ($125,000)
    • Capture specifications regarding bandwidth, number of workstations, server
      configuration, etc. at each school site
    • Identify a technology contact at each school district
    • Perform online stress tests at every site
    • Conduct training and deploy implementation services at all sites
    • Establish a technology forum to deliver regular communications to districts

In part, Barresi is blaming schools for the over-testing of students. Meanwhile, the SDE negotiated a package with the vendor that spends more than half of the settlement on benchmark testing – testing that a lot of districts aren’t even using.

You’ll also remember that last year, the SDE “investigated” brother-in-blogging Rob for the high number of opt-outs at his school. When schools decide not to play along with Barresi’s whims, it’s downright criminal! Then Diane Ravitch got involved, and we never heard anything else about the story.

Now we hear that some districts plan to skip the readiness assessment. As you can see above, it’s a miniscule chunk of the CTB settlement. I question why this is our burden at all. We’re paying the testing companies tens of millions of dollars. It shouldn’t require further disruptions of learning to ensure that their crap works.

The “stress test” story was somehow overlooked by the Oklahoman, but the Tulsa World covered it pretty well:

The notice states that the testing vendors will report the results to the Department of Education and that if districts don’t participate in the mandatory tests, the state Board of Education has the authority to withhold state funds and official recognition, including accreditation, plus “to revoke the certificates of persons failing or refusing to make such reports.”

Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr is president of the Tulsa County Superintendents Association and said he received phone calls from several of his counterparts who shared his reaction.

“It’s unbelievable that we have to submit our district to this expectation,” Burr said. “All computers that will be used in testing? We either have to take students away from instructional time or beg parents to volunteer to sit down and help us with the 400 to 500 computers that we will have to test.”

Education Department spokesman Phil Bacharach said the readiness tests are designed to prevent a repeat of last year, when malfunctions with online testing caused thousands of students’ tests to be invalidated in Oklahoma, which was one of several states reportedly affected by server crashes by online testing giant CTB McGraw-Hill.

“We want to do everything we can to avoid what happened last spring,” Bacharach said. “An inconvenience now would be better than an inconvenience down the road.”

Burr said he believes the burden for readiness tests should lie primarily with testing companies and that their tests could be accomplished by using a much smaller, representative sample of school computers.

“To use a threat to ensure our participation seems to be the typical tactic of this state Department of Education,” he said. “This isn’t the first threat we have received, and we will likely comply because of it. But why are we being asked to do the work of the vendors that are being paid in the neighborhood of $50 million?”

Tricia Pemberton, an education department spokeswoman, said the stern language was used to communicate “the gravity of the situation.”

“Certainly, we never anticipate it getting to the level of us holding somebody’s certification,” Pemberton said. “But we have heard from some districts that they don’t intend to participate. If not all districts get on at that time, it’s not a valid test of the capacity of the system.”

Bullies don’t like it when the little guy pushes back. This is why we love movies like Braveheart and A Christmas Story. That’s what Barresi has been up against lately. School districts are sick of the disrespect she has shown teachers and administrators from day one of her administration. They are sick of the double standards. She pushed Jenks, and they pushed back.

Her mouth says this:

Her actions tell a different story.

Testing: Relief, a New Definition, and a Threat

January 15, 2014 13 comments

School districts have received a lot of information about testing from the SDE this week. Talk about your mixed messages…


Superintendent Barresi this week made a big splash by eliminating the double testing requirement of middle school students who take math classes for high school credit. In the past, if a seventh or eighth grade student (and sixth grade in some cases) were to take Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II, he or she would still have to take the grade-level math test. It never made sense. For years, parents and schools have wanted this changed, and now, fortunately, it has been.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 14, 2013) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi today notified district school superintendents that middle school students testing in Algebra I, Algebra II or Geometry are no longer required to take the grade-level math assessment.

“This double testing has long been a requirement of the U.S. Department of Education, but it is unnecessary and not in the best interest of our students,” Barresi said.

Currently, students in seventh grade and eighth grade can take high school-level math courses. But students doing so are also being required to take seventh-grade or eighth-grade math and score proficient on these math exams, in addition to scoring proficient on the end-of-instruction test in Algebra I. Proficiency on the Algebra I end-of-instruction test is a graduation requirement of the Achieving Classroom Excellence law, enacted in 2005.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) requested a waiver from the double requirement in November 2013 but has yet to receive a response. The upcoming spring testing window, Barresi said, made it necessary for OSDE to do away with the double-testing requirement immediately.

The spring testing window starts April 10.

For accountability purposes, assessment results for the higher-level math classes will also count for a middle school’s A-F grade.

The one downside I see to this is that those schools will probably take a hit on their A-F Report Cards. We all know I’m not a huge fan anyway, but since these reports are the monkeybars on the education reform playground, even a difference of a couple of points can make a difference – not a real difference, but a perceived one.

New Definition

School districts also received notice this week that the SDE was making changes to the testing program. You can see the list below, but the key change comes in the first bullet. From this point forward, schools are required to count students who miss the first six weeks of school as Full Academic Year students. The definition of FAY has changed before. At one point, it had been defined as continuous enrollment for a full year – as in from the end of the last year’s test cycle. Then it changed to the beginning of the school year, which probably makes sense anyway. This change does not.

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/15/2014 05:17 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, District Test Coordinators, Principals, and District Technology Coordinators,

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is in the process of amending Oklahoma’s ESEA flexibility waiver. Some major changes to be implemented this year include the following:

  • The Definition of Full Academic Year (FAY) status has been changed to enrollment from Oct. 1 to the time of testing with no lapse of enrollment greater than 10 consecutive days of instruction
  • The AMO description has been updated to remove the growth components from the Math and Reading Performance Indicators
  • The accountability system for small schools (less than 10 tested students) is described
  • OMAAP exams are no longer being offered for first-time test takers and are thusly no longer included in accountability determinations
  • Students scoring 10% above pre-determined cut scores on alternate exams such as the ACT or SAT are eligible for exemption from the Algebra II, Geometry, English III, and U.S. History EOI exams
  • The minimum sample size for reporting student information (i.e., FERPA reports) is now 10 students

The ESEA addendum detailing these changes can be viewed at document and the associated appendices replaces [sic] the NCLB Accountability Workbook that was in place before Oklahoma’s request for ESEA Flexibility.

I have no idea what motivated this change. Maybe Oklahoma was counting too many students as NFAY to make the feds happy. In any case, this will disproportionately hurt schools with high mobility. Those tend to be the schools with the highest levels of poverty too. It is also important to note that changing the sample size will increase the volatility in reporting for schools with small populations of subgroups. With only 10 students in a group, one student’s performance can make a huge difference.

The Threat

Lastly, the SDE sent out an email late this afternoon, reminding school districts that they must participate in the so-called Stress Test for the testing companies. Immediately, the okeducationtruths inbox began receiving messages. People are none too happy. Please read all the way to the bottom of the message:

SDE: Participation in Statewide Online Readiness Test is Required

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 01/15/2014 03:45 PM CST

Statewide Online Readiness Test

The January 28, 2014, Statewide Online Readiness Test is designed to ensure that the online assessment of students will be both reliable and valid. This required test will verify that at each school testing site:

the correct Test Client is installed on all computers that will be used for testing;

the required Content Package is installed on all computers that will be used for CTB testing;

each computer meets the required technical specifications;

each computer can connect with and communicate to the vendor’s servers;

the school’s infrastructure is correctly configured and can support the full load of students who will be testing simultaneously;

the test content can be correctly displayed;  and

the testing client is fully operational on each computer.

This readiness test requires that on January 28th, all of the computers that will be used for assessment log into the testing site and “take” a practice test.  If the technology setup has been done correctly, each Readiness Test can be completed in about 30-45 minutes.  Schools can choose whether to have students take the practice test or have adults move from computer to computer to complete the readiness test.

Each assessment vendor will have a one hour window for their readiness tests on January 28, 2014.


9:00 to 10:00 a.m. CST – all middle schools and high schools will participate in the readiness test using the CTB test client and content (schools with students in grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12).

Measured Progress

10:00 to 11:00 a.m. CST – all schools serving middle school students (grades 6, 7, and 8) will also participate in the readiness test using the Measured Progress test client.

If your school day does not start at 9:00 a.m., you can choose to do CTB testing from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and Measured Progress from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Each computer that will be used for testing needs to complete the appropriate readiness test(s).

Our assessment vendors will report the number and type of devices that successfully complete the readiness test. We will use that information to certify that all of the required schools in each district have met the readiness requirements.

Participation in the Oklahoma Readiness Tests is considered a required report under 70 O.S. § 3-104, subsection (13). 

13. Have authority to require persons having administrative control of all school districts in Oklahoma to make such regular and special reports regarding the activities of the schools in said districts as the Board may deem needful for the proper exercise of its duties and functions. Such authority shall include the right of the State Board of Education to withhold all state funds under its control, to withhold official recognition, including accrediting, until such required reports have been filed and accepted in the office of said Board and to revoke the certificates of persons failing or refusing to make such reports;

In other words, if any of you schools out there (and I’m not pointing fingers at particular counties) decide that you don’t want to play with the testing companies on January 28th, the SDE may withhold your funding. I wouldn’t read that as an idle threat. I would read that as an actual threat.

Weren’t we just talking about character a couple of days ago? And now she’s already threatening schools.

Testing is a huge stress on schools. Because of space and computer limitations, classes often have to be displaced – sometimes for weeks at a time. Asking schools to do that – even for a brief window – on a random day in January, is a major imposition.

If someone were to choose non-compliance, any resulting loss of funds would be completely unacceptable.

Parents, teachers, legislators – oh, and voters – need to know this.

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