Archive for April, 2014

Governor Fallin’s Temper Tantrum

April 29, 2014 6 comments

This afternoon, Governor Fallin announced that she was fed up with the Oklahoma Legislature – especially those yokels in the House. Maybe it was the fact that her pals at the Oklahoman called them out on Tuesday. Perhaps it was the overreach and triviality of some of the bills they’ve passed. It could have even been that three months into this legislative session, they still haven’t done anything about the @#% running down the walls of the Capitol like something out of a second-rate horror film. Here’s the best report I could find on it from the Claremore Daily Progress.

OKLAHOMA CITY — In what critics describe as an attempt at political manipulation, Gov. Mary Fallin took a swing at legislators Tuesday, announcing she would be rejecting their bills that were awaiting her signature until they tackle the state’s “major issues.”

By noon Tuesday, Fallin rejected 15 of 16 House bills awaiting her signature that she claimed didn’t have “substantial” benefits, are “redundant” or are “just bad policy.” At a press conference announcing her decision, she pledged the vetoes of House-proposed bills would continue until the House tackles issues that she believes are important to Oklahomans rather than special interest groups.

“Lawmakers continue to find ways to avoid passing meaningful legislation,” she said. “We cannot continue to ignore the big issues facing the state.”

Fallin said the House needs to pass legislation dealing with storm shelters at schools, set the budget for this coming year, look at funding Capitol improvements, fix the pension system and improve the health of Oklahomans.

“I’ve used my executive power, my executive authority to set aside ‘minor issues’ so that we can have more time to deal with major issues here at the Capitol and hopefully get the attention to get those things done,” she said.

Among the causalities of Fallin’s pen were bills that came from legislators across the state. They dealt with issues like expungements, regulating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, liquor industry regulations and a bill that she claims makes it easier to sell stolen watches.

“Gov. Fallin developed an aggressive agenda this session to move Oklahoma forward, however moving that agenda through the legislative process requires developing relationships with legislators across the state,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, in a statement.

He said legislators have passed an income tax cut, pension reform measures, and a ban on youth access to e-cigarettes, which were all part of the governor’s agenda.

“The members of this body are closest to the people and have listened to their constituencies on issues such as common core, school testing and bond proposals. We know there are serious issues left to resolve and the House intends to work every day, regardless of political rhetoric, to have a successful session for the people of Oklahoma,” he said.
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said he didn’t understand why the governor Tuesday vetoed two of his bills that he said were requested directly from her office.

He said one of the bills was designed to save tax dollars by allowing state agencies to better use their purchase card authority.

“The governor is essentially vetoing her own request bill,” Murphey said. “It makes no sense.”

I went to the Oklahoma Legislature Bill Tracker and found 17 bills that Fallin has vetoed in the last two days. I then imagined the letter that she sent our lawmakers, knowing full well that we’ll never know for sure just how accurate this is. After all, we could file an Open Records request, but she’d just claim executive privilege, or some such nonsense.

Dear Legislators,

This isn’t going to be easy to hear, but I’m not happy. For months now, I’ve told you what is important to me. Have you listened? Apparently not. You’ve passed bills over all of these frivolous issues like crime, state purchasing, liquor laws, and child support, but you’ve failed to touch the walls of the Capitol.

Fine, to be fair, nobody should touch the walls without a hazmat suit. We also have to finish the American Indian Cultural Center. We don’t want it to end up like that mansion along I-35 in Sanger, Texas that we all drive by and wonder about. Look it up. It’s a real thing!

And I don’t care how many signatures my general election opponent collected on his measure to fund storm shelters for schools. Why haven’t you done anything with my bill to allow districts to exceed their bonding capacity  and build their own shelters? Sure, there are about 100 districts with relatively little bonding capacity in the first place, but this is critical. I’m trying to win an election help the kids!

What about the pensions? We still have work to do to convince our voters that the defined benefit plans of teachers and other state workers are what’s making the state go broke. If we don’t do that, how can we possibly keep cutting taxes in a way that has no appreciable benefit to the middle class? How can I continue to justify the sweetheart horizontal drilling deal for our benefactors? If we don’t get this done, Jeb Bush will never come see me again! No more Koch and ALEC money for you until something changes!

Speaker Hickman, I know you feel that you’re passing laws that are what your constituents think they want, but don’t forget whose coattails you’re on now.  I know you think you can fool me by passing some of my minor agenda items too. None of that matters until I get a shiny new Capitol with walls you can safely lean against while you’re doing nothing for the people of Oklahoma. Sometimes I wish former Speaker Shannon would just quit his incessant campaigning and come back to the House and to the job we’re still paying him to do.

Keep this up, and I will confiscate your parking spaces. You’ll be parking at the Hodge Building. That place is practically a ghost town anyway.

Your humble servant,

The Honorable Governor Mary Fallin

Yeah, I’m sure it was pretty much like that:


Click the links below to see the full text of bills that have been vetoed.

HB1473 – State government; modifying provisions related to use of state purchasing card; effective date.

HB2461 – Crimes and punishments; requiring law enforcement officials to execute certain certification requests; requiring written notification of denial; effective date

HB2539 – Crimes and punishments; clarifying certain provision; effective date

HB2609 – Criminal procedure; expungement of criminal records; modifying certain qualifications; effective date

HB2627 – Intoxicating liquors; modifying prohibited employment by ABLE Commission personnel; effective date

HB2607 – Crimes and punishments; making certain acts unlawful; effective date

HB2832 – Revenue and taxation; directing the Oklahoma Tax Commission to issue a separate exemption card to certain persons authorized to make purchases on behalf of an eligible veteran; effective date

HB2976 – Public health and safety; requiring hospitals to provide parents of newborn infants certain educational information; effective date

HB3000 – Civil procedure; requiring mediator disclose if party participated in mediation in certain cases; effective date

HB3001 – Child support; suspending support payments after certain time if parent prevents visitation or hides child; effective date

HB3026 – Relating to the Job Training Partnership Act; deleting language relating to the State Council on Vocational Education; effective date; emergency

HB3027 – Education; repealing section of the Student Tracking and Reporting (STAR) Pilot Program; effective date; emergency

HB3052 – Public finance; Division of Central Accounting and Reporting; duties; effective date; emergency

HB3158 – Motor vehicles; authorizing submission of notarized affidavit for certain purposes; effective date

HB3358 – Contracts; repealing provisions related to sales of secondhand watches; effective date

HB3367 – Crimes and punishments; expanding scope of state preemption to include knives; effective date

HB3457 – Counties; modifying powers of county commissioners; effective date

How Much (Propaganda) Is Too Much?

April 29, 2014 5 comments

Last Thursday, Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) expressed frustration over the fact that the Oklahoma State Department of Education spent more than $33,000 to print 2,000 copies of its annual report.

Anderson expresses disbelief over cost of Education Department reportPatrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.

According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.

“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”

Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.

Fortunately for us, the SDE did issue the report in electronic format as well. Allow me to be your tour guide.

Page 3: Superintendent Barresi’s inspirational message

In taking bold steps to move past a lagging status quo, Oklahoma is opening the door wider for our young people to enjoy a future of opportunity, prosperity and productivity. There have been some recent positive reports. Oklahoma ranks second in the percentage of 4-year-olds attending public schools in “The State of Preschool Yearbook 2012” from the National Institute for Early Education Research. According to the American Legislative Council’s “Report Card on American Education,” Oklahoma has the second-lowest achievement gap in the nation between poor and non-poor students.

It’s a good start – listing two things we’re doing well as a state. But that doesn’t last long.

Page 7: Reading Sufficiency

Reading is the foundation on which all other learning rests and is the gateway to a child’s educational and life-long success. As educators, if we fail to prepare children to read, we fail children. By the third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. If a child is not reading on grade level when entering the fourth grade, he or she will quickly fall behind in all other core subjects. Research shows that children who advance to the fourth grade reading behind grade level are at a greater risk of dropping out of school and living a life of government dependency.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend another four years listening to Janet Barresi telling us we’ve failed children. Every time she trots out her cliché about reading to learn and cites research, I want to shout at the top of my lungs all the other things that decades of research tells us are linked. For example, poverty has  a strong connection to hunger, absenteeism, discipline problems, starting school at a deficit, dropping out of school, and many other things. Essentially, when she says that reading level correlates to dropout rates, she’s skipping over the fact that both correlate to income level. Yes, it’s our job to try to overcome poverty and help all kids. The fact that in spite of all efforts, some students still struggle doesn’t mean we aren’t doing our jobs.

Nor does it mean we should attach the social stigma of forced retention to them based on a test that really isn’t a reading diagnostic instrument in the first place.

Page 12: College and Career Readiness

This one is so fun I’ll keep the original formatting (to the extent that WordPress will permit).

College and Career ReadinessThe goal of education is to produce young people who graduate from high school fully prepared for college, career training or the workforce. The OSDE utilizes several strategies to help teachers and schools prepare our children to be college and career ready.

Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS)

A crucial step in preparing children for life is to be sure to ready them with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for college coursework and today’s jobs. Oklahoma’s Academic Standards are a framework of rigorous educational expectations that indicate what children should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Local school districts and classroom teachers use the standards as a guide when designing their own curriculum and purchasing textbooks. The Oklahoma Academic Standards were developed for Oklahoma children with input from Oklahoma teachers.

The standards were not written or funded by the federal

government. Oklahoma educators and content specialists

participated in the writing, review and feedback process of all the

Oklahoma Academic Standards.

I agree with the first sentence. I think we all do. When our children graduate from high school, they need to be prepared to enter the next phase of their lives. The last part is complete hogwash, however. Federal grants have been instrumental both in state adoption of the Common Core and the transition to eventual testing over the Common Core. Oklahoma’s math and language arts standards are the Common Core – period. Oklahoma teachers had no input in their development. Oklahoma’s science standards, which are largely derivative of the Next Generation Science Standards, are closely aligned to the Common Core as well.

The graphic below makes the case that nobody tells Oklahoma what to do even more emphatically.

AASee, we’ve adopted or re-appropriated federal national standards in order to give schools more local control! Anyone who can’t see that is being deliberately difficult.

Page 8: Our ongoing obsession with Florida


As one reader pointed out on Facebook, they do some funny things with these graphs. One is that the highlight the top of the scale, making differences seem larger. They also treat the yearly spans at the bottom as the same intervals. The span from 1994 to 1998 (4 years) looks the same as the span from 2002 to 2003 (1 year). Most importantly, they provide us with no context for these scores.

Page 10: RSA Appropriations:


Here, the authors can’t decide what time period is important. The title mentions student performance from 2009 forward. The subheading discusses the 17 years of funding and $80 million spent on RSA prior to the third grade retention law. The next heading looks at current and proposed appropriations. If the message is that the loads of money spent over the first 17 years of RSA did no good, so we should pump more money into it now that we have kids scared out of their pants, I think they’re close to making the case. However, no one from the SDE is talking about the gains that have been made in those seventeen years. They just throw out NAEP scores.

Pages 23 and 25: Conflicting messages about Oklahoma technology awesomeness



On one hand, we rank 13th in the nation for technology use. On the other hand, only nine percent of schools have good enough connection speed. This is a problem, as the accompanying narrative discusses, because, “For Oklahoma schools to effectively utilize digital learning and administer online tests efficiently, everyone must work together to find the financial resources school districts require.” We’ve gone from learning to read to reading to learn to learning to use technology to using technology to test (or else). Hopefully, whoever wrote this has a bigger vision for technology than merely testing.

Page 35: Accountability

FFFor those of you who like to jack-o-lantern your apples, this is the section for you. Just remember, as soon as you cut into your fruit, it rapidly begins decomposing.

Page 38: A-F Breakdown


This has always been one of my biggest problems with the report cards. If you simply looked at these three bubbles, you’d think that Oklahoma’s high schools were twice as impressive as Oklahoma’s elementary schools. The deck is stacked in their favor. Spend some meaningful time (not 30 minutes for a photo-op) in an elementary school and tell me how hard you see people working. Tell me you’re not impressed with the planning, collaboration, and innovation that happens in our middle schools. If accountability is dependent upon grade span, it’s meaningless.

Page 55: Charter schools


This graphic shows what I’ve said for two years. While charters have their purpose, they are not the broad spectrum antibiotic that we need to deploy to fix all that ails Oklahoma’s schools. Where they’re high, they’re high. Where they’re not…well, it’s probably a grade span thing.

Page 59 (and beyond): Salaries and other funding information


The SDE acknowledges that our teachers are poorly paid. Still, showing a bar graph that doesn’t start at zero is a little disingenuous – though not as much as what comes next.


Starting the graph at $2 billion makes the gaps from year to year look larger. The notation that this represents a $348.7 million shortfall is instructive, but it fails to capture the cumulative effect of these cuts.


Again, by stubbing off these bar graphs, the SDE makes it look as if the number of administrators is rapidly growing while the number of districts is rapidly declining. With the added administrative burden born of state and federal over-regulation, districts have added administrators. As the stunted bar graph below shows, even with a reduced number of districts, there is an increased number of campuses. This is a result of growing enrollment (which is not represented anywhere graphically in this tome).


I know it was a bit out of order, and I’ve skipped some parts, but I’m about at capacity for BS right now. If you have additional questions, or you’d like to order your own, by all means, call the help desk. It’s about the only desk that answers the phone.


Maybe they can tell send you your own copy. If nothing else, maybe they can tell you if they think printing these was worth what a beginning teacher makes.

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A Week’s Worth of Hollow Apologies

April 27, 2014 Comments off

Last week, we saw two huge testing issues that resulted outrage from Oklahoma parents and teachers. First, on Monday, the CTB testing system malfunctioned, kicking more than 8,000 students offline. Second, the superintendent of Moyers Public Schools took to Facebook to vent over the decision of someone at the SDE to deny an exemption to two students who had just lost their parents in a car accident.

Both events resulted in explanations and apologies. In neither case did Superintendent Barresi herself apologize. She was sorry the malfunction happened. She was sorry if someone misunderstood the denial of the exemption. Her message was clear, though: she was not holding herself accountable. Rob Miller cited Timbaland to show his lack of enthusiasm.

I went with Chris Farley.

She just keeps saying the wrong thing. Take this article from the Tulsa World. Barresi, and several State Board of Education members, made curious statements deflecting any blame from themselves. General Baxter described the CTB interruption as “an act of God.”  Barresi wondered if the whole testing industry was “overpromising and underdelivering.” Meanwhile, SBE member Amy Ford that these events would give people like Rob and me too much material.

I found that one particularly amusing,since Ford scolded me on Twitter a few weeks ago for making a reference to .38 Special (the band).

What Barresi and those around her fail to realize is that she is pretty much handcuffed to testing at this point. Everything that is important to her relies on testing. While the Common Core had been adopted before she took office, it was her choice to get us into the PARCC testing consortium. It was also her choice to get us out. Her calling cards are the A-F Report Cards and the third grade retention law. All angst over those are direct critiques of her leadership.

If an “honest misunderstanding” led to someone at the SDE denying the Moyers exemptions, then someone was making decisions with a clear grasp of the marching orders. Barresi has created a climate that leads some of the more well-intentioned staff at the SDE to make decisions that the rest of us find unbelievable. Even though Barresi eventually relented after being bombarded on social media, this is but one request to exempt students that has been denied. The others, without having anyone to carry their flag publicly, will likely not be reviewed by the SDE.

Barresi was also quick to blame the feds for their intractable testing rules. Keep in mind, however, that it was her administration that wrote our NCLB waiver. Those are the rules under which we operate for testing.

Barresi and her staff hand-picked CTB to be Oklahoma’s testing vendor. Last year, when all hell broke loose, she chose not to fire them. Last Monday, she indicated she would. By Thursday, she said she would speak with the state attorney general to see if that was possible. She’s making this up as she goes along.

Still, she won’t place any of the blame on herself.

Our students, teachers, parents, and communities deserve better. The outrage isn’t going away. It’s just steamrolling all the way to June 24th.

From a (Republican) Reader’s Perspective

April 27, 2014 7 comments

One long-time follower of this blog wrote me last week to explain why he/she finds Janet Barresi unacceptable as a member of the Republican Party.

RINO or HYPOcrisy

Before I get going on this blog, I think it would be prudent to give some background information. I am a Republican. Yes, I am a Republican because I was 18 when the greatest President of modern times was President: Ronald Reagan. So there you go, I am a Reagan Republican. I am a Reagan Republican because the Gipper believed in limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, family values, and standing for liberty and freedom.  One of my favorite Reagan quotes is “that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts”. Why did I tell you about my personal political philosophy? Simply put, as a card carrying conservative Republican, I’m tired of being called a liberal by someone who is more liberal than me!

I believe our current State Supt of Public Instruction is a RINO who is crying “wolf” in order to convince the voters that she is in fact a conservative. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term RINO, it stands for Republican In Name Only.  Here is why I believe the RINO tag fits:

Barresi constantly and continuously disagrees with the Republican platform. The National and Oklahoma Republican platform vehemently opposes Common Core. Barresi not only served on the Common Core testing consortium, but she has publicly stated many, many times how she is in favor of the Common Core standards.

Her chief of staff is the former lobbyist of OEA, the group Barresi constantly refers to as the Liberal Union. I guess this makes her chief of staff one of those “Liberal Union Bosses” Barresi likes to talk about.  I personally know her chief of staff. He is a good guy with a bad job. But still, would a true conservative candidate be advised by a former employee of the group they see as the epicenter of everything wrong with government?

Barresi constantly advocates for the increase of Federal and State control while working feverishly to limit local control! This is the complete opposite of a conservative value. The Tulsa World reported a story about how Barresi called the US Dept. of Education to ask for their help to keep Common Core State Standards from being repealed in Oklahoma. Barresi is currently opposing a bill that would eliminate the over testing of our children. Barresi is currently opposing a bill that would allow parents a vital voice in the academic decisions of children. Barresi is currently supporting a bill that would eliminate a local community’s ability to decide on charter schools in favor of a statewide board ran by our government to make these decisions. You tell me, would any true conservative be pro government expansion and anti local control and anti individual rights?

Barresi strongly supports sending more and more of your tax dollars to out of state vendors; especially testing vendors. Barresi sits as the chairwoman of the board and directs $13.4 million dollars of taxpayer money to Indiana, so they can force children as young as 8 years old into taking high stakes tests. Reagan said it was the job of the government to get out of the individual’s way, so they can become whatever God has intended for them to be. Well, JB is sending your tax dollars to Indiana, so the government can tell you want your child should be when they grow up!

There are more than 20 Republican legislators who are on record as actively advocating for her primary opponent in the upcoming election. If 20 conservative Republican legislators are willing to publicly state they do not want work with you, how can you call yourself a conservative?

Barresi is a member of Jeb Bush’s inner circle. Jeb might be the most non conservative Republican in the party!

Barresi tells people what they want to hear.  At a campaign event in Tulsa Barresi spoke highly of Common Core and spoke eloquently about its benefits for our state. 4 days later in OKC she spoke at the OK GOP Rally saying she was happy to inform the US Dept. of Education “that Common Core is dead in Oklahoma”. TW Shannon is against the federal intrusion of Common Core. James Lankford is against the federal intrusion of Common Core. Just about every conservative I know is not in favor of the federal intrusion into our children’s classrooms. So why is Barresi for it one minute and against it the next? Doesn’t sound like the personal responsibility Reagan called for.

Barresi has donated more than $4000.00 to Democratic political candidates. You can check out the OK ethics commission and see where Barresi has donated money on more than one occasion to Sandy Garrett’s campaign. So Barresi helped get Garrett elected and now she wants to blame Garrett for not getting things done in Oklahoma public education?

So we have a person running for statewide office in Oklahoma, the reddest of red states. In Oklahoma we love our personal freedoms, our limited government, our strong family values, and to keep as much of our hard earned money as possible. So how is it a candidate who wants to take away local control from its citizens, wants to expand the role of government in the lives of children, wants the government to decide the fate of 8 year olds, wants to throw away millions of your tax dollars on testing companies that fail year after year, who is advised by the very people she calls liberals, and who gets her marching orders from Florida and the Jeb Bush Coalition have the audacity to claim to be a conservative? I don’t think Barresi is. Instead of listening to herwords, why don’t we start holding Barresi accountable for what she does? Actions speak louder than words, and her actions are not that of a conservative.

I decided to include the post by the reader – not because I agree with every word of it (I happen to think Reagan would be an uncomfortable moderate in today’s Republican Party), but because I think this represents the point-of-view of many members of the Republican Party who plan to vote against Barresi in the primary.

On the other hand, I have always seen the office of State Superintendent through a non-partisan lens. I look at the governor, attorney general, legislative, and congressional races with an eye to several issues – one of which is education. This election is not about party for me, but if it is for you, please consider whether the words above reflect your frustrations as well.

Okeducationtruths Turns Two!

April 25, 2014 7 comments

On April 25, 2012, when I made my first post on this blog, I had no idea that I’d find this to be such an effective form of catharsis. I had no idea I’d get to be a part of so many compelling conversations about public education. Here are a few numbers that blow my mind:

  • This is my 413th post.
  • 2,029 people follow the blog’s Twitter account.
  • 1,920 people follow the blog’s Facebook page.
  • 294 people receive each new post in their email.
  • 44 WordPress followers receive each new post in their WP Reader.
  • 55 posts have more than 1,000 page views on the WordPress site.
  • One of the most important posts, Education Blogs I Follow, has more than 1,500 page views.
  • Since day one, the blog has received more than 286,000 total page views.
  • Zero personal gain for me.

When I made the first post, I had no plan for the second. The first time I had something get 50 page views, I thought this blog was big time. Now, I have a different idea of what constitutes success. As with measuring student achievement, it’s more than numbers.

Many of the other bloggers who write about education in Oklahoma have told me they do what they do because of me. That’s probably what makes me proudest as a blogger. I certainly am a product of my influences, and if this little adventure helps others find their voice, I’m more than happy for them – and for all of us. Collectively, we’ve raised awareness to educators, parents, and community members about the policy disasters that plague us. Just last night, we (at least temporarily) stopped the expansion of charter schools to the entire state.

The one little thing that still causes some readers to take this blog with a grain of salt is my anonymity. In fact, back in February when I wrote to all the members of the House and Senate education committees in my blogger persona, I had a total of four responses. One of them was quite pointed:

I appreciate the reply. However, you’re anonymity causes me grave concern… …I have read many of your posts and found some of them to be very a chat [sic] and some to be remarkably in error.

I’m not sure which posts he thought were in error. Maybe this legislator meant that I don’t hold to his opinions and allegiances. And he’s not my only detractor. I typically let the comments people make to the blog stand on their own, even when they’re critical of me. I have deleted a few really inflammatory ones, and I’ll continue to do that. My blog, my rules. And yes, I still plan to write anonymously. I enjoy the separation of my professional self and my activist voice. There may be a time when that changes, but it’s not coming soon.

To this point, I’ve been learning to crawl, walk, and talk. I’m sure it’s been adorable to watch. Now that I’m entering my terrible twos – and since it’s an election year – don’t expect me to behave any better. As hard as we’ve fought, the legislature is still intent of cutting taxes and teeters weekly with outsourcing control of our schools to privateers. The governor has shown no interest in funding education adequately. Barresi still holds office. We have much left to work for.

As always, I appreciate you coming by and checking this site out. I hope you’ll be back soon. And if you haven’t yet, tell your friends to check out this and other great blogs in this state. Too many people care about public education and the schools in their communities, and we need all hands on deck.

No on SB 573 (Charter School Expansion): Call Now!

April 23, 2014 1 comment

In 2010, when candidate Janet Barresi entered the Kingdom and spoke to the Protectors (I kid – because it’s easy), one comment struck me more than all others. She stated that it would be a happy day when all public schools performed so well that we wouldn’t need charter schools.

After taking office, she quickly worked with legislators to establish policies designed specifically to create lists of winners and losers. Specifically, the tandem of accountability systems of the A-F Report Cards and the No Child Left Behind waiver created dueling and convoluted scales that ensure a certain percentage of schools are always in need of improvement. In short, there is no world in which candidate Barresi’s vision could ever be achieved. The bureaucrats have ensured this.

For lovers of small government, any new law, agency, or procedure must clearly be matched to an unfulfilled need. This is the litmus test that SB 573 clearly fails and why every one of us who care about high-quality public education and the principles of local control need to remember as we contact our legislators. Email them tonight and call them in the morning. Ask them how much they want out-of-state charter school chains in their own communities.

I read Rep. Denney’s editorial today. I was unmoved. Show me the communities ringing the bell for this. Show me that we’re not just running another ALEC measure up the flagpole. Unfortunately, no such evidence exists.

I read all 48 pages of the engrossed bill. (I read a lot, but not much off my wish list lately.) My biggest concern is with the section that begins on page 13:

SECTION 6. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 3-132.6 of Title 70, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

A. The Commission may give priority to applicants that have demonstrated a record of operating at least one (1) school or similar program that demonstrates academic success and organizational viability and serves student populations similar to those the proposed school seeks to serve.

B. In assessing a program’s potential for quality replication, the Commission shall consider the following factors before approving a new site or distinct school:

1. Evidence of a strong and reliable record of academic success based primarily on student performance data as well as on other viable indicators, including financial and operational success;

2. A sound, detailed and well-supported growth plan;

3. Evidence of the ability to transfer successful practices to a potentially different context that includes reproducing critical cultural, organizational and instructional characteristics;

4. Any management organization involved in a potential replication is fully vetted and its academic, financial and operational records are found to be satisfactory;

5. Evidence the program seeking to be replicated has the capacity to do so successfully without diminishing or putting at risk its current operations; and

6. A financial structure that ensures that funds attributable to each district school within a network and required by law to be utilized by a school remain with and are used to benefit that

I’m all for replicating best practice. That’s why we have professional development. That’s why we have 60 REAC3H coaches, right? It’s why Jeb Bush and Mary Fallin visited KIPP in Oklahoma City, right? (By the way, when was the last time he was in a traditional public school?) The problem is that every community, every school, and even every classroom has something unique that limits the possibility of replication. Sometimes, what makes one setting great can’t transfer to another.

This is why so many of us rail against the standardization of everything in public education. When we remove the ability of schools and communities to thrive upon what makes them special, we do that even moreso to students. Since the passage of the ACE law, how many high schoolers have their choices of electives severely limited? We’re focused on making every child as college and career ready as the next – no more, no less. And this is wrong.

This bill does nothing to give schools academic flexibility. If a district wants to focus on agriculture or technology, nothing in existing statutes or regulations would keep them from developing coursework to do so. Over the last several years, we’ve even seen language immersion programs pop up in elementary schools around the state, in districts like Jenks (Mandarin) and Norman (French). School districts think outside the box when afforded the opportunity, and all of this comes without the corruption and intrusion of the Carpe Diems of the world.

Remember, the narrative is that we have failing schools and need to fix them at any cost. We have manufactured evidence to support that sketchy tale. With this legislation – and word is that Mary Fallin is lobbying hard for its passage – carpetbaggers who care more about their profits than our kids will have a foot in the door.

Email your legislators…right now. Remind them that even with a lottery in place, charter schools find ways to exclude children. Remind them that charter school performance trails overall public education performance. Warn them of what happens when states open the floodgates to charters everywhere. Call them in the morning. Don’t let them off the call without telling you how they plan to vote.

If need be, remind them you have a vote too.


You can find contact information for legislators here.

Doing What is Right (Goes Both Ways)

April 23, 2014 3 comments

I’m usually the first to criticize the State Department of Education (or Oklahoma policy makers in general)  for bad decisions. I did this morning in the piece about Moyers Public Schools.

Somebody at the SDE denied an exemption. It happened. And based on what I’m reading from other parents and educators, it’s happened before. That’s why I was happy to see the following response to the story today on Twitter.

This story has a good conclusion; eventually, the SDE did the right thing. It shouldn’t have taken a swarm of social media pressure, though.

And since I put the story out there this morning, I would have been remiss not to follow up with the outcome.

Doing What is Right

Yesterday, this post on the Moyers Public School Facebook page was the buzz of social media:

In my 25 years in education I have seen many changes. As a teacher, prinicipal and superintendent, I have always tried to make these changes adapt to our particular school in a way that follows the guidelines but also takes into consideration the individual child. This has worked relatively well as I feel that we follow state guidelines and our students’ needs are always considered. Personally, as an educator, I have always felt that too much emphasis has been placed on testing but if that is what is required by individuals more qualified than myself, then that is what we will do. However, with that being said, I find myself in a very difficult position. We have a family of students whose parents were both killed in a car accident this week. When our district test administrator called the State Department of Education to ask for an emergency exemption for these students, it was denied. This is not considered a reason for exemption by the SDE. The SDE believes these students should be tested and their scores be used to not only judge them but also used to evaluate their teachers and their school at a time in their life that is unimaginable to most. So as administrator of our district, I have made the decision to go against the SDE rules and exempt these students from taking their tests. This may or may not cause our school to receive an “F” on our school report card for not meeting our testing percentage but it is the only decision that best meets the needs of our students. As an educator and a human being with a reasonable amount of common sense, I don’t feel like any test these students take during this time would be valid in any way. Testing and its importance are quickly escalating out of control and our common sense appears to be going in the opposite direction.
Donna Dudley

As of this morning, that post has been shared more than 2,100 times. If you’re on Facebook, please consider sharing it. If you’ve shared it once, maybe you can comment on it again so it will cycle to the top of your news feed. Put it on Twitter. Add it to the other social media that I don’t even use (or understand).

What we have here is a superintendent who has put her neck out there to tell the story. She illustrates clearly how misguided the priorities of the people running ruining our education system really are. Maybe you can drop her a note and let her know you appreciate the fact that she’s doing the right thing for children.

And don’t ever doubt that our message is spreading. This isn’t just a resistance born of the old guard protecting what they think is theirs. This is parents. This is people who don’t have children in school. This is a wildfire, the likes of which Janet Barresi and her minions never imagined.

Too Little, Too Late, Too Much, Too Soon

April 22, 2014 3 comments

By now, you’ve probably heard about Oklahoma’s Second Annual Testing Debacle, brought to you by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the State Department of Education, and Janet4Kids. At 8:30 yesterday morning, the online testing system for grades 6-12 kicked about 8,000 students offline. The SDE and CTB made the decision – which probably was the only choice available – to shut the system down for the day. Needless to say, Superintendent Barresi was…well, what’s the word…

…frustrated. She was frustrated and angry. For those who found themselves able to watch her press conference live yesterday and/or were able to stomach it in taped form, you saw a visceral reaction to a dumbfounding occurrence. This should not have happened. It definitely should not have happened twice. For that reason alone, we have to hold yesterday’s events, and the reaction to them, to extra scrutiny. That includes this bulletin from the SDE sent around dinner time last night:

Barresi opposes renewal of contract with testing vendor
Some school districts will resume testing Tuesday
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) — In the wake of thousands of disruptions in online assessments today, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said she will recommend the State Board of Education not renew the contract of testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill for the next fiscal year.

Officials with CTB/McGraw-Hill held a conference call late this afternoon with Barresi and representatives of 11 districts, including Davis, Edmond, El Reno, Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City, Prague, Pryor, Sapulpa, Tulsa and Woodward. CTB indicated  a piece of hardware malfunctioned and caused intermittent disruptions. The situation had been remedied by early afternoon.

Districts are free to continue testing tomorrow or wait until Wednesday based on their specific needs. OSDE suspended testing Monday once the scope of the disruptions became apparent.

About 8,100 Oklahoma students in grades 6-12 experienced disruptions during online testing.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

About 11,000 students today were able to complete their assessments.

Third- through fifth-grade students taking assessments were not affected because those tests are pencil-and-paper.

These strong words remind me of how Barresi stood up to CTB last year. It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes from her:

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

That’s right. Three weeks after the disruption, she announced that she hadn’t been involved with the selection of the testing vendor at all. I concluded at the time that this represented either an act of malfeasance (doing her job poorly) or nonfeasance (failing to do her job at all). Below is my assessment of this year’s response.

Too Little

One of the things we learned yesterday is that the state can fine the testing company $15,000 per day, up to three percent of the total contract, when testing breaks. Since then, we’ve learned that CTB has given all districts the green light to resume testing. That’s a relief. I’d hate for the textbook/publishing conglomerate to feel any real disruption. I guess they’re just too big to fail hold accountable. CTB is getting $13.5 million in Oklahoma tax dollars this year. Their maximum fine is just north of $400,000. We won’t even approach that.

This should be instructive as we continue hiring and firing companies that fail us on test day. The punishments built into the contracts have to be significant enough to hurt. While contractually, we can’t do much more than this, we do still have one card left to play: field testing item tryouts.

At this point, continuing with the plan to have Oklahoma students take practice tests following the real tests (at least for CTB) is unreasonable. I’ve heard from way too many parents who want nothing to do with this process anyway. Pulling out of the CTB field tests (not Measured Progress – the new testing company that hasn’t disappointed us yet) would allow the SDE to show in way that words cannot how much they want to help us. We’re firing them anyway. Why put our students through this exercise just to give them extra data they can take to another state.

Too Late

Barresi said yesterday that last year, we couldn’t have fired CTB if we had wanted to. She cited the fact that we entered into a five year contract with them and the late date of the testing disruption. Here’s how the SDE announced their contract with CTB in December 2012:

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.

From the beginning, the SDE knew we could opt out each year. On the other hand, something about opting out gives them cold sweats. The timing wasn’t an issue either. Last year, the disruption happened April 29. This year, it was April 21. Those extra eight days don’t provide much cushion in the Request For Proposals process. CTB should have been fired last year. Instead, we had an initial response of outrage from Barresi, followed by her blaming schools for the disruption, and then eventually a milquetoast settlement. It’s the worst bastardization of Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief I have ever witnessed.

Too Much

Being late to the game of disappointment and frustration is one thing. Piling on by ensuring that the integrity of test results won’t be compromised is a slap in the face. It shows that Barresi just doesn’t get it. She can’t say enough that the pencil-paper tests of third through fifth grade students wasn’t affected. She makes it clear that disrupted students can pick up where they left off. The tests, however, are no longer valid. That doesn’t mean CTB will invalidate them, though.

Still, these tests will be used as high-stakes measures for students, teachers, schools, and districts. They will impact graduation plans, evaluations, spending for Title I schools placed on the needs improvement list, and property values of homeowners. Yesterday’s disruption is another illustration of how ludicrous it is to place so much emphasis on one test. These instruments tell us very little. They’re not even good at what they’re supposed to be, however. Even if all goes smoothly, we won’t have scores back in a timely manner and be able to do anything useful with them.

This is why I support any plan to reduce the amount of standardized testing we have in Oklahoma. I just don’t believe that reinforcing bad tests is the way to keep subjects like social studies from being marginalized. If we could get Congress to end No Child Left Behind, states like ours could have a real conversation about the purpose and utility of assessment. Until then, we continue to jump through hoops. This makes us compliant, not accountable.

Too Soon

In a span of seven hours yesterday – from the time of the press conference until the press release in the evening – Barresi flip-flopped on whether or not we could fire the testing company. I hesitate using that term on politicians because I expect reasonable people to be open-minded and open to change. Still, during the press conference, she was adamant that we could not have fired CTB last year. To change her mind that quickly means that she must have been presented with new evidence. I just wonder if that evidence came from her staff at the SDE or her campaign people.

Maybe the difference is that it happened twice. Maybe it’s that it happened in a campaign year. From throwing the new Assistant State Superintendent of Assessment into the fire on the tough questions (Welcome to Oklahoma!) during the presser, to the overuse of adjectives in speech and writing, her response reeks of desperation. I saw quick responses on social media from two of her opponents – Deskin and Hofmeister. I’m sure the other four had equally prompt reactions. Yes, yesterday’s events have to be a factor in the rest of the campaign (63 days until the primary).

If I’m those six opponents, I think I use this Pat Benetar classic in my campaign ads for a while.

Testing is Barresi’s calling card. It is the point of origin for every issue that matters to her. Testing is caring. A-F Report Cards. Third grade retention. Teacher evaluations. Value-added measurements. It is (0,0) on her axis. Any failure in testing damages the extent to which her few remaining supporters can honestly believe in her or her initiatives.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent, though. She has a self-financed campaign and millions to pump into it. She is buddies with Jeb Bush. At a moment’s notice, she could have his Foundation running the show, and probably shoring up some of the public relations damage.

If you’re an educator, keep letting the parents you see know how badly Barresi and the SDE are doing when they’re supposed to support education. If you’re a parent, tell other parents. Whoever you are, keep calling and writing your elected legislators. Sign the No On Barresi petition. Add your concerns to this survey of Oklahoma Education Voters. Do everything you can to help fire the person who didn’t fire the testing company last year.

Can You Believe This?

April 21, 2014 4 comments

Oh no. It’s happening again.

I don’t know what clairvoyant out there had 8:30 the morning of April 21st in the betting pool. If that sounds familiar, you may already be a winner! In case you missed it today, online testing through the state vendor – CTB/McGraw-Hill kicked everybody offline – AGAIN! Here’s the memo the SDE released around 11:00 this morning:

Oklahoma grades 6-8 and EOI testing disruptionOK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 04/21/2014 11:05 AM CDT

Oklahoma Grades 6-8 and EOI Tests Suspended for the Day

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

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

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

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

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

Districts were advised to allow students who were successfully testing to complete tests. Districts were asked to suspend online testing for all students who had not yet started assessments.

The system is designed to save student responses up to the point of disruption, so it may be possible for those students to successfully complete the test when the system is operational.

We currently are exploring permanent options for those students disruption.

We cannot re-elect the person who re-hired the testing company that allowed this to happen twice!

To refresh your memory, when CTB failed us last year, Superintendent Barresi issued a quick, terse response:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 30, 2013) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education experienced complications with online assessments for grades 6 through 12 throughout the school day on Monday and for the better part of Tuesday.Testing Company CTB/McGraw Hill reported problems with their servers while uploading student assessment results. Students were reportedly knocked off the system mid-assessment.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said, “This is completely unacceptable. We are outraged that our school districts are not able to administer assessments in a smooth and efficient manner. This is especially disruptive for the children who have worked hard all year and now have the opportunity to let us know what they have achieved. To be interrupted during testing is a very difficult and stressful environment for our children and educators.”

“We are working closely with the testing company to remedy the situation. Once that is done, we will have discussions about how to proceed with accommodations for the districts and how to proceed with CTB,” Barresi said.

If testing shows we care, then allowing this to happen twice shows how careless we are.

At 1:30 today, Superintendent Barresi held a press conference to discuss these problems in more detail. She threw the words unacceptable and outraged around quite a bit. She repeatedly mentioned that schools did everything that had been asked of them and that nobody was to blame for this other than CTB. She even took questions.

One of the first questions was about how much we pay these people. She didn’t have those numbers off hand, but she sent for them, and she gave the amounts before she finished.

That’s more than $13.5 million. As one smart aleck pointed out (ok, it was me), that would cover a $2,000 raise for every teacher in the state!

Another question was about the fact that Indiana started testing today. If you’ll recall, last year, Oklahoma and Indiana both had CTB meltdowns on the same day. Barresi said that should be a non-issue. We were promised by CTB that our tests would operate on completely different servers. Also, CTB this was a company-wide failure, rather than just a testing glitch.

Barresi was asked about penalties for CTB. By the terms of the contract, we can fine them $15,000 per day, up to a total of 3 percent of the total contract. If the disruption lasts a day or two, the fine is pretty miniscule. Meanwhile, what happens to the tests?

Barresi mentioned that she made CTB ensure that if we had kids kicked out again, the system would save their place. The problem is that we cease to have a standardized test at that point. Any delay of more than 20 minutes would result in invalidation anyway. Therefore, every student who started testing today and was interrupted would be in that situation.

Also, it makes me a little queasy to see that she’s assuring us this glitch didn’t impact 3rd grade testing. Maybe that’s a silver lining. On the other hand, how many schools adjusted their schedules, cancelled computer classes, and took the time of their patrons who volunteered for test monitoring today? How easy will it be to reschedule that?

Probably the most important question she had regarded the decision to retain CTB after last year’s debacle. She said there were two considerations. First, we had a five year contract with them. Second, we wouldn’t have had the time to select a new vendor, as late as the problems occurred. Both of these claims are patently false.

CTB failed us so badly last year, we would have been well within our rights to fire them. Instead, we bent over and said they had been punished. The damages paid by CTB included $678,000 in 2nd grade benchmarks that schools didn’t want.  It also included $125,000 for the technology readiness assessment that our schools nailed. Unfortunately, nobody was testing their readiness.

Beyond that, we would have had plenty of time to select a new vendor. Barresi blames the Request for Purchase process for not having enough time. That’s not true at all. Remember that time we had to negate the first contract with CTB due to “administrative challenges” in October and re-award it a couple of months later? Maybe we should have spent a little more time shopping around.

The truth is that Janet Barresi and the SDE had options. This failure is as much on them as it is on CTB, and it’s unacceptable. I’m furious and outraged too. I’ll close by posting what has probably been my most retweeted comment in all the time I’ve been using social media.

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