How Much (Propaganda) Is Too Much?
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.
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.
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
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.