Archive for July, 2014

About the HB 3399 Lawsuit

The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s summer conference (Vision 2020) is coming to Oklahoma City this week. If you’re going to be around anyway, you might want to drop by the Capitol for Tuesday’s hearing over the constitutionality of HB 3399 – the law overturning the Common Core – in front of the full Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Notice of Oral Argument

No. 112,974

Charles Edward Pack, II; Mara Novy;
Leonardo De Andrade; Elizabeth
Luecke; Nancy Kunsman; Heather
Sparks; Leo J. Baxter; Amy Anne
Ford; William F. Shdeed; and Daniel


State of Oklahoma; President Pro
Tempore of the House of
Representatives; Oklahoma State Department of Education,


Oral Presentation before a Referee is hereby stricken and oral argument before the Oklahoma Supreme Court is set for 10:00 am on July 15, 2014, in the Supreme Court Courtroom located on the 2nd floor of the State Capitol.

I try to follow closely what happens at the SDE (and by extension, with the State Board of Education), because it is directly relevant to the profession and the things I choose to include on this blog. To a lesser extent, I pay attention to Governor Fallin and the Legislature. Yes, their decisions impact education heavily, but they also work on many issues that are not germane to this blog. I have never followed the on goings of the state Supreme Court. Occasionally, I’ll read in the Tulsa World or Oklahoman that some act of legislative overreach has been overturned. Beyond that, I really just don’t have a read for the people who wear the robes.

The actual petition to the Court is only 17 (double-spaced) pages, and is a very quick read. The legalese is minimal, in case you’re turned off by that kind of thing. Below are the petitioners’ claims (pages 7-10  tell us about the petitioners).

Petitioners are parents, teachers, and members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education (the “Board”) who ask this Court to declare HB 3399 unconstitutional on two grounds. First, HB 3399 allows the Legislature to encroach on the authority granted to the Board in the Oklahoma Constitution – to supervise instruction in public schools – by giving the Legislature exclusive authority to rewrite and approve the State’s subject matter standards for instruction in public schools. Second, HB 3399 violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by allowing the Legislature to exert coercive influence over the Board, an Executive agency.

Essentially, nobody is arguing that the Legislature lacked the right to overturn the Common Core. The question is whether HB 3399 gave lawmakers additional powers and depleted the authority of the SBE to a degree that violates the state constitution. What makes all of this even messier is the fact that outside groups helped frame the lawsuit. Even more complicated is the impact of the loss of standards on the state waiver to provisions of No Child Left Behind. That itself is the subject of two breakout sessions at Vision 2020. Keep in mind that these outside interests don’t care about the constitutionality question. They’re interested in whether or not Oklahoma reinstates the Common Core.

I know from the last several months that even among the community of education activists in this state, the most divisive issue we discuss is the Common Core. Many of my blog’s readers are adamantly opposed to the standards. I am not. I have read them and worked with fellow educators on their implementation. I think they are appropriate for the students. I also don’t think they’re the defining issue in Oklahoma education.

That would be testing. Common Core testing is more complicated. It is more expensive. We are ill-equipped to look at whatever results the tests yield and assign meaning. Still, I think most of the collaboration and professional development that has taken place over the last four years in preparation for this transition has been positive and provided a focus on effective teaching. Regardless of what happens with the standards (Common Core, PASS, or otherwise), Oklahoma schools ultimately hire teachers to teach and build upon whatever knowledge and skills they have to improve the quality of instruction provided to students.

Once high-stakes tests are in the equation, however, everybody’s focus is on preparing students for those. It isn’t the state standards or what we’ve learned about best practice that guides us. It’s predicting and planning for the test. What standards will be tested? How will the testing company word the questions? What can we learn from previous or released testing items? What was the cut score last year? What supplemental test prep programs can we buy and convince ourselves to be the most effective?

I believe in having high standards – expectations for what students can do. I believe in accountability – some measure of learning that the public can understand. I just don’t like what all of this has done to the public education culture.

Since I became active blogging and through social media in 2012, I have met (virtually) countless individuals – both parents and educators – who are passionate about public schools. None of them agree on every single issue, but there are points in which a preponderance of connected activists have seemed to converge. The biggest one is testing. There’s too much of it. We assign too much meaning to it. We make critical decisions based on tests that give us questionable results. We cut meaningful programs because of it. Though the Court’s decision on the constitutionality questions relative to this lawsuit won’t change testing, we know that the stakes are high.

If the Court rules for the plaintiffs, HB 3399 would be gone. The 2014-15 standards for English/Language Arts and math would be the Common Core. Teachers who have been well-prepared for this transition would implement instruction based upon that planning. Teachers who are not, would get as close to it as they could while making every attempt at finding the training opportunities to get close to it.

On the other hand, if the Court rules for the defendants, all schools will revert to PASS for ELA and math. What I hear from many is that they will not take alignment to Common Core out of their instructional plans. Rather, they will look for the places where the two sets of standards are aligned, and rearrange any remaining content so that they don’t have instructional gaps. Teachers who were ready to flip the switch all the way over to Common Core next month will probably still use whatever methods they have learned in the last few years. The standards themselves do not determine the extent of a teacher’s professional repertoire. Keep in mind that in several districts students entering the third grade have only been taught under the Common Core.

Rob Miller effectively captured this struggle a couple of weeks ago.

I have already received some constructive feedback on my suggestion that we just readopt the 2010 PASS standards and move on. There are a significant number of educators who believe strongly that the common core standards were a significant improvement over PASS. My own teachers tell me the same thing. There is a lot of frustration over the quick repeal of standards for which we had spent three years developing curriculum and instruction.

I also recognize that there is not a chance in hell that we will go back to the 2010 PASS standards, even if Janet Barresi tells us to go there. Let’s face it—the ACT, SAT, and NAEP tests will all be aligned to common core standards. Whatever we eventually adopt in Oklahoma will have to be similar to common core to allow our students to be competitive on these national assessments. That’s just reality.

Every bit of that makes sense, and Rob didn’t even mention Advanced Placement (and Pre-AP) courses, the content of which often supersedes whatever the state standards are. The problem is the time we spend chasing success on our useless state assessments. That was true under the previous SDE administration. It’s true now. It’ll still be true in January when there’s a new sheriff in town. Hopefully, the new state superintendent will work with others in state government to change this. Above all else, that’s what I’m looking for.

This is why while I’m interested in what happens at the Supreme Court, I’m not going to lose any sleep over whatever the decision happens to be. When school starts in August, teachers throughout Oklahoma will teach what they think matters and do it to the best of their abilities. If we don’t have a determination on the state standards, oh well. At some point, the SDE will figure out what to do about testing. As soon as they do, we will get a new state superintendent. And a bunch of new legislators. And possibly a new governor.

Then it can change again.

They Come Bearing Gifts

If you’re headed to Oklahoma City next week for the third and final Vision 2020 Conference (whoever wins the election will probably rename it), you may have received an invitation to an open house being held off-site for a new statewide service entity, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. Before you succumb to their promises of help to your beleaguered school district, however, here’s a little background information.

Last September, if you’ll recall, the State Chamber of Commerce applied for a Walton Family Foundation grant. While the creation of the OPSRC is separate from that effort, it does involve a lot of the same people. At the time, here’s how the Chamber described the purpose of their application:

This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.

The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.

The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.

The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.

For more on the State Chamber’s ongoing educational pursuits, see this Tulsa World piece.

I’ve written multiple times about how being a non-profit is not the same as being a charity. Technically, ACT and The College Board are non-profits. So is Measured Progress – our state’s currently in-limbo testing company. Non-profit corporations make money – in some cases a lot of money – without having to pay taxes for it.

The OPSRC is trying to recruit members (they aim for charter school members and rural school districts) but they have recently sent invitations to every school superintendent to come visit them in their new offices during Vision2020 because they are the “most helpful educator support organization you never heard of.”

The application also said that the Chamber was looking for a “super star” from the national reform movement.  Again, though it’s a different organization, OPSRC’s “rock star” executive director is Brent Bushey, who arrived in Oklahoma last year. Aside from being a former Teach for America teacher, he has shallow experience in public education. (I know – I had you at TFA). A glance at his LinkedIn resume reveals a career mostly in IT. Actually, if you Google “Brent Bushey Walton Family Foundation,” the first hit is Damon Gardenhire’s LinkedIn profile. Seriously – it’s not even Bushey’s own LinkedIn page. How does that happen? I Googled myself last night (for fun) and the results were all about me (real me, not blogger me).

Gardenhire, if you’ll recall, used to work for Superintendent Barresi – first unofficially, then officially. When he left for the WFF, here were his comments about Oklahoma school administrators in an email acquired by the Tulsa World.

Just keep in mind that the local supts will keep doing this on every reform until choice is introduced into the system. Until then, they will continue to play these kinds of games. Only choice can be the fulcrum to make them truly responsive. A big part of why I took the Walton gig was because I see real promise for bringing positive pressure to bear that will help cause a tipping point with enough (superintendents) that the ugly voices like Keith Ballard will begin to be small and puny.

As the OPSRC website shows, the Walton Family Foundation is not the only funding source for our new friend in Oklahoma. If my information is correct though (and it usually is), WFF provides the vast majority of money for this venture. Having the involvement of other organizations gives the Center in-state credibility. Without Walton money, the Center would cease to exist. As a member of the tangled web, Bushey’s marching order this past legislative session was to get Senate Bill 573 (which would have opened up all school districts in Oklahoma for profiteering charters school companies) passed. It failed, but will surely resurface next year.

The real danger of OPSRC is they are currently recruiting members – mostly rural school districts. Their model is that charter schools and districts join them and receive services related to finance, legal, technology and communication. These, of course are services that districts already receive from a variety of other acronyms – groups that don’t aim to turn public schools into a revenue stream.  It’s what they previously have done in Arkansas – with strings attached.

The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing technical support and advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.

APSRC’s values reflect what the organization expects of itself through the services provided to members and the values of the charter schools and rural districts serving the students of Arkansas.

Members of APSRC sign a commitment to the following values:

  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Choice
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Quality
  • Sustainability

If you sign on with the OPSRC, you get the WWF. You get Gardenhire. You get the honor of working with people dedicated to silencing the “ugly voices” and selling school choice throughout Oklahoma. Choice sounds harmless enough, but it is code for vouchers and charters – and not the kind of charter schools we see in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, either. The Foundation, and by proxy, the Center, want to open the door for profiteering charter school companies to take over schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas. That’s always been the end game of the reform movement.

One other thing I want to add is that a group I treasure, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, published a guest post from Sarah Julian, the Director of Communications for the OPSRC, yesterday. What Julian wrote is consistent with OPI’s submission policies, but I want whatever overlap there is between my readers and theirs to fully understand what’s happening here. When someone offers you a smile and a piece of candy, it might be wise to get your Stranger Danger alerts ready.

Willfully entangling your school district with the OSPRC is more or less hopping into bed with the Walton Family Foundation – a group that wants to replace us all with charter schools (until robots become a viable option). It’s not paranoia if it’s true. If you want information about how to get charter school startup money from the WWF, visit their website. This is their priority. This is why they’re here.

Proceed with caution.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty invisible for the last two weeks. I decided to step away from the blog (and social media, to a large extent) after the election. After writing 35 posts in all during the month of June, I was exhausted. Apparently my readers were too. Nobody has been messaging or emailing me to ask where I’ve been. Since you didn’t ask, here are some of the ways I might have been spending my down time:

  • Driving around the state telling people to “go to hell
  • Trying to get an okeducationtruths booth in the Exhibitor Hall at Vision 2020 (with my own chocolate fountain)
  • Working part-time for CTB/McGraw-Hill making up my own rubric for writing tests
  • Helping top SDE staff prepare their résumés for January
  • Searching the Internet for crafty ideas of how I can use all my leftover Brian Kelly for State Superintendent yard signs
  • Taking dance lessons from Rob Miller

Please don’t take my blogging vacation to mean that I’m satisfied, however. If the tantrums (tantra? tantrii?) at the State Board of Education meeting two days after the election and the finger-wagging editorials from our friends at the Oklahoman are an indication of anything, our fight to improve respect for public education and dispel reformer myths is far from over.

At the SBE meeting on the 26th, Superintendent Barresi made it clear that she is not finished fighting. At regular intervals throughout the meeting, she commented on being fought at every turn by the education establishment and other defenders of the status quo. She still has taken no responsibility for the things she did poorly – namely leading and campaigning. The Board acted on a motion to end the state’s contract with CTB, which they would have been able to do last year as well. They tabled ending the testing contract with Measured Progress, however.

Interestingly, they also delayed approval of a plan to begin the standards-writing process to replace Common Core and PASS. As you probably know by now, four SBE members (appointed by Governor Fallin) are listed among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to have HB 3399 (signed by governor Fallin) declared unconstitutional. Apparently, because of this, we can’t move forward on standards or testing. If the State Supreme Court reinstates the Common Core, we get to keep Measured Progress. If they don’t, we have to issue a Request for Proposals and select a new testing company really quickly.

Now fast-forward to July 9th (while I skip several other frustrating things from the SBE meeting and the editorial pages) as the Oklahoman seemed to be still lamenting Barresi’s loss. At issue is the selection of Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer to lead the Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability.

Commission members recently announced that Sherry Labyer, school superintendent at Duncan, had been hired as their executive director. Labyer has been a vocal critic of education reform in Oklahoma, opposing many transparency and accountability measures.

Labyer cheered lawmakers when they overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a reading proficiency bill this year. Thanks to the override, schools can now socially promote third-grade students shown to be illiterate on multiple measurements over several months. Nearly one-third of third-graders in Labyer’s district weren’t reading at grade level. Labyer also opposed A-F grades for school sites. Of seven graded schools in her district, none got an A. Two received Bs, four got Cs and one got an F.

Perhaps most troubling is that Labyer criticized state officials for increasing cut scores on state tests. To pass the Biology I end-of-instruction test, high school students previously had to answer just 52 percent of questions correctly. That’s been raised to 70 percent, which is hardly unreasonable. Labyer’s objection to such minimal standards is worrisome: She will have a major role in setting future cut scores.

Let me see if I understand this. The Oklahoman is against Labyer because she cheered for something that practically every superintendent in Oklahoma wanted – parental involvement in 3rd grade retention decisions. The combined vote of that veto override was 124-19. It was a no brainer.

Labyer also has the audacity to find the state’s A-F Report Card system to be highly flawed. Again, this is the prevailing opinion of people who actually work in schools. Researchers (airquotes removed for emphasis) have proven empirically that both iterations for the system actually mislead the public.

As for the Biology cut scores, this was one of the biggest slaps in the face to Oklahoma educators in recent years. The SDE actually brought teachers together to set passing scores, then went against their recommendation, causing passing rates to plummet. Students who went home for the summer thinking they had done well on one of the tests that counts as a graduation requirement came back in the fall and found something altogether different.

As far as I’m concerned, this hire is just what the newly formed EQA needs – an educator leading an education agency. That’s pretty much what last month’s election was about, right?

Opposing bad ideas and their lousy implementation does not make someone a defender of the status quo. As I’ve written time and again, most education leaders want to see change and progress. They just want to see it on the student level rather than the sound-byte level that those currently in power prefer.

This is why we keep fighting.

%d bloggers like this: