Home > Uncategorized > Yes, Mr. Nelson, it is a Big Deal!

Yes, Mr. Nelson, it is a Big Deal!

September 1, 2014

Thursday’s announcement that Oklahoma has lost its No Child Left Behind Waiver was a bombshell that we knew was coming, ever since Governor Fallin signed HB 3399 into law in June. On the day before Fallin signed the bill, the SDE made a presentation at the CCOSA conference explaining what would happen if we lost the waiver. Then in July, at the Vision 2020 conference, the SDE gave a more polished presentation explaining what would happen. Two pieces are most relevant to many Oklahoma schools.

First, under the provisions of the waiver, Oklahoma has not had to reach the unrealistic targets that go into effect this year, established by NCLB in 2001. Instead, accountability has been determined by our A-F Report Cards since 2012, as well as by obscure targets for three specific student populations (Hispanic, black, and special education). Without the waiver, our soon-to-be report cards mean even less than before. They are merely window dressing. They have no teeth.

Second, without the waiver, Oklahoma will go from having about 400 schools on the various improvement lists to about 1600 – although the SDE says they haven’t run the numbers yet. Because of the targets for every single sub-group of students, we will have many A and B schools on the needs improvement list. If those aren’t mixed signals, I don’t know what are. For the schools receiving Title I funds, this will likely limit how that money is spent, beginning with next year.

Rep. Jason Nelson, who authored HB 3399, was quick to understate the impact of losing the waiver.

 “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Nelson said. “I think the big deal is the fact that you’ve got the federal government trying to exert this kind of control. In terms of what practically is going to change here as a result of that, I think is not a big deal.”

“Not much is changing. There is no loss of money. They’re not even going to require the set-aside of the 20 percent of the Title 1 funds for use by parents to do tutoring. I really think it’s a non-event.”

Asked whether teachers would have to be laid off, Nelson said, “I have no reason to think that. There is no loss or set-aside of funds.”

He said despite the loss of the waiver, he thinks passage of the bill to end Common Core without having new academic standards to replace it was the right thing to do.

“Since education is uniquely a state issue, I think it’s in the best interest of the state to do what’s in the best interest of our education system without deferring to Secretary (Arne) Duncan. So from that perspective, I think we did the right thing.”

To those of us who work in those schools, it is quite a big deal. Eligibility for Title I services is determined by the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch. Depending on the depth of a school’s poverty and the size of the school, a Title I program might provide enough funds for more than one staff position. It also might barely fund one position. If we automatically hold 20 percent off the top, there will be schools that have to cut staff. Yes, Secretary Duncan delayed that requirement for a year, but it is a real possibility for 2015-16.

Our elected leaders may not realize this, but the Title I teachers in our schools are real teachers. They work with children. They may manage the Title I program for the school – including budgets, forms, and paperwork – but they also provide individual and small-group instruction for struggling students. The Title I budget provides instructional materials and gives schools funding for before and after school tutoring, as well as summer school. All of that will be jeopardized with the 20 percent set-aside.

In place of these things schools will lose will be only two allowable expenses. First is school choice – students will be able to choose a transfer to a school that actually made Adequate Yearly Progress under the old provisions of NCLB. Since the SDE only expects 10 percent of schools to make AYP, parents won’t have many options, if any. Second is the utilization of Supplemental Educational Services. There is little regulation of SESs. If an entity goes through the process to be on the state’s approved list of SES vendors, then parents can choose them. Schools have no say in this. And there is no accountability over the SESs for the results of their students. It’s a wild, wild, west of vendors.

More than likely schools will have to cut staff and set aside funds for nothing. If the money is used at all, based on prior experiences with SESs, it will be wasted. As usual, this will only impact high-poverty schools.

Nelson, to his credit, always engages his critics. His logic is often mind-boggling, but at least he shows up, as he did last night on Twitter for the weekly #oklaed chat. His purpose seemed to be to convince his audience that although losing the waiver isn’t that big of a deal, it represents HUGE federal overreach by Duncan and President Obama. His singular supporting evidence is Section 9401 of the ESEA – which specifically mentions waivers. In Nelson’s mind, since the statute does not specifically mention standards, the USDE had no right to revoke our waiver based on us dropping the Common Core in favor of standards that have not been certified as College & Career Ready.

Although the section does not mention specific requirements to adopt C&CR standards, the link to state standards is fairly clear.


(1) IN GENERAL- A State educational agency, local educational agency, or Indian tribe that desires a waiver shall submit a waiver request to the Secretary that —

(A) identifies the Federal programs affected by the requested waiver;

(B) describes which Federal statutory or regulatory requirements are to be waived and how the waiving of those requirements will —

(i) increase the quality of instruction for students; and

(ii) improve the academic achievement of students

While I’ve repeatedly said that teachers matter way more than standards do, the fact that Arne Duncan feels differently is no secret. Back in 2011, when we applied for our waiver, the USDE gave states two options for standards:

Option A Option B
The State has adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics that are common to a significant number of States, consistent with part (1) of the definition of college- and career-ready standards. The State has adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics that have been approved and certified by a State network of institutions of higher education (IHEs) consistent with part (2) of the definition of college- and career-ready standards.

This is pretty straight-forward. Option A gave us the option to adopt the Common Core, which we had already done in 2010. We were not lured into it by the waiver request. Option B gave us the option of going our own way, so long as the State Regents approved of the way we chose. Since we switched from A to B on a dime this summer, the Regents were pressed to certify that PASS – the standards we dumped in 2010 – were good enough that students meeting them would not require college remediation.

The May 2013 version of the State Regents Annual Student Assessment Report (the most recent version posted to their website), is a good place to look for information on how the state’s colleges and universities place students into remedial classes.

The purpose of entry-level assessment is to assist institutional faculty and advisors in making course placement decisions that will give students the best possible chance of academic success. Beginning in fall 1994, the State Regents implemented a required score of 19 on the ACT in the subject areas of English, mathematics, science, and reading as the “first-cut” for entry-level assessment. Students may also demonstrate curricular proficiency by means of an approved secondary assessment process. Students are enrolled in developmental courses after being unable to demonstrate proficiency in one or more subject areas. These courses are below college-level and are not applied toward degree requirements. A supplementary per credit hour fee is assessed to the student for these courses.

The easiest way to understand this is that students who score at least a 19 on each of the four sections of the ACT are clear of remedial courses. While each institution may have different requirements, it is also important to note that remediation is not the same across all subjects.


Over five years, the math remediation rate hovers between 30 and 40 percent. The reading remediation rate is close to 10 percent. (I guess we mastered that whole reading to learn thing even without third-grade retention!) This is really a math problem, not an overall preparedness problem.

Look at the chart again: what does the remediation rate really tell us about C&CR? Can you be ready for college and not major in math? Absolutely. Should we as a society value math more than we do? No doubt. Besides, this is just college. What metric does the state or the USDE use to measure career-readiness? Oh yeah, they don’t have one. Again, it’s not the standards that determine C&CR. It’s the teachers. And maybe the students. Let’s not forget the most important people in our schools.

Taking a slightly different approach, Rep. Josh Cockroft posted to his blog today his own thoughts on where losing the waiver leaves us. He starts by chastising us for choosing sides and blaming either the state or the feds for landing us in this predicament. He then blames the feds.

With the news this past week that the federal government denied the extension of Oklahoma’s Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) No Child Left Behind waiver, the finger pointing immediately began. Democrats like House Minority Leader Scott Inman blamed all Republicans for their “abysmal” record on issues in education like common core and education budgets which resulted in the federal decision. Republicans like Governor Mary Fallin blasted the federal government for “playing politics” with our children’s education. As with many decisions which are handed down from Washington, D.C., the lines of partisan politics have quickly been drawn. To my fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle, public servants, and educational organizations who have had these type of responses, I have a simple message: Stop it. We must stop playing politics with our future, because our children deserve better.

Instead of drawing lines between political parties, shouldn’t we be looking towards the best interests of the children who are affected by these decisions? Why don’t we start talking about the failing schools across Oklahoma and not just skip over the students being swept under the rug for an agenda’s sake? These aren’t policies we are talking about, they’re lives. They are our future. Perhaps if we took a step outside of political halls and into the classrooms of the real world we would start to see this reality. Unlike the perception which the analysts and political talking heads will have us believe, having a locally controlled education system with rigorous academic standards is possible. It begins with proper recognition of the role of government and the will of the people whom those in public service represent.

If anything, those who have sharply pointed fingers at each other across Oklahoma’s political landscape should instead direct blame towards a federal government which is grossly overstepping its bounds of responsibility. It is overtly apparent this decision comes as a political punishment for the repeal of common core this past spring by the Oklahoma legislature; something a massive majority of Oklahoma parents were pleading for. Allowing bureaucrats in Washington to dictate our educational landscape in Oklahoma is unacceptable whether you are Republican or Democrat. I believe in our parents, teachers, and administrators much more than career politicians in D.C.

Now these decisions are in the past and we must work towards a brighter future. The reality is that we have lost the waiver. That was today; what about tomorrow? Shouldn’t our failing schools and failing grades gain as much focus as political headlines? No matter what your feelings are on the A-F school grading system and what your individual school’s grade is, you have to be blind to not see room for improvement in our schools. Let’s focus on that.

To my Democratic colleagues: Using this decision to spread the fear of lost funds among lawmakers and teachers alike is misleading and dishonest. This decision doesn’t change anything for funding levels. The federal government did not even state that there would be the 20 percent of Title 1 funds set aside for tutoring by parents, forcing the state to lose flexibility as has been incorrectly rumored. Additionally, to demand additional support from the federal government is completely hypocritical to the cries coming from your caucus over the last four years for “more local control”. You can’t have it both ways.

To my Republican colleagues: The party of less government and conservative principles cannot pause in its fight to point out the proper roles of the federal, state, and local government. If you believe in less government, fight for it! Unfortunately, many within the Republican party today are not controlled by ideas, but by the desire to be in control. This is a posture which creates little motivation for bold change. The public is looking for bold change, not the hard-to-control desire for power in our system today. Not political winds, nor contributor’s dollars, should sway the truth one way or the other. Never apologize for doing what you believe to be right.

Rep. Cockroft, which definition of “failing schools” do you accept? Is it the narrative of the A-F Report Cards, or the reality of Oklahoma’s return to the policies of George W. Bush? I’m sorry you’re upset, but I blame both parties. And I blame both levels of government.

I agree that blame doesn’t move us forward, but you all know I can’t just let a false narrative guide public policy decisions. Nobody in power (Fallin, Barresi) hated the Common Core until popular opinion turned. Oklahoma willingly wrote our waiver application with pride in having adopted the standards. We knew that we had to meet all provisions of the waiver to keep it. We chose a different route.

For the next few months, we still have a state superintendent who will go on Flashpoint and claim that the valedictorian from a high school in Edmond would be a middle-of-the-pack student nationally. (This was right after Mike Turpin asked Barresi whether she lost the election because of the message or the messenger.) This claim is nonsense. I’m guessing that many of our high school valedictorians score more than 10 points above the national average of 21 on the ACT.

Those in power still falsely insist that our schools are failing. What they mean to say is that we have schools in which students coming from the worst living conditions have low standardized test scores. What they mean to say is that schools are bad for not completely making up for the learning that doesn’t occur in some homes from birth to age four. They’re saying that privatizing public education would work better.

Going all the way back to 2001, we have been faced with education reformers who haven’t put the tim e into shaping the lives of children. The architects of NCLB, President Bush and Senator Kennedy, are the products of elite private schools. They’ve never taught the 90 day kids – and if you don’t know what that means, ask a Title I teacher or principal.

As we look to pull ourselves out of this mess, we shouldn’t minimize the frustration of the people actually invested in the schools by saying this decision – this inevitable decision – isn’t a big deal. All you’re really saying at this point is that it won’t affect you, Mr. Nelson.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 2, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Terrific analysis, as always! Barresi’s comment about how our students compare to others nationally is ignorant and devoid of reason. How does Jenks and other national schools earn so many National Merit Scholars? In 2011, the average ACT score for the top 50 test takers at Jenks HS was 32.8, equal to that of the OK School for Science and Math. The ACT is a national measure with an national average of 21.0. Jenks was 23.7. By that measure, we are well above schools nationally. So is Edmond and others. There are students in almost every school in Oklahoma earning ACT scores above 27, more often 30+. Like Duncan, she likes to pull worthless statistics or inaccurate anecdotes to try to support her feeble claim that OK schools are failing. Can’t wait to see the door hit her in the back!


    • September 2, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Here’s another tidbit. ACT data show that 75% of Oklahoma seniors take the ACT. The national average is 57%. Even with a higher participation rate, our state average composite score is 20.7, slightly behind the national average of 21.0. I’d like to see it improve, but clearly our middle of the pack runs with the middle of the pack nationally. Our state’s top students take a backseat to no one.


  2. Rob Miller
    September 2, 2014 at 6:35 am

    I meant to say “state” schools, not “national” in my comment above.


  3. Dale Spradlin
    September 2, 2014 at 7:07 am

    I will be glad when she is no longer a guest on KFOR’s “Flashpoint” program. Policy makers, lawmakers, and bureaucrats in Oklahoma ignore stakeholder input. The state of education in Oklahoma reflects this lack of input. Meanwhile we as lifelong educators continue to do more with less money and ample criticism.


  4. claudiaswisher
    September 2, 2014 at 8:50 am

    How hard would it have been for anyone on FLASHPOINT, especially the journalist, to have asked for evidence? English teachers do that all the time. Evidence, please?

    And what about her claim that kids scored poorly on the writing tests because they copied whole paragraphs from sources and didn’t write anything original? Had not heard that one…


    • September 2, 2014 at 9:00 am

      I had heard that about the writing tests. In some cases, that is exactly what happened. In others, students who quoted the text and sufficiently cited their sources still received a low score – but shouldn’t have.


  5. Brandi
    September 2, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I’m curious about the logistics of the transfer provision. Lots of kids eligible to transfer, not many schools to transfer to. Are the choice schools required to accommodate all transfer requests? How is that going to work? And, wi these over-crowded schools really going to be able to maintain their good standing? It’s like a psychotic Rube Goldberg device: schools are going to fall victim to the trap no matter what; it’s inevitable.


  6. Bec
    September 3, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Your third from the bottom paragraph had me yelling, “Preach it, brother!” Why can’t we save millions by using the ACT test? Juniors and seniors could test in October and April. Comparing the results would either show growth or not. That is the test that our colleges and universities in Oklahoma use. Keep up the good work.


    • September 3, 2014 at 6:58 am

      I agree with everything except for the growth part. I’ve known a number of students who score better on their first ACT than subsequent ones. My favorite paragraph from the ACT report in the last link is this:

      “In spring 2013, all public high school 11th graders in the states of Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming were tested with the ACT as required by each state. Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming students who met ACT’s 2014 graduating class criteria are included in the 2014 graduating class average score results.”

      Other states – including Louisiana and Mississippi! – are ahead of us on this.


  7. September 9, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Very deep analysis I must say, It depends on the capability of students as all are not equal but the brilliant or sharp one score good at their first ACT.


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