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Why I’m Voting for Joe Dorman

October 28, 2014 17 comments

We are a week away from Election Day, and I’m ready for the campaigning to be finished. This is the time when close races between fundamentally good people devolve into nasty accusations and contorted truths. I’m a fan of neither of these practices. They don’t influence me in a positive way.

How I will cast my vote for governor probably comes as a surprise to no one. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I don’t think Mary Fallin has been good for public education. You also should know that I’m not a single-issue voter or a straight-party voter. If I agreed with Fallin on every single issue outside of how she’s treated schools, I would have to consider supporting her.

Well I don’t support her, and truthfully, I decided that long ago – probably about the time she vetoed HB 2625, which allowed for parental input into the third-grade retention decision. In fact, she didn’t just veto the bill; she delayed sending official notification of her decision to the Legislature in an effort to out-maneuver them. In other words, she wanted the win so badly that she thought cheap stunts would circumvent the will of the people. In the end, a combined vote of 124-19. Neither chamber debated the decision. They simply took the veto notice and voted it away in a matter of minutes.

This is not a contorted truth. This is a documented accounting of how events unfolded. Similarly, in June, Fallin waited until the last possible minute before deciding to sign HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards and brought back PASS as the state’s reading and math standards. Since she was one of the main reasons Oklahoma adopted the CCSS, the decision surprised me. As recently as January, she was still defending CCSS to the rest of the country’s governors. It was also the first indication I had that her campaign viewed Joe Dorman as a legitimate threat to unseat her.

It was also at this point that I began researching whether my decision would be a vote against Fallin or a vote for Dorman. It will be both of these things. Below, I will explain why.

Funding Education Properly

Since the start of the recession in 2008, states have struggled to fund all basic services. Most have begun restoring funding to public education. Unfortunately, a recent study showed that per pupil funding in Oklahoma is still 23 percent below the 2008 level.

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

This represents the worst loss of education funding in the country. As much as the State Board of Education wants to give teachers a substantial raise, it’s not up to them. We need a governor who will work with the Legislature to make this happen.

Throughout the summer, Dorman released his education plan in phases. The first installment specifically addresses funding issues. It is a three point plan to ensure that adequate funding reaches the classroom, and it is sound and realistic. It will require the executive branch and legislative branches working together, but that also seems more likely now than at any time in the last several years. His press release at the time made his case:

Joe Dorman’s “Classrooms First” plan dedicates 100% of funds from the existing Franchise Tax to in-classroom instruction and prohibits using these resources in the general fund for any other purpose. These funds will not be subject to political games and special interest giveaways and subsidies. This plan does not raise taxes one dime, and it stops the political sleight-of-hand the politicians use to cut school funds. This plan ties the state legislature’s hands from playing politics, arbitrarily cutting our public schools’ funding and harming our kids and our economy. This is good for parents and kids, good for our business community and economy, and is a fiscally sound policy for our state.

Fallin’s main emphasis during her term has been cutting taxes. Unfortunately, most of those cuts are corporate and geared at the energy industry. While there’s no doubt that this state is reliant on the oil, gas, and electricity producers, there is a middle ground in which we can support basic governmental services like schools and roads without biting the hand that feeds us. Also, Fallin’s proposal to cut income taxes would impact most Oklahomans by dozens of dollars a year. This doesn’t change the lives of the working class, but it does contribute to the decline in support of schools.

When we say that schools have lost funding, we should be specific about the fact that that loss squarely falls upon the state. As the table below illustrates, Oklahoma has seen a gradual decline over the last 15 years of support from the state, coupled with increased reliance on support from the federal government and local revenue.

School Year % Federal Funding % State Funding % Local Funding
2012-13 12.5% 48.0% 39.6%
2011-12 13.6% 47.8% 38.6%
2010-11 17.0% 47.0% 39.0%
2009-10 17.4% 46.5% 36.1%
2008-09 13.6% 52.0% 34.5%
2007-08 11.8% 53.3% 34.9%
2003-04 12.7% 53.4% 33.9%
1998-99 9.4% 57.1% 33.5%

It is appropriate to discuss 2008 as a reference point because that’s the generally agreed upon date of the recession. As you can see, since that time, the percent of district budgets supplied by the state has fallen by 5.3% since that time. I threw two more points of reference into the table as well. First is 2004, since that’s the last year Democrats controlled the Legislature. As you can see, the state and local shares of school funding stayed pretty constant for the first four years that Republicans were in charge. Going back five more years, to 1999, we can see that the percentage of school funding from the state used to be even higher.

That changed after President Bush and Congress passed NCLB in 2001. With extra funding from the feds came extra regulations and controls. Conversely, school districts in Oklahoma now face an increasingly burdensome regulatory morass from the state, even though the state picks up far less of the bill than it used to. Keep this in mind the next time you hear teachers and administrators talk about the loss of local control during the last four years.

This happened on Fallin’s watch. The recession that began two years before she took office gets some of the blame – the funding part at least. The regulatory burden schools face now falls squarely on Fallin and outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Standards and Assessment

Fallin and Barresi gave us Common Core, and then Fallin and the Legislature took it away. They gave us mandatory retention for third graders based upon a single test, and they reacted poorly when the Legislature modified the plan. They gave us Value Added Measurements (based on junk science) for teachers and principals. They also gave us A-F Report Cards for schools. Fallin, if you’ll recall, hinted last year that if superintendents didn’t quit complaining about that last reform in particular, she’d be less likely to support increases to education funding. Her State of the State address from February outlined her record and priorities. Below are a few education quotes from that speech:

No child should ever fail to get a world-class education because our policymakers believe success is too difficult.

That’s why we need to work relentlessly on two fronts:

First, we must continue to improve K-12 public school results.

We know that we are graduating high school seniors who aren’t ready for the workforce or college.  That has to change.

Second, we have to increase the number of Oklahomans who continue their education beyond high school, either by attending college or a career technology center. A high school diploma is not enough.

We are taking active steps to address this crisis; and it is essential we continue to move forward.

For instance, too often, we set up children for failure by sending them on to higher grades without the reading skills they need. We’ve changed course – by requiring that third graders learn to read before moving on to the fourth grade.

We’ve also implemented the A-F grading system that lets parents, students, teachers and administrators know how their school is performing.

In 2010, the Legislature voted to adopt new, higher standards in English and math, and those new Oklahoma standards will be fully implemented this year.

The new standards focus on critical thinking – the kind of skills our children need to get a job or to succeed in higher levels of education.

While we are raising standards, we aren’t telling teachers how to teach that lesson or what books to use.

Those are decisions that will always be made locally.

And here’s the pay-off: we will start graduating seniors that are truly ready for the workforce AND for college or a career technology education.

Because I don’t like to take things out of context, but I also don’t like 3,000 word blog posts, you should probably go back and read the entire speech. This was when Fallin wasn’t in campaign mode and she was expecting to coast to an easy victory. What she believes is clear. We need more testing and we need the Common Core. Without these in place, schools will continue doing their own things, and we just can’t have that.

Dorman, in contrast, understands that Oklahomans will respond better to standards that are developed locally. Here are the bullet points from his plan:

  • A Blue Ribbon Commission consisting of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma education college professors will work to set new education standards. The Commission will represent Oklahoma’s different schools, regions and communities. Gifted students, special needs students, and students requiring remediation will receive assistance.
  • Once the standards are written, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hold town halls and forums across the state to hear input from citizens on the standards. The input will be used to refine and finalize the new standards.
  • The Blue Ribbon Commission will continue to meet annually to assess the standards and make any changes as needed.
  • A Superintendents Advisory Board will implement the new educational policy and develop the best ways to implement policy in individual school districts while maintaining local control.
  • The Governor will host an annual student forum consisting of high school sophomores and juniors from across the state to discuss how to improve education, how to make them more college and job ready and how to improve standards to make them more ACT ready.

He also proposes scrapping the current testing system for the ACT and its cycle of tests that are developmentally tiered for 3rd through 12th graders. While I would just like to see state testing go away, I know that’s not realistic. Instead of giving students a battery of exams that have little meaning to them and none whatsoever to those in higher education, we would be better off using exams from a national college testing company. Are the questions written to the Oklahoma standards? No, and frankly, I don’t care. Do they include science and social studies content? No, and the colleges who look at ACT scores don’t care. While a lot of the frustrated educators around the state disagree with me on some of this point, I hope they will at least consider the futility of the current testing system and the fact that it has had more than its share of unintended consequences.

The Company You Keep

Dorman seems to get his ideas on education from the people working in and attending our state’s public schools. He even hangs out with teachers. Mary Fallin, when showing education reform guru Jeb Bush around Oklahoma chose a charter school to visit. It wasn’t just any charter school, either; it was KIPP – which is a franchise of a national chain of charters.

Failin Bush

From The Oklahoman

It’s like inviting another state’s former governor to Oklahoma City for a steak and taking him to Outback instead of Cattleman’s. For all of KIPP’s accomplishments, keep in mind that they play by a different set of rules.

Oklahoma teachers voted to change the leadership in education last July. Voting Barresi out was the only smart decision they could make. Below, I have compiled average teacher salaries from before the recession to now.

School Year Average Teacher Salary with Fringe Average Years of Experience Insurance Costs
2012-13 $44,118 12.5 $5,568
2011-12 $44,145 12.6 $5,394
2010-11 $45,714 13.0 $5,394
2009-10 $43,998 12.7 $5,314
2008-09 $43,584 12.7 $4,909
2007-08 $43,275 12.7 $4,371

As you can see, teacher salary – including fringe (insurance, retirement) – has changed very little in this time. I added the Experience column because I was curious if we had more veteran teachers retiring, which would account for some of the stagnation. That really isn’t happening. Meanwhile, when you look at insurance costs, you see that teachers are bringing home less now than they were six years ago. While average compensation has grown by $843, the cost of Healthchoice has increased by $1,197 per year. If teachers have a spouse and children on their insurance plans, it’s even worse. And before we get all worked up about Obamacare, remember that the increase from 2008 to 2009 is higher than all other years combined.

For all the inherent rewards of teaching, the pay just isn’t there. In fact, it’s less than it was just a few years ago – significantly less. And this happened on Mary Fallin’s watch, while she continued with her tax cuts that neither stimulated the economy nor benefitted average working families.

There’s a reason Fallin was completely shocked when she posed with the guy wearing the “Mary Failin’” t-shirt after her sole debate against Joe Dorman. The Lost Ogle corresponded with said man, who reported,

Fallin’s aid told her that he didn’t think she “wanted to take a picture with a Mary Failing t-shirt.” She then looked at my shirt and said, “You’re being mean to me!” Her staff started rushing her through the stairway completely bypassing the elevator and she said, “I just assume everyone is going to be nice.” A man from her campaign followed my group to the elevator, took our pictures, and said, “We’ll be seeing you soon.” I laughed and proceeded to get on the elevator!

Well, governor, not everybody is going to be nice. On some level, you must understand this. Otherwise you would have debated your opponent more than once. I personally know a lot of teachers in this state who don’t feel you’ve been very nice to them. They would probably adopt the respect the office in spite of its occupant approach – as many Oklahomans also do with the President.

From TLO

From TLO

Conclusion

One of my favorite ads that currently runs is the Geico ad wherein the teenagers scurry to hide from an axe murderer and make a lot of poor decisions.

I’m not saying that educators voting for Mary Fallin would be as stupid as teens hiding behind the chainsaws. It wouldn’t even be as stupid as voting for Janet Barresi. It would just be self-defeating.

A vote for Joe Dorman, on the other hand, is a vote for better working conditions, competitive salaries, and restoring education that is geared towards our students rather than the publishers and testing companies that are bleeding us dry.

Be informed, and vote wisely.

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Teachers can’t be bought, but can they be rented?

October 25, 2014 3 comments

Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting, Janet Barresi delivered her final budget proposal as Oklahoma’s state superintendent. Overall, Barresi’s budget request for 2015-16 is about $298 million higher than what PK-12 education received for 2014-15. The highlight is a $213.4 million line item increase for teacher salaries – about $2,500 per certified teacher (excluding superintendents). In other words, most of the budget is for teacher pay raises. That’s the part she got right.

(Read OSSBA’s live tweets from the SBE meeting for more detail.)

The raise comes with a catch – lengthen the school year by five days. Truthfully, I’m not opposed to this idea either. However, if we’re going to have a discussion about how much more instructional time we need, we should also probably discuss how we use the instructional time we have. With $11 million in the budget for testing, $12.7 million for Reading Sufficiency, and $8 million for ACE Remediation, I’m not sure I want five more school days – not if it’s just more test prep time.

Over the last 13 years – ever since No Child Left Behind became law – we’ve been all about those tests (with apologies to Meghan Trainor). School should be a place where children can figure out who they are and get the skills they need to get there. Instead, school has become a place where children are data points. Student artwork in the teacher workroom has been replaced with data walls. Author visits have been replaced with testing pep rallies.

Teaching, always a noble but underappreciated profession, has become less attractive than ever. Yes, a salary increase will help with that, but not if the school culture remains all about testing. Later in the meeting, Barresi proved she still doesn’t get that. The following tweet probably best illustrates this.

Apparently our future former state superintendent doesn’t get the role that extracurriculars (such as band, choir, athletics, student council) play in the overall education of our students. In spite of this, I have to give her credit for one thing: this is several steps ahead of last year’s 2K4T gimmick. Barresi admits it’s only a start. In my mind, it’s step one of four. What I’d like to see is the legislature fund such a pay increase every other year until each step on the minimum salary scale is $10,000 higher than it is now. Funding that is another issue.

For each of the past four years, Barresi has proposed large funding increases, only to see Governor Fallin propose quite modest increases – so small that most schools (because of growth) would actually see a loss in per pupil funding. The Legislature has then come through with funding somewhere in the middle.

Back in February, this is what I said we should ask for in terms of funding:

  1. Refill the funding formula.Last year, the Legislature had more money to appropriate than at any other time in state history. Even so, state support for public education had not been restored to the level of FY 2008. At a minimum, schools need support at that level, plus consideration for growth in enrollment and a cost of living adjustment.
  2. Fully fund reforms.Three years ago, Superintendent Barresi told superintendents that the reforms she was pushing could be implemented with no new funding. Now she is asking for more than $26 million in new money to fund them. Common Core, TLE, RSA, and ACE all take money to implement well. They also take time. School districts can get students where they need to be with both of these resources. Most critical is Reading Sufficiency. At current funding levels, many schools have to decide between tutoring during the school year or having summer programs. The supports they do provide span less time and may not include all the grades principals would like to serve. Also consider that we keep increasing what we spend on testing. If the Legislature would reduce the amount of required testing, this expense could be lessened.
  3. Plan long-term for raises.Supporting a teacher raise of $2,000 by adjusting the state minimum salary and dedicating funding to the formula would be a start. Don’t stop there. Be bold. Think five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to see public education in the future. While state voters rejected a plan to trigger automatic teacher salary increases a few years back, they would probably support raises for teachers if the Legislature phased them in over time. We don’t know what Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas will be paying their teachers in five years. There’s a lot we don’t know. We can be certain, however, that we will continue to see shortages in the profession without taking strong action. A one-time $2,000 stipend that only a few districts would be able to afford is not a game-changer.

I’m still where I was eight months ago with this. If the state has more money to spend, why hasn’t education funding been restored to pre-recession levels? Until legislators do this, we’re going to doubt the motives of all the politicians. For example, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson thinks this is a transparent attempt to buy teachers’ loyalty:

Reformists still stubbornly believe that teachers can be bought. It’s amazing. And it is the same contempt for education and educators that we have seen before. It caused right-wing elites to spend big money to push in a dentist for superintendent. It’s the idea that you can throw a few dollars at teachers and they will settle down.

People who have not dreamed of teaching and then taught for years just don’t get it. They think that more money can make us do things differently or change our motivations.

We only ask for more money sometimes so that we don’t have to work a second job mowing lawns, or at a clothing store, or delivering pizzas late into school nights to make ends meet. I actually did all of those things, by the way. It was when I had one of those lucrative “union” contracts that others are supposed to resent us for having.

We want more pay so that we can afford to spend all Summer going to conferences that help us get better at teaching our students. We want more pay because we want to spend our evenings and weekends reading the latest books on teaching so that we can get better at teaching our students.

Committed, long-term teachers don’t teach for money. If we did, then we could be bought.

We teach because we love it. We teach because we can’t imagine much else. We rally, write, speak, and vote to make sure that our students get the education that they deserve.

I disagree slightly. I only think they’re trying to rent us. Actually, at this price point, it’s more like a lease. They’re flashing money in the short-term, but they really don’t want to put many miles on the vehicle. Whether the SBE is sincere about this gesture or not is irrelevant. Teacher raises don’t come from the Hodge building. They come from the Capitol.

Ultimately, reformers want their reform agenda implemented. That can’t be done without teachers. I also believe that teachers can still swing the upcoming election – the governor’s race, the state superintendent race, and several key legislative races.

Two Stones with One Bird

October 21, 2014 2 comments

Last Friday, the State Board of Education had a special meeting to consider two items of note. First, they helped schools by authorizing districts to create fundraising exemptions to the new child nutrition standards. In short, the new standards prohibit the sale of all unhealthy foods during the school day. While I think banning the sale of junk food during lunch hours may be appropriate, I disagree with the total ban. For example, cookie sales for clubs like DECA are critical fundraisers for their activities. Additionally, without these exemptions, schools would not be able to sell concessions at tournaments that occur during the school day. The SBE showed common sense here, and I haven’t spoken with anyone who thinks differently.

As long as they’re feeling generous and sensible, maybe they should look at the SDE’s Federal Programs office, which has drifted to a posture even more restrictive than the Feds regarding schools providing food for parental involvement activities. And that’s just one example of their overreach. But I digress.

The other major undertaking of the SBE was approving a contract for winter testing. If you’ll recall, the Board rejected the $2.8 million proposal by CTB/McGraw-Hill to provide this service for the state at their September 25 meeting. Only 22 days later, the Board approved a contract with Measured Progress for about $600,000 more.

I’m torn. Yes, we fired CTB because they sucked at their job for two straight years. Spring testing in 2013 was a catastrophic failure. In 2014, it was only an embarrassment. Still, it was a pattern of behavior. Nonetheless, I don’t recall them screwing up the winter testing. So I have to ask if it’s worth $600,000 more? Online notes for the October 22 meeting include documentation showing Measured Progress’s statement of work. The previous meeting’s notes contain no such documentation for CTB’s proposal.

To be clear, I’m not saying anything is fishy. I’m just concerned that we spent a lot of money out of spite.

As I’ve previously stated, Measured Progress has done nothing to disappoint us. All things being equal, I’d much rather see the state do business with them than with CTB. Things aren’t equal, however. They’re 21% more expensive than CTB was. I agree we shouldn’t hire them as our general contractor. Using them for odd jobs (such as whitewashing the fence for Aunt Polly) would be fine. This is not the major testing contract; it’s an odd job.

I don’t know that I fault the SBE for the decision. Politically, it’s probably a no-win position.

On the other hand, I don’t see any Measured Progress t-shirts for sale on the Internet.

Now that's what I call spite!

Now that’s what I call spite!

There it is – a solution to testing and fundraisers! Much better.

Who Will Create the Jobs?

October 20, 2014 Comments off

Great comment on last night’s post:

Thank you for your continuing efforts in getting to the reading public worthwhile analyses for all of us to consider as we develop (or solidify) our opinions about the “direction” of Oklahoma (and American) public education. As you might guess, I have some very strong beliefs, based on my 45 years of observations in the public schools of our nation.

Common Core State Standards and other standards developed across the nation purport to “develop” our children for college and career readiness. However, who is creating and developing the jobs they will be seeking after they have completed college or are “career ready”? For, a high percentage of the jobs available in 2014 did not even exist when today’s college graduates first entered high school and were “challenged” by PASS standards.

As Yong Zhao so aptly stated (with my addition), “Stop the Common Core (AND other state-developed standards) OR ready your basement for your college graduates.” Public education must focus on problem identification, job creation, innovation, problem solving, and entrepreneurism—not standards developed by a small group who have defined the skills and knowledge which our youth should acquire and/or possess . . . or our fabulous democratic republic will (rapidly) dissolve and permeate into a government in which some (perhaps many) of us really do not want to reside.

Just some thoughts.

Thanks again for your time and expertise in communicating factual information, interspersed with a few opinions, to Oklahoma’s reading public.

Kirby Lehman

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About the State Regents Certifying PASS

October 19, 2014 4 comments

Much has happened here in Oklahoma while most of the school districts in the state have been on Fall Break the last few days. Below is the short version of lastweek’s events, with links to more information about each.

Regents Certify PASS

State to Reapply for NCLB Waiver

SBE Authorizes Fundraising Exemptions

SBE Selects Measured Progress for Winter Testing

For now, I’ll just focus on what happened Thursday. Hopefully I’ll have some serious blogging time this week to get to the rest, as well as the two major political races that impact public education.

Thursday – the State Regents and the Waiver

We knew last week that the State Regents would finally decide whether or not to certify PASS as College and Career Ready, but their decision had remained pretty secretive. After cross-walking PASS to ACT’s standards, the committees in place for both language arts and math determined that there was significant alignment between them. This decision befuddled our current state superintendent.

Posted by SDE media on Thu, 10/16/2014 – 5:15pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 16, 2014) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi comments on the Oklahoma Regent’s for Higher Education decision to consider Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards college- and career-ready.

“I am confused and unsettled by this decision. My understanding of the definition of college- and career-ready standards is that students who graduate high school should be able to enter college without needing to take remedial coursework or enter a career without the need for retraining. In Oklahoma, our college remediation rate for entering freshman has hovered at about 40 percent for years. With that said, however, I am withholding further comment until I have had time to thoroughly review the Regents’ findings.

“In light of the Regents’ decision, however, we have already begun the process of reapplying for our flexibility waiver from No Child Left Behind. If a waiver is granted, the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it would not take effect until the 2015-2016 school year.”

Barresi has a history of using loaded adjectives when she doesn’t get her way. It’s unfathomable to her that actual Oklahoma educators could create a set of standards with any merit. This doesn’t stop her from using the existing tests over those standards to rate schools, but that’s beside the point. The State Regents actually had a rationale. As the report explains:

ACT organizes its standards according to ACT score ranges. For example, for a score in the range of 16-19, ACT has identified standards that must be met to achieve a score in that range. For this review, standards corresponding to score ranges of 20-23 and 24-27 were used for alignment with the PASS standards. These score ranges were selected because OSRHE set the minimum ACT cut score for remediation in each of the four subject areas of English, Mathematics, Reading and Science based on OSRHE policies (3.19 Assessment Policy and 3.20 Remediation Policy) and previous research. In 1994, OSRHE established the requirement for all students to be remediated if they did not earn at least a 19 on the ACT Mathematics subject test. Approximately every five years, OSRHE contracts with ACT to conduct a course placement study using Oklahoma student data.

Review of these findings by COI is used to verify the ACT cut scores. The 2011 ACT study predicted that 74 percent of students with an ACT subject score of 19 would earn at least a grade of C in English composition, 63 percent in general mathematics, and 57 percent in college algebra. A brief summary table outlining this extensive study can be found in Attachment 8. In 2004, OSRHE received a final report from the Student Preparation Task Force recommending the continued use of the ACT standards as benchmark competencies. For 2014 Oklahoma high school graduates, students with an ACT score of 27 in English are in the 87th percentile; in Reading, the 82nd percentile; and in Mathematics, the 93rd percentile for Oklahoma test takers. [p. 9]

This is similar to a process the SDE and Regents completed 10 years ago, although I can’t find it online anywhere. The point is that Oklahoma, in the 20+ years we have been developing standards, has never operated within an insular vacuum. We have always had an eye on what’s going on elsewhere. Even four years ago, when the Oklahoma Legislature adopted the Common Core, the SDE took the time to crosswalk them to PASS.

The Regents used committees of higher education officials and professors for each set of standards, then had the Southern Regional Education Board check their work. Ironically, one of the SREB consultants was Jennifer Watson, who was promoted by Barresi to Assistant State Superintendent at one point. The committees and consultants have concerns about PASS, which include recommendations for improving the state standards.

Math [p. 11]

CONCERN 1: The ACT College and Career Readiness Standard for “work with numerical factors” did not appear to be specifically addressed in high school PASS, but it is necessary to demonstrate mastery of other high school skills, such as the PASS “simplify and evaluate linear, absolute value, rational and radical expressions” or “factor polynomial expressions.” Since “work with numerical factors” was at a score range of 24-27, there was much discussion about the intent of this standard. Upon review of some possible ACT questions, this standard seemed to imply more number-theory concepts than computational or procedural use.

RECOMMENDATION: Standards should be clear as to the intent of the standard to avoid differences in interpretation. For example, clarification may be needed to reflect a level of number theory or conceptual understanding rather than computational or procedural use.

CONCERN 2: In some instances, the wording of the Mathematics PASS standards was more vague than in the ACT standards, and the faculty had to decide whether the specific ACT standard was implied in the more general PASS standard. For example, the ACT standard is “recognize Pythagorean triples,” while the PASS standard is “Use the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse to find missing side lengths and to determine acute, right, and obtuse triangles, and verify using algebraic and deductive proofs.”

RECOMMENDATION: Specific wording from the ACT standards should be included in the more general PASS standard, such as a “must include” or “for example” insertion.

CONCERN 3: In some instances, the level of rigor may not be consistent from ACT to PASS. For example, the ACT standard of “order fractions” was addressed in PASS grades 5, 6 and 7. However, this ACT standard is at a score range of 24-27, which implies a higher level of rigor than typical middle school mathematics. The faculty members were concerned that the level of rigor expected by ACT might not be addressed in the high school PASS.

RECOMMENDATION: If they are considered maintenance skills, then the intent should be clearly stated in PASS standards with the appropriate level of rigor and/or the intent for how the standard should be used to increase the rigor of the high school standard.

CONCERN 4: Some Mathematics PASS standards are listed with an asterisk, meaning they are not assessed at the state level through the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests, and few of the process standards (problem-solving, communication, reasoning, connections and representation) are included in the state assessments.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that all standards be included in the state assessments to reinforce the teaching of all standards to all students.

CONCERN 5: The faculty expressed concern that the high remediation rate in mathematics is not the result of the standards but is impacted by many other issues, such as assessment, curriculum, instruction, and type or number of mathematics courses taken in high school.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that more efforts be made to emphasize the importance of implementing standards thoroughly, comprehensively and with fidelity; align curricula; and assess all standards.

In essence, they’re saying that the standards need tweaking in some places, and that high school course selection may account for a significant portion of the remediation rate.

English/Language Arts [p. 12]

CONCERN 1 (COHERENCE): While thorough and comprehensive, the intentional development of knowledge and skills across grades is not always transparent in the ELA PASS document.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • A K-12 matrix, or scope and sequence, of the standards for each strand would show the progression of knowledge and skills through grade levels. Such a matrix would help teachers, supervisors, districts, parents and others to identify when students are introduced to a standard and at what point they are expected to have mastered it.
  • A reorganization of some of the standards and substandards under each strand would improve coherence. For example, Reading Standard 4, Research and Information, might be separated to help clarify that there are many purposes for reading informational and non-narrative texts beyond conducting research.
  • Stressing the interconnectedness in the skills and knowledge students need in order to develop college- and career-ready vocabulary would provide greater coherence within this critical standard. Context clues, structural analysis, wide reading, and reference tools work together and within a framework of the specific reading task. Consult best practices in the systematic teaching of vocabulary when new standards are being written.

CONCERN 2 (SPECIFICITY): In total, the language of ELA PASS is straightforward and specific; indeed, PASS is often more specific than the language of the ACT ELA College and Career Readiness Standards. In point, the committee found that the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards for English and Reading contain many examples of “vague language,” such as use of the phrase “and so on” to indicate other assumed but unnamed elements of a standard. However, some language of ELA PASS can be more specific.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Construct every learning standard statement with a verb that is “assessable.” Teachers, curriculum writers and test designers would appreciate the specificity of having students “defend,” “distinguish,” “estimate,” “paraphrase,” “predict” or “summarize” rather than “understand” or “appreciate.”
  • Specific language throughout the Reading and Writing standards that addresses both the interpretation and construction of critical text structures would underscore their importance. Students should be engaged every year in analyzing and composing texts that use cause/effect, problem/solution, complex narrative sequence, claim/counterclaim and other predominant structures.
  • Distinguish between argumentation and persuasion in writing standards. Argumentation is a common mode of writing in college and should be emphasized and practiced in middle school and high school.
  • Update the ELA PASS Glossary to provide definitions of a broader range of terms. Many will look to PASS to clarify what is meant by “complex texts,” “grade-appropriate” and “readability” (as examples).
  • A close review of substandards within the Grammar/Usage and Mechanics Standard at each grade level would resolve some vague expectations for student writers and editors.

CONCERN 3 (PURPOSE): The purpose-setting statement that frames ELA PASS should highlight some additional expectations for learners.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • The five-paragraph essay is the foundation, not the culmination, of high school writing. The form should be mastered by the freshman year of high school and used as the basis that supports students to write frequently in multiple and more sophisticated formats.

  • The ability to read independently in a range of disciplines is paramount to academic and career success. Learning how to interpret literature and informative, highly technical and often lengthy reading passages should be an overarching goal of ELA PASS.

  • The purposes should include the habits of mind that help any person be successful: persistence, responsibility, self-analysis and reflection, and independence.

Side note: Is it any wonder that the comments on the ELA standards are wordier? Just a harmless observation.

In all seriousness, these are some strong recommendations. The ELA standards have always lacked for clarity in terms of the depth of skills learned by grade level. I especially like the example of reinforcing the fact that informational and non-fiction text have purposes beyond research. Then, as the math committee points out, we really have to push students to take more courses that will help with college preparation.

My own research

As you would expect, I’m not content thinking that the standards are the only contributor to college readiness. While student course selection is important to college preparedness, there is more to the story than that. Using data from the graduating class of 2013 at Oklahoma’s 453 high schools, I explored the relationships among several variables. Keeping in mind that correlation does not always indicate causation, consider the following correlations:

Variables Correlated to School Free/Reduced Lunch Percentage
Seniors in Career Tech Programs 0.17
Average ACT Score of Graduates -0.60
Oklahoma College-going Rate -0.30
College Remediation Rate 0.57

Once again, we see that poverty matters. Schools with more of it have strong correlations to low ACT (-0.60) scores and high college remediation rates (0.57). We should also, however, consider the impact of expectations. At home, students with resources and support are pushed more towards college. That explains the lower college-going rate among schools with high levels of poverty (-0.30). Interestingly, we also see that schools with more poverty have slightly more students involved in Career Tech programs (0.17). Knowing that many of the high-poverty schools in Oklahoma are also small, rural schools, I decided to look at the impact of school size on these same variables.

Variables Correlated to Total High School Enrollment
Seniors in Career Tech Programs -0.23
Average ACT Score of Graduates 0.35
Oklahoma College-going Rate 0.26
College Remediation Rate -0.20

The first thing I should note is that these correlations should not lead anyone to think (or believe that I think) that large schools are better than small schools. I do think that most of the larger high schools are in the suburbs or near colleges, which impacts expectations, however. I also know from experience that larger high schools can offer a wider variety of classes. This may impact the amount of math and science content students have available. It’s not a knock on smaller schools. It’s just an observation. I would also guess that smaller schools don’t have as much access to content specialists and other professional development opportunities to help them with turning standards into curriculum. Now that we’ve changed tracks twice in four years, and we’re planning to do so again before 2016, maybe we should cut the teachers and students a little slack.

That said, the biggest variable of all related to college remediation rates seems to be poverty. If I had been running multiple regression tests, we would probably see that students in small schools with low poverty fare about as well as students in large schools with low poverty. If we had a way to capture 12 year numbers on mobility rates, that would probably factor in too.

My conclusion, based on the work of the State Regents, the SREB, and my own rudimentary calculations, would be that our standards, when controlling for poverty, aren’t the thing that determines college readiness. It still has a lot more to do with family characteristics and overall expectations than anything else. Adopting Common Core won’t change this. Adding or eliminating tests won’t change this. Parents and teachers having high expectations for all students is important, but so is coming to school having your basic human survival needs met.

Superintendent Barresi, there is no reason for confusion. The only unsettling thing is that after four years in your position, you still don’t understand the hard work that Oklahoma educators do every day. You don’t understand that schools have differences – large and small; affluent and poor; rural, suburban, and urban – and that these differences matter.

As my friend Rob Miller said last week, just mail the damn letter to the feds and be done with it. Then get out of the way! Soon enough, this will be someone else’s concern – someone who gets it.

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