2014 #oklaed Year in Review: The Mixed Tape Version
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I hope you’ve been enjoying your Christmas Vacation. I have – in part by watching Christmas Vacation…and A Christmas Story, and Scrooged, and Elf, and about a dozen other great seasonal classics, up to and including Die Hard. I even enjoyed yesterday’s unexpected snowfall. I’ve had great times with friends and family, minimal travel, and enough unhealthy food to last…well, at least until next year. Talk about your first-world problems, right?
I’ve even had the time to do some writing – including four unfinished blog posts. I think I’ve lacked focus the last few months. The June primary election was so satisfying that even when Janet Barresi or the Oklahoman would do something that irritated me, I just knew that it really didn’t matter that much.
That’s why I barely scoffed at reading the Oklahoman’s puff piece on Barresi yesterday. The article comes with an interview for which, in another mindset, I would have provided insightful commentary. By insightful, of course, I mean snarky. Instead, I took to Twitter and had the following conversation with long-time friend-of-the-blog, Jennifer Williams:
I woke up this morning determined to make said mixed tape. I will write my wrap up as if I were making a mixed tape. If you want commentary on Barresi’s ongoing delusions of competence and thoughts on what might be next for her, I encourage you to read Brett Dickerson’s excellent blog from earlier today. In short, he doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of her.
For those of you younger than I am, before the age of iTunes playlists, some of us had to work really hard to piece together musical compilations. In my case, since I didn’t have a dual cassette player, I had to buy records (yes, I’m that old) or try to record songs off the radio. This meant that while I was “doing my homework” (really, mom…I was) I would keep the stereo on with a blank tape inside. If I heard the intro of a song I liked, I would quickly hit the record button on my stereo.
Then when the need arose, I would ride my bike to Sound Warehouse and buy blank tapes, borrow another cassette player from my neighbor and BFF, and figure out how many songs I could fit on a 90 minute tape. (Again, talk about your first-world problems.) If I were making the tape for say, romantic purposes, it was sure to have Journey’s “Open Arms” and “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. If it was an upbeat mix for the pool or the basketball court, it had to have “Panama” by Van Halen. Those were the basic rules.
Since it’s 2014 and we’re speaking in theoretical terms, I will employ a few basic rules for this list. While I often use music (both the earworm and the classic rock variety) on this blog to illustrate a point or thread together my ideas, I will not use songs that I have previously included on my blog. That means no Good Riddance (Green Day), Life of Illusion (Joe Walsh), or even that disco classic Hotline (The Sylvers). I will try to limit myself to one song per month, even in June. And I will only use songs that I actually have in my iTunes library. Maybe we can get K-TEL to package and sell this for us to shore up the education budget (since apparently the lottery hasn’t helped).
My first post of 2014 contained this admonition to our cobbled community of bloggers and education advocates:
We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.
In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.
That’s exactly what happened. We engaged the decision makers and voted en masse. We defeated an incumbent Republican who only managed 21 percent of her party’s primary vote. For any of that to have any meaning, it can’t stop in 2014.
January – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles)
For some reason, Barresi’s people decided that we would now define Full Academic Year as any student who was continuously enrolled from October 1st through the beginning of the testing season. The effect of this decision (which isn’t legislated or written into the administrative rules) was that more student scores were included in the calculation of A-F Report Cards. Including the highly mobile population in school grades serves no purpose other than to penalize the schools who serve the most vulnerable students. This has always been the motive of the school choice/corporate reform groups out there.
February – The Old Brown Shoe (The Beatles)
While it’s tempting to make the entire month about the fact that Rep. Jason Nelson failed to advance his voucher bill (an Education Savings Account by any other name) out of committee, for me the highlight of the month was listening to Governor Fallin talk about the condition of the Capitol building.
In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.
The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.
The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.
The electrical system is dangerously outdated.
And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.
Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.
In fact, this is the topic of one of my unfinished posts. Just last week, the Oklahoman published a report detailing problems with the Capitol’s dome.
Engineers have discovered significant cracking in the cast stone panels that form the exterior of Oklahoma’s Capitol dome, completed amid much fanfare just 12 years ago.
“Cracks exist at a total of 172 units, or approximately 10 percent of all cast stone units on the dome. Most of the cracks occur at the base of the dome,” stated a report by Wiss, Janner, Elstner Associates, or WJE, a Chicago company that did a detailed examination of the building’s exterior as a prelude to repair work.
I love the symmetry of this. The year begins as it ends, discussing the fact that our Capitol building is in bad shape. This time, though, it’s the decorative – rather than the functional – part. In public schools, we refer to problems like these as deferred maintenance. We handle this by meeting with school patrons and making a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be repaired, we determine how much money we can commit to those projects, and then we establish priorities. When it comes to fixing leaky roofs and replacing old, inefficient air conditioning units, there is always a lag between acknowledging the need and addressing it. There is also always more need than capacity.
I also love that the article talks about how the budget for repairs will be inadequate to cover eventual cost overruns – something just about every school superintendent understands. Don’t get me wrong; I want the Capitol looking nice. I want it safe and sanitary for the people we elect and the staff they hire – not to mention for the busloads of students who travel there for field trips.
March – Best Day Ever (Spongebob Squarepants)
First, let me make it clear that I’m not the only person who has access to my iTunes library. Still, as I was scrolling through the titles in it, this is the song that made me think about the day that I spent at the Capitol (on the outside, thankfully!) with about 25,000 of my closest friends. The rally in Oklahoma City brought people together from all over the state to speak collectively to our representatives about all the things wrong with the direction of public education in our state. Here was my summary of the day:
First was Peter Markes – Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year. He drew great parallels between farming and education, weaving both the funding issues and senseless mandates into his metaphor. This is the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him speak, and he does not disappoint. He’s exactly what Oklahoma’s teachers expect in an ambassador – someone who believes in the profession and who fights the lie that public education is failing our children.
Next was Asher Nees, a student from Norman and the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Student Councils. He commented on the things he has noticed in public education, namely increased class sizes and policies that diminish student choices. He said he was there to fight to restore public education to something better for his younger siblings. (That is definitely a paraphrase. There was a lot of noise around me at this point.)
The one who really lifted the energy of the crowd was Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. He hit the funding points, but he concentrated on a more important theme: respect. Every reform that has passed during the last few years shows that those making policy don’t respect the work that those of us who work with kids do. So many talking points from the governor, state superintendent, and countless legislators have come with a Let them eat cake attitude. The lack of concern for teachers, their working conditions, and most importantly, their students has been consistent. Disparage people long enough and they’ll let you hear about it.
Yes, I could have used some Aretha Franklin for the month, but somehow, I still haven’t upgraded that from vinyl. For the record (pun intended), this is still the biggest issue in our state. We need more evidence that our policy makers respect the people who actually teach the kids.
April – The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin)
I only use this song because I don’t have “Oops, I Did It Again” available. Also, I needed some of my credibility back after using a Spongebob song. In April, predictably, we had some problems with the online testing that reminded us of the 2013 problems we had with online testing. Barresi’s response was to call the failure unacceptable and assure Oklahomans that the glitch didn’t impact third grade testing. Her reasons as to why we didn’t fire them in 2013 were hollow, of course.
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.
“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”
About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.
This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.
CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.
The State Board of Education went on to fire CTB over the summer – one summer too late.
May – I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty – as covered by Johnny Cash)
Most of the month of May saw the various politicians in this state debating HB 2625, which inserted a little slice of sanity into the third grade retention law. The critical piece was a provision to include a committee to make final decisions about retention, and to include parents on that committee. During this month, we also saw the SDE release third grade reading scores to the media before schools could view them.
The Legislature sent HB 2625 to the governor by a margin of 132-7. Fallin waited until the last minute to veto the bill, then played games with sending her official veto message to them, and then they turned around and overrode her veto without debate – by a margin of 124-19.
June – Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)
There really was no other choice for the month of June. This was the month that those of us who’ve been using our outside voices for some time now felt a collective sense of pride…of relief…of hope. It was affirmation that we matter. It’s the month in which I actually moderated an #oklaed Sunday night chat. It’s the month in which I did a top 20 list of reasons to defeat Barresi, followed immediately by a new number one right after Barresi told a group to tell their critics to go to hell, followed by an honorable mention list with a dozen additional reasons. Most of all, it’s the month when Oklahoma Republican voters eliminated her by a four-to-one margin. Even the people who agreed with many of her reforms rejected her sorry implementation of them. It was beautiful.
July – Be Yourself (Audioslave)
After losing her primary, Barresi made it clear that she would not fade away quietly. A couple of weeks later, she attended the SDE Vision 2020 conference and just let Janet be Janet. She held a roundtable session and told attendees that she would never apologize for anything she had done in office and that she knows she’s “pissed a lot of you off.” My only question was her use of a lot rather than all.
August – Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)
In August, the Democrats had their runoff election, and John Cox defeated Freda Deskin, setting up the November election against Joy Hofmester for state superintendent. That news, however, was overshadowed by the fact that the USDE had revoked Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Waiver. This was followed by the revelation that nobody at the SDE knew how to calculate the Academic Performance Index that would have to be used in the absence of the waiver. It was a distressing time, because schools that had Title I funds faced the threat of 20 percent of those resources being tied up in federal bureaucracy rather than on services that actually help kids. With that in mind, it was hard to simply be amused at the ongoing ineptitude of the SDE.
September – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)
On a side note, I don’t know how I’ve gone this far through my life without backup singers. This needs to happen.
In spite of the fact that she had a perfectly good former teacher, former principal leading the accreditation division at the SDE, Barresi created a new position and appointed her staff attorney’s husband to it.
OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 24, 2014) — Dr. Larry L. Birney has been named assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The new position will help OSDE’s accreditation standards division ensure local schools are operating in compliance with state laws.
Birney served as executive director of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Standards in Oklahoma from June 2008 until May 2011, when he retired. He was a 35-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department, rising to the rank of acting deputy chief and later director of police human resources.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said Birney brings a needed expertise in investigation.
“OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters,” she said. “One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation. Larry Birney is uniquely qualified for this role, combining significant experience in law enforcement and education.”
This was Barresi’s way of saying, I know you school people do all kinds of illegal stuff. Now I want to find it and punish you for it. This bad hire in particular is the first thing Joy Hofmeister needs to address on January 12th after taking office.
October – Everything to Everyone (Everclear)
Probably the biggest news from October was the State Regents finally certifying that Oklahoma’s PASS standards would prepare our students to be College and Career Ready (a phrase that needs to be on our New Year’s resolution list of tropes never to use again). There were caveats to the certification, but it proved enough to appease our federal overlords, who eventually reinstated our waiver (sparing the SDE the embarrassment of trying to calculate a formula they hardly understand).
November – The Remedy (Jason Mraz)
On November 2nd, Oklahomans overwhelmingly elected Joy Hofmeister as our next state superintendent. Although there are still some out there who are reluctant to accept the fact that she is in fact VERY different than Barresi, I have been very pleased with how she has prepared herself for office. From her transition team to her trips around the state, she continues to show that she will learn what there is to be learned. She listens to the people who elected her and to the people who work directly with students. Four years from now, if she has disappointed us, I will gladly eat my words.
The morning of the election, this is what I wrote:
When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.
Make no mistake about it. We have someone who wants to know what’s keeping us from helping kids and what she can do about it. We won’t always get our way, but she is listening. That’s huge.
December – Money (Pink Floyd)
Right before Christmas Break, word broke that a flaw in the funding formula has been unearthed. This means that state aid to school districts has been calculated wrong for each of the last 22 years! Apparently, this miscalculation was first presented to the SDE 10 years ago. While I question the timing of the revelation, the fact is that when the current school year’s state aid is recalculated, there will be a group of winners and a group of losers. Beyond that, I have no idea what will happen. (This was the topic of another one of my unfinished posts.)
If I’m leading a district that has been shorted by the error for more than two decades, I want to get it all back. It’s probably not possible, but this error, compounded over 22 years, could be a huge deal. If the state (probably through litigation) has to fix the error, it will cost a number of districts more than they will be able to afford. This would be similar to losing in a game of Monopoly and having all of your mortgaged assets redistributed. Eventually, we will have to sort out how this happened. On this rare occasion, I happen to agree with the Oklahoman, which suggested we not forget this problem started under the previous administration at the SDE. That said, I can’t say for certain who is to blame – SDE people or the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This just isn’t something that’s in my wheelhouse.
In any case, state leaders need to be mindful that wrecking small school districts over funding issues they didn’t cause could devastate several communities.
I can’t wait for 2015. This year was better than 2013; why not continue the trend! As for our friend, Superintendent Barresi, whom we bloggers will surely miss, I have one final long distance dedication:
As the song says, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Happy New Year, y’all.