Archive for February, 2015

Contact Info for Senate Finance Committee

February 23, 2015 Comments off

I suppose it would be good to give you the email addresses for the Senate Finance Committee. I know the out-of-state forces that Rob Miller discussed last week have these. In fact, here’s the email I sent the committee this morning:

Sent: Mon 2/23/15 7:35 AM
To: (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (; (

Dear Senators,

I strongly urge you to vote No on SB 609. I have three critical reasons for opposing this measure.

First is that the bill fails to do what the rhetoric surrounding Education Savings Accounts proclaims: save poor students from failing schools. Even with ESAs in place, private schools don’t have to accept all students who apply. Public schools do. Instead of diverting funds away from the one organization that takes all children who come, maybe the legislature would better serve the state by properly funding public schools.

Second is that the bill provides no accountability. If the goal of the committee is to give parents a modicum of choice, maybe the better path would be to let them choose which school regulations apply to their children. As an administrator in Moore, I can tell you that most parents who have called me have been against the third­grade retention law since day one. That’s just one example. I know of many others, but most involve testing.

Third is that this bill sets up some kind of mysterious merit pay scheme. Until ALL teachers have significant raises, this idea is not worth pursuing. Rather than starving public education, the elected servants of the people of Oklahoma should look to heal it. Supporting SB 609 is the most divisive action you could pursue.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Say NO to Vouchers

February 23, 2015 3 comments

I have one simple goal for #oklaed this week. Let’s not make national news. For me, the nadir of last week was my mom texting me that Whoopi Goldberg was making fun of Oklahoma on The View.  In part, my consternation was that I knew something that was happening on The View. That’s really not my thing. Mostly though, I hated the fact that the House Common Education Committee voted 11-4 to make teaching the current framework of Advanced Placement United States History illegal – using state funds, that is.

What I found gratifying, however, was the response. Not the blogosphere response necessarily. Not my fellow educator friends on social media. I’m talking about students and teachers. There seemed to be universal understanding that a narrow interpretation of state law could threaten all AP courses in Oklahoma. There were also countless testimonials from students (current and past) about the extent to which AP courses helped them prepare for college. It turns out that critical thinking matters.

For now, I believe the APUSH push is shelved. If I’m wrong, I’ll come back to that. As of right now, we have a bigger threat:


Yes, we have members of the legislature still pushing the title Education Savings Accounts, as favored by their friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council. I prefer the term vouchers, though. It’s part of the common language we share. It’s not a euphemism.

The Senate Finance Committee will hear SB 609 Tuesday, I believe. It’s a 71 page bill, but the last 60 or so are just in there to ensure parents don’t have to report their vouchers on their taxes. The first ten are the meat.

As I’ve previously written, this bill has problems beyond just the existence of vouchers. Remember, if a kid has a voucher, that doesn’t guarantee he/she has somewhere to take it. It’s not like the private schools will suddenly have open admission. There’s no accountability attached to this bill, whatsoever. We as taxpayers will never get a rendering of student performance. The schools won’t get a letter grade to wear around their necks. And we’ll never know how much money goes into the classroom. There will be no OCAS reporting for the schools/individuals using the vouchers.

Beyond that, the bill creates a system of merit pay that for now we must leave completely up to the imagination.

The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights calculated pursuant to subsection B of Section 5 shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.

How are these bonuses to be calculated? Will all schools get bonuses, or do you have to be a school that loses students to vouchers? Does having more voucher kids in my district mean more bonuses for the teachers we can still afford to hire?

I’m writing the members of the Senate Finance Committee this morning to ask them to ask these questions. I don’t think this bill deserves their support. I encourage you to do the same.

APUSH: What you can still do

February 19, 2015 2 comments

It seems we’ve come a long way since Monday. National press has been brutal. If anything that happened in the House Common Education Committee Monday made you lose faith in the people of Oklahoma, the response since then should have calmed you. In spite of the people we elect sometimes, this is a great state. We are smarter than we act.

As evidence, I show you survey results from four questions asked by Norman Public Schools about the APUSH debacle.

Final NPS AP Poll results

Over 6,600 people responded to their 24 hour survey, and 96% basically said, Make this go away.

Oklahomans get it. Our legislators will get it too. One thing you can still do to help with this is remain vocal, yet polite. Much of what will happen now is to be determined by the House Speaker, Jeff Hickman. Reach out to him. I suggest a simple message, much like the following.

Mr. Speaker, kill HB 1380. It is bad public policy. Oklahomans (and now the rest of the country) know this! And tell the senate that SB 650 will not be heard.

Feel free to craft your own message. I’m not some out-of-state think tank ready to impose discipline should you not stick to the script.

Jeff Hickman (405) 557-7339

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Vouchers: Not a Gift for Students

February 17, 2015 4 comments

Yesterday, two bills proposing Education Savings Accounts Vouchers made their way to committee in the Oklahoma Legislature. In the Senate, SB 609 breezed to its next stop – the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 6-3. There, the impact of the bill will be discussed by the 45 committee members. It’s a much harder hill to climb. Later in the day, the House did not pass HB 2003. The committee failed to advance the bill, even after the House Speaker (Jeff Hickman) came to save the day. It fell by a 9-9 vote. The outcomes surprised me. I would have guessed for a flip to this script, with the Senate voucher bill failing and the House voucher bill passing.

The House bill is pretty much a copy of the measure that Rep. Jason Nelson couldn’t even get to a tie vote. Vouchers will be awarded proportionally to students who can demonstrate certain levels of poverty in order to attend private schools that they still wouldn’t be able to afford. Apparently, that hurt some feelings.

The Senate bill, on the other hand, is a free-for-all. Any student eligible to attend public school would receive a credit for 80 percent of the formula funding that he/she generates for his/her resident school district. They could spend it on anything that loosely counts as an educational expense. This could include books, supplies, a laptop, voice lessons, athletic coaching, field trips to The Louvre, and probably even a Trapper Keeper or two.

Another fun fact of SB 609 is that the SDE would have to figure out how to disburse the other 20 percent as bonuses to teachers in the districts students aren’t attending. The more students who flee your district, the greater your bonus. That makes all the sense in the world. No, nothing could go wrong here at all. Here’s the language from page 10 of the bill:

The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights calculated pursuant to subsection B of Section 5 shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.

Another way this bill gets fun is that right now, thousands of students don’t attend public school. This measure would add them to the funding formula. This will reduce per-pupil funding.

I get the feeling that this bill was supposed to fail and the other one was supposed to pass. I base that feeling on an email thread among its supporters that circulated widely this morning. Before I had a chance to really analyze what was in it, Rob Miller had written a brilliant piece discussing the outside influence on our legislative process. Even the conservative McCarville Report discussed the email exchange with what seemed to be a measure of disgust.

Normally, I try to post small portions of other bloggers’ work. Tonight is different. This is critical to understand. Our non-compliant legislators are being strong-armed by out-of-state politicians and activists.

The people our state elected to protect us from people from out of state are listening to people from out of state – not to Oklahomans.

Here’s a long excerpt from the middle of Rob’s The Voucher Wolves are at the Door! today:

Later in the day the positive mood was tempered when Nelson’s House version failed to clear the education committee. The following email was part of the same email chain from above. It was written from former Wisconsin House Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen. Jensen was forced to resign his office in disgrace in 2006 after numerous ethics charges. More about this later. (emphasis is mine)

On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:18 PM, Scott Jensen <> wrote:

Dear Team,

I decided to take my kids out for dessert tonight after the disappointing vote in the House Education Committee. Amazingly, they wanted frozen yogurt despite the single digit temperatures here in Wisconsin.  Now, that I have calmed down, I still have two serious frustrations:

First, the Chair of the House Education Committee cast the deciding vote against a proposal by a membership of the House leadership (Nelson) – a bill that the Speaker and Majority Leader came to the committee to support. As a former Speaker, I find this stunning. At a minimum, Chair Coody should have expressed her concerns with the bill, voted to advance it out of committee but said she would not be able to support it on the floor unless her concerns were addressed. Instead, she felt completely comfortable choosing the education establishment over her leadership team. It is very early in the session for this sort of challenge to the leadership. If the Speaker does not have a swift response to this vote, he can count on chaos for the rest of the session.

Second, when your team is in charge you should never lose a vote. If you don’t have the horses then the bill should be set aside and no vote should be held. I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short. Was Rep. Nelson unable to ask for the vote to be delayed so he could address some members concerns? Was Chair Coody so interested in sticking it to her leadership that she went ahead with the vote? Most legislators are conflict avoiders so they are very open to a request to delay the vote on a bill. If we didn’t have the votes, no vote should have been held. That is one of the greatest powers of the majority, deciding when a vote will be held.

If I were Speaker, it would now be a matter of honor to me that the Senate version of the ESA bill pass on the floor.

Whether or not the Speaker and his leadership team choose to instill some team discipline, we should do so. I would recommend that several organizations on this email list conduct robocalls and emails to voter lists educating them about the votes by Representatives Coody, Nollan, Thomsen, Casey and Henke. The message should be simple: these Republicans joined with liberal Democrats to defeat an important education reform supported by conservatives and the Republican leadership. Their voters should know they joined with the liberal Democrats to cast the deciding vote against giving parents more educational options. The ramifications of this vote should echo in the House chamber.


Notice Jensen’s liberal use of the terms “team” and “we”? As far as I can tell, Mr. Jensen has never spent a day in our great state, yet he is inserting himself smack dab in the middle of an Oklahoma policy debate.

I find it frightening that Jensen would write, “I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short.” Assured by whom and for what reason? Why would ANY Oklahoma legislator ASSURE Jensen of ANYTHING!!!!

And who invited him to be part of our damn team anyway? Who is this PUPPET MASTER who is attempting to coerce and threaten our state legislators into compliance?

Well, let’s just say, Mr. Jensen has quite a colorful history. His illustrious past: rabid voucher supporter, unethical scoundrel, convicted felon…you know, just the type of person we want influencing our elections and controlling our legislative process.

There are lots of articles about Mr. Jensen online. Here is a small piece from one that ran recently titled, “Wisconsin’s Voucher Vultures.”

After a couple of years, he ran for public office himself and served as an Assembly representative for fourteen years, including as the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly for some of that time.

Then he fell from grace as he was charged and convicted of three felonies in an abuse of power and illegal campaigning scandal that rocked the statehouse and landed several top pols in jail. After more than four years of legal maneuvering, Jensen managed to get a mistrial declared by the state court of appeals and appealed all the way to the state supreme court in order to move the venue of the next trial to his home county of Waukesha.

Eight years after Jensen was caught illegally using legislative staff and resources to work on partisan campaigns and charged with felony misconduct in office, he made a deal with Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel to plead guilty to one misdemeanor, pay a $5,000 fine, reimburse the state for legal costs incurred on his behalf before he resigned, and promise to never run for public office again.

But that hasn’t kept Jensen out of the state capitol. These days he can be seen prowling its halls, unelected but more powerful than ever, throwing his influence around. For the past three years, he’s been working as a high-paid lobbyist for school vouchers, raking in over $200,000 a year to do the arm-twisting work of the Walton and DeVos families, two of the richest in the nation.

A few moments after Jensen’s email, he received a response from Leslie Hiner. She is also a school choice PUPPET MASTER who is pulling strings in states across America from her perch at the Friedman Foundation. You can read more about her

From: Leslie Hiner []
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2015 10:25 PM
To: Scott Jensen

Subject: Re: Tonight’s ESA Vote in the House

Yes. As the former chief of staff to the Speaker in Indiana, I agree with Scott 100%. Wisconsin and Indiana are leading the nation in advancing educational choice, and this has not happened by accident. Leadership matters. Time for Oklahoma’s leaders to draw a line in the sand and act decisively. Until then, Oklahomans need to get the word out about who is, and who is not, supportive of families in Oklahoma.

Thank you, Scott.

And thanks to Jason Nelson for a stellar testimony today. Well done.
Friedman Foundation

Wow, don’t you think it is great that these out-of-state corporate lobbyists care so much about the children of Oklahoma? To the point that they are urging Oklahoma’s leaders to “draw a line in the sand” and “instill some team discipline” to ensure this voucher bill gets passed “for the kids?” Or else, “they can count on chaos!”

Are you starting to see the connections? We have Damon Gardenhire from the Walmart Family Foundation in Arkansas, with voucher lobbyists in Wisconsin and Indiana, along with conservative propagandists and law makers in Oklahoma, working together to implement legislation that very few people in Oklahoma are asking for.

This is serious business for these people and they are pulling out all the stops to get vouchers passed in Oklahoma. They have the money and influence.

But we have thousands of individual voices. This is why you MUST share this message with all who are concerned about the future of public schools in our state.

Make no mistake, the Oklahoma legislators who voted NO yesterday will face incredible pressure from these voucher wolves to change their vote. They need to hear from us TODAY, TOMORROW, and EVERY DAY until we defeat this legislation in Oklahoma.

Sorry Rob. I know that the scoring experts at CTB/McGraw-Hill would consider direct citation of such a long passage to be plagiarism, but you really nailed this one. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought it was fun to see the return of such buzzwords as liberals and education establishment! It’s not even Throwback Thursday! Gee, we’ve sure missed that one lady.

Friends, we need to take back our legislature. It’s not the job of think tanks and disgraced bullies from Wisconsin to hold our elected leaders accountable. THAT’S OUR JOB! The more sway we allow these outsiders to have at our Capitol, the less we have. We pay the taxes. We vote for these people. We have to live with the misguided policies they produce. The least they could do is answer to us! We must fight their robo-calls, their Walton Family Foundation money, and their agenda to destroy public education with our voices, our feet, and our relentlessness.

I’m also interested in the fallout. The political junkie in me loves sneaking a peak of how the sausage is made. Will Coody lose her spot as committee chair? Will this bill come back as zombie legislation next week? How many House Speakers from the Midwest will show up to shepherd the legislation? Will any of the legislators who voted to kill APUSH because it is not tied to state standards see the irony in supporting a voucher education that is not tied to state standards?

I oppose what this group of anti-public education activists call school choice. Vouchers help the people who don’t need help. It puts money in the pockets of people who already have the ability to provide the school setting of their choosing. It does not get the poor and needy into the game, as they love to pretend. Meanwhile, these same reformers attack public schools, tying our legs to anvils in the middle of the lake. When we don’t sink, they add more – because anvils are always funny.


We didn’t choose this. Neither did parents. Nor did students. Let’s not pretend differently or go down without a fight.

Save AP

February 17, 2015 12 comments

This fight is bigger than we thought. We’re no longer talking about simply saving APUSH. We’re talking about saving all of our Advanced Placement courses. As the Tulsa World reports, the House Common Education Committee voted 11-4 (along party lines) yesterday to make teaching AP US History illegal. If this measure were to go forward, all AP courses could be in jeopardy. This is a product of 2014’s HB 3399 which overturned the Common Core.

The legality of teaching Advanced Placement courses in Oklahoma public schools was raised Monday during a House Common Education Committee hearing on a bill aimed at the AP U.S. history guidelines.

That measure, House Bill 1380, by Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, would direct the state Board of Education to review those guidelines and bar the use of state funds for AP U.S. history courses.

During discussion and debate, however, it was suggested that AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.

It was also suggested that AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core, with state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, saying she has asked the state Attorney General’s Office for a ruling on the matter.

That legislation gives sole control of curriculum and assessment to the state, although it was not immediately clear whether the requirement applies to all courses or only to required courses.

Although HB 1380 specifically targets U.S. history, a ruling that it violates state law related to curriculum and assessment could apply to all AP courses.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave space for Southmoore High School teacher David Burton to explain how this course is no less patriotic than the previous iteration of APUSH. Nonetheless, the committee heard myth after myth, evidence to refute the falsehoods, and carried on as if nothing had happened. I listened to much of the committee meeting, and I was struck by the sheer ignorance of what I heard. It was depressing.

I don’t have a lot of time to write this morning, but we really need to be active and fast on this issue. Legislators need to hear from parents. They need to hear from students. They need to know how these courses have impacted your education, and how these courses have saved you money in college. Teachers and administrators have spoken. The legislature hasn’t heard us, apparently.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

Say NO to Vouchers. Rinse. Repeat.

February 16, 2015 Comments off

Friday, CCOSA sent members the following legislative alert:


There are two bills being considered on Monday by two separate legislative committees that have the potential of expanding VOUCHERS in Oklahoma.  Please contact members of both committees and your State Representative and State Senatorand ask that they vote NO on these bills!

SB 609 by Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) will be heard at 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 16, by the Senate Education Committee.

HB 2003 by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-OKC) will be heard at 3 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 16 by the House Common Education Committee.

Both bills would create a voucher program and distribute state funds to parents via “Education Savings Accounts” or ESAs. ESAs would be funded based on a percentage of the student’s WADM.  Parents of eligible students would be able to use those funds to pay for personal tutors, homeschooling costs, online classes, sports team fees and many types of therapy, including horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. They can also spend the money on private school tuition or save some of it for college.  ESAs currently exist in Arizona and Florida. In fact, Politico reports that one family from Florida “recently sought to use their child’s funds on and ‘educational vacation’ to Europe.”

Educators and parents should be concerned about this type of voucher program!

ESAs reduce the already limited amount of resources available to public schools and threaten to exacerbate the current teacher shortage!

ESAs do not have a built-in component to ensure that student participants are receiving rigorous or well-rounded educations!

ESAs would cause the OK SDE and/or State Treasurer to hire investigators and auditors to review and audit the private decisions of parents – allowing for government intrusion into private family matters!

ESAs are NOT revenue neutral – in both Florida and Arizona students were able to apply for ESAs even if they had never attended public schools in those states. This meant that both states ended up subsidizing private or home-based educations for children whose families previously covered those costs themselves/

Florida ESA costs as reported by Politico in Feb. 2015: $18.4 million

Arizona ESA costs as reported by Politico in Feb. 2015: $16.3 million

You can read more Education Savings Accounts at Politico.

These bills pretty much contain the same language as the voucher bill that died in committee (by a vote of 14-8) last February. The issue hasn’t changed. A few legislators want to take tax dollars to help a few families send their children to private schools. But wait, there’s more. Rob Miller tears the arguments in favor of vouchers to shreds in his post from yesterday, Education Savings Accounts: Facts, Myths, and Bovine Excrement!

Under bills filed by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, much of the per-pupil funding used to educate a child could instead be deposited in an individual bank account. Parents would be given a debit card and allowed to use that account to customize their child’s education. The money could be used for a wide range of education options, including tutoring, online courses, private school and other services. Money left unspent could continue to accumulate and be used for future educational needs. (In other words, parents could get a portion of their child’s education funding on an ATM card to use for home schooling, online courses, or private school tuition in their sectarian school of choice.)

Many Oklahoma lawmakers say they support parental involvement in K-12 education(seriously, is there anyone saying they do not want parent involvement in schools). The bills by Nelson and Jolley provide an opportunity to back up that rhetoric with action.

Rob’s post is long and detailed, and very much worth reading.

Also worth reading is the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs position on school choice:

In case you can’t see the tweet from the OCPA think tank, it says, “The price for more funding #oklaed is tougher standards, genuine accountability and increased parental choice.” How does giving parents the education funding and the choice to do anything under the sun with it amount to genuine accountability? What standards will be in place for the use of the ESAs? Which parents chose A-F Report Cards, EOIs for graduation, a third-grade retention law, and every other reform nightmare of the last few years? I ask because as with the ESAs, none of these laws were hatched in Oklahoma. They are the product of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Oklahoman and OCPA are just the Oklahoma mouthpieces for this Koch-brothers hobby. It’s all double-speak.

As Dr. Jason James pointed out last night, most families couldn’t get their children into a private school with the voucher described in these bills:

Everything about these bills misleads the public. If you find yourself with some downtime today, given the weather conditions we’re facing, I encourage you to respectfully call your own legislator and state senator, as well as the members of these two committees. Remember that they represent you – not OCPA, not the Oklahoman, and not ALEC.

Senate Education Committee

Senator District Phone Email Twitter
Senator John Ford . Chair 29 405.521.5634
Senator Ron Sharp . Vice Chair 27 405.521.5539
Senator Josh Brecheen 6 405.521.5586 @brecheen4senate
Senator Earl Garrison 9 405.521.5533 @garrisondist9
Senator Jim Halligan 21 405.521.5572
Senator Clark Jolley 41 405.521.5622 @ClarkJolley
Senator Susan Paddack 13 405.521.5541
Senator Marty Quinn 2 405.521.5555
Senator Wayne Shaw 3 405.521.5574
Senator Jason Smalley 28 405.521.5547 @smalley101
Senator John Sparks 16 405.521.5553
Senator Gary Stanislawski 35 405.521.5624 @SenStanislawski
Senator Roger Thompson 8 405.521.5588


House Common Education Committee

Representative District Phone Email Twitter
Rep. Ann Coody 64 405.557.7398
Rep. Chad Caldwell 40 405.557.7317 @chad4ok
Rep. Ed Cannady 15 405.557.7375
Rep. Dennis Casey 35 405.557.7344
Rep. Donnie Condit 18 405.557.7376 @ConditDonnie
Rep. Dan Fisher 60 405.557.7311 @ElectDanFisher
Rep. Katie Henke 71 405.557.7361 @KatieHenke
Rep. John Paul Jordan 43 405.557.7352
Rep. Sally Kern 84 405.557.7348 @SallyKern
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel 78 405.557.7334 @JeannieMcDani14
Rep. Michael Rogers 98 405.557.7362 @rogersmichael21
Rep. Jason Nelson 87 405.557.7335 @jasonnelsonok
Rep. Jadine Nollan 66 405.557.7390
Rep. Shane Stone 89 405.557.7397
Rep. Chuck Strohm 69 405.557.7331
Rep. Todd Thomsen 25 405.557.7336 @ToddThomsen

The Importance of Writing

February 13, 2015 3 comments

It doesn’t take a perceptive person to understand that I love writing. It’s why I majored in English in college. It’s why I became a teacher. Fundamentally, I believe that writing well opens doors for people. In desperate times, it can be the thing that feeds the soul.

It’s why I got so worked up during the summer when the state writing test went so badly. It’s why I was excited to hear that we wouldn’t be participating in the Field Test later this month. It’s why I tilted my head like Nipper, the RCA dog, when I heard yesterday that the 5th and 8th grade operational prompts would be in the narrative mode.


I wasn’t upset or frustrated – just surprised. Moreover, I was in the middle of scoring posters for a writing contest at West Junior High in Moore. This was a true Writing Across the Curriculum event, and I was excited to read what so many of these students had written. If the sample I saw was any indication, our students would have done well on the state test answering any kind of a prompt.

The event organizer, literacy coach Kathy Shaw, didn’t just stop there. She asked some people outside the school (including State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister) to address the importance of writing at the evening showcase for their parents, which was held last night. In Kathy’s words:

Our committee wanted to have a video of community leaders (and hopefully celebrities) to address the importance of writing at our Thunder Up for Writing event.  We wanted successful leaders to explain how writing is a tool that will be used beyond the walls of the classroom.  I emailed Joy and her staff immediately responded that she was thrilled to help us with this event.  I appreciated follow up conversations with her staff as they wanted to understand the event and the topic we wanted her to address.

I am pleased to say that Joy addressed the topic, and went beyond anything Kathy expected. What West Junior High received was a video that is nearly five minutes long. You can see it below.

Here are my nine favorite things Joy said in the video (with commentary by me in italics):

  1. “Writing sharpens your skills in everything.”
  2. “It makes you a more interesting person.” I’ve been counting on this!
  3. “Once you find your voice, it stays with you your entire life.”
  4. “For many, online sites and blogs have replaced newspapers as the news source of choice.” Yes!
  5. “Using Twitter has also helped me to sharpen my views.”
  6. “People are much more willing to work with you when you communicate well.”
  7. “I think an important part of being state superintendent is to encourage discussion.” Such a refreshing change!
  8. “If you can write well, you can express yourself well, and that means you will be heard.”
  9. “Your words matter.”

I’ll be honest; that last one got me. Talk about your teachable moment! Our students always need to be told they matter. Their ideas, their words, their voices…every bit of them matters. We have a state superintendent who gets that and takes the time to think about how she wants to express that to our junior high kids in Moore. Hopefully this message will be heard throughout Oklahoma.

Categories: Uncategorized

The legislative APUSH push-back: a teacher’s perspective

February 4, 2015 9 comments

I’ve been wanting to write about the APUSH legislation proposed in each of Oklahoma’s legislative houses, but I’ve been tied up with my arm in a sling for the better part of two weeks. Given the lengths of some of my rants, I didn’t want to type it all one-handed.  I’m getting back to full-strength, so I’ll be adding my thoughts to the blogosphere soon. In the meantime, I’ve really enjoyed Blue Cereal Education’s compendium of research and snark on the bills and the men behind them:

Oklahoma Turns Against APUSH?

We’ve Found A Witch… May We Burn Her?

Noooobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Meet Senator Josh Brecheen, Part II – Books on the Bonfire

Meet Senator Josh Brecheen, Part I – Fire From Heaven

OK Senate Bill 650 – Brecheen the Ice

OK House Bill 1380 – Something Seems Fisher About This

Since I’ve been sidelined, I have asked a teacher I respect tremendously to give me his thoughts on the bills. David Burton is the Social Studies department chair at Southmoore High School and a long-time APUSH teacher. He was also the Moore Public Schools Teacher of the Year last year. Everything from this point on is what David has written.


Greetings! My name is David Burton. I’m in the 15th year of my teaching career in Moore Public Schools. For 12 of these 15 years I have been a proud teacher of Advanced Placement (or AP) United States History (commonly known as APUSH): five years at Moore High and now in year seven at Southmoore. For those not aware, APUSH is one of the numerous AP courses designed by the College Board which include an end-of-course exam on which high school students have the opportunity to earn college credit prior to ever leaving the high school environment. This June will mark my 10th year of joining 1300+ high school APUSH and college history professors in working for the College Board to score the essays these high school students will compose as part of their APUSH exam.

I am humbled that my friend and colleague Rick Cobb, author of okeducationtruths, has offered me this opportunity to communicate with you.

On Monday, January 26th, I was forwarded an e-mail and opened its attachment. To my utter dismay I read the following:

Burton 1

These words are from Senate Bill 650 as submitted by Senator Josh Brecheen for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of SB650.

That Monday became a stressed-filled day with e-mails, phone calls, and meetings with interested leaders within my school, my district, and the state department of education as they could be worked around my teaching duties. Unfortunately, prior to settling into bed that night I found and read the following:

Burton 2

These words are from House Bill 1380 as submitted by Representative Dan Fisher for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of HB1380.

This APUSH course, that I teach and love, must have done something horrible to have found itself under the direct attack of two separate bills being considered by the Oklahoma legislature this session. What on earth is all this fuss about?

Beginning this past August, APUSH classrooms throughout the world (yes, the whole WORLD—U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, and a host of private schools which draw the children of Americans working within other countries also teach APUSH) began using the College Board’s new APUSH course framework in preparation for the newly redesigned end-of-course exam which students will take this coming May.

The APUSH course redesign now being used is the product of a multi-year endeavor to:

  1. better align the teaching of the course and the evaluation of its concepts and relevant historical thinking skills with college caliber expectations, and
  2. better align the historical thinking skills and exam formats among APUSH and AP World History and AP European History; the new APEuro framework/exam goes live in 2015-2016 with APWH to come in another year or so thereafter.

Brecheen’s SB650 and Fisher’s HB1380 each express concerns with the framework. Similar concerns were expressed by the Texas Board of Education and the Republican National Committee in the summer of 2014 as well as the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado in September 2014. The Texas BOE backed off from its threats to suspend the teaching of APUSH state-wide and opted to reiterate that, regardless of the College Board’s framework, the state-curriculum standards for American history which the BOE had previously adopted had to be fully taught within Texas’ schools. The Jefferson County board backed down following two weeks of student-led walk-outs from class in protest of the attacks on their course.

Concern One:

The newly adopted APUSH framework does not provide a comprehensive list of all of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. which APUSH students should learn within this American history course. These bills threaten to prevent the teaching of APUSH in Oklahoma until the College Board retracts the new APUSH framework and returns to the course guide used in 2013-2014 and before.

My Response:

The genius of the new APUSH framework is its lack of any attempt to create a comprehensive laundry list of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. that the College Board believes are imperative to learn.

  1. Any laundry list which seeks to be all-inclusive is bound to leave out some name, date, event, fact, etc. This will subsequently ignite the vitriol of some person somewhere in America. “You left my favorite topic out! How dare you!!”
  2. Nearly every state has its own curriculum format for a high school American history course. Such states, like Oklahoma, often hold lengthy meetings which include a wide-range of interested parties to create laundry lists, or some variation thereof, which seek to pacify these diverse interests. Click here for the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies. Interestingly enough, I am absolutely positive that there are Oklahomans who will still claim “something is missing.” Further, many school districts have detailed local guides to clarify and/or add to the guidelines set by the respective state.
  3. The College Board’s new framework for APUSH provides broad yet descriptive Key Concepts which span over the nine defined periods for historic study. Very rarely is there an inclusion of any specific or imperative fact to be learned, but rather does provide overarching concepts for the big-picture. The thought process here was that this provides the perfect opportunity for APUSH teachers to go in-depth on those topics which: (a) are important to the local/regional interests or requirements state law; (b) the individual teacher believes are quality examples of the key concepts; and/or (c)the students in the classroom express interest in exploring.

    Example: If the College Board did provide an exhaustive laundry list on the imperative names, dates, events, facts, etc., for the 1940s-1960s Civil Rights era it would most assuredly omit Civil Rights leaders, like Clara Luper, which Oklahomans would prefer to highlight. However, with the key concept framework now in use, I as a teacher in Oklahoma have the opportunity to help my students explore in detail the local/regional examples of the big-picture of Civil Rights. After all, Clara Luper and the Katz Drug Store sit-ins predated the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins by two years and yet Greensboro would most assuredly get the coveted laundry list spot.

  1. Additionally, I find the contention that the College Board return to the previous course guide to be laughable if it is truly the goal of Brecheen and Fisher to have a comprehensive laundry list. The old APUSH Topic Outline was a skeletal outline of concepts which also omitted the vast majority of proper names and events. Thus, as a disclaimer to the Topic Outline the College Board declared:

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Further, take a look at these samples from the old and new APUSH frameworks and see which one looks like it serves as the better guide to facilitate student learning:

The Old (click here for full outline)

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The New (click here for full framework)

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Concern Two:

The newly adopted APUSH framework fails to provide a comprehensive listing of primary source documents from American history to which APUSH students must be exposed. To solve this problem, the proposed legislation provides identical and lengthy lists of primary source documents from American history which ALL of Oklahoma’s students within an American history classroom, APUSH or otherwise, must receive instruction (thus, these two bills impact much more than just the teaching of APUSH).

My Response:

  1. For the most part, see my comments above about laundry lists. While the lists of documents Brecheen and Fisher provide include a collection of primary source documents that, by-and-large, most APUSH teachers, within Oklahoma or otherwise, actually use and have been using for years, there are still going to be documents that someone else believes to be imperative that are not on this list.
  2. Something of special note is that each of these document lists are not only identical to each other, but they are also identical to House Bill 588 from North Carolina’s 2011 Legislative Session (I’ll come back to North Carolina in a moment); it’s almost as if Brecheen and Fisher did a copy/paste out of someone else’s work (we call that plagiarism or cheating in my classroom).
  3. Some of the documents are actually problematic for a realistic study of traditional American history:

    a. The Mecklenburg Declaration: There is significant historic scholarship suggesting that this first declaration of independence did not even exist in 1775 as claimed. There are copies of some “Mecklenburg Resolutions” that sought some change in behavior from the British government which date to 1775. However, the earliest copy of anything resembling the incorporation of those resolutions into a formal break with Britain only dates to a news article in 1819. Why is this declaration included in SB650 or HB1380?—because there was coping/pasting from the North Carolina bill!! Why is it in the NC bill?—because the alleged declaration was made in North Carolina!—see another ideal example of a local issue that can/should be incorporated into an APUSH within that local area but is Mecklenburg really relevant to Oklahomans?—NO!

    b. I can see the direct connection of the Magna Carta to the early creation of rights/liberties within British identity. I do use Magna Carta along with the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights to show the legacy of British rights the American colonists believe were being violated. There is a direct legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. While I do love the Ten Commandments, I cannot see a clear justification for the development of this legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. Of course I’m sure that the Justinian Code is simply thrown in there to prevent claims that the Ten Commandments’ inclusion was purely for religious agenda purposes. Any other relevance of the Justinian Code to American history?

    c. Both Brecheen and Fisher have the Constitution, the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights listed distinctly. Once an amendment is ratified it is now is part of the Constitution. Further, those first ten amendments are the Bill of Rights. Basically the listing process has simply become a case of governmental/legislative redundancy.

Concern Three:

The newly adopted APUSH framework was created by the College Board, a non-profit company, which does not have to abide by the same levels of “transparency” which would be required by the legal framework in most states which includes the oversight of a legislature and/or state-wide school board accountable to the people. Further evidence of the College Board’s lack of transparency is evidenced by the fact that the sample test in the new format was hidden behind a secure-access portion of the College Board website. If the College Board is hiding the sample test it must be because they have created something shady and don’t want the general public to see it.

 My Response:

  1. The test redesign committee used by the College Board was comprised of college history professors and high school APUSH teachers. I personally know one of these APUSH teachers and he is held in high regard among the nation-wide community of APUSH teachers. Further, throughout the process of the redesign consultants from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Coalition for History, and the National Council for History Education were called on to provide their insight.
  2. Throughout the redesign process the College Board sent out surveys to APUSH teachers and college professors with samples of the framework’s Key Concepts and sample test questions for evaluation. I personally participated in three of these surveys offering my insight into the design of the conceptual framework and the merit of the proposed test questions in balancing the evaluation of course concepts and historical thinking skills.
  3. The new version of the test is NEW!!! There are not, as of yet, large stockpiles of sample questions created by the College Board which teachers can use within their classrooms so as to assess student progress. Of course the ONLY full-length practice test was in a secured location so that only audit-approved APUSH teachers could access it. If the general public could access this sample test then our students could access it since they are also part of the general public. If all of our students can readily access the one and only one full-length practice test then what type of valid results can a classroom teacher expect to see when using such test for evaluative purposes? This quite simply is a no brainer!!
  4. By the mid-Fall 2014 the College Board had completed another full-length practice test and was able to release the original sample test to the general public. Guess what? That test truly evaluates a well-rounded course in American history as well as legitimate ways for students to use their content knowledge within the scope of using appropriate historical thinking skills to complete each the multiple choice, the short answer, and the essay portions of the exam. Click here to see the full-length sample test.

Concern Four:

The newly adopted APUSH framework is a far-leftist liberally biased attempt to force students to solely be exposed to a revisionist and negative view of America, thus limiting or preventing the development of a nationalistic patriotism. SB650 and HB1380 simply seek to prevent the hijacking of traditional American history from the clutches of those evil, commie, über liberal teachers.

My Response:

  1. This is actually the primary rationale for the walk-out protests by the Colorado students. They didn’t want some sanitized American history course for APUSH or otherwise. They want a class that lets them see America in all of its glory and mire. After all, it’s more often than not the story of how we as a people grappled with the mire and learned to overcome such that has helped us to become progressively a better people overtime.
  2. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am probably the furthest thing from an evil, commie, über liberal. In the grand scheme of the totality of political topics (especially those topics non-related to APUSH or education), I am probably more in agreement with the politics of each Senator Brecheen and Representative Fisher and the majorities within Oklahoma’s two legislative chambers than I am with my friend and colleague who has provided me with this forum on this blog. As such, I have yet to see anything within the APUSH framework which seeks to force a biased study of American history upon APUSH students.
  3. Rather than make outlandish claims, or rely upon such made by others, I implore Brecheen and Fisher to actually read the framework and tell me where you see evidence of such claims. Seriously! Read the APUSH framework that you seek to circumvent with this legislation.

Ultimately, I see no clear convincing need for either of these pieces of legislation. Brecheen and Fisher seek to save Oklahoma’s children from a fabricated enemy. The reality is that if one of these bills successfully becomes law we will see a significant negative economic impact upon Oklahoma’s families. Consider this:

  1. If the teaching of APUSH is banished then students will not receive the required instructional strategies necessary for success on the APUSH exam.
  2. If students are not prepared for success on the APUSH exam they won’t earn a score which qualifies them for college credit.
  3. If students aren’t able to qualify for college credit then they and/or their families will be responsible to pay for taking U.S. History in college.
  4. Currently at each OU and OSU, the tuition and fees for one credit hour of course work is $248.05. Most students will be required to take one 3-hour U.S. History credit in order to graduate while many others will be required to take two 3-hour U.S. History credits. As such, the economic impact on Oklahoma’s families is $744.15 to $1488.30.
  5. Which seems more reasonable: approximately $90 to take the APUSH exam or hundreds of dollars in college?

In conclusion, simply imagine what would have happened to the education of the students represented in the chart below if either SB650 or HB1380 had been enacted five years ago. This chart represents the numbers of students who earned a qualifying college credit score on the APUSH exam since 2010.

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AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5; a 3 or higher is considered to be qualified, or passing, for college credit.

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