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Standards of Bloviation

February 11, 2016

The last thing I read before I went to bed last night was Andrew Spiropolous’s column in the Journal Record criticizing the newly-written, waiting-to-be-adopted Oklahoma Academic Standards. That was a mistake. I already don’t get enough sleep. Here’s the start:

So it turns out, despite the hullabaloo, that the task force charged with writing superior English and math academic standards has submitted a proposal that, poking below the surface, isn’t that different than the Common Core version the legislators ordered it to reject.

Many of us predicted this ironic turn of events after the Legislature, running in fear from the grass-roots activists opposing Common Core, noisily disposed of the hated standards. Our suspicions were raised when education leaders issued an urgent call upon the Legislature to swiftly approve the new proposal. They were confirmed when the leaders coupled their pleas with affecting tales from local administrators and teachers lamenting how the uncertainty made doing their jobs impossible.

Actually, that task force was a group of teachers and experts in their fields. Actually, the standards are quite different than the Common Core. And actually, every day that the Legislature drags its feet on approving is an unnecessary delay for districts to start working towards implementation.

Hullabaloo or not, these are good standards.

I often like what I read in the Journal Record. Unfortunately, it is often behind a paywall. Then, when I’m thinking I might want to subscribe, I read the free content, such as this, that they release into the wild. After that, I lose interest.

It doesn’t surprise me that Spiropolous is crying Common Core. Maybe if he yells it three times, Beetlejuice (or someone resembling him) will appear to spend day after precious day roaming the Capitol, begging for people to listen.

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The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

We’re trying to teach our students. He’s misrepresenting the job we do. Even at the end, when he tries to sound magnanimous, he continues to insult Oklahoma’s educators.

So what should we do now? I don’t think rejecting this proposal and making our education officials start over will lead to a significantly improved product. The truth is that our state’s education establishment, from the state superintendent of education on down, is not committed to writing and implementing world-class standards that will distinguish us from other states.

I’ll take their word that they want to do better than we have in the past, but there is nothing about these people that inspires one to believe they seek to engage in bold, creative reform.

We should give up on the idea that the state education establishment will force excellence on local schools. Instead, we must encourage districts, schools and families to mount their own efforts to foster excellence. There is reason to believe, for example, that the new Tulsa superintendent of education, Deborah Gist, will draw on her experience as a successful reformer to help turn around her city’s schools.

It’s one thing to attack an elected official, as he does State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and call her part of the problem. It’s another fight altogether to insult the teachers who gave countless hours for this effort. He’s merely one of the anti-public school cheerleaders still mad that his horse lost her re-election bid in 2014.

I’m part of the education establishment, and I’m damn proud of it. I’m a teacher who has become an administrator. People like Spiropolous may spit this term out with venom, but we should wear it with pride. After all, we work every day to teach nearly 700,000 students in this state. Meanwhile, there are people around us hoping we fail so they can point and laugh.

Now it’s my turn to make a few assumptions. I doubt Spiropolous has read the new standards. I doubt he’s read the Common Core. I doubt he’s talked to any of the Math or English/Language Arts specialists who developed the standards. I doubt he’s asked a single parent or educator what they think of the standards or the erratic behavior of our elected leaders regarding them. I doubt he knows the price of textbooks or the smell of over-crowded classrooms. I doubt he understands the collaboration and development necessary to fully implement a new subject-area framework.

If all you know about education in Oklahoma is what you can learn from OCPA, the Oklahoman’s editorial page, and certain obstructionist legislators (and maybe a few constituent activists who wear tin-foil hats and have nothing better to do), you probably should just stop talking. You’ll only look foolish and insult good people.

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  1. February 13, 2016 at 5:15 pm
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