Two Things from the Ides of March
Who spends their Spring Break walking the halls of the Capitol and talking with their legislators? Today, it was a few hundred of my closest friends.
While there weren’t many legislators around, we had plenty to discuss with those we found. We were thankful of their bill to provide Rainy Day Funds to schools (and prisons), and we let them know that we supported several bills they’ve advanced so far this session. Overall, I felt proud that so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up on a beautiful day to talk to elected leaders about education. Why shouldn’t that make us feel good? We didn’t all hear the things we wanted to hear, but most of the legislators we met with were happy to see us. Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman even saved his last donut for me.
As great as today was, two things have me feeling uneasy.
1. The fight over the standards has just begun.
This should be settled. Oklahoma educators (PK-12 and Higher Ed) have worked for over a year on these. They’ve been critiqued. They’ve been vetted. Superintendent Hofmeister presented to the Legislature on the first day of session. Now, just a few days after voucher bills died in both chambers, Speaker Hickman and Senator Brecheen have introduced a total of three joint resolutions to disapprove of or continue amending the standards. Today, they even brought in two out-of-state experts to tell us why what Oklahomans have written isn’t good enough.
To me, the timing is suspicious. Why wait until now? With no action at all, the standards would have automatically been enacted next week. For months, fringe groups (people who do nothing but complain about public schools and encourage parents to pull their children out of them) have been calling the new math and English/language arts standards simply derivative of the Common Core that our state rejected two years ago. Nothing in the standards would have made them say anything different.
On KFOR this afternoon, I saw a clip from the meeting. One of the experts, Dr. Larry Gray, advised against approving the math standards. In the clip of his testimony, he expressed concern that a substitute teacher would not know what to teach just from reading the standards. While I’m sure this wasn’t representative of his entire testimony, this really isn’t how substitute lesson plans work. Teachers don’t leave a list of standards for a substitute; they leave assignments, preferably with detailed instructions. If they are minute-by-minute plans, even better.
Last summer, Oklahoma responded to a list of Gray’s concerns, and did so very transparently. The SDE’s record of changes made based on his suggestions is on their website .
On the English/Language Arts side, Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky also is recommending changes. For one, she wants the state to list works of literature that are appropriate for each grade level. She has also called the standards “empty.” It’s worth noting that in 2014, when the legislature passed HB 3399, one of the stipulations was that there not be a literature list. This is better left to local control. It’s also worth noting that Stotsky’s most recent book is titled, An Empty Curriculum.
The Legislature asked for Oklahoma standards to be written by Oklahomans based on Oklahoma values. Dozens of Oklahomans have worked diligently to make that happen. Now, a few disgruntled legislators want to throw that work out and leave it to professors from out-of-state.
This process has been thorough and public. The SDE has published the name of the math and ELA standards writing teams. The presentation of the standards to the State Board of Education is available online. They have been approved by the SBE and the State Regents. Dr. Frank Wang, President of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math has given the standards his approval. If you want out-of-state validation, they have also been approved by the Southern Regional Education Board. The SDE has more than 60 letters of support for the standards in all.
If you want to read the texts of the three resolutions, feel free:
Six weeks have come and gone. There’s nothing like the last minute to decide you want to ask a few questions. What we don’t need is to turn the remainder of the process over to out-of-state experts (and I don’t question their credentials at all, by the way). That would be a waste of precious time and an unconscionable use of Oklahoma money that we simply don’t have.
Nobody will like everything that went into the final draft. If you put 20 third-grade teachers in a room and asked them to agree on essential math skills for their students, you’d find some common ground, but a considerable amount of disagreement. And that’s just the standards. Now try to get them to agree on how these skills should be taught or assessed, and you have a bigger battle on hand.
2. The voucher fight isn’t over.
I know, we partied like it was 1989 (when we were fighting for HB 1017) last week when neither the House nor the Senate advanced their voucher bills. That was probably a bit premature. How else do you explain this video, released today by The Daily Signal, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation?
Yes, that’s our governor explaining why Education Savings Accounts are so good – on camera with a conservative think tank. The big money rolling into Oklahoma to fight for vouchers won’t stop now, just because we’ve become the “strongest lobby at the state Capitol” (unconfirmed). There’s still time for a May surprise. Just don’t be surprised.