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That Awkward Moment

March 16, 2016

This one time at EdCamp a friend asked me how I come up with an idea and start writing. I don’t have a precise formula. Generally, my ideas fall in that sweet spot in the Venn Diagram between something I know and something that needs to be said. If either of those things is lacking, I simply don’t write. If I’m not passionate, why bother? If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that will be pretty obvious. Unfortunately, not everybody follows this rule.

Today, the Oklahoman ran an op/ed piece by Jenni White, the director of the grassroots organization Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE). Unlike many other groups that have recently emerged, this really is a grassroots group. White has long been involved in education policy discussions, even though the majority of recent content on her group’s blog touts reasons why parents should not send their children to public schools.

White’s column focused on reasons why the Legislature should reject the recently written math and English/language arts standards. Here’s an excerpt:

Unfortunately, though the standards development process was begun immediately, it was quickly waylaid by Oklahoma’s 2014 elections, which saw the selection of a new state superintendent of instruction.

Under newly elected Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Department of Education scrapped the work of the previous administration and rebooted the OAS process in February 2015 with presentations from three nationally known standards writing experts made to the Oklahoma Standards Steering Committee.

In June, the first OAS draft and reviews were released to the public, followed by a second draft in July and a third in September. Final OAS drafts were released to the public in November 2015, adopted by the state Board of Education in December and presented to the Legislature in February.

A study of the standards review documents found on the Department of
Education’s Oklahoma Academic Standards web page (and those submitted by teachers directly to ROPE) across the months from June to December 2015 produced a list of the most articulated concerns over the course of the process.

It became apparent that several issues causing the OAS writing teams trouble from the beginning had not been resolved prior to the release of the final draft.

She then lists several of the concerns from the reviewers.

My concern is this: White herself admits on Facebook that she has not read the standards. She has only read the negative reviews.

Jenni did not read.jpg

As I wrote last night, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has collected over 60 letters of support for the standards. If you want, you can even read the one I wrote. Here’s part of what I said:

I have reviewed the standards as they are to be presented, and I have had opportunities to review drafts throughout the development process. I have colleagues, including several people who have worked for me, who have participated in the process as well.

Two things strike me as most exceptional about these standards. First is that every standard includes strands for reading and writing. That means that at all grade levels, we will expect students not only to consume language, but to create it as well. They will be using the vocabulary that they are learning. They will be applying critical thinking skills throughout the grade spans. Even better, they will be learning with the purpose of becoming independent readers and writers.

The second selling point to me is the care taken in vertical alignment between grades. Once adopted, these standards will give us a skills progression that will help teachers develop their own instructional units and prepare students for each successive grade. Ultimately, the assessments that will be in place to test students will be more representative of what they know and can do than what we have seen during recent years.

Yes, I actually read the standards. I read each draft. More importantly, I limit my comments to the English/language arts standards. Why? Before becoming an administrator, I taught middle and high school English for nine years. Academically, this is what I know.

Having been a central office administrator over all curriculum in Moore for seven years, I wouldn’t say my knowledge of math standards or pedagogy is nil, but it’s not as strong.

It’s more than reading the standards and having a grasp of what it takes to teach students, though. When I look at the members of the standards writing teams, I have five from the math list in my phone contacts and five from the English/language arts list in my phone contacts. Two worked for me in Moore. Two work for me now in Mid-Del. One used to share a cubicle wall with me at the State Regents. Two have guest-lectured in my graduate classes. Two were graduate school classmates of my own. Several of the people who aren’t close contacts are still people I know from various consortia and conferences.

I have faith in these people and their work. Maybe the fact that many of them are my friends speaks poorly for them, but I’m honored to know them.

Senator Anthony Sykes, one of the authors of the Senate resolution to reject the standards, hasn’t talked to the two people who work in the district he represents (Moore) who worked on these standards. I only know this because I had lunch with one of them today. Why would our legislators listen to the people who wrote the standards when they can have the Heartland Institute of Chicago drive a wedge among all the Oklahomans in the room?

By the way, who is the Heartland Institute of Chicago, and why are they driving this train right now? They’re a right-wing think tank with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. They are not a grassroots organization. They are not Oklahomans. They don’t belong in this conversation at all.

On the other hand, if Jenni White, or any other member of ROPE, wants to read the standards and point out a specific one that is inappropriate and explain why, I’d be more willing to listen.

  1. Beverly Howell
    March 17, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Just curious…who is paying Heartland Institute of Chicago?


  2. March 18, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Heartland has an excellent web site that is unusually transparent. Although I do not support their educational agenda at least they are honest about what they advocate. The describe themselves as “libertarians” and support “free market solutions.” They have close philosophical ties to the University of Chicago, but not financial. It is amazing to me that so many non-profits are involved in political advocacy. Some, like this one, were founded for that purpose. Non-Profit no longer means “charity”.

    Find their story here:

    Click to access History%20of%20The%20Heartland%20Institute.pdf


    • March 18, 2016 at 10:12 am

      I couldn’t agree more with that last part. We have many non-profits in this state and in this country that are far from the charitable or educational labels they use for tax purposes.


  1. March 17, 2016 at 5:27 am
  2. March 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm
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