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Reason #3 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Vendetta against Jenks

Timing is everything. Yesterday, as I was poised to post the #4 reason in my countdown, I ran across the information about Janet Barresi’s campaign owing the candidate herself nearly $2 million. Apparently, that nugget of information is something my readers find interesting. In fact, twice in the last week or so, I’ve broken from the countdown to discuss something topical that was too new to make the list. The other time was when I posted the letter that the REAC3H coaches received from Barresi via their boss Teri Brecheen. In my mind, the common thread connecting the campaign contributions and the dismissal of the coaches is that both show how disconnected Barresi (and many of her top staff at the SDE) are from everyday people – even those who work for them.

Today, I have the good fortune of adding a late-breaking news nugget to the post that I had originally scheduled to run today. Here is what posted to the NewsOK website this afternoon

The campaign manager for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi alleged Wednesday that rival Joy Hofmeister broke the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts.

Hofmeister, of Tulsa, and Brian Kelly of Edmond are opposing Barresi in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Hofmeister said the allegations are “desperate attempts” by Barresi to “smear my reputation to distract voters from her failures.”

“I was a private citizen, during the time period of these conversations, responding to emails like most average citizens do,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “Janet Barresi is fast and loose with her accusations hoping to bully me with her personal fortune because I have decided to stand against her and fight for the school children of Oklahoma.”

This seems like a desperate leap to me. I hope it was worth the $1,500 her campaign spent to dig through the emails.

Here’s a recap of the Top Five (so far):

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 –  Vendetta against Jenks

The real story is the ongoing feud Barresi and the SDE have been waging against Jenks Public Schools. I started paying attention to it in May 2013.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.

“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.

The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.

Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.

The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.

“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.

In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.

Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.

“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.

Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.

Barresi, as Rob Miller (the Jenks Middle School principal), pointed out on his blog just last night, campaigned in 2010 telling us that she valued what parents think. Her actions ever since being elected show otherwise. Parents may matter, but not as much as testing. Although I suppose if you could test parents, you’d really have something that she values.

The investigation yielded nothing. The Tulsa World looked into how this started and found a very skeptical state superintendent pulling the strings.

Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.

In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”

That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.

“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.

By October, the SDE had quietly closed the investigation. Maybe they felt it was best not to keep this fire burning. After the World reported on the lack of findings, Rob Miller responded.

Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.

Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:

1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.

2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.

3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.

4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.

5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.

6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!

The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.

Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.

The numbers have grown so much, in fact, that a Jenks Public Schools parent is just six days away from possibly knocking Barresi out of her re-election campaign in the primary. Diane Ravitch took Rob’s story national.

In the spring, the SDE added to this story when they selected school districts for field testing and somehow missed a couple. To no one’s surprise, Jenks was one of them. (Owasso was the other.) Here was Rob’s reaction.

Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.

You could say that since Barresi took office, she has received a lot of grief from northeast Oklahoma. At one point, her Chief of Staff even called administrators from Jenks and Union dirtbags. She has ignored questions from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall. She even accidentally sent him the wrong email once, showing that she blamed the districts for the problems they were having with the ACE graduation law.

Her thirst for revenge is evident in all of these actions – and completely unacceptable for somebody who claims to be doing what she does to help children.

World of Jenks

No, the title isn’t a reference to the marginally popular MTV show of the same name; it’s a statement about the obsession that the SDE and the Oklahoman editorial page have with Jenks Public Schools.

I’ve commented before on editorials that randomly take shots at Jenks. This time, it’s the SDE opening an investigation because too many parents opted their children out of field tests. They want to make sure the school didn’t coax the parents into the opt out movement. From the Tulsa World:

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.

“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.

The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.

Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.

The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.

“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.

In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.

Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.

“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.

Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.

It seems to me the SDE is more concerned about not compromising this witch hunt than they are with the extent to which the whole test process has been compromised. Typically, they only investigate irregularities such as excessive erasure marks. This is altogether different.Why do they find it hard to believe that a group of parents would object to field testing? They send their children to school to learn – not to serve as unpaid subjects of a testing company.

It’s getting late. Do something.

FY 17 budget cuts.jpg

Used by permission from OSSBA

What you see above is real. In 77 days, public schools in Oklahoma have lost over $93 million in state funding. Oklahoma City Public Schools has lost the most, just over $5.3 million. Tulsa Public is next – just under $4.9 million.

In Mid-Del, we’re dealing with over $1.9 million in losses. As I’ve mentioned before, this is money that all districts planned on having based on the state budget passed by the Legislature (and signed by the governor) last May. Here’s the notice we received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education today:

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of May will be paid at the accumulative amount of 88.62 percent instead of the scheduled 91 percent of the current adjusted allocation. Revenue collections for the May State Aid payment are approximately $43.1 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 91 percent payment. The accumulative percentage of 88.62 percent includes the total amount short for this fiscal year updated for cash received through May. The cash flow shortage of $43.1 million for the May payment supersedes the $36.3 million for the March and April payments.

The May payment, available to districts on Thursday, May 11, is based on funds collected as of May 9, 2017. To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date to equal the amount of payment. The amount of funds collected as of May 9, 2017, is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 84.13 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801

  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 85.50 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478

  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 52.57 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000

  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 90.91 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.85

  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 92.96 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

More losses will come in June. Meanwhile, our Legislature continues looking for roughly $900 million to make up for a shortfall to next year’s budget.

To see what each district has lost to date, follow this link.


Several people around the state have asked me why they’re not hearing more from superintendents about what these cuts mean. Last year, after all, we went on and on and on.

I can’t answer for all superintendents. In my case, I’m too busy to spin my wheels. I need to focus on things I can impact. It’s not that the legislators who represent my district don’t hear us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They’re involved and astute.

I’ve been fighting for five years. It’s exhausting. Our day jobs don’t slow down just because we’re trying to keep our legislators informed. They’re aware of the problem. Some are even working on Sundays (which is still allowed as long as the Ten Commandments statue isn’t at the Capitol, I guess) to try to fix it.

Maybe too many people insist on getting credit. Maybe we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. And maybe our executive branch is too busy making dumb decisions like insisting on a $2.4 million test that means nothing or throwing state money down the commode by moving offices around for no reason at all.

This isn’t the time for anyone to play hero. If you’re in the leadership in the Legislature, you were there when this problem was created. It also isn’t the time for blame. Not yet, anyway.

doordonot.gif

Fix it, and all legislators deserve praise. Fail to do anything meaningful, and none do. It’s all or nothing. I’m trying to make a budget for the upcoming school year using numbers I don’t have. I’m not really in the mood to pat anyone on the back and say thanks for trying. Reading the Tulsa World tonight, it seems I’m not alone:

Uncertainty about state appropriations, which has a host of area school districts delaying their annual budget process for the new fiscal year.

“We’re tired of chasing rumors and ghosts,” West said. “This is the dance we’ve been doing every year for three years, but this year, we’re in a wait-and-see pattern. We’re not going to hire anyone until June. What I’m worried about is somebody is going to take another job. We’re having to put them off.”

Sapulpa Public Schools is holding off on offering new contracts to its first- and second-year teachers who have been employed on a temporary basis and Owasso Public Schools leaders say they’re hoping that building up their savings will help see them through Fiscal Year 2018, but they can’t be sure.

Leaders of Union, Jenks and Broken Arrow public schools are also waiting to finalize budget plans for next year, and being cautious about communicating how programming would be affected by cuts, until they have more information from the state.

Because Collinsville is a growing district, with 165 new students the past two years and 100 more expected for 2017-18, West said he has the luxury of being able to commit to offering new employment contracts to all current teachers.

So we wait. And we’re not silent.

And I’m not alone.

Craig, I’m too tired to sigh. Plus, there’s the $1.9 million. That has me pretty bummed out.

Our state leaders persist in working on our behalf, though.

pissing contest

Good thing they’re focused!

I can’t imagine what backlash legislators would face if they fail to do their job. It’s not just public schools. It’s all state agencies. It’s all core state services. This state has consciously chosen to re-elect people who willfully made us go broke. Elections have consequences. Hopefully, at some point, failing to lead will too.

A Great Hire

October 24, 2016 1 comment

November 8 can’t get here soon enough.

I know that none of us can wait for Election Day and an end to the shenanigans of the candidates and their surrogates. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

This:

Dr. Janet Dunlop named OSDE deputy superintendent of assessment, accountability

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 24, 2016) – Dr. Janet Dunlop has been named deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). In her cabinet-level position, she will oversee Oklahoma’s state testing program and school accountability measures. Dunlop will also supervise the transition of school assessments and accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law, and House Bill 3218, which eliminated end-of-instruction (EOI) exams and marks the end of a culture of excessive testing in Oklahoma public schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised Dunlop’s expertise and her commitment to Oklahoma’s public schools.

“I am excited to welcome Janet Dunlop to our department. Dr. Dunlop is a tireless advocate for the academic success of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren and brings an impressive record of experience to the position,” said Hofmeister. “I am confident that her breadth of knowledge and commitment to excellence will prove invaluable.”

Since 2010, Dunlop has served as associate superintendent of instructional services at Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS). During her tenure, she facilitated the district’s successful literacy initiative, aligned curriculum for grades PK-12 and oversaw the administration of school site and district-level assessments. Dunlop was also instrumental in crafting the new Oklahoma Academic Standards and was recently named the Oklahoma Assistant Superintendent of the Year by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) and the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.

Broken Arrow Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall commended Dunlop for her service to the district.

“Dr. Dunlop played an important role in helping the district develop a revamped vision that focuses on literacy, engagement and graduation for every student,” said Mendenhall. “Her knowledge about curriculum and education is unmatched, but it’s her love for students and people that really makes her special. Although the district is losing an incredible educator, the state is fortunate for gaining such a passionate advocate for public education.”

Dunlop holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in school administration and curriculum leadership, a master’s in educational leadership and bachelor’s degrees in English education and English from Oklahoma State University (OSU). In addition, she has held the positions of principal and assistant principal at Union Public Schools in Tulsa and adjunct professor of education at OSU. She began her career teaching English and language arts in Sand Springs, Jenks and Berryhill Public Schools.

Dunlop said she is excited to serve Oklahoma public schools in her new position.

“I am honored by the opportunity to serve our State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and public schools in Oklahoma. With the passage of ESSA, Oklahoma is in a unique position to make choices that will improve the way our schools measure and report student learning,” said Dunlop. “In addition, with hard work, we can provide our students, parents and communities with an accountability system that provides rich and detailed information about school successes and opportunities to support our schools.”

Dunlop is replacing Dr. Kathryn Dunlap, who is retiring.

Dunlop’s first day at OSDE will be November 8.

The feds have given us flexibility to reduce the amount of state testing. So has the Legislature. Having someone well-respected with school district leadership experience helping guide the process will be refreshing.

I’ve known Janet for years. She’s one of the strongest curriculum and instruction leaders I know.

The fact that she starts in her new position on November 8 means we will have at least one good outcome on Election Day.

Less testing. More focused accountability. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Mock Outrage and Real Impact

August 16, 2016 Comments off

Facts matter. So do details. So does context – well, to most of us at least.

By now, many of you have probably seen the blog post by Steve Anderson at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressing mock outrage at school districts and the funds we’re allegedly hoarding. If you haven’t, it’s worth your time to read. Here’s his opening:

Oklahomans who have been told repeatedly that Oklahoma’s schools are underfunded may be very surprised to learn that the schools in fact have “savings accounts” that are full of cash sitting idle.

Idle is a pretty strong word. We do end each fiscal year with funds in various accounts. That much is true. Most of those funds are in accounts that have limited purposes. I’ll get to that in a minute.

What really caught my attention is that of all the districts in the state, Anderson chose to highlight 11 in a table on his blog.

2015 School Year Revenues

School District

Cash Forward

Largest Balance Item?

Bartlesville $20,577,066 Yes
Bixby $25,774,424 Yes
Clinton $4,562,120 No
Jenks $57,381,683 Yes
Midwest City-Del City $45,491,461 Yes
Moore $33,185,915 No
Norman $42,912,359 No
Sand Springs $21,590,762 Yes
Stillwater $14,005,455 No
Tahlequah $8,611,547 No
Tulsa Union $87,812,848 Yes

It’s strange for a number of reasons. Many of these districts have outspoken leaders who have pushed back against OCPA’s propaganda. Mid-Del, which is mine, is an obvious target. Still, if the point was to shock their readers, why did Anderson not highlight the two districts with more than $100,000,000 in cash forward balances

Last week, KFOR in Oklahoma City asked us for a statement about the OCPA post. We sent one, which they didn’t use in their report (and that was perfectly fine with me):

The OCPA blog post showing that Mid-Del Public Schools carried forward a balance in excess of $45 million is misleading. Among funds included in their calculation are several that cannot be used for every day operational costs. Examples include:

  • $12.4 million in the Sinking Fund
  • $11.4 million in the Building Fund
  • $2.4 million in the Child Nutrition Fund
  • $1.2 million in various Activity Accounts
  • $939 thousand in the Workers Comp Fund

Mid-Del Public Schools began Fiscal Year 2015 (14-15 school year) with about $7.6 million in the General Fund. Mid-Del received $89.6 million in General Fund revenues for that school year. The cash forward amount represented about 8.5% of that figure. As a district, we strive to achieve a cash forward (or carryover) balance in the General Fund of 6% to 8%, so that we can continue operating fluidly before receiving our first state aid payment of the school year in late August.

As a point of reference, Mid-Del ended FY16 with a 5.9% cash forward balance. Even with the mid-year reductions in spending we were able to make after last year’s statewide budget collapse, we were not able to achieve our target fund balance.

The danger with blog posts such as this is that they only serve to confuse the public. On the other hand, they also open a door for conversations to educate the public at-large about the intricacies of public school finance.

Mid-Del Public Schools remains committed and prepared  to providing a quality public school education to the more than 14,000 students who will arrive to meet their teachers in 11 short days. No level of budget cuts will change that.

Yes, I wrote that over a week ago. It’s just taken me a while to finish this post.

And for the record, I was happy with the comments KFOR used in their report. First was Steve Lindley from Putnam City. Well, actually, OCPA President Jonathan Small spoke first:

I do think, when you look at the way our funding is spent in K-12 education in Oklahoma, that it’s clear that the priority is not first the most important person, which is the teacher in the classroom.

It’s clear? Really? We spend money on salary and benefits. We spend money on facilities and utilities. We spend money on instructional materials and technology. Unfortunately, as the districts have had to count on the state less for funding, most of the costs after salary and benefits have been left to districts’ bond projects and building funds.

As data from the Office of Educational Quality and Assurance (OEQA) show, for the 2014-15 school year, state funding generated 47.7% of what school districts had available to spend. (This doesn’t include bond costs, which vary widely among the school districts.) For the 1999-2000 school year, state funding accounted for 57.3% of what school districts had available to spend. State support for public schools has been on a steady decline for a long time now.

Some districts are growing. They need to add to the size of their facilities. Other districts are aging. They need to replace or upgrade their facilities. There just aren’t funds available through the funding formula to meet these needs, so the districts pass bonds through local elections.Many districts also use bond funds to buy buses, which also have an optimal span of usage. As we drive more and more operational costs into our bond projects, meeting these needs becomes more challenging.

Back to the KFOR piece:

Putnam City Spokesman Steve Lindley showed NewsChannel 4 the district’s finances and the “$83 million surplus” the OCPA reported.

About $14 million (which has since shrunk to about $10 million) is available for use in the general fund, he said, though much of it is being saved to pay bills that will be due before property taxes are collected at the end of the year.

Other money is saved in reserves to deal with emergency situations.

“In the financial situation we’re in now, we don’t know what’s coming or when it’s coming,” Lindley said. “We manage our resources very carefully and make the best use of them that we can. And, why would we do anything else?”

Another $11 million was raised with a specific purpose like MAPS or child nutrition or by a specific group like an activity fund or a gift.

That money can not be used for general operations.

And, the lions share of the Putnam City “surplus,” $57 million, are dedicated to paying off voter-approved bond issues.

In other words, just as the Mid-Del figures I provided at the top show, school districts have multiple funds that have very specific purposes. We’re not hiding money from our teachers, and they know it. Either that, or they just don’t understand how school funding works. This statement by Small further illustrates this:

“A lot of our money ends up going more toward bonds and buildings than it does toward teacher salaries,” he said. “Often, school districts are going to voters asking for increased property tax levies for the purpose of bonding instead of for the purpose of teacher salaries.”

The guy in charge at the OCPA should know better. Maybe he does, and this is just his way of sowing the seeds of discord. That seems to be their specialty anyway. If they truly are a public policy research organization, as their website proclaims, I expect better from their research. Maybe that’s why, when a friend sent me the link to Anderson’s post, my browser was reluctant to let me visit the site.

OCPA Not Safe.png

I’m not the only one who has written about this post. My friend Gary Watts, the recently retired chief financial officer for Sand Springs Public Schools, has started a blog that targets the OCPA for misleading the public.

He also dismisses the real concern districts have with managing cash flow in their general funds:  “They don’t seem to understand that the accrual of those expenses incurred but not paid should already have been made.”  I managed a $40+ million budget for an Oklahoma school district for ten years and I don’t know what he means, probably because he doesn’t.  I think his “accrual of those expenses” is referring to encumbrances under Oklahoma law–and yes those expenses, like salaries, are encumbered fully before they are paid.  The problem that Mr. Anderson chooses not to understand is that revenues are also “accrued”, in our language budgeted, before they are received.

Gary, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I can only wonder why Sand Springs was one of the districts in the spreadsheet at the top!

Even The Lost Ogle called out the OCPA. And they did it more beautifully than any of my blogger friends and I could have:

Before we continue, I should probably inform you that the guy who published the article for OCPA is Koch brothers shill Steve Anderson. From 2011 to 2013, he served as a key advisor and state budget director for Kansas governor Sam Brownback…. Under Brownback and Anderson’s regime, the state slashed income taxes for the rich in an attempt to spur economic growth. Sound familiar? As you probably know, the plan backfired. Kansas faced a revenue shortage, made drastic budget cuts to education and transportation, and eventually landed in a recession. Once again, sound familiar?

Same game plan, different latitude.

In reality, the OCPA has one job: to feed the public a narrative that all government spending is bad. They are a non-profit funded by donors, who can write off the donations the same as they would write off donations to St. Jude’s. They exploit any piece of data, no matter how far they have to reach, just to make public education look bad. Their agenda is one in the same with the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

What we see now is just a trickle. It’s that nuisance of a drip leaking from your bathroom faucet. You don’t think much about it, because it really doesn’t cost you much. We just have to get ready for the fire hose now. As state elections approach(run-off elections for now), they will only seek to strengthen their base’s loathing of all things public – especially education. By November, when the penny sales tax is on the ballot, their effort will be relentless.

An Hour of Your Time

Today we’ve been given the gift of time. Since most of Oklahoma’s schools closed today due to the weather forecast, we have time to do some critical work. If you haven’t read Senate Bill 609, which would create the Oklahoma Education Empowerment Scholarship Savings Program (that’s a mouthful, so I’m going to use the term voucher), you should. Here’s an excerpt from page 2:

SB 609 Image 1

It all sounds harmless until you realize that there is no accountability for how this money is spent. Parents will have to report receipts to the State Treasurer’s office, but nothing in the bill directs the state to itemize expenditures or at least list them categorically (as schools have to do). I assume most parents would use the money wisely, just as most schools do. However, as a parent, I could choose to spend the majority of my child’s voucher on section 1(d), co-curricular and extracurricular activities.

The bill also has no accountability for student learning, ironically, since this is the main reason voucher proponents insist children need to escape – and I’m using this phrase as they use it – government schools. We will never see EOI averages of the voucher students, mainly because they won’t have to take them. Parents can, however, use the voucher to pay for ACT exams – which you probably realize I would like to see the state provide for all students in lieu of the EOIs. In short, this bill would let parents do things they wish their children’s public schools were allowed to do.

[Incidentally, the version of the bill that the full Senate will consider no longer has the merit pay provision that was in the committee draft, so I’ll let that sleeping dog lie for the time being.]

I also want you to read one other thing on this lovely snow day – an editorial from yesterday’s Oklahoman. You can follow the little blue line and read it yourself, but here’s a preview:

ESA opposition could easily cost a Republican lawmaker his job. Yet five Republicans joined with liberal Democrats in opposing an ESA bill in committee, where the final vote was 9-9.

Those votes contradict Republican stances on supporting the free market and opposing “one size fits all” government mandates. If the five dissident Republicans hope voters will ignore those contradictions, two words suggest otherwise: Melissa Abdo.

Abdo is a strident opponent of an existing state program that provides scholarships to children with special needs, such as autism. Abdo also was a candidate for a state House seat in the Jenks area last summer. Once her opposition to school choice was publicized, she quickly went from front-runner to losing a runoff. Her opponent, current Rep. Chuck Strohm, is among the authors of ESA legislation.

This editorial refers to the House version of the voucher bill. It died in committee, although legislation often has the properties of zombie soap opera characters who somehow find the wherewithal to survive a tumble down an elevator shaft*. You also see that the Oklahoman can’t resist taking a pot shot at Jenks Public School board member Melissa Abdo, who has never shied away from being a conservative who proudly supports public education. If you read between the lines here, the editorialists are saying that if you don’t agree with them, then you must not be a real conservative.

Anyone who knows me understands how much this drives me crazy. You shouldn’t have to check all the right boxes to be a conservative. After all, the Oklahoman opposes replacing the EOIs with the ACT, but the Senate Committee on Education passed that bill 11-1, with the Committee on Appropriations passing it through to the full Senate by a vote of 37-6. The Oklahoman opposed the sanity clause in the RSA (the parent committee), and it both chambers were able to override Governor Fallin’s veto last spring by huge margins, without discussion. They opposed the repeal of the Common Core, and well, here we are.

My point is that they’re not only out-of-sync with the state on education issues; they don’t even align with their own party most of the time**.

For whatever reason, they’ve decided this is the issue by which they will draw the line in the sand. You’re either with us, or you’re with those liberals.

This is why I’m asking for an hour of your time. In the Committee on Finance last week, the vote to pass SB 609 to the Senate Floor was only 8-6. It was not a vote decided upon party lines. It’s almost as if the people we elected were listening to their constituents rather than the out-of-state groups threatening punishment for committee members who don’t fall in line.

We need to keep those calls flowing. We need to call as many members of the Senate as we can today and give them a simple message about SB 609. Angela Little, an Edmond parent and education activist, asked on Facebook yesterday for some simple messages about why we might oppose this bill. Several of us replied, and she made these little message cards.

Little 3

Little 2

Little 4

Little 3

 

Any of those would be a good message for our elected representatives to hear. You can also pick anything from this voucher post I wrote in 2014. You can even come up with your own message. Just be polite and clear. Remember, last year, this same idea failed in a House committee, and the vote wasn’t even close.

It took me an hour to write this post. I encourage you to take an hour and see how many members of the senate you can contact today. Let them know how you feel. And do whatever you can to get more parents and teachers to call.

Senator Phone Number    Email Address
Allen, Mark 405-521-5576 allen@oksenate.gov
Anderson, Patrick 405-521-5630 anderson@oksenate.gov
Barrington, Don 405-521-5563 barrington@oksenate.gov
Bass, Randy 405-521-5567 bass@oksenate.gov
Bice, Stephanie 405-521-5592 bice@oksenate.gov
Bingman, Brian 405-521-5528 bingman@oksenate.gov
Boggs, Larry 405-521-5604 boggs@oksenate.gov
Brecheen, Josh 405-521-5586 brecheen@oksenate.gov
Brinkley, Rick 405-521-5566 brinkley@oksenate.gov
Brooks, Corey 405-521-5522 brooks@oksenate.gov
Brown, Bill 405-521-5602 brownb@oksenate.gov
Crain, Brian 405-521-5620 crain@oksenate.gov
Dahm, Nathan 405-521-5551 dahm@oksenate.gov
David, Kim 405-521-5590 david@oksenate.gov
Fields, Eddie 405-521-5581 efields@oksenate.gov
Floyd, Kay 405-521-5610 floyd@oksenate.gov
Ford, John 405-521-5634 fordj@oksenate.gov
Fry, Jack 405-521-5584 fry@oksenate.gov
Garrison, Earl 405-521-5533 garrisone@oksenate.gov
Griffin, A J 405-521-5628 griffin@oksenate.gov
Halligan, Jim 405-521-5572 halligan@oksenate.gov
Holt, David 405-521-5636 holt@oksenate.gov
Jech, Darcy 405-521-5545 jech@oksenate.gov
Jolley, Clark 405-521-5622 jolley@oksenate.gov
Justice, Ron 405-521-5537 justice@oksenate.gov
Loveless, Kyle 405-521-5618 loveless@oksenate.gov
Marlatt, Bryce 405-521-5626 marlatt@oksenate.gov
Mazzei, Mike 405-521-5675 mazzei@oksenate.gov
Newberry, Dan 405-521-5600 newberry@oksenate.gov
Paddack, Susan 405-521-5541 paddack@oksenate.gov
Pittman, Anastasia 405-521-5531 pittman@oksenate.gov
Quinn, Marty 405-521-5555 quinn@oksenate.gov
Schulz, Mike 405-521-5612 schulz@oksenate.gov
Sharp, Ron 405-521-5539 sharp@oksenate.gov
Shaw, Wayne 405-521-5574 shaw@oksenate.gov
Shortey, Ralph 405-521-5557 shortey@oksenate.gov
District 11 405-521-5598  
Silk, Joseph 405-521-5614 silk@oksenate.gov
Simpson, Frank 405-521-5607 simpson@oksenate.gov
Smalley, Jason 405-521-5547 smalley@oksenate.gov
Sparks, John 405-521-5553 sparks@oksenate.gov
Standridge, Rob 405-521-5535 standridge@oksenate.gov
Stanislawski, Gary 405-521-5624 stanislawski@oksenate.gov
Sykes, Anthony 405-521-5569 lewis@oksenate.gov
Thompson, Roger 405-521-5588 thompson@oksenate.gov
Treat, Greg 405-521-5632 treat@oksenate.gov
Wyrick, Charles 405-521-5561 wyrick@oksenate.gov
Yen, Ervin 405-521-5543 yen@oksenate.gov

*from what I hear

**technically, newspapers are non-partisan – technically

The Rob Miller Rule?

December 8, 2014 2 comments

In case you missed it, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has some proposed administrative rule changes posted to its website. Many of them are minor language changes, or instances of revision caused by legislation. One in particular caught my attention, however. Read it and see if you can guess why the proposed rule was written:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation

At the direction of the State Department of Education, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments.

In 2013, if you’ll recall, a large contingency of parents in a school somewhere in the Tulsa area (I forget where) decided their students didn’t have to take field tests. Coincidentally, the testing company claimed it did not have enough usable data from the field test to give an operational 7th grade geography test the next year. More comedy ensued in 2013 when the SDE renamed the field tests item tryouts, which fooled no one. Then in 2014, the SDE exempted two entire districts (in the Tulsa area) from having to take field tests.

I love this. It’s like the SDE is saying, enough of the hijinks and shenanigans, Rob. Seriously, I expect every sentence of the proposed rule to end with a direct address. Below is my rewrite:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation, Rob

At the direction of the State Department of Education, Rob, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments, Rob.

To be fair, the SDE has a non-Jenks Public Schools rationale for the new administrative rule. You can read their entire rule impact statement, but here are the first three points:

What is the purpose of the proposed rule?

The purpose of the proposed new rule at 210:10-13-24 is to articulate the statutory requirement, under 70 O.S. § 1210.505 et seq., for Oklahoma school districts to participate in field testing of assessments conducted under the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP). The rule codifies existing State Board of Education and State Department of Education policy, and ensures the validity and reliability of assessments through appropriate field testing.

What classes of persons will be affected by the proposed rule change and what classes of persons will bear the costs of the proposed rule change?

The proposed changes will affect public school students and teachers, public school districts and public schools, and charter schools. The agency does not anticipate any additional costs to result from the rule amendment.

What classes of persons will benefit from the proposed rule?

The proposed changes will benefit students and teachers as well as public school districts, public schools, and charter schools.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss the comedy of Janet Barresi and her legal staff when she’s gone. No amount of field testing will ensure the validity and reliability of our state tests. And no amount of testing – field or otherwise – will benefit public school students.

This rule, as often is the case, solves no problem. I don’t know of a school or district that refused to administer a test. Parents refused to have their students sit for tests, which is perfectly acceptable. We shouldn’t let those little details called facts get in the way though.

That’s our job.

The public comment period for the proposed administrative rule changes is open now and ends December 19. The full list of rule changes is available on the SDE website. Comments can be submitted by email.

2014-15 State Teacher of the Year Finalists

July 16, 2014 Comments off

I wanted to write about this, but in a separate post from my musings on the conference, the SDE, and reform fatigue. Today, we learned who the state’s 12 Teacher of the Year Finalists are. These professionals should be congratulated and honored for their accomplishments. I wish each well in the state competition. They are:

  • Tonya Lynn Boyle, who teaches fifth grade at H. Cecil Rhoades Elementary School in Broken Arrow Public Schools.
  • Cynthia Brown, who teaches AP English Language and Composition and Humanities at Piedmont High School in Piedmont Public Schools.
  • Roger Clement, who teaches Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry and Chemistry II at Noble High School in Noble Public Schools.
  • Amber L. Elder, who teaches first and second grades at James L. Dennis Elementary School in Putnam City Schools.
  • Adam Forester, who teaches Chemistry, Pre-AP Chemistry, AP Chemistry and Earth Science at Bethany High School in Bethany Public Schools.
  • Monica Hodgden, who teaches Pre-Kindergarten at Woodward Early Childhood Center in Woodward Public Schools.
  • James LeGrand, who teaches AP U.S. History, America in the 1960s and Civil War and Reconstruction at Altus High School in Altus Public Schools.
  • Jennifer Luttmer, who teaches second grade at Liberty Elementary School in Sallisaw Public Schools.
  • Romney Nesbitt, who teaches art at Jenks West Intermediate School in Jenks Public Schools.
  • Jason Scott Proctor, who teaches Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah Public Schools.
  • Diane Walker, who teaches All-Honors Oklahoma History, World History, Government and Geography at Muskogee High School in Muskogee Public Schools.
  • LeaAnn J. Wyrick, who teaches Geography at McCall Middle School in Atoka Public Schools.
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After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

Counting down from 20 was so much fun (how fun was it?)…it was so much fun I added a new number one yesterday afternoon. Now I’m going to add 13 more! These are additional examples of things that Barresi or the SDE have done during the last 42 months to wreck public education. Whether an example of failure by design or incompetence, each is worthy of dishonorable mention. There is no particular order to the following list. Nor should they be interpreted as Reasons 22-34. Some could easily have made the top 20. Even after this, I’m sure I’m missing something.

For each, I’m going to limit myself to a paragraph or two and add a relevant link.

TLE Implementation

On many fronts, the SDE has mishandled the development of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. While the qualitative component that counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation has been met with good reviews overall, initially Barresi was reluctant to accept the TLE Commission’s recommendation for a model. She was hell-bent on anything but the Tulsa model (much as #oklaed is hell-bent on anything but Barresi right now). Validating the work of one of her staunchest opponents (TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard) was more than she could stomach. Unfortunately for her, more than 400 school districts went with the Oklahoma-grown evaluation model. Since the cool thing in 2014 all about growing our own, this should be ideal, right?

In 2012, when it came time to provide funds for districts to train teachers, principals, and other administrators in the models of choice, the SDE predictably dropped the ball. They had anticipated a cost of $1.5 million for training (after stating in legislative hearings that TLE would be a revenue-neutral initiative). The lowest bid received was $4.3 million. This was their solution:

Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.

Some districts had already tried to secure training independently of the SDE prior to that announcement, but the SDE had blocked them. They literally kept the entities authorized to provide the training from entering into contracts with individual school districts. This announcement by the SDE then was doubly frustrating. Districts trying to be proactive were blocked. They had to wait an extra 2-3 months for the training they knew their staff needed.

Test Exemption in Moyers

In April, a family in Moyers suffered a great tragedy. The school called the SDE to try to get a testing waiver for a student going through tremendous grief. It took a social media onslaught to get the agency to reverse its original decision not to grant the waiver.

Eventually, the SDE caved. They said it was a misunderstanding. Barresi was also quick to blame the federal government for setting such intractable testing rules. It’s a typical JCB story. Testing matters more than students or schools. If she looks bad, blame someone else – especially liberals or the feds.

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

Janet Barresi tells anyone who is forced to listen to her that her greatest accomplishments are transparency and accountability. As of October (or earlier – this was when I first noticed it) the SDE’s Accountability Page no longer contains API scores . The Academic Performance Index was Oklahoma’s school accountability system from 2002-2011. It was replaced in 2012 by the A-F Report Cards, which were one of Barresi’s hallmark reforms.

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

*Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.

Barresi likes to construct a narrative in which accountability didn’t exist before she showed up. As with most of her talking points, there is no merit to this. There is also no reason to hide old API reports. Nothing in the Act named above would require historical data to be removed.

Whole Language

In November, Barresi participated in a candidate forum that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. That video alone could have been the basis for a pretty solid top ten list. One of the outrageous things she said was that the reason Oklahoma students can’t read is because the University of Oklahoma still teaches Whole Language. She also insists that OU and OSU need to teach their education students how to teach reading and math. Maybe she was just still bitter about the research report discrediting her precious A-F Report Cards. In any case, she simply sounded uninformed and petty.

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

Early in the Morning of May 10th, Rob Miller received an email from the superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools. The news media had been reporting that the district had the worst 3rd grade scores in Oklahoma. Due to technical problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill (go figure), she had not been able to login to confirm their scores. The first news story reported that none of the school’s students passed the test. They corrected it at the 10:00 broadcast. Unfortunately, we all know that retractions don’t have the impact as an inaccurate report in the first place. If the SDE hadn’t been in such a rush to get scores out to the media and represent their reading initiative as a success, this misrepresentation never would have happened. Barresi doesn’t care about that – just about controlling the narrative.

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

The most-viewed post of all time on this blog is from March: How to Lose Your Appetite. The funny thing is that I really didn’t care for the post all that much. Based on screenshots and redacted identities, I piece together comments overheard from Barresi during lunch. She thinks Sandy Garrett had no accomplishments. She thinks the legislature is crazy. She thinks teachers are liberal. She blames everyone but herself for how badly she is doing in this job. Her commercials make that perfectly clear.

Illegal Hiring Practices

Normally, especially with state government jobs, an agency will post a position (and a job description). Under Barresi, nothing is done the normal way at the SDE. Did you know that Michelle Sprague, the Director of Reading/Literacy, is set to become the new Director of Elementary English/Language Arts? Funny, that position never posted to the SDE website. That must’ve been an oversight, as was the creation of the new position. Likewise, Sprague’s successor in the position she’s leaving has already been selected. That job never posted either.

Throughout Barresi’s tenure at the SDE, she has fired and run off good people, often replacing them with others who aren’t qualified for their jobs. The SDE has definitely found a few hard workers who try hard to help schools through all of the challenges they face, but their efforts are often stymied from above. Maybe it’s just as well that they’re not performing legitimate job searches. There’s no point for great people to leave good jobs to go up there now.

Vendor Favoritism

The SDE is supposed to help schools find solutions to their problems. This should not include a show of favoritism to certain vendors. I’ve covered the irregularities with the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hll and the bad decision to keep them after the first annual testing debacle in the countdown already. It goes beyond that, though. She has pushed specific professional development providers relative to the Reading Sufficiency Act and Advanced placement programs. And in one debate last week, she said that she hoped schools would go back to Saxon Math – which I’m sure thrilled all the other publishers. It’s not that I want all the vendors to be happy or all to be miserable. I just want them all to have a fair shot. Too many times, whether through sole source contracts or less-than-transparent bidding processes, they find the deck to be stacked.

Rewards that Nobody Wants

One component of the state’s ESEA Waiver is that the SDE will provide rewards to schools with high achievement and schools with high growth. In 2013, the first year anything other than certificates were given as a reward, only five percent of eligible schools applied.

  • 229 Reward Schools were eligible to apply.
  • 14 applications were received.
  • 6 grants totaling $400,000 were awarded.
  • 60 percent of the funds are to be spent celebrating the success of the Reward School.
  • 40 percent of the funds are to be spent on partnership activities benefiting both the Reward School and the Partnership School.

The catch was that schools eligible for a reward had to partner with a low-performing school to apply. Unless I missed it, the SDE announced no new awards in 2014. In that case, they could have used the $2.8 million set aside for that expense to make up the deficit in funding employee benefits, rather than yanking funds at the last minute from professional development and alternative education.

By the way, for some reason, the legislature raised this pool of funds to $5.4 million next year.

Favoring Charter Schools

In October 2013, Janet Barresi said during a radio interview that she is “embarrassed” Oklahoma doesn’t have more charter schools. She continues not to comment, however, on the fact that the ones Oklahoma has don’t perform as well as the state’s traditional public schools. Both years in which we’ve had A-F Report Cards, even though the formula changed considerably from 2012 to 2013, charter schools did not score highly. We know that not all charter schools are created equally and that by law, they are supposed to accept students on a lottery basis. We also know that some have ways of counseling out students who might be hard to serve. And we know that they don’t face all the same regulations as traditional public schools.

While I have written consistently that I oppose expansion of charter schools out of the state’s urban areas, I do not oppose their existence altogether. What I’d like to see is all public schools granted some of the flexibility charter schools have. I’d also like to hear politicians acknowledge these differences in their discussions of charters.

FAY/NFAY

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Janet Costello Barresi claim that under her watch, the SDE has transformed from being a regulatory agency to being a service agency. None of us buy that. For example, on January 15, 2014, the SDE notified schools that they had changed the definition of Full Academic Year to mean “part of the academic year.” Instead of previous definitions, which had included some logical starting point relative to the beginning of the school year, we would now be counting all students who remained continuously enrolled from October 1st and before.

Supposedly, there was a hue and cry from Oklahoma administrators to make this change. I have a hard time believing that. Yes, we want to teach all children we have, but the FAY/NFAY designation is really only an accountability issue. Schools with high mobility have a hard enough time without the SDE senselessly piling on via bureaucratic fiat.

Pricey Propaganda

In April, the SDE released 2,000 copies of the agency’s annual report at a cost of $33,000 to taxpayers. Printed copies. In 2014. Simply inexplicable. One senator felt the same way:

Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.

According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.

“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”

Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.

In four years, the SDE can’t make this switch, but they expect schools to make more drastic changes virtually overnight? Classic.

The Threat

I already covered in Reason #3 in the countdown how Barresi and the SDE threatened to revoke certification from one vocal critic. In January of this year, the SDE announced that all school districts would be required to participate in the systems tests of their computers for both testing vendors. If they didn’t, they might lose funding, accreditation, or certification of administrators. This was nothing but a bullying tactic. Districts that did not comply faced no sanctions. As for the instructional time lost, we gained nothing in return. Measured Progress, which seemed like a pretty decent outfit altogether (at least more responsive than CTB or Pearson, our previous testing vendor), is one-and-done. The bill revoking Common Core essentially kills our state’s contract with them.

If after all of these reasons, you have any doubts that Janet Barresi is a bully, just think back to a SBE meeting not too long ago when the elected state superintendent pulled aside an appointed board member, berated her, and shook her finger in her face, and began a fight that she will likely lose on Tuesday. Who was that board member again? Oh yeah, Joy Hofmeister.

Two days to go, people. Stay in the fight. Keep writing, sharing, and talking to your friends. We can’t afford for one educator, one parent, or one voter to stay on the sidelines. Too much is at stake.

Reason #2 to Pick a New State Superintendent: The Settlement with CTB

As we spiral to the finish line of next week’s primary in the state superintendent’s race, the commercials are getting uglier. Liberal this. Conservative that. While I have a preferred outcome, I think I speak for many who are simply looking forward to getting past Tuesday. It’ll get worse before it gets better – sort of like the last four years!

#5 – Fabricating Special Education Percentages

#4 – Changing Biology Cut Scores

#3 – Vendetta against Jenks

#2 – The Settlement with CTB

As many of you may remember, two (Indiana and Oklahoma) states had to shut down all online testing in April 2013 because CTB/McGraw-Hill’s servers couldn’t handle the load. This disruption led to questionable test results and a pathetic settlement agreement:

  • A cash settlement ($367,205)
  • Professional development for teachers to help them become more acquainted with the type of items that can be expected on new English language arts and math assessments and how to adjust instruction so students will be successful on these tests. ($13,000)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement in the second grade. ($678,400)
  • Formative tests for teachers that can be given on a voluntary basis twice a year to measure student learning and drive instruction for the benefit of increased student achievement for grades 3 through 11. ($6,600)
  • The commissioning of an independent study to evaluate the impact of the disruptions on student test scores. HUMRRO, Inc. has expertise in the area of analyzing testing disruptions. They will provide an independent opinion that is expected to be delivered in late August. ($48,000)
  • Prior to testing, CTB will conduct a technology readiness assessment of each Oklahoma School District to: ($125,000)
    -Capture specifications regarding bandwidth, number of workstations, server
    configuration, etc. at each school site
    -Identify a technology contact at each school district
    -Perform online stress tests at every site
    -Conduct training and deploy implementation services at all sites
    -Establish a technology forum to deliver regular communications to districts

The SDE was supposed to distribute the cash at the top to schools. I don’t recall that happening. The last item – technology readiness assessment – did happen, but there was a threat from Janet Barresi along the way (a veiled threat, it turned out). The bulk of the “punishment” was that CTB would make available to schools a product they never wanted. That’s like going to dinner, sending back your steak because it’s over cooked, and being compensated with a fish that’s also overcooked.

I first take issue with the fact that CTB was merely punished. Why weren’t they fired outright? Barresi said the contract prohibited firing them for poor performance, but that’s simply not true. When it happened again this year, she made it clear she could and would fire them.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated. It is an understatement to say I am outraged,” Barresi said at a news conference held at the department.

“The state was ready. Districts did all we asked of them. We quadrupled training, conducted stress tests and addressed a litany of issues in hopes of guarding against as many system deficiencies as possible. But we could not guard against everything, and this is a 100-percent failing of CTB.”

CTB indicated it is monitoring the errant hardware and is working with the hardware vendor to guard against another interruption. This marks the second year of significant system disruptions surrounding the vendor.

As I mentioned in reason #19, the path taken by the SDE to hiring CTB to run our testing program was problematic. That was the highlight. Then they failed us once, and we slapped them on the wrist, so they could fail us again. In contrast, Indiana’s state superintendent showed more resolve in sticking up for her schools.

“I have spent the last several months talking with Hoosiers about the impact these interruptions had in the classroom.  Although Dr. Hill’s report found that the statewide average score was not affected by the interruptions, there is no doubt that thousands of Hoosier students were affected.  As Dr. Hill stated in his report, ‘We cannot know definitively how students would have scored this spring if the interruptions had not happened.’ Because of this, I have given local schools the flexibility they need to minimize the effect these tests have on various matters, such as teacher evaluation and compensation.  I have also instructed CTB McGraw-Hill to conduct enhanced stress and load testing to ensure that their servers are fully prepared for next year’s test and ensure that this never happens again.”

What I wouldn’t give for a state superintendent with that kind of attitude!

As for the study by our state, it revealed little. A small percentage of the scores wouldn’t count, which was fair. The SDE made it clear, however, that the impact on state averages was minimal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more concerned with each individual student than I am a teacher average, a school average, a district average, or the state average. If we’re going to spend all of this time and money testing and preparing for tests, we should get results that mean something.

Testing is the cog in Janet Costello “Schedule J” Barresi’s reform plan. It’s central to every other idea. When she was for the Common Core, it was because she wanted better testing. She wants this to be a part of teacher evaluations. She wants tests deciding the fate of kids. But when the company we pay millions to do what she values can’t finish the job, she does nothing – not even a healthy round of name-calling.

Keep your steak (and your fish). I want my money back – and a competent leader in that position.

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