Critics of Oklahoma’s current A-F Report Card accountability system (including me) typically have two complaints about the system. First is that the methodology is poor. Half the score is simply a rendering of the percentage of students passing tests – which is closely tied to poverty; the other half is tied to growth. In measuring growth, we’re also double counting our lowest-performing students. In other words, our students who struggle the most count a total of three times.
The other issue many of us have is with the A-F label we ultimately attach to each school. It’s insulting to distill all the work schools do into a single indicator. Even though A-F is not explicitly a ranking system, much of the public assumes that an A school is better than a B school. Context be damned. A is better than B. Always.
For these reasons, the Legislature tasked the Oklahoma State Department of Education with leading a task force to make recommendations for improving school accountability prior to the end of this calendar year. As directed, the OSDE brought together “students, parents, educators, organizations representing students with disabilities and English language learners, higher education professionals, career technology educators, experts in assessment and accountability, community-based organizations, tribal representatives, and businesses and community leaders.”
The task force met four times and provided the OSDE with feedback. The last of these meetings was on November 9th. On November 28th, the US Department of Education changed one key piece of the federal requirements under which we have to operate. We no longer have to have a summative score. The task force never met after that one requirement was removed.
It’s important to note that we don’t know how the task force conversation would have sounded if they could have discussed revising our accountability system with this piece of information. I doubt the different constituency groups would have been unanimous in their feelings on A-F Report Cards, or any other type of summative score. We also can’t know what the OSDE would have done with the feedback, even if it had been given. Task force members gathered to provide feedback only. They were not a voting body with any kind of decision-making authority.
To be clear, this is not a criticism of the work that has been done or the leadership under which the task force has worked. Superintendent Hofmeister and her staff expertly led this process. The lead researcher, Marianne Perie, from the University of Kansas, was thorough and good at explaining statistical processes to an audience with a varied background in that kind of work. Ultimately, the methodology of the accountability system being presented to the State Board of Education this week is solid. It will likely yield results that are not singularly correlated to poverty.
The end product is good, and an improvement over the current accountability system. That solves half of the problem from paragraph one. The other half remains – that schools will still receive a summative score.
I’ve always bristled at the idea that we need to label our schools this way. By always, I mean from the moment I began writing this blog nearly five years ago. I don’t think a star rating system would be much better. School accountability isn’t Yelp, or this strange sign I found in China a few years ago.
I believe in accountability and transparency. Publish our schools’ test scores. Publish any data point you want. Just provide context. A summative score doesn’t do that. No matter how much detail is on the OSDE website for each school, the newspapers will skip to the end and publish the thing that’s easiest to consume. Calling A-F accountability, though, is like calling Velveeta cheese. It’s an accountability-like substance.
Recently, a couple of Mid-Del employees put together a list of all the schools in the five largest counties in the state and sorted them by grade span and by poverty. For example, one table showed all the elementary schools that have between 25% and 35% of student receiving free or reduced lunch (FRL). Of the 23 schools in that table, Mid-Del had one, and it had the highest numerical score on the current A-F system.
Compared with similar schools, Schwartz Elementary has outstanding academic performance, however you measure it. On the other end of the spectrum, there were 60 elementary schools on the list with an FRL rate at or above 95%. We had one such school, and it had a 68 on the report card. That’s a D+, and it’s higher than 53 of the other schools on the list.
|Numerical Grade Distribution of Elementary Schools with at least 95% FRL|
Let that sink in. No school in the five largest counties in the state with higher than 95% FRL had a numerical grade higher than a 78. Meanwhile, none of the schools in the 25% to 35% range had a score lower than 80. Does this mean that all schools serving mostly upper-middle class kids are better than all schools serving the kids with the highest levels of poverty? Of course not.
This is the thing I hate – the labels. If you provide most people with this entire view, they’ll get it. An A on a report card may be misleading. So may an F. Even though the new accountability system will do more to provide context, the summative grade will damage that effort.
A-F Report Cards feed a narrative. They are one of the most toxic pieces of the recent education reform agenda. They blur the difference between simple and simplistic.
Please understand that I hope the State Board of Education this week will recognize the hard work of the state superintendent, her staff, and the entire task force. Regardless of how they see the A-F labels, they need to recognize the quality of the work that is being presented to them. I hope the legislature and governor will recognize this too.
Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on this.
- One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.
In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.
When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.
Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.
We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.
Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.
Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.
Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.
And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.
This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.
This morning’s Oklahoman had a real surprise: an article by Ben Felder linking the state’s A-F Report Cards to the poverty level of schools. The connection between the two isn’t a surprise. It’s the placement of such a story.
Yep, that’s the front page of the Oklahoman. When I awoke this morning, I had messages and tweets telling me all about it. One tweet in particular pointed out that I had in fact made a similar connection on this blog – in 2012.
Yes, when Oklahoma issued the first A-F Report Cards in 2012 – using a formula that was even worse than the one we have now – I pointed out that the scores favored schools serving more affluent populations. Nonetheless, the Oklahoman supported the report cards on its editorial page.
Those who attribute good school grades to socio-economic factors are off the mark. Several A schools were in rural communities that aren’t concentrations of wealth and privilege. The poverty rate in Canton is higher than the statewide rate. Average household income is 14 percent lower than the statewide average. Yet Canton High School got an A.
Yes, you can always cherry pick the exceptions. Overall, though, poverty was a strong indicator of a school’s grade.
For that post, I also looked at the specific distribution by site, for the schools with the highest and lowest poverty rates.
Here is the grade distribution of the high-poverty schools:
Letter Grade Distribution of High-Poverty Schools A B C D F 2 8 32 46 2
Here is the grade distribution of the low-poverty schools:
Letter Grade Distribution of Low-Poverty Schools A B C D F 46 48 3 2 2
The truth is that this was also the case for the previous accountability system, API scores, as my very first blog post pointed out. It was still true the next year when the formula changed (and when the SDE had to recalculate scores a dozen or so times). Still, there was the Oklahoman criticizing the critics.
With the release of Oklahoma school sites’ A through F grades looming, opponents of accountability are predictably ramping up attacks. School officials should think twice before embracing one such tirade issued by a small group of college academics. To discredit A-F school grades, those researchers effectively argue that there is little correlation between a public school education and actual student learning.
The year doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s preemptive. Sometimes it’s reactionary. The stance of the Oklahoman has been consistent. They don’t like it when superintendents, researchers, or anyone else points out the obvious truth that an A school isn’t necessarily better than a C school.
That’s why today’s article, along with its prominence, isso surprising. Felder is a good researcher and writer, as today’s piece illustrates:
The average poverty rate for an A school in the state is 45 percent, based on analysis of the 2015 letter grade report from the Oklahoma state Department of Education.
As you move down the grading list, the poverty rate grows bigger — B: 58 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 76 percent, and F: 84 percent.
In Oklahoma County, which is home to school districts in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City, the income gap between A and F schools is even starker. The average in Oklahoma County is A: 29 percent, B: 56 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 77 percent, and F: 83 percent.
The disparity highlights the challenges students living in poverty face when it comes to performance in school, at least performance on end of the year exams, which account for the majority of the state letter grade. It also highlights the potential challenge for low-income families to access many of the state’s highest performing schools.
Moving from a neighborhood with an F school to one with an A school could mean finding a residence where the income level is nearly three times higher.
Again, we know this pretty well. In November 2013, I made a list of factors that correlate to a school’s A-F grade:
Another reader pointed me to this spreadsheet showing all school districts in Oklahoma, their student counts, and the percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The table also has bilingual student counts, which is information I previously didn’t have. Last week, I ran correlations between school grades (and district grades) and poverty. Yet another reader suggested to me that I run correlations between the grades and poverty, this time only using districts with more than 1,000 students.
Comparison Correlation All District Grades to Poverty -.52 Large District Grades to Poverty -.80 Large District Grades to Bilingual -.32 Large District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.76 Small District Grades to Poverty -.51 Small District Grades to Bilingual -.10 Small District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.45
Both factors – poverty and bilingual education – seem to impact large districts to a greater extent. Statistically speaking, there are a couple of factors here. One is that the data for bilingual counts include a lot of schools with none reported. Zeros in statistics skew results (as they do with student grades). Another factor is that there were 131 of the large districts (still a statistically significant sample) and 386 small ones.
My takeaway from this is that while the report cards tell the story of schools’ accomplishments only to a limited extent, and while my analysis from before built on that, there is always more to learn, if you’re willing to unpack the data and find out what is happening. Among our largest schools, we see more variance in socio-economic levels. We also know that urban poverty and rural poverty are not identical.
As always, I should point out that correlation does not equal causation. Nor does it equal forecast. Schools with high poverty rates do sometimes perform well on tests. They just don’t do it with the frequency of schools with low poverty rates. The explanations for this are myriad. Low-poverty schools get more applicants for open teaching positions. They are more likely (based on US Census data) to have parents who are college-educated. They get more parental involvement. The list of reasons goes on and on.
Nor is this simply an Oklahoma phenomenon. As Paul Thomas writes on his national blog, The Becoming Radical, today:
“Bad” and “good” contribute to our coded political and public discourse that reflects our collective unwillingness to do what is required: reform directly education so that all students have the sorts of opportunities that we do guarantee to the most fortunate children among us.
That’s all an A-F Report Card system does. It codes our schools. It labels enough of them as failures to extend the narrative that public education as a whole is failing. And I’ll go ahead and say what you’re thinking: it contributes to white flight.
Asked for his thoughts, Rep. Jason Nelson acknowledged the poverty linkage to the grades, but also advocated for more school choice:
Nelson views this income disparity as a reason to allow a student’s state appointed funding to be used for enrolling in a higher performing school.
“A lot of parents can’t really move from the inner city of Oklahoma City to Deer Creek, and even if they could afford to do it … their support system can’t all move with them to Deer Creek,” Nelson said. “The key is to give them options where they exist today so they aren’t forced to move if they can’t.”
That’s all true. People can’t just buy a house that’s 300 percent more expensive and move. What he doesn’t mention – what education reformers never mention – is that the school with a low grade may still be a good school. It’s also myopic to assume that families from the inner city even want to move to Deer Creek. Some people actually value their neighborhoods, and as an extension, their neighborhood schools. Maybe some would move, given the option. Some wouldn’t though.
Let’s frame it another way. If your kids are in a school with a low poverty rate, something like 20 percent free/reduced lunch participation, and the school gets a B, aren’t you going to wonder why? It rarely happens. Does that mean that every school with low poverty and an A has great teachers? Absolutely not. It’s easy to be shiny when you have resources. That doesn’t mean the teachers don’t work hard, though.
That’s been another one of my great concerns during this age of accountability. We don’t want to make any assumptions based on the letter grades. Some schools with an A are great. Some aren’t. The same is true for schools with lower grades. In most of them, you’re going to find teacher working really hard to help students succeed.
The Oklahoman recognizing that poverty impacts student achievement is like Mary Fallin acknowledging that fracking causes earthquakes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, but it was obvious to the rest of us for years.
I’m happy for Felder’s coverage, but I now wonder what will follow on the editorial page. There’s long been a disconnect between the paper’s reporters (who tend to treat public school stories fairly) and its opinion writers.
For 2016, we’re still using the A-F Report Cards that hundreds of superintendents, as well as the state superintendent, have completely disavowed. Testing is over for the spring, and report cards won’t come out until this fall. If you want a preview, however, click this link showing current percentages of students served by free and reduced lunches in our schools. This will be pretty close to the final outcome.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin gave her State of the State speech to the Oklahoma Legislature. Among other things, she made her education agenda perfectly clear. I’ll address that below in my Tuesday Two Things post. Overall, I found it fitting that Fallin included inher remarks Yogi Berra’s quote, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
First, I have to say that I was impressed by one particular part of the speech. She proposed sensible sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders. Oklahoma has overcrowded prisons; this is a long-standing truth. What is also true is the sociology behind these sentences. These lengthy sentences impact minorities and the poor disproportionately. They permanently remove people from the mainstream of society, often before they’re independent adults. I’m all for being tough on dealers and violent criminals. Let’s just not overly penalize people for the mistakes they make when they’re young – especially when the crime is more or less self-abuse.
Here were her suggestions:
- First, let’s allow district attorneys to have the discretion to file any first drug offense as a misdemeanor.
- Next, we lower the mandatory sentence from two to 10 years in prison, to zero to five years in prison.
- For second felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from two years to life, to zero to 10 years.
- And for third felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from six years to life with no probation to zero to 15 years.
- For property crimes, let’s raise the value of a felony crime from $500 to $1,000. The $500 benchmark has been in place since 2002, and it needs to be raised. A teen who steals someone’s smartphone today could be branded for life as a felon because smartphones cost more than $500; twenty years ago, most cell phones cost less than $100.
I don’t know if the Legislature will move on this proposal or how much money it will save if they do. I just know that this makes sense in terms of human potential. Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide for a seamless segue to Fallin’s comments on education.
- Fallin proposed $178 million in new money for a permanent $3,000 raise for teachers. If that happens, Oklahoma teacher pay would rise all the way to 44th in the country. It’s not enough to make our salaries regionally competitive, but it’s at least something. As always, something is better than nothing.
- Things I didn’t like:
- The 3% funding cut to education prior to the infusion of $178 million in new money. So we’re supposed to go ahead with the cuts we’re trying to absorb and then reward everybody who survives with raises? They’ll need it. Things are going to be tougher on our remaining teacher, for sure. Districts will still have to cut teaching positions to balance budgets.
- Her push for school consolidation. I know she’s only talking about the K-8 districts, but honestly, we don’t really save money through her scheme. It’s just a distraction.
- The flexibility to use district’s building funds for salary. This is great for the districts with high assessed property valuations, but for many districts, there just isn’t a lot of “there” there.
- Her love of A-F Report Cards and the RSA law. These are two failed reforms. Ask teachers and parents what they think of them. Better yet, ask kids.
- As for her “100 percent support” of vouchers, they’re my line in the sand. You can’t say you support them (especially with zero accountability) and also say you support public education. This is all just the ALEC playbook. It shows no original thought. It has nothing to do with Oklahoma values, whatever that really means.
That’s all for now. I’ll spend some more time processing/writing later in the week or over the weekend. In the meantime, here are a few links for you, if you want to read more:
- Text of the governor’s speech
- The governor’s budget proposal
- Superintendent Hofmeister’s response to the teacher raise proposal
- Oklahoma Policy Institute statement on SOTS
- A great poem by e.e. cummings (just because)
And because today is Groundhog Day, I thought you’d enjoy this:
Yesterday, I shot down memory lane through the first part of 2015, when everything was unicorns and rainbows, and we were going to save public education with one new elected official and a whole lot of blogging and phone calls.
It was, as my Boston friends say, wicked awesome. Well, January through June were. The blog post was self-indulgent, but then again, on some level, isn’t all blogging?
Anyhoo…on to the second half of the year…
July: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point
The quote above pretty much sums up the EdCamp experience at the OSDE summer conference. It was the largest EdCamp in the history of the universe, including the countries that Steve Harvey got wrong Saturday night.
It was the perfect lead-in to EngageOK, Superintendent Hofmeister’s re-branded summer conference. It was nice to spend a few days with teachers and administrators from other districts, OSDE staff, and many other people interested in driving education in Oklahoma forward. It was even nicer to do so without the constant insults we were used to enduring from the previous office-holder.
More than anything, this week showed all of us the power of collegiality. None of us have to be the one person with the brilliant idea. We work together. We build from each other’s thoughts. We improve each other’s ideas and become unstoppable.
Then at the end of the month, we started to see the incredible number of emergency certifications being granted by the state. In case you missed it, in July, the State Board of Education handed out 182 emergency teaching certificates. These are people who didn’t go through a teacher preparation program or qualify for alternative certification.
Keep in mind that the state offers nine pathways to certification before you have to look at emergency certification. This is truly a last ditch effort. At the same time, our job as leaders is to support these teachers as well as we can. We don’t care how you came to be a teacher. We just want to help you be good at it.
Unfortunately, this group is less likely than any of the others to stay beyond a full year. In fact, many don’t even make it through the first year. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we are now close to hitting 1,000 emergency certifications for the school year – and it’s only December.
One other notable thing happened in July, but it was personal. For the second time this year, I stepped way outside my comfort zone. First was when I revealed my identity on the blog in January. This time, I left a job I absolutely loved in Moore as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction to become superintendent for Mid-Del Public Schools. After five months, I feel I’ve traded one love for another. I’ve never worked this hard in my life, but I also feel closer to teachers and students than I have in years. It’s not one of the easiest gigs, but I feel as if I was made for it. I just hope that feeling remains mutual.
Besides, it’s fun.
August: “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Well, crap. I just re-read the post I wrote before sending my daughter out-of-state to college. In spite of the low traffic it received, a close friend told me it’s the best thing I ever wrote. I guess if we’re doing this right, we save our best for our kids.
She’s back from the first semester now, and more…what’s the word? Aware? Maybe that’s it. Her worldview is changing. She’s part who we raised her to be and part what her passions drive her to be. It’s a pretty good mix. Excuse me for a minute. I’m going to pause and listen to Vienna again.
“…take the phone off the hook…” Good one, Billy Joel! What is this, the 70s?
On the #oklaed front, this was the month our kids came back to school. As a state, we’re up 50,000 students since 2008. Funding hasn’t kept pace. Teacher salaries haven’t moved in that time. The mandates have kept coming.
Superintendent Hofmeister made a big splash this month, announcing that she would spend $1.5 million of the OSDE’s allocation to pay for all juniors to take the ACT. Naturally, she met opposition from the usual suspects.
Joy’s press release listed several great reasons why this is a good thing. It included support from Deb Gist and Rob Neu:
The superintendents of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts said this program is great news for their respective students.
“I applaud this effort by state Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Offering the ACT for free to all juniors in Oklahoma will provide invaluable information on individual students and districts; this information is crucial as we retool our curriculum standards to meet the needs of all students,” said Rob Neu, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“It’s also a benefit to families who want their children to have a successful future after high school; families shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford to take the ACT, this pilot program will lift that financial burden and allow students to focus on this very important achievement test.”
“We are grateful to the state of Oklahoma for providing the ACT exam to our 11th graders through this pilot program,” said Superintendent Deborah A. Gist of Tulsa Public Schools. “Experiencing the ACT is an important opportunity for all students, and this pilot will increase equity, as it will be available to all high school juniors this school year. We welcome the opportunity to use a highly-regarded and widely-used measure of college and career readiness to provide all kids with access to a better future.”
For the record, the superintendent of the 10th largest district agrees.
September: “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” – Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
It’s funny. I’ve been blogging for close to four years, and it still seems that my guest posts are more popular than the things I write. I knew that UCO professor Dan Vincent had put something strong together when he sent me an email that started with, I’m a public school parent, and I’m pissed off. My first thought was, Stand in line, buddy. So I posted it on my blog, and within days, it was the most popular post ever on okeducationtruths – by nearly 10,000 page views.
Apparently, eight months into what was supposed to be our education perestroika, we still had a little angst. Dan wrote:
We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.
We also know that we’re fighting the same fights, day after day, month after month, year after year. Three months later, I still agree with Dan’s seven proposals to solve the teacher shortage problem:
- First and foremost, do your part tofix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
- Stop the High Stakes Testing(found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
- Seriouslyrework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
- Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a prettygood summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
- Publiclysupport teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
- Develop a workable plan toincrease teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
- EitherUNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.
These are all important steps towards solving the teacher shortage. And no matter what Speaker Hickman says, it’s a real thing.
October: “Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless.” – Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
October was pretty uneventful. Nothing really happened. Well, the OSDE released the fourth edition of the A-F Report Cards, but as I said before, nothing happened. Really, nothing. Apparently, I was busy. I didn’t even mention them on the blog. I did, however, along with a group of hundreds of other superintendents co-sign a letter calling the accountability measures useless.
More importantly, I loved Superintendent Hofmeister’s statement about the release:
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has indicated she has no confidence in the validity or reliability of the report cards in their current framework. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) determines the grades using a formula that had been mandated by a 2013 state law. The OSDE supports strong accountability for education, but problems with the A-F Report Cards have seriously undermined the system’s credibility. Even the U.S. Department of Education has criticized the report cards and required modifications as a condition for receiving the No Child Left Behind waiver.
We will probably have the A-F Report Cards, in their current format for one more year. Huge changes are on the horizion. That is, unless someone blocks huge changes, and what we get is merely window dressing.
November: “Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Halloween, we were all discussing pennies. Specifically, we were discussing OU President David Boren’s proposal for a statewide penny sales tax to fund education. I never came out and said I loved the idea, but I haven’t seen a better one.
Here’s the problem: education funding (through the formula) is down cumulatively about $900 million over the past eight years. Now, the state faces an overall shortfall for 2016 that is at least that big.
Oklahoma school districts face a cut to per-pupil funding, beginning in January, and lasting through the rest of this fiscal year. The 2016-17 school year budget will be even worse. These are two things we just know.
So why not discuss a penny sales tax? If you don’t like the idea, come up with a better one. Or don’t vote for it.
Of course, first, penny sales tax proponents have to clear the legal hurdle of what should be ruled a frivolous legal challenge to reach the ballot at all:
Then again, one of the OCPA’s side ventures has filed suit – against the reigning State Teacher of the Year, among others – claiming the Boren plan violates the Oklahoma Constitution. In short, they claim the initiative constitutes a “textbook example of logrolling.” By logrolling, the plaintiffs mean that the proposal violates the state’s single issue rule. The fact of the matter is that the proposal is for one thing – a penny sales tax, and what should be done with the proceeds of that penny. The plaintiffs know this. Then again, as I said, they have a long, long history of trying to block all things that would benefit public education.
The State Supreme Court heard the challenge in December. Hopefully, a ruling will come soon. Oklahomans should have the right to vote either for or against this.
December: “How did you go bankrupt?” … “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
It’s December. It’s the end of the year. We still have a budget crisis, and now, our leaders, elected an otherwise, have put their own spin on it.
Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger called the billion dollar shortfall an “opportunity.”
Those who crafted the state budget in May left out one key ingredient: reality. And it has come back to haunt us.
The biggest splash of the month, though, came from my former boss, and a few old friends in Moore.
They state simply and clearly the problems we really face. Teachers want what’s best for their students, but they also want what’s best for themselves and their families. They shouldn’t have to choose.
In Part III, I’ll look back at top posts from the year, and a few of my favorites that didn’t really get the clicks on WordPress. In Part IV, I’ll talk about 2016.
Each of the last two weeks the Journal Record has published columns by individuals affiliated with a certain right-wing non-partisan think tank in which the writer is critical of those of us who have been critical of the A-F Report Cards. I enjoy watching people defend the indefensible as much as anybody, but it’s probably good to run a scorecard of the responses we’ve seen so far.
First, it was Oklahoma City University professor Andrew Spiropoulos who wrote about being puzzled that Governor Fallin didn’t even defend her own reforms:
But when you don’t control the debate, you lose control of the government. Look at what has transpired this month concerning the issue of education reform. One of the most important and bitter fights of the Gov. Mary Fallin years was the establishment of the state A-F school and district grading system.
While managing the system is always a difficult work in progress, the system’s benefits are evident. Every month, it seems, you read an inspiring story about a school, usually in the inner city, that used a failing grade as a spur to transform itself and, because of these efforts, improved both student achievement and its state grade.
But the education establishment isn’t going to allow proof that a reform is working to temper their lust to repeal it. As you would expect, the bureaucrats took the certification of this year’s grades as an opportunity to once again criticize the system and call for its repeal. The state superintendent of public instruction, the education establishment’s hired hand, refused to promote or even defend her own department’s work.
Did he really just call us the education establishment? That’s so 2014 of him.
I also find the governor’s silence telling. Maybe she’s busy managing the boon to our economy that a decade of tax cuts has brought the state. As deeply moved as Spiropoulos is by anecdotal stories of schools making great gains, he fails to see that outliers prove nothing when it comes to dispelling trends. For most of those schools, the gains have come with the infusion of federal school improvement funds and a narrowed academic focus. One of those is a good thing. The other is a narrowed academic focus.
As I’ve said in different ways countless times, a singular focus on testing sucks the passion out of both teaching and learning. Curiosity – not test prep packets and the loss of electives – is the root of learning.
Michael Carnuccio, the outgoing president of said think tank also expressed his disdain for our collective show of frustration with the A-F grades.
When Oklahoma’s new A-F report cards were released last month, many in the education community were quick to pronounce the grading system “flawed” and “unfair” and to insist that the grades don’t accurately reflect student performance.
Tulsa World columnist Jay Cronley noticed the defensiveness and remarked (sensibly, I thought) that “if people focused more on improving themselves and their families than complaining about everything from the headline in the newspaper to the testing procedure, maybe more schools would improve their grades.”
First, I’ll take issue with Jay Cronley. I can’t speak for the entire education establishment, but in the course of my typical 60 hour week, I maybe spend an hour or two complaining about public policy issues. I do some more on my own time, as if that’s a thing. The truth is that we’re too busy trying to teach kids and run schools to sit in our palaces and dwell on every bad idea. Yes, we have increased our advocacy against those who insist on repeating the false narrative that public education is failing. We do plenty more than that, though.
Carnuccio then lists every other report card known to man. For each, I could have a separate response. I’ll be brief, however. Oklahoma schools have more students in poverty than most other states. Oklahoma is outperformed by most other states. The US has more students in poverty than most of the comparison countries. The US educates ALL students; other countries don’t. So yes, there are statistical differences there too.
With Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards, if we were to compare school sites’ poverty levels to the report card grades, we would see a strong correlation, just as we did in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Similarly, if we ranked states and countries by poverty levels, we’d see similar trends. Oh, wait, that’s already been done.
For what it’s worth, in case you missed it, Dr. Joe Siano (Norman) and I wrote a brief message expressing our thoughts on the A-F Report Cards. The Oklahoman was kind enough to run it. It wasn’t just two OKC metro-area superintendents, though. CCOSA sent the letter in advance to their members, and over 230 superintendents around the state signed off in agreement.
Are we dodging accountability? No, just mythology. Here’s how we ended the letter:
Fortunately, a task force is working with researchers to study options and solutions to address flaws that have been identified. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have questioned the methodology and the usefulness of the A-F calculations. And, the creation of the task force, proposed by our own state leaders, clearly demonstrates that inaccurate and misleading information is being distributed to parents about Oklahoma’s schools.
As teachers and administrators, we should be held accountable for our work. However, any accountability system should be an accurate measure of the comprehensive work that contributes to the overall success of our students and schools. In spite of the millions of state dollars spent annually on the current system, it is not helpful in guiding districts. Instead, district and state officials spend countless hours tracking data errors for a product that has no instructive value.
Regardless of the accountability system used, we remain committed to student success and will continue to advocate on behalf of our state’s future leaders. We hope that ongoing research and commitment by state leaders and school district officials will lead to an improved measure that we can use in helping patrons understand all the indicators of school success.
Others who came out against the report cards include State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist. Hofmeister’s press release points out that even the USDE has problems with the system. In fact, few in the Legislature who still support it. That’s why they ordered a study about ways to reform it. That study includes researchers from the state’s flagship universities who have criticized the grades from the first year moving forward.
All this is to say that the scorecard stacks more heavily to the side of those of us who think these report cards are a slap in the face. Maybe it’s a breakdown in confidence that caused the governor’s silence.
(Did I say breakdown? Hold on for some gratuitous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.)
I’ve always objected to the letter grades on a very basic level. If all you want to tell me about my school is that we are an A or an F or something in between, you’re missing the bigger picture. We do things that aren’t measured – always have, always will. Sometimes, that one thing that keeps a child in school is something that a test or a report card just can’t capture.
That’s why I floated the idea of a new hashtag to a couple of blogger friends the same day that Spiropoulos published in the Journal Record. None of us could come up with a good one that we could use to capture what’s right with our schools. They were either to clunky or too easy to mock if you’re a middle schooler.
That night, I was excited to read Seth Meier’s post on his blog, Excellence in Mediocrity. It was simply titled #OurSchool. He included several sources of pride for Jarman Middle School. It was something I could appreciate as both a blogger, and his superintendent. Here are some of the things Seth highlighted:
- #ourschool examined referral data that focused on student demographics, which allows us to individualize positive behavior supports for students.
- #ourschool provided a huge basket of goodness for a teacher that recently endured a heart attack.
- #ourschool had school-wide team competitions to help build unity within our grade-level teams.
- #ourschool gave food to families that do not have any.
- #ourschool teaches with integrity, even when we feel that we aren’t appreciated.
- #ourschool has worked with amazing parents.
- #ourschool has been parents to those that need it.
- #ourschool has helped homeless families.
- #ourschool has challenged our kids in the best ways.
- #ourschool has grown as a family.
This is what we should all be doing. We should be fighting back with the things that bring us pride. Instead of letting think tanks that want to destroy public education define us, we must do it ourselves.
I received the following this week from UCO professor and #oklaed advocate, Dr. Dan Vincent. I present it to you, unedited.
I’m a public school parent and I’m pissed off. I keep hearing that our state has a teacher shortage but I don’t see it this way anymore. I see an unusually high causality rate from the WAR ON TEACHERS.
Let me explain….
As a parent with two kids in public school I try to keep informed on issues related to education. I read the news, follow legislation and even research topics to be more informed. For the past few years, at the start of the schoolyear, I have read stories about the growing number of vacancies in Oklahoma classrooms—vacancies that districts cannot fill. Class sizes get larger and courses get cancelled. This number has gradually been creeping up and it has hit larger urban districts particularly hard. Now, even large suburban districts, where there has historically been an abundance of qualified applicants, are being hit by this shortage.
Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.
So what I fail to understand with the ‘teacher shortage’ in our state is why – WHY – legislative leaders have stood by and allowed this to happen. The teacher shortage is not an unforeseen consequence of a poorly timed tax cut, but the steady attrition of teachers who have HAD ENOUGH of nonsensical educational reform policy and poor pay. The teacher shortage is not an unavoidable crisis caused by federal laws, but a compounding of state-level educational policies that fly in the face of what is known about learning. And as a parent, I hold legislative leaders responsible; they have created a WAR ON TEACHERS and our teacher shortage is a sad result of this war. It is a moral failing by our state leaders in not taking seriously their job of properly supporting a free public education.
We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.
Imagine if we had a shortage of qualified STEM candidates to fill the jobs in our state. Do you think our current legislative leaders would do anything to attract quality candidates? Do you think they would initiate policy to help the STEM industry will those positions? Do you think they would be advocating for the STEM industry? Would our leaders actively seek out leaders in the STEM industry for ideas on how to attract applicants? Would they try to fill the STEM pipeline with qualified applicants?
You bet. In fact, Gov. Fallin says there is a STEM shortage in our state, and our leaders have already done the things above (in fact, our governor’s 3rd annual STEM Summit is a few weeks away). But not for our teachers. Not for our kids. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.
A few weeks ago, I felt a glimmer of hope when I read House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders calling for a “more cooperative approach” to address the teacher shortage. Not three weeks later however, Speaker Hickman wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Oklahoman blasting district administrators for not doing more themselves to pay teachers a higher salary; I also suspect School Boards felt targeted. I wonder if Hickman cooperated with any Oklahoma administrators on the ideas for this OpEd? I doubt it. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.
Just this week, the Republican leadership offered up a plan to allow retired teachers $18,000 per year to come back to the classroom and teach. On the surface, this sounds admirable, but honestly, how many retired teachers would be willing to work for that pay under the same educational environment that drove many to retire in the first place? Does this address the current issues our teachers face—pay and climate? Sounds like a Band-Aid solution to a war-time wound. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.
In short, the solutions offered up by republican leaders thus far only deepens my suspicions of how serious they are about addressing our state’s desperate need to put well-qualified teachers in EVERY classroom. My kids deserve better. Our state’s kids deserve better. So here are some things I would offer as solutions. I would encourage every parent, grandparent and relative that has a kid in school to write their legislator and tell them to end the WAR ON TEACHERS with some of these bullet points (no pun intended):
- First and foremost, do your part to fix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
- Stop the High Stakes Testing (found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
- Seriously rework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
- Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a pretty good summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
- Publicly support teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
- Develop a workable plan to increase teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
- Either UNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.
In closing, I honestly hope our legislative leadership can do something soon to refresh the souls of educators in our state. I hope parents will a) get pissed off with me and b) constructively express their frustration to leadership in our state. Their current attempts are a far cry from the real, workable solutions needed to address the root causes of our teacher shortage. With the upcoming session being near an election cycle, I think more ears will be open to listening.
Let’s end this war.