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Posts Tagged ‘ALEC’

Get thee to a Thuggery!

January 25, 2017 5 comments

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
(a few pages after that one more famous scene)

Two evening events on my calendar this week relate to education advocacy. Last night, I attended the Education in Oklahoma panel discussion at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma featuring strong public school advocates.

ed-panel-webimage

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nita R. Giles Public Policy Program and the Oklahoma Policy Institute present Education in Oklahoma, a panel discussion examining feasible solutions to problems facing the Oklahoma education system.

Panelists: 
Phyllis Hudecki, former Oklahoma Secretary of Education, executive director, Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition

David Perryman, Oklahoma State Representative

Mickey Hepner, dean, College of Business, University of Central Oklahoma

Joe Siano, superintendent, Norman Public Schools

Megan Benn, consultant

Moderator: 
Gene Perry, policy director, Oklahoma Policy Institute

As I said, it was a friendly crowd. I didn’t detect any dissent from those in attendance either. They discussed some of the issues public schools are facing and some potential solutions for solving them. I heard little with which I would disagree. Other than Hepner, I was previously pretty familiar with the rest of the group.

usao-1  usao-2

Tomorrow night is an entirely different ball of wax. I was thinking of going to Full Circle Bookstore to hear Scott Inman speak about the upcoming legislative session.

observer-inman

It was on my calendar and everything. Then I caught wind of another event:

school-choice-summit

The School Choice Summit and Expo is tomorrow at Oklahoma City Community College. It’s scheduled from 4-9 pm, and it’s free. I’ll just be attending the main event from 7-9. Apparently, this bothers some of the people who aren’t big public school fans.

trent-england-show

“Thuggery paid for with our tax dollars, at least for now.”

So I’m a thug because I’m going to an event that is far outside of my bubble? Sure, there will be people there who see me and are uncomfortable. It happens all the time. I assume these people are adults, though, and that they can handle being in a room with someone who isn’t a fan of vouchers – especially the kind that come with no accountability.

By the way, my tweet that Trent England responded to was from Friday night at 8:59 pm. I’m not really sure how my thuggery was paid for with tax dollars. And what’s with the at least for now business?

trent-england-deuce

Oh, they’ve called the police in for order. The libertarians are so scared of teacher thugs like me that they’ve called the cops. How cute. As KFOR reports:

So far, no word if the event will be canceled, but OCCC assured us they will have campus police available for the safety of the students.

Check that. They’ve called the campus police. All is well.

I have so many issues with all of this.

  1. It’s a public event. I registered on Eventbrite. I announced that I’d be coming almost a week ahead of time. I’m not even trying to sneak in.
  2. My plan is to listen, take notes, maybe ask a question or two, and then write about the event if I come up with anything good.
  3. Nobody is threatening violence. There is a group I don’t know much about organizing a group to support public education, but they’re not even making signs.
  4. How is my tweet on a Friday night anything “paid for with our tax dollars”? I have a life outside of work, you know. And last I checked, Twitter is free.
  5. Is Trent England threatening my job or all public education jobs? He really needs to work on his clarity.

Dictionary.com defines thug as a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. I hardly see myself as a ruffian, robber, or murderer. I do like the sound of the word ruffian. I just don’t think I can pull off the vibe.

Again, as we have seen in the past few weeks, there are some in power who view dissent as vitriol. That’s ridiculous. We need to quit eyeballing the extreme positions and locking into them. That’s why I’m going tomorrow night. I might actually learn something. I also might want to bang my forehead on the seat in front of me for wasting my time. I’m keeping an open mind about it.

What I’m not going to do is recuse myself to a world of like-minded people. I have plenty of those around. I have few friends who are on the other side of education issues anymore. That was never my intent. While I don’t expect to make new friends in the middle of an OCPA/ALEC/Walton event, I can at the least hear what others are saying about the public schools I’m proud to lead.

If that makes me a thug, so be it. Another perspective, Mr. England – and just bear with me here – is you need to work on not being so thin-skinned.

Two things: ESAs are not a Grassroots Movement

March 1, 2016 Comments off

Happy Super Tuesday, y’all!

Many of my friends in the state have received a flyer that boasts of the great things that Education Savings Accounts can do for all of us – well, at least those of us who can make up the difference between the amount of the voucher and the private school tuition. Somehow I missed one. Maybe the group sponsoring the mailouts – Americans For Prosperity – knew not to bother.

ESA flyer image

Well, it’s Tuesday, and I don’t have a lot of time today, so let me tell you two things about this educational non-profit group.

1. The best thing I can tell you is they have a lot of money coming in and a lot going out. In 2012, their tax return shows more than $122 million in revenue. The form also shows that they are a 501 (c)(4) non-profit organization. In other words, they’re a Super PAC – a soft money group that can get around individual contribution limits for candidates. Stephen Colbert explains this better than anyone.

In fact, if you look at the list of groups funding the ESA voucher campaign, there really aren’t any grassroots groups. They are national and statewide special interest groups. The list below includes several right wing groups that have been trying to destroy public education for decades.

grass-roots-my-ass.jpg

They may have anecdotes that tug at your heartstrings, but they have no coherent answers to why students or private schools receiving vouchers should lack for all the accountability that public schools and their students have. We have stories too. We also have thousands of teachers who come to work and take care of the state’s children every day. If you want to help children, I know about 690,000 who have been shorted continuously by the state legislature and governor for six years and counting.

2. To be fair, the same group operates a separate organization that is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, the Americans For Prosperity Foundation. Their 2012 tax return shows a mere $24 million in revenue. It also shows that many of the top executives are the same in both organizations.

More important is the name listed as the chairman is David Koch. His $40 billion net worth partially bankrolls AFP, AFP Foundation, ALEC, and who knows which other groups. In other words, there is nothing pure about the motives of this shadow group or their flyer. Even if David Koch was the sole supplier of funds for AFP, to him, that would be comparable to me going to 7/11 for a Big Gulp.

This is similar to complaints made last week by local billionaire Bob Funk.

Having all the money doesn’t mean you always get your way. I have some friends who will be reminding our legislators of that fact today. Hopefully, we’ll remember that at the polls too.

Shame on Governor Fallin!

Towards the end of my weekend post in which I called upon Governor Fallin to sign HB 2625 into law, I asked the following question:

What does a combined vote of 132-7 from the state legislature mean, if not that the will of the people is clear?

Those are the numbers: 89-6 in the House, and 43-1 in the Senate.

This afternoon, Mary Fallin announced that she had vetoed HB 2625. She claimed it would “gut” the Reading Sufficiency Act. The opposite is true. Everything in the RSA would remain. Added to the fold would be a committee that includes the child’s teacher and a parent. The committee would have to be unanimous in recommending promotion for a third-grade student who did not pass the test or meet one of the six “good cause” exemptions. In quite a few cases, the student would still have been retained.

She threw around the usual trite nonsense at her press conference. Remediation. Prison. Poverty. She said the law protects special education students and English Language Learners. She’s either a really good liar, or she’s spent even less time in schools than I thought.

Starting early this afternoon, those following the legislation were anticipating on Twitter what Fallin might do.

 

After she announced the veto, reaction was swift and fierce.

 

One other thing is important to remember. Fallin is the current chair of the National Governor’s Association, which actually has written about how states should approach third grade retention policies (p. 38).

In the case of Florida, the retention policy is part of a multi-pronged strategy that reformed teacher preparation and certification requirements, professional development, intervention strategies, and education funding policies. For example, over the last decade, Florida retrained elementary school teachers on evidence-based strategies to teach reading and further reinforced the training through reading coaches in low performing schools. During a five-year period, with support from federal funds, the state provided professional development workshops based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel to all 35,000 K-3 teachers. In 2005, the state legislature established a research-based reading instruction allocation as a permanent categorical aid in the state’s school funding formula. These funds are allocated to districts each year to support development and implementation of districts’ research-based reading plans and to pay for reading coaches, particularly for low performing schools.

State leaders considering a retention policy should use caution in selecting assessment instruments to ensure they are valid and reliable for the purpose of such decisions. Policymakers should also weigh the costs and benefits: While retention may reduce the costs of remediation later on, the policy incurs the immediate cost of an extra year of schooling for retained students. Finally, looking down the road, both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are developing K-12 assessments that are aligned to the CCSS and have higher cut scores for reading proficiency. The implementation of these assessments, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014, is likely to dramatically increase the number of third-graders deemed reading below grade level, and state policymakers should consider – and prepare for – the ramifications of a retention policy under these new assessments.

Did we tie substantial funding to the retention law? No. Did we make professional development available? More of late, but the coverage is sparse. Did we use caution in selecting reliable and valid instruments. No. Did we consider the impact of the impending switch to next generation assessments? Not at all.

Fallin simply followed the ALEC-approved, Jeb Bush-certified playbook. She provided political coverage for Janet Barresi. She refused to listen to the parents and teachers who know the impact of this decision to a far greater extent than she. Rob Miller aptly identifies what’s happening here as hubris.

There is one hope left. The legislature has to override the veto. Call your representative and senator. Hell, call them all. Email them. Do whatever you can. There are 7,970 children depending on you.

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

No on SB 573 (Charter School Expansion): Call Now!

April 23, 2014 1 comment

In 2010, when candidate Janet Barresi entered the Kingdom and spoke to the Protectors (I kid – because it’s easy), one comment struck me more than all others. She stated that it would be a happy day when all public schools performed so well that we wouldn’t need charter schools.

After taking office, she quickly worked with legislators to establish policies designed specifically to create lists of winners and losers. Specifically, the tandem of accountability systems of the A-F Report Cards and the No Child Left Behind waiver created dueling and convoluted scales that ensure a certain percentage of schools are always in need of improvement. In short, there is no world in which candidate Barresi’s vision could ever be achieved. The bureaucrats have ensured this.

For lovers of small government, any new law, agency, or procedure must clearly be matched to an unfulfilled need. This is the litmus test that SB 573 clearly fails and why every one of us who care about high-quality public education and the principles of local control need to remember as we contact our legislators. Email them tonight and call them in the morning. Ask them how much they want out-of-state charter school chains in their own communities.

I read Rep. Denney’s editorial today. I was unmoved. Show me the communities ringing the bell for this. Show me that we’re not just running another ALEC measure up the flagpole. Unfortunately, no such evidence exists.

I read all 48 pages of the engrossed bill. (I read a lot, but not much off my wish list lately.) My biggest concern is with the section that begins on page 13:

SECTION 6. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 3-132.6 of Title 70, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

A. The Commission may give priority to applicants that have demonstrated a record of operating at least one (1) school or similar program that demonstrates academic success and organizational viability and serves student populations similar to those the proposed school seeks to serve.

B. In assessing a program’s potential for quality replication, the Commission shall consider the following factors before approving a new site or distinct school:

1. Evidence of a strong and reliable record of academic success based primarily on student performance data as well as on other viable indicators, including financial and operational success;

2. A sound, detailed and well-supported growth plan;

3. Evidence of the ability to transfer successful practices to a potentially different context that includes reproducing critical cultural, organizational and instructional characteristics;

4. Any management organization involved in a potential replication is fully vetted and its academic, financial and operational records are found to be satisfactory;

5. Evidence the program seeking to be replicated has the capacity to do so successfully without diminishing or putting at risk its current operations; and

6. A financial structure that ensures that funds attributable to each district school within a network and required by law to be utilized by a school remain with and are used to benefit that

I’m all for replicating best practice. That’s why we have professional development. That’s why we have 60 REAC3H coaches, right? It’s why Jeb Bush and Mary Fallin visited KIPP in Oklahoma City, right? (By the way, when was the last time he was in a traditional public school?) The problem is that every community, every school, and even every classroom has something unique that limits the possibility of replication. Sometimes, what makes one setting great can’t transfer to another.

This is why so many of us rail against the standardization of everything in public education. When we remove the ability of schools and communities to thrive upon what makes them special, we do that even moreso to students. Since the passage of the ACE law, how many high schoolers have their choices of electives severely limited? We’re focused on making every child as college and career ready as the next – no more, no less. And this is wrong.

This bill does nothing to give schools academic flexibility. If a district wants to focus on agriculture or technology, nothing in existing statutes or regulations would keep them from developing coursework to do so. Over the last several years, we’ve even seen language immersion programs pop up in elementary schools around the state, in districts like Jenks (Mandarin) and Norman (French). School districts think outside the box when afforded the opportunity, and all of this comes without the corruption and intrusion of the Carpe Diems of the world.

Remember, the narrative is that we have failing schools and need to fix them at any cost. We have manufactured evidence to support that sketchy tale. With this legislation – and word is that Mary Fallin is lobbying hard for its passage – carpetbaggers who care more about their profits than our kids will have a foot in the door.

Email your legislators…right now. Remind them that even with a lottery in place, charter schools find ways to exclude children. Remind them that charter school performance trails overall public education performance. Warn them of what happens when states open the floodgates to charters everywhere. Call them in the morning. Don’t let them off the call without telling you how they plan to vote.

If need be, remind them you have a vote too.

***

You can find contact information for legislators here.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part II)

January 25, 2014 4 comments

On Tuesday, I posted Part I, looking at specific language in HB 3398, which would create Education Savings Accounts – or vouchers, if you prefer – for qualifying students to take a portion of the state aid they generate to a private school.  Before I get deeper into this, I want to respond to a few of the comments that readers left me.

From Nicole Shobert:

Thank you! I had to turn off twitter last night. I was getting lost and confused and ready for bed. I do not like holding twitter conversations, although I am impressed that Rep Nelson sticks around. I think he has good intentions but gets his material from the wrong sources, like ALEC.
Great post. But I did not realize the per pupil was that low. I saw a figure from 2010 that I thought was 8000$. Hmm.
Ironically, my family qualifies for the 30% savings account. It could help us over that edge. Maybe if Barissi is re-elected…

Nicole had engaged the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson, in a lengthy conversation on Twitter over the weekend. Much of that conversation was the reason Part I was so lengthy. To answer her question, I looked up data from the 2011-12 school year. At that point, the average district was spending $7,648 per pupil. Of that, 47.6% was generated by state aid. This would come to about $3,640 per pupil. With the weighting that occurs for different student factors (grade, transportation, special education, gifted, etc.) will make the available amount vary a great deal for parents.

From Rob Miller:

You shine the light on some key points. (1) Most families in poverty will not have the capacity to “make up the difference;” (2) most will not be able to provide transportation; (3) private schools will not be held to same mandates or accountability; and (4) private schools can pick and choose their students. The more I read about programs like KIPP, the more upset I get. If we tried to treat students like they do, we would be sued.

I like Rob’s summary of my post, and I want to at least try to make these figures more concrete. Below is the table used for calculating free/reduced lunch in Oklahoma for the 2013-14 school year.

Federal Income Chart For 2013-14 School Year

Household Size

Yearly

Monthly

Weekly

1

$21,257

$1,772

$409

2

$28,694

$2,392

$552

3

$36,131

$3,011

$695

4

$43,568

$3,631

$838

5

$51,005

$4,251

$981

6

$58,442

$4,871

$1,124

7

$65,879

$5,490

$1,267

8

$73,316

$6,110

$1,410

Add for each additional family member

$7,437

$620

$144

For the sake of this illustration, let’s apply these income levels to the legislation. The Voucher Bill states that a family at or below the income threshold would be eligible for 90% of the state aid generated for their student. A family with up to 1.5 times the income threshold would be eligible for 60%, and a family with up to 2.0 times the income would be eligible for 30%.

Applied Income Levels

Household Size

Yearly

Yearly x 1.5

Yearly x 2.0

1

$21,257

 $31,886

$42,514

2

$28,694

 $43,041

$57,388

3

$36,131

 $54,197

$72,262

4

$43,568

 $65,352

$87,136

5

$51,005

 $76,508

$102,010

6

$58,442

 $87,663

$116,884

7

$65,879

 $98,819

$131,758

8

$73,316

 $109,974

$146,632

Estimated Voucher per Child (with weights)

$4,851

$2,911

$1,455

The typical Happy Days size family (four, in case you’re under 35), at or below the income cut-off, would have a hard time affording private school with this voucher – even with nearly 5k in state aid. The family in the next column could probably use the voucher and make up the difference. The family in the last column may or may not need the voucher to afford private school, but certainly wouldn’t turn it down if they were choosing a private school in the first place.

Let’s be perfectly honest about the first column, though. We know that poverty matters, but we also need to understand that the depth of poverty matters more. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, each with about 90% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, a great majority of the households don’t come anywhere close to approaching the cut-off.

If the authors of the bill are serious about the narrative that this helps poor kids escape schools that are failing them, they should probably do a little more math. While I contest the premise that a school’s letter grade tells you anything about its quality, I detest the thought that politicians might use them – combined with a voucher – to convince parents to send their children somewhere else.

Another fallacy of school choice, as Rob states in the third point, is that we honestly have no idea that parents using vouchers would be placing their students in better schools. When you think about it, we don’t know anything about private schools. We don’t know how their students perform, their teachers’ qualifications, attendance rates, disciplinary problems, or mobility. I don’t have a problem with that, if that’s what parents choose to do with their own money. Once we start using tax dollars in private schools, however, that all changes. I want to know the quality of the public investment. Everything we ask public schools to do in the name of accountability and transparency should be on the table for privates accepting vouchers.

From ropeok:

I look at this argument of ‘vouchers’ as a taxpayer issue. i am in no way against public schools. I believe public education to be part and parcel of our American heritage. Here’s where I have the beef; If I pay taxes to a public school that doesn’t work for my family, if I have money to burn, I put my kids in private school and don’t think twice about it. If I’m cash strapped, I’m stuck in the crummy school. I can home school, but only if our family can make it on one income. If I can’t, I’m stuck in the crummy school. Even then, say you are able to homeschool (as I now do all three of my kids still at home) – I’m not paying for a private school education, but I still have expenses; books, tutoring, online classes, activities, etc. Why should I pay twice? Granted, we pay sometimes 4x for things in taxes these days, but does that make it right? I’m not going to go out and willfully pay for something that isn’t going to benefit myself and/or my family, but I will be forced by the state to do just that. I don’t see how that isn’t criminal, frankly. If I went to someone’s house with a gun and told them they had to buy a car with a shot transmission, I wonder what would happen.

I am reluctant to use the terms private money and public money because essentially, all money the government collects is private money. It would be well for all public officials to remember this. That said, I still don’t get much from the argument that parents paying taxes and paying for private school (or homeschooling expenses) are paying twice. Depending on their income levels, they may actually be paying more than twice. At the other end of the scale, some of the families that the authors of HB 3398 most claim to want to help aren’t paying once even.

The taxes we pay do not equate to chits that we can cash in for various goods and services. My taxes have not bought x amount of military protection, y amount of drive time on the state’s roads, or z amount of protection from law enforcement. Taxes fund the public services that a government deems necessary. In this case, the state has determined that students must reach a certain set of standards to be educated in a way that will benefit society. Parents choosing other avenues for meeting those (or different) standards are currently on the hook for the costs. While I don’t always agree with the positions taken by those at ROPE, I enjoy Jenni White’s contributions to education conversations and her comments on my blog and social media accounts.

Less Reader Mail…More Part II

It was not my intent to spend the first 1,300 words of this post that way, but now that I have, I want to spend about 1,000 talking about why ALEC matters in this conversation. As you may recall, what prompted Tuesday’s marathon post was this Tweet from Rep. Nelson:

First, I should probably point out that Nelson doesn’t even use the Straw Man fallacy correctly. He’s thinking of a Red Herring – a person or thing introduced into an argument in an attempt to distract from relevant facts. A Straw Man is an intentional misrepresentation of another’s argument, usually through exaggeration or extrapolation.

Still, my reference to ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – in the discussion is neither Red nor Straw. Understanding the source of policy-making in Oklahoma is just as important as understanding the policy that is made.

Rob Miller has previously written about the connection between Oklahoma’s Voucher Bill and the model legislation presented by ALEC:

The entity I am referring to goes by the innocuous-sounding acronym ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. From their website, ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C., and defines itself as “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” It provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.

An integral part of ALEC’s influence comes from the creation of so-called model legislation. Legislators and policy makers from across the nation contribute through involvement in various task forces and summits. According to ALEC, each state legislator and their constituents then decide which solutions are best for them and their states. As ALEC Treasurer Rep. Linda Upmeyer (IA) has said, model policies are like “a file cabinet. If something can help my constituents, I can take what I need; and if it doesn’t help, I leave it alone.”

The 35 active members of ALEC in the Oklahoma Senate and House (all Republicans) go to this “file cabinet” quite often. Representatives Nelson and Newell may claim credit for this Education Savings Voucher legislation, but they clearly made extensive use of ALEC’s model legislation in drafting this bill.

What’s the harm in this? Governor Fallin copies executive orders from other states. Superintendent Barresi copies idea after idea from Florida (via Jeb Bush). An idea doesn’t have to be original to be good, right?

That’s why it’s important to get to know ALEC. From their website:

A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.

That all sounds harmless enough. Free markets. Liberty. Conservative. Nonpartisan. Each of these words, by their nature is loaded against its very own red herring. If you don’t agree with our positions, you’re a socialist liberal who wants to take away our rights. None of these words is a position of substance. Nor are their antitheses.

ALEC receives more than $7 million annually in contributions to help shape policy. Their donor list reads as a who’s who of the energy (Koch and ExxonMobil), pharmaceutical (Pfizer), insurance (State Farm), tobacco (Altria and Reynolds), and retail (WalMart) industries. Their agenda, in every policy domain, centers around one overarching principle. Clear the way so those we serve can make money.

Again, I have nothing against money, the people who make it, or the people who use it to exert extraordinary influence over our elected officials. Well, the first two of those things are true.

I do have a problem with the mentality that everything can be done better when left to private markets. We see time and time again that left to their own devices, big corporations will not take care of their consumers, employees, or surroundings. Yes, regulating the free market stunts it. Leaving it unregulated, however, leads to chemical spills, market collapses, and harmful side effects in our medication. There is a balance in the middle in which the economy can grow, and people and their surroundings can be safeguarded.

What should concern us most about ALEC and their education policy, however, is that this particular piece of legislation is but one page in their playbook. Rob has linked on his blog to ALEC’s Report Card on American Information and discussed how the reforms they have supported are the tip of the iceberg. Reading further into rest of the document shows a desire for complete privatization of education. Whether it be ALEC or one of the groups they support (such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, listed on page 120), every reform proposed is the extent to which they believe privatization can be achieved right now.

Perhaps this sounds like another great logical fallacy – the Slippery Slope. As I said, however, ALEC and their acolytes spell out the ideal support for public education: zero. The path to privatization is slow and deliberate. Manufacture a crisis in education. Develop flawed tests and use them to establish flawed ratings for schools and teachers. Leach students off of the “failing” schools and put them in private schools or for-profit charters (not locally-run charters, which have a much better track record than the charter chains). Have different rules for each set of schools, making it a lot harder for traditional public schools to succeed. Eventually (see Chicago and New Jersey). Be humane about it, though. Call it restructuring. Say you’re doing it to save money. All the while, continue draining resources from public schools and throw your hands up, claiming you’ve done everything possible to help them succeed. What ALEC wants is private, unregulated schools. And a piece of the pie for their puppet masters once the money comes free.

I’m not suggesting for a minute, by the way, that Nelson and the bill’s other sponsor, Tom Newell, want to eliminate public education. Nelson frequently mentions on Twitter that his own children are in public school and that he is very supportive of that school. I don’t doubt that if he felt differently, they would be somewhere else. Whatever Nelson and Newell’s motives are, we are wise to understand the role this particular reform would play in the ALEC master scheme.

I don’t believe this bill will help poor children. And for the middle class families with the means to take advantage of vouchers, I don’t believe the benefits are substantial. The truth is that we’ll never know. Any system that places our tax dollars behind a wall of secrecy and says, “Trust us,” deserves scrutiny and ultimate rejection.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part I)

January 21, 2014 14 comments

Since issuing a press release for the forthcoming school voucher bill, Rep. Jason Nelson has been all over Twitter engaging with various Oklahoma educators about it. While I often find his answers to be question-adjacent, and I usually disagree with him, he gets credit for being there and maintaining the conversation with critics.

One limitation of Twitter is that discourse is often stunted. I find 140 characters to be horribly inadequate. And then there’s the drive-by tweeting. I read an article this morning before leaving the house ant then shot off the following message…

…followed by this response from Nelson.

And then I didn’t have time to follow up. So I committed to writing this now gigantic blog post.

While I disagree with his assertion that I am somehow making a straw man argument, I do agree that the idea of his voucher plan should be discussed in terms of its merits and faults. Nicole Shobert held serve quite well with Nelson over the weekend in a lengthy Twitter exchange that unfortunately culminated with both of them accusing the other of changing the subject. Still as a fellow critic of vouchers, I do feel some of Nicole’s questions remain unanswered. That is true with some of the other conversations I saw today as well. So I will try to incorporate my concerns with those questions into my discussion of the voucher bill as well.

The first thing people need to do is read the text of proposed House Bill 3398 – it’s only 21 pages long, and most of that is double-spaced. If you’re responding to what you think is in it, rather than to what actually is, you probably serve neither side of the discussion well. Below is my summary of key points of the bill.

Eligibility

A. For a student who is determined to be an eligible student pursuant to subparagraph a of paragraph 7 of Section 3 of this act, the annual amount to be deposited to the education savings account for the student shall be as follows:

  1. If the total household annual income is equal to or less than the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to ninety percent (90%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year;
  2. If the total household annual income is greater than the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program but is less than one and one-half (1 1/2) times that amount, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to sixty percent (60%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year; and
  3. If the total household annual income is greater than one and one-half (1 1/2) times the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program but is less than two (2) times that amount, the amount granted to the account shall be equal to thirty percent (30%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year.

B. For a student who is determined to be an eligible student pursuant to subparagraph b of paragraph 7 of Section 3 of this act, the annual amount granted to the education savings account for the student shall be equal to thirty percent (30%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights that would be generated by that student for the applicable school year.

Students will be means-tested for participation in the program. Any student taking a voucher will not receive the full state allocation. The remainder will cycle back into the funding formula, causing a slight increase to per-pupil funding amounts. The key word is slight.

Weighted state aid per pupil is $3,032 for the current school year. Keep in mind that different students carry different weights in the formula. Allocations are determined by WADM – Weighted Average Daily Membership. The SDE website has an updated WADM file for all districts (current as of last week). The last page of the file shows that the state has an ADM of 677,879.07 students but a WADM of 1,079,621.13 students. This means on average, that each student produces about 1.6 WADM. Run that through the formula, and we get an average of $4,851 in state aid per child.

Parents qualifying for and choosing a voucher would then receive something along the lines of $4,366 (90%), $2,911 (60%), or $1,455 (30%). Of course, given all the categories for which different weights are applied, those figures could be all over the place.

Not being familiar with private school costs, I did a little window shopping. Using the OSSAA classifications page as a guide, I selected the five largest private high schools in the state and compared tuition rates. I also selected two private schools from outside the OKC and Tulsa metro areas because I understand that there are some big differences among private schools.

School High School Tuition (not including fees)
Bishop Kelley $7,500 (+ $2,300 if non-Catholic)
Bishop McGuinness $8,350 (+ $3,350 if non-Catholic)
Mount St. Mary $7,800 (+ $1,500 if non-Catholic)
Victory Christian $6,058 (less for lower grades)
Metro Christian $9,265 (less for lower grades)
Oklahoma Bible Academy $5,600
Wesleyan Christian School $5,695 (less for lower grades)

I realize there are probably cheaper options in Oklahoma, that elementary costs will be lower as well, and that in some cases, schools will probably supplement the voucher amount with at least a little bit of need-based scholarship money. In many cases, though, even with a $4,400 chit from the state (I’m rounding for convenience), many students will not be able to attend private schools.

Acceptable Uses

a. tuition and fees to a participating private school, virtual school or virtual course-work provider, or eligible postsecondary institution,

b. purchasing, renting, or subscribing to a service that provides textbooks and other learning materials. Any funds from the sale of items purchased using the account funds shall be deposited into the account. Failure to deposit the proceeds may result in the removal of the student from the Program and forfeiture of the account balance,

c. educational therapies or services for the eligible student from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider, including licensed or accredited paraprofessionals or educational aides. The State Board of Education shall promulgate rules defining which therapies and services are eligible under the Program and setting the required qualifications for paraprofessionals and aides,

d. tutoring services. The Board shall promulgate rules setting the required qualifications for tutors. Tutors shall be registered with the State Department of Education. Account funds shall not be used for tutors who are related to the student within the second degree of consanguinity,

e. curriculum for a complete course of study for a particular content area or grade level, including any supplemental materials recommended by the curriculum,

f. services provided by a public school, including individual classes and extracurricular programs,

g. fees for a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, advanced placement examinations or any exams related to college or university admissions,

h. contributions to a Coverdell Savings Account established pursuant to 26 U.S.C., Section 530 for the benefit of the eligible student, except that money used for elementary or secondary education expenses shall be for expenses otherwise allowed by this act,

i. fees for management of the account by firms or institutions selected by the Treasurer, and

j. insurance or surety bond payments as required by the State Board of Education; and

The SDE gets to decide who can and who can’t tutor. And parents can pay fees to eligible management firms so they don’t have to handle the money themselves. I don’t like the sound of that. On the flip side, what isn’t allowed?

Unacceptable Uses

a. purchasing computer hardware, electronic equipment, assistive technological devices, or educational equipment or instruments. Nothing shall prohibit the renting of such items,

b. transportation of the student, and

c. consumable educational supplies including but not limited to paper, pens or markers.

In other words, parents can’t use their voucher for school supplies or transportation.

Regulation

Participation of private schools in the Education Savings Account Program shall not expand the regulatory authority of the state or any school district to impose any additional regulation on private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce the requirements expressly set forth in the Oklahoma Education Savings Account Act.

Let me get this straight. You’re going to use state money in private schools, most of which have a religious affiliation, but the state can’t impose rules over things like testing, cost expenditures, standards, and the like? Every school in every district in the state has to code every dollar spent according to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. This bill will require parents to submit quarterly reports of expenditures. The private schools accepting the funds will not have to account to the state for where the dollars are spent. This is how Nelson answered Jason James’s question about when private schools will have to report how they used their state aid.

That’s a thinker. Without saying as much, we now know that none of the same rules will apply to private schools. Is it possible that if we did away with the overly burdensome legislative and regulatory requirements that plague public schools, many of the students (and staff) would be happier there? Take away the testing, the state textbook committee, the burdensome reports, the unfunded mandates, the ever-increasing graduation requirements that limit the access students have to electives…and we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

As long as the private schools maintain instruction in the four core subject areas, they will not have adhere to the state’s adopted standards. And just as parents have no evidence going in that they will be putting their children in a better school, the state will have no evidence on the back end that the students learned. Remember, we have absolutely no data showing how private schools perform. After vouchers, we still won’t. Superintendent Barresi has repeatedly stated that if it matters, we should measure it.

Nothing about how the money will be spent is transparent. Nothing in the bill requires accountability. Remember, these are cornerstones of the reform agenda – but only for public schools.

Conclusion

Anytime a politician proposes a new law, I ask myself three fundamental questions:

  1. Does the solution address an actual problem?
  2. Who benefits most from this law?
  3. What are the unintended consequences?

Regarding this bill, here are my answers:

  1. The bill stands on the twin premises that we have too many children in poverty and that the schools they attend are largely failing them. I agree with the first part and disagree with the second. Even if the second were true, I don’t believe this bill fixes either situation. Yes, more than 60% of Oklahoma’s school children are eligible for free/reduced lunch. Even with vouchers that will be true. We know that much of Oklahoma’s school-age population moves around frequently. And we know from first-level data and regression analysis that our A-F Report Cards are better at finding poverty than achievement.
  2. I can see marginal benefits for students in poverty, but greater benefits for those families barely capable of putting their children in private schools. A partial voucher might also be a tipping point for those families interested in private school but teetering on the edge as far as finances go. I also see tutoring mills winning big with this law – as long as they get approval from the state. Private schools themselves also stand to benefit. Many – as their public counterparts understand – teeter on the edge financially. This could really help private schools that are barely making it. It could also spur new private schools coming into business.
  3. Public schools and private schools have very different missions. Sure, there’s some overlap to the Venn Diagram; both try to educate children. Public schools accept all children, however, and private schools – like charters – get to pick and choose. Unlike charters, however, private schools have no accountability or transparency. Since most of the private schools in Oklahoma are faith-based, they wouldn’t accept the government interference anyway. The worst thing about vouchers is that they redistribute children – middle-class and the rung just below that – to schools that the poorest of the poor still won’t be able to access. That family living on what constitutes twice the threshold for free/reduced lunches might be able to use $1,455 to offset some tuition costs. Meanwhile, a family living well below that point might not have the ability to take the $4,400 and change anything.

Another time-tested Nelsonism is to ask anyone who dares to question him about money to give him an amount – How much is enough? The answer, of course is that it varies. We’ll never know how much is enough because the legislature will never provide it anyway.

There’s my case based on the merits of the bill. No, they’re not too much for me. I would never avoid a debate that is topical. As for your straw man argument… that’s another five page post for another day.

CLICK HERE FOR PART II

Is This Your Card?

January 5, 2014 12 comments

The most important skill of any magician is to be able to get the audience to look one direction while the important action is happening somewhere else. Draw attention to yourself on stage right while the assistant slips away into darkness on stage left. As 2014 begins, we run the risk of being the unsuspecting audience.

Social media is abuzz this weekend because Superintendent Barresi declined a meeting with the OEA. She responded to their campaign questionnaire, insulted them, and heralded her own transparency. From the Tulsa World:

She said she was “refusing to accept more back-room deals and politics as usual” and did not want her views “filtered through the lens of liberal union bosses” at the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents more than 35,000 teachers, school support staff and retirees.

She posted answers to OEA’s candidate survey on her campaign website and challenged her opponents to divulge whether they “were willing to meet with the OEA behind closed doors and what promises were made.”

This really isn’t a surprise. Barresi frequently calls her opponents liberals, even though many of them are Republicans who simply don’t support her. The funny thing about all this is that throughout the first three years of her term, she has frequently tapped the OEA for help. She hired the OEA’s top lobbyist as her chief of staff. She even used them to garner support among teachers during the rollout of TLE. Thousands of the state’s teachers have been trained in the new evaluation system by OEA trainers. The OEA has been a partner with the SDE in the transition to the Common Core State Standards as well.

Painting this issue as one of a transparent conservative against a liberal union serves two purposes. It feeds red meat to her base supporters during the primary campaign. And it distracts from important issues.

Fortunately (and surprisingly) the Oklahoman provided a good overview of several issues that we should watch closely during the upcoming legislative session and campaign season. The editorial posted this morning calls for a more cooperative tone between Barresi and the district superintendents and lists four critical points to achieving this wish:

  • Common Core: Stay the course
  • A-F system: Keep working
  • Third-grade reading: Reality check
  • Teachers and funding: More support needed

The next few paragraphs will explore each these points, which are far more critical to public education than who meets with whom for political purposes.

Common Core: Stay the course

The Oklahoman cites concerns “about some of the specific content in the reading/language arts and math standards” as the source of consternation within Barresi’s own party. This is only partly true. The larger concern is the fact that Oklahoma’s ELA, math, and now science standards were written by national groups and rebranded as if they were written by Oklahomans. I’m in the group that has less of a problem with what’s in the standards than the fact that the SDE continues this masquerade. If they really think that the standards written under the direction of Achieve, Inc. are best for Oklahoma’s children, they should have the guts to say so. At least the Oklahoman has the decency not to use the contrived (and silly) Oklahoma Academic Standards moniker when discussing the Common Core.

Buried in this section of the editorial is a passing reference to testing. This would probably have been my lead. Testing has reached a tipping point in public education. It drives the instructional process, scheduling, accountability, teacher evaluation, and budgets of school districts. Testing will singularly determine whether school districts retain third graders. As the editorial mentions, this focus on test results often comes “at the expense of art, music, science, social studies and other important areas that keep kids excited about learning.” Many parents now join teachers as those who are sick of the obsession with standardized testing.

Staying the course with the Common Core will increase the frequency and cost of testing. It will continue eroding support for all programs not specifically labeled reading and math. It will cause more students, teachers, principals, schools, and districts to be labeled as failures. And it will open the door for more companies – both for-profit and non-profit – that see students as nothing other than potential revenue streams.

I’ve never written specifically on this blog that I either support or oppose the Common Core. The reason is that it’s not as simple as that. I believe in standard-based instruction. Good teachers start instruction with an idea of what skills they want students to learn. A good education in any discipline and at any grade level should not vary much from class to class, school to school, or district to district. To that end, I support the Common Core.

The flip side of that is sage advice I received early in my career: Follow the money. Public education policy these days follows a disruption-based philosophy. The key is that the public has to believe the narrative that claims public education is failing. Only then can legislatures appropriate less of the funding that education receives away from the schools themselves. Only then can the corporate interests (including for-profit charter school chains and testing companies) extract that funding away the public entities that traditionally receive it. Doing this requires heavy use of loaded language attacking unions, the education establishment, and the dreaded status quo. It requires us to pay attention to red herrings all lined up in a row.

With all that said, I’ve spent four years now indifferent to the fate of the Common Core. I don’t view the standards themselves as completely flawed. Actually, it’s the confluence of supporters behind the development and adoption of the standards that I find distasteful. My apathy has become antipathy. Let it fall. Disrupt the disruption.

A-F system: Keep working

The Oklahoman believes that the state’s signature accountability system “has promise.” I don’t. I believe that we could try our best to improve the system and get the grades right, but that we’d still have a lot of schools serving affluent students making an A or B and a lot of schools serving poor students making a D or F. A letter grade is just too simplistic of a measure to give schools.

The A-F system is only one set of calculations the state uses for accountability. It is window dressing, nothing more. It has no teeth.

More critical to school districts is the NCLB waiver agreement between the SDE and the US Department of Education. Using different computations than what the legislature has established for A-F, schools can receive labels of Focus or Priority. The problem with this is that the SDE, in an overture of transparency, neither makes the calculations nor the lists public. The state can say that a school is in the lowest 10 percent of a subgroup, but they don’t have to show their work. If the tortured month of October taught us anything, it should be that the SDE must always be required to show their work.

Schools subject to the provisions under the waiver face extreme disruption. Portions of their Title I money are diverted away from serving students. Staff have to complete mind-numbing reports and commit to meeting targets. Principals have to guess what the subgroup targets are because the SDE also does not release this information.

The public gets to see the window dressing and sometimes the faulty machinations behind them. What they don’t realize is that if you remove the curtain, there isn’t a window. They’ve really decorated a wall – a cold, sterile, bureaucratic wall that surrounds a system that really has no purpose.

Third-grade reading: Reality check

Again, the Oklahoman delivers a critical point about a major reform:

Under the law, students must pass tests showing they’ve achieved at least a second-grade reading level before advancing to the fourth grade. Sadly, too many students won’t make that cut. Rather than continue social promotion, schools must instead be provided the resources to successfully implement this law and help lagging students catch up. We’re not convinced those resources have been provided.

That’s one big problem. Another is that neither the legislature nor the SDE has figured out how to handle special situations, such as those faced by students on a special education plan or English-language learners. While this is a topic of legislative concern, schools have no guarantee that the flimsy safety net in place for these students will be strengthened.

It comes down to the fact that those who wrote the law (or at least those who sponsored it locally based on model legislation provided by ALEC) did not anticipate the low quality of implementation by the SDE. They also didn’t know that they were placing the law in the hands of a state superintendent who believes that 75 percent of all special education students have been misidentified.

In terms of support, district superintendents received the following email on New Year’s Eve:

Superintendents, Principals, and Reading Specialists,On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved, pursuant to 70 O.S. 1210.508E, the following scientifically research-based programs for use by school districts in Summer Academy Reading Programs (SARP) offered to meet requirements of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).

1.     Dynamic Measurement Group

2.     Literacy First

3.     LETRS Foundation*

4.     Current Reading Specialists Certified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education

*The LETRS Foundation is a new program approved by the State Board of Education.  30 of our REAC3H Coaches across Oklahoma are certified to train you in this program.  They will be available to help you with this training starting January, 2014.

Please contact your REAC3H Coach if you are interested in training with the LETRS Foundation.

Let me point out here that we start testing in less than four months. Retaining third graders is probably a bad idea in most cases. As usual, the SDE is playing catch up to one of its own initiatives. While district staff work tirelessly to help get as many children as possible to the finish line, Barresi’s staff can’t get out of its own way. It’s also worth noting that while four programs are approved for remediation, the SDE is only providing support for one.

Again, follow the money.

This law makes the most sense to the people who least understand child development. Teachers who work with our youngest students know that third grade is late to be retaining children. They also understand that students in early grades learn at very different rates. The results of this law are potentially disastrous, and this is an election year.

Teachers and funding: More support needed

The Oklahoman acknowledges that schools need more money and that too many students are in poverty:

It’s easy to look at how poorly Oklahoma fares on national rankings of school funding and be frustrated. Clearly, Oklahoma has plenty of room for improvement; students and teachers can’t afford to do education reform on the cheap. Too much is at stake.

Perhaps it’s also time to consider a governmental or at least a gubernatorial Cabinet structure that brings a more cohesive look at meeting all the needs of children. The educational success of children is profoundly affected by whether their other basic needs are met. Oklahoma ignores this reality at its own peril.

Quality costs money. Reform costs money. Improvement costs money. And poverty matters. They’re acknowledging all of these things here, but the words ring hollow. Just a few days ago, they posted on the same editorial pages a column written by one of their frequent contributors, Brandon Dutcher, the senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – a conservative think tank. Dutcher disputes rankings showing how low funding is for education in Oklahoma. Jason James effectively refutes his arguments on his own blog:

Mr. Dutcher is of the opinion that money can’t help schools. He says Oklahoma isn’t 49th in educational spending it’s 29th when adjusted for comparable wages. Why is it when educators point out American test scores are the highest in the world when adjusted for poverty – they’re leapers, but opponents of increasing school funding can adjust per pupil funding by using comparable wages – and it’s a legit point? Why is it people who are against paying for a public education are always quick to point out money hasn’t helped Washington DC?  Does Washington DC do anything right?  I know of no one who wants to follow the Washington DC model for education. Blindly throwing money at public schools has never been my or any education organization’s goal to make our schools better for our children. It is a tactic that has been used to persuade public opinion, and it is disingenuous.  What 49th isn’t OK wants, CCOSA wants, OEA wants, and teachers want is for the State of Oklahoma to provide funding for the goods and services required of public schools to educate the public’s children.  Anyone who suggests we can increase the quality and quantity of these services when decreasing funding is just not sane.

Oklahoma has suffered for years under the Starve the Beast mentality of key legislators who want to disrupt public education. They continue significantly cutting taxes for huge corporations while throwing an occasional quarter of a percentage point for Joe Taxpayer. They ask schools to meet more mandates for more students with less money. When they increase funding for education, little of it filters into the school funding formula. Most of the increases are reserved for the SDE and the testing companies.

Continuing their trend behaviors of being late and lacking transparency, the SDE released mid-term adjustments to school districts December 30. Usually these calculations are given to schools earlier so they can plan for second semester adjustments in a timely manner. This time, they also weren’t posted to the SDE’s finance page. It’s always instructive to be able to see who is getting an increase and who is getting a decrease. Last school year, as you’ll remember, there was even some concern that the SDE had miscalculated appropriations. That would be consistent with everything else we’ve seen from them.

This state needs greater support for public education. That means more money, constructive rhetoric, and policies that make sense. Lip service just won’t do.

In Conclusion

I think it’s a mistake for Barresi not to meet with the OEA. It’s bad form, just as it was when she walked out of the candidate forum in Oklahoma City last August. She keeps saying that she wants what’s best for teachers, but she shows them disrespect at every turn. Unfortunately, this is not new information for us.

We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.

In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

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