It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it has. On June 24, 2014, Oklahoma voters not only elevated Joy Hofmeister over the incumbent state superintendent; they did so with a more decisive margin than any of us had imagined. Many of us went into the day worried that Hofmeister would fall just short of the 50% tally necessary to avoid an expensive run-off election. As the evening unfolded, Hofmeister not only won the primary, she comfortably surpassed 50. Furthermore, if she had faced a run-off election, it wouldn’t have been against the incumbent. Janet Barresi had finished in third.
Among the Democrats in the race, voters had narrowed the choices to two. John Cox would eventually defeat Freda Deskin in a late summer run-off. Then something amazing happened. Hofmeister and Cox went around Oklahoma debating one another. In public. Pretty much everywhere. It was one of the most civil things I had seen in politics in a long time. When I finally saw them at Westmoore High School in October, the general election was but a few weeks away. By then, they probably didn’t have many surprises left for one another. Most of the discussions were on point. A few barbs by each were political in nature, but very few. It was largely a substantive discussion.
SIDE NOTE: I had this picture in the back of my head of the two of them driving all over the state in an old VW van continuing their debates as they moved from stop to stop. Yes, I know that’s not how it all happened, but don’t ruin this for me.
Meanwhile, Barresi had more than six months remaining in her term. During that time, she continued the work of the previous 42 months. The only difference was that more of us were speaking out against her. She defended herself rather crassly at the Vision 2020 conference. She created a crony position for an in-house investigator who paraded around Oklahoma trying to intimidate leaders in various district. Board members called her out. She swore at one of them. Even on her last day in office, she fired people pretty much just because she could.
At noon on January 12, Hofmeister took office. She then had an open house at the SDE to greet people and set a new tone for her upcoming administration. The big WELCOME #OKLAED banner in front of the building did that. As I chatted with several old friends, we all expressed optimism.
For me, that feeling hasn’t faded.
Superintendent Hofmeister has had some early victories in her administration. She eliminated the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing and announced that the prompt would ask students to write in the narrative mode. A few months later, when the tests came back with the exact same problems as last year, she wasted no time in announcing that the scores wouldn’t count in the A-F Report Card calculations. Last year, if you’ll recall, it took an entire tortured summer for Barresi to finally make that decision.
To me, the most impressive thing she’s done, is gather her assessment team and get Measured Progress to change the practice of a student’s score range appearing on the screen after finishing each state test. She did it quickly. Most Oklahomans were appreciative.
She worked with legislators to try to curb testing. If it hadn’t been for a few in leadership positions, they would have been able to eliminate the writing tests.
This needs to happen, by the way. Nobody values writing instruction more than I do. Lousy prompts on lousy tests lead to dubious writing that is scored by temporary labor who are poorly trained and poorly compensated.
Hofmeister even came to the rally at the Capitol in March and has continued fighting to curb the teacher shortage. At times, it has seemed as if her ideas are left hanging in mid-air because we still have the same governor, representatives, and senators we had before. She hasn’t won every political fight for us, but it was only the first year.
She still has some critics on the fringe of each party. Many of them hold dearly to petty, perceived slights and are susceptible to every conspiracy theory they can imagine. It’s to be expected.
The Oklahoman also hasn’t warmed up to Hofmeister, but then again, they still have Barresi’s first campaign manager’s husband writing editorials. Similarly, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs continues pushing back against her and all things public education. Expecting something different would be like asking the sun not to shine.
In spite of this, I do still feel optimistic. More importantly, I feel respected. I feel that my profession and the children we are passionate to serve have a voice – and that her voice will only become more influential during the next several years.
Going back a year – actually, a year and two days – I hosted the Sunday night #oklaed chat and asked several questions about the primary election. I want to share a few responses to the second question, which was, “What should a new state superintendent do on day one in office.”
Yes, there were a few snarky, Paul Lynde “center-square” type answers in there, but most were along the lines of inviting parents and educators to the SDE (done) and helping remaining SDE staff understand their role as a true service agency (visible progress on that front).
A year has made a huge difference. I’m still excited. I owe that feeling to Joy Hofmeister and the people of this state who decided a year ago that they had seen enough.
I’m afraid we’re on the verge of following Indiana again. It seems that certain State Board of Education members, who are in cahoots with members of the Legislature, are flexing their muscles for a power grab at the Oliver Hodge Building.
What are you talking about, Rick? May I call you Rick? What’s with all the vague references already?
What I’m talking about is yesterday’s SBE meeting, which should have been pretty routine. The agenda was so unremarkable that I forgot about it until last night. Then I read Andrea Eger’s reporting from the Tulsa World.
At the conclusion of three hours dominated by the board’s consideration of routine rule-setting, Hofmeister adjourned the meeting with the bang of a gavel and was met with angry objections by three board members.
Bill Price, a board member from Oklahoma City, said he had wanted the board to consider a recommendation of his under “new business.”
Lee Baxter, of Lawton, stood up and questioned Hofmeister’s adjournment of the meeting and stormed out of the room as Amy Ford, of Durant, said she wanted to consider Price’s recommendation.
Hofmeister said, “Mr. Price, I called for new business. Nothing was said. I moved to adjourn.”
But then Price interrupted, saying, “Five seconds later you said ‘public comment.’ No. That is not the way to run a public meeting.”
Members Dan Keating, of Tulsa, and Cathryn Franks, of Roosevelt, were absent from Thursday’s meeting.
Member Bill Shdeed, of Oklahoma City, who was recognized for his service earlier Thursday because it was his last meeting on the board, made no remarks during the exchange.
After the meeting, Price and Ford spoke in raised voices to Lance Nelson, who Hofmeister introduced to the board Thursday as her newly hired chief of staff. Ford vowed to “uniformly vote down every issue” until the dispute is resolved, and Price concurred.
Price told the Tulsa World that he had been trying unsuccessfully since January to get the matter heard publicly. He said conflicts over the board agenda had never arisen under the administration of Hofmeister’s predecessor, Janet Barresi, who Hofmeister defeated in the June 2014 Republican primary.
Asked for examples of agenda items board members are seeking, Price told the Tulsa World, “For one, I would like a legislative update to be presented. We had that every time for four years. I’d also like to have for next month a resolution in support of this child abuse bill, Senate Bill 301.”
Sponsored by State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, SB 301 would require school officials to report allegations of misconduct by their employees not only to law enforcement authorities but also to the State Board of Education to investigate.
Ford said, “That’s my bill. Well, I requested it. I’m kind of grumpy about that because the superintendent was in the Duncan Banner (newspaper) saying it is a ‘growing of government.’ ”
My first thought was that this came out of nowhere and escalated quickly. That’s not accurate, though. This has been brewing since June. Ford and Price are loyal to Barresi, and Loveless’s bill is a front for usurping power away from the elected state superintendent. Maybe I should start there.
The short description of the bill is that it allows “the State Board of Education to suspend or deny teacher certification upon certain findings.” It does more than that. You can read through the entire 20 page bill if you like, but the only changes to existing statute come on pages 8, 9 and 19. The bill adds new language to the role of the State Board of Education, taking the number of enumerated duties of the Board to 24. Here’s from pages 8-9, which pick up in a subsection discussing the revocation of a certificate from a teacher who has abused children:
b. the State Board of Education may take appropriate action, in accordance with Article II of the Administrative Procedures Act, to deny certification to and revoke or suspend the certification of any individual pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,
c. the State Board of Education may appoint, prescribe the duties, and fix the compensation of an investigator to assist the Board in the issuance, denial, revocation or suspension of certificates pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,
So the crux of SB 301 is that the Board gets to hire an investigator, set his or her salary, and allow him or her to investigate sex crimes. That’s what Hofmeister needs: a high-profile employee at the SDE who doesn’t work for her. Moreover, an employee whose job it is to accuse people of crimes.
But wait…there’s more! Yes, SB 301 goes on and on and on before adding one final paragraph of duties – section 24:
24. Have the authority to conduct investigations necessary to implement the provisions of this title.
Oh, so now the SBE will have the authority to conduct investigations over anything listed in sections 1-23. And they will do so with the help of an employee whom the state superintendent can’t control at all?
Brilliant! Even Amy Ford was happy when this bill passed the Senate:
How cute. She thinks SB 301 protects children. Or she thinks we think she thinks that. Or something. Apparently not everybody thinks they think that, however. Today, Sen. Loveless took to the editorial pages of the Oklahoman to defend his legislation:
We have seen its prevalence rise in the last several years, but more and more teachers are having inappropriate sexual relations with children under their care. Senate Bill 301 hopes to close a loophole that allows these predators to move from school district to school district without being caught.
Here is a far too familiar scenario: a teacher rapes a child, and both the teacher and student say it was consensual — even though it’s still legally rape and there are some cases where the victim is as young as 12. The school district and parents don’t want the public scrutiny so the district, parents of the victim and the predator agree that the perpetrator will no longer teach in that school district. Everyone agrees and the cover-up has begun.
The predator needs to keep working, so he or she moves to another school district that has no idea of the situation that led to the resignation; school districts can’t communicate with each other on personnel matters.
SB 301 would do several things to close this loophole. First, school districts would be required to report to the state Board of Education when a situation rises to begin an investigation. Secondly, the state board would have an investigator on staff to get to the bottom of allegations and make recommendations to the board regarding suspension or revocation of licenses. Finally, the board would then decide whether to turn over its investigation to the local district attorney’s office.
So many things are wrong with these four paragraphs. I’ve seen Sen. Loveless do this when talking about school consolidation on Twitter before. He makes wild assertions that can neither be proven nor disproven and then tries to engage detractors in an argument. Since you haven’t proven him wrong (other than the people who have caught him quoting highly flawed numbers), he wins! Isn’t that exciting for him?
Is this situation with students and teachers really common place? I hope not, but even if it is, the rest of his argument falls apart completely. Any school employee who suspects a child is being abused already has to report it to DHS. If we suspect a child is a victim of a crime, we already have to report it to law enforcement. If we fail to do this, we have already broken the law. Passing SB 301 doesn’t do anything new. It just makes the size of government bigger. More specifically, it gives the SBE a henchman.
They’ve already had one of those. And when he tried bullying a few superintendents during his brief tenure at the SDE, they found it ridiculous. As Rob Miller suggests, maybe the Board has the same guy in mind.
This is where it starts sounding like Indiana to me. For those of you who may not be familiar, in 2012, Indiana voters chose Democrat Glenda Ritz over incumbent Republican (and friend of Barresi) Tony Bennett. Since then, the governor and legislature have methodically stripped her of as much power as possible.
She put her name on the ballot in 2012, she campaigned and she won.
She won easily because many Hoosiers, whether you agreed with them or not, had grown tired of the way education policy was being conducted.
That’s apparently a pill that, for some, still won’t go down. And, so, Statehouse Republicans are intent on doing something, anything, to overturn as much as they can the impact of the last education superintendent’s election.
There they were on the fourth floor of the Statehouse this week, passing out of a Senate committee a bill that would essentially remove Ritz as chairwoman of the state Board of Education, a body that is made up of her and 10 members appointed by the governor.
It’s an adversarial, dysfunctional board if ever there was one. That much is true. But it’s also one that the voters created in 2012 when they elected both Glenda Ritz and Mike Pence. And while plenty of people are furious about the nonstop petty board fights — I know I am — few teachers, parents or other rank-and-file Hoosiers I’ve talked to see a political power play as the solution to the mess. (Actually, if a vote were held on this issue today, I’m fairly certain Ritz would win.)
Those pushing the measure to diminish Ritz’s power talk about their grievances with her administration’s policies and competence, and about the proven inability of the Board of Education to work out its problems. They talk about a troubling lack of communication and advancement on crucial issues, and the impact all of this will ultimately have on schools and students. Those are all fair points of discussion.
But at the core of this power grab is a lingering frustration with an election in 2012 that went in a surprising way.
I get the frustration. Nobody likes to lose. But ain’t that America? You win some, you lose some.
That’s exactly right. Barely more than two months after taking office, Hofmeister has to face a board that wants to work around her. If SB 301 becomes law, they might get their way.
The person who can stop this madness is Governor Mary Fallin. The Legislature – when the SBE bucked newly-elected Janet Barresi in 2011 – gave Fallin unilateral powers to replace any board member at any time. Maybe now is the time to use those powers. Or maybe the time was last summer when four members sued to have HB 3399 (which had recently been signed by Fallin) ruled unconstitutional. Two members basically disqualified themselves from continuing service when they stomped out of the room and told Hofmeister’s new chief of staff that they would block everything the elected state superintendent brings to them.
This state has important business that requires adults acting like adults. Having a pity party when the chips don’t fall your way doesn’t benefit children. Let’s focus on what matters. Don’t turn this into another Indiana.
Our short, federal nightmare is over. Today, the USDE announced that Oklahoma could have its No Child Left Behind waiver back after all.
U.S. Department of Education restores Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Flexibility Waiver for remainder of school year
OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 24) — The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced today it is reinstating Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Flexibility Waiver for the 2014-15 school year. Although the waiver had been pulled after state lawmakers repealed Common Core academic standards deemed college- and career-ready, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reconsidered that earlier decision after Oklahoma higher education officials determined the state’s existing academic standards were sufficient.
“On behalf of Oklahoma educators, parents, students, lawmakers and all Oklahomans invested in better schools, we are grateful for this decision to reinstate the state’s flexibility waiver,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.
“The ramifications of losing the waiver would have been significant and with potentially disastrous consequences. Instead, Oklahoma now has an opportunity to build upon the innovations and successful reforms of recent years.”
On Aug. 28, the USDE told the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that Oklahoma was losing the waiver that provides the state and school districts with relief from 13 federal regulations and flexibility in spending Title I funds. Federal officials indicated they were impressed by how many Oklahoma schools had improved under the waiver, but an obstacle remained. The USDE requires all states applying for waivers to use English language arts and mathematics standards aligned with college- and career-ready guidelines, and the Common Core repeal made that problematic.
Federal officials indicated at that time that the state could reapply for a waiver to take effect in the 2015-16 school year.
OSDE requested immediate reinstatement of the waiver, however, after the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education concluded Oct. 16 that existing Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for English and math are college- and career-ready.
In addition to that development, OSDE pointed to significant progress made under its school improvement program, with 51 out of 175 Priority schools improving their letter grade this school year, and more than 100 Targeted Intervention schools raising their grade. Priority and Targeted Intervention schools are schools that need the most intensive help in raising student achievement.
In a letter today, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle praised Oklahoma for education reforms made in an effort to strengthen rigor and improve academic performance.
“I am confident that Oklahoma will continue to implement the reforms described in its approved ESEA flexibility request and advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students,” she wrote.
As state leaders look ahead to the spring of 2015 and the likelihood of requesting another NCLB Flexibility Waiver, Supt. Barresi said it is critical that Oklahoma remains committed to reforms that will spur academic achievement.
“While the USDE decision certainly allows districts and schools to breathe a little easier, this reinstatement cannot be misinterpreted as a concession to low expectations,” she said. “Oklahoma should forge ahead with creating stronger academic standards and shoring up a system of true accountability.”
The SDE’s press release didn’t mention this, but apparently, Arne Duncan signs all of his Christmas cards with Just Kidding instead of Best Wishes. Or perhaps this is Secretary Duncan’s version of pardoning a Turkey. Essentially, the last three months were like that season of Dallas that never really happened.
I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately, and today is no exception, but here are four quick thoughts on the announcement.
- Barresi couldn’t just let the announcement happen without taking more shots at everything associated with PASS. The first paragraph can best be described as a word salad – not the kind that people find appealing, but rather a USDA school lunch-approved word salad. I’ll translate: Even though the Legislature killed the awesome Common Core, costing us the waiver in the first place, the State Regents saved their bacon by determining that PASS was good enough. You know, I’m going to miss that rare combination of bitterness and insight here in a couple of months.
- Barresi lauds the SDE’s School Improvement efforts, maintaining the illusion that nothing of the sort was happening before her. As you can see here used to be able to see on the SDE’s website, schools received an API score (and subscores for reading and math and different student populations) from 2002 through 2011. Each year, they would also publish a list of schools not showing enough improvement. The last list is still posted. The historical API data is still hidden from view for no good reason, though. The catch is that schools moved back and forth, on and off the list, all the time. This did not just happen because of the Barresi administration or because of the A-F Report Cards. Reforms come and go. The people working with students make the difference.
- It’s somewhat surprising that the reinstatement happened this fast. I’m skeptical about the motivations. Could it be that the feds are finally attuned to the fact that nobody who actually knows anything about education believes in NCLB or the waivers? What does this mean for VAM, since we still have to have a quantitative measure of teacher effectiveness, under the rules of the waiver? Does Oklahoma’s action provide a blueprint for other states wanting to shed the Common Core?
- When will the SDE publish this year’s list for School Improvement? Under the waiver (I assume this hasn’t changed – the SDE hasn’t actually published the new waiver anywhere publicly) all D schools are on the Targeted Improvement list, and all the F schools are on the Priority That part’s easy. Then, using a formula almost as complicated as the one we’ve paid someone else to construct to calculate VAM, they determine which schools have landed on the Focus list. This seems like the kind of thing that will come out the day before Christmas Break, along with each district’s mid-term funding adjustment.
In all seriousness, the announcement is a welcome relief. I don’t know anybody in the state who would feel differently. Going back to the draconian NCLB regulations would have forced many Title I schools to cut staff positions – staff who work with students who struggle. For that, we are thankful.
Counting down from 20 was so much fun (how fun was it?)…it was so much fun I added a new number one yesterday afternoon. Now I’m going to add 13 more! These are additional examples of things that Barresi or the SDE have done during the last 42 months to wreck public education. Whether an example of failure by design or incompetence, each is worthy of dishonorable mention. There is no particular order to the following list. Nor should they be interpreted as Reasons 22-34. Some could easily have made the top 20. Even after this, I’m sure I’m missing something.
For each, I’m going to limit myself to a paragraph or two and add a relevant link.
On many fronts, the SDE has mishandled the development of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. While the qualitative component that counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation has been met with good reviews overall, initially Barresi was reluctant to accept the TLE Commission’s recommendation for a model. She was hell-bent on anything but the Tulsa model (much as #oklaed is hell-bent on anything but Barresi right now). Validating the work of one of her staunchest opponents (TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard) was more than she could stomach. Unfortunately for her, more than 400 school districts went with the Oklahoma-grown evaluation model. Since the cool thing in 2014 all about growing our own, this should be ideal, right?
In 2012, when it came time to provide funds for districts to train teachers, principals, and other administrators in the models of choice, the SDE predictably dropped the ball. They had anticipated a cost of $1.5 million for training (after stating in legislative hearings that TLE would be a revenue-neutral initiative). The lowest bid received was $4.3 million. This was their solution:
Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.
Some districts had already tried to secure training independently of the SDE prior to that announcement, but the SDE had blocked them. They literally kept the entities authorized to provide the training from entering into contracts with individual school districts. This announcement by the SDE then was doubly frustrating. Districts trying to be proactive were blocked. They had to wait an extra 2-3 months for the training they knew their staff needed.
Test Exemption in Moyers
In April, a family in Moyers suffered a great tragedy. The school called the SDE to try to get a testing waiver for a student going through tremendous grief. It took a social media onslaught to get the agency to reverse its original decision not to grant the waiver.
Eventually, the SDE caved. They said it was a misunderstanding. Barresi was also quick to blame the federal government for setting such intractable testing rules. It’s a typical JCB story. Testing matters more than students or schools. If she looks bad, blame someone else – especially liberals or the feds.
Removing API Scores from the SDE Website
Janet Barresi tells anyone who is forced to listen to her that her greatest accomplishments are transparency and accountability. As of October (or earlier – this was when I first noticed it) the SDE’s Accountability Page no longer contains API scores . The Academic Performance Index was Oklahoma’s school accountability system from 2002-2011. It was replaced in 2012 by the A-F Report Cards, which were one of Barresi’s hallmark reforms.
Visit the page now and you see the following message:
*Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.
Barresi likes to construct a narrative in which accountability didn’t exist before she showed up. As with most of her talking points, there is no merit to this. There is also no reason to hide old API reports. Nothing in the Act named above would require historical data to be removed.
In November, Barresi participated in a candidate forum that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. That video alone could have been the basis for a pretty solid top ten list. One of the outrageous things she said was that the reason Oklahoma students can’t read is because the University of Oklahoma still teaches Whole Language. She also insists that OU and OSU need to teach their education students how to teach reading and math. Maybe she was just still bitter about the research report discrediting her precious A-F Report Cards. In any case, she simply sounded uninformed and petty.
Early in the Morning of May 10th, Rob Miller received an email from the superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools. The news media had been reporting that the district had the worst 3rd grade scores in Oklahoma. Due to technical problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill (go figure), she had not been able to login to confirm their scores. The first news story reported that none of the school’s students passed the test. They corrected it at the 10:00 broadcast. Unfortunately, we all know that retractions don’t have the impact as an inaccurate report in the first place. If the SDE hadn’t been in such a rush to get scores out to the media and represent their reading initiative as a success, this misrepresentation never would have happened. Barresi doesn’t care about that – just about controlling the narrative.
Badmouthing Teachers in Public
The most-viewed post of all time on this blog is from March: How to Lose Your Appetite. The funny thing is that I really didn’t care for the post all that much. Based on screenshots and redacted identities, I piece together comments overheard from Barresi during lunch. She thinks Sandy Garrett had no accomplishments. She thinks the legislature is crazy. She thinks teachers are liberal. She blames everyone but herself for how badly she is doing in this job. Her commercials make that perfectly clear.
Illegal Hiring Practices
Normally, especially with state government jobs, an agency will post a position (and a job description). Under Barresi, nothing is done the normal way at the SDE. Did you know that Michelle Sprague, the Director of Reading/Literacy, is set to become the new Director of Elementary English/Language Arts? Funny, that position never posted to the SDE website. That must’ve been an oversight, as was the creation of the new position. Likewise, Sprague’s successor in the position she’s leaving has already been selected. That job never posted either.
Throughout Barresi’s tenure at the SDE, she has fired and run off good people, often replacing them with others who aren’t qualified for their jobs. The SDE has definitely found a few hard workers who try hard to help schools through all of the challenges they face, but their efforts are often stymied from above. Maybe it’s just as well that they’re not performing legitimate job searches. There’s no point for great people to leave good jobs to go up there now.
The SDE is supposed to help schools find solutions to their problems. This should not include a show of favoritism to certain vendors. I’ve covered the irregularities with the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hll and the bad decision to keep them after the first annual testing debacle in the countdown already. It goes beyond that, though. She has pushed specific professional development providers relative to the Reading Sufficiency Act and Advanced placement programs. And in one debate last week, she said that she hoped schools would go back to Saxon Math – which I’m sure thrilled all the other publishers. It’s not that I want all the vendors to be happy or all to be miserable. I just want them all to have a fair shot. Too many times, whether through sole source contracts or less-than-transparent bidding processes, they find the deck to be stacked.
Rewards that Nobody Wants
One component of the state’s ESEA Waiver is that the SDE will provide rewards to schools with high achievement and schools with high growth. In 2013, the first year anything other than certificates were given as a reward, only five percent of eligible schools applied.
- 229 Reward Schools were eligible to apply.
- 14 applications were received.
- 6 grants totaling $400,000 were awarded.
- 60 percent of the funds are to be spent celebrating the success of the Reward School.
- 40 percent of the funds are to be spent on partnership activities benefiting both the Reward School and the Partnership School.
The catch was that schools eligible for a reward had to partner with a low-performing school to apply. Unless I missed it, the SDE announced no new awards in 2014. In that case, they could have used the $2.8 million set aside for that expense to make up the deficit in funding employee benefits, rather than yanking funds at the last minute from professional development and alternative education.
By the way, for some reason, the legislature raised this pool of funds to $5.4 million next year.
Favoring Charter Schools
In October 2013, Janet Barresi said during a radio interview that she is “embarrassed” Oklahoma doesn’t have more charter schools. She continues not to comment, however, on the fact that the ones Oklahoma has don’t perform as well as the state’s traditional public schools. Both years in which we’ve had A-F Report Cards, even though the formula changed considerably from 2012 to 2013, charter schools did not score highly. We know that not all charter schools are created equally and that by law, they are supposed to accept students on a lottery basis. We also know that some have ways of counseling out students who might be hard to serve. And we know that they don’t face all the same regulations as traditional public schools.
While I have written consistently that I oppose expansion of charter schools out of the state’s urban areas, I do not oppose their existence altogether. What I’d like to see is all public schools granted some of the flexibility charter schools have. I’d also like to hear politicians acknowledge these differences in their discussions of charters.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Janet Costello Barresi claim that under her watch, the SDE has transformed from being a regulatory agency to being a service agency. None of us buy that. For example, on January 15, 2014, the SDE notified schools that they had changed the definition of Full Academic Year to mean “part of the academic year.” Instead of previous definitions, which had included some logical starting point relative to the beginning of the school year, we would now be counting all students who remained continuously enrolled from October 1st and before.
Supposedly, there was a hue and cry from Oklahoma administrators to make this change. I have a hard time believing that. Yes, we want to teach all children we have, but the FAY/NFAY designation is really only an accountability issue. Schools with high mobility have a hard enough time without the SDE senselessly piling on via bureaucratic fiat.
In April, the SDE released 2,000 copies of the agency’s annual report at a cost of $33,000 to taxpayers. Printed copies. In 2014. Simply inexplicable. One senator felt the same way:
Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.
According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.
“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”
Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.
In four years, the SDE can’t make this switch, but they expect schools to make more drastic changes virtually overnight? Classic.
I already covered in Reason #3 in the countdown how Barresi and the SDE threatened to revoke certification from one vocal critic. In January of this year, the SDE announced that all school districts would be required to participate in the systems tests of their computers for both testing vendors. If they didn’t, they might lose funding, accreditation, or certification of administrators. This was nothing but a bullying tactic. Districts that did not comply faced no sanctions. As for the instructional time lost, we gained nothing in return. Measured Progress, which seemed like a pretty decent outfit altogether (at least more responsive than CTB or Pearson, our previous testing vendor), is one-and-done. The bill revoking Common Core essentially kills our state’s contract with them.
If after all of these reasons, you have any doubts that Janet Barresi is a bully, just think back to a SBE meeting not too long ago when the elected state superintendent pulled aside an appointed board member, berated her, and shook her finger in her face, and began a fight that she will likely lose on Tuesday. Who was that board member again? Oh yeah, Joy Hofmeister.
Two days to go, people. Stay in the fight. Keep writing, sharing, and talking to your friends. We can’t afford for one educator, one parent, or one voter to stay on the sidelines. Too much is at stake.
We are a creative people. A time-honored tradition in American politics is the public issuing a nickname to candidates. The Gipper. Tricky Dick. Slick Willie. Honest Abe. Silent Cal. All the way back to Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. At our most mundane, we refer to our presidents by their initials – FDR, JFK, LBJ. Word had it that the first President Bush sometimes referred to the second President Bush as “Quincy,” a nod to our second and sixth presidents.
In our state superintendent race here in Oklahoma, I have seen several clever nicknames for the incumbent, Janet C. Barresi – Breezy and Superindentist come to mind. And while I don’t typically use the nicknames, they definitely ring true. Today, I’d like to introduce a new one.
The image above is Schedule J – a public document required by the state of Oklahoma. It shows that the Friends of Janet Barresi 2014 committee owes Janet Barresi the individual $1,982,167.44 as of June 9, 2014. Yes, Schedule J Janet is out nearly $2 million of her own money for this campaign. As one of her few remaining political allies would say, HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Considering the fact that her campaign currently has a little over $73,500 on hand, I’d say the odds are against her getting that money back.
Schedule E also shows that she made a media placement and production purchase of $567,487.35 on June 5, 2014. She’s committed to a shock and awe finish this next week.
The same document shows that she is still paying her former chief of staff, Jennifer Carter – who is married to a member of the Oklahoman’s editorial board – for consulting services. Carter received $3,750 from the campaign in May, bringing her year-to-date total to 37,585.53. Does Barresi paying her own campaign and the campaign paying Carter amount to buying influence with the Oklahoman? That’s your call. He’s an editorialist. She’s a political consultant. Their jobs are bound to intersect, but full disclosure would be nice.
Quick math quiz: Referring back to PASS, would that tangled web be an example of the associative, distributive, or transitive property?
In contrast to the name of her committee, Barresi has few friends contributing anything of substance (cash or strategy) to her campaign. To be fair, I looked up campaign information on all the candidates for state superintendent. Information listed is as of June 16.
|Candidate||Loan Balance||Cash on Hand|
|Kelly||None Reported||None Reported|
Interestingly, Republican Brian Kelly has raised and spent no money for this campaign. Why then are banners for him popping up in Oklahoma City? Who’s paying for those?
As I mentioned over the weekend, Barresi is all in. Only winning matters. The cost does not. Nor does the truth. While she’s busy stimulating the Oklahoma economy misrepresenting her one contending primary opponent, the rest of us are spreading the word every chance we get that another four years of Barresi just can’t happen.
Don’t let the lies or the cash fool you. Don’t let Schedule J Janet win.
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.
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:
- 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;
- 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
- 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.
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?
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.
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.
Anytime a politician proposes a new law, I ask myself three fundamental questions:
- Does the solution address an actual problem?
- Who benefits most from this law?
- What are the unintended consequences?
Regarding this bill, here are my answers:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Over the weekend, the Republican Party held a state superintendent candidate forum in the 2nd District. The incumbent, Janet Barresi attended. So did an undeclared challenger, Linda Murphy. Murphy, some will recall, ran for the position twice in the 1990s, and actually came pretty close to winning in 1994. Joy Hofmeister, the former State Board of Education member who resigned to run against Barresi, did not attend.
At the 4:00 mark Murphy begins her talk. It’s pretty consistent with the things I’ve seen from her over social media in the time I’ve had this blog. She strongly opposes the Common Core and feels the Barresi-led SDE leads with a top-down style, much as did the Garrett administration for 20 years before her. While I encourage you to watch the entire video, I’m not going to comment much on Murphy’s remarks. They were straight-forward and hardly inflammatory.
Barresi, on the other hand, begging at about the 26:30 mark, delivers a bizarre string of insults and inaccuracies that lasts over 30 minutes. I understand the nature of campaigning – especially in a primary. Politicians have to energize the base. They have to deliver the red meat. Here’s one educator’s overview of her remarks, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole thing.
- 31:30 Barresi states that a student scoring Limited Knowledge on the 3rd grade reading test is two grade levels behind. This statement is flawed on a couple of levels. First is that the reading test is not a diagnostic tool intended to determine that piece of information. Second that a student scoring Limited Knowledge may be only one correct response behind a student scoring proficient. If she had said Unsatisfactory, I might have let it go. Still, the test doesn’t measure reading level. It never has.
- 32:00 Barresi claims that 75% of all special education students are incorrectly identified, and that if we would teach them to read, they wouldn’t be in that position. This is patently false. I don’t know where she gets her numbers. She probably makes them up on the spot 80% of the time. This statement is an insult to everybody who has ever served on an IEP team and worked within a program to provide assistance to a student.
- 35:45 Barresi states that under her watch, the social studies content standards were re-written to emphasize American Exceptionalism over pop culture. I’m trying to remember all of the End-of-Instruction questions over the Roaring Twenties, Elvis, and New Coke, but my mind must be struggling this morning. The truth is that she allowed a Texan with an extremist agenda to provide technical assistance during the re-write. Additionally, high school students now only study and test over American History since 1878. Earlier content is covered in fifth and eighth grade. As with all subjects covered in lower grades, our teachers do a good job teaching the material, but the level of critical thinking is a little less sophisticated than it is in high school.
- 35:30 Barresi makes it clear that Oklahoma will eventually develop our own science standards, and that they will not include a discussion of evolution, carbon footprints, or global warming. “It’s not the truth.” Apparently, our efforts to develop critical thinkers will also lead to a generation that doesn’t get a chance to develop as scientists.
- 40:30 Barresi begins to string the education establishment doesn’t want to be transparent and accountable theme throughout the rest of her remarks. This is also false. It’s the central message of her campaign though. She’s betting on the public disliking their own elected school board members, superintendents, and principals more than they dislike her in order to win re-election.
- 41:00 She claims that the A-F scale is simply a conversion of all the information that was in the previous 1500 point API scale. This is also not factual. Yes, both measures had student achievement data, dropout and graduation rates, and attendance as factors. Scores counted differently in the API than they do for A-F, though. And API didn’t count the lowest-performing students three times – a factor that amplifies the effects of poverty.
- By the way, and this is completely a sidebar here, someone posted this great file in a Google Doc, showing district-by-district, the grades with enrollment, poverty, and bilingual figures. Districts are ranked by poverty level, and the document runs 14 pages. The first district, Tushka, received an A-. While they should be congratulated for being a high-poverty, high-achievement school, keep in mind they’re the only A on the first 4 pages. The key statistical terms here are trend and outlier.
- 42:00 This is one of my favorite parts. Even if you don’t want to watch the entire video, you have to see Barresi using air quotes to describe the OU/OSU “researchers” who discredited the A-F Report Cards. Having a state education leader so openly hostile to intellectualism and knowledge is unsettling, to say the least.
- 43:00 Barresi states, “We put out a grade card that counts every student.” That’s true, unless you consider the students whose writing tests were still being re-scored six months later. Or the students not included due to the testing disruption. Or fifth, seventh, and eighth grade social studies.
- 45:45 Barresi says what should really be at the top of all of her campaign literature: “If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.” This is the mindset and practice most antithetical to the reasons all of us entered education in the first place. Sure we want to see student growth. Sure we root for the kids who struggle. We also put in the time with them. And we do countless things you can never measure. No test, no OAM, no VAM, and no third-party survey will ever effectively measure music, art, and the overall affective experience of schooling. Efforts to try are the work of narrow-minded people with an agenda. Everything schools do for kids has value – even the things you can’t measure.
- 46:55 Barresi repeats her red meat line that she’ll “be damned if we’re going to lose another generation of children in this state.” As I have said before, this statement is an affront to all the educators who have devoted their careers to the children she holds up as props.
- 53:50 Barresi states that she sees “chiefs from other states dealing with huge deficits.” Apparently she doesn’t understand that Oklahoma districts are still operating with budgets lower than they had before the recession. Or that cuts to school funding in Oklahoma are the deepest in the nation.
- 55:00 Barresi states that districts are “holding back $770 million” that could be used in the classroom. To date, she has still not documented this. If she has the figures of each district’s June 30, 2013 carryover, she should release them. She also misstates how those funds are used. They don’t go to pay June, July, and August salaries. Those are encumbered before the end of May, typically. Districts maintain a carryover to help them manage the funding gap between the start of the fiscal year (July 1) and the availability of ad valorem funds several months later. For most districts, it takes four or five months for revenues to balance out with expenses. Since districts receive different percentages of their funding from state aid, there is naturally a variance in how much each one holds back.
- 56:30 She claims that the SDE has reduced spending during their tenure. Well so have school districts, and for the exact same reason. Both have received less in appropriations from the legislature. Believe me; if she had more, she’d spend it.
- 57:00 Barresi brags about firing so many people when she started the job that she had to answer phones herself. (I think that may have been the last time a phone was answered at the Hodge Building. I kid.) Yes, she fired people who opposed her politically, and she fired people with decades of experience. She fired staff who had tirelessly helped districts for years and replaced them with, in many cases, people who can’t or won’t answer questions. That isn’t to say that the SDE has no quality employees. I’m just saying they’re in shorter supply than before she started firing people.
- 57:30 Barresi blames Obamacare for funding problems. She claims that insurance premiums are increasing at a record rate. Yes, they’re increasing quite a bit. But it’s not a record. This serves her politically, allowing her to glom onto the most divisive issue in the country right now. It’s smart, from a political perspective. It’s also completely disingenuous.
- 59:00 She states that she would rather fight to put money into her initiatives than into the classroom. She’s thumbing her nose at you, first grade teacher with an increased class size. She’d rather give the money to charter schools and Teach for a minute or two America.
Yes, it’s all campaign bluster. But these are her positions. These statements differ from what she says when she visits your schools and praises your teachers. Remember that the next time she shakes your hand and tells you she appreciates you.