Posts Tagged ‘Barresi’

We Trust Parents, Except When We Don’t

Today’s Tulsa World explains that the SDE’s probe into the tomfoolery in Jenks regarding parents opting out of field tests (tests that do not count for students or schools) has turned up nothing of substance. Rather, it began when a parent, local PTA president Deedra Barnes, decided that she didn’t think Jenks students needed to be “unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill.”

When we first learned about the investigation, we did not know much about its origins. Now we do:

Under the state’s Open Records Act, the World obtained numerous documents from the Oklahoma State Department of Education this week about the opt-out event, including the Jenks internal investigative report and emails among state officials about the issue.

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

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

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

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

When you begin an investigation with the outcome already in mind, you preclude yourself from other possibilities. Barresi believed that the parental opt-out movement was “orchestrated” by the principal. The SDE had even begun to explore ways to punish school officials who might have been involved:

On April 11, Richey sent Barresi an email suggesting that the department submit an open records request to Jenks for any communication among Miller, Lehman and Barnes about testing.

“While I’m sure the district will conduct a thorough investigation, I would like to see directly what conversation occurred prior to Mr. Miller’s actions,” Richey wrote.

She noted that the department shouldn’t respond to Lehman’s email with details of their concerns so he wouldn’t know what legal basis “we may use to take action later down the road.”

Any case to be made and disciplinary action should come before the state Board of Education, Richey wrote, adding that she was researching the basis for possible license revocations for employees found to be involved.

You read that correctly. The SDE was exploring the legality of revoking teaching licenses in the event that any school staff were found to have been involved in the movement. Never mind that nothing about opting out of field tests is illegal or unethical. They were simply saying they didn’t want to play. Rather than accepting that parents get sick of the testing nonsense, Barresi and company assumed something nefarious and looked for people to punish.

The funny thing to me is that most of the time, Barresi tells schools to trust parents.

So what did the investigation find? Nothing. And of course finding nothing means nothing. There can be conspiracies without paper trails. In fact those are the best kind. Especially when you’re suffering from paranoid delusions.

And what did the SDE report to the public about the outcome of the investigation? Nothing. Because the only thing that the people in charge there hate worse than not getting their way all the time is being proven wrong. Technically, this is not a closed case.

This is nothing but a vendetta (and if an investigation of the SDE proved differently…well, I just wouldn’t believe it). The SDE gets more push back on its initiatives from Jenks than from any other school district in the state. For a leader who says local control and parental choice are important, Barresi sure isn’t showing it here.

Malfeasance or Nonfeasance?

“I had zero involvement in the entire process from start to finish personally.”

-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi
on the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hill
as Oklahoma’s testing company

Carrie Coppernoll’s story this Sunday in the Oklahoman is a must read for people who care about the present state of public education, as well as its future. It leads with Barresi disavowing any involvement in the process for the selection of a testing vendor. This claim is problematic on at least two levels.

Option 1: It’s true – Say you’re the elected leader of the agency that spends one-third of the state’s tax dollars. After having problems with your testing company, you release an RFP (request for proposals) to select a new one. Testing is one of the most expensive and high-profile activities of the SDE. You want the right price. You want the right services. And you want assurances that the vendor is up to the task. You do not delegate that to your staff. You include them in the process. You seek and weigh their input. But you do not abdicate your responsibilities.

Option 2: It’s not true – In that case, she’s just running from the problem. The agency response thus far indicates exactly this. CTB will not be fired. They will commission a study to see if the disruption impacted scores and provide training and curriculum development for the state. Sounds to me like they’re getting off easy. Will the training be easy to access? Will teachers in Wilburton and Vici have the same opportunities as teachers in the Tulsa and OKC areas?  Will it be of high quality? While we can’t know that, we can be certain that this glitch will not drive a wedge between the state and CTB; rather it will make both entities more dependent upon each other. This sounds a lot like the solution to the testing problems we had with Pearson. They gave us a bunch of stuff that didn’t help anybody, and testing was still screwed up.

The concerns I have don’t stop there. The CTB official interviewed for the story shrugged off the problems with something of an aw shucks attitude. When he spoke of online testing as a “brave new world” (and I’m not even touching the literary reference there), he misses the point that we’ve been administering online tests in Oklahoma for years. He also misses the fact that there were problems with the paper-pencil tests as well. There were questions with no correct answers. There were shipments sent to the wrong districts. Nothing about this test administration has gone well, and it’s not all about the computers.

This all goes back to October, when the SDE initially awarded the contract to CTB and then had to cancel it due to administrative challenges*. They blamed the hold up on a combination of staff error and decision-making by the Office of State Finance.

After the December 9 special State Board of Education meeting – called specifically to reaffirm the selection of CTB as the state’s testing vendor, the SDE issued the following release:

State Board of Education Meeting Highlights
Dec. 6, 2012

Grades 3-8 Testing Contractor Recommended
The State Board of Education during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, voted unanimously to recommend that CTB/McGraw Hill be awarded a one-year $8.9 million testing contract for grades 3-8. The contract has four additional annual renewals for a total price of $28 million. The contract will still have to be approved by the state Department of Central Services. If awarded, CTB/McGraw Hill would develop tests in all subject areas for grades 3-8 as well as benchmark assessments in reading, mathematics and writing. The company already has the contract for Oklahoma end-of-instruction exams. This was the only item on the board’s agenda.

For some reason, no minutes are posted from this meeting on the SDE website.

Superintendent Barresi leads the SBE. Superintendent Barresi supervises the people who brought the recommendation forward. Hopefully she was at least briefed about the selection process and the relative merits and concerns of each prospective vendor. Otherwise, we might as well not even have a state superintendent.

Maybe it’s one of those situations where it depends on what your definition of is is…because that’s what she’s doing to public education.

*By the way, the standard setting that the SDE told us in the memo would be completed in June is now scheduled for July – the same week as Vision 2020. This means scores won’t be available until the end of July. And that some poor people have to miss a “valuable” learning experience.

For the Love of Reading

Indiana voters took their schools back from the Chiefs for Change group in November, ousting Tony Bennett and replacing him with an educator – Glenda Ritz. I mention this, not because of Oklahoma’s political landscape, but because we are very similar to Indiana in many ways. Both states have a couple of metropolitan areas and quite a bit of rural area and population. Until recently, both states were led by reformers with ties to Jeb Bush. And both states have had testing difficulties with CTB/McGraw-Hill over the last couple of weeks.

Now we have at least one more thing in common: summer reading initiatives.

Earlier this week, I highlighted Oklahoma’s summer reading program, which is being jointly promoted by Superintendent Barresi and Governor Fallin. Essentially, the state wants to encourage children to read at least five books this summer – provided that they are above the child’s Lexile level.

In contrast, here is how the Indiana press release describes their program:

Dear Parents and Community Supporters,

Welcome to our first-ever Hoosier Family of Readers summer reading opportunity! I strongly believe that a reader is not simply someone who can read; a reader is someone who does read. Therefore, I am very pleased to invite you, your children, and your community to join our statewide efforts to develop a culture of readers in Indiana. Hoosier Family of Readers establishes a unique, fun collaboration between our families, our schools, and many community partners. The goal for the initiative is for adults and children to identify their Hoosier Family of Readers and read each day throughout the summer. A reading family can be any combination of caring adults and children. IDOE is partnering with over 175 organizations including libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, scout troops, schools, faith-based organizations, United Way and other non-profits state wide. Organizations are being empowered to include reading within their summer programs. Our USDA Summer Food Service Program sites will feature an “Eat & Read” opportunity in many locations.

We are encouraging all of our “reading families” to read anything that interests them –including graphic novels, non-fiction books, magazines, and newspapers – whether online or in print. We suggest that they:

  • Read with someone
  • Read to someone
  • Share with someone what he/she has read
  • Listen to someone read
  • Help others read
  • Read independently

We have some special partners who will be making appearances on our website, in posters and at media events throughout the summer. These include award-winning Young Adult novelist John Green, Indiana Fever player Briann January, and Clifford the Big Red Dog! We are also fortunate to partner with myON Books, a complete digital library with English and Spanish texts that is being made available to all participants. Follow our links to learn more, and let us know what you are reading this summer!
Glenda Ritz
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction

The release even includes a link to a flyer that parents can print and on which children can fill in the names of people reading with them. That is but one of several key differences between the programs. Oklahoma’s program emphasizes the students’ Lexile scores – a measurement not commonly used by school districts. Indiana’s encourages students to read anything they can get their eyes on. And to read with people. And to hear people read.

Just read, read, read.

That’s how people become better readers: time spent reading. While we definitely want children challenging themselves, it is probably more important that they enjoy what they read – that they see themselves as readers. They need to see themselves as belonging to a community of readers. They need to discuss what they’ve read. They need to feel like it’s ok not to like something. And they need to be able to discuss that too.

One program promotes Lexiles. One promotes reading.

Bookmarks for Everyone!

Oprah would be proud. The great state of Oklahoma – unable to fund summer school as proscribed under the Reading Proficiency Act – has provided every student in the state with a bookmark. Because that’s the same. Here is the joint press release from the governor and SDE:

Governor Fallin and State Superintendent Barresi
Launch Read 5 for Summer Program

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 3, 2013) – Governor Mary Fallin and State Superintendent Janet Barresi kicked off the State Department of Education’s 2013 Summer Reading Program – Read 5 for Summer on Friday morning. Surrounded by students, parents and educators from Putnam City’s James L. Dennis Elementary School at one of the state’s newest libraries — the Patience S. Latting Northwest Library in Oklahoma City – everyone left ready to find five good books this summer.

“Reading is a skill children must have to be successful in school and in life,” Governor Fallin said. “I’m supporting this summer reading challenge – Read 5 for Summer– because I know it will help children sharpen their reading skills and be ready to continue learning when they return to school in the fall.”

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said, “Reading at least five books at the appropriate reading level will help children avoid the summer learning slip. Literacy is the foundation for all other learning success. I’m grateful to our school and public librarians, our teachers and our parents who are helping us with this program. The result will be children who become lifelong readers.”

Prior to Friday’s Read 5 for Summer kickoff, Superintendent Barresi sent bookmarks for each elementary school child in the state to all state elementary schools. Included in each packet were letters for school librarians and elementary teachers as well as letters for parents in both English and Spanish as well as tips for questions to ask before, during and after the reading experience.

The letters explained the importance of knowing a child’s Lexile score, which shows an individual’s ability to read text on grade level. School and public librarians as well as teachers are asked to write a child’s Lexile score on the bookmarks. With that information, children or their parents can find books to read in their interest area at the appropriate reading level.

Parents and others also can look up a child’s reading level on the State Department of Education’s Lexile page:

The bookmarks also have space for children to record the titles of five books read during the summer. They can return their books to their school librarians in the fall for recognition and rewards.

At Friday’s event, the governor and the superintendent both thanked the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Metropolitan Library System for their support of the State Department of Education’s Read 5 for Summer program, which is running in conjunction with the library’s own summer reading program, Dig into Reading.

The books children read over the summer will count for both the SDE and Department of Libraries summer reading programs.

Reading five books during the summer is a great goal. If the state weren’t so short-sighted, we could have students needing remediation under RSA in summer programs reading that many each day.

Game On

April 24, 2013 1 comment

I’ve noticed strain at several State Board of Education meetings over the last year or so. I guess I wasn’t imagining it. From the Associated Press:

OKLAHOMA CITY – A member of the state Board of Education is resigning to pursue a potential statewide race for the job currently held by State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Joy Hofmeister announced her resignation Wednesday and says she’s thinking about running for the very position she oversaw as a board member.

Hofmeister says she is an advocate for implementation of meaningful reforms for Oklahoma’s education system. Hofmeister says that has led her to strongly consider seeking the position of state superintendent.

Hofmeister was appointed to the board by Gov. Mary Fallin in January 2012. She is a former public school teacher and is not president of a company in Tulsa that owns and operates a franchise of an international firm that provides academic enrichment in math and reading to children in 47 countries.

So, that’s an interesting development. The AP story ran at 7:01.

I knew tomorrow’s Board meeting was going to be interesting. I had no idea.


A previous version of this post said that SBE biographical information had been pulled down. That is not the case, so I made the correction.

Stall Tactic

April 19, 2013 2 comments

School finance is complicated. Adequately educating two children in adjacent desks in the same classroom may cost different amounts of money. That’s the micro.Expand that to the whole school, district, state, and nation, and the levels of variance grow in countless dimensions. That’s the macro. Add to that ever-increasing regulations by the state and federal governments, and you have a loose framework for understanding what goes into funding public education.

Schools are more than teachers and students. They are principals, office assistants, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and maintenance staff. In larger districts, add levels of district staff to manage the complex systems of technology and warehousing. Managing the athletic programs of a school takes additional personnel, or in many cases, additional duties thrust upon teachers and principals.

On top of that, public school enrollment continues to grow, and the state share of common education funding does not respond in kind.

The Oklahoma government has been slow to respond to this. Superintendent Barresi has been both dismissive of the need for more money in schools and later supportive of increased funding – as long as it supports her agenda and not what districts think they need. The governor thinks we can increase the amount of money that goes for instruction by consolidating schools. Meanwhile, some legislators think that they can’t proceed with increasing funding until schools can give them a dollar amount that would be enough.

To me, this is the wrong conversation and a waste of time. As the Oklahoma Policy Institute points out, schools are not throwing money down the drain on administrative costs. It takes a certain amount of overhead to run any organization. That’s true in the private sector as well. But when schools get more kids and more mandates, it’s not just the number of teachers that have to increase. It’s also instructive to point out that during the last five years – during which time per pupil funding has decreased – teacher salaries have risen, but only slightly.

We have cumulative unfunded needs in our schools. Every superintendent in the state could probably tell their legislators what they would do with 2 percent…5 percent…10 percent more in state aid. If that number increased to 20 percent, the list would still be pretty easy to fill. None of what schools would spend that money on would be what I would consider waste: long-overdue raises for teachers, additional staff positions – especially for students needing extra help, technology to meet the changing face of education, books for school libraries, repairs to facilities, professional development, textbooks, playground equipment, etc.

The bottom line is that nothing the state asks school districts to do is adequately funded.

The SDE proposed a large budget increase this year. The governor proposed a tiny one. As we approach the last month of the legislative session, two key questions remain.

  1. Will the increase to the education budget be large enough to make a difference to school districts’ bottom line?
  2. Will the legislature line item funding for the SDE, with very precise instructions for how any new monies are spent.

The answer to the second question is as important as the first. If the education budget is increased, but more money is not put into the funding formula, the SDE will be free to pursue larger testing contracts and professional development that ironically does not reach its intended audience very effectively. Hopefully the legislature learned that lesson last year.

Republican Angst over the Common Core

April 19, 2013 2 comments

The Republican National Committee has passed a resolution calling for the federal government to halt efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards. From the resolution:

RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee rejects the collection of personal student data for any non-educational purpose without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent and that it rejects the sharing of such personal data, without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent, with any person or entity other than schools or education agencies within the state, and be it finally

RESOLVED, the 2012 Republican Party Platform specifically states the need to repeal the numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools, (p36) (3.); and therefore, the Republican National Committee rejects this CCSS plan which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.

This puts the states in quite a pickle. It was, after all, state efforts, namely through the National Governors’ Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers, to develop the Common Core. From the beginning, CCSS has been a bi-partisan venture.

So how are states responding? Alabama’s legislature is now rejecting the standards. Oklahoma may not be far behind. House Resolution 1011 would halt “further adoption of Common Core State Standards until further costs are ascertained.”

Here’s the problem with Rep. Blackwell’s resolution: we’ve already adopted them. We haven’t partially adopted them. We’ve fully adopted them. We’re gradually implementing them. For the last three years, school districts around Oklahoma have been working to change the teaching style and content in classrooms to meet the new standards. That this effort has been expensive is the root of the concern here.

Blackwell also wants a full rendering of costs already incurred. I think the amount would be staggering. You would have to calculate the costs of SDE travel  and training, prior to and since implementation; the cost to the SDE of REAC3H conferences; the cost to districts to attend these conferences; the cost for lead REAC3H districts to work within their networks; the cost of the REAC3H coaches; the cost of Vision 2020; all the labor hours of SDE employees related to each of these things, plus conferences; the cost to districts of increased infrastructure, teaching materials, and training; and the added impact of test development and test prep. In short, CCSS has already cost Oklahoma taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The real question is whether or not this has been a good expense. I liked parts of the standards from the very beginning. I thought they were an improvement over what we had in place with PASS. I did not think that adopting CCSS would lead to the massive power grab by the State Board of Education last month (taking the standard adoption process away from the legislature). Unlike groups on the right, I don’t think CCSS is a massive conspiracy by the feds or the UN to undermine states and communities. And unlike groups on the left, I don’t feel like the standards themselves are the ruination of education.

It’s everything since the adoption of the standards that I’ve hated. The processes for training and implementation have been uneven, at best. The testing consortium to which Oklahoma belongs (PARCC) seems to have spun off into its own self-aware entity that no longer answers to those who built it. The testing, textbook, and training companies are making fortunes. Yes, I’ve seen examples of CCSS improving instruction in classrooms. I’ve also seen the adoption of the standards lead to a narrowing of the curriculum – both within classrooms, and within school schedules on the whole.

Common Core is not all good. It is not all bad. While I’m still not ready to just dump it (because if we do, the State Board of Education will just try to assert its autonomy over the standards process and adopt it anyway), my enthusiasm has waned. Ironically, CCSS was designed to teach students to be adept at problem-solving. Those who created it, and those charged with managing it, have failed to pass every test since.

So should State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Governor Fallin be worried? Absolutely. They’ve fallen in line with Jeb Bush and his Foundation in pushing the standards out. One of their subsidiaries, the Fordham Institute, has published a plea for Republicans to get back in line. If they don’t, it will be hard for Barresi to get anything done in the remainder of her term in office. And it will pretty much end all thought of a Jeb Bush presidency.

Let the chips fall.

Teachers Respond to the TLE Commission

March 15, 2013 1 comment

A group of Jenks elementary school teachers sent a response to the SDE this afternoon, expressing their concerns over the recommendations for quantitative measures for evaluating teachers that I wrote about this morning. This group includes art, music, and physical education teachers. I’ll let their words speak for them, first with an excerpt, and then with a link to the full letter:

We the undersigned and highly qualified specialists at Jenks East Elementary School urge our legislators to seriously explore the quantitative component of TLE before 2013/2014 implementation. Below you will find our “real time” experiences and “real voices” speaking facts which must be considered before Oklahoma implements a “one-fits-all” approach for evaluating educators and determining their compensation.

This insightful four-page letter didn’t just go to the SDE, however; it went to the 250 members of the TLE working group. And they told two friends. And they told two friends. And so on. And so on. And then it found its way to your friendly neighborhood blogger. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Later in the afternoon, the Jenks teachers (and the entire working group) received a response from the SDE:

Ms. Riggin and Special Area Teachers (ART/MUSIC/PHYSICAL EDUCATION) of Jenks East Elementary,

Thank you for your careful thought, consideration, and time in preparing the document you provided for us. We appreciate your input and respect your perspectives to this challenging work. The working groups’ final recommendations were presented to the TLE Commission for initial consideration on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. I will share your additional input with Superintendent Barresi, who is also the chair of the TLE Commission. If she has any questions or follow-up requests, I will get back in touch with you.

I’m glad that our state has some teachers not taking this quietly. Read the whole letter. It’s worth your time.

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Continuing A Pattern

After reading the editorial in the Oklahoman this morning, I began to write a post titled, “In Defense of Superintendents II.” Then I got interrupted and told myself I would finish it at lunch. Then life happened and this was postponed until the end of the day.

Meanwhile, I knew I had written a previous defense of superintendents, but somehow, I had forgotten that it was a response to the Oklahoman attacking the same school district on another occasion.

This time, the paper is critical of incoming Jenks superintendent Stacey Butterfield for appearing at a press conference:

“It is time to stop playing politics with our children’s lives.”

Those are the words of incoming Jenks Superintendent Stacey Butterfield, delivered at a news conference Wednesday to oppose tax cuts and support greater education funding. Her comments might carry more weight had she not delivered them standing next to a Democratic candidate for state schools superintendent at an event convened by hyperpartisan members of the House Democratic caucus. Decrying politics at a blatantly political event doesn’t build nonpartisan credibility.

The paper’s premise is flawed on multiple levels. First, this group was brought together to fight for school funding. Butterfield wasn’t there to lend support to Anderson or any other candidate. Inman wasn’t there to call out Republicans. This was a press conference, not a partisan rally. Second, I know many superintendents in Oklahoma, and I would guess more of them are Republicans than not. Third, while the paper goes on to call for “a refund on that day’s paycheck” for administrators who attended the rally, they are probably less inclined to do so when Superintendent Barresi attends campaign events for Jeb Bush’s friends out-of-state.

Something I wrote in my January post bears repeating:

Again I should point out that the husband of Superintendent Barresi’s one-time chief-of-staff writes editorials for the Oklahoman. I should also point out that as chief-of-staff, she caught a lot of grief for calling certain Tulsa-area superintendents dirtbags. When the Oklahoman writes a piece out of the blue slamming two superintendents that aren’t even in its main service area, the motives have to be questioned.

Even when Barresi is asking the legislature for more funding for schools, she’s doing so while complaining that schools don’t know what they’re doing and insisting that money doesn’t fix anything. School superintendents do not have a Republican leader in this state who appears receptive to the idea of funding schools adequately.

The Oklahoman knows this. They also know that school funding is down, while enrollment is up. They choose to be on the side of the narrative that blames the schools for this – as well as for anything else they can find. And for some reason (spite, maybe?), they have decided to pile on to an incoming superintendent before she officially starts the job. Fortunately for schools and the communities they serve, fewer and fewer people are falling for the rhetoric of corporate reformers and their propaganda machines. And fortunately for Butterfield, Jenks Public Schools is used to being targeted.

Governor’s ACE Awards Ceremony

March 3, 2013 Comments off

Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released a media alert for the governor’s ACE Awards Ceremony, which will be held Monday at noon. From the release:

The Governor’s Ace Award is given to school districts in which 100 percent of the seniors of the Class of 2012 met all graduation requirements, including Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). ACE, which was enacted in 2005 under Gov. Brad Henry, requires that high school seniors, beginning with the Class of 2012, prove proficiency on four of seven end-of-instruction exams before graduation.

This is an important accomplishment. In all, 186 districts will receive this award. The largest of these is Chickasha. In fact, most of the districts on the list are so small they either don’t have football at all or play 8-man football.

Last summer, Governor Fallin announced that she would like to explore the possibility of consolidating school districts. I hope, before she explores this further, she’ll remember this day, and the fact that so many small high schools are getting the job done.

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