If we needed proof that the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts are not just a rebrand of the jettisoned Common Core State Standards, it arrived Friday night with a resounding plop. At about 8:30, Achieve, Inc. released a 68 page document highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’ve never heard of Achieve, here are a few graphics to help you get an idea of who they are.
Achieve was one of the drivers behind the development and implementation of the Common Core. Here’s a blurb from their website:
At the direction of 48 states, and partnering with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve helped develop the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-six states and the National Research Council asked Achieve to manage the process to write the Next Generation Science Standards. In the past Achieve also served as the project manager for states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. And since 2005, Achieve has worked with state teams, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of the real world so that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to fully reach their promise in college, careers and life.
Throughout their website, you can find resources to support Common Core implementation. This is who they are. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of their harshest criticisms of our standards are tied to things that they feel Common Core does better. For example:
Most of the review follows a simple format:
- Make a declarative statement about the Oklahoma standards.
- Identify any strengths in this part of the standards.
- Explain how Common Core is superior.
- Forecast the fall of western civilization.
That last part is implied, rather than explicitly stated (which I find to be a weakness).
Here’s one of the Common Core standards that the document’s author(s) hold up as critical:
Tracing the reasons and evidence an author gives so students are able to break down arguments and understand the structure of claims, warrants, and evidence (for examples, see CCSS RI #8 across grade levels).
This is a wonderful thing to teach. We can do this with historical documents and speeches. We can use editorials and blogs. We could even break down the cable news folderol or statements from candidate debates for this. What I don’t need, as an English teacher, is a specific standard telling me to do it. I would’ve gotten there on my own.
This gets back to the gist of all the criticisms I’ve read in the last week (yes, the last week). The standards don’t explicitly spell out every task we want teachers to have students do. I’m fine with that. That’s not the purpose of standards.
We shouldn’t be bothered that Achieve doesn’t approve of our standards. The timing, on the other hand, seems suspicious, however. Why drop the report on a Friday night? Why now, with less than a week to go before the standards are approved? Wondering these things, I took to Twitter and started asking questions. Friends chimed in too. Below are some of our questions, as well as some responses from Achieve and their people:
Achieve claims that the review was completely independent and neither funded nor requested by anyone. They evaluate and review standards. It’s just a thing that they do. After all, they’re a non-profit and all of their activities are simply a service to the public.
If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime at all, you’ve probably detected that non-profit is one of my trigger words. So I looked at their 990 tax form from 2013 (the most recent one online). They have about a 14 million dollar budget. They list 10 employees (all that the form requires) making in excess of $100,000. They’re a non-profit entity, for sure, but they’re not a bunch of starving artists, either. Their funding comes from such sources as the Gates Foundation and the Batelle Foundation. Yes, the people who brought us value-added measurement and roster verification are among their primary supporters.
Reviews like this take time. They take money. I have no evidence or reason to believe that the Achieve’s report was anything but independent. Unless something to the contrary surfaces, I’ll accept that. For the record, one other pair of their tweets made me snicker a little:
I get it. Nobody understands how it feels to have your standards attacked better than the architects of the Common Core. As for not believing that this is an attack, well maybe they lack context for what it’s like to be an educator in Oklahoma. Within the last week, our standards have been criticized by a group that wants nothing to do with public education (yet somehow still gets a seat at the table).
This comes on top of relentless attacks, whether it is voucher schemes that would further deplete school funding, charter school bills sugar-coated as empowerment legislation, and ongoing political coercion from out-of-state. The timing of the report is also frustrating – three days after resolutions were filed in the House and Senate to disapprove the standards, and days before they automatically go into effect.
Again, if we take people’s words at face value, then we should accept the fact that legislators like Jason Nelson, Jeff Hickman, Anthony Sykes, and Josh Brecheen have been reviewing feedback of the standards all along. Still, they can’t point to a single conversation with a single member of the standards writing teams. Furthermore, they respond to the critics of the standards, but not at all to the 60+ letters of support the SDE has received.
I’ve also read the letters of support, and the most compelling was written by Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math. He writes:
My background is as follows: I am a mathematician by training with a bachelor’s degree in math from Princeton University (1986) and a PhD in pure math from MIT (1991). While pursuing my PhD I taught students at MIT and at the University of California at San Diego….
Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task of examining the Oklahoma Standards with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well-prepared for college and be capable of pursuing STEM majors, if they chose to do so.
As for me, I’m just tired of waiting. When I was in Moore, we spent nearly four years transitioning from PASS to Common Core. When the state pulled the plug, our teachers were frustrated – even the ones who didn’t like the Common Core. So we transitioned back to PASS. Now, we’ve been writing and developing these standards, and we’re on the precipice of implementing them. Will the state pull the plug again? Our teachers deserve more certainty than that.
If what had been developed during the past year was lousy, I could see delaying or even dumping it. That’s not the case at all. What we have is something between ROPE’s happy place and Achieve’s. That’s what I call a sweet spot.
One more thing: below is an excerpt from Brecheen’s argument in 2014 for Oklahoma to toss the Common Core.
This is his screed against books, particularly against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which he called pornographic. Now he, and a handful of others in the Legislature, want to delay the standards, citing the lack of reading exemplars as one of their reasons. The truth is that they were going to be against the standards because they don’t like the name at the top of the letterhead. They don’t need another reason.
Along with the editors at the Oklahoman – who ran an opinion piece on the standards by someone who hasn’t read them – and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – whose Andrew Spiropoulos once warned conservatives not to get rid of Common Core – we have to deal with people in elected positions intent on disrupting public education, above all else.This is about politics and egos.
Some in the House will claim that one of the proposed standards resolutions – HJR 1070 – would not delay implementation of the standards at all. That is false.
Apparently, Nelson doesn’t understand the delay (and cost) that this supposedly harmless resolution would cause. Nor does he seem to remember that ROPE – which has no interest in helping public education – would be involved in the review process.
The standards are ready. They’re not perfect; they never will be. We should take constructive feedback into consideration, but we shouldn’t stop what we’re doing because of it.
This afternoon, Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 9-8. If you just count the 15 committee members, it lost by a vote of 8-7, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney came in to tip the scales. This is all fair within the rules of the House.
When I posted last night that we need to call and email and visit and tweet to the committee members, thousands made the effort. It wasn’t in vain. I’m glad it took the leadership sweeping in to make the final vote. That puts more people on record.
Before I get much farther, I want us to remember to reach out to the eight committee members who voted to support public schools:
Prior to the vote, Nelson faced the usual questions and had the usual responses. Two things in particular fascinated me, though.
First, he said that parents receiving vouchers would actually have more fiscal accountability because they’ll be making their purchases in real time and that someone would be monitoring those – someone at the SDE, he said. I’m sorry, but that’s nowhere close to the fiscal accountability public schools face. Saying otherwise shows just how little he knows.
Second, he said that private schools taking voucher students wouldn’t be required to face the same academic accountability measures because they go through a rigorous private school accreditation process. Besides, he said, the state will have an agreement with the parents, not the schools. It’s a convenient side-step of accountability, and a slap in the face of the public school educators he wants to micromanage.
The best part of the meeting, to me, was when Dan Vincent spoke. Dan, you’ll remember, is a UCO professor and the parent who authored my most popular blog post of all time. Dan was kind enough to share his prepared remarks with me.
Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me speak to you as a parent with 2 kids in public schools; one in 5th grade and one in 3rd. I value the work you do and hope this session will be productive in supporting the myriad of issues facing our public schools and teachers.
Over the past several years, I feel I have had a good pulse on schools in our state; I keep up with legislation and volunteer regularly in schools around the metro. For the life of me, I cannot figure out WHY this bill and WHY NOW. About 2 weeks ago, I emailed most of you about my opposition to ESAs, or Vouchers. From my view, most parents and citizens OPPOSE this.
Since that email, I have read over this bill again and have become even more convinced that this might be the most harmful bill to impact education this year. To be clear, I am not opposed to home school or to private schools. Two of my best friends have chosen those options. What I am opposed to, however, is using taxpayer money…my money…to support those who make that choice.
I have many reasons, but for time sake, let me explain the 5 biggest reasons. And for the record, I am not using the talking points from the OSSBA or the CCOSA; these are my own thoughts:
- Over the past several years our state has been feverishly mandating more accountability on public schools. Yet ESAs or Vouchers, as this bill currently outlines, contains little to no accountability for HOW our tax dollars are used. The RSA, ACE, A-F and others have hit schools hard and have hit kids hard but will not apply to ESA schools. If these are vital for schools receiving tax-payer money, how can we not mandate these on private schools? If you say they are not important for private schools, then the same should be said for my kids in public schools.
- We have passed then repealed Common Core; we are currently awaiting your vote on the new standards for Math and Language Arts. You are the gatekeeper for the content we teach kids in publicly funded schools; with ESAs, there is NO public oversight on WHAT is taught to kids. As a taxpayer, I cannot imagine WHY we would not want oversight and input into what kids are learning in schools at taxpayer expense. Again, I am not opposed to religious education or home schooling. I am, however, greatly opposed to using tax money to fund it. There is a reason you vote on standards for schools; what we teach matters to society. ESAs would completely neglect this responsibility.
- Although it is not a blank check to private schools or parents, when compared to the transparency and oversight required of public schools, it might as well be a blank check. The bill includes ‘audits’ but the amount of reporting, disaggregating and categorizing of funds is non-existent. This is not how I want my tax dollars used, and I think most of you can see these reasons.
- The details in this bill describing the responsibilities of those accepting ESA money is highly suspect. Private schools can accept, reject or kick-out kids seemingly at will. Public schools cannot. One can see the type of system this potentially creates. Let’s not kid ourselves; it is not the families who have the choice; it is the ESA school.
- Currently, there is legislation, actually several bills, that would consolidate smaller districts into larger ones, to supposedly save on administrative overhead; with ESAs you are de facto creating MORE small schools…again without public oversight and transparency. In addition, the bill actually mandates the creation of two NEW “Administrative Funds.” If you feel administrative costs are the problem, ESAs are not a solution.
At a time when our state is carefully scrutinizing the subsidies and tax breaks we give, I would suggest that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT create Private School Tuition Subsidies…what this bill calls Educational Savings Accounts. At a time when we are placing more and more mandates on public schools, I would suggest we think rationally about how ESAs are set up to include virtually NO mandates and NO public accountability. Our tax money should support PUBLIC education, and as a parent I am 100% opposed to my tax dollars being used as ESAs.
Again, thank you for your service, and I hope your committee will do good for ALL kids.
Dan was cut off before the last point, which I think is the most critical. Our legislators keep targeting public schools. With the state continuing to face huge budget problems, pulling more and more money away from us with precious little accountability is irresponsible. There’s nothing conservative about this.
The committee had quite an audience too. There were two packed overflow rooms. There were supporters of vouchers and public school supporters as well. And yes, at this point, I’m drawing that line.
Of the seven committee members who voted for HB 2949, four are in their first terms. Only Sally Kern is in her last term. Hickman and Denney are in their last terms too.
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These are districts in which the incumbents desperately need challengers. Put another way, voters need options. Choice matters, after all.
This is why we can’t wait until the end of the session to figure out who is trying to help public schools. We already know, and what we know now is enough. When HB 2949 goes to the floor, we’ll know even more. And then there’s the Senate, which is a whole different mess.
The legislative candidate filing period is April 13-15 this year. The filing packet is online. If you’d like to run for any of these seats – or any other seat – by all means, you should. If you have friends you’d like to encourage to run, pass the information on to them.We need people who support public education, not just people who say they do.
And keep calling. We won’t win all the battles. But we won’t lose them all either.
Last week, when a House subcommittee was set to hear a bill that would have diverted our health insurance costs to salary, the #oklaed community called. We made thousands of calls. The bill, as of right now, will not be heard. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be resurrected as a committee substitute later this session, of course, but for now, it’s off the radar.
It was an idea that really didn’t make sense. Right now, we get a flex benefit allowance, pre-tax, with which to pay our HealthChoice costs. This plan would have given us, in time, the same amount, but fixed at a point in time. As insurance rates increased, our benefit would fail to cover it. We’d have more taxable salary, but even at the beginning, it would amount to a pay cut.
I don’t think we’ll see that bill again this year, but I’ve been watching politics long enough to know you can never say never. I believe this Legislature is bound and determined to find some way to pretend they’ve given teachers raises. (How about another tax cut? The last several have worked out marvelously!)
A proposal that does have more than a snowball’s chance, however, is House Bill 2949, authored by Representative Jason Nelson. This would create Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers as they’re more commonly known, that families could use to pay private school expenses. Before you ask, they could not be used for homeschooling expenses.
One of the frustrations I’ve always had with voucher proposals is that they typically lack the fiscal and academic accountability for the recipients that we face in public schools. Nelson’s bill is no different.
HB 2949 would require that recipients report to the state how the funds are used. In most cases, the entire voucher will go for private school tuition. That’s a one-line entry. The school will not have to account for the percentage of the cost that finds its way into the classroom, as we do in public schools.
School districts have to code all expenditure under the guidelines established by the state using the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. It’s tedious, but that’s the price of transparency. All things considered, it’s a good thing. The public deserves to know where their money goes.
We won’t see that kind of detail from voucher recipeints and the schools that serve them.
HB 2949 would also require private schools to test their voucher students – but they wouldn’t be given the same criterion-referenced tests that Oklahoma’s public school students take. Instead, they would get to choose their own tests. The following paragraph is from page nine of the 22 page bill:
A parent shall renew the account of an eligible student on an annual basis by submitting a renewal request to the Department. The renewal request shall also include documentation showing the results of the student on a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test taken during that school year.
Voucher students will have to take a test – any test – well, any test that’s not part of the battery of exams Oklahoma public school students have to take. They don’t have to perform at any certain level. They don’t have to show growth. They just have to test. I suppose they would actually be able to choose the ACT and its suite of tests, or the SAT and its suite of tests if they wanted to. That’s something many of us have been pushing for public schools for years. Something about saving money and relevance comes to mind.
Private schools shouldn’t have to change who they are and what their core mission is to serve their students. They also shouldn’t be entitled to public school funds when they don’t have to accept all students or follow the same accountability measures.
One last feature of Nelson’s bill is that family income factors into who can qualify to receive a voucher. Although there are different levels of funding, eligibility begins at two times the threshold for qualifying for free/reduced lunch. For a family of four, that would be a household income of about $89,000. For a family of six, it would be about $120,000. Although families at the top end of this scale wouldn’t be entitled to the whole per-pupil amount that public schools receive, it’s fair to say that we would be providing private school subsidies to upper-middle class families.
Again, I have nothing against private schools. It’s just important to note that they don’t have to do the things we do. They don’t have to provide special education services. They don’t have to provide transportation to students. They don’t have to keep students who fail to live up to all the school’s expecatations. They don’t have to form reading sufficiency committees and complete mountains of paperwork on students who fail a test that isn’t really a reading test. They don’t have to over-explain why the A-F report card system is horriffically flawed.
Meanwhile, funding for public schools continues its free fall.
As Kevin Hime pointed out on Twitter today, all of the outrage we’re sharing amongst ourselves is fine. We need more than that. We need the kind of action we saw a few days ago with the health insurance bill.
The House Common Education Committee has plans to hear HB 2949 tomorrow. The committee meeting starts at 2:30. If your school district is out tomorrow for President’s Day, maybe you can make your way to Room 412 C at the Capitol. If you have time earlier in the day, maybe you can visit the committee members. You can also call them, email them, and tweet at them.
Before you start, though, please keep in mind that six of the committee members are listed as authors on the bill now. Their names are in red.
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Representative Coody is the committee chair. We definitely need to call her. Representative Rogers – the author of the insurance bill – is the vice-chair. He’s clearly voting for the bill, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to hear from his constituents again.
That leaves nine other committee members. We can’t take anything for granted. As Rob Miller pointed out last year around this time, the real push for vouchers is coming from outside the state. There’s no grass roots movement to do this for the children. This bill, and its Senate counterpart, carry the language of ALEC-prepared bills.
Last year, when Nelson’s bill died in committee, one Wisconsin lobbyist nearly lost his mind over it. He called it a failure of the leadership in the House. He called for people to lose committee chair assignments over it.
Again, this is some guy from Wisconsin telling our House leadership what to do.
Speaking of leadership, House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem also have the right to show up and vote. If this turns into an 8 to 7 split, they could both enter the committee room and break the tie.
That’s why we need to know that all nine of the representatives in black (a) plan to show up for the vote, and (b) plan to vote no. When you speak to them, be respectful. Remember that it’s their job to serve their constituents, not interlopers with a cause. If you’re a parent or teacher, talk about your school. Talk about what makes the school you know and love a special place to learn. If you don’t know what to say about ESAs, you can look at this fact sheet that Moore Public Schools has put together or this one from CCOSA and its partner organizations.
You can even scroll back to the top and mention some of the things that I’ve written. I don’t want to put the words in your mouth, but I want to give you the information so that you can say it your own way.
Mainly, we need to contact the nine names not in red. I’ll also be contacting Hickman and Denney’s offices. We’ve done it before. We’ll have to do it again this session. You might as well put those numbers in your cell phone contacts.
National School Choice Week ™ started early in Oklahoma. Late this afternoon, the Oklahoma House of Representatives issued this press release:
Lawmakers Unveil Education Savings Account Act
State Rep. Jason Nelson
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would provide education options to families across Oklahoma was unveiled today at a press conference at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Under House Bill 3398, by state Reps. Jason Nelson and Tom Newell, low-income public school students would be able to receive a portion of the state aid dedicated to their education and use it to expand their education options.
“This is an exciting and timely proposal that will help address one of our state’s most pressing and challenging problems – the effects of poverty on our families,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “Two thirds of the births of children in our state are paid for by Medicaid. More than 60 percent of the public school students in our state are eligible for free or reduced price lunches. Educators I’ve talked to say that students living in poverty present the greatest challenge in our education system. This bill would begin to help these children and help schools with one of their greatest challenges.”
“If you are a parent who has the means to pay for education alternatives, you have true freedom over how your child is educated,” said Newell, R-Seminole. “If you have a lower income, your options are more limited. This legislation is about expanding those options for low-income families.”
Under the legislation, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch under federal guidelines would be eligible to receive 90 percent of the funding they would have generated at their resident public school through the school funding formula. Students in families whose household income is up to 1.5 times the threshold for free or reduced price lunch will be eligible to receive 60 percent of the amount they would have generated through the formula. Students in families whose household income is between of 1.5 times to 2 times the threshold will be eligible to receive 30 percent of what would have been generated through the formula.
The education savings account money could be used for tutoring, virtual school, higher education courses and private schools, Nelson said.
“There is not a private school in every community,” Nelson said. “But there are alternative options to be found in every community.”
The president of a non-profit Oklahoma City school for impoverished and homeless children applauded the legislation.
Susan Agel, president of Positive Tomorrows, said the legislation could provide some funding for her students. Positive Tomorrows serves children who are homeless or in really difficult living situations.
“The Oklahoma City public school district estimates that there are about 2,000 homeless children in that school district,” Agel said. “There are a number of them that are really living in some difficult situations. Those are the children that we can do the most for. So far this year, we’ve turned away about 50 kids. We’ve done this because we have a lack of space in our building and because of staffing considerations.
“Every child that we take relieves some pressure on the burdened public school system who has to be all things to all children. We can take children who need some special care and we can take care of those kids and in the end we can save everybody a lot of money.”
Dr. Cris Carter, the superintendent of Oklahoma City Catholic Schools, said the Catholic Church has historically been an option for immigrants and the poor.
“We believe we have much to offer families who desire not only strong academics, but also a community rooted in a message of love and hope,” Carter said. “Representative Nelson’s previous legislation for special needs students has already begun to bear fruit. I have witnessed its impact most significantly at Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, our school for children with autism.”
Lauren Marshall, member of the National Board on Public School Options and Tulsa resident, said parents need options.
“There are not enough school options right now for parents,” Marshall said. “This legislation will expand those options and we are grateful for Representative Nelson’s work on behalf of parents.”
Pam Newby, executive director of Special Care, also spoke in support of the legislation.
“This bill is incredibly important to our families,” Newby said. “Most of our families are single parents with children who have respiratory issues, or learning disabilities, or autism. They desperately need an education plan that is not one-size-fits-all. Education should not be one-size-fits-all.”
Authors will use every tool at their disposal to convince the public that this is not a voucher program – it’s a Savings Account. See, it’s right there in the title?
Don’t be fooled by such a ridiculous semantic ploy. Vouchers take money from heavily regulated public schools and release them to unregulated private schools, which in turn do not face the stream of accountability measures so cherished by ALEC and the rest of the corporate reform movement. If this legislation passes and survives the inevitable legal challenges, the public will never know whether it was money well-spent.
Research is mixed on the outcome of vouchers in other states. Think tanks supporting vouchers have found that they make a huge impact. Under scrutiny, the methodology of those reports usually falls apart.
I also have a problem with the last line of the press release. The same people responsible for increasing the frequency and duration of standardized testing have no credibility making statements such as, “Education should not be one-size-fits-all.” It fails the logic test.
Ultimately this act would do a lot more for families in urban and suburban areas than it does for those in rural areas. As the authors mention, not every student lives in an area with a viable private school option. They offer up virtual school as a choice. Don’t buy it. The legislature already made that choice available to kids two years ago. Without any further legislation, any student in Oklahoma already has the option to attend school virtually.
Don’t be fooled by the label. This isn’t what they want you to think it is.
It’s an interesting phenomenon when a politician makes an argument first and then looks for facts later. And why limit it to politicians – it’s something many of us do from time to time.
This is what seems to be happening now, as Rep. Jason Nelson persists with the contention that school districts are unjust in their complaints about cuts to school funding. The Oklahoman continues in defending him. And the State Superintendent and State Board of Education let his claims rest unchallenged.
Today, Nelson entered into a compelling Twitter debate with one of this blog’s most dedicated followers. Using data from the Office of Accountability, Nelson surmised that school funding cuts over the last few years were not that deep or in some cases were not cuts at all. Using totals of all federal, state, and local sources of revenue, he’s not altogether wrong. However, with the strings tied to the increased infusion of federal dollars during the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, salary positions still had to be eliminated in many districts across the state.
It’s an understandable rookie mistake for someone not accustomed to using publicly available information to support an opinion. It’s the kind of thing that also gets you called out for demonstrating a complete lack of understanding about why school districts don’t spend their budgets down to the penny every school year. It gets you called out repeatedly.
The facts bear repeating. Oklahoma school districts are being asked to do more for more kids than ever before. They are being asked to do it with less money. The state contribution to public school finance is at an all-time low, by percentage. The state’s largest newspaper and state’s largest political party can spin numbers all they want. It doesn’t keep the true things from being true.