Posts Tagged ‘Jeb Bush’

20 Reasons to Pick a New State Superintendent

With the primary elections coming up in a little over three weeks, I have been thinking about the best way to remind people how important the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is. Yesterday, I re-posted my earlier piece on the seven candidates who have filed for the position. Since then, more than 2,000 people have read it. More importantly, quite a few have clicked through to the webpages of the candidates.

If he were in the race, friend-of-the-blog Rob Miller would be in eighth place in this very unscientific straw poll.

I also wrote a short reminder that we all need to be turning up our efforts at raising awareness for whichever candidate we favor. That post generated the following comment from a reader, though one who is obviously not a huge fan:

I’m not voting for Janet Barresi either. But not because you repeated “Koch Brothers,” “Jeb Bush,” and “Foundation” as some sort of shibboleth. As far as I’m concerned, Janet Barresi is no more or less dishonest and one-sided than your own attacks on her have been.

I’m still curious. Where was the outrage when Sandy Garrett had us at #49, seemingly content to remain there forever? Was that OK, as in “Oklahoma values,” because she didn’t rock the boat, didn’t challenge the largely self-serving public education establishment?

As a person who takes constructive feedback seriously, I felt I had to respond.

If your point is that my use of those terms is just as much an attempt to evoke a predictable response from my core readers as it is when Barresi says “liberal” and “education establishment,” I suppose I’m guilty as charged. Yes, I too use loaded language. As for your claims that I have been “dishonest” on this blog, I’d love for you to point out specifically where that has been true. If you think I’m “one-sided” because I don’t criticize Sandy Garrett, please keep in mind that I started this blog a little over a year after she left office. I have been critical of many Oklahoma politicians – not just Barresi. When SG was state superintendent, I often pointed in my professional dealings to things with which I disagreed – just never to this extent.

I have also been critical of President Obama and Secretary Duncan, but on a more limited scale since I tend to focus on the Oklahoma education issues.

Most importantly, though, thank you for reading, and I’m glad to hear you won’t be voting for Barresi.

Surely we can all think back to a time prior to 2010 when we scratched our heads and wondered why Garrett and the SDE were doing things in a particular way. She led a major state agency for 20 years. We questioned many things. We also got answers. We had regular meetings with top SDE staff that included opportunities for meaningful stakeholder input. It was a very different time.

I began this blog in 2012 with a commitment to discussing the present state of public education in Oklahoma and how our elected officials’ decisions impact the future. When appropriate, I also discuss the past. That is why for the next three weeks, I’m going to be counting down the top 20 reasons to vote June 24 – for anybody other than Barresi.

The list is a work in progress, but I have a pretty good idea of what my top three will be. I have also received input from stakeholders, but unlike with reason #20 below, I’m interested in what you think. In any case, I am pretty certain that I will leave out a few of your favorite memories. I may do one a day, but if I know me, I’ll skip a day or two, and then double up somewhere down the line.  Let’s get this started!

Reason #20 –Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

About the time that Barresi took office, those crazy feds were developing a process by which states could request flexibility from the original requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (the title given to Congress’s 2001 re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Oklahoma, along with the other states that constitute the Chiefs for Change (C4C) group, relied heavily on Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in writing their waiver requests. By the time SDE staff met with educators that October, Oklahoma’s request had largely been written.

Fortunately, we have some historical accounting for how that process went. The non-profit group In the Public Interest compiled a database of conversations between state officials and representatives of FEE. One of my favorites includes a discussion, a few months later, between the SDE’s Kerri White and FEE’s Mary Laura Bragg.

[16 Oct 2011]

Mary Laura,

Thank you for a great conference this past week in San Francisco. The meeting helped provide a nice overview of the reforms that C4C are advocating for across the nation.

Superintendent Barresi asked that I contact you to get a better understanding of how C4C and the Foundation can assist Oklahoma as we are working on our ESEA Flexibility Request. We understand that there will be a lot of work over the next few weeks in determining identification definitions, interventions, and timelines, as well as actually doing the calculations in order to create our list of Reward, Priority, and Focus schools before November 14. Is the Foundation planning to provide general policy assistance to C4C states, or is there also help available in writing, editing, and revising the Request?

We will be meeting with LEA representatives all day Tuesday to construct the basic outline of our request based on the principles for which C4C are advocating. We are looking forward to their input and guidance and to put it in the context of the work of the Foundation.

Thank you so much for your assistance.

We also have record of the invitation Ms. White sent to those nominated to serve on the working groups (from a reader – some people save everything).

[6 Oct 2011]

Congratulations!  You have been nominated and selected to serve on one of three ESEA Flexibility Working Groups.  Please see the attached list to verify which working group you have been selected to participate in.  We will need you to participate in two meetings.

The first meeting will be held via webinar (so you can participate from your own computer) on Monday, October 10 at 10:00 a.m.  In order to register for this webinar, please go to; click on the “Upcoming” tab; and click on “Register” next to “ESEA Flexibility” on October 10.  You will receive an email confirmation with instructions for how to sign-in to the session.  This meeting should last less than one hour.

The second meeting will be in Oklahoma City at the State Department of Education on Tuesday, October 18 from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.  You will receive more details about this meeting soon.

I am attaching two documents from USDE’s Flexibility Website that should be beneficial for your review prior to Monday’s webinar.

Please let us know if you have any questions.



Congratulations, indeed! As anyone who was there will tell you, very little was on the table for discussion. The major decisions had already been made. Suggestions that were unanimous by the working group were not even considered. Those running the meeting were very direct about this.

Another favorite is this one, which is a general playbook of all the reforms favored by C4C, FEE, as well as Arne Duncan and the USDE. It includes everything that our state has adopted since 2011: A-F Report Cards; tying teacher evaluation to test scores; college and career readiness standards; and third grade retention. In case it is unclear to anyone why Barresi’s entanglements with these groups bother me so much, it’s because she has tied every action of the SDE to what Jeb Bush wants. Oklahomans who occasionally appear in her working groups are usually there only to fulfill a nominal requirement for stakeholder input. It is never meaningful.

Barresi and her top officials at the SDE established this pattern early in their tenure there. It has continued with every major decision. And it is one of the top 20 reasons that I will be voting for someone else June 24.

Shame on Governor Fallin!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma House Directory

Oklahoma Senate Directory

More on the Voucher Bill (Part II)

January 25, 2014 4 comments

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

From Nicole Shobert:

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

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

From Rob Miller:

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

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

Federal Income Chart For 2013-14 School Year

Household Size




































Add for each additional family member




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

Applied Income Levels

Household Size


Yearly x 1.5

Yearly x 2.0

































Estimated Voucher per Child (with weights)




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

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

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

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

From ropeok:

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

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

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

Less Reader Mail…More Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Science, Executive Orders, and Plagarism

December 17, 2013 6 comments

We in the blogosphere kid Janet Barresi and Mary Fallin about their wild declarations sometimes. They get really excited when they’re letting us know that Oklahoma is Oklahoma and nobody is going to tell us what to do.

The problem is that there’s not an original idea between them. Somebody is always telling us what to do, and they’re letting it happen.

I posted late last week that the Oklahoma State Department of Education is asking for comments from Oklahomans like you on the new OASS (Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science). They want you to know believe that the standards were written by Oklahoma educators.

They weren’t. They were lifted, practically verbatim, from the Next Generation Science Standards. As Jenni White and Rob Miller point out in their analyses (which are eerily similar), reading the OASS side by side with the NGSS shows very little difference. Essentially, Oklahoma has removed references to evolution and climate change. That’s it. While both White and Miller (and I for that matter) like the structure and organization of the standards, we all deserve to be told the truth.

Of course, for six months, the SDE has been passing off the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics as the Oklahoma Academic Standards. As with the NGSS, the CCSS were developed by Achieve, Inc. That is the group driving standards, curriculum, and assessment in Oklahoma.

Naturally, because leaders of conservative states like ours pretend to believe in local control, they want to assert the state’s supremacy. That’s why Fallin issued an executive order declaring that those interloping Feds better keep their interloping hands off of our schools – except for special ed and Title I money of course. We need to be mad at the Feds for cutting that!

There are two reasons why her executive order makes me laugh. First is that the US Department of Education may have incentives for adopting CCSS and other poorly researched reforms (VAM, anyone?), but they are not the author, merchant, and carnival barker for them. That responsibility has fallen to the Chief State School Officers – especially the nine who are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The second is that Fallin didn’t even write the executive order. It’s nearly identical to the one released in October by Iowa’s governor, and it’s nearly identical to the one released this week by Mississippi’s governor. The anti-Fed position is a red herring intended to disguise the fact that these governors are actually embracing the Common Core.

We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that Oklahoma writes our own standards or executive orders when we don’t even write our own laws. We also shouldn’t believe that the tests that we’re going to pay Measured Progress to write for us are anything terribly different than what PARCC would have written before we pulled out of their tests (while trying to remain on their governing board). As the Request for Proposals issued by the SDE made clear, the tests will be written to PARCC specifications. And they shall be called OCCRA.

Now for the punchline: last week, the SDE released sample responses to the current fifth and eighth grade writing tests. Of note is how the instructions indicate scorers should deal with responses that do not fully cite their sources. Fifth graders will not have to use quotation marks or reference the title and author of sources. Eighth graders will not have to reference the title and author (which I suppose means that they will have to use quotation marks).

Using this as a reference point, I think we can say that our entire state government is performing pretty well when held to a fifth-grade standard. Another way to say this is that Oklahoma fifth graders who pass the state writing test are pretty much ready to be in charge of this state. Maybe this is why I tend to have so many citations in my posts.

For further reading, please see the following:

Next Generation Science Standards

Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Executive Order

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s Executive Order

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s Executive Order

SDE Memo on Citing Evidence on State Tests

Same Straw Man, Different Day

December 14, 2013 10 comments

At first glance, today’s column in the Oklahoman seems like a minor departure for our state superintendent. She acknowledges the effects of poverty on learning. She uses a more conciliatory tone than she does in interviews and on the campaign trail.

Too many children come to school hungry, tired and ill-prepared to learn. More than half of Oklahoma kids in poverty are living with a single parent, many of whom are holding down two or more jobs just to make ends meet. Many of these children don’t have the benefit of an adult helping them with their homework, much less the use of books or a home computer.

That’s why the column is worth a second read. In spite of the subtle differences, the message remains consistent with everything she has ever said. She still believes Oklahoma schools are using poverty as an excuse rather than trying to help children.

Is poverty, then, good enough of a reason to hold these children to low expectations that essentially relegate them to a lesser education?

This is Janet Barresi’s standard Straw Man argument. What she doesn’t understand, having never spent a year teaching children in a high-poverty school, is that every teacher, principal, and staff member works to overcome these obstacles. At the end of the year, no good educator is satisfied with the results. Students take tests, and eventually, scores from those tests are converted into accountability measures.

As reflected by the A-F school grades released last month by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, there is often a correlation between students’ academic achievement and their income level.

That certainly isn’t the case universally. There are numerous cases of high-poverty schools that had exceptional performances. One such example is Southeast High School in Oklahoma City. Despite having 87 percent of its student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the school earned an A overall. In the Putnam City district, Tulakes Elementary School — where more than 83 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunches — earned a B-plus.

Barresi points to the outliers. Yes, they should be congratulated. Yes, we should delve heavily into exploring what works for them. We should not, however, accept the faulty logic of overlaying anecdotal evidence across every school in the state. If we do, then we should assume that every A school in the state is better than every B school in the state. I would argue differently. I have – repeatedly. A high-poverty school with a high grade has probably worked harder to get it. The B+ earned by Tulakes is probably more impressive than some of the higher grades earned by other schools.

It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty, but that should not, and cannot, allow for its acceptance. Poverty is a factor, not an excuse. We do no favors to children in low-income families when we hold them and their schools to a lesser standard of education. If we lower expectations for some students because of their economic condition, we in effect set them up for a future of closed doors and missed opportunities.

This is a matter of civil rights. A destitute child doesn’t warrant a good education any less than that of kids in comfortable suburbs. Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty, but providing a solid education for children in poverty can be a huge step toward giving them a pathway to a different future.

Nobody is arguing that a poor child deserves less of an education. Here she jabs again at her fictitious enemy. The calamity of it all is that she and her enablers know that poverty impacts achievement, but their solution continues to be blaming schools, rather than addressing poverty in our society.

Poverty creates a tremendous challenge for students, teachers and administrators. It will take a tremendous effort, but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task.

If Barresi truly believed this last line, she wouldn’t continue insulting the profession and its professionals. She tells us in emails that it’s not her fault we aren’t doing our jobs. She calls out the “liberal education establishment” and those who would protect the status quo. She curses and pledges to block teachers from losing “another generation of Oklahoma’s children.”

Lost in this discussion is the picture of what working with students in poverty really entails. Schools not only struggle to meet their academic needs; they also lack the resources to attend to their physical, psychological, and social needs. Students in poverty don’t just lack adequate food and clothing. They are more likely to experience trauma in their home lives that interrupts the learning experience. Few schools have access to mental health professionals or social workers to regularly meet with children. Counselors are tied up managing the state testing program (in the schools that can still afford counselors).

Educators in schools with high poverty levels know that two things are true simultaneously. First, we want all students to succeed. Second, we know that no matter how hard we work we won’t always be successful. Understanding this balance between having high expectations and placing results in context is the key to remaining sane. It is not a lowering of expectations. It is not some Schrödingerian illusion in which two contradictory states exist simultaneously.

Having high expectations does not contradict with the understanding of the effects of poverty on learning. Not at all.

It’s time the state superintendent acknowledges this fact. What educators could use is more support, rather than two throw-away sentences at the end of another misleading opinion piece.

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.

February Review / March Preview

March 1, 2013 Comments off

I hoped at the end of last month’s (p)review post that February would be exciting. I wasn’t disappointed. With over 6,100 page views, it was the second-best month since this blog started last April. The A-F Report Card issues flared up again – almost to the point that I didn’t get to write about anything else. Hopefully that will change in March. There are issues with the quantitative portion of TLE, incremental steps being taken towards school vouchers (with two more private schools approved to accept LNH scholarships yesterday), and of course budgeting concerns that have just been made worse by Sequestration. Meanwhile, the parent trigger, measures to arm teachers, and instant transfer policies are all moving forward.

Here’s a look back at the top five blog posts for February:

  1. I’m Not Making This Up (But That Would Be Allowable, I Suppose) – Surprisingly, with all the writing I’ve done on the different A-F events, the top post for the month was one about science. Legislation is moving forward to allow students to opt out of any science content that they find objectionable. That’s tough to swallow. I don’t want public schools to be a place where children are told their beliefs lack significance. But it also shouldn’t be a place where they are allowed to bury their heads in the sand and ignore science. Faith and facts are not mutually exclusive. The fact that this post resonated so strongly with readers buoys my confidence in people.
  2. Misunderstanding? Hardly! – And now we’re back to form with a post about the A-F Report Cards. Superintendent Barresi told a group of parents that the OU/OSU researchers had changed their mind and now supported the system. They hadn’t. It was an inexplicable statement that for which she hasn’t been held accountable.
  3. The Silence is Broken – It took the Oklahoman almost three weeks to comment on the Washington Post article discussing the ties between Jeb Bush, his Foundation For Excellence, and the SDE. When they did, they glossed over all the important links showing how corporate influences are the real forces behind state policy. As usual, the Tulsa World was much more thorough. The frustrating thing about this is that the Oklahoman has good reporters capable of the work.
  4. These are not the Rules You’re Looking For – Last week, after a legislative committee voted to throw out the existing rules for A-F Report Cards, the SDE quickly issued rules that change precious little. They seem to have been hastily constructed and create more problems than they solve. I have a hard time believing that these are the rules that will be in place for next year.
  5. Get Serious, People – Much of February saw the legislature wasting time on issues that have nothing to do with helping kids or helping schools. They want to keep students from being bullied, but they don’t want to protect everybody. They also want to make sure a teacher can paddle children, even if the principal or school board do not allow it. What could be more important than that?

My sincere hope for March is that we will see the conversation turn more serious and constrictive. In lieu of that, I’ll surely be here, filling this space.

Rules Not Withstanding, A-F Report Cards are Lousy

February 24, 2013 Comments off

I was amused today at the editorial in the Oklahoman (that sounds really familiar). Using comments by a researcher with ties to Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Educational Excellence, the paper has decided that the work of researchers with a background in education and statistics is still bunk and that Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards are still great.

There have always been two separate lines of criticism with the A-F Report Cards. First is the idea that you can distill everything a school does down into a letter grade. You can’t. Schools are too complex for that. Even if you accept this idea, though, there are fundamental flaws with the A-F Report Card methodology. That is where I usually focus my attention.

Before I go back to that, I want to spend a few words focusing on the first part again. We all know that implementation of A-F Report Cards is a key piece of the Jeb Bush reform movement playbook. The reason for this probably bears repeating. Parents understand that schools are complex. Every campus has something to distinguish itself from every other campus. Letter grades group all the schools together and set them up as either winners or losers. This is a necessary part of developing the narrative that public education is failing. Communities that might otherwise be content with their schools begin to doubt what they have always known.

Ancillary to this is the fact that you can do the exact same thing in two schools and get entirely different results. The kids come from different homes. The experience levels of the teachers vary. The school is a different size. There are many reasons why the same inputs do not produce the same outputs. And no matter what reform darling Steve Perry said in Tulsa Friday, poverty does matter. A great article by Carrie Coppernoll today shows what I’ve been saying about this since April.

As an example, I give you the table below, for which I have cherry-picked ten elementary schools with varying characteristics and results. (I plan to do a multi-part review of the proposed A-F rule changes this week, and I will refer to this list again for that.)


Free/Reduced Lunch %

Student Achievement

Student Growth

Bottom Quartile

Whole School

Letter Grade
































































Looking at these ten schools – not knowing where they are, how big they are, whether they are part of a large or small school system – ask yourself two key questions:

  1. Which school is doing the best job?
  2. Which school would you want your child to attend?

I only picked A and B schools for a reason. If I added in C schools, you wouldn’t consider them as an answer to either question. Even if I made a strong case for why a C school somewhere is beating the odds just to get that high, and you were partially convinced that I was right, you would look at that letter grade and overlay the concerns that every parent has and look for some place different. That’s part of the plan.

Among the four A schools, there is a pretty good range of free/reduced lunch participation. Looking at the whole set of data, It’s pretty common for elementary schools with less than a quarter of its students qualifying for lunch assistance to get an A. It’s also notable that two of these schools didn’t have to count students in their bottom quartile because there were a minimal amount of students below proficient in the first place. That’s the measure that caused schools the most problems.

Among the B schools, there’s an even wider range in poverty. Is School I doing a better job than School F, considering their poverty levels? You could make that argument, but I would say there is still not enough evidence to say for certain. Just as a letter grade is weak as a singular representation of a school’s outputs, poverty is weak as a singular representation of a school’s inputs. There are always more pieces to the puzzle than data can capture. That’s the problem with accountability measures, VAM, the qualitative portion of TLE, and the third-grade retention law.

The point is that no single number or letter can tell us how effective a school is. We’re obsessed with trying to measure everything and then assign meaning to it. Ask yourself a third question: No matter what formula you use, is this good for kids?

The Silence is Broken

February 17, 2013 5 comments

Nearly three weeks after the Washington Post wrote about the web between Jeb Bush, his Foundation for Education Excellence, Chiefs for Change, and the development of education policy in several states – including Oklahoma – the Oklahoman has finally written about it. This article in the news section discusses the influence of conservative groups – like ALEC – on Oklahoma legislation, with strong denials from state leaders that our laws are being written out of state. The editorial page covered the education controversy more specifically in a post titled, “School change driven by policy; not conspiracies.”

Normally when I link to an editorial, I don’t include the title. This one amused me. The story has been out there for three weeks. The Tulsa World has covered it. I’ve written about it four times, beginning on January 31 with this post. For all the insistence that policy decisions are being made at the local level, the evidence to the contrary is too great to ignore. Officials from out-of-state groups are not only writing the majority of Oklahoma’s education laws; they are also writing the administrative rules for implementing those laws.

The major problem with this is that it all boils down to what happens in Florida. And no matter how much we hear that the Sunshine State is the model for all things great about education reform, the results just don’t back up the rhetoric.

In a desperate ploy to prove – something, I’m not quite sure what – the editorial (again, it’s worth mentioning that Superintendent Barresi’s campaign manager’s husband writes for the editorial staff) tried to compare these entanglements with a scandal involving a former Skiatook superintendent. He’s in jail, so maybe there is something to that. In the end, the paper is critical of the fact that some “gullible souls actually buy into this twaddle.”

(Yes, they called concerns about where Oklahoma policy comes from twaddle. I’m glad the editorial ended there. I think we were headed towards describing something as ballyhooed or interjecting a consarnit  if it had continued.)

The problem is not just education, you know. If you’d like to see a list of all legislators on ALEC’s task force, go here. Oklahomans listed include:

  • Rep. Jabar Shumate (OK D-73), Alternate
  • Rep. Ann Coody (OK R-64), Member
  • Rep. Lee R. Denney (OK R-33), Member
  • Sen. John W. Ford (OK R-29), State Chairman and Education Task Force Member
  • Rep. Sally R. Kern (OK R-84), Alternate
  • Sen. Jim Reynolds (OK R-43), Alternate

It should also be mentioned that the Oklahoman’s article today (not the editorial) offers a defense of the parent trigger law and the film Won’t Back Down. Keep in mind that the newspaper’s parent company put up the money for this film – one of the worst-rated films on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.

Your takeaway from this entire hubbub should be to understand that all of the reforms taking place in Oklahoma schools were not conceived by a single Oklahoman. Among all of our policy makers, there are no new ideas. Our legislators – even our governor and state superintendent – are but a farm team for the national organization. In their attempt to move up from AA to AAA and maybe someday even the show, they’ll do anything to please the national and corporate masters.

To answer the question I asked 17 days ago, that’s where education policy comes from.

Entanglements Part Three: Tulsa World Edition

February 11, 2013 6 comments

The Tulsa World ran a spread Sunday covering the influence of outside organizations on the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Its writers were thorough in highlighting the implications of these connections. They showed that even in the Internet age, there is a place for good journalism. While a number of people read this blog daily to see what is going on in public education, I can’t call state officials and ask questions like newspaper reporters can.

The article cites  an extensive pattern of corporations contributing to groups like the Foundation for Educational Excellence and having an inordinate influence on public policy:

Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business,” said In the Public Interest Chair Donald Cohen. “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies.

The writers, Andrea Eager and Kim Archer, go on to point out the connection between Superintendent Janet Barresi, Apangea Learning, Inc., Jeb Bush, and former Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett. Having been the guest of Apangea on a trip in 2011, Barresi piloted a program with the company in January 2012 for $470,000. Since then, the cost has expanded to $1.5 million per year.

It should be noted that Apangea’s program – Think Through Math – is being provided free to school districts as an online support for math instruction. It should also be noted that the SDE answered questions from the World by saying that Apangea went through a proper RFP process.

The World also discusses the role of FEE in policy development. One email they highlight shows that not only did the Foundation help construct administrative rules; they also provided influence after the fact:

An email from December 2011 indicates that the Bush foundation was heavily involved with the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s writing of the rules used to implement legislation including the new A-F school report cards, changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act intended to end “social promotion,” and online supplemental learning.

“Based on my work with your team, I don’t anticipate any issues getting approval from your board, but we are happy to provide any kind of air cover – op eds, tweets, letters to the editor, and even expert testimony at the board meeting if you need it,” wrote Mary Laura Bragg, director of state policy implementation at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in an email to Barresi.

Other emails show that Assistant State Superintendent Kerri White sought assistance with Oklahoma’s application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act from Chiefs for Change and the Jeb Bush foundation and Bragg responded with a referral to John Bailey, whom she called, “our federal policy superstar.”

That “superstar” influenced Oklahoma policy on A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, mandates for online instruction, and probably most significantly, the state waiver to No Child Left Behind. The waiver was so poorly constructed, it left the state with three separate accountability systems. Explain that to school patrons.

Governor Fallin is also linked to Bush and FEE, though her spokesperson takes a “so what” attitude towards it:

“I don’t have any direct knowledge of corporations or individuals who promote Jeb Bush or his group,” said Alex Weintz. “Our involvement with him is as a fellow governor who knows Gov. Fallin personally. Jeb Bush has a perspective when it comes to education. He believes accountability measures such as A-F work; so does Gov. Fallin. The results in Florida were obviously successful. We hope we can achieve the same kind of results in Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma involvement with FEE extends to the legislature as well. This is instructive because it provides context for the coming voucher push in the legislature:

In late November, Barresi organized a large delegation – 12 state Education Department employees, legislators and several state board of education members – to attend the foundation’s national summit, an annual event, which was held in Washington, D.C.

An agenda for the event lists Barresi as a panelist at a session called “Transforming Education for the Digital Age,” and state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, as a panelist at a session titled “Reaching More Students with Vouchers and Tax-credit Scholarships.”

(By the way, in the past, Nelson has shied away from the term voucher in Twitter conversations. When he is in state, he sticks with the euphemism scholarship).

The World also showed the link between Barresi and the Carpe Diem charter school in Arizona, which adds to the intrigue of the selection of Oklahoma’s new Career Tech head: Bob Sommers, the chief executive officer and managing partner of Carpe Diem.

Finally, the article points out the folly of following Florida in the first place. Their education system isn’t better than ours. That claim is as false as the constructs on which all this reform is predicated. Public education is not broken. It does not need to be fixed by corporations.

So thank you, Tulsa World, for continuing to ask questions and making people uncomfortable. I wish there were two major papers in the state operating that way.

%d bloggers like this: