This press release from 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Joe Dorman, pretty much sums up how I feel about the deep budget abyss and the reasons it exists:
[Oklahoma City, OK, December 16, 2015] Joe Dorman, 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor, former State Representative of House District 65, and current Chair of Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District Democrats released the following statement today in response to news of Oklahoma’s revenue failure:
“The news received regarding the massive budget shortfall was tragic. The governor and legislature have gone so crazy with tax giveaways that they are jeopardizing Oklahoma’s future just to cater to a few huge corporate special interest campaign supporters.“The required cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, along with the estimated $900.8 million fewer dollars the state will have to appropriate next year should be no surprise to anyone. This follows the $611 million reduction last year and the $188 million shortfall from the prior year. This crisis ties in with the implemented tax cuts which reduced collections even further.“We should not forget there is another income tax cut on the books which will set essential services back even more once signs of improvement are seen. Action needs to be taken this session to restore the fiscal responsibility we have not seen in recent years from our elected officials.“Our state desperately needs new, strong, smart leadership and needs it soon. Oklahomans will have the chance to correct that course in 2016 and 2018.”
With apologies to every songwriter…ever:
Though the weather outside is crappy, I am very happy Because I’ve one place to go: Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Oh Mary may still be leading But the lead is slowly bleeding So go where you need to go: Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! When we finally get to count All the votes that were cast at the polls An upset Joe will mount And the people will regain control. I think the rain now is slowing So get up, get out, get going. On Dorman your choice bestow, Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe! Vote for Joe!
For one of the few times that I can recall, the editorialists at the Oklahoman and I are on the same page. Today, they listed all the people we should vote for on Tuesday. In the case of their endorsement of Governor Fallin, I disagree. In fact, I disagree with quite a few of their choices. One paragraph, however, caught my eye.
State Schools Superintendent
Democrat John Cox faces Republican Joy Hofmeister. Cox is the longtime superintendent of Peggs Public Schools. Hofmeister owned a private tutoring service and briefly served on the state Board of Education. The Oklahoman makes no recommendation in this race.
This is only a hunch, but I do believe they’re still sore that their horse came in dead last in the June primary. Go figure.
As for me, I too will make no endorsement – probably for different reasons. I like both candidates – one more than the other. I also have concerns with each, though nothing that I would consider a deal breaker. If my choice doesn’t win Tuesday, I can cheerfully support the candidate who does.
What I can’t support is the divisions that have surfaced recently among educators and education voters during the last few weeks. What Cox and Hofmeister have done this fall – traveling the state and making numerous appearances together – is incredible. Governor Fallin only debated Joe Dorman once. Some candidates for statewide office have avoided their opponents completely. There are differences, and they are significant.
Two people whose writing I enjoy reading are Rob Miller and Marisa Dye. Both have insight regarding public education. Both have endorsed candidates for state superintendent this weekend. Yesterday, Dye endorsed Cox. Today, Miller endorsed Hofmeister. Each has sound reasons that work for them. Both have done their homework. Neither wrote their endorsements while vilifying the other candidate. The fact is that we’re all people concerned about reversing the political climate that attacks public education. We all have different triggers that make us mark our ballots for whomever we choose.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen too much of the negative turn lately, and it falls along predictable divides: large schools vs. small schools; rural vs. suburban; Republican vs. Democrat. Sometimes these differences matter, but in this race, they shouldn’t. Unlike Janet Barresi and Mary Fallin, neither candidate has done a thing to hurt public education. I’ve even seen the campaigning turn negative, which is bound to happen in a tight statewide race. To be honest, it hasn’t been as ugly as the primaries, which is a good thing.
When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.
If we want effective public and publicly-controlled schools in Oklahoma we will have to step up and aggressively defend the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, no matter who wins, Democrat John Cox or Republican Joy Hofmeister.
Why? Won’t it be enough to just move Barresi out? Sorry, no.
If the forces in power – whether they are all Republicans or a mixture of both parties – want to mute us, they will start by marginalizing the office that Cox and Hofmeister seek. Then they will build upon the divisions that have surfaced during the campaign. Get the urban/suburban schools going in one direction and the rural schools going in another. Push consolidation to the constituency that wants it and drive into the rural communities saying you’ll block it. Meanwhile, we’ll be griping about federal intrusion into our schools in spite of the burdensome regulations the state has given us.
Vote your heart on Tuesday – even if it’s taking you in a different direction than mine. Then, we need to come together, unite, and fight for public education. June 24 was step one. November 4 is step two. After that, we still have to endure the legislative shenanigans of people who work from February through May and think they know our jobs better than we do.
For that, we’ll need to stick together.
We are a week away from Election Day, and I’m ready for the campaigning to be finished. This is the time when close races between fundamentally good people devolve into nasty accusations and contorted truths. I’m a fan of neither of these practices. They don’t influence me in a positive way.
How I will cast my vote for governor probably comes as a surprise to no one. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I don’t think Mary Fallin has been good for public education. You also should know that I’m not a single-issue voter or a straight-party voter. If I agreed with Fallin on every single issue outside of how she’s treated schools, I would have to consider supporting her.
Well I don’t support her, and truthfully, I decided that long ago – probably about the time she vetoed HB 2625, which allowed for parental input into the third-grade retention decision. In fact, she didn’t just veto the bill; she delayed sending official notification of her decision to the Legislature in an effort to out-maneuver them. In other words, she wanted the win so badly that she thought cheap stunts would circumvent the will of the people. In the end, a combined vote of 124-19. Neither chamber debated the decision. They simply took the veto notice and voted it away in a matter of minutes.
This is not a contorted truth. This is a documented accounting of how events unfolded. Similarly, in June, Fallin waited until the last possible minute before deciding to sign HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards and brought back PASS as the state’s reading and math standards. Since she was one of the main reasons Oklahoma adopted the CCSS, the decision surprised me. As recently as January, she was still defending CCSS to the rest of the country’s governors. It was also the first indication I had that her campaign viewed Joe Dorman as a legitimate threat to unseat her.
It was also at this point that I began researching whether my decision would be a vote against Fallin or a vote for Dorman. It will be both of these things. Below, I will explain why.
Funding Education Properly
Since the start of the recession in 2008, states have struggled to fund all basic services. Most have begun restoring funding to public education. Unfortunately, a recent study showed that per pupil funding in Oklahoma is still 23 percent below the 2008 level.
This represents the worst loss of education funding in the country. As much as the State Board of Education wants to give teachers a substantial raise, it’s not up to them. We need a governor who will work with the Legislature to make this happen.
Throughout the summer, Dorman released his education plan in phases. The first installment specifically addresses funding issues. It is a three point plan to ensure that adequate funding reaches the classroom, and it is sound and realistic. It will require the executive branch and legislative branches working together, but that also seems more likely now than at any time in the last several years. His press release at the time made his case:
Joe Dorman’s “Classrooms First” plan dedicates 100% of funds from the existing Franchise Tax to in-classroom instruction and prohibits using these resources in the general fund for any other purpose. These funds will not be subject to political games and special interest giveaways and subsidies. This plan does not raise taxes one dime, and it stops the political sleight-of-hand the politicians use to cut school funds. This plan ties the state legislature’s hands from playing politics, arbitrarily cutting our public schools’ funding and harming our kids and our economy. This is good for parents and kids, good for our business community and economy, and is a fiscally sound policy for our state.
Fallin’s main emphasis during her term has been cutting taxes. Unfortunately, most of those cuts are corporate and geared at the energy industry. While there’s no doubt that this state is reliant on the oil, gas, and electricity producers, there is a middle ground in which we can support basic governmental services like schools and roads without biting the hand that feeds us. Also, Fallin’s proposal to cut income taxes would impact most Oklahomans by dozens of dollars a year. This doesn’t change the lives of the working class, but it does contribute to the decline in support of schools.
When we say that schools have lost funding, we should be specific about the fact that that loss squarely falls upon the state. As the table below illustrates, Oklahoma has seen a gradual decline over the last 15 years of support from the state, coupled with increased reliance on support from the federal government and local revenue.
|School Year||% Federal Funding||% State Funding||% Local Funding|
It is appropriate to discuss 2008 as a reference point because that’s the generally agreed upon date of the recession. As you can see, since that time, the percent of district budgets supplied by the state has fallen by 5.3% since that time. I threw two more points of reference into the table as well. First is 2004, since that’s the last year Democrats controlled the Legislature. As you can see, the state and local shares of school funding stayed pretty constant for the first four years that Republicans were in charge. Going back five more years, to 1999, we can see that the percentage of school funding from the state used to be even higher.
That changed after President Bush and Congress passed NCLB in 2001. With extra funding from the feds came extra regulations and controls. Conversely, school districts in Oklahoma now face an increasingly burdensome regulatory morass from the state, even though the state picks up far less of the bill than it used to. Keep this in mind the next time you hear teachers and administrators talk about the loss of local control during the last four years.
This happened on Fallin’s watch. The recession that began two years before she took office gets some of the blame – the funding part at least. The regulatory burden schools face now falls squarely on Fallin and outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi.
Standards and Assessment
Fallin and Barresi gave us Common Core, and then Fallin and the Legislature took it away. They gave us mandatory retention for third graders based upon a single test, and they reacted poorly when the Legislature modified the plan. They gave us Value Added Measurements (based on junk science) for teachers and principals. They also gave us A-F Report Cards for schools. Fallin, if you’ll recall, hinted last year that if superintendents didn’t quit complaining about that last reform in particular, she’d be less likely to support increases to education funding. Her State of the State address from February outlined her record and priorities. Below are a few education quotes from that speech:
No child should ever fail to get a world-class education because our policymakers believe success is too difficult.
That’s why we need to work relentlessly on two fronts:
First, we must continue to improve K-12 public school results.
We know that we are graduating high school seniors who aren’t ready for the workforce or college. That has to change.
Second, we have to increase the number of Oklahomans who continue their education beyond high school, either by attending college or a career technology center. A high school diploma is not enough.
We are taking active steps to address this crisis; and it is essential we continue to move forward.
For instance, too often, we set up children for failure by sending them on to higher grades without the reading skills they need. We’ve changed course – by requiring that third graders learn to read before moving on to the fourth grade.
We’ve also implemented the A-F grading system that lets parents, students, teachers and administrators know how their school is performing.
In 2010, the Legislature voted to adopt new, higher standards in English and math, and those new Oklahoma standards will be fully implemented this year.
The new standards focus on critical thinking – the kind of skills our children need to get a job or to succeed in higher levels of education.
While we are raising standards, we aren’t telling teachers how to teach that lesson or what books to use.
Those are decisions that will always be made locally.
And here’s the pay-off: we will start graduating seniors that are truly ready for the workforce AND for college or a career technology education.
Because I don’t like to take things out of context, but I also don’t like 3,000 word blog posts, you should probably go back and read the entire speech. This was when Fallin wasn’t in campaign mode and she was expecting to coast to an easy victory. What she believes is clear. We need more testing and we need the Common Core. Without these in place, schools will continue doing their own things, and we just can’t have that.
Dorman, in contrast, understands that Oklahomans will respond better to standards that are developed locally. Here are the bullet points from his plan:
- A Blue Ribbon Commission consisting of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma education college professors will work to set new education standards. The Commission will represent Oklahoma’s different schools, regions and communities. Gifted students, special needs students, and students requiring remediation will receive assistance.
- Once the standards are written, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hold town halls and forums across the state to hear input from citizens on the standards. The input will be used to refine and finalize the new standards.
- The Blue Ribbon Commission will continue to meet annually to assess the standards and make any changes as needed.
- A Superintendents Advisory Board will implement the new educational policy and develop the best ways to implement policy in individual school districts while maintaining local control.
- The Governor will host an annual student forum consisting of high school sophomores and juniors from across the state to discuss how to improve education, how to make them more college and job ready and how to improve standards to make them more ACT ready.
He also proposes scrapping the current testing system for the ACT and its cycle of tests that are developmentally tiered for 3rd through 12th graders. While I would just like to see state testing go away, I know that’s not realistic. Instead of giving students a battery of exams that have little meaning to them and none whatsoever to those in higher education, we would be better off using exams from a national college testing company. Are the questions written to the Oklahoma standards? No, and frankly, I don’t care. Do they include science and social studies content? No, and the colleges who look at ACT scores don’t care. While a lot of the frustrated educators around the state disagree with me on some of this point, I hope they will at least consider the futility of the current testing system and the fact that it has had more than its share of unintended consequences.
The Company You Keep
Dorman seems to get his ideas on education from the people working in and attending our state’s public schools. He even hangs out with teachers. Mary Fallin, when showing education reform guru Jeb Bush around Oklahoma chose a charter school to visit. It wasn’t just any charter school, either; it was KIPP – which is a franchise of a national chain of charters.
It’s like inviting another state’s former governor to Oklahoma City for a steak and taking him to Outback instead of Cattleman’s. For all of KIPP’s accomplishments, keep in mind that they play by a different set of rules.
Oklahoma teachers voted to change the leadership in education last July. Voting Barresi out was the only smart decision they could make. Below, I have compiled average teacher salaries from before the recession to now.
|School Year||Average Teacher Salary with Fringe||Average Years of Experience||Insurance Costs|
As you can see, teacher salary – including fringe (insurance, retirement) – has changed very little in this time. I added the Experience column because I was curious if we had more veteran teachers retiring, which would account for some of the stagnation. That really isn’t happening. Meanwhile, when you look at insurance costs, you see that teachers are bringing home less now than they were six years ago. While average compensation has grown by $843, the cost of Healthchoice has increased by $1,197 per year. If teachers have a spouse and children on their insurance plans, it’s even worse. And before we get all worked up about Obamacare, remember that the increase from 2008 to 2009 is higher than all other years combined.
For all the inherent rewards of teaching, the pay just isn’t there. In fact, it’s less than it was just a few years ago – significantly less. And this happened on Mary Fallin’s watch, while she continued with her tax cuts that neither stimulated the economy nor benefitted average working families.
There’s a reason Fallin was completely shocked when she posed with the guy wearing the “Mary Failin’” t-shirt after her sole debate against Joe Dorman. The Lost Ogle corresponded with said man, who reported,
Fallin’s aid told her that he didn’t think she “wanted to take a picture with a Mary Failing t-shirt.” She then looked at my shirt and said, “You’re being mean to me!” Her staff started rushing her through the stairway completely bypassing the elevator and she said, “I just assume everyone is going to be nice.” A man from her campaign followed my group to the elevator, took our pictures, and said, “We’ll be seeing you soon.” I laughed and proceeded to get on the elevator!
Well, governor, not everybody is going to be nice. On some level, you must understand this. Otherwise you would have debated your opponent more than once. I personally know a lot of teachers in this state who don’t feel you’ve been very nice to them. They would probably adopt the respect the office in spite of its occupant approach – as many Oklahomans also do with the President.
One of my favorite ads that currently runs is the Geico ad wherein the teenagers scurry to hide from an axe murderer and make a lot of poor decisions.
I’m not saying that educators voting for Mary Fallin would be as stupid as teens hiding behind the chainsaws. It wouldn’t even be as stupid as voting for Janet Barresi. It would just be self-defeating.
A vote for Joe Dorman, on the other hand, is a vote for better working conditions, competitive salaries, and restoring education that is geared towards our students rather than the publishers and testing companies that are bleeding us dry.
Be informed, and vote wisely.
Congratulations to John Cox, who won the runoff election last night to claim the nomination as the Democrat in the race to replace Janet Barresi as state superintendent. Over the next 10 weeks, he will turn his sights towards Republican Joy Hofmeister, who annihilated Barresi in June. And no, saying that never gets old. Hopefully we will see a clean, positive, issue-oriented campaign. It’s politics, though, so I assume we’ll see some of the nasty stuff too. Maybe there will be more on the good side.
On the blogger side, Brett Dickerson was out of the gate early this morning with his take on the top issue in the campaign.
Charter School Debate Is Not Over
Investors believe that corporate charters paid for by taxpayers is a huge market waiting to be sprung open. So there are millions that have been spent and will be spent lobbying for laws that will usher in charters as direct competition with public, democratically controlled schools even in the rural areas.
In April I published two posts against the corporate charter school approach that ALEC and it’s affiliate organizations were promoting: Bill Allowing Charter School Debt Threatens Education Funds in Oklahoma, and This Is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools. Both pieces point out the weaknesses and even dangers of corporate charter schools, cynically called “public charter schools” by proponents.
Eventually the radical charter schools proposal, SB573 was defeated. But something similar will be back. “Money never sleeps,” as the saying went in the movie Wall Street.
Brett is right to point to charters as a huge issue moving forward. If I were a venture capitalist rather than an educator, I’d be all excited about corporate education reform, including charters and virtual schools. If you can extract school funding with fewer quality controls than public schools have in place, you can turn a nice profit. That’s not what the charter schools in Oklahoma currently do, but widespread expansion would lead to that. Still, with all due respect to Brett, this is not one of my top four issues as we decide in 69 days between Cox and Hofmeister (as well as between Dorman and Fallin).
As you know, we are about 800 teachers short in Oklahoma right now. Imagine sending your child to kindergarten or Algebra I or any other class and finding out that a long-term substitute is in place. You’d be frustrated at the least. You might be furious, even. I hate paraphrasing any part of No Child Left Behind, but every child deserves a highly qualified teacher in every class every day. I don’t think it makes sense to be mad at the schools. They can’t conjure applicants from the atmosphere.
The problem lies in the allure of the education profession at this time. People entering the profession never expected to get rich. They loved children. They loved their content area. They came from a family of educators. They had friends who had taught and told them how meaningful it was. They had a teachers who changed their lives. Any of those things could have inspired someone to become a teacher. Any still could. But the likelihood of a confluence of factors serving to recruit future educators decreases every year that salaries lag and the profession faces public caning by politicians who lack the … nerve to teach. I still wouldn’t trade my career for anything. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I do. Fewer people are choosing to follow this path though, and it’s a huge problem.
Recently, Arne Duncan himself said that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” I want a state superintendent and a governor with a plan to restore sanity – a workable plan. While I’d like to see the ACT and it’s suite of testing replace our current state tests, there are legislative obstacles to that happening. It also would cut out all of the other companies who bid on such things. What we have right now is a system by which we spend tens of millions of dollars for test results that are ill-fitted for the high stakes we’ve attached to them. We have tests over high school subjects that colleges ignore. We have little alignment between the third grade “reading” test and the alternate tests that can be used in its place. We have testing companies that fail us time after time. It’s insane.
Assessment has always had a place in public schools. Decades ago, we had the ITBS in all grades. We had the Otis-Lennon. We had all kinds of diagnostic instruments that helped us understand the students we taught. We’ve gone away from that. At this point, who can point to what we do and give a succinct statement (15 words or fewer) explaining why we test? That’s where the conversation needs to start.
We slayed the Common Core in Oklahoma, and now other states are looking to our example to figure out how to do the same. In turn, Oklahoma should look to states such as Tennessee and rid ourselves of teacher evaluations tied to test scores before they ever fully take effect. We should never be in a position to let someone’s mysterious algorithm replace qualitative observation by an administrator. In many cases, we’re just making things up so we can measure them. It’s like the EOIs all over again.
On the other hand, we have a colossal teacher shortage. Will school districts really be able to fire teachers with low VAM scores? Who will they get to replace them?
Oklahoma schools lost about 20% of state aid from 2008 to 2013. We got a piece of that back this year, but still, our class sizes are rising and our infrastructures are suffering. Many schools are using old, out-of-date textbooks held together with duct tape. This is not the picture of a state that supports public education.
The state salary schedule has not been adjusted since 2006. Some district have made their own increases to the scale, but others have not been able to. At this point we need a drastic bump for anything positive to happen in terms of teacher recruitment. I’d propose a 10% increase to each line on the scale, but that actually seems too modest. It hardly moves the conversation. All aspects of school funding need an increase. Districts shouldn’t have to use bond money to buy textbooks. Technology and buildings should be bigger priorities. Duct tape shouldn’t be a classroom supply.
We have a long way to go until November. All of these issues deserve serious discussion – not empty rhetoric. The candidates need to spare us the clichés and loaded words that typify campaigning. When I hear a real solution, I’ll make it known on here.
When the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 3399 and Governor Fallin signed it into law, school districts throughout the state scrambled to turn the clock back to 2010 – sort of. In many places, the transition from PASS (our old standards) to the Common Core had failed to launch. Teachers, aware of the fact that the state tests were still aligned with PASS, focused on those standards. In other places, the transition was fairly thorough; teachers were using a hybrid of CCSS and PASS. In many of those districts – especially those using some form of curriculum mapping – teachers will continue to use a hybrid set of standards. They will simply align to pass and employ strategies or enhancements from the Common Core as necessary.
My point is that if you walk into any good veteran teacher’s classroom in 2014, you won’t see the exact same thing you saw in 2010, 2006, 2002, and so on. Though some may not like to admit it, our state’s dalliance with de facto national standards has changed us. When the SDE submits new Mathematics and English/Language Arts standards to the legislature in 2016, the finished product will likely reflect that.
I know I have readers who hate the Common Core with a blood red passion. I also know they disapprove when I mention that I do not. I don’t like that the state adopted them when they were in draft form. I don’t like the ratio of non-educators to educators who were on the drafting committees. I don’t like the fact that their development seemed to be for the benefit of testing companies and other vendors, rather than children. The language of the standards was rather boilerplate, if you ask me – which you didn’t. If you were to look at the ACT College Readiness Standards from 2008 or any number of Advanced Placement course syllabi on the College Board website, you’d find similarities to many of the Common Core standards.
So on one hand, good teachers are constantly evolving. On the other hand, some things never change. Children learn to count before they learn to add. Students who can read and write can learn and communicate what they’ve learned. Meanwhile, students who excel at reading and writing stand apart from those who are merely competent. We have always had students at various levels in our schools – struggle, competence, and mastery often sit side-by-side-by-side in the classroom, then eat lunch together in the cafeteria, and then run in a pack on the playground. We can call our standards whatever we want. We can use different words to describe performance levels. We can even spend millions developing new tests to tell us the exact same things we already know. Some children struggle. Some meet the mark. Some excel.
What we do for each of these groups of children is far more important than the standards or the tests. How do we provide remediation? Do we integrate it into instruction or do we pull students away from activities they actually enjoy, essentially sucking whatever joy they feel out of the school day for them. With our competent students, do we push them to find the places where they can stretch their comfort zones, or are we content with their competence? And what energy do we have at the end of the hour/day/year for the students who could have completed our work at a high level before we even started teaching?
I have always believed that a clear standard is a good target for us to have in place. And part of me is still naïve enough to think that some of the Common Core’s developers and promoters believed that too. As much as Oklahoma’s critics have found fault either with the standards or the process by which they came to exist, the larger problem is with the way the SDE stumbled in implementing them. Kevin Hime explained this well on his blog yesterday.
The year is 2011 and Janet is the new state superintendent. She is attacking public schools and decides common core will save us. Her stump speech rhetoric centers on how Oklahoma students will fail the Common Core at an alarming rate and how these new standards will make our students college career ready but, WHAT IF Janet Barresi would have be championing the awesome teachers in Oklahoma. WHAT IF she would have said, “Standards do not make students College and Career Ready, Teachers do!” She may have followed up with “What Oklahoma’s teachers need is the legislature to provide the resources needed to prepare students for the 21st century not new standards.”
As right as he is about the tone Barresi took with educators, one thing we all need to remember is that the Legislature adopted the Common Core in 2010, while Brad Henry was governor and Sandy Garrett was state superintendent. What they adopted, they left to their successors to implement. We also need to remember that Barresi and Fallin were all in on the Common Core, until they started campaigning for their primaries earlier this year.
We already know that Barresi will be replaced. Six months ago, few of us thought Fallin would be in a tough fight for re-election, but she is. Part of the reason is that she still can’t entirely shake the stigma of the Common Core. While she still has to be considered the favorite in the race, momentum is a funny thing. Yes, there is a chance we will have both a new state superintendent and a new governor. Even if only Barresi goes, we should not be excited about the leadership she has in place to do this job for us. It will be a new state superintendent and new staff beneath him or her who will present the new standards to the Legislature in 2016.
Twice already the State Board of Education has balked at approving the SDE’s standard-writing process. Barresi told attendees at Vision 2020 in July that she had discussed the process with Board members, and that they would approve it. That’s just one more thing she has been wrong about.
Even though no process is in place, the SDE has kept the application to serve on committees and a rough calendar of dates on its website as if it were. If you would like to serve on one of the Executive Committees, you’re out of luck. The deadline to apply was Friday. If you want to serve in any capacity, the deadline is still two weeks away.
The same people who failed at implementing the Common Core are forming committees in spite of failing to get SBE approval to begin the development of new state standards. Does that sound like a good plan to you? Their successors will inherit a process that is heading in direction that they might want to change. Start. Stop. Reset. Start over. After the last four years, that is the last thing we need.
Yesterday, Democratic candidate for governor Joe Dorman issued a press release highlighting the approach he favors for developing the new standards. Here’s an excerpt:
“For the third phase of my Classrooms First plan, I am proposing a system that will involve participation by parents, educators, students and administrators,” said Dorman. “Together, we will develop rigorous, but developmentally appropriate and workable standards that reflect Oklahoma values.”
Dorman said he will create a Blue Ribbon Commission to craft these new standards. The Commission will consist of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma college education professors. These Oklahomans will represent the different schools, communities and regions throughout the state. This includes urban, suburban and rural educators, elementary through high school teachers, and both gifted and special needs educators.
“These people are involved directly in education and have an in depth understanding of the needs, abilities and challenges facing our students today,” said Dorman. “No one else — certainly those outside of Oklahoma who have been used by Fallin and Barresi — will better craft quality standards for our children.”
Dorman added that the standards developed by the Commission will ensure a challenging curriculum necessary for gifted students and provide accommodations and modifications for special needs students. The Commission will fund, develop and provide remediation programs for those who struggle to meet the standards and who cannot perform at grade level.
“To ensure accountability, once the Commission writes the standards, town halls and public forums will be held around the state, allowing Oklahomans to voice their opinions and concerns,” said Dorman. “The Commission will then refine the standards based on this feedback.”
Along with the Commission, Dorman said he will establish a Superintendents Advisory Board to develop the best ways to implement these policies in individual school districts while maintaining local control.
Sidebar: what exactly are Oklahoma values? Hard work? Faith? Community? Find me a state whose leaders don’t think those values describe them. I know mincing a politician’s words is futile and that buzzwords get the ballots punched. This phrase has no meaning to me, though. Both sides are going to use it, so I guess it balances out. The same is true for college and career ready. It’s always been our goal to prepare students for all things that come after high school. That’s just a reformer’s way of pretending differently.
What I read in the process Dorman describes is similar to what the SDE has proposed. It will include all kinds of people from all kinds of schools in all parts of the state. It will be similar to what we did for the Social Studies revisions in 2011 and Science revisions last year.
Take a moment and fast-forward to 2016. At a town hall somewhere in Oklahoma, a member of the community will take a microphone and make a comment about the newly-written standards. At least once, the person speaking will do so without having read the standards. For the most part, the people of Oklahoma will listen to those around them who are well-informed. Whether the new standards written by Oklahomans and demonstrating our values gain broad acceptance depends mainly on the leadership presenting them. Few members of the public will ever actually read the content.
If we are to have new standards, we can wait a few months to start writing them. We can’t afford to have any part of the process tainted by the current occupants of the SDE. Start in January with a new state superintendent and possibly a new governor. That still leaves enough time to meet the requirements of HB 3399.
This morning, the Oklahoman published a puzzling editorial about the alliance between Governor Mary Fallin and Republican nominee for State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister. Probably the best way for me to describe it is that I agree with their premise, in part, but dispute their analysis of her record over the past four years. Here’s a teaser:
GOV. Mary Fallin and Republican state schools superintendent nominee Joy Hofmeister have announced that they’re “working together on an agenda to strengthen Oklahoma public schools and produce better outcomes for Oklahoma students.” Problem is, published details of that agenda are notable mostly for their lack of specifics.
The release was notably silent about Fallin’s first-term education agenda. That’s disappointing because Fallin has compiled a strong record on education. After the 2011 legislative session, she issued a report declaring it a “banner year for education reform in Oklahoma ….” She specifically identified the creation of an A-F grading system for public schools as a success, as well as a reading law that prevented illiterate students from being promoted to fourth grade. During her State of the State speech this February, Fallin again cited both laws as major achievements and also praised adoption of Common Core academic standards. She fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to preserve the third-grade reading law this year even as lawmakers worked to gut it.
Several people commented on the clause to which I added bold emphasis. This was my favorite:
Yes, saying Fallin’s record on education is strong only works if you’re writing parody. Initially, she was a consistant ally of the corporate reform movement – issues such as vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, union busting, teacher evaluations. Now we really don’t know what she is. She seems to have softened on the third-grade test. Or maybe that’s just what she says now. She changed positions on the Common Core when popular opinion was overwhelming for repealing it. Maybe she’d be succeptible to a different position on value-added measurements too.
One other piece from that quote above stands out to me: the use of the word illiterate. This is the most offensive way possible to describe eight year-olds who struggle on what the state calls a reading test. As districts around the state have learned, even with the exemptions in place, the amended Reading Sufficiency Act, as passed in 2011, really hurts special education students and those learning English. Fallin vetoed HB 2625, which gave parents a voice in retention decisions. The Oklahoman likes to say that “lawmakers worked to gut” the law. It would be more accurate to say that they added a measure of sanity to it.
The Oklahoman also mentions that for each of the last four years, Fallin’s proposed education budget was lower than the Legislature’s, which was in turn lower than Janet Barresi’s. Even with the gains that have been made, the 2014-15 budget still gives less state aid to schools than they received seven years ago. And for some reason, the money added to the formula hasn’t exactly translated into gains to districts on the funding notices they received late last month. In other words, Fallin sure has waited an awfully long time to start supporting schools.
Mary Fallin briefly poked the bear on school consolidation. She hired an Ohio charter school purveyor to run our Career Tech system and then gave him the dual title of Secretary of Education. He never moved here, and resigned after 13 months. She threatened to cut school funding if administrators didn’t quit speaking their mind on the A-F Report Cards. She toured the KIPP Charter School campus in Oklahoma City with Jeb Bush and waxed poetic over its virtues. Yeah, she’s been a peach to public education.
All that being said, I don’t hold it against Joy Hofmeister that she’s presenting herself as a team with Fallin. And I hope she doesn’t hold it against me that I will determine my vote on those two positions independently. I assume when the Democrats finally have a nominee, that person will make appearances with Joe Dorman. This is politics. It’s just how it works.
In the back of my mind, however, I have a little voice that keeps warning me. It says, “The only thing that scares me more than an incompetent corporate education reformer is a competent one.” The voice talks to me quite frequently. With the three remaining candidates for Barresi’s job, we have platforms and vagaries to consider. With Fallin – as we did with Barresi – we have a track record. The sum of her actions are really no better than Barresi’s. She’s just more polished. She has better handlers. And she’s fairly astute, politically.
Fallin’s re-election campaign was supposed to be a cake-walk. It isn’t. Now that she’s in an unexpected battle with a legitimate challenger, she’s talking a different game. Her words aren’t worth much to me. Her accomplishments are. She brought political competence to the Barresi agenda. Dorman has repeatedly called her out on it, and she simply has no answer.
One of my readers commented on my Facebook page today with a quote from Star Trek: Next Generation:
“Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.” – Jean-Luc Picard
It’s a great way to sum up what I’m thinking today. As I’ve said before, with a governor, you have to look at all the issues, not just education. But when I look at her education track record, I’m convinced we can do better.