Yesterday, I wrote about a short video made by Shannon Meeks from Putnam City. Today I want to point you towards a data tool created by the Oklahoma Policy Institute:
It’s well known that state aid funding in Oklahoma has struggled in recent years — since 2008 we’ve cut per student state aid by 24.2 percent after inflation, the largest drop in the U.S. Cuts to state aid affect all school districts in the state, but not all districts are affected equally. Because state aid to local districts is based on a formula that takes into account the needs of students and the local resources of districts to fund themselves, the amount per student that’s funded by the state varies widely between districts. In the 2015-2016 school year, aid went from a low of $16 to a high of $7,740 per student.
The map below is from their website. Before discussing the nuances of school finance, I want to make a couple of generalizations first.
One is that southeast Oklahoma tends to get more state aid per pupil than northwest Oklahoma. Poverty and property values are the main reasons why. The other observation is that school districts in northwest Oklahoma tend to cover more land. This part of the state is more sparsely populated, but it’s also flatter. There are some long bus routes, but they tend to be pretty straight.
I point these two things out because we must always understand that there is not one singular picture of a school district in Oklahoma. For that matter, there’s not one singular picture of a school in my district.
If you want to look at the figures more closely, or if you want to see how certain school districts compare to one another, you should visit the interactive map. You may even want to download the data file.
These are real numbers. Any discussion of issues such as vouchers, consolidation, and charter schools should include these figures.
Oh, that reminds me. Here’s the OPI caveat about charters:
Knowledge is power, people.
If you’re headed to Oklahoma City next week for the third and final Vision 2020 Conference (whoever wins the election will probably rename it), you may have received an invitation to an open house being held off-site for a new statewide service entity, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. Before you succumb to their promises of help to your beleaguered school district, however, here’s a little background information.
Last September, if you’ll recall, the State Chamber of Commerce applied for a Walton Family Foundation grant. While the creation of the OPSRC is separate from that effort, it does involve a lot of the same people. At the time, here’s how the Chamber described the purpose of their application:
This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.
The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.
The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.
The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.
For more on the State Chamber’s ongoing educational pursuits, see this Tulsa World piece.
I’ve written multiple times about how being a non-profit is not the same as being a charity. Technically, ACT and The College Board are non-profits. So is Measured Progress – our state’s currently in-limbo testing company. Non-profit corporations make money – in some cases a lot of money – without having to pay taxes for it.
The OPSRC is trying to recruit members (they aim for charter school members and rural school districts) but they have recently sent invitations to every school superintendent to come visit them in their new offices during Vision2020 because they are the “most helpful educator support organization you never heard of.”
The application also said that the Chamber was looking for a “super star” from the national reform movement. Again, though it’s a different organization, OPSRC’s “rock star” executive director is Brent Bushey, who arrived in Oklahoma last year. Aside from being a former Teach for America teacher, he has shallow experience in public education. (I know – I had you at TFA). A glance at his LinkedIn resume reveals a career mostly in IT. Actually, if you Google “Brent Bushey Walton Family Foundation,” the first hit is Damon Gardenhire’s LinkedIn profile. Seriously – it’s not even Bushey’s own LinkedIn page. How does that happen? I Googled myself last night (for fun) and the results were all about me (real me, not blogger me).
Gardenhire, if you’ll recall, used to work for Superintendent Barresi – first unofficially, then officially. When he left for the WFF, here were his comments about Oklahoma school administrators in an email acquired by the Tulsa World.
Just keep in mind that the local supts will keep doing this on every reform until choice is introduced into the system. Until then, they will continue to play these kinds of games. Only choice can be the fulcrum to make them truly responsive. A big part of why I took the Walton gig was because I see real promise for bringing positive pressure to bear that will help cause a tipping point with enough (superintendents) that the ugly voices like Keith Ballard will begin to be small and puny.
As the OPSRC website shows, the Walton Family Foundation is not the only funding source for our new friend in Oklahoma. If my information is correct though (and it usually is), WFF provides the vast majority of money for this venture. Having the involvement of other organizations gives the Center in-state credibility. Without Walton money, the Center would cease to exist. As a member of the tangled web, Bushey’s marching order this past legislative session was to get Senate Bill 573 (which would have opened up all school districts in Oklahoma for profiteering charters school companies) passed. It failed, but will surely resurface next year.
The real danger of OPSRC is they are currently recruiting members – mostly rural school districts. Their model is that charter schools and districts join them and receive services related to finance, legal, technology and communication. These, of course are services that districts already receive from a variety of other acronyms – groups that don’t aim to turn public schools into a revenue stream. It’s what they previously have done in Arkansas – with strings attached.
The mission of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to support the improvement of public education by providing technical support and advocacy services on behalf of public schools with a special emphasis on charter schools and rural districts.
APSRC’s values reflect what the organization expects of itself through the services provided to members and the values of the charter schools and rural districts serving the students of Arkansas.
Members of APSRC sign a commitment to the following values:
If you sign on with the OPSRC, you get the WWF. You get Gardenhire. You get the honor of working with people dedicated to silencing the “ugly voices” and selling school choice throughout Oklahoma. Choice sounds harmless enough, but it is code for vouchers and charters – and not the kind of charter schools we see in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, either. The Foundation, and by proxy, the Center, want to open the door for profiteering charter school companies to take over schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas. That’s always been the end game of the reform movement.
One other thing I want to add is that a group I treasure, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, published a guest post from Sarah Julian, the Director of Communications for the OPSRC, yesterday. What Julian wrote is consistent with OPI’s submission policies, but I want whatever overlap there is between my readers and theirs to fully understand what’s happening here. When someone offers you a smile and a piece of candy, it might be wise to get your Stranger Danger alerts ready.
Willfully entangling your school district with the OSPRC is more or less hopping into bed with the Walton Family Foundation – a group that wants to replace us all with charter schools (until robots become a viable option). It’s not paranoia if it’s true. If you want information about how to get charter school startup money from the WWF, visit their website. This is their priority. This is why they’re here.
Proceed with caution.
In the fall, I wrote “A Brief and Recent History of the Status Quo,” a 700 word post about education reform centered around the idea that schools and school people have always responded to reform with action. In short, the idea of the status quo is something of a myth:
For decades, the status quo has been that things change – in an orderly, collaborative, and productive fashion. This state has always had great teachers and administrators. And this state has always had leaders who insisted on reforming and improving the system. That process has always had bumps, but they have always been overcome by collaboration.
This week, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released a new 54 page report by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center titled “Educational Reform in Oklahoma: A Review of Major Legislation and Educational Performance since 1980,” going much deeper into the data, political history, and results of the various efforts to improve public education in Oklahoma.
One piece of advice: if you’re not following the Oklahoma Policy Institute – by Facebook, Twitter, or email, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. They’re a great source of news in addition to what we get to digest from the major state newspapers and television stations.
Another piece of advice is that you read the report. I find the visitors to this blog to be well-informed and capable of holding meaningful discussions of the issues we all face as we try not just to improve education – but to improve the lives of all students. Many of us have lived through all or some of these reforms, but I know that some readers here have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Even some of the reforms that occurred during the early years of my career were off my radar when I was just trying to survive as a brand new college graduate.
Probably my favorite part of the report’s executive summary was this paragraph explaining the problem with implementing too many reforms at once:
There have been so many reforms that it is impossible to state with certainty which ones have worked and which have not – with this amount of change from year to year, attribution of results is a problem. It is easier to assess the impact of programs for which in-depth data are published, but most of the reforms address broad themes that affect all schools and grade levels (e.g., implementing a new state curriculum). For programs such as these, the effects are so diffuse that it is difficult to determine the efficacy of any single set of reforms. The statewide student information system should make it easier to evaluate the effectiveness of specific reforms in the future, if reviewing those data is built into the system.
In other words, if anything has improved for students, we can’t pin down the specific reform that made it happen. With what we’re seeing in the anti-school climate pervasive in the legislature and at the SDE, with initiatives brought in from Jeb Bush and ALEC, that effect will only be increased in the future.
About two weeks ago, the Oklahoma Policy Institute published a guest blog by Oklahoma City University professor Dr. Jonathan Willner titled, Public school grades – what’s really being graded? Using multivariate regression analysis, Willner demonstrated that variables such as single-parent families, free and reduced lunch rates, student mobility, education attainment levels of adults, and median household income are adequate to predict 57 percent of all school report card grades.
His research echoes the point of my first post in April about Reward Schools, my calculations when school report cards were finally released in October, and the correlations I demonstrated between poverty and district report cards in December.
Facts, of course, are never good enough for the Oklahoman, which this week ran a rebuttal to Dr. Willner’s research. The editorial starts with the tired complaint that critics of the A-F grading system have wasted too much energy “explaining away bad grades rather than improving school performance.”
At this point, it’s probably good to remind my readers that the husband of Superintendent Barresi’s short-tenured chief-of-staff writes editorials for the paper. Meanwhile, Dr. Willner is chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at OCU.
It’s also good to remember that improving school performance is a misplaced focus. Those of us derisively called the Education Establishment by the corporate education reform movement are actually in the business of improving student performance. We’ve been using the 2012 test results to inform our work with students since preliminary data came to us in May. We spent the summer revising curriculum, making hiring decisions, and building master schedules to prioritize the needs of our students.
We didn’t wait until October when the report cards were released. And when they were released, we didn’t change our course. When we howled about the report cards, it was the process more than the product. As I’ve written many times, district leaders with good grades were among the most reasonable voices in the room when superintendents gathered to express their concerns.
As usual, the Oklahoman misses these points along with Dr. Willner’s:
If public schools don’t exist to educate children, regardless of family background, then many citizens may wonder why we’re pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into the public school system. We know your students are doomed to fail, but here’s a few million anyway, just for kicks?
Nobody who supports public education and despises the arbitrary nature of this accountability system is giving up on poor children. We just don’t accept the premise that the A schools are necessarily doing a better job than the B schools. We understand that when it comes to teaching students in poverty:
- More intensive basic instruction is often necessary;
- The fruits of teachers’ labor often leave for another school in the middle of the year;
- What works for one group of students may not work for another; and
- Past performance doesn’t always predict future results.
An irony in the dismissal of Dr. Willner’s well-reasoned blog is that these are the same people who think you can use statistics to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools. Still, they would have us disregard a more sophisticated use of statistics demonstrating the real impact of socio-economic factors – especially poverty – on student performance. The Oklahoman continues with the nefarious refrain that merely mentioning poverty means we want to doom students to failure.
Nothing could be less true.
Instead, we mention poverty because we know that it’s harder to teach a population of students that come from difficult backgrounds. And we know that teachers get paid roughly the same whether they’re in a suburban enclave or an urban or rural school with universal free lunch. We also know that recruiting and retaining teachers to high poverty schools is tough. And we know that those dismissing poverty as a salient issue in education policy also show little regard for the poor in all other policy discussions.
I applaud Dr. Willner for his time, passion, and intellect. His points (unfortunately) need to be repeated too often in this state.