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Posts Tagged ‘Phyllis Hudecki’

Thoughts on Obstruction and Serious Conversation

November 19, 2015 2 comments

If my math is correct, and it usually is, Oklahoma school districts have lost over $900 million in State Aid since the 2008-09 school year. Even if the Legislature could pull a minor miracle and keep funding for schools flat for the 2016-17 school year, the total revenue decline would be more than $1 billion in just eight years.

The funny thing about losing that much money is that you miss it. It hurts. The only thing that hurts worse is when you realize it isn’t coming back. That’s when you have to act boldly.

To me, that is what we’re seeing with Governor Senator OU President David Boren’s penny sales tax plan. Born of necessity – because frankly, nobody is proposing any other credible solution – it stands as the only option on the table. Sure, the Oklahoma’s Council for Pushing ALEC – or whatever OCPA stands for – came up with an alternative. It includes several one-time solutions – such as selling off art collections (that the state doesn’t technically own) for teacher raises.

Oklahoma's Council for Pushing ALEC.jpg

Here’s a fun fact for people who’ve never had to cobble together a school district budget and worry about paying thousands of teachers and support employees: you can’t use one-time funds for raises. What are you going to do the next year if nothing to match those funds is in place?

Then again, why would we expect a group that has invested decades trying to destroy public education to bring anything serious to the conversation? I only bring them up because they carry water for and to certain obstructionist legislators who share their voucher-centric agenda. They’re part of the conversation, whether they have any business being in it or not.

I haven’t yet written about the Boren proposal for a couple of reasons. First, I have a lot of friends and colleagues working in municipal government. I fear that a state penny sales tax will limit their ability to continue generating local revenue through their own initiatives. We need well-funded schools, but we need well-funded city governments as well. It’s not a trade-off for me. They’re both critical needs.

Second – and maybe this should be first – is the fact that over the last ten years, our state government has methodically reduced the tax base by passing income tax cuts (that really didn’t benefit the middle class or the working poor), increasing tax credits for corporations, and pushing nebulous amendments to the state constitution that limit growth in ad valorem collections.

As Oklahoma Watch points out, some who are critical of the Boren plan feel like the state is replacing income taxes that are progressive with  sales taxes which are, by definition, regressive. As Boren points out, however, “Our choice is to either do this, or nothing.” In other words, we can lament the fact that our elected leaders knew they were tying their own hands, or we can propose a solution.

high anxiety.jpg

That billion dollar projected hole in next year’s state budget reflects the billion dollars in lost state aid that schools have seen over the last seven (going on eight) fiscal years. Reversing this trend through legislative means is a feat that is against all odds. While I’d welcome some teamwork and help from our elected leaders, until that happens, why not let the people decide if a penny sales tax is the best way to help public education.

Then again, one of the OCPA’s side ventures has filed suit – against the reigning State Teacher of the Year, among others – claiming the Boren plan violates the Oklahoma Constitution. In short, they claim the initiative constitutes a “textbook example of logrolling.” By logrolling, the plaintiffs mean that the proposal violates the state’s single issue rule. The fact of the matter is that the proposal is for one thing – a penny sales tax, and what should be done with the proceeds of that penny. The plaintiffs know this. Then again, as I said, they have a long, long history of trying to block all things that would benefit public education.

What they forget, however, is that public schools are responsible for teaching 90 percent of students in this state. What they forget is that parents and communities support their local schools and the people who work in them. What they conveniently try to forget is that those parents and communities are sick and tired of budget cuts and teacher shortages, and that voters increasingly realize that the school districts didn’t create these problems.

Oh, and 2016 is an election year. Every House seat and half the Senate seats are up for grabs. I recently read that more than 30 seats will be impacted by term limits. If incumbents have opponents, they all can be. If incumbents throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do to prevent cuts to education funding, then we should see more challengers.

With all that said, one conservative Oklahoman I respect tremendously is Phyllis Hudecki. She has been – among other things – Governor Fallin’s first secretary of education. She has been involved with the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition for more than a decade. She recognizes the problems that shrinking education budgets and stagnant teacher pay have brought to our schools. She published a strong editorial in this Sunday’s Oklahoman saying as much:

Our teachers are leaving the state in droves. In fact, schools began this year with about 1,000 teacher vacancies and a record number of adults in classrooms without teacher preparation.

Teachers haven’t had a state-funded raise in nearly a decade, which is, in part, why the state ranks 48th in teacher pay. We have a moral and economic imperative to fix this now.

While money is not the only answer for all that ails our schools, it is certainly a large part.

The Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition recently commissioned a study of teacher attrition and pay in Oklahoma, Texas and comparable jobs in the private sector. The study showed that teacher salaries in Oklahoma are about 16 percent lower than teacher salaries in Texas and 28 percent lower than median salaries for similar workers in Oklahoma’s private sector.

Nibbling around the edges and tinkering with smaller changes may save a little, but it will not catapult funding to the levels needed now.

The only comprehensive funding plan on the table is the ballot initiative to add a penny sales tax.  The measure would provide approximately $426 million to increase teacher salaries.

Ideally, the upcoming legislative session would include serious movement towards rolling back tax credits that really haven’t proven to stimulate the economy. Failing that, we have the Boren plan. At the least, Oklahoma voters should have the right to decide its merits – and to do so without obstruction and misinformation from right-wing lobbyists.

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Astigmatism 2020: An Eventful Day One

Last night, Rob Miller made it clear that I had to provide daily updates from Vision 2020.

Today was so incredible that I could easily break this up into two separate posts. I think I could probably manage several separate 1000-word blogs out of today’s events, but I’ll try to be more focused than that. Here are the things I want to cover:

  • Another kick to the REAC3H Coaches while they’re down
  • Comments from Superintendent Barresi’s Roundtable
  • Standards-writing process, as proposed
  • Supreme Court decision upholding HB 3399
  • Second annual resignation of Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education

First I want to explain the title. The definition of astigmatism is an irregular shaped cornea or lens that prevents light from focusing properly on the retina, causing vision to become blurred at any distance. A person who is near-sighted can have it. So can a person who is far-sighted. Even a person with 20/20 vision can have it. Basically, it’s a physical problem with seeing things clearly. I’m no optometrist, but I’ve been to one. Therefore, I’m basically qualified to diagnose Barresi as suffering from this condition.

The conference this morning was just surreal. There were no victory laps from attendees. Nor were there sullen faces from SDE employees. There really weren’t the hordes of people that usually attend this conference at all. I thought the exhibitor hall and arena were fairly empty. Then again, that’s just my perception. The numbers could be very different.

REAC3H Coaches

The first thing I noticed this morning was a sign on a door on the way to the exhibitor hall.

REACH Return

As we learned last month, the REAC3H coaches were unceremoniously let go by the SDE via email. Based on the response I received from that post, many thought – even if it had been necessary – that it could have been handled better. Why, then, would we be surprised that the coaches were asked to bring the things checked out to them back to Oklahoma City and return them to the SDE at a conference. They weren’t even invited back to the office for this. As one person commented on my Facebook wall, “I saw that and had to giggle a little!! That our OSDE had them return it at a workshop with a sign to a door that looks like a janitor closet!!!”

It’s funny, and it’s degrading, all at once. I don’t know how much equipment there was to return, and I don’t know how many of them still had to check that off their to-do list. I just think it shows an ongoing lack of awareness of how decisions impact people.

Janet Barresi, Unplugged

That leads in to the 11:00 roundtable session with Barresi. I promised myself I wouldn’t attend, but fortunately, others did. The reports were jaw-dropping, as usual.

In case you’re reading in email and the tweet isn’t showing up clearly, Brett Hill writes, “Q: what are things you did well and you didn’t do well? A: I won’t apologize, and I know I’ve pissed a lot of you off.” I’m quoting the tweet. I also had a reader message me on Facebook to say that since she’s not running for office anymore, she can say things like that. She simply doesn’t understand that her third-place showing in the primary is due to the fact that she’s done this job very badly. The way she sees the world is not at all affixed to reality. But at least she’s true to herself.

Standards for you, Standards for me

This afternoon, Barresi also hosted a breakout session (along with Teri Brecheen) to explain what the process of writing new Math and English/Language Arts standards would look like. She mentioned the long, iterative process that Brecheen had described to the State Board of Education last month. She also explained that though the process has not been technically approved by the SBE, she would be proceeding as if it had. She assured those in attendance that she had spoken individually with each board member and that they were cool with it. The problem with that is that now we’re getting into issues with open meetings. Technically, the Board can’t meet without proper public notice. Still, to say that a decision has been made when it hasn’t officially is at best in the gray area. She’s saying that the SBE has made up their mind. Barresi is either speaking on behalf of people or admitting to a violation.

At the same time that she was meeting with educators, the SDE issued a release about the standards-writing process. Actually, this is from the second release. The first one was incomplete.

CORRECTED: SDE begins inclusive process to develop new academic standardsOK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 07/15/2014 03:18 PM CDT

State Education Department begins inclusive process to develop new academic standards 

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 15, 2013) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) is encouraging Oklahoma educators, parents and others interested in public education to consider taking part in the development of new academic standards for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Coordinated by OSDE, the standards-creation process is designed to be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.

The process comes after Gov. Mary Fallin earlier this year signed a law repealing Common Core standards and paving the way for new ELA and math standards. According to House Bill 3399, Oklahoma common education will utilize existing Priority Academic Student Skills (P.A.S.S.) standards until August 2016. By that time, schools would begin the transition to new standards.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said the change presents an opportunity for educators to ensure stronger academic standards.

“These new academic standards will be by Oklahomans and for Oklahomans. They will reflect Oklahoma values, principles and commitment to excellence,” Barresi said. “That is why it is vital for the standards-creation process to include the voices of Oklahomans from all walks of life. Educators will write the standards in a collaborative process that encompasses critical input from parents, the business community and anyone else invested in making sure Oklahoma schools are second to none.”

An online application form for the various committees and teams involved in the process is available at ok.gov/sde/newstandards , along with other related materials.

The draft process is pending approval by the State Board of Education, but the timeline restrictions of HB 3399 require OSDE to begin the process of soliciting applications.

A steering committee will oversee the entire process. The executive director of the State Board of Career and Technology, Oklahoma’s chancellor for higher education, the state superintendent of public instruction, the secretary/executive director of the state Department of Commerce and two members of the State Board of Education will have seats on this panel.

The steering committee will appoint four executive committees — one each for math and ELA in grades Pre-K-5 and 6-12 — with a maximum of 21 members apiece. These groups will provide input, resources and editing throughout the process and will help facilitate public meetings and comments.

The executive committees will provide hands-on oversight from beginning to end, ensuring the consideration of a broad range of perspectives. Any Oklahoman can apply for membership.

Examples of groups that might seek representation on the executive committees are parents, educators, organizations for students with disabilities and English Language Learners, higher education, CareerTech, nonprofits, Native American tribes and the business community. At least one member of the Oklahoma State Legislature will serve on each of the four executive committees.

These committees also will be in charge of creating a rubric to appoint applicants to three of the other groups in the process: the Standards Creation Teams, the Draft Review Committees and the Regional Advisory Committees.

The Standards Creation Teams, comprised mostly of teachers, will draft all the new standards using resources and input from the executive committees. Applications are now being accepted.

There will be 28 Standards Creation Teams, one for each grade, from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, in ELA and math. These teams are designed to ensure representation of educators from all regions of the state.

Additionally, two members of each Standards Creation Team will be selected to serve on a Standards Development Team. This panel will start the process of designing assessments and ensuring that academic standards progress appropriately from grade to grade.

All Oklahomans are eligible to apply for Draft Review Committees, which will examine drafts of standards and related materials authored by Standards Creation Teams. Draft Review Committee members will provide feedback for changes before the would-be standards enter a public comment phase.

The Draft Review Committees represent one of several entry points for community members at large to provide input while the standards are being developed.

Throughout the entire process, 12 Regional Advisory Committees will organize meetings to update the public and gather community input to share with the other committees. There will be one advisory committee in each of 12 regions designated for this process. Each one will meet several times to guarantee that the standards-writing process is enriched by local perspectives from all corners of the state. These committees, open to all Oklahomans, will be appointed by the Executive Committees from applications.

Later in the standards-creation process, the State Board of Education will appoint an Assessment Design Committee. This panel will review standards content, alignment from grade to grade, and assessment design and structure. Due to the nature of this committee, it will only be open to educators and those with expertise in assessment design and delivery.

Once a draft of the new standards has been approved, it will be made available for 45 days of public comment. The Executive Committees will review submitted comments and recommend changes to the Standards Creation Teams. If a significant amount of changes result, the Executive Committee could call for another window of public comment.

Eventually, a final version of the draft will be brought before the State Board of Education for approval. Under HB 3399, the draft would require approval by the Legislature and the governor before full implementation by local school districts.

Do you have all that? It’s simple. And it’ll be all be handled by people at the SDE who have no idea if they’ll have jobs in January. What could go wrong?

HB 3399 – Now and Forever

This morning, about the time Tulakes Elementary School Principal Lee Roland was delivering his inspiring keynote address, lawyers were arguing before the State Supreme Court. I believe it had something to do with the legislative branch overstepping into the executive branch. Fortunately, the Court ruled quickly and decided that no, the Legislature did not get its chocolate in the SDE’s peanut butter.

It’s that simple. And it’s over. Schools will no longer speak of the Common Core standards that shan’t be named. I’ve said all along that if teachers believe they gained improved skills, knowledge, and strategies during the last four years as a result of the transition, nothing in PASS or the convoluted process described above will keep them from utilizing them. We’re just looking for a new framework.

Thanks for Stopping By

Lastly, I think it should be mentioned that Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education, Bob Sommers, is returning to Ohio. Last year, it was Phyllis Hudecki resigning that post. Sommers, who had just come to our state a few months earlier to lead the Career Tech system, was a surprise replacement. Here is a clip from Fallin’s office on today’s resignation.

Sommers said one of the biggest challenges ahead will be to develop new, higher standards that will replace Common Core.  Legislation was passed and signed earlier this year that replaces the Common Core standards with standards designed by the State Department of Education in Oklahoma.

“Regardless of how you felt about Common Core, it is absolutely essential that Oklahoma now develops better, stronger standards here on the state level,” he said. “We need input and buy-in from everyone. Parents, teachers, administrators, employers, community leaders and lawmakers all need to be involved in developing academic benchmarks that boost classroom rigor and ensure our children are getting the education they deserve.”

Maybe it’s coincidence that he would resign the same day as the Supreme Court decision. It’s no secret that Sommers was all-in for the Comm standards. It could be that family demands truly called him home. If so, then I wish him nothing but the best. Actually, regardless of the root reasons, I wish him well.

If you’re into conspiracy theories, by the way, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson wonders if perhaps Barresi will be Fallin’s choice to replace Sommers. It’s an interesting thought, but I can’t see that happening. Fallin still has an election to win. Our governor may be a lot of things, but never doubt that she’s politically astute. There will be none of that.

So there you have it, Rob. That’s Day One. Hopefully I can write about tomorrow in fewer than 2020 words.

The Tangled Web

September 17, 2013 9 comments

This morning, The McCarville Report (TMR) released a document showing that the Oklahoma State Chamber has applied for a Walton Family Foundation (WFF) grant. The grant application lists the project name as “Start-up Funding for Business-Education Reform Advocacy.” Here is how the Chamber describes the purpose of the grant:

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.

The last thing this state needs is another non-profit established to “advocate for an aggressive change agenda” in education. This is all code for creating a foot patrol to steer legislators and other key stakeholders towards very specific agenda items. Chief among those is school choice, which after all these years, is still nothing more than cover for diverting money into private schools on behalf of people who are already paying for that. The WFF is but one of the funding sources for the soon-to-be created Organization. The other foundations listed in the introduction are like-minded in their support of reforms that have nothing to do with improving education.

The proposal also lists desired outcomes of the grant, and hence, the Organization. Reviewing them adds both clarity and questions:

Outcome 1: Permanent Establishment of new advocacy organization. By November 1, 2013, the Oklahoma State Chamber will establish a fully functioning education reform non-profit in Oklahoma City.

Outcome 2: Board adoption of business plan – By November 30, 2013, Board will review and/or revise and approve business plan (drafted by executive director).

Outcome 3: 2014 Legislative Agenda – By the beginning of the legislative session, the new nonprofit will unveil its 2014 legislative agenda, along with collateral communications materials that explain core principles, advocacy mission and importance of key reform issues to Oklahoma’s economic success.

Outcome 4: 2014 Legislative Agenda – By the end of the 2014 legislative session, 50 percent of Oklahoma lawmakers will express support for the key provisions of the legislative agenda, core principles and advocacy mission.

Outcome 5: 2015 Legislative Agenda – By the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, all key legislative leaders will have attended a meeting to learn about the 2015 legislative agenda.

Outcome 7: 2014 Research Projects – By the end of 2014, the research projects of the new organization will have been disseminated to all members of the legislature, the Governor, the State Superintendent and the State School Board.

I wonder what happened to the sixth outcome. It must be with those 18 minutes Nixon lost.

We don’t know what the legislative agenda is that the Organization will be pursuing, per se, but we can be certain it isn’t one driven by the interests of Oklahoma parents. For that matter, it won’t be driven by Oklahomans at all. This is the ALEC agenda, the Jeb Bush FEE agenda, the Michelle Rhee agenda. The proposal decries not only the loathsome Education Establishment, but also the temerity of previous reform efforts, specifically those championed by Governor Fallin’s former Secretary of Education, Phyllis Hudecki:

While Oklahoma has organized a business-education coalition in the past called the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition (OBEC) it has recently lost its drive for reform, and has not been geographically diverse overall. A new approach seems to be required. The State Chamber has a proven track record of pro-business reforms and advocacy for bold education reforms (it recently led the charge to legislate a statewide charter authorizer and to form a statewide recovery district for low-performing schools, among other key reforms). However, the State Chamber has not been able to devote as much bandwidth to education reform issues that a separate organization, under its guidance and with its support, could. This provides a chance for a true statewide entity that focuses on innovation and choice within Oklahoma’s education system, as well as data-driven instruction, improved student achievement, accountability and transparency. While Oklahoma forged new territory with a package of reforms passed between 2008 and 2010, the status quo has effectively pushed back against further reforms because there has been no organized voice fighting for additional change. The timing seems right for a new statewide entity to help tackle additional reforms.

That’s where this whole thing became a page-turner for me. In July, Hudecki resigned from Fallin’s cabinet to return to OBEC. She was replaced by a reformer with national stature in the movement (Robert Sommers). I don’t know if news of this proposal provides any more insight into that transition than we had during the summer, but we can’t help but wonder – especially since one of the names on the WFF application is Damon Gardenhire, who used to work for Superintendent Barresi.

There was a time when OBEC drove reform in Oklahoma. School leaders didn’t always agree with what the organization wanted, but there was always a seat at the table for them. The new Organization seems as if it will be one letter (E) shorter. It’s just a business and billionaire coalition for education reform sans educators. The Chamber further trashes OBEC in this representation of the proposal’s pros and cons:

Strengths: Weaknesses:
Focused on policy reform outcomes rather than vague pronouncements. Initial success highly dependent on recruitment of strong Executive Director candidate.
Geographically diverse – in contrast with previous business reform efforts in Oklahoma, which have been tied closely to one MSA. Attention must be paid to right mix for board members to ensure clear school choice and reform focus.
Tied to the State Chamber’s human and capital resources, Potential candidate for ED from outside the state will face challenges related to idiosyncrasies of Oklahoma’s culture and rural-urban political mix.
Affiliated with the State Chamber’s strong credibility and clout at the State Capitol and in the state’s business community. There is a strong possibility that the formation of this new statewide entity will weaken or lead to the dissolution of OBEC, which could be perceived as a weakness. However, OBEC has lost most of its visionary leadership and clout recently.
Focused on Oklahoma specific research to inform policy decisions.  
Dedicated to evaluating, protecting and improving prior reforms.  
Connected to business leaders for influence and ideas to address reforms to Oklahoma’s education system.  

One more thing I think I need to mention is that on page two of the grant application, the Chamber states that “a key part of the effort will also focus on recruiting a ‘super star’ from the education reform movement nationally, an individual with a proven track record of successful project management and consensus building.” They’re looking for a rock star.

Any ideas about who that could be?

Influence over Action

I’ve been asked a few times this week by readers to comment on the Governor’s transition from Phyllis Hudecki to Robert Sommers as Secretary of Education. The truth is that I don’t have much to say.

Hudecki is a lifetime Oklahoman who has worked for a long time to improve schools as a representative of the state’s business community. She has a history of listening to parents, teachers, and administrators. She is well-spoken and measured. Quite a few administrators in this state consider her to be an ally to the profession.

Sommers has been in Oklahoma for a few months. He has close ties to Jeb Bush and opened the door for more charter schools and vouchers in Ohio. He really doesn’t have a track record here, but we know this move strengthens the ties between our state’s leaders and the top engines for corporate education reform.

The most important thing to remember about this move, though, is that a Secretary’s role is quite different than that of the State Superintendent. Sommers will be a top education advisor to the governor. He will not be running an agency. He will not be making major policy decisions or selecting testing vendors. That will still be Janet Barresi, who is excited about the selection:

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 16, 2013) – Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi issued the following statement regarding the appointment by Gov. Mary Fallin of Dr. Robert Sommers as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and Workforce.

“I am pleased that Gov. Fallin has appointed Dr. Bob Sommers as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and Workforce. Since April, when Dr. Sommers became the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, there has been a renewed sense of energy in the state’s educational partnership between career tech and the PK-12 public education system.

“Dr. Sommers truly understands the importance of increased student achievement and quality career training as it relates to preparing our children and adults to succeed in the workforce. This appointment confirms and strengthens our work in that direction.

“As I review job growth within the five ecosystems as identified by Gov. Fallin, many of the jobs of the future are in the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. As a means of assuring Oklahoma continues to enjoy positive economic growth, Dr. Sommers and I are committed to working together to provide opportunities in the STEM subjects to all students.”

If anything, this move places Governor Fallin closer to the inner circle of Jeb Bush, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016. Since this is an education blog, and not a venue in which I care to discuss national politics, I should probably stop there.

Appointed or Elected?

January 15, 2013 2 comments

Janet Barresi’s opponent in 2010, Sen. Susan Paddack, is proposing that Oklahoma eliminate the elected position of state superintendent. The Tulsa World agrees, and goes a step more, suggesting that we consider making many of the elected statewide positions appointed. This is a long-overdue idea, though I wish it had come from someone other than Paddack. Yes, she is one of the legislators I respect the most, but following the campaign, she’s just not the best champion for the cause.

Public policy should be situational, meeting the needs of citizens as they arise. The structures supporting the services government provides, however, should be rooted with a deeper sense of permanency. When it comes to how the state provides services to public education, we should look periodically at the bureaucracy and see if it can be tweaked.

In fact, the legislature did this in 2011. When holdover board members questioned some of Barresi’s early hires and decisions, lawmakers quickly changed the law to allow the governor to remove them from office and replace them with new appointments. Our elected officials created a counterbalance to the state superintendent position that could be replaced at the governor’s whim.

Many have speculated that the governor’s influence over her hand-picked board ensured the eventual passage of A-F Report Cards in October. And that Phyllis Hudecki, her education secretary, is going to take a more active role with stakeholders in the implementation of future reforms.

Paddack’s suggestion cuts out the middle. We’ve had state superintendents and governors of opposite parties in the past. We’ve had them in the same party, but not on the same page before as well. I’m not in favor of changing the structure of governance just because of people who hold office don’t always play nice. This needs to be about what we honestly think is the best way to govern.

I’ve had conversations for ten years with friends, family, and colleagues about this. I’ve always been on the side of reducing the number of statewide positions. (I’d also be in favor of a unicameral legislature.) I want Oklahoma’s state superintendent to be an appointed position, but not because of the person who holds the office now. Having a state superintendent and a secretary of education seems redundant.

The governor is going to influence education policy, and this would make that influence more direct. This change (along with other statewide offices) would also strengthen the executive branch in the state. Again, this has nothing to do with the person in the governor’s mansion – it’s just my preference for state government.

Paddack is unlikely to have much support for her measure. While this is unfortunate, I hope still that the legislature gives the idea some discussion.

Worse Than It Sounds

December 17, 2012 5 comments

I still remember my Oklahoma History teacher in high school explaining to us the meaning of a political aphorism that now sounds like an anachronism: All politics is local. The idea is that you and I, as citizens, can make the biggest impact by getting involved in the political processes closest to us: city council, mayor, school board. Then county and state government. Finally the federal level.

At no point did any teacher of mine explain that state and local policy should be set by Jeb Bush’s Foundation. This, however, is my main takeaway from yesterday’s thorough investigative work by the Tulsa World.

Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t already, read the article and click through to all the links. You’ll be enlightened.

The World asked the State Department of Education for emails in October related to discussions over the A-F Report Cards. Two months later, they received a fraction of their request. What they received shows contempt for superintendents (continued derisive use of the word “Establishment” to describe career educators). The emails also show a culture beholden to out-of-state influences. At one point, Damon Gardenhire, the former communications director cites the promise of these outside groups as reason for leaving the SDE:

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.

Gardenhire’s contempt for school superintendents was not unique to him while he worked at the SDE. It was (and remains) the central element of the culture there. The reason that Superintendent Barresi to this day has not had a meaningful conversation with a group of superintendents is that she simply doesn’t care what they think.

The World documentation also includes an email exchange between Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education, Phyllis Hudecki, and State Senator Clark Jolley, of Edmond. While both show disappointment for the way Barresi has caused some of the political confusion Jolley saves most of his scorn for the school leaders:

As much as we can fault Janet for some of the bumps in the road, on most of these, I frankly believe it is that they figured out they don’t like their grades. They say Janet hasn’t talked to them. That is complete bull. She and her staff have spent hours upon hours trying to answer questions only for the superintendents to allege they were “ramming it through” without even listening Or giving them answers to the questions they posed. I saw the SDE’s responses. They did answer the questions. They just don’t like the answers.”

I wrote about the meeting Barresi had with 51 superintendents in October. That was no discussion. I also posted the responses the SDE gave to superintendents’ questions. Those answers, as I titled my blog post, were evasive at best. What Jolley doesn’t seem to have an explanation for is the fact that the superintendent he most frequently talks to is Edmond’s David Goin. Edmond had great report cards, and Goin thinks the product is flawed and that the SDE was unresponsive. The truth is that no superintendents were satisfied with the process. This isn’t about the final grades at all.

Altogether, the emails the SDE provided to the World, our collective experiences with this process, and the path already travelled through other states point to several realities:

  • These people think public schools are failing.
  • These people are funded by out-of-state groups.
  • These people care little for transparency.
  • These people listen to the people who fund them rather than the people they supposedly serve.
  • These people will stop at nothing to impose school choice, which is their sanitized way of saying voucher.
  • Among the ranks, there is dissent about the competence and political skill of Barresi and the SDE.
  • There is no dissent about the ultimate goal, however.
  • The governor will remove any board member who does not fall in line like a good little toy soldier.

One last thing: the Oklahoman’s silence on this matter speaks volumes.

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