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Posts Tagged ‘Public Education’

A-F Breakdown: Let’s Define #ourschool Ourselves

November 8, 2015 2 comments

Each of the last two weeks the Journal Record has published columns by individuals affiliated with a certain right-wing non-partisan think tank in which the writer is critical of those of us who have been critical of the A-F Report Cards. I enjoy watching people defend the indefensible as much as anybody, but it’s probably good to run a scorecard of the responses we’ve seen so far.

First, it was Oklahoma City University professor Andrew Spiropoulos who wrote about being puzzled that Governor Fallin didn’t even defend her own reforms:

But when you don’t control the debate, you lose control of the government. Look at what has transpired this month concerning the issue of education reform. One of the most important and bitter fights of the Gov. Mary Fallin years was the establishment of the state A-F school and district grading system.

While managing the system is always a difficult work in progress, the system’s benefits are evident. Every month, it seems, you read an inspiring story about a school, usually in the inner city, that used a failing grade as a spur to transform itself and, because of these efforts, improved both student achievement and its state grade.

But the education establishment isn’t going to allow proof that a reform is working to temper their lust to repeal it. As you would expect, the bureaucrats took the certification of this year’s grades as an opportunity to once again criticize the system and call for its repeal. The state superintendent of public instruction, the education establishment’s hired hand, refused to promote or even defend her own department’s work.

Did he really just call us the education establishment? That’s so 2014 of him.

I also find the governor’s silence telling. Maybe she’s busy managing the boon to our economy that a decade of tax cuts has brought the state. As deeply moved as Spiropoulos is by anecdotal stories of schools making great gains, he fails to see that outliers prove nothing  when it comes to dispelling trends. For most of those schools, the gains have come with the infusion of federal school improvement funds and a narrowed academic focus. One of those is a good thing. The other is a narrowed academic focus.

As I’ve said in different ways countless times, a singular focus on testing sucks the passion out of both teaching and learning. Curiosity – not test prep packets and the loss of electives – is the root of learning.

Michael Carnuccio, the outgoing president of said think tank also expressed his disdain for our collective show of frustration with the A-F grades.

When Oklahoma’s new A-F report cards were released last month, many in the education community were quick to pronounce the grading system “flawed” and “unfair” and to insist that the grades don’t accurately reflect student performance.

Tulsa World columnist Jay Cronley noticed the defensiveness and remarked (sensibly, I thought) that “if people focused more on improving themselves and their families than complaining about everything from the headline in the newspaper to the testing procedure, maybe more schools would improve their grades.”

First, I’ll take issue with Jay Cronley. I can’t speak for the entire education establishment, but in the course of my typical 60 hour week, I maybe spend an hour or two complaining about public policy issues. I do some more on my own time, as if that’s a thing. The truth is that we’re too busy trying to teach kids and run schools to sit in our palaces and dwell on every bad idea. Yes, we have increased our advocacy against those who insist on repeating the false narrative that public education is failing. We do plenty more than that, though.

Carnuccio then lists every other report card known to man. For each, I could have a separate response. I’ll be brief, however. Oklahoma schools have more students in poverty than most other states. Oklahoma is outperformed by most other states. The US has more students in poverty than most of the comparison countries. The US educates ALL students; other countries don’t. So yes, there are statistical differences there too.

With Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards, if we were to compare school sites’ poverty levels to the report card grades, we would see a strong correlation, just as we did in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Similarly, if we ranked states and countries by poverty levels, we’d see similar trends. Oh, wait, that’s already been done.

Thanks, Rob.

For what it’s worth, in case you missed it, Dr. Joe Siano (Norman) and I wrote a brief message expressing our thoughts on the A-F Report Cards. The Oklahoman was kind enough to run it. It wasn’t just two OKC metro-area superintendents, though. CCOSA sent the letter in advance to their members, and over 230 superintendents around the state signed off in agreement.

Are we dodging accountability? No, just mythology. Here’s how we ended the letter:

Fortunately, a task force is working with researchers to study options and solutions to address flaws that have been identified. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have questioned the methodology and the usefulness of the A-F calculations. And, the creation of the task force, proposed by our own state leaders, clearly demonstrates that inaccurate and misleading information is being distributed to parents about Oklahoma’s schools.

As teachers and administrators, we should be held accountable for our work. However, any accountability system should be an accurate measure of the comprehensive work that contributes to the overall success of our students and schools. In spite of the millions of state dollars spent annually on the current system, it is not helpful in guiding districts. Instead, district and state officials spend countless hours tracking data errors for a product that has no instructive value.

Regardless of the accountability system used, we remain committed to student success and will continue to advocate on behalf of our state’s future leaders. We hope that ongoing research and commitment by state leaders and school district officials will lead to an improved measure that we can use in helping patrons understand all the indicators of school success.

Others who came out against the report cards include State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist. Hofmeister’s press release points out that even the USDE has problems with the system. In fact, few in the Legislature who still support it. That’s why they ordered a study about ways to reform it. That study includes researchers from the state’s flagship universities who have criticized the grades from the first year moving forward.

All this is to say that the scorecard stacks more heavily to the side of those of us who think these report cards are a slap in the face. Maybe it’s a breakdown in confidence that caused the governor’s silence.

(Did I say breakdown? Hold on for some gratuitous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.)

I’ve always objected to the letter grades on a very basic level. If all you want to tell me about my school is that we are an A or an F or something in between, you’re missing the bigger picture. We do things that aren’t measured – always have, always will. Sometimes, that one thing that keeps a child in school is something that a test or a report card just can’t capture.

That’s why I floated the idea of a new hashtag to a couple of blogger friends the same day that Spiropoulos published in the Journal Record. None of us could come up with a good one that we could use to capture what’s right with our schools. They were either to clunky or too easy to mock if you’re a middle schooler.

That night, I was excited to read Seth Meier’s post on his blog, Excellence in Mediocrity. It was simply titled #OurSchool. He included several sources of pride for Jarman Middle School. It was something I could appreciate as both a blogger, and his superintendent. Here are some of the things Seth highlighted:

  • #ourschool examined referral data that focused on student demographics, which allows us to individualize positive behavior supports for students.
  • #ourschool provided a huge basket of goodness for a teacher that recently endured a heart attack.
  • #ourschool had school-wide team competitions to help build unity within our grade-level teams.
  • #ourschool gave food to families that do not have any.
  • #ourschool teaches with integrity, even when we feel that we aren’t appreciated.
  • #ourschool has worked with amazing parents.
  • #ourschool has been parents to those that need it.
  • #ourschool has helped homeless families.
  • #ourschool has challenged our kids in the best ways.
  • #ourschool has grown as a family.

This is what we should all be doing. We should be fighting back with the things that bring us pride. Instead of letting think tanks that want to destroy public education define us, we must do it ourselves.

After the Top 20: Dishonorable Mention

Counting down from 20 was so much fun (how fun was it?)…it was so much fun I added a new number one yesterday afternoon. Now I’m going to add 13 more! These are additional examples of things that Barresi or the SDE have done during the last 42 months to wreck public education. Whether an example of failure by design or incompetence, each is worthy of dishonorable mention. There is no particular order to the following list. Nor should they be interpreted as Reasons 22-34. Some could easily have made the top 20. Even after this, I’m sure I’m missing something.

For each, I’m going to limit myself to a paragraph or two and add a relevant link.

TLE Implementation

On many fronts, the SDE has mishandled the development of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness system. While the qualitative component that counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation has been met with good reviews overall, initially Barresi was reluctant to accept the TLE Commission’s recommendation for a model. She was hell-bent on anything but the Tulsa model (much as #oklaed is hell-bent on anything but Barresi right now). Validating the work of one of her staunchest opponents (TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard) was more than she could stomach. Unfortunately for her, more than 400 school districts went with the Oklahoma-grown evaluation model. Since the cool thing in 2014 all about growing our own, this should be ideal, right?

In 2012, when it came time to provide funds for districts to train teachers, principals, and other administrators in the models of choice, the SDE predictably dropped the ball. They had anticipated a cost of $1.5 million for training (after stating in legislative hearings that TLE would be a revenue-neutral initiative). The lowest bid received was $4.3 million. This was their solution:

Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.

Some districts had already tried to secure training independently of the SDE prior to that announcement, but the SDE had blocked them. They literally kept the entities authorized to provide the training from entering into contracts with individual school districts. This announcement by the SDE then was doubly frustrating. Districts trying to be proactive were blocked. They had to wait an extra 2-3 months for the training they knew their staff needed.

Test Exemption in Moyers

In April, a family in Moyers suffered a great tragedy. The school called the SDE to try to get a testing waiver for a student going through tremendous grief. It took a social media onslaught to get the agency to reverse its original decision not to grant the waiver.

Eventually, the SDE caved. They said it was a misunderstanding. Barresi was also quick to blame the federal government for setting such intractable testing rules. It’s a typical JCB story. Testing matters more than students or schools. If she looks bad, blame someone else – especially liberals or the feds.

Removing API Scores from the SDE Website

Janet Barresi tells anyone who is forced to listen to her that her greatest accomplishments are transparency and accountability. As of October (or earlier – this was when I first noticed it) the SDE’s Accountability Page no longer contains API scores . The Academic Performance Index was Oklahoma’s school accountability system from 2002-2011. It was replaced in 2012 by the A-F Report Cards, which were one of Barresi’s hallmark reforms.

Visit the page now and you see the following message:

*Please Note: The State Department of Education is currently reviewing historical assessment and accountability reports to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma’s new “Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013.” Some sites on this web page may be temporarily disabled until compliance is ensured.

Barresi likes to construct a narrative in which accountability didn’t exist before she showed up. As with most of her talking points, there is no merit to this. There is also no reason to hide old API reports. Nothing in the Act named above would require historical data to be removed.

Whole Language

In November, Barresi participated in a candidate forum that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. That video alone could have been the basis for a pretty solid top ten list. One of the outrageous things she said was that the reason Oklahoma students can’t read is because the University of Oklahoma still teaches Whole Language. She also insists that OU and OSU need to teach their education students how to teach reading and math. Maybe she was just still bitter about the research report discrediting her precious A-F Report Cards. In any case, she simply sounded uninformed and petty.

The Shameful Treatment of Crutcho Public Schools

Early in the Morning of May 10th, Rob Miller received an email from the superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools. The news media had been reporting that the district had the worst 3rd grade scores in Oklahoma. Due to technical problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill (go figure), she had not been able to login to confirm their scores. The first news story reported that none of the school’s students passed the test. They corrected it at the 10:00 broadcast. Unfortunately, we all know that retractions don’t have the impact as an inaccurate report in the first place. If the SDE hadn’t been in such a rush to get scores out to the media and represent their reading initiative as a success, this misrepresentation never would have happened. Barresi doesn’t care about that – just about controlling the narrative.

Badmouthing Teachers in Public

The most-viewed post of all time on this blog is from March: How to Lose Your Appetite. The funny thing is that I really didn’t care for the post all that much. Based on screenshots and redacted identities, I piece together comments overheard from Barresi during lunch. She thinks Sandy Garrett had no accomplishments. She thinks the legislature is crazy. She thinks teachers are liberal. She blames everyone but herself for how badly she is doing in this job. Her commercials make that perfectly clear.

Illegal Hiring Practices

Normally, especially with state government jobs, an agency will post a position (and a job description). Under Barresi, nothing is done the normal way at the SDE. Did you know that Michelle Sprague, the Director of Reading/Literacy, is set to become the new Director of Elementary English/Language Arts? Funny, that position never posted to the SDE website. That must’ve been an oversight, as was the creation of the new position. Likewise, Sprague’s successor in the position she’s leaving has already been selected. That job never posted either.

Throughout Barresi’s tenure at the SDE, she has fired and run off good people, often replacing them with others who aren’t qualified for their jobs. The SDE has definitely found a few hard workers who try hard to help schools through all of the challenges they face, but their efforts are often stymied from above. Maybe it’s just as well that they’re not performing legitimate job searches. There’s no point for great people to leave good jobs to go up there now.

Vendor Favoritism

The SDE is supposed to help schools find solutions to their problems. This should not include a show of favoritism to certain vendors. I’ve covered the irregularities with the selection of CTB/McGraw-Hll and the bad decision to keep them after the first annual testing debacle in the countdown already. It goes beyond that, though. She has pushed specific professional development providers relative to the Reading Sufficiency Act and Advanced placement programs. And in one debate last week, she said that she hoped schools would go back to Saxon Math – which I’m sure thrilled all the other publishers. It’s not that I want all the vendors to be happy or all to be miserable. I just want them all to have a fair shot. Too many times, whether through sole source contracts or less-than-transparent bidding processes, they find the deck to be stacked.

Rewards that Nobody Wants

One component of the state’s ESEA Waiver is that the SDE will provide rewards to schools with high achievement and schools with high growth. In 2013, the first year anything other than certificates were given as a reward, only five percent of eligible schools applied.

  • 229 Reward Schools were eligible to apply.
  • 14 applications were received.
  • 6 grants totaling $400,000 were awarded.
  • 60 percent of the funds are to be spent celebrating the success of the Reward School.
  • 40 percent of the funds are to be spent on partnership activities benefiting both the Reward School and the Partnership School.

The catch was that schools eligible for a reward had to partner with a low-performing school to apply. Unless I missed it, the SDE announced no new awards in 2014. In that case, they could have used the $2.8 million set aside for that expense to make up the deficit in funding employee benefits, rather than yanking funds at the last minute from professional development and alternative education.

By the way, for some reason, the legislature raised this pool of funds to $5.4 million next year.

Favoring Charter Schools

In October 2013, Janet Barresi said during a radio interview that she is “embarrassed” Oklahoma doesn’t have more charter schools. She continues not to comment, however, on the fact that the ones Oklahoma has don’t perform as well as the state’s traditional public schools. Both years in which we’ve had A-F Report Cards, even though the formula changed considerably from 2012 to 2013, charter schools did not score highly. We know that not all charter schools are created equally and that by law, they are supposed to accept students on a lottery basis. We also know that some have ways of counseling out students who might be hard to serve. And we know that they don’t face all the same regulations as traditional public schools.

While I have written consistently that I oppose expansion of charter schools out of the state’s urban areas, I do not oppose their existence altogether. What I’d like to see is all public schools granted some of the flexibility charter schools have. I’d also like to hear politicians acknowledge these differences in their discussions of charters.

FAY/NFAY

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Janet Costello Barresi claim that under her watch, the SDE has transformed from being a regulatory agency to being a service agency. None of us buy that. For example, on January 15, 2014, the SDE notified schools that they had changed the definition of Full Academic Year to mean “part of the academic year.” Instead of previous definitions, which had included some logical starting point relative to the beginning of the school year, we would now be counting all students who remained continuously enrolled from October 1st and before.

Supposedly, there was a hue and cry from Oklahoma administrators to make this change. I have a hard time believing that. Yes, we want to teach all children we have, but the FAY/NFAY designation is really only an accountability issue. Schools with high mobility have a hard enough time without the SDE senselessly piling on via bureaucratic fiat.

Pricey Propaganda

In April, the SDE released 2,000 copies of the agency’s annual report at a cost of $33,000 to taxpayers. Printed copies. In 2014. Simply inexplicable. One senator felt the same way:

Patrick Anderson today said he was shocked that the State Department of Education spent $33,268.00 on its annual report. The report, which is 60 pages in length and includes 50 glossy color photos and charts, was delivered to legislators Wednesday.

According to the document, the Department of Education printed 2,000 copies, meaning each copy of the report cost taxpayers $16.63.

“This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “The State Department of Education is simply required to make an annual report to the members of the Legislature, not produce a coffee table book. The fact that our limited education dollars are being spent on projects like this is mind-boggling.”

Anderson was the author of Senate Bill 1697, which directed state agencies to issue such reports in electronic format to save taxpayer dollars. SB 1697 was signed into law in 2010.

In four years, the SDE can’t make this switch, but they expect schools to make more drastic changes virtually overnight? Classic.

The Threat

I already covered in Reason #3 in the countdown how Barresi and the SDE threatened to revoke certification from one vocal critic. In January of this year, the SDE announced that all school districts would be required to participate in the systems tests of their computers for both testing vendors. If they didn’t, they might lose funding, accreditation, or certification of administrators. This was nothing but a bullying tactic. Districts that did not comply faced no sanctions. As for the instructional time lost, we gained nothing in return. Measured Progress, which seemed like a pretty decent outfit altogether (at least more responsive than CTB or Pearson, our previous testing vendor), is one-and-done. The bill revoking Common Core essentially kills our state’s contract with them.

If after all of these reasons, you have any doubts that Janet Barresi is a bully, just think back to a SBE meeting not too long ago when the elected state superintendent pulled aside an appointed board member, berated her, and shook her finger in her face, and began a fight that she will likely lose on Tuesday. Who was that board member again? Oh yeah, Joy Hofmeister.

Two days to go, people. Stay in the fight. Keep writing, sharing, and talking to your friends. We can’t afford for one educator, one parent, or one voter to stay on the sidelines. Too much is at stake.

Choose Your Own Words

September 8, 2013 11 comments

The SDE has prepared a sample letter that school districts can use to communicate to parents about test scores:

Dear Parents,Great news for you and your children! Our state is making some significant changes to improve the quality of education in Oklahoma. As positive as the changes are, change in general can be challenging at times for any of us to handle. This tends to be especially so during the transition phase. We are in the middle of transitioning to a new set of standards now. The purpose of this letter is to keep your family well informed so you can understand the specific challenges we are facing as we make the move toward raising the bar for students in Oklahoma. We thought you’d like to know the following:

  • What educational changes can you expect to see? In 2010, our legislators called for the implementation of college and career ready standards for PreK-12 students in Oklahoma. That commitment raised the educational bar for your children. Beginning this year your children’s teachers will be delivering more rigorous instruction aimed at helping your children achieve these college and career ready standards.
  • How will these educational changes benefit your children? Your children will be taught what they need to know for jobs of the 21st century; jobs that require them to think on their feet and solve problems.
  • How might test scores be affected? We expect that as our schools begin to align assessments to the new, more rigorous academic standards, your children’s test scores may drop. This is understandable and even expected. As teachers and students become accustomed to this new, better way of learning, your children’s test scores will rebound.

Thank you for your family’s continued support of improving education in our state! It is important that we all stay the course on implementing college and career ready standards and more rigorous assessments for your children and Oklahoma’s future. We have raised the bar in the past for children. Time and again, they successfully rise to meet the challenge. If there was ever a state that has proven it can rise to a challenge and come out on top, it’s Oklahoma! If you would like to learn more about this transition year and our road ahead, please visit http://www.theroadaheadok.comwww.theroadaheadok.com.

Nothing about this year’s testing cycle – or the increased emphasis on testing in general – is what I would describe as Great news! In fact, I can’t think of many events that would make be begin a communique to parents with an exclamation such as that. With considerable effort I came up with this short list:

  • Great news! Our school set a record for high attendance this quarter!
  • Great news! We are able to offer music, art, PE, and computer education to all students this year!
  • Great news! The district saved 15% on insurance by switching to GEICO!
  • Great news! Your children are no longer going to be subjected to an endless cycle of standardized testing!
  • Great news! Our state fully funded pay raises for teachers and support personnel, and their health insurance rate increases won’t entirely consume them!

That last one does seem a little far-fetched.

Parents deserve an honest letter discussing test scores – not propaganda from a politician facing a tough road to re-election. School district leaders should choose their own words. Mine would look something like this:

Dear Parents,In April 2013, our students took end-of-year tests as mandated by state law. This is something we have done for years, but never under circumstances like this or with results such as these.The bizarre journey began in October, when the State Department of Education (SDE) had to delay the annual writing test for 5th and 8th graders by two months because of irregularities in the bidding process. This created a more compressed timeline for the rest of the testing cycle, as the writing tests had to be administered during the late April/early May exam window. Just before the writing tests were administered, schools were notified that the type of writing to be assessed had changed.

Then, the inconceivable happened: online testing failed – not just here, but in Indiana, at the exact same time. The servers at CTB/McGraw-Hill (the testing company selected again by the SDE, after the contract had to be re-bid) couldn’t handle the load.

Students were kicked out of their tests and had to start over. In some cases, this happened multiple times. Later, when students would re-test, the schools received dual reports. Initially, the SDE blasted the testing company. During the summer, however, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi blamed inadequate technology in schools for the failure. Then, while Indiana negotiated a punitive settlement with CTB, Oklahoma gave them one that appeared costly, but really included free services that no school district in the state has asked for.

CTB will continue to serve as Oklahoma’s testing company for this school year.

Schools also reported instances of student scores changing from preliminary data to final results. The testing company could not provide an explanation for this, telling schools to use the higher score. Over the summer, the SDE convened educators to reset the standards for the writing and science tests, causing scores all over the state to take a severe drop.

By the time students were back in school this August, districts still had not received final test scores. In fact, they still had no preliminary science or writing scores. This includes the Biology End-of-Instruction exam, which is one of the tests that high school students can take to count for graduation. Because of the delay, the SDE still has not provided districts with remediation funds for students who did not pass the EOIs.

Meanwhile, the SDE has spent its summer rebranding both the academic standards and the testing process. In 2010, the state adopted the Common Core State Standards for reading and math. Then, two years ago, the remaining content areas that had been labeled PASS since the early 1990s became the C3 standards. Now they are OASS – the Oklahoma Academic State Standards. The SDE even paid for a marketing campaign to promote the rebranding.

Nothing is different, except the name. The SDE also announced this summer that Oklahoma would not be giving the PARCC assessment, in spite of the two years that it has spent sending people to national consortium meetings.

We also should let you know that next month, the SDE will issue A-F Report Cards for each school and district in the state. This year, the formula for calculating those report cards is completely different than it was last year. Between this and the irregularities in testing, skepticism over score reports, and arbitrary changes to the passing scores, we have very little confidence that these grades will be a reflection of our performance – even if we receive good grades. The inconsistencies and seemingly random changes we have experienced over the last year undermine the very concept of accountability.

We honestly have no idea how tests will be administered after this school year. We know that special education students will now take the same test as regular students, but we don’t know what accommodations will be available to them when we start testing over the Common Core. We also don’t know if scores will be reported in a timely manner when we have to make decisions next summer when we are required by law to retain 3rd graders based on these tests. Future standard setting in social studies, reading, and math will also change our passing rates. To what extent this will impact your children, we can’t be sure. In short, we have as many questions as you do.

As always, we appreciate you entrusting your children to our care, and we thank you for your support.

Yeah, that’s a little long-winded, but I had to get rid of my editor in an effort to curb the administrative overhead around here.

National School Choice Week

January 28, 2013 Comments off

Prepare to see the PR machines in overdrive. School Choice Week is being celebrated around the country as state legislatures prepare to begin their annual work. In Oklahoma, this means 600 bills that relate to education in some way or another. I would try to provide a digest of them, but I try to keep my blog between 500 and 800 words. Most of these bills are likely to be consolidated or fall to the side completely.

The mythology of school choice goes something like this: students are too often trapped in struggling schools with no alternatives. If the state would only make their money portable, then any private school in the state would take those kids. Short of that, we can just reinvent public schools as charters. Or pull the parent trigger and make schools charters. Or allow any student who feels unsafe to transfer to any other school.

Last year, Superintendent Barresi issued a press release to mark this momentous occasion. In part, it read:

I am a huge advocate of a parent’s right to choose the education that best suits the needs of their children,” Barresi said. “In a free country, with so many exceptional school offerings, there is no reason a child’s education should be bound by his parent’s income level or his geographical location.

This is all empty rhetoric. For school choice to be the great equalizer, you have to have some guarantee that the school you choose would choose you back. Private schools don’t have to. Charter schools technically do, but as I’ve mentioned before, they can insert codicils into their policies that make it extremely difficult for special needs students or children needing remediation to attend. While Oklahoma charter schools still tend to be locally-sprung entities, there are national charter school chains making huge profits.

Nor are the results from private schools and charter schools comparable with those from public schools. In fact, with the private schools, there are no results. They don’t take the same tests. In our data-driven school climates, you would think there might be a push to find out if the potential recipients of vouchers are worth the cash. And charter schools actually did worse overall than the state on the A-F Report Cards.

If we pass a full-on voucher law, does that mean Casady and Holland Hall are just going to change their standards and let anybody in? Does it mean they’re going to expand to offer programs to twice as many students? Of course not. We don’t have private schools – elite or otherwise – in all parts of the state either. Vouchers would be a good boost for families already choosing private schools. In some locations, they would also be a small boost in revenue for schools trying to stay in business. They will not, however, increase equity in public education.

Readers of this blog tend to be independent thinkers. As you hear the various talking points this week, try to find the subtext. Whom will this proposal benefit? What part of the narrative is self-serving or incomplete?

The good news is that I’ll have blog material all week long.

New Year’s Resolution

January 1, 2013 1 comment

As many people do, I have personal and professional goals for 2013. Similar to most, I’d like to improve my health, advance my career, and relax more. I’d like to give my family everything they ever wanted. I’d like to be a better friend.

For the blog, I have but one resolution: to continue fighting for what I believe. Specifically, I believe that public education – and the students and professionals within it – deserve better. Better respect. Better funding. And better policy.

I am an unabashed supporter of public education. That isn’t to say I hug the status quo like a puppy. I actually like change. I like high standards. I like teachers and administrators who set high expectations for all children.

I just don’t like mindless reform.

These are the core beliefs that shape the way I write this blog:

  1. I believe that public education is the best tool our nation has to remain competitive in the global markets and keep our country secure.
  2. I believe that public education in Oklahoma has never been adequately funded.
  3. I believe that the realized cost savings from a blanket school consolidation plan would prove minimal compared to the myriad unintended consequences.
  4. I believe parents are the best advocates for public education.
  5. I believe that schools are as safe a place for children as any other public space.
  6. I believe that the benefits of standards-based reforms are often offset by the ensuing pressure to limit the breadth of school curriculum.
  7. I believe that math is just about as important as reading.
  8. I believe that high-stakes testing is a detriment to all subjects that aren’t math and reading.
  9. I believe that students can develop critical thinking skills and become effective writers through study of both literature and informational text.
  10. I believe the imbalance of literature and informational text in the Common Core State Standards should concern parents as well as educators.
  11. I believe that all children should benefit from the exploration that comes from studying art, music, and world languages.
  12. I believe that students in high-poverty schools endure excessive remediation and interference from state and federal agencies that constrict the learning experience.
  13. I believe that most teachers and administrators are underpaid for the jobs they do.
  14. I believe that teacher preparation programs at the state colleges and universities get a bad rap.
  15. I believe that this state is among the worst at supporting meaningful professional development for teachers and administrators.
  16. I believe that local school boards know more about the needs of their students than anybody working in the State Department of Education, the legislature, or the governor’s office.
  17. I believe that the teacher you leave your child with knows more about what’s best for your child than any of the politicians listed above.
  18. I believe that charter schools play by different rules than other public schools.
  19. I believe that the state should continue to prohibit the use of public funds by private schools.
  20. I believe state and federal testing requirements should permit schools to follow the IEPs of special education students.
  21. I believe the one good thing about the LNH Scholarship is that parents of special education students can place their children in schools that don’t have high-stakes testing.
  22. I believe that the majority education reforms beginning with No Child Left Behind have been designed to funnel money into the hands of private companies which are then not held accountable for their performance.
  23. I believe that technology is a great tool in education – when used by teachers rather than in place of them.
  24. I believe that any school focused on raising its A-F Report Card grade rather than helping each and every student succeed is committing professional malpractice.
  25. I believe that using test scores to evaluate teachers is a combination of bad math and intellectual fraud.

When the Oklahoman, various think tanks, and this state’s leaders continue attacking public education, and when I respond to them, I’ll keep these principles – and anything else I may have missed – in mind.

I expect 2013 to be wild. Happy New Year, everybody!

Private vs. Public Accountability

August 13, 2012 Comments off

I’ll make this brief. According to Rep. Jason Nelson (R-OKC), private schools are accountable because “If parents are unhappy with a private school, they can take their child and corresponding funds elsewhere.”

According to the whole legislature, the governor, and the state superintendent, public schools are accountable because their boards meet in public; they have to account for every dime of revenue and expenses; and they report to the world attendance rates and test scores.

The SDE listings for accountability all center around testing. When private schools receiving public dollars have to test their special education students, purchase instructional materials off of a state-approved list, and get simplistic A-F report cards, we can compare the two.

More on State Aid

A useful tactic when trying to control a hot narrative amid justified criticism is to tell the people questioning you that they are confused or misinformed. That explains yesterday’s Leadership Post from Superintendent Barresi.

Earlier this week, school districts across Oklahoma received their initial state aid notices from the SDE. Given that the legislature funded public education at a flat level and that enrollment was up by 11,000 students last year, districts were expecting a small dip in the per pupil allowance in the funding formula.

As Barresi points out, “Oklahoma is required by state law to withhold dollars from the initial allocation in order to account for a variety of factors. At a minimum, this is mandated at a floor of 1.5 percent.” She then gives the following breakdown of how money was withheld:

  • Retained for midyear growth & surplus (anticipated growth of ADM) – $35,446,095
  • August adjustment – (this includes new charter applications) – $18,848,842
  • Retained for mid-year adjustment for virtual students – $8,056,285
  • Retained for Lindsey Nicole Henry – $1,500,000
  • Pending adjustments – $105,444
  • Total Amount Withheld: $63,956,666

Yesterday, I criticized the choice to withhold 3.52 percent (more than twice the mandated amount) from state aid to schools. That blog post has spread beyond my wildest imagination, with 189 shares on Facebook as I write this. Reaching even more people was the Tulsa World, which interviewed area school district leaders. The $1.75 million less allocated to Tulsa Public, $210,000 less to Jenks, $522,827 less to Owasso, and $692,000 less to Union will make a difference in how those districts staff schools for the beginning of the school year. Today’s editorial in the World astutely points out that this decision “appears to short regular schools to accommodate virtual and charter schools.”

Damon Gardenhire, the SDE’s spokesperson, goes on to explain that the department is “trying to err on the side of caution and not have districts take a hit mid-year” and that “everything that’s left over will be distributed to schools during their mid-year adjustments.” That’s all well and good, but district leaders are making staffing decisions now. While 90 percent of that planning occurs in the spring, school districts – which are used to receiving funding notices earlier, I might add – watch enrollment during the summer and add positions as needed. When test scores come back (on time this year), they make further decisions based on the areas of greatest need.

And that’s the perspective lacking from the non-educators making these decisions. Most of the top leadership at the SDE does not have experience running a school district. In times like these, it shows. The state department has chosen to withhold more money from school districts than they are required to. This choice will hurt students. Barresi closed yesterday with the hope that her post “clears up any misunderstanding that may have occurred as a result of any misleading information you may have received.”

Then understand clearly what the 2012-13 school year has in store for Oklahoma districts: more students, more mandates and regulations, and less money.

I hope that clears it up.

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