Critics of Oklahoma’s current A-F Report Card accountability system (including me) typically have two complaints about the system. First is that the methodology is poor. Half the score is simply a rendering of the percentage of students passing tests – which is closely tied to poverty; the other half is tied to growth. In measuring growth, we’re also double counting our lowest-performing students. In other words, our students who struggle the most count a total of three times.
The other issue many of us have is with the A-F label we ultimately attach to each school. It’s insulting to distill all the work schools do into a single indicator. Even though A-F is not explicitly a ranking system, much of the public assumes that an A school is better than a B school. Context be damned. A is better than B. Always.
For these reasons, the Legislature tasked the Oklahoma State Department of Education with leading a task force to make recommendations for improving school accountability prior to the end of this calendar year. As directed, the OSDE brought together “students, parents, educators, organizations representing students with disabilities and English language learners, higher education professionals, career technology educators, experts in assessment and accountability, community-based organizations, tribal representatives, and businesses and community leaders.”
The task force met four times and provided the OSDE with feedback. The last of these meetings was on November 9th. On November 28th, the US Department of Education changed one key piece of the federal requirements under which we have to operate. We no longer have to have a summative score. The task force never met after that one requirement was removed.
It’s important to note that we don’t know how the task force conversation would have sounded if they could have discussed revising our accountability system with this piece of information. I doubt the different constituency groups would have been unanimous in their feelings on A-F Report Cards, or any other type of summative score. We also can’t know what the OSDE would have done with the feedback, even if it had been given. Task force members gathered to provide feedback only. They were not a voting body with any kind of decision-making authority.
To be clear, this is not a criticism of the work that has been done or the leadership under which the task force has worked. Superintendent Hofmeister and her staff expertly led this process. The lead researcher, Marianne Perie, from the University of Kansas, was thorough and good at explaining statistical processes to an audience with a varied background in that kind of work. Ultimately, the methodology of the accountability system being presented to the State Board of Education this week is solid. It will likely yield results that are not singularly correlated to poverty.
The end product is good, and an improvement over the current accountability system. That solves half of the problem from paragraph one. The other half remains – that schools will still receive a summative score.
I’ve always bristled at the idea that we need to label our schools this way. By always, I mean from the moment I began writing this blog nearly five years ago. I don’t think a star rating system would be much better. School accountability isn’t Yelp, or this strange sign I found in China a few years ago.
I believe in accountability and transparency. Publish our schools’ test scores. Publish any data point you want. Just provide context. A summative score doesn’t do that. No matter how much detail is on the OSDE website for each school, the newspapers will skip to the end and publish the thing that’s easiest to consume. Calling A-F accountability, though, is like calling Velveeta cheese. It’s an accountability-like substance.
Recently, a couple of Mid-Del employees put together a list of all the schools in the five largest counties in the state and sorted them by grade span and by poverty. For example, one table showed all the elementary schools that have between 25% and 35% of student receiving free or reduced lunch (FRL). Of the 23 schools in that table, Mid-Del had one, and it had the highest numerical score on the current A-F system.
Compared with similar schools, Schwartz Elementary has outstanding academic performance, however you measure it. On the other end of the spectrum, there were 60 elementary schools on the list with an FRL rate at or above 95%. We had one such school, and it had a 68 on the report card. That’s a D+, and it’s higher than 53 of the other schools on the list.
|Numerical Grade Distribution of Elementary Schools with at least 95% FRL|
Let that sink in. No school in the five largest counties in the state with higher than 95% FRL had a numerical grade higher than a 78. Meanwhile, none of the schools in the 25% to 35% range had a score lower than 80. Does this mean that all schools serving mostly upper-middle class kids are better than all schools serving the kids with the highest levels of poverty? Of course not.
This is the thing I hate – the labels. If you provide most people with this entire view, they’ll get it. An A on a report card may be misleading. So may an F. Even though the new accountability system will do more to provide context, the summative grade will damage that effort.
A-F Report Cards feed a narrative. They are one of the most toxic pieces of the recent education reform agenda. They blur the difference between simple and simplistic.
Please understand that I hope the State Board of Education this week will recognize the hard work of the state superintendent, her staff, and the entire task force. Regardless of how they see the A-F labels, they need to recognize the quality of the work that is being presented to them. I hope the legislature and governor will recognize this too.
In January, Kevin Hime, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, did everything he could to push the Oklahoma community of education supporters to view the 2015 legislative session through a singular lens:
I have been pushing for #oklaed to have a one issue legislative session. I believe the only issue we should be discussing until fixed is #teachershortage. Recently looking at SDE documents I noticed #oklaed employed almost 60k teachers in 2008 and a little more than 52k in 2014. Mathematically it looks like we should have almost 8K Teachers looking for a job but we started 2015 over 1000 teachers short. We are setting records for alt certs and emergency certifications every year. Why is my issue so much more important than yours? What is your issue?
One of the leading conservative minds in Oklahoma has accused us of blowing this issue out of proportion, but these numbers don’t lie. We have fewer teachers and larger classes. Imagine if we had kept all the closed positions open; we’d have several thousand vacancies!
With less than two weeks to go, how are our elected leaders doing? Let’s look at Kevin’s six criteria and assess.
Testing: In a recent survey conducted by our State Superintendent elect, testing was the first issue she needs to address. How many teachers have left our profession because they feel students are over-tested. If teachers are indicating in a survey that testing is the #1 issue, how can we fix teacher shortage without correcting our testing problems.
As of late last week, word reached several of us who follow the Legislature that SB 707 is still alive, but barely. Although it appears that a majority of members in both chambers support this legislation, it also appears that a small few in the leadership do not. This is not the time for the few to bully the many. This is the number one issue – even more than pay – decimating our teaching force. Some of the opposition has centered on the ACT, which the bill does not explicitly name as the replacement to the EOIs. We have to start somewhere with reducing the emphasis on testing in Oklahoma schools. This bill does that.
Teacher Pay: Ask the governor or any legislator how are we going to fix teacher shortage and most will mention teacher pay. So instead of starting with teacher pay start your discussion with teacher shortage.
I would love to see many changes in the way we compensate teachers in Oklahoma. Starting pay should be better, but veteran pay should be a lot better. The distance between lanes for degrees earned should be widened. And state aid should be solidified through dedicated funding that will not be exhausted in one year. The scheme that has been floated to use money dedicated for teacher retirement fails on both counts. It is not a recurring source of revenue, and it hardly moves the needle. A $1,000 raise for teachers would be appreciated, but it would move us from 48th to 48th in teacher pay. Oh wait, that’s no move at all!
Teacher Evaluations: Does anyone think VAMS, SLOs, SOOs, are any other acronym are good for teacher recruitment and retention. Without fixing our evaluation system we will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention.
So far, nothing is fixed. We have hit pause on some things, but the terrible quantitative measurements of teacher effectiveness still loom.
Teacher’s Retirement: Just the threat to change scares current teachers. If they change the system it will have a negative effect in the present climate. I hate to be against an idea until I know what the idea is but change today when teachers have zero trust for those proposing the change will not help teacher retention and recruitment.
Technically, the legislators haven’t touched teacher retirement yet. Again, though, I should mention that the idea is being tossed around to divert funds for salaries – this one time only. The state treasurer is against it. The Oklahoman is against it. Don’t screw with retirement. Just don’t.
School Funding: Have you looked at Texas, Arkansas, or Kansas school buildings lately. Recruiting teachers based on facilities if a non-starter for #oklaed. When you are 49th in school funding teachers find another state to work.
Again, we seem to be getting nowhere. During the March rally, many legislators blamed the economy. Others blamed their leadership. Here’s a fun fact: your constituents didn’t vote for the House and Senate leadership. They voted for you! Own your agenda. Represent your constituents and answer to them. Forget the leadership. Forget the lobbyists who buy your coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Make things better or admit to the voters that you failed them.
RSA, A-F, and other REFORMS are all legislative burdens that have landed in the middle of teachers desks and hamper teacher recruitment and retention.
We seem stuck on these reforms. We still have the A-F Report Cards, and some in the Legislature are determined to make the Reading Sufficiency Act even more complicated. Let’s double the number of committees for our finishing third graders and have some for first and second graders as well. And let’s not fund any of this. And let’s make it clear to the dastardly education establishment that this is the price for keeping retention decisions in the hands of human beings.
So far, I can’t point to a success. Yes, the Legislature managed to make dues collection for teachers’ associations harder, but that’s hardly a selling point. They make promises, but promises don’t buy bread. Promises don’t restore priorities and balance to teaching. Promises don’t entice college students and recent graduates to pursue teaching careers in Oklahoma.
Action makes a difference. Nothing else.
Concidentally, the teacher shortage was the topic of tonight’s #oklaed chat on Twitter. Here are some of my favorite comments from the discussion.
Throughout the chat, we kept coming back to the fact that salary matters, but so do the working conditions of our schools. I still believe that we’re losing teachers equally to both of these factors. We’ve tried and tried to explain this, but I don’t know if the politicians get it yet.
We have two weeks left to make them get it. Call. Write. Email. Visit. Don’t limit your time to your own senator and representative. Pick several. Call the leaders. Even if they tell you to call your own people, be persistent. They chose to lead. This is what they get.
Find their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Post articles using your own social media and get more parents and educators (and other citizens who care) involved.
We have two weeks to make sure the people we may or may not vote to re-elect listen to us and do something of value to stem the teacher shortage. Use it well.
I was in college when it passed – landmark legislation to reform and increase funding for public education. Having grown up in an education family, I heard the reasons why we should support this: smaller classes, better pay, new Kindergarten and early childhood programs. As a future teacher, it all sounded good to me – even the parts I didn’t understand at the time.
Today, on the 25th anniversary of its passage, the Democrats in the Legislature marked the occasion with a press release and a cake:
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 27, 2015) – House Democrats on Monday marked the 25th anniversary of House Bill 1017, the landmark school reform measure enacted in 1990 to substantially improve the state’s common education system.
The legislators were joined by educators for the celebration, which was replete with a custom-baked cake, in the House Lounge at the State Capitol.
“We gathered here today to commemorate the passage 25 years ago of this historic piece of legislation and to reflect on its legacy,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.
“But we also think it’s appropriate to point out that three of its primary pillars – smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and increased funding for public schools – have been systematically eroded over the intervening years.”
Genesis of HB 1017
Prior to 1990, Oklahoma steered away from drastic reforms that departed from the core of public education in the state since the 1960s and ’70s: local control.
However, realizing that education reform needed to be broader in scope to ensure that all Oklahoma children would benefit, both the executive and legislative branches of the Oklahoma government began to work with various stakeholders to attempt to bring Oklahoma to the forefront of achievement.
Then-Gov. Henry Bellmon, this state’s first Republican governor, signed House Joint Resolution 1003 creating “Task Force 2000” in May 1989, sparking what has since become a constantly changing tide of reforms and budget battles over education for the last 25 years.
Later that same year, then-House Speaker Steve Lewis began to develop his own education plan, “Education: Challenge 2000.” The Legislature went into a special session dedicated to the bill and spent seven days ironing out the myriad provisions of this singular piece of legislation.
House Bill 1017 was the culmination of Task Force 2000 recommendations and Speaker Lewis’ plan, and was endorsed by several thousand school teachers who thronged to the Capitol for a rally in support of the measure. The bill was signed into law by the late Governor Bellmon on April 25, 1990.
HB 1017 is widely deemed to be the single most important piece of legislation regarding education reform in Oklahoma. Yet in the quarter-century since passage of the bill, Oklahoma has experienced a substantial increase in students, fluctuating budgets, and the dismantling of several key reforms.
Reforms Implanted in HB 1017
Among the host of reforms incorporated into HB 1017:
- Progressive increases in the minimum teacher salary schedule were scheduled.
- Maximum class sizes were established at 20 students for grades 1-6; 36 for grades 7-9; and 120 students per day for grades 7-12. Also, class sizes were incorporated into a school’s accreditation criteria.
- Statewide curriculum standards were introduced. In the future, high-school graduation would be based upon attainment of specified levels of competencies in each area of the core curriculum, rather than upon simply the time a student had spent attending school.
- Norm-referenced testing was established for grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, to provide a national comparison.
- HB 1017 intended for millions of additional dollars to be pumped into this state’s public school system.
- The legislation mandated that members of local school boards and the State Board of Education had to have obtained either a high-school diploma or a GED diploma, and continuing education was required for members of local school boards.
- Half-day kindergarten attendance became compulsory in 1991-92, and school districts were encouraged to offer all-day kindergarten starting in 1993-94. In addition, school districts were permitted to offer pre-K for at-risk children, to supplement the federal Head Start program.
- The office of County Superintendent of Schools was abolished.
- Hands-on vocational programs for all students were encouraged.
These were great reforms and made an impact in Oklahoma for a generation. That almost didn’t happen, however. As soon as Republican Governor Henry Bellmon signed HB 1017, the repeal effort began, culminating with the vote on State Question 639 on October 15, 1991. It took 126,796 signatures to get the question to the ballot. In the end, the initiative was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%.
For some reason, I’ve saved the bumper sticker and brochure all these years.
I thought I had also saved the column I wrote for the OU Daily at the time (which triggered a few angry phone calls from 639 supporters – my first experience with that). I can’t find what I wrote anywhere online, but I can find what then-Oklahoman editorial writer Patrick McGuigan wrote. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s a laundry list of reasons for the state question’s supporters to have hope.
The group trying to keep 1017 had their own reasons:
I don’t remember the graduation test that came from 1017. Do you? Honestly, don’t these reforms sound familiar? Standards…check. Financial accountability…check. Firing bad teachers…check. School consolidation…check. Some ideas just never get old. We hear the same things from reformers now, but without the funding promised in 1990.
For their part, the House Democrats enumerated the ways in which the reforms of HB 1017 have been rolled back:
Where We Are Today
- In the 1988-89 school year, Oklahoma ranked 48th in the nation and next-to-last in the region in average teacher salaries.
- The average teacher salary in Oklahoma 24 years later, in 2012-13, was 48th lowest in the nation, last in the seven-state region (Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma), and almost $12,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
- HB 1017 provided that in 1994-95, the salary for a beginning teacher in Oklahoma would be $24,060. In comparison, the lowest salary on Oklahoma’s minimum teacher salary schedule 20 years later, in 2014-15, is $31,600. Oklahoma’s minimum salary scheduled has not increased since 2008. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary is just 78% of the national average.
- At least in part because of relatively low salaries, the ratio of public school teachers in Oklahoma with advanced degrees today is 24.8%. In contrast, 41% of Oklahoma’s teachers held advanced degrees in the 1989-90 school year.
- School accreditation is no longer tied to class size; today all 500+ school districts in Oklahoma are exempt from the mandate. The current average is 17.8 students for each teacher, and 11.9 teachers for each administrator – the highest ratio in 20 years. Schools may be deregulated from any mandate that does not affect the health and safety of the students without losing accreditation.
- Dan Nolan, an AP History teacher at Norman North High School, said he has “29 chairs but 36 students” in one of his classes. Nolan was a finalist for State Teacher of the Year in 2009.
- A week ago today a House Democrat was contacted by a veteran teacher in Davenport who said she is responsible for “about 130 kids a day, 4th-7th grades.”
- Testing mandates have been amended by the Legislature every year except two since passage of HB 1017 in 1990.
- Norm-referenced testing has been replaced with criterion-referenced testing for grades 5, 8 and 11; the number of tests has grown substantially; a revolving door of five different testing vendors has caused concerns among educators, parents and legislators alike; and the state continues to spend tax dollars on testing results that do not provide a method to track progress from year to year as the standards change, nor to track a student’s fundamental growth of knowledge.
- Oklahoma has spent $81.7 million on testing since 2004.
- Educational standards in Oklahoma are in flux since passage of House Bill 3399 last year, which repealed Common Core. The State Board of Education has been directing multiple committees to develop “Oklahoma standards.” Oklahoma nearly lost a federal waiver last year due to the earlier standards, to which this state reverted, because they did not meet the State Regents for Higher Education definition of “college and career ready.”
- Revenue allocated to Oklahoma public schools remains below funding levels of a few short years ago. Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor have cut public education funding by 23% — more than any other state in the nation.
- The $2.507 billion appropriated for public schools for Fiscal Year 2015 was $64.5 million less than the $2.572 billion appropriated five years earlier, in Fiscal Year 2010.
- The instructional budget declined in four of the five years between the 2006-07 school year and the 2011-12 school year.
- As the “1017 Fund” has grown, legislative appropriations for common education have decreased. For example, the 1017 Fund increased by $91.2 million from FY 2012 to FY 2013. In comparison, state appropriations to education during that same period declined by $93.3 million.
- Local and county funding for public schools has increased four times faster than state funding; consequently, districts that have lower property valuations are able to generate less funding per student.
- Public K-12 schools in Oklahoma receive 38.4% of their funding from local revenues (33rd highest in the U.S.), 48.9% from state appropriations (23rd highest in the country), and 12.7% from the federal government (11th highest in the nation).
- In the fall of 1990, enrollment in Oklahoma public schools numbered a little over 579,000 students. Student enrollment in 2015 is almost 684,000, an increase of nearly 105,700, or 18%, in 25 years.
- Yet Oklahoma has the third-lowest average per-pupil funding level in the nation, leading only Nevada and Utah.
- Oklahoma schools are no longer required to have media and library assistants.
- The Legislature voted in 2010 to allow school districts to divert their annual textbook allocation and library media program funds to general school operations for the next two years. That exemption has now been authorized three consecutive times, through school years 2015 and 2016. As a result, some schools are using textbooks that are up to 14 years old and in tatters, held together with tape.
- “My school district has not purchased textbooks in 10 years, and my library has not had funding in almost as long,” a Skiatook teacher wrote to a House Democrat on April 20.
- Full-day kindergarten and a marked increase in pre-K participation led Oklahoma to be recognized as #1 in the nation for early childhood education. However, the Legislature voted to repeal that mandate in 2013.
- HB 1017 directed schools to provide technology education. Today, roughly 60% of this state’s rural schools still do not have funds needed for technological upgrades.
- The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ranked Oklahoma 48th among the states last year in meeting the needs of the “new economy.” The ITIF index employs 25 indicators in five categories (knowledge jobs, economic dynamism, the digital economy, innovation capacity, and globalization) to assess each state’s fundamental capacity to transform its economy and incubate innovation.
- “We call today for a renewal of the principles that made House Bill 1017 such a groundbreaking measure when it was adopted 25 years ago,” Inman concluded. “This is a bittersweet anniversary, looking back on what might have been.”
It took long enough, but I guess they have finally passed SQ 639. I think I’ll pass on the cake.
Tonight on the way home from Vision 2020, I tried to wrap the conference up in my mind. I have so many thoughts about the week, the conference, and Oklahoma education in general, that I’m struggling to get them coalesced into something that fits. I wanted to stick with the vision puns I’ve so enjoyed this week, but there are too many out there.
Then the magic of my iTunes library came through in the clutch for me, in the form of Mr. Joe Walsh. The song is a great one, but the lyrics really fit how I feel about where we are right now.
Sometimes I can’t help the feeling that I’m
Living a life of illusion
And oh, why can’t we let it be
And see through the hole in this wall of confusion
I just can’t help the feeling I’m
Living a life of illusion
This morning, what really hit me while listening to Scott Barry Kaufman’s speech was that all three of the conference’s keynote speakers, in their own way, told us that we shouldn’t rely so much on standardization or testing. I wondered if I was the only one who had caught that, so I went to Storify to capture what seemed to be the relevant tweets from the last three days. Reading through all the #OKVision2020 comments, I confirmed not only that, but the fact that so much of the conference’s offerings could be tied back to testing. There were sessions over VAMs, SLOs, and SOOs; testing updates; A-F Report Card updates; and the ESEA waiver. Even many of the sessions aimed at improving instruction circled back to test scores.
The problem is that these tests don’t tell us what they claim to tell us. They are the bricks that build the wall of confusion. We hold them in place with public policy, polished accountability reports, testing pep rallies (one of the most sickening concepts ever), and even more tests designed to predict how we’re going to do on the actual tests.
Pow! Right between the eyes
Oh, how nature loves her little surprises
Wow! It all seems so logical now
It’s just one of her better disguises
And it comes with no warning
Nature loves her little surprises
If you talked to any high-level SDE staff on the first day of the conference – Superintendent Barresi, the curriculum people, the federal programs office, the assessment crew – they didn’t know what would become of the HB 3399 lawsuit. They all had contingency plans for different scenarios based upon what the Supreme Court might rule, but there was a lack of clarity in some of the information they provided. Maybe the ruling (or the speed with which it came) wasn’t a little surprise, but it certainly feeds the cycle of continual crisis.
A realtor once explained to me when I was looking at a house that activity begets activity. There were parts of the home that would need immediate updating. In doing so, other rooms would become dated. The same concept is true for us in education. For every professional obligation that makes us work in a frenzy, we produce outcomes that generate more work. It never ends. When we re-write the standards, we have to re-write the tests. If we have benchmark tests in place, we’ll have to re-write those as well. The accountability measures will need to be re-worked as well. Of course, if we’re implementing standards (science) in 2014 that we won’t be testing until 2016, then we have to decide how much transition to pursue. What will we really be teaching this year? These are the things that keep many teachers and administrators awake at night. Even the SDE staff with public school experience have expressed similar restlessness.
Hey, don’t you know it’s a waste of your day
Caught up in endless solutions
That have no meaning, just another hunch
Based upon jumping conclusions
Caught up in endless solutions
Backed up against a wall of confusion
Living a life of illusion
That’s what we do. We walk aisle to aisle, talking to vendors, seeking endless solutions to our problems with test scores. Some of these people (companies, really) have great products, but they have had to alter them for reasons that really have nothing to do with teaching and treating kids well. At least the school bus vendors are just school bus vendors. And they’ll always give you a hat.
The over-arching problem is that we have created a school culture in which the test matters more than the kids who take it. What was it Barresi said in November?
If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.
Sure, she’s on her way out, but that is only one part of fixing our profession. Most of her reform policies are still in place. Oklahoma will still hire a new testing company this fall to replace CTB/McGraw-Hill and spend many millions in the process. Even though HB 3399 overturned those unmentionable standards and took us back to PASS, the text of the law itself tells us that we need better standards and that we will be taking tests over them anyway. We’re paying a new company a ton of money to develop tests over standards that we think need to be replaced. We will spend every day teaching to help students do well on those tests. We will spend every professional development dollar we can find helping teachers do those things better. Then in 2016, we will start over.
On Day One, if you heard the compelling student from Tulakes Elementary say, “I matter. That’s why teachers matter,” she wasn’t talking about standards or tests. If you heard Day Two speaker Paul Tough say that we need to find a way to lower the stakes on standardized tests, then you had to wonder what conference you were attending. Today, during the keynote address, even the SDE Twitter account parroted the speaker, saying, “Engagement is an active, deep and personally meaningful connection between the student and the learning environment.” At least the PR firm running social media for them understands.
I should be happy because Barresi lost the election – and deep down, I am. Things are turning around. At times, I walked around the conference with that feeling. At others, I felt anxiety knowing there is so much more work to do. We must make school about the children again – not the tests or the reformers who value them. This is my life of illusion.
Too many of us work too hard to build relationships with our students and their families. We are over-tasked by the same SDE that promised us they would lighten the regulatory burden. We know what matters, but we spend most of our time on other things – because we have to. Still, we show up to help struggling students, coach their baseball teams, provide them with academic and personal guidance, and go to their art shows. We spot them money when our schools have a book fair. We go to their basketball games and high school graduations even if they were our students 10 years ago. Sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we teach alongside them a little later even. If you want to know when our students quit being our students, read Claudia Swisher’s post from yesterday. The answer is never.
I’m glad I had some drive time tonight. And I’m glad that Joe Walsh helped me organize my thoughts. Hopefully using the song tied my this together for you. If not, well, it could have been worse. The next song my iTunes played was by Chumbawamba.
No, not this.
Those are conjunctions – the things that hook up words, clauses, and phrases.
I was going with the clinical term for pink eye. Yesterday’s eye pun worked out so well, I thought I’d try another.
Honestly, today’s trip to Vision 2020 was less eventful than yesterday’s. That’s not a good statement if I’m trying to get page views, but it’s good if I’m trying to avoid going over 2,100 words again today.
Mostly, it seemed as if people had bloodshot eyes. Maybe it was the guests enjoying all of Oklahoma City’s amenities. Maybe it was the SDE employees staying up late making changes to their presentations after the Supreme Court upheld HB 3399. We have some direction on standards and testing at least. I guess I could have titled this Vision 2010 – since we’re going back to our old standards now.
Other than the revelation that Former First Lady Kim Henry is no longer a board member for the OPSRC, I can’t think of anything I learned today. Instead, I encourage you to read Rob Miller’s return to blogging. He presents a great argument for both the limits of standardization and the benefits of individualization. Here’s a preview:
So, even with the same academic standards, the suggestion that schools should all produce a standard “output” using widely disparate “inputs” makes little sense. Public schools work with the students who walk in their door, not just those hand-picked through a rigorous quality control process.
The idea for education standards comes to us from the business world. What the people Susan Ohanian refers to as “corporate standardistos” fail to realize is a simple, yet major difference between a classroom and a business office. In a business setting, if you have an employee that is slowing down production, lagging behind, refusing to do the work required, having problems working as a team player, and displaying a lack of concentration or focus, what do you think happens to that employee? The obvious answer is the reason a public school classroom is not like a business, has never been like a business, and will never be like a business. The moral here is we should STOP trying to “reform” schools like we would a business.
We saw the limitations of this approach with our rush to enact the former standards that I’m really not naming anymore. We see it with the third grade retention law. We see it with value-added measurements. We’re on the precipice of a revolt in public education. The public and educators don’t really see the point anymore. Reformers tried to do too much too quickly. They explained it poorly. They didn’t bother funding it properly. This goes back farther than Janet Barresi. Or Arne Duncan. Or even George W. Bush. Each of them have contributed to the problem, though.
We’ve lost the connection between what we do and what it’s supposed to mean. We teach children to improve their lives. How much of the testing we do really accomplishes that? We’ve narrowed our instruction because the stakes of testing continue to increase. I’m going to assume that’s the root cause behind the red eyes I saw today.
The people wearing sunglasses indoors, however, I can’t explain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday, I posted Part I, looking at specific language in HB 3398, which would create Education Savings Accounts – or vouchers, if you prefer – for qualifying students to take a portion of the state aid they generate to a private school. Before I get deeper into this, I want to respond to a few of the comments that readers left me.
From Nicole Shobert:
Thank you! I had to turn off twitter last night. I was getting lost and confused and ready for bed. I do not like holding twitter conversations, although I am impressed that Rep Nelson sticks around. I think he has good intentions but gets his material from the wrong sources, like ALEC.
Great post. But I did not realize the per pupil was that low. I saw a figure from 2010 that I thought was 8000$. Hmm.
Ironically, my family qualifies for the 30% savings account. It could help us over that edge. Maybe if Barissi is re-elected…
Nicole had engaged the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson, in a lengthy conversation on Twitter over the weekend. Much of that conversation was the reason Part I was so lengthy. To answer her question, I looked up data from the 2011-12 school year. At that point, the average district was spending $7,648 per pupil. Of that, 47.6% was generated by state aid. This would come to about $3,640 per pupil. With the weighting that occurs for different student factors (grade, transportation, special education, gifted, etc.) will make the available amount vary a great deal for parents.
From Rob Miller:
You shine the light on some key points. (1) Most families in poverty will not have the capacity to “make up the difference;” (2) most will not be able to provide transportation; (3) private schools will not be held to same mandates or accountability; and (4) private schools can pick and choose their students. The more I read about programs like KIPP, the more upset I get. If we tried to treat students like they do, we would be sued.
I like Rob’s summary of my post, and I want to at least try to make these figures more concrete. Below is the table used for calculating free/reduced lunch in Oklahoma for the 2013-14 school year.
Federal Income Chart For 2013-14 School Year
|Add for each additional family member||
For the sake of this illustration, let’s apply these income levels to the legislation. The Voucher Bill states that a family at or below the income threshold would be eligible for 90% of the state aid generated for their student. A family with up to 1.5 times the income threshold would be eligible for 60%, and a family with up to 2.0 times the income would be eligible for 30%.
Applied Income Levels
Yearly x 1.5
Yearly x 2.0
|Estimated Voucher per Child (with weights)||
The typical Happy Days size family (four, in case you’re under 35), at or below the income cut-off, would have a hard time affording private school with this voucher – even with nearly 5k in state aid. The family in the next column could probably use the voucher and make up the difference. The family in the last column may or may not need the voucher to afford private school, but certainly wouldn’t turn it down if they were choosing a private school in the first place.
Let’s be perfectly honest about the first column, though. We know that poverty matters, but we also need to understand that the depth of poverty matters more. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, each with about 90% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, a great majority of the households don’t come anywhere close to approaching the cut-off.
If the authors of the bill are serious about the narrative that this helps poor kids escape schools that are failing them, they should probably do a little more math. While I contest the premise that a school’s letter grade tells you anything about its quality, I detest the thought that politicians might use them – combined with a voucher – to convince parents to send their children somewhere else.
Another fallacy of school choice, as Rob states in the third point, is that we honestly have no idea that parents using vouchers would be placing their students in better schools. When you think about it, we don’t know anything about private schools. We don’t know how their students perform, their teachers’ qualifications, attendance rates, disciplinary problems, or mobility. I don’t have a problem with that, if that’s what parents choose to do with their own money. Once we start using tax dollars in private schools, however, that all changes. I want to know the quality of the public investment. Everything we ask public schools to do in the name of accountability and transparency should be on the table for privates accepting vouchers.
I look at this argument of ‘vouchers’ as a taxpayer issue. i am in no way against public schools. I believe public education to be part and parcel of our American heritage. Here’s where I have the beef; If I pay taxes to a public school that doesn’t work for my family, if I have money to burn, I put my kids in private school and don’t think twice about it. If I’m cash strapped, I’m stuck in the crummy school. I can home school, but only if our family can make it on one income. If I can’t, I’m stuck in the crummy school. Even then, say you are able to homeschool (as I now do all three of my kids still at home) – I’m not paying for a private school education, but I still have expenses; books, tutoring, online classes, activities, etc. Why should I pay twice? Granted, we pay sometimes 4x for things in taxes these days, but does that make it right? I’m not going to go out and willfully pay for something that isn’t going to benefit myself and/or my family, but I will be forced by the state to do just that. I don’t see how that isn’t criminal, frankly. If I went to someone’s house with a gun and told them they had to buy a car with a shot transmission, I wonder what would happen.
I am reluctant to use the terms private money and public money because essentially, all money the government collects is private money. It would be well for all public officials to remember this. That said, I still don’t get much from the argument that parents paying taxes and paying for private school (or homeschooling expenses) are paying twice. Depending on their income levels, they may actually be paying more than twice. At the other end of the scale, some of the families that the authors of HB 3398 most claim to want to help aren’t paying once even.
The taxes we pay do not equate to chits that we can cash in for various goods and services. My taxes have not bought x amount of military protection, y amount of drive time on the state’s roads, or z amount of protection from law enforcement. Taxes fund the public services that a government deems necessary. In this case, the state has determined that students must reach a certain set of standards to be educated in a way that will benefit society. Parents choosing other avenues for meeting those (or different) standards are currently on the hook for the costs. While I don’t always agree with the positions taken by those at ROPE, I enjoy Jenni White’s contributions to education conversations and her comments on my blog and social media accounts.
Less Reader Mail…More Part II
It was not my intent to spend the first 1,300 words of this post that way, but now that I have, I want to spend about 1,000 talking about why ALEC matters in this conversation. As you may recall, what prompted Tuesday’s marathon post was this Tweet from Rep. Nelson:
First, I should probably point out that Nelson doesn’t even use the Straw Man fallacy correctly. He’s thinking of a Red Herring – a person or thing introduced into an argument in an attempt to distract from relevant facts. A Straw Man is an intentional misrepresentation of another’s argument, usually through exaggeration or extrapolation.
Still, my reference to ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – in the discussion is neither Red nor Straw. Understanding the source of policy-making in Oklahoma is just as important as understanding the policy that is made.
Rob Miller has previously written about the connection between Oklahoma’s Voucher Bill and the model legislation presented by ALEC:
The entity I am referring to goes by the innocuous-sounding acronym ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. From their website, ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C., and defines itself as “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” It provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.
An integral part of ALEC’s influence comes from the creation of so-called model legislation. Legislators and policy makers from across the nation contribute through involvement in various task forces and summits. According to ALEC, each state legislator and their constituents then decide which solutions are best for them and their states. As ALEC Treasurer Rep. Linda Upmeyer (IA) has said, model policies are like “a file cabinet. If something can help my constituents, I can take what I need; and if it doesn’t help, I leave it alone.”
The 35 active members of ALEC in the Oklahoma Senate and House (all Republicans) go to this “file cabinet” quite often. Representatives Nelson and Newell may claim credit for this Education Savings Voucher legislation, but they clearly made extensive use of ALEC’s model legislation in drafting this bill.
What’s the harm in this? Governor Fallin copies executive orders from other states. Superintendent Barresi copies idea after idea from Florida (via Jeb Bush). An idea doesn’t have to be original to be good, right?
That’s why it’s important to get to know ALEC. From their website:
A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.
That all sounds harmless enough. Free markets. Liberty. Conservative. Nonpartisan. Each of these words, by their nature is loaded against its very own red herring. If you don’t agree with our positions, you’re a socialist liberal who wants to take away our rights. None of these words is a position of substance. Nor are their antitheses.
ALEC receives more than $7 million annually in contributions to help shape policy. Their donor list reads as a who’s who of the energy (Koch and ExxonMobil), pharmaceutical (Pfizer), insurance (State Farm), tobacco (Altria and Reynolds), and retail (WalMart) industries. Their agenda, in every policy domain, centers around one overarching principle. Clear the way so those we serve can make money.
Again, I have nothing against money, the people who make it, or the people who use it to exert extraordinary influence over our elected officials. Well, the first two of those things are true.
I do have a problem with the mentality that everything can be done better when left to private markets. We see time and time again that left to their own devices, big corporations will not take care of their consumers, employees, or surroundings. Yes, regulating the free market stunts it. Leaving it unregulated, however, leads to chemical spills, market collapses, and harmful side effects in our medication. There is a balance in the middle in which the economy can grow, and people and their surroundings can be safeguarded.
What should concern us most about ALEC and their education policy, however, is that this particular piece of legislation is but one page in their playbook. Rob has linked on his blog to ALEC’s Report Card on American Information and discussed how the reforms they have supported are the tip of the iceberg. Reading further into rest of the document shows a desire for complete privatization of education. Whether it be ALEC or one of the groups they support (such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, listed on page 120), every reform proposed is the extent to which they believe privatization can be achieved right now.
Perhaps this sounds like another great logical fallacy – the Slippery Slope. As I said, however, ALEC and their acolytes spell out the ideal support for public education: zero. The path to privatization is slow and deliberate. Manufacture a crisis in education. Develop flawed tests and use them to establish flawed ratings for schools and teachers. Leach students off of the “failing” schools and put them in private schools or for-profit charters (not locally-run charters, which have a much better track record than the charter chains). Have different rules for each set of schools, making it a lot harder for traditional public schools to succeed. Eventually (see Chicago and New Jersey). Be humane about it, though. Call it restructuring. Say you’re doing it to save money. All the while, continue draining resources from public schools and throw your hands up, claiming you’ve done everything possible to help them succeed. What ALEC wants is private, unregulated schools. And a piece of the pie for their puppet masters once the money comes free.
I’m not suggesting for a minute, by the way, that Nelson and the bill’s other sponsor, Tom Newell, want to eliminate public education. Nelson frequently mentions on Twitter that his own children are in public school and that he is very supportive of that school. I don’t doubt that if he felt differently, they would be somewhere else. Whatever Nelson and Newell’s motives are, we are wise to understand the role this particular reform would play in the ALEC master scheme.
I don’t believe this bill will help poor children. And for the middle class families with the means to take advantage of vouchers, I don’t believe the benefits are substantial. The truth is that we’ll never know. Any system that places our tax dollars behind a wall of secrecy and says, “Trust us,” deserves scrutiny and ultimate rejection.