Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

September Review/October Preview (2013)

September 30, 2013 Comments off

We seem to keep having the same conversations about public education in Oklahoma. Money. Test scores. Poorly researched policy decisions. Money. Wait, did I say money twice? Well, it’s a pretty big deal. School districts have seen their share of state funding decrease over the last five years, and the state superintendent and her newspaper keep trying to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, September was another good month for the blog, but a better month for other writers. I still enjoy reading other people talk about how misinformation affects their students and how it impacts them professionally. Plus, when other people are writing, I can pull back more. Clicking the retweet button is a lot easier than putting out 1,000 semi-coherent words. I’ve been able to unplug mostly for the last half of the month, which has been nice.

For the first time, each of the top five posts for a month had over 1,000 page views. That gives me a pretty good idea about the size to which my readership has grown. Here they are:

  1. Biology Cut Scores – Once school districts finally had their test scores, many parents, students, teachers, and administrators were surprised to see that the Biology EOI had a fairly low pass rate. As one teacher who sat on the committee wrote, “it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.” It wasn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.
  2. Great News! Oklahoma is #1! – We also learned this month that Oklahoma led the nation in cuts to education over the last five years. While some have criticized the methodology of the study, the fact remains that the funding formula provides less money for instruction at a time when the legislature has record amounts of money to spend. The legislature added $74 million to public education this year. Only $21 million went into the funding formula. The rest went for testing and other SDE use.
  3. Choose Your Own Words – Finding the SDE’s sample letter to parents about test scores to be less than satisfying, I wrote my own sample letter. Believe me, it’s a lot more diplomatic than it could have been. The challenge with all of these changes is in controlling the narrative. Barresi wants the public to believe one reality. Those of us who have spent years working with children need to present a more reality-based reality. We need to do it articulately, consistently, and with facts.
  4. The Tangled Web – This one came out of nowhere for me. Apparently, the State Chamber has enlisted the Walton Foundation to serve as a catalyst in the corporate takeover of public education in Oklahoma. While reading Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error, I am learning more and more to be thankful that we are behind states such as Louisiana, Indiana, and Tennessee in dismantling our institutions and selling the remnants to profiteers. I received a lot of private feedback about this proposal, and while I don’t feel at liberty to share all of it, I can say with some certainty that many local chambers of commerce do not support this initiative.
  5. So long, PARCC. We mean it this time. Probably. – As an afterthought in a memo sent by email to superintendents and district test coordinators, we learned that the state had finished the long, slow, clumsy process of pulling all the way out of the PARCC consortium. We learned later however, that the new testing contract will be written to PARCC specifications. So there’s that.

October will heat things up. The campaign for state superintendent for the $2,000 raise doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon. Districts are scheduled to receive preliminary A-F Report Card scores in a couple of weeks. And there is rumor that the State Board of Education may approve them on time this year.

We’ll see.

The Tangled Web

September 17, 2013 9 comments

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

This grant request will provide funds in the amount of $300,000 over three years for the Oklahoma State Chamber to establish a new 501 (c) 3 education reform advocacy organization under its auspices that is geographically diverse and ambitious in its aims to advocate for an aggressive change agenda within Oklahoma’s K-12 education system. The first year’s grant is for $100,000 to be evaluated and renewed based on fulfilled outputs and outcomes, as specified below.

The new organization under the umbrella of the State Chamber will seek to educate key stakeholders and policy makers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and statewide on the need for additional reforms that emphasize protecting and expanding school choice, embracing innovative models, data-driven accountability for schools and school leaders, transparency from school districts, addressing the performance of chronically low-performing schools, and an unwavering commitment to improved student achievement. An annual report will measure progress on outputs and outcomes, with quarterly updates to keep WFF informed along the way.

The Oklahoma State Chamber will seek out additional philanthropic and business community support and funding to ensure the new reform advocacy organization achieves financial sustainability. WFF expects to be joined in supporting the effort by other anchor funders within Oklahoma. The State Chamber will seek support from the Inasmuch and George Kaiser Family Foundations, as well as funding commitments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arnold Foundation, among others.

The first six months will be spent establishing non-profit status, appointing a board and hiring an executive director. As the new entity hires and executive director and executes its own business plan, the Oklahoma State Chamber will continue to provide staff, office space and other resources for the new entity, and will bring its reputation and strong credibility both at the State Capitol and in the business community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any ideas about who that could be?

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

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.

Lloyd Snow Hall of Fame Speech 8/2/13

August 13, 2013 Comments off

I am late in posting this. Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow was inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame August 2nd, and a friend of his forwarded me a copy of the speech he gave. I am given to understand that he may have gone off-script a time or two, but for the most part, what you see below is the speech as he delivered it. As this school year begins for so many, please keep in mind his years of wisdom, as well as his warning for the future:

I am flattered.  I am honored.   I am humbled.  When I was a kid I saw a turtle on a fence post and  wondered What-How-Who? Tonight I feel a little like that turtle.

To be seen as a Leader among Giants in our profession like–Dr. Oliver—Dr. Raburn—Sandy Garrett—Marvin Stokes and the distinguished list of previous Hall of Famers. Wow.

To be an inducted along with great friend Steven Crawford. This will always be a special moment and memory.

No question my journey has been blessed with loving-talented-dedicated family, colleagues, and friends.  First and foremost is the love of my life- my beautiful wife- Tresa-my soul mate – my energy source.  Most of you in this room know—-she is truly the one that should be inducted tonight!  Secondly, children and grandchildren who give me so much joy.

Our Son Joshua wife Emily and children Easton, Kirby and Kyrtleigh. Our Son Gabriel and wife Ryan and children Jesse and beautiful newly born baby Vivian. Our Son Matthew and wife Kristi and children Karli and Korbin. Our Son Heath and daughter LuLu – I am so proud of them and my entire family, many of which are here tonight including my sister Carrol and husband Michael—brother Denton and wife Karen—sister-in-law Janelle – Aunt & Uncle De and Ruth Lannom and the best mother-in-law ever Maxine who provides a safe-haven for Tresa and I to recover from our hectic schedules.  They truly are our pride and joy.

Next would be the folks that have done so much of the “heavy” lifting over the years. I often say, correctly, I am the weakest link in a very strong chain of leaders in SS. Beginning with Robert Franklin who I suspect had much to do with my nomination and selection and has the courage of a lion—Lonetta Sprague who continues to have my back—Gary Watts who may be  the smartest guy I know—Lori Kerns who taught me how to spell curriculum—Sherry Durkee  who continues to amaze me how much she knows about all things school related— and of course Larry Elliott who coached me how to become a Sandite!  I would also like to recognize Mr. George Paden, a lifelong Sand Springs educator/administrator who has been so gracious  and supportive of my efforts to follow his footsteps as Supt. of Schools.

A special thanks to past and present Boards of Education members that understood how focused-ethical governance can accomplish so many good things for kids and communities.There are many community leaders here tonight like Monte Box who started the Sand Springs Education Foundation 25 years ago. We are so blessed with wonderful supporters and advocates for public schools and education in SS. The vision of these leaders has made many dreams come true. I thank them for their service and support.

In addition I want to express my personal appreciation to our teachers, support staff, and exceptional site leaders in SS and previous districts. I bet most in this room had that special teacher like Frank Cooper who is in the audience tonight, our super star state TOY finalist that inspired us. The quality of people in our  profession is so often taken for granted.

Folks know when I have an audience I will give you my view of our world.  I think Diane Ravitch gets it right in her latest book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. She says, and I paraphrase, the only crisis in public education is the one ginned up by government bureaucrats, major foundations, odd coalitions of elitists and commercial hustlers who make inflated claims about the virtues of vouchers, charter schools, virtual schools,  standardized testing, merit pay, etc . They insist

that poverty has no correlation to low academic achievement and that overhauling our entire system along business lines is the way to go.

I feel like business/industry/philanthropists/politiciansare trying to FIX us. Not like a car like a cat!  Friends our public schools are like the Statue of Liberty—We take the tired-hungry-poor-huddled masses—whether they are ELL—special needs—or whatever and we give them hope and opportunity. I wish policy makers who think they have to FIX us would explain how so many of their “reforms” will help teachers teach and children learn. I deal with real teachers and real kids. They are not numbers.

So here is my top 10 Reasons to be concerned about what getting FIXED feels like in public education:

Number 10 High stakes testing is out of control stifling entrepreneurship, creativity, and the American spirit—-We have spent billions developing and administering tests—wish we had that money in classrooms for kids.

Number 9 We have not had enough time to learn/tweak/embrace common core much less implement high stakes ramifications for students and teachers.

Number 8 Too many talented teachers are retiring too early for the wrong reasons—feeling undervalued—unappreciated—and uninvited in education decision making.

Number 7 Too few young people are entering into our profession—the toxic political rhetoric along with embarrassing low pay and constant criticisms are having an impact.

Number 6 Flawed school district report cards that are not purposeful or useful.

Number 5 Local Boards of Education losing the ability to govern. When did we lose our kids—our schools—our community—-?

Number 4 Public education being hijacked by private businesses concerned mostly about profit not pupils.

Number 3 Dealing with leadership at the SDE is put kindly—challenging and frustrating.

Number 2 The script (reforms) is crafted by think tanks far from classrooms, kids, and teachers. For some reason our legislators feel like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and Jeb Bush’s Foundation knows more about schools and education than seasoned teachers and administrators.

And the Number 1 Reason to be Concerned: 49th or 50th is NOT OK — Funding for Public Education in Okla. has fallen from 38.2 % of total budget appropriations to an all time low of 33.8% or 33.2% depending on how you interpret the data.  Bottom line since 2009 we have 40,000 more students in our state and 200 million less to educate them.  And of course recent reform mandates were unfunded!! My opinion reforms absent resources are ridiculous and political nonsense.  So what do we do?

My passion yesterday, today, and tomorrow —is to defend and protect Public Education, the cornerstone of our democracy. Mother Theresa was fond of saying “children may not be all of our population but they are 100% of our future.”  I am concerned with a political agenda that may be designed solely to dismantle public education.

Educators feel unappreciated, undervalued, uninvited, and unfunded.  The bottom line teacher morale is the lowest in my 34 years as supt.

The truth—-Public Education has not failed and is not failing. 95% of our schools are very successful. Test scores are higher than ever, our dropout rate is lower than ever, and achievement gaps are narrowing. This is the reality despite the constant critical rhetoric we get from folks with private agendas.  I am fearful that we are on a path where we have begun to re-segregate schools by using the code word  “choice” that really means vouchers—privatization—scholarships—parent trigger—market place  options and on and on.


I can’t help but think of one very powerful word-GREED -The smell of money.  When we turn our schools over to people more concerned with profit than kids our democracy is at stake. We saw the Wall Street meltdown. Surely we learned something from that fiasco. I kind of feel like—Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss—remember where the people of Whoville save themselves by yelling, “we are here, we are here!”

Colleagues, friends, we must come together. We must tell policy makers we are here and will not allow public schools to be  dismantled. We must advocate vigorously for our kids and public education.

We must become an army of voices.  It is not too late to be heard and be saved.  There is  nothing so wrong with our schools that  cannot be FIXED by what is right with our schools. Coach Wooden always told his players —Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.  We cannot be silent.

Diogenes said the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.

Margaret Meade said when we save our children we save ourselves.

My deepest thanks to the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame selection committee and my family, colleagues, and friends in attendance tonight.  I just wish my mom and dad were still alive to celebrate this moment with the Snow family. They would be so proud.

God Bless you and again thanks.

One last bit of wisdom given to me from Calvin Agee a retired supt. in Sulphur Oklahoma years ago when I tried to follow in his footsteps as a young superintendent .  It goes like this:







One last thing: Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Snow.

Influence over Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Negative

May 9, 2013 Comments off

This morning’s editorial in the Oklahoman hits three separate points. First is that “schools are getting a not-insignificant budget increase.” The second is that districts can fund legislated reforms but choose not to. Finally, in a completely unrelated comment, they insist that the recent testing glitches that caused over 9,000 tests to be invalidated across the state are no big deal.

  1. The claim that the budget increase is “not-insignificant” is false. Best case scenario, the increase will give districts about $70 more per pupil next year. With the revenue lost due to corporate tax breaks under SQ 766 last year, that amount will all be gone. Class sizes are increasing, and I don’t know about you, but I never heard a parent wish for bigger class sizes. More programs will be cut next year as shortfalls continue across Oklahoma. As Jason Midkiff wrote on Twitter today, “31 million RSA, 16 million testing comp, 50 million insurance, What’s left?”
  2. Districts have little choice here. While struggling to maintain a fund balance in order to operate without a deficit at the beginning of the school year, every available dollar has to be preserved. Money is available through the funding formula for instruction. However, by May, it is all spent. The argument supposes that districts have the latitude to cut something else and fund mandates such as RSA Summer School. That same argument could be applied to the SDE, which could cut something else to make funding available to schools. Unfortunately, budgets are tight all the way around, and choices have to be made.
  3. Read this article. Not only did CTB/McGraw-Hill botch thousands of online tests; they have failed to provide materials needed to make up exams in a timely manner. We’re really going to hold children, teachers, and schools accountable under these conditions?

As Tyler Bridges said in the same Twitter conversation, we wouldn’t want to confuse the conversation with facts, now would we?

Republican Angst over the Common Core

April 19, 2013 2 comments

The Republican National Committee has passed a resolution calling for the federal government to halt efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards. From the resolution:

RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee rejects the collection of personal student data for any non-educational purpose without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent and that it rejects the sharing of such personal data, without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent, with any person or entity other than schools or education agencies within the state, and be it finally

RESOLVED, the 2012 Republican Party Platform specifically states the need to repeal the numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools, (p36) (3.); and therefore, the Republican National Committee rejects this CCSS plan which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.

This puts the states in quite a pickle. It was, after all, state efforts, namely through the National Governors’ Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers, to develop the Common Core. From the beginning, CCSS has been a bi-partisan venture.

So how are states responding? Alabama’s legislature is now rejecting the standards. Oklahoma may not be far behind. House Resolution 1011 would halt “further adoption of Common Core State Standards until further costs are ascertained.”

Here’s the problem with Rep. Blackwell’s resolution: we’ve already adopted them. We haven’t partially adopted them. We’ve fully adopted them. We’re gradually implementing them. For the last three years, school districts around Oklahoma have been working to change the teaching style and content in classrooms to meet the new standards. That this effort has been expensive is the root of the concern here.

Blackwell also wants a full rendering of costs already incurred. I think the amount would be staggering. You would have to calculate the costs of SDE travel  and training, prior to and since implementation; the cost to the SDE of REAC3H conferences; the cost to districts to attend these conferences; the cost for lead REAC3H districts to work within their networks; the cost of the REAC3H coaches; the cost of Vision 2020; all the labor hours of SDE employees related to each of these things, plus conferences; the cost to districts of increased infrastructure, teaching materials, and training; and the added impact of test development and test prep. In short, CCSS has already cost Oklahoma taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The real question is whether or not this has been a good expense. I liked parts of the standards from the very beginning. I thought they were an improvement over what we had in place with PASS. I did not think that adopting CCSS would lead to the massive power grab by the State Board of Education last month (taking the standard adoption process away from the legislature). Unlike groups on the right, I don’t think CCSS is a massive conspiracy by the feds or the UN to undermine states and communities. And unlike groups on the left, I don’t feel like the standards themselves are the ruination of education.

It’s everything since the adoption of the standards that I’ve hated. The processes for training and implementation have been uneven, at best. The testing consortium to which Oklahoma belongs (PARCC) seems to have spun off into its own self-aware entity that no longer answers to those who built it. The testing, textbook, and training companies are making fortunes. Yes, I’ve seen examples of CCSS improving instruction in classrooms. I’ve also seen the adoption of the standards lead to a narrowing of the curriculum – both within classrooms, and within school schedules on the whole.

Common Core is not all good. It is not all bad. While I’m still not ready to just dump it (because if we do, the State Board of Education will just try to assert its autonomy over the standards process and adopt it anyway), my enthusiasm has waned. Ironically, CCSS was designed to teach students to be adept at problem-solving. Those who created it, and those charged with managing it, have failed to pass every test since.

So should State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Governor Fallin be worried? Absolutely. They’ve fallen in line with Jeb Bush and his Foundation in pushing the standards out. One of their subsidiaries, the Fordham Institute, has published a plea for Republicans to get back in line. If they don’t, it will be hard for Barresi to get anything done in the remainder of her term in office. And it will pretty much end all thought of a Jeb Bush presidency.

Let the chips fall.

Education Coalition Alert – Parent Trigger Bill

This alert went out in email this morning:

The Oklahoma Education Coalition is asking all Oklahoma taxpayers, school patrons, parents and educators to OPPOSE SB 1001

SB 1001 is being heard TODAY in the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education at 10:30 a.m.


CCOSA is joining with Oklahoma’s Education Coalition to stand united against SB 1001 for the following reasons:

  • Mutual respect and collaboration between teachers, parents and districts is the key to success in our schools.  SB 1001 pits parents, teachers, principals, and school districts against each other and creates divisiveness in communities.  For example, Section 5 of SB 1001 turns the position of school principal and assistant principal into popularity contests.
  • Section 3 of SB 1001 bases a parents’ ability to trigger change on a school site’s grade on Oklahoma’s A-F grading system that OU and OSU researchers have declared “unsalvageable.” This inappropriate use of the A-F system is neither wise public policy nor good for Oklahoma’s children.
  • SB1001 transforms public school site(s) into privately operated charter school(s) circumventing local taxpayers’ and local school board members’ authority to operate their school(s).
  • The Oklahoma Education Coalition has found no organized Oklahoma parent group in support of SB 1001. The Oklahoma Education Coalition shares the concerns of Oklahoma’s various parent associations that SB 1001 is being supported by a special interest group NOT affiliated with our state.

You can access the full text of SB 1001 here.

This urgent call to action is necessary as SB 1001 has passed the Oklahoma Senate by a vote of 30 to 12.

ALL CCOSA Members are asked to:

Please call AND email:

ALL Members of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Common Education – ask members to oppose  SB 1001.

Lee Denney (R-Cushing) (405) 557-7304
Katie Henke (R-Tulsa) (405) 557-7361
Ed Cannaday (D-Porum) (405) 557-7375
Dennis Casey (R-Morrison) (405) 557-7344
Ann Coody (R-Lawton) (405) 557-7398
Dan Fisher (R-El Reno) (405) 557-7311
Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) (405) 557-7396
Marty Quinn (R-Claremore) (405) 557-7380

Thank you for helping the Oklahoma Education Coalition STOP SB 1001!



Echoing the CCOSA staff, I encourage you to contact not only the committee members, but your own specific legislators today!


Pull Out? Not Going to Happen

March 29, 2013 2 comments

The Common Core State Standards became Oklahoma’s curriculum for Math and English/Language Arts in 2010 when Brad Henry was governor and Sandy Garrett was state superintendent. The hard work to transition to the standards in schools has come under their Republican replacements. They are the adopted standards in 44 states (though it used to be 48). Some of these states are red. Some are blue. The CCSS are not a part of any federal mandate, but all discretionary grant money from the US Department of Education is now tied to states adopting certain reforms, such as College, Career, and Citizenship readiness (C3) standards.

The people working in schools are struggling with this transition. State support has been incomplete at best. Communication with the testing consortium has been confusing. And every vendor with a rolodex now has Common Core aligned materials, just for you.

In 2010, when we adopted the standards before they were completed, some things made sense about this process. The expectations for third grade reading or Algebra I should be the same in Oologah, Oklahoma as they are in Mashpee, Massachusetts.  The push for literacy instruction across all content areas also made sense. It’s an idea that aligns with what I’ve always thought. In fact, the use of informational text in literature is a key component of almost all Advanced Placement subject. Students who do well in those courses and on their tests are strong writers. The same is true with students who do well in college.

When I read the CCSS, I have a few quibbles with specific standards being placed somewhere when I would prefer they were somewhere else. I may not like the wording here and there. That’s to be expected, though. I would assume that among the people on the committees who developed them, several feel that way too. There is no perfect document when it comes to instructional standards.

However, the chatter in Oklahoma against the Common Core is getting louder. It’s coming from schools who are frustrated at the lack of state support (REAC3H) has been ineffective. And it’s coming from the Tea Party conservatives who are concerned about federal overreach. It’s coming from concerned parents who don’t like Constructivist instruction. Though I may disagree with the reasons they are concerned, I wish I believed their voices were being heard.

That’s the problem. Nobody listens.

This week, Scholastic’s Administrator magazine ran an article listing three reasons why resistance to the Common Core is happening. First is the top down approach to implementation. As I often complain about other state initiatives, this idea has come from somewhere else. And we are being coerced into using it. While I may like certain things about the CCSS, I too have a problem with this. The second is testing overload. We are already knee deep into a testing process that the occupants of the SDE aren’t proficient at administering. Making it more complicated and longer does not appeal to parents, students, teachers, or anybody – except reformers and the testing companies. The third reason is the lack of resources. The hard truth is that there still isn’t much out there that aligns to the Common Core. Publishers don’t turn around their products that quickly.

We are knee deep into this. Some want us to cut our losses and move on. While I doubt that will happen, those who feel this way should be heard, listened to, and valued. What I want is time and support to do this well. Regional conferences, guest speakers, and 60 REAC3H coaches learning their jobs on the fly aren’t enough.

We’ve had standards-based education for more than two decades. Whatever happens with the Common Core, we will continue to have standards-based education. With the rule changes adopted this week by the State Board of Education, it will be easier for the SDE to change those standards too.

30 Years of Reform (and Counting)

March 28, 2013 Comments off

In the fall, I wrote “A Brief and Recent History of the Status Quo,” a 700 word post about education reform centered around the idea that schools and school people have always responded to reform with action. In short, the idea of the status quo is something of a myth:

For decades, the status quo has been that things change – in an orderly, collaborative, and productive fashion. This state has always had great teachers and administrators. And this state has always had leaders who insisted on reforming and improving the system. That process has always had bumps, but they have always been overcome by collaboration.

This week, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released a new 54 page report by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center titled “Educational Reform in Oklahoma: A Review of Major Legislation and Educational Performance since 1980,” going much deeper into the data, political history, and results of the various efforts to improve public education in Oklahoma.

One piece of advice: if you’re not following the Oklahoma Policy Institute – by Facebook, Twitter, or email, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. They’re a great source of news in addition to what we get to digest from the major state newspapers and television stations.

Another piece of advice is that you read the report. I find the visitors to this blog to be well-informed and capable of holding meaningful discussions of the issues we all face as we try not just to improve education – but to improve the lives of all students. Many of us have lived through all or some of these reforms, but I know that some readers here have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Even some of the reforms that occurred during the early years of my career were off my radar when I was just trying to survive as a brand new college graduate.

Probably my favorite part of the report’s executive summary was this paragraph explaining the problem with implementing too many reforms at once:

There have been so many reforms that it is impossible to state with certainty which ones have worked and which have not – with this amount of change from year to year, attribution of results is a problem. It is easier to assess the impact of programs for which in-depth data are published, but most of the reforms address broad themes that affect all schools and grade levels (e.g., implementing a new state curriculum). For programs such as these, the effects are so diffuse that it is difficult to determine the efficacy of any single set of reforms. The statewide student information system should make it easier to evaluate the effectiveness of specific reforms in the future, if reviewing those data is built into the system.

In other words, if anything has improved for students, we can’t pin down the specific reform that made it happen. With what we’re seeing in the anti-school climate pervasive in the legislature and at the SDE, with initiatives brought in from Jeb Bush and ALEC, that effect will only be increased in the future.

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