Posts Tagged ‘School Choice’

Thanks for the Metaphor

January 28, 2017 3 comments

Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.

It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.

In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated. Read more…

A Blatant Double Standard

December 12, 2015 1 comment

Yesterday’s editorial in the Oklahoman shows the clear intent of school voucher supporters. They want private schools to have the benefits of taxpayer support, but with none of the accountability.

Starting with the first paragraph:

AS lawmakers debate policies giving Oklahoma students greater education choice, including the use of taxpayer funds for private schools, it’s important to keep regulation of those programs to a minimum. Counterproductive red tape only drives providers away and robs students of opportunity.

You read that right; this is the same newspaper editorial board that has argued for A-F Report Cards, tests to determine 3rd grade promotion and high school graduation, college and career readiness standards, and countless other red-tape reforms over the last several years. Now they’re telling us something we already figured out: every bit of that is counterproductive. It robs students of opportunity. The editorial board may be worried about that type of nonsense driving away potential private education providers. My concern is the extent to which it has contributed to driving away public providers.

You mean you want me to meet more mandates for more students with less funding, and continuing decreases to my take-home pay? Where do I sign up?

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Yes, red tape and accountability mandates are just as responsible for driving good teachers away as the lack of raises over the last eight years. But wait; there’s more:

For example, some argue that any private school accepting students with state-funded scholarships should be required to administer state-mandated tests and report results. Yet that requirement can dramatically limit participation of quality private schools. Greene noted state tests can impact a school’s curriculum and instruction.

I have a question for the educators here. Have you ever had students who were so close to getting the point of a lesson, the theme of a story, or the connection between two historical events, and then, for some inexplicable reason, they just don’t have that final moment where it all comes together? That’s how I feel reading this paragraph.

Of course tests impact a school’s curriculum and instruction. They’re the number one reason for many of the misguided decisions that have happened in schools over the last 15 years. If you’ve ever had a child who had to give up music, art, or recess to spend more time on reading and math, blame the testing culture that this very paper has supported for more than a decade. It’s almost as if they are doing everything imaginable to make the public school experience suck while offering up private schools as a pristine alternative.

I have a better idea. Let the teachers teach the kids. They actually know what they’re doing.

I also want to key in on the phrase “quality private schools.” How do the writers define quality? With public schools, they use a misleading rating system based on test scores. Are Bishop McGuinness, Cascia Hall, and Oklahoma Christian School worthy of an A? Maybe. How would we know? They seem like great schools, but we don’t have A-F Report Cards telling us so. If fear of accountability is going to drive away the quality private schools, then maybe that word doesn’t mean what we think it means. It’s why the organized homeschool lobby in Oklahoma seems to want nothing to do with vouchers.

Side note: as of right now, SB 609, which carries the water for vouchers in the 2016 legislative session, only includes private schools. Although that could change at a later date, there’s no reason to think homeschooling language will be added to the bill in the next five months.

“A lot of private schools don’t teach the state curriculum — on purpose,” Greene said. “They have their own vision of what an educated person is, and that’s what they’re teaching. That’s why they’re private schools. They’re alternatives. They’re something different.”

Believe it or not, most of us who work in public education also have a “vision of what an educated person is.” What we’re doing right now doesn’t resemble that vision. What we’re doing right now limits student autonomy and teacher professionalism. What we’re doing now flies in the face of cognitive development. What we’re doing now is borderline malpractice – and it’s all proscribed by policies that non-educators created.

By the way, the words in quotes belong to University of Arkansas professor and frequent OCPA contributor Jay P. Greene. (I know you’re shocked that there would be a connection between OCPA and the Oklahoman.) Here’s more of what he thinks of public education, from his own blog:

Two of the great pillars of our country are equal rights and freedom for diverse beliefs. Neither of these pillars is consistent with a government school monopoly, nor with the educational oligopoly of limited school choice.

A monopoly or oligopoly exists by stamping out the rights of challengers in order to protect the privileges of the powerful. When educational entrepreneurs are denied the right to start new schools on equal terms with dominant providers, all of us lose. A society where the education of children is controlled by the few is a society that doesn’t respect equal rights.

And the education of our children is at the very heart of how we all live out our most central beliefs about life and the universe. Our country can never fully live up to its commitment to freedom for diversity until we undo the monopolization of education. Part of the reason we created the government school monopoly in the 19th century was bigotry and a childish fear of religious diversity. It’s long past time we, as a nation, grew up. Let’s leave those fears behind us, in the nursery of our national history.

Let’s be clear about which institution better protects equal rights and freedom for diverse beliefs. In public schools, we accept all comers. We don’t care what gender or color you are. We don’t care if or how you worship. We accept you if you’re straight, gay, or transgendered. We take students from birth to age 21 with all kinds of physical and learning disabilities. And I’m not just paraphrasing my district’s compliance statement. This is what I really believe. This is what most of us in public education believe. This is who we are.

Public schools embrace diversity. If you want greater homogeneity, look inside the private schools in your community.

Greene also brings us back to the dreaded Blaine amendment. Representative Jason Nelson was on Twitter this morning rattling this familiar cage too.

In case you don’t have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, as I don’t, let me sum it up for you anyway. Those of us who oppose school vouchers must be religious bigots. We believe that public funds should not be used for sectarian purposes.

I haven’t re-read all of my old blogs (or Claudia’s, or Rob’s), but I don’t remember this being the center of our arguments. I don’t remember this being the center of any argument made by the OEA, CCOSA, or the OSSBA, either. No, we tend to focus on the fact that this state does a horrible job of funding the public schools and we don’t want to see the stream diverted to private schools that select their own students and answer to no one (at least not publicly).

We teach all the kids we get. Pardon us for not wanting to share funding with schools that want to teach only those students they deem worthy. Back to yesterday’s editorial:

Similarly, requiring private schools to accept all applicants in order to receive state funds can change a school’s culture and mission. In theory, Greene noted participating Catholic schools could be required to accept students who are virulently anti-Catholic. How does that make sense?

It makes no sense. None of it makes sense. I don’t want to tell the Catholic schools (or schools tied to any other denomination or faith) that they have to accept students disruptive to the way they teach their beliefs. I also don’t want to pretend that these schools have the same purpose as public schools.

As my daughter says, “You do you.”

“The only schools who are willing to do whatever the state tells them they must do are the schools that are most desperate for money,” Greene said. “If you don’t have enough kids in your private school and your finances are in bad shape, you’re in danger of closing — probably because you’re not very good — then you’re willing to do whatever the state says.”

At this point, I’m wondering if the Oklahoman editorial board wrote this or just cut and pasted from the Greene playbook. What I’m reading now is that the writers – whoever they are principally – want precise metrics for judging public schools but apply reasoning such as “probably because you’re not very good” to private schools who would accept any state accountability for funds. Funny, that’s the same logic the Oklahoman typically uses against the Education Establishment when they gripe about us speaking our minds.

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Diligently moving forward, the Oklahoman and Greene turn to direct attacks on public schools:

Public schools don’t accept all comers. Districts typically serve students in a limited geographic area. Since many of the better public schools are in upper-income areas with more expensive housing, this means many schools are effectively off-limits to low-income families. Public schools also routinely decline to serve students with significant special needs. Those students are sent elsewhere.

First of all, I want to thank the Oklahoman for saying what those of us in the Rebel Alliance have been saying all along. Yes, many of the “better” schools are in upper-income areas. That’s not a coincidence, you know. Since the upper income areas tend to have wealthier families, and wealthier families tend to have higher educational attainment in the home, and since their children tend to have  better pre-natal care and nutrition from birth to age five, and since affluent homes tend to have more books and words and vacations and stability and such, it only follows logically that the schools there would be full of students that we couldn’t screw up if we tried.

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On the rest of this paragraph’s point, thousands of Oklahoma students attend schools out of their geographically-assigned district. In fact, I think at least one prominent voucher supporter in the Legislature has children attending school in another district. As for the claim that we send our high-needs students elsewhere, Mr. Greene should probably know that the sending district still pays the bill for these students – and it’s huge. Sometimes the least-restrictive environment (LRE) in which we provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) is much more expensive than what the district receives through special education funding for that student. Then again, maybe you’d actually have to do my job for a few minutes to know that.

Here’s the closing:

Some public school administrators will object that they should also be exempt from testing and accountability requirements. If lawmakers give parents the power to freely use taxpayer funds to put a child in any school, that’s a point worth debating down the road.

But for now, school choice policies should give parents true alternatives — not force private schools to become another version of the status quo.

That’s me: some public school administrator. It’s not that I don’t want accountability requirements. I just want some that make sense. I just want to know that the people who write them into existence won’t insult me with drivel such as this. For us, the status quo has become public education policy crafted by members of two of this country’s “royal” families (Bush and Kennedy) – two people who never spent a day in public education. Nobody should have to live like that – private, public, or homeschool.

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We have over 30 legislators who will serve their last year in 2016 because of term limits. For a few, passing a voucher bill into law would be a legacy accomplishment. It may even be the stepping stone that some want to use moving into the statewide races that will be up for grabs in 2018. The campaign has begun.

More on the Voucher Bill (Part II)

January 25, 2014 4 comments

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

Household Size




































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

Household Size


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.

From ropeok:

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.

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?

February Review / March Preview

March 1, 2013 Comments off

I hoped at the end of last month’s (p)review post that February would be exciting. I wasn’t disappointed. With over 6,100 page views, it was the second-best month since this blog started last April. The A-F Report Card issues flared up again – almost to the point that I didn’t get to write about anything else. Hopefully that will change in March. There are issues with the quantitative portion of TLE, incremental steps being taken towards school vouchers (with two more private schools approved to accept LNH scholarships yesterday), and of course budgeting concerns that have just been made worse by Sequestration. Meanwhile, the parent trigger, measures to arm teachers, and instant transfer policies are all moving forward.

Here’s a look back at the top five blog posts for February:

  1. I’m Not Making This Up (But That Would Be Allowable, I Suppose) – Surprisingly, with all the writing I’ve done on the different A-F events, the top post for the month was one about science. Legislation is moving forward to allow students to opt out of any science content that they find objectionable. That’s tough to swallow. I don’t want public schools to be a place where children are told their beliefs lack significance. But it also shouldn’t be a place where they are allowed to bury their heads in the sand and ignore science. Faith and facts are not mutually exclusive. The fact that this post resonated so strongly with readers buoys my confidence in people.
  2. Misunderstanding? Hardly! – And now we’re back to form with a post about the A-F Report Cards. Superintendent Barresi told a group of parents that the OU/OSU researchers had changed their mind and now supported the system. They hadn’t. It was an inexplicable statement that for which she hasn’t been held accountable.
  3. The Silence is Broken – It took the Oklahoman almost three weeks to comment on the Washington Post article discussing the ties between Jeb Bush, his Foundation For Excellence, and the SDE. When they did, they glossed over all the important links showing how corporate influences are the real forces behind state policy. As usual, the Tulsa World was much more thorough. The frustrating thing about this is that the Oklahoman has good reporters capable of the work.
  4. These are not the Rules You’re Looking For – Last week, after a legislative committee voted to throw out the existing rules for A-F Report Cards, the SDE quickly issued rules that change precious little. They seem to have been hastily constructed and create more problems than they solve. I have a hard time believing that these are the rules that will be in place for next year.
  5. Get Serious, People – Much of February saw the legislature wasting time on issues that have nothing to do with helping kids or helping schools. They want to keep students from being bullied, but they don’t want to protect everybody. They also want to make sure a teacher can paddle children, even if the principal or school board do not allow it. What could be more important than that?

My sincere hope for March is that we will see the conversation turn more serious and constrictive. In lieu of that, I’ll surely be here, filling this space.

January Review / February Preview

February 1, 2013 1 comment

School Choice Week is ending with a whimper. Other than another sad editorial in which Brandon Dutcher of OCPA begs the state’s taxpayers to subsidize his choice to homeschool toddlers, it has been pretty uneventful. Fortunately for this blog, January as a whole has been more interesting. Statistically speaking, this has been the second busiest month since I started writing, with almost 6,000 page views. February will see the beginning of the legislative session and more questions raised by the email trail between the SDE and its puppet masters. I can hardly wait.

Here’s a look back at the top five blog posts for January:

  1. Mid-term Adjustments: Virtually Unbelievable – School leaders came back from Christmas Break to find that their mid-term adjustments had been sent to a handful of charter and virtual schools. And they were pretty frustrated about it. That fact – compounded with the discretionary spending decisions made by the SDE have led us to the point where schools have to have a supplemental allocation at the beginning of the legislative session just to fully fund employee benefits and the Reading Sufficiency Act.
  2. In Defense of Superintendents – When reformers bash the education establishment in general, I barely flinch anymore. When the Oklahoman directly rips two Tulsa-area superintendents – one on his way out the door, I actually look at my screen with mouth agape. I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader for Jenks Public Schools, but there’s a reason everybody hates them. They take pride in being good at everything. At a time in which we are obsessed with measuring everything, you would think reformers would love Jenks. This just goes to show that those in power have long memories and hold grudges.
  3. I am a Teacher; I Add Value – Sometimes, when I’m not refuting the baseless lie that public education stinks, I retreat to a more creative state. While I think I’m pretty good at connecting the dots from fact to fact to fact and surrounding the false rhetoric out there, sometimes, I just have to speak passionately about the many professionals I know personally. Each paragraph in this post is someone I know. Like me, they’ll remain anonymous.
  4. Tie an Incomprehensible Ribbon … – The popularity of this post surprised me a little. Usually, there’s a negative return on investment when I drop too many pop culture references into a post (especially one from the 70s). I decided to watch the recorded videoconference discussing the procedures for adopting OAM and VAM and VARC, and there was an analogy about an Oak Tree, and zzzzzzzzzzzz………. Moral of the story, don’t watch SDE videoconferences if you don’t have to.
  5. Testing: To Profit or Not? – Whether it’s testing or charter schools, the line between companies making money and those not is very thin. In fact, it doesn’t exist. Even the non-profits exist to make money. College Board and ACT wouldn’t be who they are if they were losing money. They advertise and develop new product lines, just like companies that make a profit. And our state is in deep with them.

Come on February, let’s follow that up with something spectacular. I know you can do it!

The School I Choose

January 29, 2013 3 comments

The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.

As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.

  • I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
  • I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
  • I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
  • I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
  • I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
  • I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
  • I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world after school.
  • I choose an elementary school with a safe and exciting playground.
  • I choose a school that can afford a resource officer, even though I live in a community that looks like it would never need one.
  • I choose a school with enough counselors to tend to every child’s social and psychological needs.
  • I choose a school not driven mad by testing.
  • I choose a middle school with teachers who work in teams to help children transition into adolescent learners.
  • I choose a school that offers art, music, PE, and computer instruction at all levels.
  • I choose a school that has a strong collaborative relationship with a Career Tech center.
  • I choose a school that fosters reading for reading’s sake and writing for writing’s sake.
  • I choose a school with every student receiving support to be on grade level in reading and math.
  • I choose a school that doesn’t arbitrarily mandate retention based on flawed tests.
  • I choose a high school that offers a variety of courses that allow students to explore their career possibilities.
  • I choose a school that encourages the study of Current Events.
  • I choose a school that teaches people not to be defined by their mistakes.
  • I choose a school where the parents support their children in sports while also respecting the boundaries between the field and the stands.
  • I choose a school with good breakfasts and lunches.
  • I choose a school that can raise money for band trips and cheerleader uniforms but doesn’t have to for teacher supplies.
  • I choose a school that operates under mandates fully funded by the state.
  • I choose a school focused on children rather than A-F Report Cards.
  • I choose a school with no bullying.
  • I choose a school with board members who listen to the professionals in their district.
  • I choose a school that is a partner with its community.
  • I choose a school where the teachers have manageable class sizes.
  • I choose a school with teachers who will laugh when students properly pull off a flash mob.
  • I choose a school with at least one nurse.
  • I choose a school with at least one librarian.
  • I choose a school with spirit.
  • I choose a school that takes field trips and has class parties.
  • I choose a school with fully-equipped science labs.
  • I choose a school that teaches social studies and civic engagement to all students.
  • I choose a school that values service-learning.
  • I choose a school that has well-maintained buses with comfortable seats.
  • I choose a school with a safe room, a roof that doesn’t leak, and functioning heat and air.
  • I choose a school that encourages participation in Math Counts, Geography Bee, Science Fair, Competitive Speech and Debate, and Robotics.

Maybe I haven’t found the perfect school yet. I haven’t even created the perfect list, I’m sure. I came up with these 40 things in about 15 minutes. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful for the schools my children attend(ed). I know most feel the same way.

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National School Choice Week

January 28, 2013 Comments off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choice and Accountability

I am an unabashed supporter of public education, so it may seem somewhat contradictory that I also support school choice. I do not, however, support School Choice. Allow me to elaborate.

I believe that our society benefits from having a well-educated populace. As such, we have an obligation to make sure that a quality education is available for every child. We can all disagree about what “quality education” means, and that’s fine. We can also point to places and times of students not receiving the kind of education that we would want for our own kids.

It’s human nature to want better things for our own kids than we want for all kids. I have heard urban and suburban parents say they would never send their kids to school in small towns, and I have heard rural parents say they would never send their kids to large high schools. The preferences come down to the environment you want for your kids.

I don’t want my child getting lost in the crowd.

I don’t want my child going to a school where so little is offered.

I don’t want my child to have to ride a bus for 45 minutes to get to school.

I don’t want my child going to school in a 70 year old building that looks 100.

And on it goes. As parents, we are responsible for making the lowercase choices and deciding what is best for our kids. We select where we live, in part, based on the schools that our children will attend. We expect the state-supported schools to meet minimum standards, both in terms of curriculum and community values.

But there is a difference between school choice in principle and School Choice – the movement. Advocates of the movement also favor full-on vouchers that will allow federal, state, and local dollars to follow their children into any educational environment.

Sometimes, parents want something more or something different, they decide to pull our children out of public school. Many parents who want their children’s education to include a religious component put them in private, sectarian schools. This – of course – is fine; it’s the parents’ choice. This choice should not be funded with state dollars, however.

Other parents choose to homeschool their children. For them, Oklahoma is one of the least restrictive states. Parents do not need the state’s permission to homeschool children, and students are not required to demonstrate any kind of mastery. There will be no 3rd grade retention or ACE graduation appeals for homeschool students because the state of Oklahoma only provides funds to test public school students.

Oklahoma parents also have charter schools and online schools from which to choose. And now, you can combine them for online charter schools. Some public school districts have magnet schools, as well. In fact, you could even make the argument that the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics is a school of Choice. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ Brandon Dutcher and I had a Twitter argument over that a few weeks ago. He promptly ended it explaining that he doesn’t engage in discussions with anonymous “lurkers.” Then he quit following okeducationtruths on Twitter.

My argument with OSSM – as well as with many private, charter, and magnet schools – is that it’s not a school of choice if they don’t have to choose you back. Governor Fallin chose to decrease taxes, but the legislature didn’t comply with her choice. I can choose all kinds of things, but I can’t achieve them if there is a person on the other end who may or may not reciprocate my choice.

Where our state falls behind others is in the use of vouchers as a means of school choice. Only through the Lindsay Nicole Henry scholarship may parents of special education students choose to put their children in private schools. Where some districts and the courts have objected, still, is the use of public funds for religious purposes.

Oklahoma’s use of vouchers, to date, has been limited to the special education domain. At the risk of having a master or rhetoric tell me I’m falling prey to a slippery slope argument, I expect this is the beginning of a push for a full-scale voucher program, like the one in Louisiana. Recent stories from that state involve the use of public dollars to fund textbooks from Bob Jones.. And one legislator saying she never would have voted for vouchers if she knew they were going to allow Muslims to use them to open a school.

When I say I support a lowercase school choice, I mean that I support parents and their right to choose to teach their children inaccurate, racist, and narrow-minded versions of what students are learning in public school. Public funds shouldn’t support this practice though.

Back in January, our governor and our state superintendent celebrated National School Choice Week, with Superintendent Barresi saying, “In a free country, with so many exceptional school offerings, there is no reason a child’s education should be bound by his parent’s income level or his geographical location.”

Does she think Holland Hall is going to open the floodgates for all of Tulsa County’s population, regardless of a parent’s ability to donate? Does she think Christian Heritage Academy is going to teach children of all creeds?

And let’s say for a minute that they do, will the state hold them accountable with cumbersome A-F report cards?

I doubt it.

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