No Science Standards for You!
Today’s word is miasma – an oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere that surrounds or emanates from something. As those who regularly read this blog must know, there are two things I love: science and a well-placed word.
Yesterday, the House Committee for Administrative Rules voted to reject the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science (OASS). If you’ll remember, during the winter, the Oklahoma State Department of Education posted the new standards, accepted comments, and adopted them. This committee’s approval was to be the final step before implementation.
Apparently, the committee had two key objections. First, the SDE and the teachers on the committee relied far too heavily on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – which were developed by Achieve, Inc. (which also brought us the Common Core). The problem with this objection is that SDE staff were given the direction to use NGSS as a framework. Many bloggers, in fact, pointed out the similarities.
They weren’t. They were lifted, practically verbatim, from the Next Generation Science Standards. As Jenni White and Rob Miller point out in their analyses (which are eerily similar), reading the OASS side by side with the NGSS shows very little difference. Essentially, Oklahoma has removed references to evolution and climate change. That’s it. While both White and Miller (and I for that matter) like the structure and organization of the standards, we all deserve to be told the truth.
When I wrote that in December, it was a criticism of the fact that we were more or less adopting national standards and calling them our own. Basically, we’re running into another example of politicians changing their mind about what they want and not really caring about who that impacts.
The second objection was that where the standards discuss climate, teachers could then segue into lessons indoctrination about climate change. I downloaded OASS again and did a search for the word climate. This key science term appears 47 times in the document. The only discussion of climate change, however, is in the assessment section with this limitation:
Assessment does not include climate change.
That sentence is in the document multiple times. Yes, there may be a rogue liberal here and there (or even a conservative who believes in climate change) who is willing to teach concepts that make people uncomfortable. We may even have an activist in the classroom. The standards, however, don’t enable activism. That’s a matter of principals knowing what’s going on in their building.
Another way of looking at it is that if we’re so scared that our children might learn about climate change, we should probably take the word climate out of the social studies standards as well. While the word only appears five times in that document, in one instance, on page 64, we can find this evocative gem:
Examine the ongoing issues of immigration, employment, climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, population growth, race relations, women’s issues, healthcare, civic engagement, education, and the rapid development of technology.
If that isn’t a laundry list of liberalism, I don’t know what is! Oklahoma teachers worked hard developing those standards too, but I guess 2012 was a completely different era – an epoch ago, if you will.
(And if I just single-handedly got the state social studies standards tossed out, my apologies to all affected by this.)
My point is that if we’re so afraid of climate change that we can’t even discuss climate, we’re in a world of hurt. Most Americans accept climate change and still don’t curb their energy consumption. It’s not going to cripple the state’s economy. Even still, if it’s not assessed, what’s the likelihood that our children will be making dioramas that depict rising sea levels as they envelop Miami?
As for the time and effort of the teachers who volunteered (and lost instructional time) to serve on the standards-writing committees…well, I really don’t have a profound way to finish that sentence. Thanks but no thanks, I guess. Or what about the textbook adoption cycle? Are we forgetting that science teachers haven’t adopted new instructional materials in 10 years? While I hope that means we are seeing more labs and less copying of definitions in our classes, there at least need to be resources available.
Maybe what’s really happening here is that the SDE is so tainted with Barresi that anything they do is at least funk-adjacent. There are still some really good people working there. Many have left the sinking ship, but not all have been able to find other suitable employment. I have to wonder if it’s because of their association with the state superintendent. I also have to wonder if that has anything to do with yesterday’s unprecedented (yes, no legislative panel has EVER rejected standards forwarded to them by the SDE) action.
Miasma – it explains so much. All the bad decisions and indecision. The inexplicable tone in communication from Barresi and her staff. If the Hodge Building collapsed into a sinkhole one night ala the ending to Poltergeist, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.
The most important skill of any magician is to be able to get the audience to look one direction while the important action is happening somewhere else. Draw attention to yourself on stage right while the assistant slips away into darkness on stage left. As 2014 begins, we run the risk of being the unsuspecting audience.
Social media is abuzz this weekend because Superintendent Barresi declined a meeting with the OEA. She responded to their campaign questionnaire, insulted them, and heralded her own transparency. From the Tulsa World:
She said she was “refusing to accept more back-room deals and politics as usual” and did not want her views “filtered through the lens of liberal union bosses” at the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents more than 35,000 teachers, school support staff and retirees.
She posted answers to OEA’s candidate survey on her campaign website and challenged her opponents to divulge whether they “were willing to meet with the OEA behind closed doors and what promises were made.”
This really isn’t a surprise. Barresi frequently calls her opponents liberals, even though many of them are Republicans who simply don’t support her. The funny thing about all this is that throughout the first three years of her term, she has frequently tapped the OEA for help. She hired the OEA’s top lobbyist as her chief of staff. She even used them to garner support among teachers during the rollout of TLE. Thousands of the state’s teachers have been trained in the new evaluation system by OEA trainers. The OEA has been a partner with the SDE in the transition to the Common Core State Standards as well.
Painting this issue as one of a transparent conservative against a liberal union serves two purposes. It feeds red meat to her base supporters during the primary campaign. And it distracts from important issues.
Fortunately (and surprisingly) the Oklahoman provided a good overview of several issues that we should watch closely during the upcoming legislative session and campaign season. The editorial posted this morning calls for a more cooperative tone between Barresi and the district superintendents and lists four critical points to achieving this wish:
- Common Core: Stay the course
- A-F system: Keep working
- Third-grade reading: Reality check
- Teachers and funding: More support needed
The next few paragraphs will explore each these points, which are far more critical to public education than who meets with whom for political purposes.
Common Core: Stay the course
The Oklahoman cites concerns “about some of the specific content in the reading/language arts and math standards” as the source of consternation within Barresi’s own party. This is only partly true. The larger concern is the fact that Oklahoma’s ELA, math, and now science standards were written by national groups and rebranded as if they were written by Oklahomans. I’m in the group that has less of a problem with what’s in the standards than the fact that the SDE continues this masquerade. If they really think that the standards written under the direction of Achieve, Inc. are best for Oklahoma’s children, they should have the guts to say so. At least the Oklahoman has the decency not to use the contrived (and silly) Oklahoma Academic Standards moniker when discussing the Common Core.
Buried in this section of the editorial is a passing reference to testing. This would probably have been my lead. Testing has reached a tipping point in public education. It drives the instructional process, scheduling, accountability, teacher evaluation, and budgets of school districts. Testing will singularly determine whether school districts retain third graders. As the editorial mentions, this focus on test results often comes “at the expense of art, music, science, social studies and other important areas that keep kids excited about learning.” Many parents now join teachers as those who are sick of the obsession with standardized testing.
Staying the course with the Common Core will increase the frequency and cost of testing. It will continue eroding support for all programs not specifically labeled reading and math. It will cause more students, teachers, principals, schools, and districts to be labeled as failures. And it will open the door for more companies – both for-profit and non-profit – that see students as nothing other than potential revenue streams.
I’ve never written specifically on this blog that I either support or oppose the Common Core. The reason is that it’s not as simple as that. I believe in standard-based instruction. Good teachers start instruction with an idea of what skills they want students to learn. A good education in any discipline and at any grade level should not vary much from class to class, school to school, or district to district. To that end, I support the Common Core.
The flip side of that is sage advice I received early in my career: Follow the money. Public education policy these days follows a disruption-based philosophy. The key is that the public has to believe the narrative that claims public education is failing. Only then can legislatures appropriate less of the funding that education receives away from the schools themselves. Only then can the corporate interests (including for-profit charter school chains and testing companies) extract that funding away the public entities that traditionally receive it. Doing this requires heavy use of loaded language attacking unions, the education establishment, and the dreaded status quo. It requires us to pay attention to red herrings all lined up in a row.
With all that said, I’ve spent four years now indifferent to the fate of the Common Core. I don’t view the standards themselves as completely flawed. Actually, it’s the confluence of supporters behind the development and adoption of the standards that I find distasteful. My apathy has become antipathy. Let it fall. Disrupt the disruption.
A-F system: Keep working
The Oklahoman believes that the state’s signature accountability system “has promise.” I don’t. I believe that we could try our best to improve the system and get the grades right, but that we’d still have a lot of schools serving affluent students making an A or B and a lot of schools serving poor students making a D or F. A letter grade is just too simplistic of a measure to give schools.
The A-F system is only one set of calculations the state uses for accountability. It is window dressing, nothing more. It has no teeth.
More critical to school districts is the NCLB waiver agreement between the SDE and the US Department of Education. Using different computations than what the legislature has established for A-F, schools can receive labels of Focus or Priority. The problem with this is that the SDE, in an overture of transparency, neither makes the calculations nor the lists public. The state can say that a school is in the lowest 10 percent of a subgroup, but they don’t have to show their work. If the tortured month of October taught us anything, it should be that the SDE must always be required to show their work.
Schools subject to the provisions under the waiver face extreme disruption. Portions of their Title I money are diverted away from serving students. Staff have to complete mind-numbing reports and commit to meeting targets. Principals have to guess what the subgroup targets are because the SDE also does not release this information.
The public gets to see the window dressing and sometimes the faulty machinations behind them. What they don’t realize is that if you remove the curtain, there isn’t a window. They’ve really decorated a wall – a cold, sterile, bureaucratic wall that surrounds a system that really has no purpose.
Third-grade reading: Reality check
Again, the Oklahoman delivers a critical point about a major reform:
Under the law, students must pass tests showing they’ve achieved at least a second-grade reading level before advancing to the fourth grade. Sadly, too many students won’t make that cut. Rather than continue social promotion, schools must instead be provided the resources to successfully implement this law and help lagging students catch up. We’re not convinced those resources have been provided.
That’s one big problem. Another is that neither the legislature nor the SDE has figured out how to handle special situations, such as those faced by students on a special education plan or English-language learners. While this is a topic of legislative concern, schools have no guarantee that the flimsy safety net in place for these students will be strengthened.
It comes down to the fact that those who wrote the law (or at least those who sponsored it locally based on model legislation provided by ALEC) did not anticipate the low quality of implementation by the SDE. They also didn’t know that they were placing the law in the hands of a state superintendent who believes that 75 percent of all special education students have been misidentified.
In terms of support, district superintendents received the following email on New Year’s Eve:
|Superintendents, Principals, and Reading Specialists,On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved, pursuant to 70 O.S. 1210.508E, the following scientifically research-based programs for use by school districts in Summer Academy Reading Programs (SARP) offered to meet requirements of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).
1. Dynamic Measurement Group
2. Literacy First
3. LETRS Foundation*
4. Current Reading Specialists Certified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education
*The LETRS Foundation is a new program approved by the State Board of Education. 30 of our REAC3H Coaches across Oklahoma are certified to train you in this program. They will be available to help you with this training starting January, 2014.
Please contact your REAC3H Coach if you are interested in training with the LETRS Foundation.
Let me point out here that we start testing in less than four months. Retaining third graders is probably a bad idea in most cases. As usual, the SDE is playing catch up to one of its own initiatives. While district staff work tirelessly to help get as many children as possible to the finish line, Barresi’s staff can’t get out of its own way. It’s also worth noting that while four programs are approved for remediation, the SDE is only providing support for one.
Again, follow the money.
This law makes the most sense to the people who least understand child development. Teachers who work with our youngest students know that third grade is late to be retaining children. They also understand that students in early grades learn at very different rates. The results of this law are potentially disastrous, and this is an election year.
Teachers and funding: More support needed
The Oklahoman acknowledges that schools need more money and that too many students are in poverty:
It’s easy to look at how poorly Oklahoma fares on national rankings of school funding and be frustrated. Clearly, Oklahoma has plenty of room for improvement; students and teachers can’t afford to do education reform on the cheap. Too much is at stake.
Perhaps it’s also time to consider a governmental or at least a gubernatorial Cabinet structure that brings a more cohesive look at meeting all the needs of children. The educational success of children is profoundly affected by whether their other basic needs are met. Oklahoma ignores this reality at its own peril.
Quality costs money. Reform costs money. Improvement costs money. And poverty matters. They’re acknowledging all of these things here, but the words ring hollow. Just a few days ago, they posted on the same editorial pages a column written by one of their frequent contributors, Brandon Dutcher, the senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – a conservative think tank. Dutcher disputes rankings showing how low funding is for education in Oklahoma. Jason James effectively refutes his arguments on his own blog:
Mr. Dutcher is of the opinion that money can’t help schools. He says Oklahoma isn’t 49th in educational spending it’s 29th when adjusted for comparable wages. Why is it when educators point out American test scores are the highest in the world when adjusted for poverty – they’re leapers, but opponents of increasing school funding can adjust per pupil funding by using comparable wages – and it’s a legit point? Why is it people who are against paying for a public education are always quick to point out money hasn’t helped Washington DC? Does Washington DC do anything right? I know of no one who wants to follow the Washington DC model for education. Blindly throwing money at public schools has never been my or any education organization’s goal to make our schools better for our children. It is a tactic that has been used to persuade public opinion, and it is disingenuous. What 49th isn’t OK wants, CCOSA wants, OEA wants, and teachers want is for the State of Oklahoma to provide funding for the goods and services required of public schools to educate the public’s children. Anyone who suggests we can increase the quality and quantity of these services when decreasing funding is just not sane.
Oklahoma has suffered for years under the Starve the Beast mentality of key legislators who want to disrupt public education. They continue significantly cutting taxes for huge corporations while throwing an occasional quarter of a percentage point for Joe Taxpayer. They ask schools to meet more mandates for more students with less money. When they increase funding for education, little of it filters into the school funding formula. Most of the increases are reserved for the SDE and the testing companies.
Continuing their trend behaviors of being late and lacking transparency, the SDE released mid-term adjustments to school districts December 30. Usually these calculations are given to schools earlier so they can plan for second semester adjustments in a timely manner. This time, they also weren’t posted to the SDE’s finance page. It’s always instructive to be able to see who is getting an increase and who is getting a decrease. Last school year, as you’ll remember, there was even some concern that the SDE had miscalculated appropriations. That would be consistent with everything else we’ve seen from them.
This state needs greater support for public education. That means more money, constructive rhetoric, and policies that make sense. Lip service just won’t do.
I think it’s a mistake for Barresi not to meet with the OEA. It’s bad form, just as it was when she walked out of the candidate forum in Oklahoma City last August. She keeps saying that she wants what’s best for teachers, but she shows them disrespect at every turn. Unfortunately, this is not new information for us.
We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.
In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.
Oh, and Happy New Year.
This afternoon, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is asking for your help. They have opened the public comment period for the new and improved science standards.
|Public Invited to Comment on Proposed Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science
OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 12/13/2013 03:54 PM CST
Proposed Changes to the State’s Science Standards
The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has posted on the agency’s website the newly proposed draft of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science.
The draft is available on the OSDE’s Science webpage at http://www.ok.gov/sde/science.
Educators and the public are invited to submit written comments regarding the proposed draft. The public comment period is from Dec. 13, 2013, to Jan. 17, 2014. All comments must be received by 4 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2014.
Send written submissions to the Oklahoma State Department of Education at 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4599.
It is recommended that the introductory sections of the proposed draft be read prior to reviewing the standards including:
The draft version is available in PDF. For ease of access to the separate sections and chapters, bookmarks are provided on the navigation bar to the side of the document.
Writing and draft teams of more than 50 representatives from K-12, higher education, scientists, engineers, parent and community members from throughout the state developed and provided feedback on the standards, meeting multiple times. More than 500 educators throughout the state were involved in reviewing the standards.
As the bulletin states, there is a PDF you can download and review. After 238 pages, you may have a few questions (such as “Do these standards make my OASS look big?”)
While I am reviewing, I will keep the first two sentences from the introduction in mind.
Science uses observation and experimentation to explain natural phenomena. Science refers to an organized body of knowledge that includes core ideas to the disciplines of science and common themes that bridge the disciplines.
My comments will reflect any items that deviate from these principles. I will also be mindful of the hard work of all the Oklahomans who developed these standards. Their time should be appreciated by all of us.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, but the House Education Committee went to a strange place today. They discussed and passed HB 1674 – the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act. This bill is proposed by Guy Blackwell, whose district covers the Panhandle and Panhandle-adjacent areas. In part, it reads:
The State Board of Education, a district board of education, district superintendent or administrator, or public school principal or administrator shall not prohibit any teacher in a school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theoroies pertinent to the course being taught.
Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards.
The provisions … shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non religion.
Have you ever been around somebody who says, “I don’t mean to sound negative,” right before he or she sounds incredibly negative? That is how this bill sounds. For all the disclaimers about not promoting or discriminating against any particular belief, religion, nonbelief, or nonreligion, it sure sounds like it is doing exactly that.
The author – and the eight other committee members voting for this bill – are running a play straight out of the ALEC playbook. It’s designed to block intellectually honest discussion of two scientific phenomena: climate change and evolution. Blackwell’s bill would basically allow students to cover their ears, close their eyes, and yell “lalalalalala I can’t hear you lalalalala!” And the teacher would just have to look at the grade book and say, “Well, he didn’t do the assignment, but he did say ‘lalalalala.’ And he said it quite respectfully.”
During the committee meeting, Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman asked Blackwell about the theories he would like not to have taught in school. Feigning indignation he insisted not to have an agenda in proposing this legislation. Blackwell brought in expert testimony from Pastor Stephen Kern (Rep. Sally Kern’s husband) who reminded us that no great scientific advancement has ever come without someone questioning the commonly held scientific principles of the time. He also claimed that half of a group of teachers who answered a survey claim that they are scared to question the science curriculum. (Thanks to @OKCapSource for clarifying what he meant by this.)
He gets it partly right. When scientific advancement has been held back by the powers that be (often the government or the church), somebody had to question existing beliefs. This bill proposes a science education curriculum altogether devoid of facts, questioning, and critical thinking. In short, it makes science instruction as we know it irrelevant.
I understand that certain facts make people squeamish. We have entire industries in this country that are uncomfortable with the facts presented in climate change discussions. We have people whose religious beliefs are threatened by a discussion of evolution. At the same time, we also have a wide swath of people who have made peace with the fact that one of the joys of learning is that it moves you out of your comfort zone. You can reconcile your faith with science, and you can be a party to improving the environment while continuing to make money.
Honestly, I’m surprised the vote on this bill was as close as it was (9-8). If this trend continues, Oklahoma will become intellectually irrelevant. We don’t want to start down the path that other states like Louisiana have taken and then find ourselves using vouchers to send students to schools to learn about how man used to coexist with dinosaurs.
If you need proof of that, look no further than our legislature.
On August 6, the SDE’s spokesperson tweeted the following:
On one August weekend, we saw a new Martian landing and a man in the Olympics running on carbon-fiber blades – let’s remember this.
In her weekly newspaper column Friday, Superintendent Barresi in fact did remember this:
On one weekend in August, 2012, the world witnessed two remarkable scientific accomplishments. While South African runner Oscar Pistorious sprinted towards the tape in his first Olympic semifinal race, the rover Curiosity barreled towards a very different finish line about 35 million miles distant.
I guess it’s not theft of intellectual property if it’s your own staff. And I shouldn’t be too hard on them – it was an amazing weekend for science, discovery, and imagination. I was also in awe of both events. It’s just too bad, though, that we live in a state that denies so many tenets of science.
One of the great talking points of this administration is that our state is doing a lousy job teaching science. As with any national comparisons, you have to look first at the policies and standards in place to get a good understanding about why that happens. Our state standards are poorly written and not up-to-date. Our legislature maintains a focus on Creationism and limits the emphasis in the curriculum on environmental science.
As our state pursues the development of new, “C3” standards in science, we’re going it alone. We are not participating in the development of Next Generation Science Standards being spearheaded by Achieve, even though it says right across the top of the page that the standards are geared at College, Career, and Citizenship readiness. I’ve asked this question on my blog before, but if a big picture approach to math and reading was best for Oklahoma, why shy away from that in science.
Another angle from which to look at Barresi’s column is the way she closes it:
This is the kind of ingenuity and drive we would like to see in the students who will fill seats in our STEM classes as they return to school this fall. We want them to dream that their creativity and their inventions can change the lives of people both on the surface of this planet, and those whose work takes them a bit further afield.
Two things that diminish the “creativity” she discusses are the suppression of facts in science curriculum and our national obsession with testing. As teachers are now going to be evaluated by the test scores of their students, curriculum will rarely stray from the path of published test blueprints. In the event that current events such as these provide us with teachable moments, they will be lost in the corporate education culture that results from the farce education reformers call “accountability.”