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Reason #8 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Tired of saying “only”

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine seven days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”

This article by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World last night highlights the reversal of some cuts by the Tulsa Public Schools:

The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.

In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.

“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”

Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.

Instead of reducing the number of teaching positions by 142, TPS will only have to cut 100. They’re only cutting $6.75 million out of the budget for the 2016-17 school year. Aren’t these ridiculous statements? The truth is that this is the position most Oklahoma districts find themselves in right now.

Public education funding is still lower than it was in 2010. Teachers still haven’t had raises in 10 years. Then again, it’s only ten years, right. And the funding is flat, right? That’s another word I’m tired of saying – flat. It’s lost all meaning.

larson

We’ve all been cutting for months. Three percent here. Four percent here. A change in motor vehicle collections everywhere. The Doerflinger Kerfuffle. A cushion from the Rainy Day Fund, which was nice. Then the loss of textbook money – another hit. One last late revenue failure, just for good measure.

And now, the state finds 100 million that it forgot to allocate. Hmm. What to do?

 

If trends hold and Oklahoma ends the fiscal year with a $100 million budget surplus, two main scenarios have emerged for how the money would be allocated.

“If funds are available to return, Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services can return funds equally to all agencies, or the Legislature and governor can allocate funds at their discretion via a special legislative session,” OMES Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday.

Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said the general revenue fund surplus stands at $166.6 million through 11 months and that even assuming revenue declines in June, a surplus topping $100 million is likely.

State officials made across-the-board spending cuts of 3 percent in December and 4 percent in March because revenues weren’t keeping up with expenditures amid the oil industry decline. The surplus occurred because the March cut was apparently larger than needed.

Maybe they should hold it. After all, it’s only $100 million or so. Seriously, though, I don’t know which of these two choices is preferable. I also don’t know how either option would work.

In Scenario A – restoring funding by percentage to agencies that received a cut – the funds would just go back according to the level of the cuts. This would hit each state agency pretty equally. Still, I wonder if this would be FY 16 funding or if it would be an early supplemental allocation for FY 17.  It’s FY 16 state revenue, so that kind of clouds the issue.

In Scenario B – a special session to distribute those funds – our Legislature reconvenes (after the primaries, of course) to determine which state functions have the greatest needs. This is probably what they should do. Then again, the timing of the funding is a little wonky. Let’s pretend that doesn’t matter though. It’s only a month into the new fiscal year, right? Looking at percentages, higher education had much worse cuts than just about anybody else. Would they restore funding for the agencies that took the hardest hits first?

Special sessions are pricey. In 2013 – the last time the governor called for one – taxpayers spent only $30,000 per day. As then Representative Joe Dorman said then:

Because we did not do our job the first time, we’re wasting taxpayer money, and we’re back here.

I know it’s frustrating to those making the budget that we are seeing such volatility in the factors that impact state revenue. I’m not critical about the $100 million or so that suddenly needs to be disbursed. They’re throwing darts at a moving dartboard. Besides, it’s only about 1.4% of the funds available to the Legislature to appropriate.

None of that is really the point, though. The jobs that hang in the balance, the programs that face elimination, the uncertainty that shadows all of us right now – all of it is because we love our tax cuts more than we love our students, our communities, and our infrastructure. We love the companies that receive tax credits more than the people who work for them. And that’s disgraceful.

One more thing: if you think that showing up to vote next week doesn’t matter because you’re only one vote, think again. Plenty of people will be showing up to vote against public education, and they’ll be coming one at a time, just like you. We just need our ones to outnumber theirs.

Sixteen Days to Something Different

I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.

The post I didnt finish.png

If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.

If you want to see more written about the Activities Budget, you can do one of two things. You can read the Oklahoman and Tulsa World coverage, or you can get your own blog. It’s really easy.

What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.

We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.

We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.

We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.

I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.

If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.

I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?

Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.

In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.

Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:

Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.

Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.

Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.

“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.

We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:

On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.

“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.

I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.

dear lord brian jackson is friends with a democrat we are all going to die

Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.when lloyd met brian

For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.

I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and  we can do it soon.

Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:

The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.

“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.

I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.

If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:

What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.

I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.

I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.

Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.

His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.

His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.

Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.

Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.

This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.

So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.

We mean different things by flat, right?

In case you missed the memo, our state’s legislative leaders are selling the idea that they’ve given us flat funding. I’ll try to make the case, again, that they haven’t, when I have more time over the weekend. In the meantime, enjoy this memo we all just received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education:

Elimination of textbook funds has districts scrambling, delays textbook adoption

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 8, 2016) — The state Legislature’s elimination of all funds designated for school textbooks has forced the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to recommend a one-year delay of textbook selection. Although $33 million was appropriated for textbooks in Fiscal Year 2016, legislators zeroed out the line item for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“The lack of appropriated dollars for textbooks is posing serious challenges for districts across Oklahoma,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “At a time when educators are implementing new, stronger standards for English language arts and mathematics, districts will be scrambling to raise funds to replace workbooks and other consumable materials for early reading students. In the meantime, children will continue to be saddled with outdated and tattered school books held together by duct tape.”

Hofmeister noted that school districts have little recourse but to delay the purchase of textbooks for reading and math, a restriction that can be particularly challenging for elementary school students.

“As a result of the funds being cut this year, we are seeing a number of textbook publishers pulling out of Oklahoma,” she said.

Under Oklahoma statute, the State Textbook Committee may delay by two years the textbook-adoption process. Every six years, the committee adopts textbooks for specific class subjects.

The 13-member committee, which is appointed by the governor, is expected to consider the recommendation at a special meeting later this month.

I spoke with two textbook representatives today, and they told me they are not pulling out of the state. However, that’s just two. There are others.

This is just the beginning of the ramifications we will see from this “flat” budget.SDE - Textbook Funds.png

Two Things: Not a Flat Budget; Please Vote

1. I’ve been stumbling around, writing and scratching my thoughts on the state budget agreement for several days now. I have a draft that I’ll probably scrap centered around the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s full of fun parallels between the show’s central premise and the sources of revenue around which the budget is framed.

whose line points.gif

In this case, though, we should say that the sources of revenue are made up and the numbers don’t matter. Maybe, if the marginal well tax generates $120 million, as we have budgeted for it to do, we won’t have a revenue failure next year. Sure, it’s never generated more than $20 million, but that doesn’t mean we can’t believe. Maybe if we wish hard enough…

I just don’t want to do that right now. At the expense of my civility, I was working together quite the hilarious post. Instead, just let me be direct.

Speaking as a superintendent, here’s what I know:

  • Due to three state revenue failures (wait for it – there will be one in June), we spent considerably more money in the fiscal year that ends June 30 than we generated. Thus, we have eaten through much of our fund balance (carryover).
  • The systems that typically equalize funding differences among school districts also failed this year. In our case, this amounted to an additional loss of $1.5 million.
  • Next year’s “flat” budget starts at this year’s end point. In other words, the losses endured by districts this school year will be felt again next year. If districts don’t cut spending, they will again spend more than they receive. That can’t go on forever.
  • The budget was made flat, in part, as I referenced above, by counting on revenue sources that will never generate the funds that are in the official state budget. It was also aided by emptying the State Department of Education’s Activities Budget. This includes money for textbooks, alternative education, and the Reading Sufficiency Act, among other things. For Mid-Del, this is an additional loss of more than a million dollars.
  • I know I’m not the only superintendent who believes that the budget will hold until after elections. Then, and only then, will we face another revenue failure and more mid-year cuts.
  • Nothing about the forecast for our state’s economy tells me we’ll be dealing with anything better next year.

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2. The points may not matter, but your vote does. So does that of your representatives and senators. SB 1616 passed the Senate by a vote of 30-16. It passed the House by a vote of 52-45. All the Democrats voted no. Many Republicans joined them. For some, it was because the budget contained elements that resembled tax increases. For others, it failed to address the reasons our budget has collapsed in the first place.

Sen. Mike Mazzei was blunt about his disappointment:

I argued against the budget on the Senate floor and voted against it for the following reasons:

1. The budget is once again propped up by one time money sources and borrowed dollars totaling $620 million.
2. Borrowing $200 million to prop up state’s expenditures could lead to a credit rating downgrade.
3. We did not restore funding from the FY16 automatic cuts to k-12 education and education funding as a percentage of overall revenues since I have been a State Senator has now fallen from 36% to 27%.
4. In spite of numerous promises after last year’s budget, we did not give teachers a pay raise. Legislator pay ranks in the top 20 nationally while Oklahoma teacher pay has sunk to 49th.
5. Although we did pass several tax reform bills which I wrote to save $262.8 million, our finance reform efforts did not address the super expensive wind power tax credit which will cost the state nearly $100 million this next fiscal year.
6. Without a teacher pay raise, insufficient funding for k-12 schools and a whopping $90 million cut to higher education we provided no alternative to the tax payers for the November ballot question to increase the Oklahoma sales tax by 20%.
7. In spite of a lot of talk at the beginning of session, no $1 million plus state agencies were consolidated or eliminated.
8. Also discussed significantly at the beginning of session were necessary changes to the so called “off the top” money that is diverted to special projects. Much of this is state tax payer money that funnels back to the counties. We did a big $0 of this much needed reform.
9. When the budget agreement was announced on Tuesday, Senators were assured that the mega expensive wind tax credit cost would be reduced, but the Oklahoma House failed to fulfill that end of the negotiated bargain.
10. The very successful ROADS program which has grown over 200% since 2008 will still receive its automatic $60 million increase even though revenues are down approximately 12%.
11. To avoid another financial crisis next year, General Revenues will have to increase over 10% next year. There is simply not enough growth in our national or state economy at this point for even 3% revenue growth.
12. The Oklahoma House increased their expenditure amount by $1.8 million. Shocking!

An extraordinary financial mess requires extraordinary financial fixes. Half measures and borrowing money just doesn’t cut it. The Senate did not push hard enough for major financial reforms and fiscal prudence. Sadly, that which matters most, producing an ever increasing number of college and career ready graduates was short shrifted once again.

To his credit, Mazzei tried all session to get his fellow Republicans to roll back the most recent round of tax cuts. The benefit to the working class Oklahoman is negligible. The cost to state agencies is tremendous. As I keep saying, there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you.

Senator David Holt, in comments to the Oklahoman was more succinct: 

“The thing that is disappointing to me the most this session is Oklahomans were paying attention to the priorities of this legislature more than in the six years I have been here,” Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said. “But as that attention increased our focus on the budget seemed to actually get worse. We didn’t respond to that attention in the way that I think we should have.”

I can’t argue with that. We are definitely paying attention more than ever. And as a body, the Legislature failed to meet that challenge. The government as a whole did, in fact. The governor presented ideas. So did individuals in the House and the Senate. Whether it was a three-cent increase to the gas tax or a buck-fifty per pack of cigarettes, or – God forbid – accepting $900 million in federal funds to expand Medicare and stabilize one of the safety nets in place for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, we couldn’t come to any agreement. We didn’t make progress.

We rolled back tax credits for the poor, but we didn’t touch the hundreds of millions that we give to corporations that pay back nothing:

Some state lawmakers justified their decision to curtail a tax credit for the working poor by declaring that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing people who owe no income taxes in the first place.

But the state has several tax breaks on the books that do essentially the same thing for businesses. Through a combination of direct refunds, rebates and tax credit “transfers,” companies with no income tax liability are receiving cash subsidies.

In some cases, the state pays the money to them directly. In some cases, they get the cash by selling credits they can’t use to taxpayers who can use them.

You should read the entire Oklahoma Watch article. It’s infuriating.

Meanwhile, our schools, our prisons, our roads, our nursing homes, and our hospitals are in serious trouble. Our governor may be the co-chair of the Republican National Party’s platform committee, but our government is broken. Argue that point with me. I’m waiting.

All of this is a direct result of the people we elect. Register to vote (by June 3rd). Know your representatives and senators. Many of them face viable primary opponents, as well as November challengers.

Call them. Email them. They still want to hear from you. Let them know that no matter their intentions, the results are unacceptable.

Cut after cut, year after year, our children pay the price. Our whole state does.

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Everything is made up, and the numbers do matter. The budget numbers matter. The voter registration numbers matter. The votes in four weeks matter…but only if you do something about it.

A-F: Flawed Now and Forever

This morning’s Oklahoman had a real surprise: an article by Ben Felder linking the state’s A-F Report Cards to the poverty level of schools. The connection between the two isn’t a surprise. It’s the placement of such a story.

A-F Oklahoman.jpg

Yep, that’s the front page of the Oklahoman. When I awoke this morning, I had messages and tweets telling me all about it. One tweet in particular pointed out that I had in fact made a similar connection on this blog – in 2012.

Yes, when Oklahoma issued the first A-F Report Cards in 2012 – using a formula that was even worse than the one we have now – I pointed out that the scores favored schools serving more affluent populations. Nonetheless, the Oklahoman supported the report cards on its editorial page.

Those who attribute good school grades to socio-economic factors are off the mark. Several A schools were in rural communities that aren’t concentrations of wealth and privilege. The poverty rate in Canton is higher than the statewide rate. Average household income is 14 percent lower than the statewide average. Yet Canton High School got an A.

Yes, you can always cherry pick the exceptions. Overall, though, poverty was a strong indicator of a school’s grade.

statterplot.png

For that post, I also looked at the specific distribution by site, for the schools with the highest and lowest poverty rates.

Here is the grade distribution of the high-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of High-Poverty Schools
A B C D F
2 8 32 46 2

Here is the grade distribution of the low-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of Low-Poverty Schools 
A B C D F
46 48 3 2 2

The truth is that this was also the case for the previous accountability system, API scores, as my very first blog post pointed out. It was still true the next year when the formula changed (and when the SDE had to recalculate scores a dozen or so times). Still, there was the Oklahoman criticizing the critics.

With the release of Oklahoma school sites’ A through F grades looming, opponents of accountability are predictably ramping up attacks. School officials should think twice before embracing one such tirade issued by a small group of college academics. To discredit A-F school grades, those researchers effectively argue that there is little correlation between a public school education and actual student learning.

The year doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s preemptive. Sometimes it’s reactionary. The stance of the Oklahoman has been consistent. They don’t like it when superintendents, researchers, or anyone else points out the obvious truth that an A school isn’t necessarily better than a C school.

That’s why today’s article, along with its prominence, isso surprising. Felder is a good researcher and writer, as today’s piece illustrates:

The average poverty rate for an A school in the state is 45 percent, based on analysis of the 2015 letter grade report from the Oklahoma state Department of Education.

As you move down the grading list, the poverty rate grows bigger — B: 58 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 76 percent, and F: 84 percent.

In Oklahoma County, which is home to school districts in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City, the income gap between A and F schools is even starker. The average in Oklahoma County is A: 29 percent, B: 56 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 77 percent, and F: 83 percent.

The disparity highlights the challenges students living in poverty face when it comes to performance in school, at least performance on end of the year exams, which account for the majority of the state letter grade. It also highlights the potential challenge for low-income families to access many of the state’s highest performing schools.

Moving from a neighborhood with an F school to one with an A school could mean finding a residence where the income level is nearly three times higher.

Again, we know this pretty well. In November 2013, I made a list of factors that correlate to a school’s A-F grade:

Another reader pointed me to this spreadsheet showing all school districts in Oklahoma, their student counts, and the percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The table also has bilingual student counts, which is information I previously didn’t have. Last week, I ran correlations between school grades (and district grades) and poverty. Yet another reader suggested to me that I run correlations between the grades and poverty, this time only using districts with more than 1,000 students.

Comparison Correlation
All District Grades to Poverty -.52
Large District Grades to Poverty -.80
Large District Grades to Bilingual -.32
Large District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.76
Small District Grades to Poverty -.51
Small District Grades to Bilingual -.10
Small District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.45

Both factors – poverty and bilingual education – seem to impact large districts to a greater extent. Statistically speaking, there are a couple of factors here. One is that the data for bilingual counts include a lot of schools with none reported. Zeros in statistics skew results (as they do with student grades). Another factor is that there were 131 of the large districts (still a statistically significant sample) and 386 small ones.

My takeaway from this is that while the report cards tell the story of schools’ accomplishments only to a limited extent, and while my analysis from before built on that, there is always more to learn, if you’re willing to unpack the data and find out what is happening. Among our largest schools, we see more variance in socio-economic levels. We also know that urban poverty and rural poverty are not identical.

As always, I should point out that correlation does not equal causation. Nor does it equal forecast. Schools with high poverty rates do sometimes perform well on tests. They just don’t do it with the frequency of schools with low poverty rates. The explanations for this are myriad. Low-poverty schools get more applicants for open teaching positions. They are more likely (based on US Census data) to have parents who are college-educated. They get more parental involvement. The list of reasons goes on and on.

Nor is this simply an Oklahoma phenomenon. As Paul Thomas writes on his national blog, The Becoming Radical, today:

“Bad” and “good” contribute to our coded political and public discourse that reflects our collective unwillingness to do what is required: reform directly education so that all students have the sorts of opportunities that we do guarantee to the most fortunate children among us.

That’s all an A-F Report Card system does. It codes our schools. It labels enough of them as failures to extend the narrative that public education as a whole is failing. And I’ll go ahead and say what you’re thinking: it contributes to white flight.

Asked for his thoughts, Rep. Jason Nelson acknowledged the poverty linkage to the grades, but also advocated for more school choice:

Nelson views this income disparity as a reason to allow a student’s state appointed funding to be used for enrolling in a higher performing school.

“A lot of parents can’t really move from the inner city of Oklahoma City to Deer Creek, and even if they could afford to do it … their support system can’t all move with them to Deer Creek,” Nelson said. “The key is to give them options where they exist today so they aren’t forced to move if they can’t.”

That’s all true. People can’t just buy a house that’s 300 percent more expensive and move. What he doesn’t mention – what education reformers never mention – is that the school with a low grade may still be a good school. It’s also myopic to assume that families from the inner city even want to move to Deer Creek. Some people actually value their neighborhoods, and as an extension, their neighborhood schools. Maybe some would move, given the option. Some wouldn’t though.

Let’s frame it another way. If your kids are in a school with a low poverty rate, something like 20 percent free/reduced lunch participation, and the school gets a B, aren’t you going to wonder why? It rarely happens. Does that mean that every school with low poverty and an A has great teachers? Absolutely not. It’s easy to be shiny when you have resources. That doesn’t mean the teachers don’t work hard, though.

That’s been another one of my great concerns during this age of accountability. We don’t want to make any assumptions based on the letter grades. Some schools with an A are great. Some aren’t. The same is true for schools with lower grades. In most of them, you’re going to find teacher working really hard to help students succeed.

The Oklahoman recognizing that poverty impacts student achievement is like Mary Fallin acknowledging that fracking causes earthquakes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, but it was obvious to the rest of us for years.

I’m happy for Felder’s coverage, but I now wonder what will follow on the editorial page. There’s long been a disconnect between the paper’s reporters (who tend to treat public school stories fairly) and its opinion writers.

For 2016, we’re still using the A-F Report Cards that hundreds of superintendents, as well as the state superintendent, have completely disavowed. Testing is over for the spring, and report cards won’t come out until this fall. If you want a preview, however, click this link showing current percentages of students served by free and reduced lunches in our schools. This will be pretty close to the final outcome.

VAM: Better Never than Late

April 27, 2016 Comments off

Let’s talk about teachers for a moment. Some are great, some are decent, and some are better suited for another career. We knew this when we were students. We see it as parents. It’s even obvious to us sometimes as colleagues down the hall. The vast majority of teachers fit into the first two categories. Of that, we should be quite proud. Just the same, nearly all schools have someone who brings us all down.

If there were an instrument – a valid, reliable one that I believed could tell me numerically who my best teachers are – I’d use it in a heartbeat.

There’s not.

When I was teaching Honors English II classes in Mustang, most of my students could have passed their end-of-instruction exams before they even had one day with me. There was no standardized instrument suited either to measure their learning or my effectiveness. They were already hitting their heads on the ceiling of every test they had ever taken. Another test showing the same thing meant nothing to them.

As a teacher, I received great evaluations. Those also may or may not have meant anything. I can only remember two negative comments, both from my first year of teaching, when I was in Muskogee.

The first (from an assistant principal) was a question about whether or not I noticed a certain student chewing gum while I was teaching. Yes, I had noticed it. No, I didn’t want to interrupt the momentum of instruction to draw attention to it. By the end of the hour, I had forgotten about it. Yes, he got away with breaking a rule, but it wasn’t worth stopping and starting again.

The second (from the university professor on my entry-year committee) was a comment about finding something instructional for students to do when they finish an assignment because – wait for itall they’re doing is reading.  Claudia Swisher, I should have told you to turn away. Oh, the horror! Eighth graders reading, without anyone telling them to! I think his point was that I should have been teaching bell-to-bell. If it was something else, it was lost on me.Simpsons Scream.jpg

I think as a first year teacher, I had some very good moments. By the time I left the classroom, I think I was a very good teacher. I was never great, though. I didn’t have the years of experience (nine) or consistency to claim that. I loved it, but we’re not automatically good at the things we love. I love to sing in the car. I love basketball.

If you looked at my evaluations when I was in the classroom, though, you would have thought I was the very model of a modern master teacher. All of the check marks were in the far right column (the good side). Occasionally, I’d have a few encouraging comments like “try beginning class with an activity to engage prior knowledge.” Casually (not in writing), I would receive suggestions about classroom management or working with parents and colleagues – normal things that young teachers need to learn. Still, my evaluations would have all the check marks lined up in the right boxes.

That was the old teacher evaluation system. In 2011, the Legislature – acting in conjunction with then State Superintendent Janet Barresi – passed legislation creating the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System, or TLE. Even with later legislation amending it, the TLE law includes both qualitative and quantitative pieces. Since not all teachers give a state test, and since not all state tests are paired in ways that can show growth, two different quantitative measurements were created: Value Added Measures (VAM) and Other Academic Measures (OAM). The OAMs are no longer a thing. They have ceased to be. They are now ex-quantitative components.

Let me come back to VAM a few paragraphs from now. On the qualitative side, I have seen two of the evaluation models in action. When I was in Moore, we used the Tulsa Model. In Mid-Del, we use Marzano. I honestly have no preference. The language describing the different ranges of teachers is about the same.

With the way we used to do teacher evaluations, as with TLE, what really matters is how committed principals are to improving instruction. Do they have the resolve to have difficult conversations with teachers? Do they use the evaluation model with fidelity? Or, to borrow from Garrison Keillor, is the school the kind of place where “all the [teachers] are above average”?

We can have a well-researched qualitative teacher evaluation system, and we can make districts pay for training in the summer so that principals learn to calibrate their scores for teachers. It’s like shooting free throws in practice. When you have the pressure of giving a teacher a low score, even though you personally like that person, or even though his last 10 principals gave him a good evaluation, what will you do?

I’ve jumped in with both feet, and I know many other principals who have too. It’s not an easy thing to do, but at least you’re doing what seems right based on what you actually see. Then there’s VAM.

To date, no teacher in Oklahoma (that I know of) has had a VAM score added to his/her evaluation. No principal or superintendent I talk to has faith in them. It also sets up a two-track system for evaluating teachers – one for those with a VAM score, and one for those without. It’s inequitable on its face.

That is why I was less than enthused to see this in my email yesterday:

Value-Added Results Now Available

Value-added results demonstrating student academic growth during the 2014-15 school year are now available for teachers and administrators through the SSO2 portal. Guidance documents about how to access and distribute these reports can be found on the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) page on the OSDE website.

If, by chance, I cared about VAM scores, I would probably want them sooner. Why would I attach scores that ostensibly show a teacher’s effectiveness last year to this year’s evaluation? Since I don’t care and I wouldn’t use them, we need them to go away. In Mid-Del, I don’t even know how many certified and support employees in my district spend how many hours preparing for the Roster Verification process. It’s all a waste of their time. Furthermore, the SDE spends over $600,000 on contracts with out-of-state vendors so we can verify who had this kid for what part of that month and how to calculate VAMs that nobody uses. Every penny of that is a waste of resources that continue to melt away.

One bill that we can still support to end this madness is HB 2957. In its current form:

  • Districts would have the option to use quantitative measures in their evaluation process; but it would no longer be required;
  • Teachers and administrators would develop a yearly individualized program of professional development;
  • This would be a collaborative effort between the evaluator and the teacher/principal.
  • The focus would be on components from the qualitative framework, but not necessarily on low areas;
  • This is not intended to increase the amount of required PD hours, but rather to focus professional learning on areas that lead to higher student achievement;
  • VAM would no longer be required by the state (and hopefully no longer purchased by it either); and
  • Career teachers receiving a district rating of “highly effective” or “superior” would only need to be formally evaluated once every three years.

It passed the House by a vote of 94-0. It passed the Senate with amendments 46-0. Now the House needs to approve the changes and send it on to Governor Fallin. Easy, right?

Not this year. Nothing is easy this year. Nor is it logical.

Here’s hoping…

 

 

 

 

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Ten Things: OCPA Math

April 19, 2016 5 comments

It’s Tuesday, and today, I have an oversized Two Things post. Somehow over the weekend, I missed a real nugget in the Tulsa World. Brandon Dutcher, senior vice-president with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), opined about how the state’s budget crisis could be a billion dollars worse. Here’s a dollop:

“Oklahoma has about 692,000 students in public schools,” says Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “According to the U.S. Census and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 100,000 students are educated outside of the public school system.”

Imagine if 100,000 new students showed up at their local public school tomorrow morning (“I’m here for my free education, please!”). If our elected officials wanted to keep per-pupil spending at its current level, they would have to come up with another billion dollars annually, based on numbers from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.

One of our policymakers’ chief priorities is public education, i.e., making sure we have an educated public. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter where that education takes place.

Some of it takes place in public schools, for which our political leaders are spending some $10,000 per student (according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s own numbers).

Let’s start there. I see several things floating in the pond already.

1. I looked in the SDE’s system. According to this file, which shows expenditures from all sources of revenue for the 2014-15 school year, Oklahoma school districts spent a grand total of $6.59 billion. This includes General Fund spending, as well as other sources such as the Building Fund, Child Nutrition, and Activity Accounts. That’s actually about $9,600 per pupil. Since Child Nutrition is a self-sustaining fund in most districts, that really doesn’t count. Nor should Activity Funds. Perhaps there are better figures to use.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Oklahoma school districts spent $8,526 per pupil in 2013-14. For the same year, according to Oklahoma’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, districts spent $7,875 per pupil. If you want to count debt service in addition to that amount, the average goes up another $813 per pupil.

So somewhere between $8,500 and $9,000 per this and per that is probably accurate.

2. State support for public education is on the decline. As of 2013-14, about 48% of school funding was from state tax dollars. Even if we used Dutcher’s $10,000 per pupil figure, half of it would come from somewhere else. In his thought experiment, the increased billion dollar burden is only half a billion.

3. I can’t tell you the percentage of those 100,000 students who would be served by programs such as free/reduced lunch and special education, but since we’re manipulating statistics, let’s assume both would be lower than what public schools currently serve. Still, the number would be greater than zero. That changes the funding streams as well. Both of those would trigger adjustments in federal aid, generating more tax dollars for schools.

Let me drop a few more chunks here:

Some of it takes place outside of the public school system — in home schools, for example, or in accredited private schools, where the median tuition is $5,310, according to the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission. Cash-squeezed appropriators should be grateful for these thousands of parents who are picking up the tab themselves.

Indeed, politicians should try to save even more money (and reduce school overcrowding) by redirecting some of those 692,000 students into the nonpublic sector.

Many parents would jump at the chance. In the last two years, three different scientific surveys have asked Oklahomans what type of school they would prefer for their children. Each time, many respondents (48 percent, 50 percent, and 30 percent) said they would choose a nonpublic alternative.

Policymakers should try to bridge the gap between actual enrollment and what parents want. A $5,000 voucher, tax credit, or education savings account, for example — even if it didn’t cover the full tuition amount — would spur some of those 692,000 to choose alternatives outside of the public school system. (As for the 100,000 already outside the system? Sorry, I’m afraid in this budget climate that would be too tall an order.)

4. Another fun thing about math is knowing the difference between median and average. The median tuition may be $5,310. What we don’t know is whether that statistic is skewed or not. If so, which direction? It could be that many private schools with low enrollment and low cost drive those numbers downward. The reverse could be true. It’s a number without context, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a representative amount. Is tuition the only revenue source for private schools? Do faith based academies receive appropriations from their congregation or diocese? What level of donor support do they have? Hell, can we count lunches and activity funds too? Apples to apples, right?

5. I can’t speak for all my public school friends, but if any of those 100,000 students were to show up in Mid-Del tomorrow, we’d gladly take them in and find space for them. On the contrary, private schools would only selectively accept the students we serve. As I’ve written before – both on this blog, and in an email exchange with Dutcher last fall– I don’t want private schools to have to change their mission in order to accept all students. I just don’t think tax dollars should go to schools that have missions which would lead them to exclude people.

6. Oklahoma’s budget has been built around OCPA math for more than a decade. It’s probably fair to say, even, that many who serve in leadership roles in the current Legislature are some of the think tank’s strongest disciples. Rather than imagining a budget crisis that’s a billion dollars worse, try imagining one that doesn’t exist at all. That’s an altogether different thought experiment.

7. In January, David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, detailed how tax cuts have decreased state revenue by more than a billion dollars in the last 12 years.

top-rate-2004-2018-1

Cuts to PK-12 education alone, due to these tax cuts, total $356 million.

revenue-lost-to-tax-cuts-by-agency-1

8. It’s not just schools. It’s colleges also. It’s health care, human services, roads and bridges, and corrections too. I’ve said many times that there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you. This is the legacy of the term-limited members of what had been the largest freshman legislative class in decades.

9. This is also why the 2016 crop of candidates who have filed for office is even larger than the 2004 class that replaced the first group of term-limited legislators – and why so many of those who have filed are teachers (or teacher-adjacent).

Baby Ruth

10. Lastly, Dutcher’s column in the World is a cold reminder that many of those whose public service is ending next month are still desperate to pass vouchers. Watch for them in the budget bill.

Or your swimming pool.

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