Posts Tagged ‘Standards’

Call to Action: Stop the Madness

March 26, 2016 2 comments

Superintendent Hofmeister delivered the new math and English/language arts standards to the Legislature on February 1. Unless other directions were given by the both houses and signed by the governor, the standards would take effect as of the 30th day of session.

Apparently Monday – the day after Easter – is that 30th day. Let’s see…session started February 1st. There are 29 days in February. Monday will be the 28th day of March. That means…

Wait, you’re telling me that in 57 calendar days, the Legislature has only been in session for 30? I get the whole “want to spend the weekend with my family” thing. Believe me. I get it. They take Fridays off to meet with constituents back in their districts. Well, many of them do. I suppose I can’t paint with a broad brush.

Still, if they had worked eight four-day weeks since the start of February, there would have been 32 days of session so far. So what happened?

They took an extra day off during Spring Break, and they took an extra day off last week. The timing was fascinating.

This Monday, the House and Senate passed joint resolutions (HJR 1070 and SJR 75, respectively) to approve the standards. The House version calls for additional review by the groups that had already provided comments, but it still would allow Hofmeister and the State Department of Education to move forward. The Senate version – which I love – would approve the standards and permanently remove the Legislature from the business of approving standards at all.

Then it all turned into a [choose your own colorful term] contest. The Senate wouldn’t hear the House resolution, and the House wouldn’t hear the Senate resolution. Then the House called it a week a day early, but the Senate didn’t. Now it depends on who you ask as to whether or not we’ve reached the 30th day.

Side note: this is the government we’ve chosen to have. I’m just going to leave that there.

Everything seemed to be over. However, as former Faber College student John Blutarsky once said, nothing is over until WE decide it is!

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On Friday, somebody said (and repeated, and repeated) the phrase that makes rational conversation suddenly disappear.




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Last week it was Jenni White over at ROPE. This week, it’s Representative Dan Fisher, who appeared yesterday on the Glenn Beck radio program.

In this 12 minute clip, he flat out lies about the new math and ELA standards. He says that we’re bringing Common Core back.

We’re not. We’ve covered that extensively. Nobody has distanced themselves from our new standards more than Achieve, Inc. – the architects of the Common Core. As I mentioned last week, they reviewed our standards and hated them. They pointed out over 200 times how our standards are not like Common Core. We even had a Twitter battle over the fact that I pointed this out.

It was the best of times.

Thank you, Achieve, Inc., for making my point for me. These standards were made by Oklahomans for Oklahomans. They received over 60 letters of support from fellow Oklahomans. One of them was from me – a life-long and fourth-generation Oklahoman. Are they as good as Common Core? It depends on whom you ask. Curriculum has been my professional area of emphasis since I started graduate school in 1999. I think they are. I would stake my professional reputation on it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have voiced my support in the first place.

Glenn Beck is not an Oklahoman. Dan Fisher is, but he’s an extremist.

Unfortunately, this stunt has activated the people who listen to Glenn Beck – nationally – and who are now calling our legislators’ offices. We need to do the same.

If you want to know about the math standards, read what Nicole Styers wrote yesterday:

One striking difference between 2009 and today: during previous revisions of standards, state leadership specifically asked us not to open the standards up to public comment.  For our new standards, we actively sought out as much feedback as possible, above and beyond what was even “required” of us by HB 3399.

For me, this was the most amazing and rewarding part of the process.  To be able to collaborate with teachers and others in education across the state was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  It truly was a team effort, one that I am honored to have been a part of.

Over the last 10 months, The writing team meet face to face, as a whole team and as grade band groups, at least half a dozen times. We also meet via web conferencing and conference calls. Although we had a compressed timeline, the SDE hosted three official rounds of public comment and several unofficial rounds (when groups of educators came together as groups and looked over them together). I was blown away by the amount of input and the number of people who took the time to share. I loved Rob Miller’s blog about Ordering the Perfect Pizza you might link it here. It is perfect metaphor of the process. It was a collaborative effort. Often, we made changes based on comments that I didn’t personally agree with, like the grade integers are introduced, but that was the nature of the process.  We never compromised the content or the conviction to have the best standards possible for Oklahoma Students.  For my students.  For my daughter.

Now is the time. They are ready. They are strong. We need stability. We need to move forward.

Or read what Brook Meiller – who was on the ELA team – wrote on Facebook yesterday:

I am on the standards writing team along with other Oklahoma educators. We worked hard to make these standards right for Oklahoma students. Groups outside of Oklahoma and outside the interest of Oklahoma public schools students are slandering the standards and those who wrote them. When you read or hear something about the Oklahoma ELA standards not having anything about Oklahoma in them, or are simply Common Core, remember that ELA concerns such as foundational reading, parts of speech, paragraph writing, theme, similes, etc….none of these are unique to Oklahoma. Our standards are good and need to be in the hands of Oklahoma teachers. ROPE and Glenn Beck have no business in public school in Oklahoma. They do not care about our kids. Call and email your legislators and ask them to pass these standards and move on to other important issues in our state. Please share.

That’s what we need to do. For now, I’m through with trying to engage the people listening to the likes of Beck and Fisher. They’re not even trying to understand public education or standards. Call your senator. Call your representative. Mention that you’re an actual Oklahoman. Mention where you work, where your kids go to school, what the standards mean to you. Let them know you’re fed up with the delay. Let them know you want the standards enacted now.

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Two Things: Diligently Moving Forward

March 22, 2016 1 comment

Yesterday, the Senate and House both advanced joint resolutions on the new standards for math and English/language arts.

1. SJR 75 came out of committee on an 8-4 vote, and is vastly changed. Now it is a resolution to approve the standards with instructions to the SDE and State Board:

SECTION 2. The Legislature requests that the State Board of Education and State Department of Education staff address the following as it develops curriculum frameworks to implement the standards:

A. The State Department of Education shall provide implementation support, including but not limited to examples to assist educators in developing their curriculum;

B. The State Department of Education shall ensure that the standards and accompanying curriculum frameworks provide a foundation for assessments to be implemented on or before the 2017- 2018 school year.

This resolution now would give the SDE the green light to start working with teachers around the state to implement the standards. As it is currently written, this is a great step in the right direction. Kudos should be given to Senator Clark Jolley for proposing the changes to the resolution.

To be fair, not everybody agreed with Jolley’s changes.

Just the same, it passed committee, and Senator Brecheen voted for it. Later in the day, it cleared the full Senate on a 30-16 vote.

2.Then yesterday afternoon, the full House debated and passed an amended HJR 1070. The key change is this language:

New Language.jpg

In other words, this can’t take forever. The resolution now reads to approve the standards, with the State Department of Education still having to receive input from the fifteen outside entities, some of which are not exactly friends of public education.

List of outside reviewers

Now that the SDE would control their own timeline, there’s nothing to delay implementation of the standards. Still, it does add an intermediate task.

HJR passed with a vote of 60-30.

This leaves three options for implementing the standards:

A. Do nothing. The standards will go into effect automatically Thursday even if neither of these bills hits the Governor’s desk.

B. Advance SJR 75 through the House and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two.

C. Advance HJR 1070 through the Senate and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two and require the SDE to spend additional time listening to people it has already listened to while trying to work with teachers on turning standards into curriculum.

As Representative Cyndi Munson said yesterday on Twitter, many in the House voted no on HJR 1070 (even as amended) because we need to just let the SDE do their jobs at this point.

If you have a picture in your mind of who usually supports public education and who usually doesn’t, looking at any of these vote counts will only make you scratch your head. It’s never that cut and dry, which is why there was a decent amount of frustration at the end of the day. Many who voted  no (in both the House and Senate) were doing so in response to their constituents, who had contacted them in waves during the past week.

Today is a new day. There will be new things to discuss. Hopefully, moving past the standards brings us one step closer to focusing on the biggest issue our Legislature faces: the budget.



No on the Joint Resolutions

March 20, 2016 Comments off

Last Tuesday, while several hundred of my closest friends were merrily walking through the Capitol, and most legislators had taken the day off, most of us thought we’d be busy fighting SB 1187 (and its House counterpart, HB 3156) once everybody came back from Spring Break next week. We were wrong.

A few legislators were still around. Some were quite accessible. Some even had new legislation to push. Unknown to those of us speaking to our legislators, we should have been fighting a very targeted nuisance.

Snow and Nelson

On Monday, legislators had filed three joint resolutions that would delay approval of the new math and English/language arts standards, cost the state money it doesn’t have, and prevent implementation for the upcoming school year. One appears harmless to some, calling for approval but with instructions. The devil is in the instructions, though.

Below, I will discuss each resolution briefly and then once again recap some of the criticism of the standards. Then I will add email addresses and phone numbers of key legislators that you should call if you want to make your own thoughts known. If you already know what you want to say, feel free to skip to the end and start calling and emailing.

SJR 75 (by Brecheen and Sykes)

Senators Brecheen and Sykes authored SJR 75, which calls for the following, along with rejecting the standards:

The State Board of Education shall submit to members of the Legislature an unbiased report comparing the standards resubmitted to the Legislature pursuant to this section with the standards that were in place prior to the revisions adopted by the State Board of Education in June 2010. No member of the standards writing team shall participate in or contribute to the comparison report. The report shall include a list of all contributors to the report with accompanying evidence proving their unbiased status.

The section disapproving the ELA standards also includes the prohibition of including people the SDE had write the standards, along with these instructions:

The revised standards require students to become familiar with historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts that contributed to the development of the English language and its fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with significant texts, people, movements and events in Oklahoma’s political, intellectual and literary history;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with America’s founding and seminal political documents;

This bill is assigned to the Senate Education Committee. This resolution can die here, and if it does, that bodes well for the standards approval. Brecheen and Sykes are adamant about excluding the people who wrote the standards from influencing this process any further. That’s too bad. Writing team member Jason Stephenson wrote an eloquent post on his blog today explaining the level to which these politicians are further insulting teachers. His qualifications?

Let me be up front and say that I served on the committee that wrote the English standards. I have taught for eleven years in seventh through twelfth grades. I have my master’s degree in English, and I’m a past president of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. As an Oklahoma Writing Project teacher consultant, I’ve presented numerous workshops to teachers around the state.

I’d listen to that guy before I’d listen to a fringe group that wants nothing to do with public schools. There’s also the matter of the specific reading lists mandated by this resolution. English teachers don’t need legislation to tell us to use historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts. That’s like telling fish to swim. This is what we do.

They want a list of required reading, ostensibly so we don’t stray too far from their comfort zone. They want to go beyond standards and determine curriculum. That’s not their place.

HJR 1070 (Speaker Hickman)

This resolution goes straight to the floor. Section 1 states that both sets of standards “are hereby approved in whole with instructions as set forth in Section 2 of this resolution.” That’s where it gets tricky. Section 2 begins saying:

Prior to the State Board of Education implementing the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts and the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics as approved in Section 1 of this resolution, the Board shall take the following action which shall be completed no later than the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year:

  1. Review and compile a list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested in the “Oklahoma Academic Standards/Common Core State Standards Comparison Analysis Reports” prepared by the South Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma and submitted to the Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister on January 25, 2016, and any other clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested by individuals and groups previously identified by the State Department of Education as the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts” and the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics”;

  2. Submit the compiled list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions as described in paragraph 1 of this section to the Outside Reviewers as described in paragraph 1 of this section which shall make comments regarding each clarification, revision, improvement and addition;

Let me pause there. This bill approves the standards but delays their implementation another year, and then only if the SDE makes changes and submits them to outside reviewers. Below is the list of outside reviewers that would have to approve the changes:

List of outside reviewers

This is an exercise in futility. This disparate group of reviewers includes ROPE, whose loathing of public education cannot possibly be overstated. It also includes the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English, of which many members of the standards writing team are members. The groups on this list will never be in full agreement about anything. If this resolution passes, we could be back in the same place in a few months. If the teams make changes to please one group, another group will voice concerns. There is no middle ground on which all of these voices will find enough agreement to give their approval.

And that gets me back to what I’ve been saying for the last five days. Trust the teachers who wrote the standards. Trust the teachers who will teach our children.

Here’s more from this resolution:

A. All subject matter standards and revisions to the standards adopted by the State Board of Education pursuant to Section 11-103.6a of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes shall be subject to legislative review as set forth in this section. The standards shall not be implemented by the State Board of Education until the legislative review process is completed as provided for in this section.

B. Upon adoption of any subject matter standards, the State Board of Education shall submit the adopted standards to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a designee and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate or a designee prior to the last thirty (30) days of the legislative session.

That’s a pretty quick turnaround – 30 days from the end of the legislative session. Are those working days? Total days? At most, the SDE would have a month complete all of this work. Actually, scratch that. It can’t be done. They have to get SBE approval first. It can’t be done.

This bill delays implementation of the standards for a year. Each ensuing step of the process will cost the state more time too. It impacts future testing contracts. It impacts textbook adoption. It insults teachers, yet again – which is something legislators up for re-election probably can’t afford to do right now.

Representative Jason Nelson, who at least engages #oklaed in lively debate on Twitter, doesn’t seem to get this.

Nelson twitter

No matter what you hear this week, HJR 1070 does not help.

HJR 1071 (Speaker Hickman)

This one is kind of a hybrid of the first two. Here’s the key language:

If the Legislature fails to adopt a joint resolution within thirty (30) legislative days following submission of the standards or fifteen (15) legislative days following resubmission of the revised standards as provided for in Section 2 of this resolution during the 2nd Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature, the standards shall be deemed approved.

There would be another chance to go through this mess, but again, the timeline is crazy tight. There’s little hope the standards would be approved and in place for the upcoming school year.

As Claudia Swisher wrote on Facebook this morning:

Senate Ed Committee meets tomorrow 9am to consider the Brecheen Joint Resolution to reject the new Standards in part or in full. Emails below to contact them today. Vote no on SJR75

House GOP meets in Caucus tomorrow am to decide what to do with the two Joint Resolutions to reject the standards in part or in full. The emails of the entire House are in the comments also. Vote no on HJR1070 and 1071.

The opposition to the Standards is coming from a group who identifies public education as the enemy, from the newspaper who was in love with the Superindentist, and the non-profit Achieve, who lost big when OK repealed CCSS. Oh, and from legislators who are miffed that the OSDE published a fiscal impact statement about how vouchers would devastate our schools.

That pretty much covers the groups with whom a few in our legislature have aligned themselves. Another way of looking at this, as General Baxter said yesterday, is this:

A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State. Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

Baxter also said that much of this 11th hour opposition has the fingerprints of the former state superintendent all over them. He would know, famously having been the subject of her obscenity and vitriol.

My advice to the legislators still trying to replay the elections of 2014: maybe you should focus on the upcoming elections instead.

Quit being obstructionists. Quit insulting the work and professionalism of educators. On this one, just get out of the way.

Call to the Capitol 3.21.15

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General Baxter Says it Even Better

March 19, 2016 6 comments

Retired general and State Board of Education member Lee Baxter posted his thoughts on the standards debate on Facebook tonight. baxter.jpg

I am a member of the State Board of Education. I am not known to be reluctant to express my opinion. So I shall.

1. The legislature rejected Common Core in 2014 and directed that we needed OKLAHOMA standards written by OKLAHOMANS for OKLAHOMA children and their parents, and that the OKLAHOMA State Regents for Higher Education certify those standards as preparing our children for college and career.

2. A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State.Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

3. Now we have 2 Senators, Brecheen and Sykes, who declare these OKLAHOMA educators are not smart enough, not capable enough nor talented enough to do the job. Instead they want the inputs of a Massachussets/ Arkansas arrogant miscreant who admires only her own standards, and the radicalized splinter group called ROPE who have just declared “public education is not worth restroring.” Every teacher in the state should be completely insulted by the actions of these two. Like me, they are Republicans. I am not proud of them. None participated in public comment forums…..

4. If I need a plumber, I do not hire an electrician. I hire a plumber. And when I want standards written, I would hire a teacher, an educator…..NOT a lawyer or a horse trainer (with apologies to Sykes and Brecheen.). What do they know about math and English standards????? Nothing

5. I am sure I know the agenda here. These two Senators simply do not want these standards. And why not? Because they both drink from the trough of the former State Superintendent, whose fingerprints are all over their actions.

6. Rep Jason Nelson also wants these delayed, yet seems much more reasonable and is asking for “tweaks and edits” Well, Jason, pass these now and I promise the SDE and the Board will take up your concerns PROMPTLY.

7.OKLAHOMA School adminstrators and teachers and parents want these standards NOW. NO more delays. We have produced what we were asked for . “Standards for Oklahmans by Oklahomans.” Does not the legislature have real problems to solve???????

All….please contact your leaders and members in the legislature. MUST BE NOW. This will all be done as early as Monday…..

I’ll just leave that there, but General Baxter, next time you see me, ask if I have a spare microphone. If I do, it’s yours to drop.



Definitely Not Common Core

March 19, 2016 1 comment

If we needed proof that the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts are not just a rebrand of the jettisoned Common Core State Standards, it arrived Friday night with a resounding plop. At about 8:30, Achieve, Inc. released a 68 page document highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’ve never heard of Achieve, here are a few graphics to help you get an idea of who they are.

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Achieve was one of the drivers behind the development and implementation of the Common Core. Here’s a blurb from their website:

At the direction of 48 states, and partnering with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve helped develop the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-six states and the National Research Council asked Achieve to manage the process to write the Next Generation Science Standards. In the past Achieve also served as the project manager for states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. And since 2005, Achieve has worked with state teams, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of the real world so that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to fully reach their promise in college, careers and life.

Throughout their website, you can find resources to support Common Core implementation. This is who they are. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of their harshest criticisms of our standards are tied to things that they feel Common Core does better. For example:

sample criticism

Most of the review follows a simple format:

  • Make a declarative statement about the Oklahoma standards.
  • Identify any strengths in this part of the standards.
  • Explain how Common Core is superior.
  • Forecast the fall of western civilization.

That last part is implied, rather than explicitly stated (which I find to be a weakness).

Here’s one of the Common Core standards that the document’s author(s) hold up as critical:

Tracing the reasons and evidence an author gives so students are able to break down arguments and understand the structure of claims, warrants, and evidence (for examples, see CCSS RI #8 across grade levels).

This is a wonderful thing to teach. We can do this with historical documents and speeches. We can use editorials and blogs. We could even break down the cable news folderol or statements from candidate debates for this. What I don’t need, as an English teacher, is a specific standard telling me to do it. I would’ve gotten there on my own.

This gets back to the gist of all the criticisms I’ve read in the last week (yes, the last week). The standards don’t explicitly spell out every task we want teachers to have students do. I’m fine with that. That’s not the purpose of standards.

We shouldn’t be bothered that Achieve doesn’t approve of our standards. The timing, on the other hand, seems suspicious, however. Why drop the report on a Friday night? Why now, with less than a week to go before the standards are approved? Wondering these things, I took to Twitter and started asking questions. Friends chimed in too. Below are some of our questions, as well as some responses from Achieve and their people:

Achieve claims that the review was completely independent and neither funded nor requested by anyone. They evaluate and review standards. It’s just a thing that they do. After all, they’re a non-profit and all of their activities are simply a service to the public.

If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime at all, you’ve probably detected that non-profit is one of my trigger words. So I looked at their 990 tax form from 2013 (the most recent one online). They have about a 14 million dollar budget. They list 10 employees (all that the form requires) making in excess of $100,000. They’re a non-profit entity, for sure, but they’re not a bunch of starving artists, either. Their funding comes from such sources as the Gates Foundation and the Batelle Foundation. Yes, the people who brought us value-added measurement and roster verification are among their primary supporters.

Reviews like this take time. They take money. I have no evidence or reason to believe that the Achieve’s report was anything but independent. Unless something to the contrary surfaces, I’ll accept that. For the record, one other pair of their tweets made me snicker a little:

I get it. Nobody understands how it feels to have your standards attacked better than the architects of the Common Core. As for not believing that this is an attack, well maybe they lack context for what it’s like to be an educator in Oklahoma. Within the last week, our standards have been criticized by a group that wants nothing to do with public education (yet somehow still gets a seat at the table).

Jenni doesn't care

This comes on top of relentless attacks, whether it is voucher schemes that would further deplete school funding, charter school bills sugar-coated as empowerment legislation, and ongoing political coercion from out-of-state. The timing of the report is also frustrating – three days after resolutions were filed in the House and Senate to disapprove the standards, and days before they automatically go into effect.

Again, if we take people’s words at face value, then we should accept the fact that legislators like Jason Nelson, Jeff Hickman, Anthony Sykes, and Josh Brecheen have been reviewing feedback of the standards all along. Still, they can’t point to a single conversation with a single member of the standards writing teams. Furthermore, they respond to the critics of the standards, but not at all to the 60+ letters of support the SDE has received.

I’ve also read the letters of support, and the most compelling was written by Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math. He writes:

My background is as follows: I am a mathematician by training with a bachelor’s degree in math from Princeton University (1986) and a PhD in pure math from MIT (1991). While pursuing my PhD I taught students at MIT and at the University of California at San Diego….

Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task of examining the Oklahoma Standards with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well-prepared for college and be capable of pursuing STEM majors, if they chose to do so.

As for me, I’m just tired of waiting. When I was in Moore, we spent nearly four years transitioning from PASS to Common Core. When the state pulled the plug, our teachers were frustrated – even the ones who didn’t like the Common Core. So we transitioned back to PASS. Now, we’ve been writing and developing these standards, and we’re on the precipice of implementing them. Will the state pull the plug again? Our teachers deserve more certainty than that.

If what had been developed during the past year was lousy, I could see delaying or even dumping it. That’s not the case at all. What we have is something between ROPE’s happy place and Achieve’s. That’s what I call a sweet spot.

One more thing: below is an excerpt from Brecheen’s argument in 2014 for Oklahoma to toss the Common Core.

This is his screed against books, particularly against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which he called pornographic. Now he, and a handful of others in the Legislature, want to delay the standards, citing the lack of reading exemplars as one of their reasons. The truth is that they were going to be against the standards because they don’t like the name at the top of the letterhead. They don’t need another reason.

Along with the editors at the Oklahoman – who ran an opinion piece on the standards by someone who hasn’t read them – and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – whose Andrew Spiropoulos once warned conservatives not to get rid of Common Core – we have to deal with people in elected positions intent on disrupting public education, above all else.This is about politics and egos.

Some in the House will claim that one of the proposed standards resolutions – HJR 1070 – would not delay implementation of the standards at all. That is false.

1070  Nelson twitter

Apparently, Nelson doesn’t understand the delay (and cost) that this supposedly harmless resolution would cause. Nor does he seem to remember that ROPE – which has no interest in helping public education – would be involved in the review process.

review committees

The standards are ready. They’re not perfect; they never will be. We should take constructive feedback into consideration, but we shouldn’t stop what we’re doing because of it.

That Awkward Moment

March 16, 2016 5 comments

This one time at EdCamp a friend asked me how I come up with an idea and start writing. I don’t have a precise formula. Generally, my ideas fall in that sweet spot in the Venn Diagram between something I know and something that needs to be said. If either of those things is lacking, I simply don’t write. If I’m not passionate, why bother? If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that will be pretty obvious. Unfortunately, not everybody follows this rule.

Today, the Oklahoman ran an op/ed piece by Jenni White, the director of the grassroots organization Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE). Unlike many other groups that have recently emerged, this really is a grassroots group. White has long been involved in education policy discussions, even though the majority of recent content on her group’s blog touts reasons why parents should not send their children to public schools.

White’s column focused on reasons why the Legislature should reject the recently written math and English/language arts standards. Here’s an excerpt:

Unfortunately, though the standards development process was begun immediately, it was quickly waylaid by Oklahoma’s 2014 elections, which saw the selection of a new state superintendent of instruction.

Under newly elected Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Department of Education scrapped the work of the previous administration and rebooted the OAS process in February 2015 with presentations from three nationally known standards writing experts made to the Oklahoma Standards Steering Committee.

In June, the first OAS draft and reviews were released to the public, followed by a second draft in July and a third in September. Final OAS drafts were released to the public in November 2015, adopted by the state Board of Education in December and presented to the Legislature in February.

A study of the standards review documents found on the Department of
Education’s Oklahoma Academic Standards web page (and those submitted by teachers directly to ROPE) across the months from June to December 2015 produced a list of the most articulated concerns over the course of the process.

It became apparent that several issues causing the OAS writing teams trouble from the beginning had not been resolved prior to the release of the final draft.

She then lists several of the concerns from the reviewers.

My concern is this: White herself admits on Facebook that she has not read the standards. She has only read the negative reviews.

Jenni did not read.jpg

As I wrote last night, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has collected over 60 letters of support for the standards. If you want, you can even read the one I wrote. Here’s part of what I said:

I have reviewed the standards as they are to be presented, and I have had opportunities to review drafts throughout the development process. I have colleagues, including several people who have worked for me, who have participated in the process as well.

Two things strike me as most exceptional about these standards. First is that every standard includes strands for reading and writing. That means that at all grade levels, we will expect students not only to consume language, but to create it as well. They will be using the vocabulary that they are learning. They will be applying critical thinking skills throughout the grade spans. Even better, they will be learning with the purpose of becoming independent readers and writers.

The second selling point to me is the care taken in vertical alignment between grades. Once adopted, these standards will give us a skills progression that will help teachers develop their own instructional units and prepare students for each successive grade. Ultimately, the assessments that will be in place to test students will be more representative of what they know and can do than what we have seen during recent years.

Yes, I actually read the standards. I read each draft. More importantly, I limit my comments to the English/language arts standards. Why? Before becoming an administrator, I taught middle and high school English for nine years. Academically, this is what I know.

Having been a central office administrator over all curriculum in Moore for seven years, I wouldn’t say my knowledge of math standards or pedagogy is nil, but it’s not as strong.

It’s more than reading the standards and having a grasp of what it takes to teach students, though. When I look at the members of the standards writing teams, I have five from the math list in my phone contacts and five from the English/language arts list in my phone contacts. Two worked for me in Moore. Two work for me now in Mid-Del. One used to share a cubicle wall with me at the State Regents. Two have guest-lectured in my graduate classes. Two were graduate school classmates of my own. Several of the people who aren’t close contacts are still people I know from various consortia and conferences.

I have faith in these people and their work. Maybe the fact that many of them are my friends speaks poorly for them, but I’m honored to know them.

Senator Anthony Sykes, one of the authors of the Senate resolution to reject the standards, hasn’t talked to the two people who work in the district he represents (Moore) who worked on these standards. I only know this because I had lunch with one of them today. Why would our legislators listen to the people who wrote the standards when they can have the Heartland Institute of Chicago drive a wedge among all the Oklahomans in the room?

By the way, who is the Heartland Institute of Chicago, and why are they driving this train right now? They’re a right-wing think tank with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. They are not a grassroots organization. They are not Oklahomans. They don’t belong in this conversation at all.

On the other hand, if Jenni White, or any other member of ROPE, wants to read the standards and point out a specific one that is inappropriate and explain why, I’d be more willing to listen.

Standards of Bloviation

February 11, 2016 1 comment

The last thing I read before I went to bed last night was Andrew Spiropolous’s column in the Journal Record criticizing the newly-written, waiting-to-be-adopted Oklahoma Academic Standards. That was a mistake. I already don’t get enough sleep. Here’s the start:

So it turns out, despite the hullabaloo, that the task force charged with writing superior English and math academic standards has submitted a proposal that, poking below the surface, isn’t that different than the Common Core version the legislators ordered it to reject.

Many of us predicted this ironic turn of events after the Legislature, running in fear from the grass-roots activists opposing Common Core, noisily disposed of the hated standards. Our suspicions were raised when education leaders issued an urgent call upon the Legislature to swiftly approve the new proposal. They were confirmed when the leaders coupled their pleas with affecting tales from local administrators and teachers lamenting how the uncertainty made doing their jobs impossible.

Actually, that task force was a group of teachers and experts in their fields. Actually, the standards are quite different than the Common Core. And actually, every day that the Legislature drags its feet on approving is an unnecessary delay for districts to start working towards implementation.

Hullabaloo or not, these are good standards.

I often like what I read in the Journal Record. Unfortunately, it is often behind a paywall. Then, when I’m thinking I might want to subscribe, I read the free content, such as this, that they release into the wild. After that, I lose interest.

It doesn’t surprise me that Spiropolous is crying Common Core. Maybe if he yells it three times, Beetlejuice (or someone resembling him) will appear to spend day after precious day roaming the Capitol, begging for people to listen.


The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

We’re trying to teach our students. He’s misrepresenting the job we do. Even at the end, when he tries to sound magnanimous, he continues to insult Oklahoma’s educators.

So what should we do now? I don’t think rejecting this proposal and making our education officials start over will lead to a significantly improved product. The truth is that our state’s education establishment, from the state superintendent of education on down, is not committed to writing and implementing world-class standards that will distinguish us from other states.

I’ll take their word that they want to do better than we have in the past, but there is nothing about these people that inspires one to believe they seek to engage in bold, creative reform.

We should give up on the idea that the state education establishment will force excellence on local schools. Instead, we must encourage districts, schools and families to mount their own efforts to foster excellence. There is reason to believe, for example, that the new Tulsa superintendent of education, Deborah Gist, will draw on her experience as a successful reformer to help turn around her city’s schools.

It’s one thing to attack an elected official, as he does State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and call her part of the problem. It’s another fight altogether to insult the teachers who gave countless hours for this effort. He’s merely one of the anti-public school cheerleaders still mad that his horse lost her re-election bid in 2014.

I’m part of the education establishment, and I’m damn proud of it. I’m a teacher who has become an administrator. People like Spiropolous may spit this term out with venom, but we should wear it with pride. After all, we work every day to teach nearly 700,000 students in this state. Meanwhile, there are people around us hoping we fail so they can point and laugh.

Now it’s my turn to make a few assumptions. I doubt Spiropolous has read the new standards. I doubt he’s read the Common Core. I doubt he’s talked to any of the Math or English/Language Arts specialists who developed the standards. I doubt he’s asked a single parent or educator what they think of the standards or the erratic behavior of our elected leaders regarding them. I doubt he knows the price of textbooks or the smell of over-crowded classrooms. I doubt he understands the collaboration and development necessary to fully implement a new subject-area framework.

If all you know about education in Oklahoma is what you can learn from OCPA, the Oklahoman’s editorial page, and certain obstructionist legislators (and maybe a few constituent activists who wear tin-foil hats and have nothing better to do), you probably should just stop talking. You’ll only look foolish and insult good people.

ESSA: A New Hope?

December 13, 2015 4 comments

A long time ago (about 15 years) in a conference between members of two of the wealthiest, private school-educated families in this country (George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy), an Act of Congress was forged to control and ultimately destroy public education as we know it. Known as the No Child Left Behind Act, this new law mandated more high-stakes testing than ever before, leading to teacher shortages, narrowed curriculum, and a boon for publishers and software developers.

After some time, new leaders (President Obama and Secretary Duncan) found this law’s promise of every student reaching proficiency in reading and math to be unreachable. They added their own spin: state waivers and Race to the Top grants. All states would adopt “College and Career Readiness Standards.”  Teacher evaluations would be tied to student test scores.

This didn’t work either. Now we have a New Hope…or do we?

Imagine those words scrolling slowly in yellow across a black background at about a 30 degree tilt. It’s much more dramatic that way.

ESSA A New Hope.png

I keep reading all of these “ding dong, the witch is dead” (yes, I’m mixing my pop culture metaphors) posts about the demise of No Child Left Behind and how much better off we are with the Every Student Succeeds Act, but I’m still looking for the part that’s supposed to thrill me. Maybe I’m just tired from doing that victory cartwheel [photo not available].

According this AASA fact sheet, here are a few things we can look forward to:

  • No change to third through eighth grade testing – reading and math every year, science once in elementary and middle (sorry social studies);
  • One test for reading, math, and science in high school, but the flexibility to meet this requirement with the ACT;
  • College and career readiness standards;
  • Accountability for schools will still be based on test scores, but with states having much more flexibility in how that will be accomplished;
  • States are no longer required to include a quantitative component in teacher evaluations; and
  • States will determine what happens to schools and districts that fail to test at least 95 percent of students, as the Opt Out movement continues to build steam.

If you don’t want to read the entire bill (as I don’t), here’s how the Obama administration is framing ESSA:


Peter Greene over at #Eddies15-nominated Curmudgucation has a great takedown of all the points in this image, so I won’t hit all of the same points. Writing standards and testing students over them is the typical political answer to all that ails us.

I have news for those who make education policy – even those I like. Adopting standards does not standardize education. It’s nice that we all want to speak the same language. Of course we want all of our fourth graders to enter any fifth grade classroom in the state ready for what is coming. We want a challenging, well-articulated course of study for all students in all content areas.

Documents don’t make that happen. With all deference to my friends on the Math and English/Language Arts standards writing teams, teachers make that happen. And no, I’m not trying to standardize teachers either. We all bring unique qualities into the classroom. Think about your own time in school. Teachers with personality, creativity, and drive are the ones you remember.

Will the feds accept Oklahoma’s new standards? I hope so. I don’t see why not. They should. Of course, our Legislature needs to do that first. But this isn’t what will ensure that Every Student Succeeds.

OWK Standards.jpg

For ESSA to give us any meaningful relief, our Legislature has to act. That has been the number one talking point from our congressional delegation, right? States make better decisions than the feds. It’s why our Legislature voted in 2014 to overturn the Common Core standards they adopted in 2010, right? We want to set our own rules. If that’s the case, here are five quick things Oklahoma can do in 2016 to turn my cartwheel into a backflip [picture still not available].

Replace the EOIs with the ACT.

I’ve argued about why we should do this for years. ESSA gives Oklahoma the ability to do this. No high school student cares about the EOIs. No college ever has or ever will care about them either. The ACT is a nationally recognized test that most Oklahoma students take before graduation. This is slightly different than what Superintendent Hofmeister has initiated, but why not give every student two tickets to take the ACT on a national test date? We would have no class disruptions. Students who chose not to test wouldn’t have to. Students who want to improve their score would have a chance to wait and take it again, on their own schedule.

If students choose not to take the ACT, that would also be acceptable. If they’re involved in a career track program, either in high school, or at a Career Tech center, they could pursue industry certification. These students could also still take the ACT.

The point is that high school students are more forward-thinking than we often credit them with being. They can choose from multiple tracks, and they can even choose when they shift between them. Testing, rather than being a gatekeeper for graduation, would then become more of a tool for guiding and informing them as they plan for the future.

Doing this would produce an immediate cost savings for the state, restore weeks of instructional time in high schools, and allow counselors to meet the individual social, psychological, and academic needs of their students. It’s right there, friends. Do this. Do it first.

Repeal ACE.

This would be another way to save money fast. The 2016 budget includes $8 million for ACE Remediation. Put that money in the formula. I know it’s only a drop in the bucket, but at least it’s that.

If my numbers are right, even with ACE, we are still graduating over 95 percent of our seniors. It’s typically only a gatekeeper for students in special education, English language learners, and students who frequently move. In other words, we’ve spent more than a decade and tens of millions of dollars identifying the students who are most likely to struggle in any system.

ACE isn’t tied to any federal legislation. No, this is a state-inflicted travesty. It does nothing good. End it.

Cut all tests not required by ESSA.

This is where I usually make my social studies friends mad. All I can say to them is that when it’s tested, human nature causes us to limit how we teach it. We want that score.

What I want is for seventh grade geography teachers to decide how they meet the standards and which standards to emphasize in time. I want more project-based learning and less test-centered preparation. I want this for fifth, eighth, and high school US History courses as well.

I understand why there will be some push back to this, but remember, if we can lower the stakes on the tests we keep, then the untested subjects will rise in prominence. The way we teach history will always fall under scrutiny. Tests don’t fix that.

Just last week, I was talking to a friend in another district who had fielded a parent phone call over the fact that we even mention Islam in school. I used to get this question once or twice a semester when I taught in Moore. It gave us a chance to discuss that particular standard in relation to the entire curriculum. Islam is a real thing. It impacts geography and history. So do the world’s other major religions (as well as many of the minor ones). It stays. Each district, school, and teacher decide how much emphasis is placed on discussing the world’s religions, though. Standards, tests, and textbooks don’t do that for us.

As for the writing test, it just needs to go. To make it useful, we’d have to double what we’re willing to pay for it. And if you think that I don’t value writing instruction, then you’re just not paying attention.

Take quantitative measurements out of teacher evaluation.

Remember: no test score has ever been part of the formula for evaluating any teacher in the state. Up to this point, the only information that has been collected through Roster Verification and Value-added Measurements has been for informational purposes only.

I lead with that statement because I still run into teachers who think their students’ Biology I EOI scores are going to count against them in their evaluations. They won’t.

Originally, the plan was to have test scores count for some teachers (and a complicated morass of other data for others) for the current school year. Last year, the legislature gave the state TLE commission a one-year moratorium on putting this in place. This means that right now, teachers are still being evaluated under a qualitative system. Unless the Legislature acts, that changes in August.

They should simply eliminate the component. If administrators want to use test scores, growth models, or any other metric to proscribe professional development, I can live with that. If student performance contradicts everything our observations tell us, though, then we have bigger problems.

We know that students don’t learn when they’re paralyzed by fear. We should also realize that teachers don’t perform well that way. This is probably why a few teachers are still confused about the impact testing might have on them.

More importantly, we need to be realistic. If I have principals who recommend teachers for rehire based on observations and conferences, I’m not going to look at test data and countermand that decision. Teachers are with the students day in and day out. Principals are with the teachers day in and day out. I get to schools where I can, when I can. I don’t see what they see. I’m not firing teachers and replacing them with the candidates I don’t have in our personnel office.

There is no accurate measure of teacher effectiveness. You can’t put a number on it. No matter what mental gymnastics you do, this won’t change.

Create an accountability system that would make Arne Duncan cringe.

We’ve already established our contempt for the feds, right? Then let’s really stick it to them.

Nelson haha.jpg

Let’s take our newfound freedom and go crazy. If a minimum of 51 percent of the school accountability model has to be tests, let’s limit it to that. And let’s have some fun with the other 49 percent. If you have students who go to academic, band, vocal music, speech and debate, or any other kind of contest, you get points. If they win, you get points. If your football team earns an academic state championship, you get points. If you get half your middle school to participate in science fair, you get points. There are a lot of things we can do to show how great our schools are. Few of them require testing.

As Meghan Loyd wrote this week:

Another thing that I’m a fan of is new the flexibility accountability system. Music and Fine Arts in general don’t really fit the mold of most evaluation tools. Being able to include areas of evaluation such as student and parent engagement and school climate and culture as measurable tools is pretty exciting!

We can come up with some really good tools to tell our story. We don’t even have to fall into the trap of taking all of that information and distilling it down into letter grades.

In the end, I’m like that line in the Schoolhouse Rock song, Interjections, about the word being set apart by a comma when the feeling’s not that strong. I’m glad Congress got rid of NCLB. I’m glad ESSA passed. I’m just not exclamation point glad. Let’s see what happens in the next few months.

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