Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections
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 days until the primaries this year, I’m starting 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.
This one time, at EdCamp, my friend Dallas used a word that really shocked me. No, it wasn’t one of those words. It was January 30 of this year – the first time I had ever met the person behind the social media powerhouse that is Blue Cereal Education. We had attended some breakout sessions in the morning, and as we settled in for a nice lunch among friends, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took the microphone to speak to us.
She gave her preview of the upcoming (now completed) legislative session – her goals, priorities, and hopes. She talked about her first year in office. She was relaxed and comfortable. Then she asked if we had questions. Immediately, Dallas shot his hand into the air, and Joy – oh, Joy – called on him. “Yes, Dallas?”
“Why do they hate us?” he exclaimed, plaintively, and loudly.
I can’t say that I saw Joy’s face in that moment. I was too busy facepalming. When I finally made eye contact with Dallas, and then Scott Haselwood, and finally Joy, and after the laughter in the room had stopped, she responded. “They don’t hate us, Dallas.” At that moment, she made a teacher face. That may have been when I really believed she was one of us. It was that look with the eyes and forehead pointed down, and the mouth pursed as if to hold back certain other words. It was a look with a message. Certainly, it was amusement.
Joy went on to explain the nuances of working within the framework of our system of government and how what the legislature is sometimes willing to do doesn’t align with what the governor is willing to do and that there are these outside entities who influence policy. It was a good answer. It was a necessary answer. And I believe it was sincere.
I also believe Dallas is onto something. There are people and groups out there who hate us. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, let me take you back to 1993. I hadn’t even started teaching yet.
I lived in south Tulsa during the year I spent teaching in Muskogee. It meant a fairly long and scenic commute, but I really didn’t mind. I even signed on with a temp agency so I could do odd jobs before the year started and on some breaks. I had a few short stints in factories, and I worked security (all 5’ 8” of me) during the NAIA basketball tournament at Oral Roberts University. On one very random night, I also worked as a busboy at a banquet, also at ORU.
I don’t remember the name of the organization, but I can tell you their purpose. These were people gathered to talk about why public school was bad. I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought I was among private school patrons. I’ve never really had a problem with private schools. It just wasn’t my background or experience. I felt then, as I do now, that public school dollars should not be spent in private schools. I was 22 and very naïve, but I knew with certainty was that public and private schools had very different purposes. We exist to teach all the children we get. They exist to teach the kids who apply and gain acceptance.
I’m clumsy at times. You might say I’m a spiller. Overall, I did pretty well though, moving from table to table, filling waters and iced teas. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I remember what she said, more or less. Public schools will teach your children to be gay, and they’re mired in the social experiment of multi-culturalism. The first part was absurd. I grew up in Norman, for goodness’ sake, and I don’t remember anybody teaching us to be gay. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for electives. Rigor, and all.
The other part – the attack on multi-culturalism – reeked of Pat Buchannan’s failed primary challenge of President Bush the previous year. I’ve never understood this. Our country is proudly an amalgam of multiple cultures. We are not all the same.
The speaker suggested that those who could should pull their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. The rest should choose homeschooling. And we should spread the message about all the awful things public schools were going to teach the children. Most importantly, we should become more active politically and try to pass a voucher law. This was the first time I had heard the term voucher in relationship to public schools.
This was great blog material, but I still hadn’t taught my first day of middle school or high school English. If I had only known then that decades into the future I would share a modicum of renown with Dallas and Rob Miller and all of my other rebel friends, I would have taken good notes. Maybe I wouldn’t even have apologized to the lady on whom I spilled the water I was pouring.
Knowing who they were – which groups and individuals – really doesn’t matter. They’re still there. They write editorials. They post maniacal rants about the books we teach and the curriculum they don’t understand. They publish tripe from the comfy confines of their think tanks. They even follow dentists into offices for which they completely lack qualification. Rarely are they a united front, but they exist, and they do hate us.
They have a much bigger foothold with obstructionist legislators than they did in 1993. Some of them even hold those offices, for now. They want to lower taxes and starve the beast. They even engage in bizarre conversations on Twitter about lowering taxes to reduce the size of government when all they’ve really done is reduced taxes and let the size of government shrink on its own.
The ones who hold office refuse to make conscious decisions about these reductions. They just let it happen, sometimes as a percentage cut across the board, sometimes as direct hits. You might even say that some get their jollies from it.
Let me be clear, though. I don’t believe that the legislature as a whole hates public education. I just know that some do. Some feel it’s their moral obligation to oppose it. As Kevin Calvey said two years ago:
Let’s face it, public education is a big, black, empty hole and it’s not going to get any better. The rest of the world is hungry and smart and they’re capable. We are the only Western power that doesn’t allow parental choice for schools. The best thing for public education in Oklahoma is more private schools with monies allocated by the Legislature.
On the other hand, Calvey has also threatened to set himself on fire. So there’s that.
This is why we must vote. We can’t let another election cycle pass in which we let those who hate us strengthen their position. I’ve heard that public education is the strongest lobby at the Capitol – from someone who ostensibly likes us but in all honesty doesn’t. It’s time to be the strongest voting bloc in the state, too.
If that’s not enough to motivate you, I’ll give you this in closing. Representative Richard Morrissette, one of 30 Democrats in the House, claims that the state superintendent with whom we parted ways in 2014 is behind some of the dark money supporting selected candidates.
It’s at the 5:30 point of the video clip in the link above.
I can’t tell you whether or not his claim is true. You know if I had proof, I’d be throwing it in your face. I’m a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.
It’s not a single party that hates us. It’s not even the majority of a single party. It’s a significant enough group though, that when the stars align just right, we see more bad policy and less education funding. I’m not naïve anymore. Nor am I jaded. I just have my eyes open, as we all should.
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 days until the primaries this year, I’m starting 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 this.
- One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.
In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.
When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.
Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.
We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.
Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.
Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.
Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.
And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.
This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.
In case you missed it – and I don’t know how you could have – both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature failed to advance voucher bills last week. Since they did, those specific bills are dead. Well, they’re dead-ish. Language can jump from bill to bill. One piece of legislation that passes in committee can be replaced with a floor substitute. It happens all the time. Still, the fact that our state’s Republican leadership couldn’t get SB 609 and HB 2949 to go anywhere is a huge development.
Pro-voucher and anti-voucher groups were at the Capitol in full force the last couple of weeks. Both sides tracked vote counts by the day, then by the hour, and finally by the minute. As of Thursday morning, I heard that SB 609 was dead. By lunch, I heard that Senator Jolley was fervently whipping his caucus behind closed doors for the votes he needed to get his measure over the top. I heard lots of things. I assume people following the legislation on both sides did as well.
With the issue being as heated as it was, disappointment was inevitable. Several responses caught my attention, but one in particular has taken on its own life force – a radio interview between Chad Alexander and State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger. As reported on the McCarville Report, Doerflinger’s angst was flung far and wide:
Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger says he is “blown away” and “embarrassed” to be a Republican, that many in the Republican Legislature “should put Ds after their names” and that Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “is a D in Republican clothes.”
I didn’t really have the time or inclination to blog Friday when this happened, so I wrote a note on my Facebook page:
If anyone knows fiscal impact statements that are “less than accurate,” it’s Doerflinger, the architect of this year’s “flat” budget.
As for the D/R thing, nobody should have to check every box to belong to a political party. I want to elect people who think for themselves and listen to their constituents. I don’t want to elect people who are beholden to either party. That’s why I vote for people from each.
Nobody is a perfect match for my political views. Nor is there a perfect match for yours.
We vote for people. None of us get our way all the time. Some of us just don’t have tantrums on the air in front of an audience of dozens of listeners afterward, though.
That post went viral on its own, and spurred some great comments. Then, while I was watching two Mid-Del basketball teams win state championships yesterday, something amazing happened on Twitter. I don’t know who started it, but Republicans from around the state began tweeting messages at both Governor Fallin and Doerflinger. Here are a few examples.
Some were fairly creative, even.
And of course, Blue Cereal went Blue Cereal with it.
Dallas, this is why we love you. And maybe why –as you put it at EdCamp –they “hate” us.
Another tweet sums up the problem with Doerflinger’s logic quite well.
That pretty much sums it up.
In the last 22 hours, I count well over 150 tweets tagged as #PrestonDoerflinger. Surprisingly, he’s not an active user of Twitter, and that’s just a shame.
One elected leader who is active on social media and usually engages with #oklaed in lively debate is State Senator Kyle Loveless. Friday, he seemed to defend Doerflinger, using logic that escapes me.
Oh, so it’s in the platform. Does that mean that every Republican has to support everything that’s in the platform? This leads to an interesting sidebar conversation.
I’ve never been elected to anything, but I imagine for legislators, voting on a particular issue involves some complex thinking. On one hand, you believe what you believe. So what do you do when you are slammed with phone calls from your constituents who want you to do something else? That’s who you represent. Unless changing your position is in direct conflict with your moral compass, you should have some flexibility, right?
Ok, well what if you agree with your constituents, but not with the party? Since this state has an overwhelming Republican majority, should we just let national GOP chairman Reince Priebus write our laws for us? Should every vote in the House and Senate fall along party lines? Of course not. It’s a ridiculous notion.
When I vote, nothing matters less to me than party affiliation. In state elections, #oklaed is my priority. When I think about who we send to Washington, I think a little differently. Neither party has impressed me over the last 16 years when it comes to education policy on a national scale.
What if, as Doerflinger suggests, the voucher vote (or non-vote, in this case) is the litmus test for our elected leaders? If all who kept these bills from coming to the floor last week changed parties, we’d have Democrats in control of both chambers again. I think Speaker Inman (theoretically, of course) would love that opportunity.
Most of us don’t believe in –isms.
We vote based on how we think.As I said above, I’ve never been a good fit for either party. I just can’t check all the boxes.
For the record, Doerflinger wasn’t the only voucher supporter to express frustration last week. Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, not only showed his disappointment, but actually gave #oklaed a huge back-handed compliment.
These two bills were not heard today because the strongest lobby at the state Capitol is now the public education lobby. Too often, this group has emphasized the dollar value associated with keeping children in seats in public schools, rather than allowing the children’s parents to have greater options for meeting their children’s unique needs.
That’s funny. I was at the Capitol for an hour on Tuesday, but I saw Small and other OCPA staff camped out waiting for legislators to pressure. Besides, if you look at the preponderance of education policy in this state, it’s hard to argue that the public education lobby has consistently moved the needle. In 2011 alone, at the request of Governor Fallin and the previous state superintendent, the legislature gave us A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurements among a host of Florida-styled education reforms.
Since then, #oklaed has had our moments.
In May 2014, we kept the pressure on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of HB 2625, which added parents to the promotion committee for third graders. The combined vote was 124-19. Both the House and Senate voted without any debate.
The next month, as you well know, we helped fire Janet Barresi, who finished third in her primary.
We raised awareness about misguided legislation that would have ended AP US History.
We helped keep vouchers from passing: last year and this year.
When we are focused and on message, we really do have influence. Most of us have jobs, though. Unlike voucher supporters, we can’t just camp out at the Capitol all day. We can stop in briefly, before or after meetings. We can energize parents and teachers to call. And yes, we do have lobbyists. But I doubt anyone really thinks we have the consistent money and influence at the Capitol that OCPA and their corporate overlords do.
I can tell you that the two people who represent me personally in Norman and the nine people who represent the Mid-Del school district in the Legislature listen to their voters. I can’t tell you how these ten men and women (Senator Rob Standridge represents me at home and my district) would have voted if the bills had been heard on the floor. I think for some who philosophically support vouchers, the feedback from constituents was a game changer.
If there are any legislators who truly want to harm public education, their numbers are small. That is evident by the agreement by Fallin and the Legislature to help public schools deal with some of this year’s budget shortfall. It’s evident by the good legislation that has moved forward so far.
On the other hand, there will always be some who want to find a way to thumb their noses at public education. Whether they think we’re all a bunch of heathens corrupting children, or they just think we’re too powerful, they are always looking to fight.
That’s fine. I’m willing to fight, but I’d rather just teach the kids.
I’m a parent. I’m an educator. I’m a life-long Oklahoman, and I oppose ESAs. Most importantly, I vote.
Barring something unusual happening in the next few days, I’m going to finish the year with a series of all-over-the-place posts. I’ll talk about the blogging awards, this blog’s five most popular posts from 2015, five posts that meant more to me than the popular ones, and where I think we’re headed in 2016.
I wrapped up 2014 with a song from my own iPod for each month of the year. Those of you reading back when I was still writing anonymously should’ve been able to narrow from those selections that I’m a 40-something suburbanite. This year, I’ve added plenty of new music to my collection, and I’ve used some of it on the blogs too. I’m not going to use music to thread this one together, though. I’ll stick with what I know best – words, from some of my favorite authors.
January: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
This was a pretty eventful month. Janet Barresi left office, hiring and firing people up until her last day. Joy Hofmeister was sworn in as state superintendent, and suddenly, #oklaed had everything we had ever wanted, right?
No, It’s not that easy. It never is. While I have no reason to believe that Hofmeister’s attempts at providing relief to students, parents, and educators from the mistakes of the previous four years have been blocked at the governor’s office, there have been several instances of the Legislature closing the door on meaningful change for no other reason than spite. Still, from day one, the culture at the Oklahoma State Department of Education has been different. It has been better. Joy has invited – and utilized – the input of actual practicing educators in her decision-making process.
As I wrote at the time:
I can’t promise you that next week all your public education dreams will come true. It won’t happen in a month or a year, either. It’ll take some time – and I assume that I won’t get everything I want out of the Hofmeister administration. Neither will you. Honestly, Joy Hofmeister probably won’t get everything she wants out of her time in office either. That’s not how this works.
And that has shown to be pretty accurate. The OSDE has experienced wins and losses. They’ve taken positions close to the ones that I would have taken. They’ve also done things that made me bite my tongue. Well, maybe not entirely. I’ve been pretty vocal about the policy differences I have with them. Unlike a year ago at this time however, I can talk to them, and they’ll listen. It’s refreshing.
One other big change in January was that I quit writing anonymously. Rob Miller had announced a few days earlier that I would reveal okeducationtruths’s identity after a Sunday night chat. Up until I hit the submit button, I was making edits. I was sweating bullets. I didn’t know if this would be a good thing for me or not. Until that point, the blog had been about ideas more than me as a person.
The anticipation leading up to the reveal was a blast too.
Up to that point, I think fewer than ten people knew who was writing this blog. There were probably others who knew but had the good taste to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Since January, I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about writing anonymously – mainly whether it was the right decision. With some of the stories I’ve heard from OSDE staff since then, I’m going to say that it was a good call.
February: “There is no limit to desire but desire’s needs.” – John Gardner, Grendel
Joy kept the early surge of momentum going with two actions geared towards supporting writing instruction. First, she killed the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing. Then she graciously recorded a message for students at Moore West Junior High in advance of a writing showcase they were having. Here’s what I thought then:
It doesn’t take a perceptive person to understand that I love writing. It’s why I majored in English in college. It’s why I became a teacher. Fundamentally, I believe that writing well opens doors for people. In desperate times, it can be the thing that feeds the soul.
As an administrator in Moore at the time, I can’t express enough how much this message meant to our students and our teachers.
Meanwhile, a fringe group of legislators was busy trying to convince us that Advanced Placement US History was a witch and that we should burn it. This became one of the most discussed topics on my blog, and then it went away. It’ll come back in February, though, so be ready, and know two things: (1) we can’t let this go anywhere; (2) it’s a convenient distraction from the burning house our Legislature has left us with financially.
Oh, and #oklaed fought against vouchers, yet again. The bill went nowhere in 2015, but it will be back in force come February. This time, the pushers behind it are in their last legislative session before they face term limits. They will pull out all the stops to get the bill passed.
This is why it’s worth taking the time to review 2015. Some of what we have seen will reappear.
March: “I don’t think you fully understand the public, my friend; in this country, when something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way.” – Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
March began with EdCamp OKC, which had been postponed from the last week in February because of snow.
This was my first EdCamp – and my first of three in 2015. I’m already signed up for two in the first three months of 2016. That’s how much I love these. There’s no agenda. Professional development forms organically. If a session doesn’t suit you, you’re free to walk on to another one. Social media helps drive the engine. Oh, and I can’t state this clearly enough:
THERE. ARE. NO. POWERPOINTS.
This was also the first time I had a chance to be in the same room with such #oklaed advocates as Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, Tyler Bridges, Kevin Hime, Jason James, and Joy Hofmeister at the same time, discussing our efforts at raising awareness towards a common goal: improving education. That’s why we get together and discuss strategy for communicating with parents and the public. That’s why we try to work with our legislators.
Speaking of which, March was the month when we most actively pursued replacing the meaningless End-of-Instruction exams with the ACT. To refresh your memory, right now, students have to pass four of seven EOIs (or their alternate exams) to graduate. Many students pass the first four by the end of their junior year. Many have alternate scores in place that keep them from having to take the tests at all. No colleges look at the scores. In other words, they’re a colossal waste of time. Meanwhile, most Oklahoma high school graduates have taken the ACT at some point.
This will come up again in 2016, this time with the blessing of the feds. It makes too much sense to do this. Let’s not let the moment pass again.
April: “I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face.” – Langston Hughes, The Early Simple Stories
In April, Joy showed us what the phrase sense of urgency really meant. When online tests started showing students their score levels on the first day of testing, she had her staff working with the testing company around the clock to find a solution. Maybe this wasn’t the biggest problem in the world, but since we knew she had said she didn’t want students defined by a test score, the fact that she acted so quickly was a huge illustration of her character.
We also celebrated a time 25 years ago when urgency was nigh (or maybe it was Bellmon). April marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of HB 1017, which overhauled our state’s education system, providing us with standards, accountability, and funding. Unlike the reform onslaught of 2011, these measures were student-centered and came with cash to support them.
May: “We’d all do well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle
The Oklahoma legislative session ends each may, usually with much rejoicing.
This year, the big news was that in spite of facing a $600 million shortfall, the state managed to cobble together a budget that held education funding flat. Using that precedent, and knowing that we face a shortfall twice this size, we should expect what? An increase maybe?
In truth, the budget was an illusion. The revenue projections included in it were never realistic. I suspect that many of those who presented the budget to the full Legislature for approval knew that.
In any case, last week, Superintendent Hofmeister asked for an increase in funding, just as she should have:
Despite a dramatic revenue shortfall projected for the upcoming fiscal year, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said it was her duty to advocate for Oklahoma students and teachers by asking for $60 million to fund a teacher pay increase in fiscal year 2017.
“It is my job to advocate for the needs of the school children of Oklahoma and what they need more than anything is a teacher in every classroom,” she said Tuesday following her agency’s budget hearing in the Senate. “That means solving the teacher shortage and there is no other way to solve that but to include in that a regionally competitive compensation plan. I’ve asked for that plan to begin.”
The teacher shortage is worsening. This modest increase would help, but it’s just one of many steps our leaders need to take.
June: “It’s easier to bleed than sweat.” – Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
For administrators, June is the month in which we are furiously planning for the year ahead, completing myriad statistical reports for various agencies, and reviewing spreadsheets of student testing data for any kind of coding errors. We don’t have to keep an eye towards Oklahoma City for policy changes or budget discussions. We are closing out one school year while preparing to begin another.
In 2015, June began with the announcement that the writing test would not count towards the A-F Report Cards for the second year in a row. Math and English/Language Arts standards writing committees were in full force. And some of us were contemplating career moves. Just your standard summer slide, right? This lull in visible activity made room for those who will oppose just about anything anyone does to concoct some of the most hysterical conspiracy theories ever.
And that’s where I’ll leave off for the first half of the year.
Over the past 20 hours, I’ve said my goodbyes. In Part I, I explained an emerging school funding crisis. In Part II, I discussed Janet Barresi using the state’s editorial pages in her waning weeks in office to play the misunderstood victim. In Part III, I wrote about Barresi’s defenders at the Oklahoman continuing to push a narrative that Oklahoma schools are failing using a metric that shows things got worse under her watch.
This, barring something completely unexpected, will be my final discussion of Superintendent Barresi. I’m sure her name will pop up in the future and I will discuss her as an ex-superintendent, but for now, we’re finished with each other. And we’ve had a good run.
[cue the sad music]
As you probably know by now, Barresi’s last week in office included a number of personnel decisions. Based on conversations with sources at the SDE and confirmations in the print media, the moves included new hires, promotions, job description changes (with the intent of excluding certain in-house applicants), and one last-minute dismissal. The Tulsa World called it a hiring spree:
All told, her new hires total about $653,000 in base salary costs, and the salary increases that accompanied promotions, not counting one executive’s unknown bump in pay, total $62,000.
On Monday alone, five new employees with salaries totaling $290,500 were hired. Among them is the executive director of the new Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, with a salary of $90,000.
On Wednesday, Michele Sprague was promoted to executive director of literacy and Kayla Hindman was promoted to director of early childhood education and elementary English language arts. Both received $5,000 raises.
On Friday, Todd Loftin was promoted to assistant state superintendent for special education services with a salary of $80,000, but officials were unsure how much of a raise that salary amount represented because the decision came so late in the day.
I’d say that constitutes a spree. So much for fiscal conservatives, right? Maybe this is an appropriate way for Barresi to leave office. After all, her first days were marred by hires that the attorney general ruled illegal after the State Board of Education rejected them. Congratulations, new people! And enjoy those well-placed targets on your backs!
Questioned about the new hires, Barresi defended herself, in her typical, defiant fashion:
“It is my right as superintendent of public instruction to make personnel decisions, and the literacy position is critical for this state.”
I suppose that’s true. In theory, she could go to work tomorrow and fire and promote more people if she chose to – until 11:59, at least. In related news, tomorrow’s new state superintendent was not impressed.
Asked to comment on the hirings and inter-departmental musical chairs, Hofmeister called the situation “disappointing.”
“Instability in any state agency is a hallmark of failed leadership. Future staff decisions will be made with careful consideration and respect for all involved,” she said.
“I look forward to joining the State Department of Education next week. I know there are hardworking people in the department and I look forward to getting to know them better. Plans are underway to conduct a formal capacity review of the agency to ensure we have the right people in the right places to best serve our state.
“My focus remains the schoolchildren of Oklahoma. Monday marks a new day for education.”
I suppose the easiest thing for Hofmeister to do after her open house tomorrow afternoon would be to go in and click the undo button. In a few cases, I wish that she would. I won’t single anybody out, but several of these are horrible choices. At a minimum, Hofmeister should review all personnel moves that have come in the last 30 days or so.
It’s very tempting for me to give a list of people that I think Hofmeister should rid the SDE of as soon as possible. I would assume that of the 10,000 people who answered her survey, many did precisely that. I mentioned specific names of SDE staff whom I find helpful. I mentioned different offices that seemed to be in disarray overall.
Still, if Barresi promoted you during the last week of her tenure because you’ve been a stalwart of her administration and a good steward of her vision for public education in this state, there’s a good chance that you’re pretty out of sync with the voters who summarily dismissed her in June. The last week was nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to preserve what she has tried to do – in other words, she’s still trying to tell the voters that they’re wrong.
One reason, as Brett Dickerson wrote today, that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for massive changes overnight, is that there is a tremendous amount of damage to undo. At the beginning of her term, Barresi fired most of the people with any institutional knowledge. As a result, school districts and parents could not get quick answers to our important questions. One of Hofmeister’s first tasks will be to re-populate the staff at the SDE with competent, knowledgeable, helpful people. To do this, she will also have to clear some room.
It’s going to be bumpy for quite a while. With a new testing company in place, standards to write, TLE to reform, Congressional and Presidential whims to absorb, and ongoing questions about adequacy and equity in school funding in Oklahoma, Hofmeister faces, as Barresi stated in one of her editorials last week, a steep learning curve. The difference this time will be that she’s going to be listening to educators and parents in this state rather than following Florida and Indiana everywhere they go.
Just like that, I’m finished writing about Superintendent Janet Costello Barresi. Where has the time gone? When will we see her again? And who really cares?
Let’s just move forward, diligently. Monday is a new day for public education, indeed.
For the third installment in my long and labored farewell to our departing state superintendent, I want to focus a little more on the mindset she has brought to office, rather than on Janet Barresi herself. This week, Education Week released Quality Counts – a grading scale for education in each state – for 2015.
The good thing about this scale is that Education Week uses – yes, you guessed it – LETTER GRADES! Oklahoma received a D+, good enough to beat three other states: New Mexico, Nevada, and Mississippi. As always, thank God for Mississippi!
Letter grades, as we’ve been told, are easy to understand. That’s the beauty of them. If Oklahoma received a D+, then by gum, we probably deserved a D+
What’s not remarkable at this point is how each of the state’s largest papers treated the news. Both the World and the Oklahoman took up major space with articles on the rankings. Both papers also included caustic remarks from Barresi.
From the World:
Outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who lost a re-election bid after her first four-year term in office, said in a written statement that the Quality Counts results, “while not surprising should be a wake-up call to all Oklahomans concerned about our children and the future of this state.”
“There are serious flaws in our system — flaws that begin in the failure to adequately prepare teachers for the classroom and continue when we tell ourselves that our only problem is with children in poverty. Indeed, with abysmal results like this, the problem is with academic achievement of each child in our state,” Barresi said in the statement.
“The longer we as a state ignore the reforms needed to turn around our schools, the longer it is we sentence our young people to a mediocre education,” she said.
From the Oklahoman:
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, whose last full day on the job is Friday, said the report should serve as a “wake-up call to all Oklahomans concerned about our children and the future of this state.”
“To put this report in context, it’s important to remember that the National Council on Teacher Quality recently found serious deficiencies with teacher preparation in Oklahoma,” Barresi said in a statement. “There are serious flaws in our system — flaws that begin in the failure to adequately prepare teachers for the classroom and continue when we tell ourselves that our only problem is with children in poverty.
“Indeed, with abysmal results like this, the problem is with academic achievement of each child in our state.”
The percentage of Oklahoma students rated “proficient” or better on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests for reading and math in the fourth and eight grades is below the national average, according to the report.
Additionally, the report found just 13.6 out of every 100 Oklahoma students taking advanced placement tests achieve a high score — about half the national average of 25.7 students.
“While I have reservations with how Quality Counts determined pre-K enrollment, the stark truth is that Oklahoma teachers are condemned to working in a broken system and our children are set up for failure,” Barresi said. “These are our children. We cannot continue to let them down. The longer we as a state ignore the reforms needed to turn around our schools, the longer it is we sentence our young people to a mediocre education.”
First, let me remind Barresi that only members of the education establishment liberal union status quo are supposed to challenge a report card’s methodology. Second, I find it especially telling that she continues to peck away at teacher quality after writing for both papers this week about how hard they work. It is especially notable that she cites the NCTQ, which gets most of its funding from the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad – you know, the people hell-bent on the narrative that public schools are failing.
Unlike the Oklahoman, Andrea Eger and the World broke down the components of Oklahoma’s overall grade.
|Education quality indicator||Oklahoma||National average|
|Chance for success||C-||C+|
Basically, Oklahoma’s grade takes a major hit from spending. We spend equitably, though. I guess that means we are fair about how badly we fund schools. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, urban or rural, big or small – we keep you on the same scraps.
No, unlike the World, which put more facts into the story, the Oklahoman thought they should put more editorial and snark into it.
DEFENDERS of the status quo often blame Oklahoma’s low education rankings on poverty. Certainly that plays a role. Yet the new edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report suggests that Oklahoma students at all income levels are falling short.
Quality Counts ranks states based on a student’s chance for success, school finances and K-12 achievement. The report gives Oklahoma an overall grade of D-plus and ranks it 48th in the nation. In the area of K-12 achievement, Oklahoma was given a D.
What Janet Barresi and the editorialists at our state’s largest paper failed to realize is that Oklahoma’s grade on the Education Week scale has fallen during the last four years. Fortunately, not everybody missed it.
Perhaps, now that she has some spare time, Barresi should learn to research, so that later she might research to learn. In 2010, Oklahoma’s grade on this index was 76.4, a C. We were above the national average. If letter grades matter (they don’t) and we should take rankings such as these seriously (we shouldn’t), then why isn’t Barresi owning the fact that she presided over our state’s precipitous fall.
Her supporters – few as they are at this point – can’t point to defenders of the status quo on this one. Barresi entered office four years ago with a legislature and governor of the same party. They even re-wrote laws to allow Governor Fallin to relieve the entire State Board of Education of their duties and appoint new members who ostensibly would clear a path for the Reformer-in-Chief. To whatever extent the state has rejected Barresi and even slipped during her tenure, assigning blame to teachers and administrators is disingenuous.
No, she failed as state superintendent because she never honestly engaged the people who work with children and tried to understand their perspective. She failed because she antagonized people who opposed her. She created an echo chamber in which nobody dared question her. Those who fought her Nehemiah-esque battles, Barresi cleared out competent people and arranged promotions – up to and including her last day in office.
That’s where Part IV will pick up later this evening.
While Rob Miller bade adieu to Janet Costello Barresi last weekend, I have yet to say my formal goodbyes. With a few things on my mind, I’ll spread my parting shots out over the course of the weekend, though. Things I’d like to cover include:
- Barresi’s last email to superintendents
- Barresi’s recent editorials
- The Oklahoman inadvertently making one of my own points for me
- Barresi’s hiring spree
That’s right, at 10:00 on a Saturday night, I’m committing to (at least) four blog posts this weekend. For the first one, we’ll start with Friday at 3:54 p.m., when Barresi sent the following email message to district superintendents:
As you might recall, I emailed you after the Dec. 18 Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting to let you know about a change in the method of calculation of the mid-year adjustment. At that time, we had not received the information our agency needed from the state Tax Commission to begin our mid-year adjustment calculation that would be aligned with the 1992 law. I wanted to follow up and let you know the current situation regarding the mid-year adjustment and what you can expect moving forward.
As I stated in the earlier email, the change you will see in the calculation is that commercial and agricultural personal property taxes will be capped at 11 percent.
In past years that cap has not been utilized. Nevertheless, a statute effective in 1992 requires the cap to be placed on those elements of local ad valorem used as a chargeable in the state aid calculation.
My office became aware of this fact this past August. I moved quickly to correct the issue.
We received the majority of the information needed from the Tax Commission late last week. Some information discrepancies still need to be worked out, but State Department of Education staffers are working hard and will continue to do so this weekend. Every effort is being made to complete mid-year calculations by our statutory deadline of Jan. 15.
The payment scheduled to be made to schools on Jan. 15 will be made.
The payment will either be based upon the new mid-year allocation or your current allocation if we do not have sufficient time to complete the adjustment. Any differences in the current and mid-year allocation will be made up during the remainder of the fiscal year. While I understand this will be a significant burden to districts, I wanted to get this information to you as quickly as possible to facilitate planning and your communication with your boards and constituents. As you know, the accuracy of these calculations is of paramount importance.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
In other words, you’ll either get the correct amount on Monday, when the new state superintendent takes office, or you won’t. You’ll get something, and then maybe it’ll be corrected later. That’s a nice last missive, and a funny position from a state superintendent who has repeatedly threatened to withhold funds from districts that failed to meet statutory reporting deadlines…but I digress.
As many of us have suspected, the SDE Finance Office is limited to the information the Oklahoma Tax Commission provides them. It is the fault of no one at the SDE – past or present – that this 22 year mistake hasn’t been corrected until now. Last month, the Oklahoman wondered aloud why nobody was blaming the administration prior to Barresi’s.
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard told the Tulsa World, “This is the result of gross incompetence on somebody’s part and I don’t know whose.”
Ballard has routinely lambasted Baressi, a Republican, for education woes in this state. He has every right to do so. But it’s notable that he declined to aim similar venom at Sandy Garrett, the Democrat who was state superintendent from 1991 to 2011. She was in charge when the allocation changes were implemented.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, is also notably reticent. Hime was an assistant state superintendent for Garrett from 2004 to 2008, around the time Pennington says agency officials ignored him. Hime’s bio says he “provided oversight of allocations and payments of the state’s $2 billion education budget,” suggesting that he played a direct role in supervising the funding formula.
The problem seems to be with the information provided to the SDE. They don’t collect the revenue; they merely run numbers through the funding formula. They work with what they have. As I’ve previously stated, I’m less concerned with what happens this year than with what happens when a district (or districts) that has been on the short end of the funding mistake for 22 years sues. If they receive a favorable ruling, and districts that have been overpaid are then docked future aid payments, the outcome could be devastating. Nonetheless, a school board would not adequately be representing its community if it did not pursue the funding it had been shorted. This is going to be messy.
In her four years in office, Barresi has sent out some wacky emails. She’s even investigated the emails of others. After all that we’ve been through together, I was expecting a bigger bombshell in her last direct message to schools. I guess she was saving, as Rob put it, that one last turd, for her usual litterbox, the Oklahoman.