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Posts Tagged ‘Superintendent Barresi’

2014 #oklaed Year in Review: The Mixed Tape Version

December 28, 2014 2 comments

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I hope you’ve been enjoying your Christmas Vacation. I have – in part by watching Christmas Vacation…and A Christmas Story, and Scrooged, and Elf, and about a dozen other great seasonal classics, up to and including Die Hard. I even enjoyed yesterday’s unexpected snowfall. I’ve had great times with friends and family, minimal travel, and enough unhealthy food to last…well, at least until next year. Talk about your first-world problems, right?

I’ve even had the time to do some writing – including four unfinished blog posts. I think I’ve lacked focus the last few months. The June primary election was so satisfying that even when Janet Barresi or the Oklahoman would do something that irritated me, I just knew that it really didn’t matter that much.

That’s why I barely scoffed at reading the Oklahoman’s puff piece on Barresi yesterday. The article comes with an interview for which, in another mindset, I would have provided insightful commentary. By insightful, of course, I mean snarky. Instead, I took to Twitter and had the following conversation with long-time friend-of-the-blog, Jennifer Williams:

mix tape

I woke up this morning determined to make said mixed tape. I will write my wrap up as if I were making a mixed tape. If you want commentary on Barresi’s ongoing delusions of competence and thoughts on what might be next for her, I encourage you to read Brett Dickerson’s excellent blog from earlier today. In short, he doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

For those of you younger than I am, before the age of iTunes playlists, some of us had to work really hard to piece together musical compilations. In my case, since I didn’t have a dual cassette player, I had to buy records (yes, I’m that old) or try to record songs off the radio. This meant that while I was “doing my homework” (really, mom…I was) I would keep the stereo on with a blank tape inside. If I heard the intro of a song I liked, I would quickly hit the record button on my stereo.

Then when the need arose, I would ride my bike to Sound Warehouse and buy blank tapes, borrow another cassette player from my neighbor and BFF, and figure out how many songs I could fit on a 90 minute tape. (Again, talk about your first-world problems.) If I were making the tape for say, romantic purposes, it was sure to have Journey’s “Open Arms” and “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. If it was an upbeat mix for the pool or the basketball court, it had to have “Panama” by Van Halen. Those were the basic rules.

Since it’s 2014 and we’re speaking in theoretical terms, I will employ a few basic rules for this list. While I often use music (both the earworm and the classic rock variety) on this blog to illustrate a point or thread together my ideas, I will not use songs that I have previously included on my blog. That means no Good Riddance (Green Day), Life of Illusion (Joe Walsh), or even that disco classic Hotline (The Sylvers). I will try to limit myself to one song per month, even in June. And I will only use songs that I actually have in my iTunes library. Maybe we can get K-TEL to package and sell this for us to shore up the education budget (since apparently the lottery hasn’t helped).

My first post of 2014 contained this admonition to our cobbled community of bloggers and education advocates:

We have to acknowledge that 2014 is a critical year for the future of public education in this state. We will either restore local control or continue selling out to Achieve and ALEC. We will improve access for all students to diverse and engaging academic choices, or we will hold them up as a sacrificial offering to corporations and shady nonprofits.

In 2013, more voices emerged in the resistance. This year, we need more active bloggers, more strategic social media, and more contact with lawmakers. An engaged public can’t won’t be ignored. There’s nothing magical about a loud, well-informed electorate.

That’s exactly what happened. We engaged the decision makers and voted en masse. We defeated an incumbent Republican who only managed 21 percent of her party’s primary vote. For any of that to have any meaning, it can’t stop in 2014.

January – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles)

For some reason, Barresi’s people decided that we would now define Full Academic Year as any student who was continuously enrolled from October 1st through the beginning of the testing season. The effect of this decision (which isn’t legislated or written into the administrative rules) was that more student scores were included in the calculation of A-F Report Cards. Including the highly mobile population in school grades serves no purpose other than to penalize the schools who serve the most vulnerable students. This has always been the motive of the school choice/corporate reform groups out there.

February – The Old Brown Shoe (The Beatles)

While it’s tempting to make the entire month about the fact that Rep. Jason Nelson failed to advance his voucher bill (an Education Savings Account by any other name) out of committee, for me the highlight of the month was listening to Governor Fallin talk about the condition of the Capitol building.

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

In fact, this is the topic of one of my unfinished posts. Just last week, the Oklahoman published a report detailing problems with the Capitol’s dome.

Engineers have discovered significant cracking in the cast stone panels that form the exterior of Oklahoma’s Capitol dome, completed amid much fanfare just 12 years ago.

“Cracks exist at a total of 172 units, or approximately 10 percent of all cast stone units on the dome. Most of the cracks occur at the base of the dome,” stated a report by Wiss, Janner, Elstner Associates, or WJE, a Chicago company that did a detailed examination of the building’s exterior as a prelude to repair work.

I love the symmetry of this. The year begins as it ends, discussing the fact that our Capitol building is in bad shape. This time, though, it’s the decorative – rather than the functional – part. In public schools, we refer to problems like these as deferred maintenance. We handle this by meeting with school patrons and making  a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be repaired, we determine how much money we can commit to those projects, and then we establish priorities. When it comes to fixing leaky roofs and replacing old, inefficient air conditioning units, there is always a lag between acknowledging the need and addressing it. There is also always more need than capacity.

I also love that the article talks about how the budget for repairs will be inadequate to cover eventual cost overruns – something just about every school superintendent understands. Don’t get me wrong; I want the Capitol looking nice. I want it safe and sanitary for the people we elect and the staff they hire – not to mention for the busloads of students who travel there for field trips.

March – Best Day Ever (Spongebob Squarepants)

First, let me make it clear that I’m not the only person who has access to my iTunes library. Still, as I was scrolling through the titles in it, this is the song that made me think about the day that I spent at the Capitol (on the outside, thankfully!) with about 25,000 of my closest friends. The rally in Oklahoma City brought people together from all over the state to speak collectively to our representatives about all the things wrong with the direction of public education in our state. Here was my summary of the day:

First was Peter Markes – Oklahoma’s reigning Teacher of the Year. He drew great parallels between farming and education, weaving both the funding issues and senseless mandates into his metaphor. This is the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him speak, and he does not disappoint. He’s exactly what Oklahoma’s teachers expect in an ambassador – someone who believes in the profession and who fights the lie that public education is failing our children.

Next was Asher Nees, a student from Norman and the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Student Councils. He commented on the things he has noticed in public education, namely increased class sizes and policies that diminish student choices. He said he was there to fight to restore public education to something better for his younger siblings. (That is definitely a paraphrase. There was a lot of noise around me at this point.)

The one who really lifted the energy of the crowd was Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard. He hit the funding points, but he concentrated on a more important theme: respect. Every reform that has passed during the last few years shows that those making policy don’t respect the work that those of us who work with kids do. So many talking points from the governor, state superintendent, and countless legislators have come with a Let them eat cake attitude. The lack of concern for teachers, their working conditions, and most importantly, their students has been consistent. Disparage people long enough and they’ll let you hear about it.

Yes, I could have used some Aretha Franklin for the month, but somehow, I still haven’t upgraded that from vinyl. For the record (pun intended), this is still the biggest issue in our state. We need more evidence that our policy makers respect the people who actually teach the kids.

April – The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin)

I only use this song because I don’t have “Oops, I Did It Again” available. Also, I needed some of my credibility back after using a Spongebob song. In April, predictably, we had some problems with the online testing that reminded us of the 2013 problems we had with online testing. Barresi’s response was to call the failure unacceptable and assure Oklahomans that the glitch didn’t impact third grade testing. Her reasons as to why we didn’t fire them in 2013 were hollow, of course.

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.

“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.

This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.

CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.

The State Board of Education went on to fire CTB over the summer – one summer too late.

May – I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty – as covered by Johnny Cash)

Most of the month of May saw the various politicians in this state debating HB 2625, which inserted a little slice of sanity into the third grade retention law. The critical piece was a provision to include a committee to make final decisions about retention, and to include parents on that committee. During this month, we also saw the SDE release third grade reading scores to the media before schools could view them.

The Legislature sent HB 2625 to the governor by a margin of 132-7. Fallin waited until the last minute to veto the bill, then played games with sending her official veto message to them, and then they turned around and overrode her veto without debate – by a margin of 124-19.

June – Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

There really was no other choice for the month of June. This was the month that those of us who’ve been using our outside voices for some time now felt a collective sense of pride…of relief…of hope. It was affirmation that we matter. It’s the month in which I actually moderated an #oklaed Sunday night chat. It’s the month in which I did a top 20 list of reasons to defeat Barresi, followed immediately by a new number one right after Barresi told a group to tell their critics to go to hell, followed by an honorable mention list with a dozen additional reasons. Most of all, it’s the month when Oklahoma Republican voters eliminated her by a four-to-one margin.  Even the people who agreed with many of her reforms rejected her sorry implementation of them. It was beautiful.

July – Be Yourself (Audioslave)

After losing her primary, Barresi made it clear that she would not fade away quietly. A couple of weeks later, she attended the SDE Vision 2020 conference and just let Janet be Janet. She held a roundtable session and told attendees that she would never apologize for anything she had done in office and that she knows she’s “pissed a lot of you off.” My only question was her use of a lot rather than all.

August – Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)

In August, the Democrats had their runoff election, and John Cox defeated Freda Deskin, setting up the November election against Joy Hofmester for state superintendent. That news, however, was overshadowed by the fact that the USDE had revoked Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Waiver. This was followed by the revelation that nobody at the SDE knew how to calculate the Academic Performance Index that would have to be used in the absence of the waiver. It was a distressing time, because schools that had Title I funds faced the threat of 20 percent of those resources being tied up in federal bureaucracy rather than on services that actually help kids. With that in mind, it was hard to simply be amused at the ongoing ineptitude of the SDE.

September – Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)

On a side note, I don’t know how I’ve gone this far through my life without backup singers. This needs to happen.

In spite of the fact that she had a perfectly good former teacher, former principal leading the accreditation division at the SDE, Barresi created a new position and appointed her staff attorney’s husband to it.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 24, 2014) — Dr. Larry L. Birney has been named assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The new position will help OSDE’s accreditation standards division ensure local schools are operating in compliance with state laws.

Birney served as executive director of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Standards in Oklahoma from June 2008 until May 2011, when he retired. He was a 35-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department, rising to the rank of acting deputy chief and later director of police human resources.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said Birney brings a needed expertise in investigation.

“OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters,” she said. “One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation. Larry Birney is uniquely qualified for this role, combining significant experience in law enforcement and education.”

This was Barresi’s way of saying, I know you school people do all kinds of illegal stuff. Now I want to find it and punish you for it. This bad hire in particular is the first thing Joy Hofmeister needs to address on January 12th after taking office.

October – Everything to Everyone (Everclear)

Probably the biggest news from October was the State Regents finally certifying that Oklahoma’s PASS standards would prepare our students to be College and Career Ready (a phrase that needs to be on our New Year’s resolution list of tropes never to use again). There were caveats to the certification, but it proved enough to appease our federal overlords, who eventually reinstated our waiver (sparing the SDE the embarrassment of trying to calculate a formula they hardly understand).

November – The Remedy (Jason Mraz)

On November 2nd, Oklahomans overwhelmingly elected Joy Hofmeister as our next state superintendent. Although there are still some out there who are reluctant to accept the fact that she is in fact VERY different than Barresi, I have been very pleased with how she has prepared herself for office. From her transition team to her trips around the state, she continues to show that she will learn what there is to be learned. She listens to the people who elected her and to the people who work directly with students. Four years from now, if she has disappointed us, I will gladly eat my words.

The morning of the election, this is what I wrote:

When the votes are counted Tuesday night, we will have chosen a new state superintendent. Hopefully, we will have chosen a new governor too, but I’ve already put my chips down on that race. Joy can do this job, and so can John. Whoever wins, we will have an effective advocate for funding and common sense when it comes to school regulations. Both would face significant obstacles, though. As Brett Dickerson points out today, there will be forces trying to wrest control over policy decisions away from the new state superintendent.

Make no mistake about it. We have someone who wants to know what’s keeping us from helping kids and what she can do about it. We won’t always get our way, but she is listening. That’s huge.

December – Money (Pink Floyd)

Right before Christmas Break, word broke that a flaw in the funding formula has been unearthed. This means that state aid to school districts has been calculated wrong for each of the last 22 years! Apparently, this miscalculation was first presented to the SDE 10 years ago. While I question the timing of the revelation, the fact is that when the current school year’s state aid is recalculated, there will be a group of winners and a group of losers. Beyond that, I have no idea what will happen. (This was the topic of another one of my unfinished posts.)

If I’m leading a district that has been shorted by the error for more than two decades, I want to get it all back. It’s probably not possible, but this error, compounded over 22 years, could be a huge deal. If the state (probably through litigation) has to fix the error, it will cost a number of districts more than they will be able to afford. This would be similar to losing in a game of Monopoly and having all of your mortgaged assets redistributed. Eventually, we will have to sort out how this happened. On this rare occasion, I happen to agree with the Oklahoman, which suggested we not forget this problem started under the previous administration at the SDE. That said, I can’t say for certain who is to blame – SDE people or the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This just isn’t something that’s in my wheelhouse.

In any case, state leaders need to be mindful that wrecking small school districts over funding issues they didn’t cause could devastate several communities.

Moving Forward

I can’t wait for 2015. This year was better than 2013; why not continue the trend! As for our friend, Superintendent Barresi, whom we bloggers will surely miss, I have one final long distance dedication:

As the song says, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Happy New Year, y’all.

A Funding SNAFU

December 18, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this week State Superintendent Janet Barresi sent all public school email addresses a Christmas card. Then came the warning that we better take our TLE and like it. This afternoon, she sent schools a message that is going to take a while to soak in.

Superintendents:

The time for calculation of the midyear adjustment is upon us. I wanted to alert you to changes in the calculations of the midyear and a possible delay in the release of the midyear adjustment.

Earlier this fall, the Department became aware of a statutorily required cap in the formula dealing with agricultural and commercial personal property. The calculation, as prescribed in law, requires that the Department cap these two segments of personal property at 11 percent. The Department historically has not applied the statutory cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We believe that plain language of the statute requires the Department to place the 11 percent cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

The Department faces a number of challenges in applying this cap to the state aid mid-year allocation. The State Department of Education (SDE) has been in communication with the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and has been told that the information needed to apply the statutory cap may not be available until mid-January. If the Department were to delay the midyear adjustment until we obtained the needed information from OTC, the SDE would risk violating its own statutory Jan. 15 deadline for release of the midyear adjustment.

It is important to note that this language was placed in the statute in 1992 when the formula used prior year Ad Valorem even though the OTC was not able to provide that specific data by districts at that time. When the formula was changed to use current year Ad Valorem this section was not adjusted, creating an inherent conflict in the two provisions of law. The statutes require the Tax Commission to provide to the SDE the data needed to implement the statutory requirement. Until this year, the data has not been provided to the State Department of Education by the Tax Commission in order for the Department to impose the cap on commercial and agricultural personal property.

We currently do not know the outcome of this redistribution, but we wanted to alert you to the possibility of an unanticipated change in your districts calculations and a possible delay in the receipt of the mid-year allocation.

We will calculate the midyear adjustment using the capped Ad Valorem and post the midyear allocation as soon as we receive the necessary data.

School districts will receive their Jan. 15, 2015, payment.

Janet C. Barresi

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The short version of this is that a small part of the funding formula has been miscalculated for more than 20 years. I don’t know how much of that can be rectified or how that will impact already strapped public schools, but this could be catastrophic. As the Tulsa World report stated, this could be a windfall for some districts and disaster for others.

Merry Christmas, #oklaed! Hallelujah! Where’s the Tylenol?

Barresi Issues a TLE Warning

December 17, 2014 1 comment

Oklahoma’s Teacher/Leader Effectiveness System (TLE) is highly flawed. Ask anybody in a school, and you will hear that. Sure, some like the qualitative part that will eventually comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating. They say it has improved the language of the evaluation process. Unfortunately, it has also increased the extent to which teachers and principals are over-burdened with paperwork. It is a thorough process, but it is also terribly cumbersome.

This disruption to the status quo, however, has nothing on the impending disaster of the other 50 percent. When the quantitative component of TLE becomes reality, the bottomed-out morale of teachers will find a new low. Anybody who teaches or supervises teachers understands this. The future former state superintendent does not. Last night, Janet Barresi posted one of her final missives (at least in an official capacity), this time defending the TLE and refuting some of the concerns we’ve voiced for years. As usual, though, she misrepresented many, many things. I will attach a few excerpts and then respond.

When properly implemented by districts, TLE is not an excuse to fire teachers. We cannot and will not fire our way to a better education. TLE allows for focused professional development. It is a carefully designed system that helps good teachers become great, and struggling teachers become good.

Actually, this sounds like the justification of someone who hasn’t read the statutory language associated with the process. I understand – the relevant section doesn’t appear until pages 13-14. By then, most politicians have stopped reading to learn and commenced handing the document off to the underlings with instructions to brief me at a later time. Here’s the short version. Both career and probationary teachers who receive a less-than-effective TLE score for consecutive years can lose their jobs. Even if the principal observes good instruction happening in the classroom, an algorithm can override human judgment. Also, as I discussed Sunday, teachers who have the opportunity to make their own assessments (pre- and post-tests) will have a huge advantage over their counterparts. Still, Barresi warns us against the perils of abandoning evaluation by test score.

Some critics contend that TLE gives too much weight to student performance on assessments, but I believe the system we have designed strikes a good balance. It is important to recognize that student data is valuable. How can school leaders make informed decisions without indicators and data to guide them? How can parents feel assured they have an impartial measure of their school’s success if they only hear qualitative observations? Removing student data from TLE would threaten Oklahoma’s waiver from disastrous No Child Left Behind regulations, but even worse, it would usher in an accountability system that lacks measurable accountability itself.

Remember, Barresi and her ilk share the belief that anything you don’t measure doesn’t matter. As for me, I count two negatives in the previous sentence. It matters.

Seriously, though, Barresi still believes school leaders need her help to make informed decisions. We do use data, even if she won’t give us credit for it. As for assuring parents, I guess that’s what disembodied algorithms developed by out-of-state non-profits that have taken millions from our state are for. I’ve seen too many examples from this year’s VAM data that show great teachers with low scores. Even in cases where every student passes the state tests and most are advanced, the teachers are being labeled ineffective. Explain that to parents. Furthermore, we’ve lost the waiver once. If we lose it again, we’ll cobble something together and get it back. I’ve seen us do it.

Our work in school turn around has shown that as the hard work moves forward to improve instructional processes and practices, change the culture of the school and initiate the use of data as an integral component of improving instruction, that TLE scores also improve.

Rob Miller effectively took down this talking point recently. The SDE thinks they’ve discovered how to turn schools around. As Rob showed, they’ve also effectively discovered how not to turn schools around. Essentially, in any ranking system, there will be winners and losers. The system can’t help it; it was born that way. This is true for schools, for teachers, and for kids. Some will score high, and some will score low. Left to their own devices, some will rise, and some won’t. Placed under intensive scrutiny from the state, some will rise, and some will fall. It is a natural by-product of the system; often, what appear to be gains (or losses) are merely statistical corrections. No state agency deserves credit for schools that regress to the mean.

I don’t believe that the “sole purpose” of TLE is to fire people. I know that it will happen, though. Good teachers will lose their jobs because of bad data. Whether or not the intent of TLE is to shame teachers and schools, this will be the outcome. No amount of spin from Janet Barresi, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, or anyone else will change that. As Superintendent-elect Hofmeister has traveled the state, she has heard some version of these concerns again and again. Our legislators have heard them too, and most seem to understand that something has to give. In policy terms, it probably will come down to a choice between delaying implementation of the quantitative score or tossing the entire TLE system.

The timing of this letter is curious. It makes me wonder if Barresi has a last-minute surprise for us at tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting. This will be her last one (unless they do not choose a vendor for spring testing, in which case there may be a special SBE meeting early next month), and the agenda for it should post this afternoon. We can only wonder right now if this is a clue to what we’re going to see on it.

The Rob Miller Rule?

December 8, 2014 2 comments

In case you missed it, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has some proposed administrative rule changes posted to its website. Many of them are minor language changes, or instances of revision caused by legislation. One in particular caught my attention, however. Read it and see if you can guess why the proposed rule was written:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation

At the direction of the State Department of Education, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments.

In 2013, if you’ll recall, a large contingency of parents in a school somewhere in the Tulsa area (I forget where) decided their students didn’t have to take field tests. Coincidentally, the testing company claimed it did not have enough usable data from the field test to give an operational 7th grade geography test the next year. More comedy ensued in 2013 when the SDE renamed the field tests item tryouts, which fooled no one. Then in 2014, the SDE exempted two entire districts (in the Tulsa area) from having to take field tests.

I love this. It’s like the SDE is saying, enough of the hijinks and shenanigans, Rob. Seriously, I expect every sentence of the proposed rule to end with a direct address. Below is my rewrite:

210:10-13-24. Oklahoma School Testing Program field test participation, Rob

At the direction of the State Department of Education, Rob, an Oklahoma public school district or charter school shall be required to participate in the field testing of assessments administered under the Oklahoma School Testing Program. No school district or charter school shall be exempt from the requirement to participate in field testing conducted under the authority of the State Board of Education for the purposes of developing or facilitating state assessments, Rob.

To be fair, the SDE has a non-Jenks Public Schools rationale for the new administrative rule. You can read their entire rule impact statement, but here are the first three points:

What is the purpose of the proposed rule?

The purpose of the proposed new rule at 210:10-13-24 is to articulate the statutory requirement, under 70 O.S. § 1210.505 et seq., for Oklahoma school districts to participate in field testing of assessments conducted under the Oklahoma School Testing Program (OSTP). The rule codifies existing State Board of Education and State Department of Education policy, and ensures the validity and reliability of assessments through appropriate field testing.

What classes of persons will be affected by the proposed rule change and what classes of persons will bear the costs of the proposed rule change?

The proposed changes will affect public school students and teachers, public school districts and public schools, and charter schools. The agency does not anticipate any additional costs to result from the rule amendment.

What classes of persons will benefit from the proposed rule?

The proposed changes will benefit students and teachers as well as public school districts, public schools, and charter schools.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss the comedy of Janet Barresi and her legal staff when she’s gone. No amount of field testing will ensure the validity and reliability of our state tests. And no amount of testing – field or otherwise – will benefit public school students.

This rule, as often is the case, solves no problem. I don’t know of a school or district that refused to administer a test. Parents refused to have their students sit for tests, which is perfectly acceptable. We shouldn’t let those little details called facts get in the way though.

That’s our job.

The public comment period for the proposed administrative rule changes is open now and ends December 19. The full list of rule changes is available on the SDE website. Comments can be submitted by email.

Why I’m Voting for Joe Dorman

October 28, 2014 17 comments

We are a week away from Election Day, and I’m ready for the campaigning to be finished. This is the time when close races between fundamentally good people devolve into nasty accusations and contorted truths. I’m a fan of neither of these practices. They don’t influence me in a positive way.

How I will cast my vote for governor probably comes as a surprise to no one. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I don’t think Mary Fallin has been good for public education. You also should know that I’m not a single-issue voter or a straight-party voter. If I agreed with Fallin on every single issue outside of how she’s treated schools, I would have to consider supporting her.

Well I don’t support her, and truthfully, I decided that long ago – probably about the time she vetoed HB 2625, which allowed for parental input into the third-grade retention decision. In fact, she didn’t just veto the bill; she delayed sending official notification of her decision to the Legislature in an effort to out-maneuver them. In other words, she wanted the win so badly that she thought cheap stunts would circumvent the will of the people. In the end, a combined vote of 124-19. Neither chamber debated the decision. They simply took the veto notice and voted it away in a matter of minutes.

This is not a contorted truth. This is a documented accounting of how events unfolded. Similarly, in June, Fallin waited until the last possible minute before deciding to sign HB 3399, which overturned the Common Core State Standards and brought back PASS as the state’s reading and math standards. Since she was one of the main reasons Oklahoma adopted the CCSS, the decision surprised me. As recently as January, she was still defending CCSS to the rest of the country’s governors. It was also the first indication I had that her campaign viewed Joe Dorman as a legitimate threat to unseat her.

It was also at this point that I began researching whether my decision would be a vote against Fallin or a vote for Dorman. It will be both of these things. Below, I will explain why.

Funding Education Properly

Since the start of the recession in 2008, states have struggled to fund all basic services. Most have begun restoring funding to public education. Unfortunately, a recent study showed that per pupil funding in Oklahoma is still 23 percent below the 2008 level.

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

From the Oklahoma Policy Institute

This represents the worst loss of education funding in the country. As much as the State Board of Education wants to give teachers a substantial raise, it’s not up to them. We need a governor who will work with the Legislature to make this happen.

Throughout the summer, Dorman released his education plan in phases. The first installment specifically addresses funding issues. It is a three point plan to ensure that adequate funding reaches the classroom, and it is sound and realistic. It will require the executive branch and legislative branches working together, but that also seems more likely now than at any time in the last several years. His press release at the time made his case:

Joe Dorman’s “Classrooms First” plan dedicates 100% of funds from the existing Franchise Tax to in-classroom instruction and prohibits using these resources in the general fund for any other purpose. These funds will not be subject to political games and special interest giveaways and subsidies. This plan does not raise taxes one dime, and it stops the political sleight-of-hand the politicians use to cut school funds. This plan ties the state legislature’s hands from playing politics, arbitrarily cutting our public schools’ funding and harming our kids and our economy. This is good for parents and kids, good for our business community and economy, and is a fiscally sound policy for our state.

Fallin’s main emphasis during her term has been cutting taxes. Unfortunately, most of those cuts are corporate and geared at the energy industry. While there’s no doubt that this state is reliant on the oil, gas, and electricity producers, there is a middle ground in which we can support basic governmental services like schools and roads without biting the hand that feeds us. Also, Fallin’s proposal to cut income taxes would impact most Oklahomans by dozens of dollars a year. This doesn’t change the lives of the working class, but it does contribute to the decline in support of schools.

When we say that schools have lost funding, we should be specific about the fact that that loss squarely falls upon the state. As the table below illustrates, Oklahoma has seen a gradual decline over the last 15 years of support from the state, coupled with increased reliance on support from the federal government and local revenue.

School Year % Federal Funding % State Funding % Local Funding
2012-13 12.5% 48.0% 39.6%
2011-12 13.6% 47.8% 38.6%
2010-11 17.0% 47.0% 39.0%
2009-10 17.4% 46.5% 36.1%
2008-09 13.6% 52.0% 34.5%
2007-08 11.8% 53.3% 34.9%
2003-04 12.7% 53.4% 33.9%
1998-99 9.4% 57.1% 33.5%

It is appropriate to discuss 2008 as a reference point because that’s the generally agreed upon date of the recession. As you can see, since that time, the percent of district budgets supplied by the state has fallen by 5.3% since that time. I threw two more points of reference into the table as well. First is 2004, since that’s the last year Democrats controlled the Legislature. As you can see, the state and local shares of school funding stayed pretty constant for the first four years that Republicans were in charge. Going back five more years, to 1999, we can see that the percentage of school funding from the state used to be even higher.

That changed after President Bush and Congress passed NCLB in 2001. With extra funding from the feds came extra regulations and controls. Conversely, school districts in Oklahoma now face an increasingly burdensome regulatory morass from the state, even though the state picks up far less of the bill than it used to. Keep this in mind the next time you hear teachers and administrators talk about the loss of local control during the last four years.

This happened on Fallin’s watch. The recession that began two years before she took office gets some of the blame – the funding part at least. The regulatory burden schools face now falls squarely on Fallin and outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Standards and Assessment

Fallin and Barresi gave us Common Core, and then Fallin and the Legislature took it away. They gave us mandatory retention for third graders based upon a single test, and they reacted poorly when the Legislature modified the plan. They gave us Value Added Measurements (based on junk science) for teachers and principals. They also gave us A-F Report Cards for schools. Fallin, if you’ll recall, hinted last year that if superintendents didn’t quit complaining about that last reform in particular, she’d be less likely to support increases to education funding. Her State of the State address from February outlined her record and priorities. Below are a few education quotes from that speech:

No child should ever fail to get a world-class education because our policymakers believe success is too difficult.

That’s why we need to work relentlessly on two fronts:

First, we must continue to improve K-12 public school results.

We know that we are graduating high school seniors who aren’t ready for the workforce or college.  That has to change.

Second, we have to increase the number of Oklahomans who continue their education beyond high school, either by attending college or a career technology center. A high school diploma is not enough.

We are taking active steps to address this crisis; and it is essential we continue to move forward.

For instance, too often, we set up children for failure by sending them on to higher grades without the reading skills they need. We’ve changed course – by requiring that third graders learn to read before moving on to the fourth grade.

We’ve also implemented the A-F grading system that lets parents, students, teachers and administrators know how their school is performing.

In 2010, the Legislature voted to adopt new, higher standards in English and math, and those new Oklahoma standards will be fully implemented this year.

The new standards focus on critical thinking – the kind of skills our children need to get a job or to succeed in higher levels of education.

While we are raising standards, we aren’t telling teachers how to teach that lesson or what books to use.

Those are decisions that will always be made locally.

And here’s the pay-off: we will start graduating seniors that are truly ready for the workforce AND for college or a career technology education.

Because I don’t like to take things out of context, but I also don’t like 3,000 word blog posts, you should probably go back and read the entire speech. This was when Fallin wasn’t in campaign mode and she was expecting to coast to an easy victory. What she believes is clear. We need more testing and we need the Common Core. Without these in place, schools will continue doing their own things, and we just can’t have that.

Dorman, in contrast, understands that Oklahomans will respond better to standards that are developed locally. Here are the bullet points from his plan:

  • A Blue Ribbon Commission consisting of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members and Oklahoma education college professors will work to set new education standards. The Commission will represent Oklahoma’s different schools, regions and communities. Gifted students, special needs students, and students requiring remediation will receive assistance.
  • Once the standards are written, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hold town halls and forums across the state to hear input from citizens on the standards. The input will be used to refine and finalize the new standards.
  • The Blue Ribbon Commission will continue to meet annually to assess the standards and make any changes as needed.
  • A Superintendents Advisory Board will implement the new educational policy and develop the best ways to implement policy in individual school districts while maintaining local control.
  • The Governor will host an annual student forum consisting of high school sophomores and juniors from across the state to discuss how to improve education, how to make them more college and job ready and how to improve standards to make them more ACT ready.

He also proposes scrapping the current testing system for the ACT and its cycle of tests that are developmentally tiered for 3rd through 12th graders. While I would just like to see state testing go away, I know that’s not realistic. Instead of giving students a battery of exams that have little meaning to them and none whatsoever to those in higher education, we would be better off using exams from a national college testing company. Are the questions written to the Oklahoma standards? No, and frankly, I don’t care. Do they include science and social studies content? No, and the colleges who look at ACT scores don’t care. While a lot of the frustrated educators around the state disagree with me on some of this point, I hope they will at least consider the futility of the current testing system and the fact that it has had more than its share of unintended consequences.

The Company You Keep

Dorman seems to get his ideas on education from the people working in and attending our state’s public schools. He even hangs out with teachers. Mary Fallin, when showing education reform guru Jeb Bush around Oklahoma chose a charter school to visit. It wasn’t just any charter school, either; it was KIPP – which is a franchise of a national chain of charters.

Failin Bush

From The Oklahoman

It’s like inviting another state’s former governor to Oklahoma City for a steak and taking him to Outback instead of Cattleman’s. For all of KIPP’s accomplishments, keep in mind that they play by a different set of rules.

Oklahoma teachers voted to change the leadership in education last July. Voting Barresi out was the only smart decision they could make. Below, I have compiled average teacher salaries from before the recession to now.

School Year Average Teacher Salary with Fringe Average Years of Experience Insurance Costs
2012-13 $44,118 12.5 $5,568
2011-12 $44,145 12.6 $5,394
2010-11 $45,714 13.0 $5,394
2009-10 $43,998 12.7 $5,314
2008-09 $43,584 12.7 $4,909
2007-08 $43,275 12.7 $4,371

As you can see, teacher salary – including fringe (insurance, retirement) – has changed very little in this time. I added the Experience column because I was curious if we had more veteran teachers retiring, which would account for some of the stagnation. That really isn’t happening. Meanwhile, when you look at insurance costs, you see that teachers are bringing home less now than they were six years ago. While average compensation has grown by $843, the cost of Healthchoice has increased by $1,197 per year. If teachers have a spouse and children on their insurance plans, it’s even worse. And before we get all worked up about Obamacare, remember that the increase from 2008 to 2009 is higher than all other years combined.

For all the inherent rewards of teaching, the pay just isn’t there. In fact, it’s less than it was just a few years ago – significantly less. And this happened on Mary Fallin’s watch, while she continued with her tax cuts that neither stimulated the economy nor benefitted average working families.

There’s a reason Fallin was completely shocked when she posed with the guy wearing the “Mary Failin’” t-shirt after her sole debate against Joe Dorman. The Lost Ogle corresponded with said man, who reported,

Fallin’s aid told her that he didn’t think she “wanted to take a picture with a Mary Failing t-shirt.” She then looked at my shirt and said, “You’re being mean to me!” Her staff started rushing her through the stairway completely bypassing the elevator and she said, “I just assume everyone is going to be nice.” A man from her campaign followed my group to the elevator, took our pictures, and said, “We’ll be seeing you soon.” I laughed and proceeded to get on the elevator!

Well, governor, not everybody is going to be nice. On some level, you must understand this. Otherwise you would have debated your opponent more than once. I personally know a lot of teachers in this state who don’t feel you’ve been very nice to them. They would probably adopt the respect the office in spite of its occupant approach – as many Oklahomans also do with the President.

From TLO

From TLO

Conclusion

One of my favorite ads that currently runs is the Geico ad wherein the teenagers scurry to hide from an axe murderer and make a lot of poor decisions.

I’m not saying that educators voting for Mary Fallin would be as stupid as teens hiding behind the chainsaws. It wouldn’t even be as stupid as voting for Janet Barresi. It would just be self-defeating.

A vote for Joe Dorman, on the other hand, is a vote for better working conditions, competitive salaries, and restoring education that is geared towards our students rather than the publishers and testing companies that are bleeding us dry.

Be informed, and vote wisely.

Teachers can’t be bought, but can they be rented?

October 25, 2014 3 comments

Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting, Janet Barresi delivered her final budget proposal as Oklahoma’s state superintendent. Overall, Barresi’s budget request for 2015-16 is about $298 million higher than what PK-12 education received for 2014-15. The highlight is a $213.4 million line item increase for teacher salaries – about $2,500 per certified teacher (excluding superintendents). In other words, most of the budget is for teacher pay raises. That’s the part she got right.

(Read OSSBA’s live tweets from the SBE meeting for more detail.)

The raise comes with a catch – lengthen the school year by five days. Truthfully, I’m not opposed to this idea either. However, if we’re going to have a discussion about how much more instructional time we need, we should also probably discuss how we use the instructional time we have. With $11 million in the budget for testing, $12.7 million for Reading Sufficiency, and $8 million for ACE Remediation, I’m not sure I want five more school days – not if it’s just more test prep time.

Over the last 13 years – ever since No Child Left Behind became law – we’ve been all about those tests (with apologies to Meghan Trainor). School should be a place where children can figure out who they are and get the skills they need to get there. Instead, school has become a place where children are data points. Student artwork in the teacher workroom has been replaced with data walls. Author visits have been replaced with testing pep rallies.

Teaching, always a noble but underappreciated profession, has become less attractive than ever. Yes, a salary increase will help with that, but not if the school culture remains all about testing. Later in the meeting, Barresi proved she still doesn’t get that. The following tweet probably best illustrates this.

Apparently our future former state superintendent doesn’t get the role that extracurriculars (such as band, choir, athletics, student council) play in the overall education of our students. In spite of this, I have to give her credit for one thing: this is several steps ahead of last year’s 2K4T gimmick. Barresi admits it’s only a start. In my mind, it’s step one of four. What I’d like to see is the legislature fund such a pay increase every other year until each step on the minimum salary scale is $10,000 higher than it is now. Funding that is another issue.

For each of the past four years, Barresi has proposed large funding increases, only to see Governor Fallin propose quite modest increases – so small that most schools (because of growth) would actually see a loss in per pupil funding. The Legislature has then come through with funding somewhere in the middle.

Back in February, this is what I said we should ask for in terms of funding:

  1. Refill the funding formula.Last year, the Legislature had more money to appropriate than at any other time in state history. Even so, state support for public education had not been restored to the level of FY 2008. At a minimum, schools need support at that level, plus consideration for growth in enrollment and a cost of living adjustment.
  2. Fully fund reforms.Three years ago, Superintendent Barresi told superintendents that the reforms she was pushing could be implemented with no new funding. Now she is asking for more than $26 million in new money to fund them. Common Core, TLE, RSA, and ACE all take money to implement well. They also take time. School districts can get students where they need to be with both of these resources. Most critical is Reading Sufficiency. At current funding levels, many schools have to decide between tutoring during the school year or having summer programs. The supports they do provide span less time and may not include all the grades principals would like to serve. Also consider that we keep increasing what we spend on testing. If the Legislature would reduce the amount of required testing, this expense could be lessened.
  3. Plan long-term for raises.Supporting a teacher raise of $2,000 by adjusting the state minimum salary and dedicating funding to the formula would be a start. Don’t stop there. Be bold. Think five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to see public education in the future. While state voters rejected a plan to trigger automatic teacher salary increases a few years back, they would probably support raises for teachers if the Legislature phased them in over time. We don’t know what Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas will be paying their teachers in five years. There’s a lot we don’t know. We can be certain, however, that we will continue to see shortages in the profession without taking strong action. A one-time $2,000 stipend that only a few districts would be able to afford is not a game-changer.

I’m still where I was eight months ago with this. If the state has more money to spend, why hasn’t education funding been restored to pre-recession levels? Until legislators do this, we’re going to doubt the motives of all the politicians. For example, fellow blogger Brett Dickerson thinks this is a transparent attempt to buy teachers’ loyalty:

Reformists still stubbornly believe that teachers can be bought. It’s amazing. And it is the same contempt for education and educators that we have seen before. It caused right-wing elites to spend big money to push in a dentist for superintendent. It’s the idea that you can throw a few dollars at teachers and they will settle down.

People who have not dreamed of teaching and then taught for years just don’t get it. They think that more money can make us do things differently or change our motivations.

We only ask for more money sometimes so that we don’t have to work a second job mowing lawns, or at a clothing store, or delivering pizzas late into school nights to make ends meet. I actually did all of those things, by the way. It was when I had one of those lucrative “union” contracts that others are supposed to resent us for having.

We want more pay so that we can afford to spend all Summer going to conferences that help us get better at teaching our students. We want more pay because we want to spend our evenings and weekends reading the latest books on teaching so that we can get better at teaching our students.

Committed, long-term teachers don’t teach for money. If we did, then we could be bought.

We teach because we love it. We teach because we can’t imagine much else. We rally, write, speak, and vote to make sure that our students get the education that they deserve.

I disagree slightly. I only think they’re trying to rent us. Actually, at this price point, it’s more like a lease. They’re flashing money in the short-term, but they really don’t want to put many miles on the vehicle. Whether the SBE is sincere about this gesture or not is irrelevant. Teacher raises don’t come from the Hodge building. They come from the Capitol.

Ultimately, reformers want their reform agenda implemented. That can’t be done without teachers. I also believe that teachers can still swing the upcoming election – the governor’s race, the state superintendent race, and several key legislative races.

About the State Regents Certifying PASS

October 19, 2014 4 comments

Much has happened here in Oklahoma while most of the school districts in the state have been on Fall Break the last few days. Below is the short version of lastweek’s events, with links to more information about each.

Regents Certify PASS

State to Reapply for NCLB Waiver

SBE Authorizes Fundraising Exemptions

SBE Selects Measured Progress for Winter Testing

For now, I’ll just focus on what happened Thursday. Hopefully I’ll have some serious blogging time this week to get to the rest, as well as the two major political races that impact public education.

Thursday – the State Regents and the Waiver

We knew last week that the State Regents would finally decide whether or not to certify PASS as College and Career Ready, but their decision had remained pretty secretive. After cross-walking PASS to ACT’s standards, the committees in place for both language arts and math determined that there was significant alignment between them. This decision befuddled our current state superintendent.

Posted by SDE media on Thu, 10/16/2014 – 5:15pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 16, 2014) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi comments on the Oklahoma Regent’s for Higher Education decision to consider Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards college- and career-ready.

“I am confused and unsettled by this decision. My understanding of the definition of college- and career-ready standards is that students who graduate high school should be able to enter college without needing to take remedial coursework or enter a career without the need for retraining. In Oklahoma, our college remediation rate for entering freshman has hovered at about 40 percent for years. With that said, however, I am withholding further comment until I have had time to thoroughly review the Regents’ findings.

“In light of the Regents’ decision, however, we have already begun the process of reapplying for our flexibility waiver from No Child Left Behind. If a waiver is granted, the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it would not take effect until the 2015-2016 school year.”

Barresi has a history of using loaded adjectives when she doesn’t get her way. It’s unfathomable to her that actual Oklahoma educators could create a set of standards with any merit. This doesn’t stop her from using the existing tests over those standards to rate schools, but that’s beside the point. The State Regents actually had a rationale. As the report explains:

ACT organizes its standards according to ACT score ranges. For example, for a score in the range of 16-19, ACT has identified standards that must be met to achieve a score in that range. For this review, standards corresponding to score ranges of 20-23 and 24-27 were used for alignment with the PASS standards. These score ranges were selected because OSRHE set the minimum ACT cut score for remediation in each of the four subject areas of English, Mathematics, Reading and Science based on OSRHE policies (3.19 Assessment Policy and 3.20 Remediation Policy) and previous research. In 1994, OSRHE established the requirement for all students to be remediated if they did not earn at least a 19 on the ACT Mathematics subject test. Approximately every five years, OSRHE contracts with ACT to conduct a course placement study using Oklahoma student data.

Review of these findings by COI is used to verify the ACT cut scores. The 2011 ACT study predicted that 74 percent of students with an ACT subject score of 19 would earn at least a grade of C in English composition, 63 percent in general mathematics, and 57 percent in college algebra. A brief summary table outlining this extensive study can be found in Attachment 8. In 2004, OSRHE received a final report from the Student Preparation Task Force recommending the continued use of the ACT standards as benchmark competencies. For 2014 Oklahoma high school graduates, students with an ACT score of 27 in English are in the 87th percentile; in Reading, the 82nd percentile; and in Mathematics, the 93rd percentile for Oklahoma test takers. [p. 9]

This is similar to a process the SDE and Regents completed 10 years ago, although I can’t find it online anywhere. The point is that Oklahoma, in the 20+ years we have been developing standards, has never operated within an insular vacuum. We have always had an eye on what’s going on elsewhere. Even four years ago, when the Oklahoma Legislature adopted the Common Core, the SDE took the time to crosswalk them to PASS.

The Regents used committees of higher education officials and professors for each set of standards, then had the Southern Regional Education Board check their work. Ironically, one of the SREB consultants was Jennifer Watson, who was promoted by Barresi to Assistant State Superintendent at one point. The committees and consultants have concerns about PASS, which include recommendations for improving the state standards.

Math [p. 11]

CONCERN 1: The ACT College and Career Readiness Standard for “work with numerical factors” did not appear to be specifically addressed in high school PASS, but it is necessary to demonstrate mastery of other high school skills, such as the PASS “simplify and evaluate linear, absolute value, rational and radical expressions” or “factor polynomial expressions.” Since “work with numerical factors” was at a score range of 24-27, there was much discussion about the intent of this standard. Upon review of some possible ACT questions, this standard seemed to imply more number-theory concepts than computational or procedural use.

RECOMMENDATION: Standards should be clear as to the intent of the standard to avoid differences in interpretation. For example, clarification may be needed to reflect a level of number theory or conceptual understanding rather than computational or procedural use.

CONCERN 2: In some instances, the wording of the Mathematics PASS standards was more vague than in the ACT standards, and the faculty had to decide whether the specific ACT standard was implied in the more general PASS standard. For example, the ACT standard is “recognize Pythagorean triples,” while the PASS standard is “Use the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse to find missing side lengths and to determine acute, right, and obtuse triangles, and verify using algebraic and deductive proofs.”

RECOMMENDATION: Specific wording from the ACT standards should be included in the more general PASS standard, such as a “must include” or “for example” insertion.

CONCERN 3: In some instances, the level of rigor may not be consistent from ACT to PASS. For example, the ACT standard of “order fractions” was addressed in PASS grades 5, 6 and 7. However, this ACT standard is at a score range of 24-27, which implies a higher level of rigor than typical middle school mathematics. The faculty members were concerned that the level of rigor expected by ACT might not be addressed in the high school PASS.

RECOMMENDATION: If they are considered maintenance skills, then the intent should be clearly stated in PASS standards with the appropriate level of rigor and/or the intent for how the standard should be used to increase the rigor of the high school standard.

CONCERN 4: Some Mathematics PASS standards are listed with an asterisk, meaning they are not assessed at the state level through the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests, and few of the process standards (problem-solving, communication, reasoning, connections and representation) are included in the state assessments.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that all standards be included in the state assessments to reinforce the teaching of all standards to all students.

CONCERN 5: The faculty expressed concern that the high remediation rate in mathematics is not the result of the standards but is impacted by many other issues, such as assessment, curriculum, instruction, and type or number of mathematics courses taken in high school.

RECOMMENDATION: The faculty recommends that more efforts be made to emphasize the importance of implementing standards thoroughly, comprehensively and with fidelity; align curricula; and assess all standards.

In essence, they’re saying that the standards need tweaking in some places, and that high school course selection may account for a significant portion of the remediation rate.

English/Language Arts [p. 12]

CONCERN 1 (COHERENCE): While thorough and comprehensive, the intentional development of knowledge and skills across grades is not always transparent in the ELA PASS document.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • A K-12 matrix, or scope and sequence, of the standards for each strand would show the progression of knowledge and skills through grade levels. Such a matrix would help teachers, supervisors, districts, parents and others to identify when students are introduced to a standard and at what point they are expected to have mastered it.
  • A reorganization of some of the standards and substandards under each strand would improve coherence. For example, Reading Standard 4, Research and Information, might be separated to help clarify that there are many purposes for reading informational and non-narrative texts beyond conducting research.
  • Stressing the interconnectedness in the skills and knowledge students need in order to develop college- and career-ready vocabulary would provide greater coherence within this critical standard. Context clues, structural analysis, wide reading, and reference tools work together and within a framework of the specific reading task. Consult best practices in the systematic teaching of vocabulary when new standards are being written.

CONCERN 2 (SPECIFICITY): In total, the language of ELA PASS is straightforward and specific; indeed, PASS is often more specific than the language of the ACT ELA College and Career Readiness Standards. In point, the committee found that the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards for English and Reading contain many examples of “vague language,” such as use of the phrase “and so on” to indicate other assumed but unnamed elements of a standard. However, some language of ELA PASS can be more specific.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Construct every learning standard statement with a verb that is “assessable.” Teachers, curriculum writers and test designers would appreciate the specificity of having students “defend,” “distinguish,” “estimate,” “paraphrase,” “predict” or “summarize” rather than “understand” or “appreciate.”
  • Specific language throughout the Reading and Writing standards that addresses both the interpretation and construction of critical text structures would underscore their importance. Students should be engaged every year in analyzing and composing texts that use cause/effect, problem/solution, complex narrative sequence, claim/counterclaim and other predominant structures.
  • Distinguish between argumentation and persuasion in writing standards. Argumentation is a common mode of writing in college and should be emphasized and practiced in middle school and high school.
  • Update the ELA PASS Glossary to provide definitions of a broader range of terms. Many will look to PASS to clarify what is meant by “complex texts,” “grade-appropriate” and “readability” (as examples).
  • A close review of substandards within the Grammar/Usage and Mechanics Standard at each grade level would resolve some vague expectations for student writers and editors.

CONCERN 3 (PURPOSE): The purpose-setting statement that frames ELA PASS should highlight some additional expectations for learners.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • The five-paragraph essay is the foundation, not the culmination, of high school writing. The form should be mastered by the freshman year of high school and used as the basis that supports students to write frequently in multiple and more sophisticated formats.

  • The ability to read independently in a range of disciplines is paramount to academic and career success. Learning how to interpret literature and informative, highly technical and often lengthy reading passages should be an overarching goal of ELA PASS.

  • The purposes should include the habits of mind that help any person be successful: persistence, responsibility, self-analysis and reflection, and independence.

Side note: Is it any wonder that the comments on the ELA standards are wordier? Just a harmless observation.

In all seriousness, these are some strong recommendations. The ELA standards have always lacked for clarity in terms of the depth of skills learned by grade level. I especially like the example of reinforcing the fact that informational and non-fiction text have purposes beyond research. Then, as the math committee points out, we really have to push students to take more courses that will help with college preparation.

My own research

As you would expect, I’m not content thinking that the standards are the only contributor to college readiness. While student course selection is important to college preparedness, there is more to the story than that. Using data from the graduating class of 2013 at Oklahoma’s 453 high schools, I explored the relationships among several variables. Keeping in mind that correlation does not always indicate causation, consider the following correlations:

Variables Correlated to School Free/Reduced Lunch Percentage
Seniors in Career Tech Programs 0.17
Average ACT Score of Graduates -0.60
Oklahoma College-going Rate -0.30
College Remediation Rate 0.57

Once again, we see that poverty matters. Schools with more of it have strong correlations to low ACT (-0.60) scores and high college remediation rates (0.57). We should also, however, consider the impact of expectations. At home, students with resources and support are pushed more towards college. That explains the lower college-going rate among schools with high levels of poverty (-0.30). Interestingly, we also see that schools with more poverty have slightly more students involved in Career Tech programs (0.17). Knowing that many of the high-poverty schools in Oklahoma are also small, rural schools, I decided to look at the impact of school size on these same variables.

Variables Correlated to Total High School Enrollment
Seniors in Career Tech Programs -0.23
Average ACT Score of Graduates 0.35
Oklahoma College-going Rate 0.26
College Remediation Rate -0.20

The first thing I should note is that these correlations should not lead anyone to think (or believe that I think) that large schools are better than small schools. I do think that most of the larger high schools are in the suburbs or near colleges, which impacts expectations, however. I also know from experience that larger high schools can offer a wider variety of classes. This may impact the amount of math and science content students have available. It’s not a knock on smaller schools. It’s just an observation. I would also guess that smaller schools don’t have as much access to content specialists and other professional development opportunities to help them with turning standards into curriculum. Now that we’ve changed tracks twice in four years, and we’re planning to do so again before 2016, maybe we should cut the teachers and students a little slack.

That said, the biggest variable of all related to college remediation rates seems to be poverty. If I had been running multiple regression tests, we would probably see that students in small schools with low poverty fare about as well as students in large schools with low poverty. If we had a way to capture 12 year numbers on mobility rates, that would probably factor in too.

My conclusion, based on the work of the State Regents, the SREB, and my own rudimentary calculations, would be that our standards, when controlling for poverty, aren’t the thing that determines college readiness. It still has a lot more to do with family characteristics and overall expectations than anything else. Adopting Common Core won’t change this. Adding or eliminating tests won’t change this. Parents and teachers having high expectations for all students is important, but so is coming to school having your basic human survival needs met.

Superintendent Barresi, there is no reason for confusion. The only unsettling thing is that after four years in your position, you still don’t understand the hard work that Oklahoma educators do every day. You don’t understand that schools have differences – large and small; affluent and poor; rural, suburban, and urban – and that these differences matter.

As my friend Rob Miller said last week, just mail the damn letter to the feds and be done with it. Then get out of the way! Soon enough, this will be someone else’s concern – someone who gets it.

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