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Don’t know much about history?

Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin vetoed SB 2, which would have eliminated the state test for high school US History. This test costs the state of Oklahoma $2.4 million. It means nothing to the students who take it. As with all high-stakes tests, it forces teachers to narrow instruction to what they think will be assessed. Below is her reasoning.

US History veto message

I want to break down her veto statement one sentence at a time.

Senate bill 2 moves Oklahoma backwards.

Let that sentence linger in the air a minute. During the 6+ years of Fallin’s leadership, can you think of anything else that has moved our state backwards? Could it be three consecutive years of budget collapses? Other than our roads, bridges, schools, colleges, health care, prisons, law enforcement, and state parks, we’re having a fantastic decade! The 2010s will go down in history…oh, wait, they won’t. And even if they do, we won’t be able to afford the history books.

History is a vital component of a student’s academic coursework. It grounds students in our nation’s founding principles and our Constitution…

I agree that history is vital. And with US history dating back to 1607, we can’t cover it all in one year. That’s why the state breaks down the standards into three grade spans:

So the high school test covers the last 140 years. With all due respect, that doesn’t exactly include the nation’s founding.

…and teaches that American exceptionalism led the world to unite behind the concepts that liberty and freedom are fundamental human rights.

Not to be a noodge, but I don’t remember the world exactly uniting behind those principles. They’re great ideals. They’re core American values. And we’ve engaged in wars to end tyranny, which is a great thing.

This span of US History begins with Reconstruction, delves into immigration, westward expansion, and the industrial revolution before discussing WWI. It covers “social, cultural, and economic events between the World Wars,” such as the Great Depression. It moves through the Cold War all the way to our response to 9/11.

It’s more than our founding principles. It’s the narrative of how we got from that ontological perspective to where we are today. It includes our triumphs and our failings. It’s a mix of triumphs and human failings.

A test of facts, dates, and names doesn’t capture that.

In 2016, only 62 percent of students in Oklahoma scored proficient or advanced on their End of Instruction Exam on US History.

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you know I’m not really a fan of the single out-of-context statistic. Here are the state pass rates for the high school US History EOI since 2010, when Fallin was elected governor:

  • 2010 75%
  • 2011 80%
  • 2012 77%
  • 2013 80%
  • 2014 86%
  • 2015 79%
  • 2016 62%

If testing is so important, then why did scores go down? Where was your leadership during this time, Governor Fallin?

Or maybe it’s not about leadership. It could be that a new test and a new cut score had something to do with the 62%. Still, I wouldn’t rule out her leadership. This is her circus, after all.

If US History is not measured through a test, its importance in school will be lessened.

That’s just a slap in the face. Apparently the governor thinks our history teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. Strangely, I don’t recall her praising them in 2014 when the proficient rate was much higher.

I’m reminded of the time in 2015 that our governor put her knowledge of our founding principles on display:

You know there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, you have the legislative branch and you have the people – the people and their ability to vote.

Yes, she really said that. She actually forgot the branch of government she leads.

If only there had been a test.

The good thing is that we can fix this. Our Legislature may be struggling to find agreement on a budget right now, but they were pretty solid when they sent this bill to Fallin. The House vote was 65-23 with 10 absences. The Senate vote was 31-10 with 7 absences.

Now is the time to act. The governor’s action was predictable, just as it was two years ago when she vetoed HB 2625, giving parents a voice on third grade retention. At that time, the House voted 79-17 and the Senate voted 45-2 to override her veto.

That was one of the most critical moments we’ve had in the last few years. It showed how strong public education advocates can be when we unite. The state superintendent at that time called it pathetic and outrageous, which was a pretty strong indication we were right.

Maybe that helps us understand this veto. Rep. Katie Henke, the author of HB 2625 two years ago, is the house author for SB 2. The senate author is JJ Dossett, a former teacher who has been very outspoken on education and budget issues this year. I wouldn’t sleep on the role that spite plays in decisions such as this.

We don’t need to waste money on a meaningless test. Another $2.4 million could save about 55 teaching positions. Not that I’m counting.

Besides, if we wanted something resembling authentic assessment, it would look so much different. We can’t afford to continue insulting our teachers. Please call your state senator and representative and ask them to vote to override the veto.

They left the Capitol before 11:00 am today, but their voicemail works. Fill it up.

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