OKSDE: Mail the Damn Letter!

After a four-month review of the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) for reading and math, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education today voted unanimously to certify the standards as college and career ready. Many thanks to the Oklahoma Secondary School Board Association for live-tweeting this morning’s proceedings.  Here is the information that really matters:

A full report on the regent’s review and findings can be found HERE.

As we are all aware, this certification is required by Arne Duncan’s Department of Education to apply for a flexibility waiver from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This was spelled out in the letter our state received on August 28th (below) that denied our original request because we did not meet the August 12th deadline established by the USDOE.

This morning’s action by the regents affirms the position of CCOSA and the State School Board who proposed a delay in the new standards writing process until the regent’s review was completed. As a result, when this process does begin under the leadership of a new state superintendent in January, the teams will have in their hands specific recommendations for improvement of the existing standards.

In other words, we don’t need to waste time reinventing the wheel. What we already have in place (PASS) can be improved and strengthened, yet it does not appear that this effort will require us to completely abandon the current standards.

The pressing issue at this time seems to be our next step relative to our waiver request. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems like our state department would have been prepared for this morning’s announcement.

Here is what OSDE spokeswoman, Tricia Pemberton said in response to the Tulsa World article in yesterday’s news:

OKLAHOMA CITY — Even if Oklahoma’s outdated education standards are determined to properly prepare students for college, state officials say there’s little they can do this school year to regain control of federal funding stripped from the state.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will meet Thursday in Oklahoma City to vote on whether Oklahoma’s current Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, education standards are “college and career ready.” Such a designation could allow the state to reapply for a federal waiver that was stripped after the Oklahoma Legislature voted earlier this year to ditch national academic standards known as Common Core.

But State Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said even if the regents agree the older standards are adequate, Oklahoma isn’t expected to even apply for a federal waiver until the 2015-2016 school year.

“We’ve had no indication that we can seek an immediate waiver,” Pemberton said.

Uh, why not?

Let’s take a quick look at the letter from Assistant Secretary of Education, Deborah Delisle. In particular, read the first two paragraphs on page two.

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A key sentence: “If, in the future, Oklahoma is able to prove that it has adopted and is implementing college- and career-standards for all students, I would be pleased to reconsider Oklahoma’s request to implement ESEA flexibility.”

With the regent’s certification of our current state standards as college- and career-ready today, we have now complied with the USDOE’s own guidance relative to this portion of the waiver requirements. The letter does not delineate any other rationale for refusal of our request.

As a result, why doesn’t the state department simply add a sentence or two to the original waiver request stating that our academic standards have been certified as college- and career- ready as stipulated in Ms. Delisle’s letter?  And then request an immediate review of our updated application. Didn’t Ms. Delisle write she would be “pleased to reconsider” once we had demonstrated we met this requirement? Let’s please her.

Why the hell would we wait until the 2015-2016 school year to update our waiver request and resubmit? Why would we instead choose to leave ourselves in limbo on the potential implications associated with the return to NCLB sanctions? Superintendent Barresi has talked about the need to hire up to 30 additional staff just to meet the administrative requirements of going back to NCLB. Don’t the events of today make this a moot point? Instead of focusing efforts on repainting walls and moving pictures at the state department, why are we not on the phone with representatives at the USDOE to expedite this process?

What am I missing? The regents have certified the PASS standards as college- and career-ready. Why is our updated waiver request not already in a FedEx box on its way to Ms. Delisle’s office?

CCOSA, OSSBA, and USSA just released a joint statement asking this same thing:

Our hope is State Superintendent Janet Barresi will accept the regents’ report, quickly communicate the findings to the United States Department of Education and request an immediate reinstatement of Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver. The ongoing development of even stronger academic standards is still necessary to prepare our state’s children for the future, and we believe today’s report is an appropriate baseline for development of Oklahoma’s new English / Language Arts and Mathematics standards.

I will be a little more blunt. Mail the damn letter!  By their own guidelines, the feds have absolutely no reason to disapprove our waiver at this point. Let’s demand they reverse their original decision and reinstate our waiver immediately. We need to move on.

Our Governor and state legislators should be demanding that this happen. Waiting even a week to resubmit our waiver request is unacceptable.

Why TLE is Flawed

In my previous post, “Playing TLEopoly,” I discussed some of the silliness surrounding the current implementation of the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness system.

The theory of action behind the TLE model of supervision and evaluation is that the process will improve teacher effectiveness, which in turn will boost student achievement. This assumption seems logical, but what if the theory is wrong?

This year, as we begin to fully contemplate the enormous administrative requirements to fully comply with the multiple qualitative and quantitative components of TLE, many of you are starting to think out loud that this process makes very little sense. And you would be correct. Current practices will not make sense if you assume that the purpose of the evaluations is to actually evaluate teachers accurately and effectively.

A good evaluation system should give teachers clear and useful feedback—a snapshot of what they do well, and a plan for what and how they can improve. An effective system also provides principals and district leaders with insight on their school’s strengths and weaknesses. The national trend in teacher evaluations is not interested in either of these.

National reformers and accountabullies have already decided that our schools are failing, and that we are failing because we are filled to the rafters with terrible, horrible, no good, very bad teachers. For that reason, we really don’t need to create evaluations to answer the question, “How are we doing?” Reformers have already made up their mind on this question. We’re failing. Therefore, what THEY need is an evaluation system that “confirms” what they already know.

The sheer deluge of new acronyms and terms brought to shore in the flotsam of TLE would be laughable if the stakes were not so high. Other Academic Measures (OAMs), Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), Student Outcome Objectives (SOOs), Value Added Models (VAMs), teachers of tested subjects, teachers of non-tested subjects, linkages, growth models—it’s all enough to make your head spin and your stomach turn.

But, back to the original question: Will any of these things actually improve teacher effectiveness?

I have written earlier about the fallacy of value added models (“Why VAM Must Die“), but will include a quick review here.  VAMs are a statistical tool that have now been as discredited as Janet Barresi’s political astuteness. But some folks still insist that if we take very narrow standardized test results and run them through an incoherent number-crunching formula, the numbers we end up with represent useful objective data. Why? Well…they’re numbers.

But, they don’t. We start with standardized tests, which are not objective, and filter them through various inaccurate variable-adjusting programs (which are not objective), which leaves us with a number—a number that is little more than crap.

It’s not just me that feels this way. Even smart mathy people tend to agree. On April 8th, The American Statistical Association (ASA) issued a cautionary statement about the use of VAMs for assessing teacher effectiveness. In the executive summary, the ASA makes the following recommendations:

VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.

VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy about using VAM to make high stakes decisions about teachers? Remember that these VAMs will count for 35% of next year’s  evaluations for Oklahoma teachers of tested subjects, mostly math and reading teachers.

So, what about these “new” Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) that school districts are currently being trained on by our own state department? This is the measure that the majority of teachers of non-tested subjects will be forced to swallow. Here is the “evidence” of SLO effectiveness shared in the OSDE’s own presentation at this summer’s Vision 2020 Conference:

Some positive correlations have been found between the quality of SLOs and student achievement and between the number of objectives met by teachers and student achievement, but mixed results point to a need for more research (Austin Independent School District, 2010; Community Training and Assistance Center, 2013).

Wow! If that’s not a powerful endorsement worthy of an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold hours in implementation, I don’t know what is! Seriously, is this meant as a joke? I can substitute almost anything for “quality of SLOs” and keep this an accurate statement. How about “phase of the moon,” “day of the week,” or “Number of Lexus’s in the parent pickup lane?” I submit the latter is probably the most accurate indicator in the group.

Teacher evaluation systems only work if the system actually measures what it purports to measure. The current “new” systems in place across the country, including TLE, do not do this. Linkage to student data is spectacularly weak. We start with tests that claim to measure the full breadth and quality of students’ education. They do not. Then we attempt to create a link between those test results and teacher effectiveness, and that simply hasn’t happened yet. VAM was supposed to make us fall in love with our standardized test data, but turning small amounts of bad data into heaping piles of bad data is not particularly helpful.

Again, we must remember that the goal of this system is not accuracy. Don’t be fooled. As we can observe in other states farther down this road to oblivion, this type of quantitative, test-based data is simply being used to “prove” the existence of a vast throbbing pool of teacher awfulness. When administrator’s evaluations don’t match the data spit out by the machines, the administrator is labeled lazy or ineffective. Because the state controls the development of the tests and the setting of cut scores, they have the capacity to work this data any way they wish.

I originally said this would be a three-part series. Thinking about it now, it might be four, maybe five. Whatever it takes to get the message out to as many as I can.

In closing, here are a few things I know to be true:

1. You do not retain and recruit great teachers by making their continued pay and employment dependent on an evaluation system that is no more reliable than a monkey with a random number generator.

2. No evaluation system will ever be administrator-proof. If your principal hates you and is out to get you, no system in the world can keep him from finding a way to game your evaluation to hurt you. On the other hand, If she’s a reputable and respectful person who is trying to do the best for her people, no system can keep her from doing so.

3. Attempting to provide more oversight will actually reduce effectiveness, because more oversight = more paperwork, and more paperwork = less time. This shifts the job from providing meaningful feedback and support to teachers to “filling out the forms correctly and on time.” Most administrators are pretty good at this.

4. The Tulsa Model, which comprises the 50% qualitative component of most teachers’ evaluations, is not objective. It is a subjective list of twenty indicators of teacher behavior. This list is itself a reflection of the bias of the people who made it, and the observer’s own biases will affect what he does or doesn’t see during any observation. There is no such thing as an objective measure of teacher quality. It does not exist. It has never existed. It will never exist. To present a system and claim that it is objective is in and of itself a demonstration of subjective biases about teaching.

To illustrate, why does the Tulsa Model use twenty indicators instead of 23 or 31? Simple, it was a subjective decision designed to keep the math easy. Why is the indicator “student relations” equal in weight to “closure?” Again, even though we all know forming positive relations with students is critical to success as a teacher, it gains no more value than summing up the daily objectives. And, why do a disproportionate number of teachers in many districts, including Tulsa, earn an even 3.0 on their evaluation. This is due to the fact that awarding any number other than a three for any indicator on the rubric requires additional documentation. Giving threes is easy and takes little time.

The worse aspect of the rubric is it makes no provision for teachers of widely varied subjects. A first grade teacher is evaluated with exactly the same rubric as a middle school PE teacher, a high school forensics teacher, an AP chemistry teacher, or an in-house supervisor. This would be akin to football scouts evaluating all players for the NFL using the same rubric. One size does NOT fit all!

The current evaluation model being perpetrated on Oklahoma teachers is based on a flawed theory of action and will do little to change what teachers do in their classrooms during the 99.7% of the time the principal is not there. What will drive high student achievement in the future is teacher teams working collaboratively toward common curriculum expectations and using formative assessments to continuously improve teaching and address students who are not successful.

To achieve this, we must create a system that supports this foundation. There needs to be a shift away from a process owned exclusively by school administrators centered on the inherently time-consuming evaluation of individual teacher lessons, to a more dynamic, informal process owned by teacher leaders and teams.

For now, you’ll have to wait and see what comes ashore with the next wave of flotsum!

Playing the Game of “TLEopoly”

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It is that time of year when Oklahoma school administrators reach into the storage closet to dust off the TLEopoly game board for the start of a new teacher evaluation cycle.

For those who are unfamiliar with the rules of the game, let me explain some basic guidelines.

TLE stands for the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System. The system was enacted by passage of Senate Bill 2033 during the 2010 legislative session. The law required the Oklahoma State Board of Education to adopt formal rules for the game by December 15, 2011.

TLEopoly rules can sometimes be the subject of a little bit of debate, because a lot of people play with variant rules. This is despite the fact that the state has spent large amounts of money to train evaluators so they are appropriately “calibrated” to ensure consistent teacher ratings from school to school and district to district.

This is similar to the belief that having the one set of identical academic standards for all students across the nation will ensure that all children will graduate from high school equally ready for college, regardless of their background.

A quick review. Things that can be effectively calibrated and/or standardized: digital scanners, computer monitors, automobiles, Big Macs, optical devices, and electronic scales. Human beings–not so much.

Anyhow, the objective of TLEopoly is for teachers to earn a rating of highly effective or superior through the accumulation of points. According to the rules set by law, a teacher’s score will be based on:

  • 50% Qualitative Measures (observable characteristics of performance that are correlated to student achievement)
  • 35% Quantitative Measures of Student Academic Growth based on multiple years of standardized test data (Note: no one actually knows how this will work. Teachers of certain tested subjects will earn points based on roster verification and value added models;  teachers of untested subjects will have to develop student learning objectives (SLOs) or student outcome objectives (SOOs) to measure and report. These points will be added to the teacher’s score one year after they were computed. This sounds easy enough, right?)
  • 15% Quantitative Measures of Other Academic Factors (another note: Teachers who know how to play TLEopoly will quickly figure out to earn points here. For example, teachers in any high school earning an A on the A-F report card can use this measure to earn a superior 5.0 score nearly every year. This is one of the examples the state provides on their website. Unfortunately, teachers in high poverty schools may not have this option, hence the measure is blatantly UNFAIR.)

In reality, the whole TLE process is quantitative since the qualitative evaluations conducted by administrators must be converted into a number. You then take half this number, add .35 times another number and .15 of a third number to get a total number. This, of course, is why teachers got into the profession of teaching—to have their life’s work and passion for children translated to a number.

Yet, this final number is important in order for the state to effectively rank, sort, and punish teachers provide each teacher with actionable data to guide his or her professional growth.

The first step for teachers is the all-important selection of the game token which they believe will bring them the greatest chance to earn points. There are eight basic educator styles in the TLEopoly game:

Wheelbarrow: “I can carry anything you throw at me. Bring it on.”
Battleship: “I’m big and powerful but don’t expect me to turn quickly.”
Racecar: “Can we hurry up? I have more important things to do.”
Thimble: “I don’t want to get hurt. Just tell me what to do.”
Old-style boot: “I am well-worn and comfortable. Keep polishing me and I may last a few more years.”
Scottie dog: “I am typically loyal and friendly, but if you mistreat me I’ll bark a lot and pee on the carpet.”
Top hat: “Remember you’re not my first dance partner. Respect me or you’ll get nothing from me. I’ve played this game a lot longer than you have.”
Cat: “I don’t need you. Just put some food in my bowl, keep my box clean, and leave me alone.”

Each administrator can play TLEopoly with up to thirty players. This may seem like a lot of pieces moving at the same time, but principals have virtually unlimited time so this should not be a problem.

At the start of the game, each teacher is given 3.0 points. The administrator banks the rest of the points to distribute as he or she sees fit. If teachers are able to successfully navigate their way around the board without losing any of their points, they may get to play again next year.

However, if a teacher fails to PASS GO with 3.0 points remaining, they go directly to TLE jail. They must then earn additional points from their administrator through the PDP process in order to continue. If they do not earn these points, their token is removed from the board.

As the game is played, teachers may occasionally land on Chance or Community Chest spots. Upon landing on one of these, the teacher is dealt a card depending on where and whom they teach. Some examples include: Five new ELL students added to your roster. Move back three spots and lose growth points” or “Congratulations, you’ve been assigned to teach algebra to seventh graders in an affluent suburban school. Pass GO and collect more points.

Teachers who accumulate additional points may be able to trade their pewter token for a silver (highly effective) or gold (superior) game piece. They can also brag to others about the big number they have. Other than that, the points are absolutely useless.

Unless of course, the legislature decides in the future to grant monetary incentives (merit pay) for teachers who earn more points than others. At this time, the game will become much more serious. Since the number of points available for distribution will have to be limited, the objective of the game will undoubtedly change. Instead of teachers playing for the “love of the game,” their focus will become bankrupting the other players in order to gather more points. There will be winners and many losers.

Each year, the game of TLEopoly becomes even more cumbersome and confusing. Most teachers used to look forward to playing the game when the focus was on providing meaningful and timely feedback to support their growth. They didn’t really care about gathering points and they rooted for other players to have success as well. Administrators enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with their teachers and support their success.

As the game evolves and we further reduce the value of educators to a single number used to compare and rank them,  I expect even more great teachers to simply say, “I quit, the game is no longer useful or fun.”  Administrators will be buried in more unnecessary paperwork and state reporting requirements that will consume the time they need to coach and support their teachers.

TLEopoly is an outdated game created by non-educators for a 20th century industrial model. It is not an effective approach to improve teaching and learning in our schools today. It is time to put it back on the shelf of the hall closet or donate it to Goodwill. Then again, I’m not certain anyone else would want it either.

(This is part one of a three part series on teacher evaluation and TLE. In part two, I will discuss how the current system is inefficient, ineffective, and a poor use of principals’ time. For part three, I will share a highly effective model used by an award-winning school district in Maryland—a system, incidentally, they were forced to abandon in order to maintain their state’s ESEA waiver.)

In Pursuit of Less Dumber High School Graduates

In the spirit of Punxsutawney Phil, Chancellor Glen Johnson and his fellow members of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will soon emerge from their stately offices to issue their edict on the college- and career-readiness of our state academic standards.

If the PASS standards cast a shadow, the Regents will retreat back into their offices, and the Arne Duncan-imposed “NCLB Winter” for Oklahoma will persist for at least 18 more months.

On the other hand, if the standards are deemed fit for student consumption, spring will come early and we will be able to reapply for an extension of our ESEA waiver.

On September 3rd, Chancellor Johnson released the following statement regarding the Regent’s role in certifying our PASS standards College- and Career-Ready.

At the State Regents’ meeting today, I provided an update on our goals with respect to higher education’s timeline to complete a comprehensive and efficient review of the K-12 Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards, as required by HB 3399. Under the provisions of the legislation, the State Regents are tasked with the responsibility to certify whether or not the PASS standards for English and Language Arts (ELA) and math meet college and career readiness standards.

To discharge their responsibilities under HB 3399, the State Regents have assembled groups of campus subject matter experts with experience in developing and reviewing ELA and math standards to assess the alignment of PASS standards with the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards. The team reviewing the math PASS standards initially met on July 21, 2014. The team reviewing the ELA PASS standards initially met on July 29, 2014. These teams are conducting a thorough analysis, which will include the identification of any deficiencies and recommended improvements, if needed.

As a part of this process, the State Regents are currently engaging consultants from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) to participate in the review, to provide additional expertise, and to validate the process and recommendations.

As the standards review process continues to unfold, the findings and recommendations of the committees and consultants may identify additional work that could require more time. HB 3399 does not direct the State Regents to meet a particular timeline. Each step of this review will be executed as efficiently as possible without compromising the integrity of the process.

Our goal is to complete the review process and present a final report to the State Regents for consideration and approval at their October 16 meeting.

I am not optimistic about the outcome of the Regent’s efficient and integrity-filled process.

To me, there is too much pressure on the Regents to admit that our standards are lousy so we can justify the time, effort, and money to develop Oklahoma’s new, incredible, super-duper rigorous, world-class, grade A, best standards EVER. And, off course these new standards will be written by Oklahomans, for Oklahomans, and reflect Oklahoma values…whatever the hell all that means.

I have already written extensively about the seemingly amorphous and ambiguous definition of “college- and career-ready.” What is clear is that U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is not very impressed with the current state of education in Oklahoma, essentially accusing our state of “dumbing down” our standards for political expediency back in June.

The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one. Just to give you a couple of facts — and I think sadly, this is not about education; this is about politics. So in Oklahoma, about 40 percent of high school graduates — these are not the dropouts — 40 percent of high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college. Why? Because they weren’t ready — 40 percent. About 25 percent of Oklahoma’s eighth-graders in math are proficient — 25 percent. And other states locally are out-educating Oklahoma.

We are partnering with folks who have high standards. If people want to dummy down standards, that’s a very different thing. We partner with states whether they’re in Common Core or have their own high standards. But where we will challenge status quo is when states dummy down standards.

If they do not have high — again, I’m repeating myself. What we’re asking is that standards be high — college- and career-ready — not certified by us, but certified by the local institutions of higher education. And what we want to make sure is that our high school graduates — we got a dropout problem we got to deal with. We want to make sure our high school graduates aren’t having to take remedial classes, burn up Pell grants, burn up student loans taking non-credit bearing. And right now, roughly 40 percent of those graduates in Oklahoma are having to do that. We don’t think that’s good for those young people, their families, or for the country.

Secretary Duncan and others believe that adoption of CCSS or similarly “rigorous” academic standards is the panacea for America’s future success. According to Duncan and other reformers, if our standards are adequately rigorous, and we refuse to water them down for anyone, then everyone will be guaranteed educational equity. Thereby, by fiat, everybody will achieve equal excellence.

To reformers, it works like this:  if a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, we can turn her into a world-class jumper by raising the bar to six feet and yelling, “jump higher.” This is a ridiculous proposition, but at the very least, the reformers will be able to use her poor performance to punish her coach. Again, standards assume that all kids are essentially the same. This is a fallacy.

Let me move on to kick another horse. As shown by his comments above, Duncan’s primary proof of the awfulness of our current standards is the 40% remediation rate for Oklahoma’s college freshmen. In short, because we have dummy downed our standards, our college freshmen are now so dumb that they need undumbification classes just to be in college. Therefore, this is proof that we must do something, with “something” defined as whatever Arne says it is.

So, let’s take a quick look at what the numbers reveal. According to an article in the Daily Oklahoman on September 2nd, 2014: “Many Oklahoma students start college taking remedial classes.”

Nationally, 32 percent of all high school graduates who attend college take at least one remedial course, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That compares with about 39 percent in Oklahoma, or about 7,530 of the 19,000 college-bound students who graduated from 465 Oklahoma high schools in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.

Overwhelmingly, students needed help in math. Of those Oklahoma students who took at least one remedial class, 90 percent took a math course, 41 percent took an English course and 24 percent took a reading course, according to data from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Only 3 percent enrolled in a remedial science course.

College remediation rates are not as simple as presented here. These figures vary greatly depending on what level of college we are talking about. As you would expect, the remediation rates for highly selective four-year universities are much lower than it is for community colleges.

Does anyone else find it odd that the remediation rate for math is 30 times higher than it is for science. I would like to see an explanation for this. Is this because our high school science standards are so exemplary or because of the way that college science courses are structured? The majority of college-bound students take at least Algebra II in high school. Is the fact that many students have to take remedial math a result of low standards or because they chose to skip math their senior year of high school—or a myriad of other plausible reasons? At the very least, these figures scream out for deeper analysis, and not just a wholesale abandonment of our academic standards.

What is also true is that this is not a new phenomenon. Colleges have always blamed high schools for students who arrive on campus unprepared or unmotivated. High schools then blame middle schools. Middle schools blame elementary schools. Kindergarten teachers blame Pre-K teachers. Pre-K teachers blame parents. Parents blame their partner’s substandard gene pool.

Jack Herron posted an interesting article published recently in the Tulsa World, and by recently I mean 77 years ago!

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I’ll make a prediction. No matter what we do with our state academic standards, 77 years from now, Mars University  will  point the finger at Earth’s high schools for doing a crappy job of preparing kids for interstellar space travel.

I’m not a scholar in the field. But as a twenty year educator, I have lots of anecdotal evidence and theories that might explain this long-standing trend.

Explanation #1. The college admissions process.

We used to tell our students, “You need to take college prep classes and do well in them if you want to get into college.” We still tell them that, but they laugh at us as if we had just told them that teenage girls love boys who are clean-cut and follow the rules.

They laugh because every one of them knows somebody who barely passed non-college prep classes who was still cheerfully accepted into a college. This is due to the reality that the college-age market is shrinking dramatically across the nation, and colleges are suffering dire financial straits because they can’t find enough parents to cut tuition checks enough seekers of higher knowledge and wisdom.

Instead of lecturing us about how ill-prepared our high school graduates are, maybe colleges should take a look at their admissions policies. After all, they have full access to the student’s transcript and test scores. They know exactly what they are getting, yet complain when they get what they got. If I see bread with mold on it at the supermarket, I don’t buy it.

Explanation #2 College fund-raising.

The interesting thing about remedial courses at most colleges is they don’t count for graduation. Students still have to pay for them though. Moreover, many students have to enroll in an additional semester or two to complete their requirements, hence more money for the colleges. Some students refuse to take the remedial course and do just fine in the next course with a little extra work and academic support.

Like high schools, maybe we should make colleges provide remedial courses for free, just to help their students succeed. Let’s follow the enrollment numbers then. I bet they go down significantly.  At that point, you can get back to me. In the meantime, remedial coursework is a great moneymaker for cash-strapped colleges.

Explanation #3 Marketing

We’ve been telling everybody that they just have to get a college education no matter what. It’s not true, yet it is great marketing. Many young people would benefit from additional courses in career tech, technical apprenticeships, service in the military, computer training and a wide range of other career options. America continues to need welders, plumbers, electricians, health care workers, machinists, hair stylists, bank tellers, and many other careers that require no college whatsoever.

What we have now is a system that pushes kids into college to earn degrees that often have little value, so they can move back in with mom and dad while they do hourly work to pay back student loans.  Let’s also not forget that the student loan business is now a very profitable multi-billion dollar industry in our country.

The bottom line is we should be honest with kids and help them identify and capitalize on their unique, individual strengths. Not every one should go to college, but then we go back to number one above. College is big business and needs a continuous influx of new students to support their multi-million dollar capital improvement projects, which are then used to recruit more students…and thus the cycle continues.

Finally, I want you to ask yourself why reformers only seem to be concerned about rigorous college- and career-standards for math and language arts. Why is there not a similar push for higher standards for the sciences, arts, music, history, philosophy, technology, world languages, citizenship, character, or good old-fashioned job skills? Who exactly decided that completion of college algebra was more vital to success in life than any other course?

Our high school graduates are not dumb. Far from it. However, if we only focus on our students’  deficiencies, we will never adequately prepare them for successful citizenship in the 21st century.

Maybe what we need to do is redefine dumb.

Dumb is telling all students they must go to college to be successful.  Dumb is doubling down on a paradigm of high stakes testing and an outdated model for education that has changed little in fifty years. Dumb is raising academic standards for struggling students with the stated goal of reducing the achievement gap. Dumb is punishing students and teachers for low test scores instead of adequately addressing the inequities caused by poverty and segregation in our schools. Dumb is creating for-profit charters that skim off the best students while expecting the other schools’ test scores to go up.  Dumb is stripping away teacher autonomy while expecting greater accountability. Dumb is disparaging educators and paying them low wages while saying we want the best and brightest to enter the teaching profession. Dumb is reducing funding for public schools while passing new unfunded mandates, administrative requirements, and setting higher expectations. Come to think of it, most of what the reformers are trying to perpetuate on our system of public schools is rather dumb.

Dumb is as dumb does.

Moving Pictures at the OSDE

If you have attended a monthly board meeting at the Oklahoma Department of Education in the past twenty-five years, you have likely had an opportunity to view the wonderful portraits representing each of the members of the Oklahoma Educators’ Hall of Fame (OEHF).

Per the state department website, the OEHF was constituted and incorporated in 1984 as a nonprofit organization to recognize and to honor those professionals who have exemplified a commitment of quality public-supported education while demonstrating exceptional abilities in realizing the ideals of research, service or leadership through their contribution to Oklahoma education. The Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame is co-sponsored by the Oklahoma chapters of Phi Delta Kappa International, private donors and other underwriting organizations.

The portraits honoring our esteemed Oklahoma educators have graced the public hallway on the south side of the building leading to the board room for decades. It was a fitting way to recognize some the finest educators and school leaders in Oklahoma history. With the addition of three new members this year, the HOF includes 91 outstanding educators who have made an indelible mark on our state through their leadership and passion for education.

The list of honorees includes such noteworthy names as Freda Deskin, current Tulsa Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard, long-time state superintendent Sandy Garrett, and Dr. Oliver Hodge, the person for whom the state department building is named.

Below is the portrait of former Superintendent Garrett along with pictures of two of the 2013 inductees—current Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow and CCOSA Executive Director Steven Crawford.
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You are probably curious why I was speaking in past tense in my description above. This is because, as of last Wednesday, the OEHF has been dismantled and relocated to other parts of the building.  According to OSDE employees, approximately half of the pictures were moved to an interior hallway and the rest are now hanging in the first floor north hallway. Both areas are behind electronically secured doors which require a security badge to access. As a result, many of these pictures will no longer be available for viewing by the public, or by the HOF members and their families, unless they time to sign in with the receptionist in the main office and obtain a security badge.

Here is what the hallway looks like today.

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hof1

So, who made the decision to move all of these HOF portraits to other parts of the building? No surprise here. Based on credible sources at the OSDE, this directive was made by Superintendent Barresi. Why would Dr. Barresi order this action with only three months remaining in her term? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

This may seem like one of those mountain out of a molehill things. I’m certainly not questioning Dr. Barresi’s authority to move pictures around in her own building. While many of us wish she would just go away, she is still in charge until her successor is sworn in this January. Therefore, if Dr. Barresi wants to replace the White Cloud with Charmin Triple-Ply in all the staff restrooms, that is her prerogative. Likewise, if she wants to replace the HOF portraits with student artwork or wallpaper the entire hallway with A-F report cards (I probably shouldn’t give her that idea), she is entitled to do so.

However, after making so many questionable decisions over the past few years, and observing first-hand how she deals with her critics, it has become natural to question her motives. It’s no secret that she is not a big fan of Sandy, Keith, Lloyd, Steven or Freda. The feeling is likely mutual. Is it fair to ask if a level of spitefulness is involved in this decision? Probably not, but it does seem like these good folks deserve an explanation.

One reason why this decision bears scrutiny is the fact that no one even took the time to communicate this plan to anyone at the Oklahoma Educators’ Hall of Fame. The Executive Director of OEHF, Dr. Sharon Lease, and the current President, Eugene Earsom, had no idea the display had been dismantled and moved until I brought it to their attention a few days ago.

It seems to me that Janet or one of her staffers should have picked up the phone or at least sent an email to the OEHF leadership, just out of respect and basic politeness. Why wouldn’t they be included in this decision-making process? These portraits have been in this same location for 25+ years. Yet now, with just three months left in office, Dr. Barresi unilaterally decides to move this public display from a location of high visibility to another location in the building where very few people outside of the OSDE will ever see it.

This type of decision-making has become emblematic of Barresi’s leadership at the state department. It really doesn’t seem to matter what anyone else thinks. If Janet wants to do it, she just does it, and the hell with anybody who disagrees. It is just another example of her disrespect towards professional educators in our state.

January cannot come soon enough.

The Simple A-F is Simply Bad!

When Jeb Bush’s A-F school grading system was imported from Florida by Janet Barresi and our state legislature three years ago, we were promised that the system would provide a simple, transparent method for communicating school quality to the public.

After the first attempt at getting it right, and getting it horribly wrongA-F architect, Senator Clark Jolley and other legislative leaders went back to the drawing board in 2013. Their new creation is the one that the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy and The Center for Education Research and Evaluation (OU/OSU Policy Group) reviewed last September and concluded: “The State made some changes to the system, but the changes do not address the flaws; in fact, the likelihood is that they made them worse.”

What we know is that the A-F report card is very accurate in predicting the socioeconomic characteristics of a school community. Okeducationtruths also published several correlations last November, including THIS ONE that showed the significant disparity in the number of A’s and F’s assigned to schools by grade configuration.

A quick review of this year’s A-F grades reveals the same discrepancies. If nothing else, the data shows that the current formula is applied inconsistently and unfairly. We must remember that these grades are being used to make high stakes decisions involving our schools and the people who work within them. Any person analyzing this data objectively would have to conclude that the formula is either poorly conceived and/or inaccurately applied.

Let me illustrate. The following data is pulled from the state department website. It was shared with me by Lindsey Schnoebelen, the principal at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore. This first table shows the A-F distribution by school category for 2014.

A-F Grades by School Category

% of total schools
Letter Grade
Elementary
MS/Junior High
High School
A12.5%6.4%46.1%
B23.4%28.4%34.3%
C29.6%36.9%16.0%
D19.8%17.4%2.4%
F11.4%9.6%0.4%

The data reflects that 80.4% of Oklahoma high schools earned an A or B last year, compared to only 35.9% and 34.8% of elementary and middle schools, respectively. More importantly, only 2.8% of high schools earned a D or F, as opposed to 31.2% and 27.0% for the other schools. This is important because these D and F grades translate into state sanctions, particularly priority and focus school assignments and requirements for additional state monitoring.

This second table (below) shows the breakdown of A and F grades by school category. An incredible 76.8% of all F’s were awarded to elementary schools while only two high schools in the entire state earned an F (1.6% of total).

% of Earned A's and F's by School Category

Letter Grade
Elementary
MS/Junior High
High School
A's105 schools (31.8%)18 schools (5.5%)207 schools (62.7%)
F's96 schools (76.8%)27 schools (21.6%)2 schools (1.6%)

The final table computes the ratio of A’s to F’s by school category. The ratio of A’s to F’s for high schools is over 100 to one. At the same time, middle schools have a ratio 150 times smaller than high schools.

A to F Ratio by School Category

 
Elementary
MS/Junior High
High School
Ratio of A's to F's1.09 to 10.67 to 1103.5 to 1

Is it realistic to think that our high schools are being so much more successful than our other grade level schools? Of course not. In many cases this year when a middle school and high school were collocated, and where students were taught by the same teachers under the same school principal, the middle school earned a D or F while the high school earned an A or B! This is just silly!

This stark disparity is primarily due to two primary factors. First, all students in grades 3 through 8 are assessed every year in math and reading in accordance with federal law (NCLB). Students in 5th and 8th grade take additional assessments in science, social studies, and writing. Seventh grade students are given the geography test as well. All of these tests are factored into the A-F grades for these schools, except when they are field tests or botched by the testing company, like this year’s writing scores. For the high school, the only tests used for A-F calculations are the seven End-of-Instruction (EOI) tests in Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology, English 10, English 11, and U.S. History.

The more significant factor is the method by which student growth is calculated. Student growth comprises 50% of a school’s grade. The A-F system for high schools compares student performance on the Algebra I and English 10 EOI tests to student performance on the 8th grade math and reading tests. However, these tests were never meant to be compared vertically, as the standard setting process differs for these two sets of tests. In other words, the cut scores for the 8th grade tests are significantly higher than the EOI’s to which they are being compared. As a result, the pass rates for the EOI tests are higher, which translates to more growth. It is a simple illusion resulting from the manipulation of test scores to achieve a preordained outcome.

Before the ACE legislation was passed in 2006, the passing score for the Algebra I EOI was nearly 75% and over half of Oklahoma students failed it. The year after the law was passed, the cut score was reset to around 45%, and the pass rate across the state increased dramatically. Schools across the state celebrated the “incredible” growth of their students from one year to the next. It was a fallacy. But, we couldn’t exactly have half of our high school students fail a test needed for graduation, could we?

This will be my final post about the ridiculous A-F grades for this year. We’ve given them more attention than they are worth. At the same time, it is important for our parents to realize just how misleading these grades really are. They are not simple and they are not transparent. The A-F system in its current form is unreliable, inaccurate, and invalid. This statement is equally true for schools who earned an A or B as it for those schools who earned D’s of F’s.

It’s simple. We need to throw it away and start over from scratch.

McGraw-Hill to OKSDE: “My Cat Doesn’t Like You!”

realizing-you-terrible-for-me-breakup-ecards-someecards

The short relationship between our State Department of Education and testing giant, CTB/McGraw-Hill, has been filled with tumult and broken promises almost from the beginning. After a second consecutive spring testing season marred by major dysfunction, we rightfully decided two months ago to dissolve the union and seek another vendor who might treat us better.

The only problem is we apparently forgot about the upcoming winter formal and waited too long to find another date. After making a few phone calls to potential suitors, we discovered no one else was interested in going out with us. The fact that we totally dissed McGraw-Hill before, during, and after our public breakup probably didn’t help matters. As a result, when we recognized we didn’t have a dance partner for December’s testing, we had to get on our knees and grovel so as to coax McGraw-Hill into going out with us one more time.

“Hey, Baby. I know I said it was over when I dumped you back in July. Yeah, I also remember I have that little investigation going on and may be suing you very soon. But, I’m hoping we can put that all aside for a while. What would you think about going out one more time, for old times sake? You know I always secretly liked you. It was my friends who said we were bad for each other. What do you think? I’ll buy you a nice dinner, even rent a limo if you want. I might even channel a little John Cusack, hold a boom box above my head and play ‘In Your Eyes.’ Who knows, it might be a great night for both of us. How ’bout it, baby?

McGraw-Hill originally said yes to our offer (“You had me at hello…and 2.8 million dollars“), yet has now developed cold feet. After the Oklahoma Board of Education voiced their strong disapproval at its meeting last Thursday, and Dr. Barresi piled on with even more negative comments, it became obvious that there was far too much acrimony to make this relationship work.

I also think McGraw-Hill recognized the reality that we were just going to dump them again after the dance, probably with not even as much as a goodnight kiss. More like pushing them out of the car at the curb and leaving them in a cloud of burning rubber.

As a result,  according to a OSDE press release today, our state has received a final breakup message from McGraw-Hill. They seemingly took Kenny Roger’s advice: “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to RUN!

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 29, 2014) – In the wake of the Oklahoma State Board of Education decision last week to delay action on selecting a vendor for winter assessments, proposed vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill has indicated it will withdraw from the bidding process.

The board voted Sept. 25 to table a would-be sole-source contract with CTB. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) had recommended using CTB for the winter assessment window. An estimated 51,000 tests are expected to be given during that period, the bulk of them being end-of-instruction (EOI) exams necessary to meet high school graduation requirements.

OSDE is continuing its work with Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to see if any other viable solutions exist. In addition, last week the OSDE submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the spring EOI exams to OMES for review and approval since OMES is responsible for issuing the RFP.

OSDE staff had recommended CTB/McGraw-Hill for the $2.8 million contract because of limited time to realistically initiate an entirely new testing platform before the testing window begins in mid-November.

At the request of OSDE, the Board of Education voted in June to terminate the state contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill. The action came after glitches during the spring 2014 testing.

The board is expected to hold a special meeting within the next several weeks to take up the matter.

I wonder what was in the official communication from McGraw-Hill to our state department. It would be fun if they used once of these helpful breakup lines from soyouvebeendumped.com.

“Is it hot in here or is this relationship suffocating me?”

“I now pronounce you dumped and single. You may now kiss my ass.”

“Do you believe in love at first sight? How about misery after three years?”

“I’ll always remember last night, but I think we can forget about tomorrow.”

“Really, our time together has just become more effort than you’re worth.”

“Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so were you… but now the roses are wilted, the violets are dead, the sugar bowls empty, and so is your head.”

“This isn’t easy and neither are you…I’m breaking up with you.”

“Our relationship is like a fat guy, What? It’s not working out.”

“My cat doesn’t like you.”

Honestly, it is likely McGraw-Hill concluded that $2.8 million was not nearly enough to make this potentially risky endeavor worthwhile. They could not afford the possibility of another testing disruption and being thrown under the bus one more time. In short, we weren’t worth the effort. This amount of money is pocket change for a multinational company with billions in assets.

So, what does this mean? Unless someone at the OKSDE has a rabbit up their sleeve, this decision likely means we will not have a winter EOI test administration. As I tweeted earlier, what now, Janet?

This is a big deal, it really is!

Honestly, I don’t have complete answers to the following questions. I likely don’t even have all the right questions that need to be asked. It is hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull together the technology infrastructure to conduct an online administration of these tests in six weeks. It may be possible to administer the tests in paper and pencil format, but our deadline for this may have passed as well.  And, if there are other options, why were these not presented to the board last week?

So, what does it mean if we do not have a winter testing session as required by law?

At a minimum, the following questions must be resolved by someone at the state department or through legislative action next spring:

1. How will schools with trimester or block schedules deal with this?

I assume this would mean that students will have to take both sets of tests in the spring. This will inevitably affect student achievement on these EOIs and OCCTs. Many years ago, Oklahoma schools used to administer the geography test in 8th grade despite the fact that most students took the course in 7th grade. When the state department finally moved the test to the correct grade, the passing rate increased 20%, even though we were testing younger students. This is just common sense.

So how will students do on an English 10 or Algebra I test when they finished the course four months earlier?  Teachers would never consider giving a final exam to students four months after their course ended yet this is precisely what we would be doing by postponing these EOIs. Passage of these tests is required to earn a high school diploma. Do we hold students accountable for their test scores when it is the state’s fault they couldn’t take the test when originally scheduled?

2. What about EOI graduation requirements and the A-F report card?

It is fair or ethical to hold students responsible for the mistakes of adults? If a student fails to pass his or her EOI next spring—maybe by only one or two questions—is it fair to make them take it again? What about seniors who are retaking an EOI to earn a passing score for graduation?  There are also hundreds of students in alternative programs who were projected to graduate in December if they passed the EOI.

Will some students be asked to complete one of the projects provided by the state department, in lieu of an EOI test? Further, how will we deal with students with special needs who are supposed to be provided a second chance to pass the modified test in December? Will they be allowed to take a OMAAP again in the spring? Will the state board be granting exemptions for students in these types of situations? Will the state board and new state superintendent be inclined to grant more appeals for students impacted by this decision?

Likewise, if student pass rates are lower as a result of this decision, is it fair to blame schools on next year’s A-F report card?  Should we suspend the issuing of A-F grades for next year? What about the quantitative components of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Model, particularly the Other Academic Measures which are being implemented this school year? What about our Academic Performance Index (API) scores and our priority and focus school designations? Again, these are federal requirements, so how will our state balance address these mandates without punishing students and schools?

3. Finally, how will this affect the bid process for the new testing vendor for spring testing? 

It is almost inconceivable that the state department has yet to issue an Request For Proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for a testing vendor for spring assessments, starting in less than five months. Which testing companies are left to pick from? Would we go back to Pearson after all of the problems we experienced with them several years ago? Dr. Barresi has already dismissed the idea of using the ACT and ACT Aspire tests because they are aligned with common core. House Bill 3399 specifically requires our state to use our own test items in our assessments until new standards are developed. Are other testing vendors available who have the technical expertise and competency to deliver these assessments with such a short turnaround? Will we go back to paper and pencil assessments because of the difficulties associated with computer-based platforms?

The bottom line is we currently have many more questions than we have answers. This will undoubtedly cause confusion and chaos for district IT directors and testing coordinators across the state, not to mention additional stress for school leaders, teachers, parents, and students.

It is certainly no way to run a railroad…or a state department of education…or a bait shop for that matter.

The train has clearly run off the rails.  Suffice to to say that the next state superintendent is going to have a major mess to clean up upon his or her arrival.

Speaking of breakups, the voters of Oklahoma sent an unmistakable message on June 24th that we no longer wanted to continue a destructive relationship with a superintendent that has caused far more harm than good.

Janet is still occupying the back room, making excessive noise, leaving dishes in the sink, and generally stinking up the place. It is time for her to pack her bags, load the U-Haul, and move out! The sooner the better.

Janet Just Moved Up!

imageIt has been simultaneously entertaining and frightening to observe Janet Barresi’s steady and methodical rise through the various levels of the “Screw Loose Change Nut Bar-O-Meter.”

Based on her recent trajectory, I really believe Janet has a chance to make it all the way to the top in the three months she has remaining in office.

If her performance at yesterday’s state board meeting wasn’t enough, Janet provided strong evidence of her delusional state of mind during an interview with Pat Campbell and Eddie Huff on Tulsa’s KFAQ radio station this morning.

For the most part, Pat has been a strong supporter of Dr. Barresi over the years. However, this morning I’ll give him credit for going straight to the chase and confronting her on some of the questionable events surrounding from the past week.

The 23-minute audio file of the interview can be accessed HERE.

If you missed the interview, allow me to give you a sample of several comments that clearly show Janet is either stunningly disingenuous or losing touch with reality.

First, in response to a question from Pat about the recent calls for her resignation, Janet had this to share:

00:45 Anytime you bring truth to a situation, anytime you focus on children and (inaudible) for children, and you stop trying to make adults happy, and just focus on kids, you’re always going to get backlash. That’s what’s been happening for the past four years. I am now able to make sure that I continue to focus on that. I said, up until the end I will serve children every single day. Everybody thought I’d go hit the golf course early and phone it in for the rest of the time. And I said “no.” I was elected to do something and to do it well, and I’ll continue to serve the taxpayers, the voters, but first of all to the children of Oklahoma.

Okay, so the real reason we have been lining up to oppose Janet’s leadership and policy decisions for the past few years is because she likes kids too damn much. I am sure the thousands of eight- and nine-year-olds who are getting to repeat third grade would agree with her on this, particularly those struggling with language deficiencies, dysfunctional homes, and special needs. Not to mention the young adults who have been unable to earn a high school diploma because of her unyielding and dispassionate enforcement of the ACE graduation requirements. As we know, kids do love to take high-stakes tests, especially when administered by incompetent testing vendors. I think I hear kids screaming in unison, “pleeease stop helping us!!”

The next ten minutes of the interview was spent allowing Janet to explain why the state department was recommending awarding a $2.8 million contract to CTB/McGraw-Hill, a company we fired two months ago for incompetency, to administer this winter’s EOI assessments. Janet made it clear that she did not need board approval to do this but was just trying to be transparent. If Janet feels that this is the best thing to do “for kids” she ought to just do it. She was hoping to pass the buck and, to their credit, the board didn’t bite.

Obviously, there was also a discussion surrounding Barresi’s controversial decision to hire Dr. Larry Birney to her newly created position of assistant superintendent of accreditation and compliance. Listen to how Janet explains her thinking on this action:

16:25 We had previously tried to bring him (Dr. Birney) on as a regional accreditation officer and those folks just blew up over it. They wanted one of the good old boy system. Most of them are retired superintendents and I was very unhappy with what they were doing. I believe that in different cases I asked them to take a look at, that quite frankly tipped the district off and all of a sudden any kind of evidence of anything suddenly disappeared. We’ve had a couple of particular allegations come up and I said I can’t leave office and sweep this under the rug because I knew my successor whoever that was would sweep it under the rug.

Well played, Janet. In less than 45 seconds, you were able to denigrate your entire accreditation staff by labeling them as “good old boy” former superintendents that lack integrity by helping districts break the law. You then proceed to paint both of your potential successors, John Cox and Joy Hofmeister, as unethical and dishonest by implying either one of them would sweep potential criminal allegations under the rug. Classy! Surely, the fact that Birney wasn’t hired earlier had nothing to do with his complete and utter lack of qualifications for the job. This clearly rises above “paranoid” and “raving” and elevates you to the “delusional” ranking.

Apparently, Dr. Barresi is also suffering from a loss of short-term memory. Here is what she said about the claim of some that she will use this new position to “go after her enemies:”

18:15 I don’t have grudges against people. If I did, I could have done what my predecessor did, and just keep threatening people. I’ve never done that. Never done that. It’s just remarkable, if you haven’t done anything wrong, what are you worried about?

Uh, Janet, did you forget about a certain middle school principal you threatened with his certificate because parents at his school chose to opt their children out of field tests in 2013? How about advising a group of educators a few months ago to tell anyone who opposed your standards writing process they “could go to hell.” Calling a board member a “son of a bitch” might be perceived as threatening as well. But, you weren’t done talking about General Baxter.

23:28 He (Baxter) can say what he wants about me. My concern and my upset, he can say what he wants about me but on occasion he gets like a bully with my employees and I reject that. It’s unprofessional and uncalled for. Those people are underpaid and grossly overworked and that’s where I draw the line. Nobody owes me an apology but they sure owe my employees an apology.

Seriously, you are calling someone else a bully? Wow, kettle meet black, black meet kettle. Then, to even insinuate that anyone owes you an apology borders on lunacy. The board is in place to ask hard questions and keep people accountable. You seem to like accountability when it comes to almost anyone else, but are offended when a board member respectfully points out obvious problems with one of your staff member’s proposals?

I also know several of your employees personally and they cannot wait until you leave. If someone is not in your “circle of trust” they are essentially discredited. Your administration has been marked by blatant bullying and cronyism since day one.

Joe Dorman, Democratic candidate for Governor, today joined the chorus to ask for your immediate resignation. Your friend, Governor Mary Fallin, has been oddly silent. Where are you, Mary? You are either for Barresi or not. We would like to know.

Janet, even if the Governor stays quiet, the calls for your resignation are only going to get louder. However, I suspect it may be difficult for you to discern at this point whether the voices are coming from real people or all those little people in your head. If you get there, congratulations! You will have reached the highest level.

Thanks to Angela Little for this great image she shared earlier on Twitter!

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Janet C. Barresi, Please Go NOW!

marvin k mooney

In light of the dramatic events at this morning’s State Department of Education Board meeting, I think it is a good time to edit and republish a previous post asking for Dr. Janet Barresi to just go NOW!

If you missed it, there have been several calls today asking for Superintendent Barresi’s immediate resignation. The first came from Representative Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, who during public comments at the start of the board meeting called for the resignations of Dr. Barresi, OSDE general counsel Kim Richey, and her husband, Dr. Larry Birney.

Dr. Birney was recently hired to a newly created position as assistant superintendent of accreditation and compliance. As I wrote last night, from all appearances, this hiring was nothing but pure cronyism at its worst. I applaud Rep. Smalley for stepping up, looking Dr. Barresi straight in the eye, and demanding her resignation. And, as far as I know, he has not yet turned into stone or a pillar of salt.

I appreciate the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) coverage of today’s meeting. Not only did they provide a blow-by-blow twitter account HERE, but you can also watch the live feed of the entire board meeting on Vimeo directly from their website HERE. At the very least, you must watch the remarks from board member, General Lee Baxter, from the last seven minutes of the meeting.

In his statement, General Baxter stated that it is in the best interest of public education in Oklahoma that Barresi resign rather than wait to leave office when her term ends in January.

Specifically, General Baxter called for an immediate change in leadership due to the toxic nature of anything related to the current OKSDE leadership, notably Janet Barresi.

“I want the venom stopped. I’m sick of the lack of collaboration and blatant disrespect for our school administrators, and I think it needs to stop soon,” Baxter said. “The way I think that needs to happen is for the state superintendent to relinquish her role now. I don’t believe that will happen.”

According to Tulsa World reporter, Andrea Eger, Barresi sat lock-jawed during Baxter’s remarks, which went on for about five minutes. After Baxter concluded his remarks, Barresi adjourned the meeting and turned and watched as Oklahoma City board member Bill Shdeed shook Baxter’s hand and told him, “That took a lot of courage.”

Then Barresi turned to board member Bill Price of Oklahoma City and gestured animatedly with one hand and said, “He’s a son of a b—-!”

How nice…and what a wonderful example for the children of Oklahoma.

I know that General Baxter occasionally reads this blog because he referenced it this morning. I am humbled by his positive remarks and am very impressed that he takes the time to inform himself with other, sometimes contradictory points of view. He took a courageous stand this morning and I respect that greatly. It is no surprise that he was able to achieve the high rank of Major General in the United States Army.

As a Marine officer for ten years, I now have several things in common with General Baxter. We both served as artillery officers at Fort Sill and both would like Dr. Barresi to go, and go NOW!

Finally, in an editorial just published in the Tulsa World tonight, the writers agree that it is time for Barresi to step aside.

We are not alone in believing that nothing will be gained by Dr. Barresi continuing as state superintendent. If she truly cared about doing what is right for children in Oklahoma, she would simply step down. Maybe she could move back to the dentist office, get a job with Jeb, or find another avocation where her actions did not cause any more harm to the children and schools of Oklahoma. It has simply become glaringly obvious that her ideologies and temperament are diametrically opposed to what we know to be right for kids. She is a failed leader and it is time for her to go.

A friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous shared the following adaptation of a famous Dr. Seuss book titled “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!”

Dr. Seuss sent Art Buchwald, the Washington Post writer, a copy in 1974. Dr. Seuss crossed out “Marvin K. Mooney” and replaced it with “Richard M. Nixon.”  To Mr. Buchwald it sounded like fun so he asked Dr. Seuss if he could reprint it. The Washington Post ran the parody.

In light of recent Oklahoma education events and the pathetic SDE leadership an updating of the parody seems needed! The comparison between 1974 and today is intentional.

Have fun with this!  Please read it aloud!

Janet C. Breezy Will You Please Go Now!

by James L. Scott (pseudonym)

“Janet C. Breezy will you please go now!
The time has come.
The time has come.
The time is now.
Just go.
Go.
Go!
I don’t care how.
You can go by foot.
You can go by cow.
Janet C. Breezy will you please go now!
You can go on skates.
You can go on skis.
You can go in a hat.
But
Please go.
Please!
I don’t care.
You can go
By bike.
You can go
On a Zike-Bike
If you like.
If you like
You can go
In an old blue shoe.
Just go, go, GO!
Please do, do, do, DO!
Janet C. Breezy
I don’t care how.
Janet C. Breezy
Will you please
GO NOW!
You can go on stilts.
You can go by fish.
You can go in a Crunk-Car
If you wish.
If you wish
You may go
By lion’s tail.
Or stamp yourself
And go by mail.
Janet C. Breezy
Don’t you know
The time has come
To go, go, GO!
Get on your way!
Please Janet C.!
You might like going in a Zumble-Zay.
You can go by balloon . . .
Or broomstick.
Or
You can go by camel
In a bureau drawer.
You can go by bumble-boat
. . . or jet.
I don’t care how you go.
Just get!
Janet C. Breezy!
I don’t care how.
Janet C. Breezy
Will you please
GO NOW!
I said
GO
And
GO
I meant . . .
The time had come
So . . .
Janet WENT.”

Now that would be a happy ending!

 

My Little Crony!

cronyism

Can the leadership of the Oklahoma State Department of Education get any more inept, incompetent, or unethical?

Of course, this is clearly a rhetorical question. As long as Dr. Janet Barresi is in charge of the department, anything can happen.

Earlier today, the Tulsa World reported that the OSDE will be asking for Board approval tomorrow to rehire CTB/McGraw-Hill for a “sole source” — or no-bid — contract for the 2014 winter testing window. If you recall, two months ago, at the Superintendent’s urging, the Board voted to fire CTB because of two consecutive years of testing problems.

Apparently someone at the state department forgot about the winter EOI testing administration and failed to take any steps to gain a different testing vendor for these assessments. I’m curious as to who got to make that call to the CTB offices?

I’m guessing the conversation went something like this:

“Hey, this is _____ from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Remember that funny thing that happened back in July? Yeah, that’s it–when our state superintendent called you incompetent and fired you at a state board meeting (nervous laughter).

Well, I hope there are no hard feelings because, you know, on second thought, maybe we were a little hasty. You see, Janet had just suffered a humiliating loss in the primary election. I mean it was really bad. She spent over one million dollars of her own money and came in third to a guy who didn’t even campaign. Kinda funny if you ask me! But, hey, don’t tell her I said that, she would have my head on a platter.  I AM being serious!

Anyhow, what I was trying to communicate was that Janet was a tad pissed off when she made this decision. I take that back–she was a LOT pissed off and she needed a sacrificial lamb to satisfy her blood lust.  You can understand that, right? The bottom line is I realize you may still be upset at us for breaking our contract, but, would you consider helping us out just one more time?

Why are you laughing, that’s not nice!? No, don’t hang up. We need you!

What do you mean it’s going to cost us big time? How much? 2.8 million dollars? Holy crap, that seems pretty high. Would you do it for less?  I’m sorry, did you just say, “take the offer or kiss our ass?”

In that case, I suppose you have a deal!

You read that correctly. According to state sources, CTB will be paid a cool $2.8 million dollars to administer about 51,000 winter tests, or about $55 per assessment. Not too bad for a test you have already administered (poorly at that) for several years using the same test items and testing platform.

When asked about the deal, State Department Chief of Staff, Joel Robison, said, “No one in this building is happy. This was not our first choice. We tried to make it abundantly clear how frustrated we have been working with McGraw-Hill the past couple of years.” “This is not an ongoing relationship here. This is a short-term, one-cycle testing contract.”

It sounds like one of those ugly on-again, off-again romances you see on TV. “I can’t stand you, but are you available for dinner and maybe some ‘action’ afterwards?” I sure hope we don’t regret this in the morning!

Anyhow, testing SNAFU’s have become fairly routine with this current SDE.

The second story out of the department today was even more outrageous. Today’s press release from Phil Bacharach confirmed rumors that had been circulated for the past few weeks about Barresi’s hiring of Kim Richey’s husband, Dr. Larry Birney. In an obvious case of cronyism, Barresi created a new position of assistant superintendent for accreditation and compliance and appointed Birney to the position at a base salary of $90K per year.

Understand that Dr. Birney has never taught a day in a public school or served as a school accreditation officer anytime or anywhere. Yet, now he is now in charge of the state’s entire accreditation division. Here is the official press release:

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.”

Birney holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio, a master’s degree in educational administration from Texas A&M University at Kingsville and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas State University in San Marcos.

In addition, he is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy in Quantico, Va., and is a certified advanced peace officer and instructor through the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).

Birney is the husband of Kim Richey, OSDE general counsel. They reside in Ada.

“It has become clear that our accreditation standards division would benefit from the skills of a professional investigator,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. “Adding someone with experience in education and law enforcement to our team also adds a new well of resources and investigative approaches. It’s an additional form of support for that division.”

“Mr. Birney had previously applied to serve as a Regional Accreditation Officer, which is when I became familiar with his impressive background. He has decades of experience in fields that combine law enforcement, education and human resource management, and he will be very effective in his role here,” Barresi said.

Dr. Birney and Ms. Richey apparently met while they both worked at the Oklahoma CLEET headquarters in Ada. According to Barresi, Dr. Birney “retired” from his post as director in May 2011, with Kim’s departure following just a few months later. She was introduced to the state school board as the new general counsel during the September 27, 2011 board meeting.

Apparently, during their time at CLEET, Ms. Richey spent quite a few weekends with Birney (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and they were married in Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 22, 2011.

I recognize that you cannot believe everything you read online, but there are several stories out there that imply that there may be more to the story relative to Dr. Birney’s departure from his position at CLEET.

A few months before his quick departure, Dr. Birney was allegedly arrested for a road rage incident in Edmond where he brandished a weapon at a motorist. However, the apprehension did not lead to an official arrest record or criminal charges. Some people in authority (including the OKC District Attorney) may or may not have cleaned things up. Yet, according to unofficial, unverified reports, Birney was facing an internal investigation from CLEET over his actions and chose to resign before the results were released.

I honestly don’t know if any of this information is true. You can search online, read the various articles, and make your own conclusions.

Dr. Birney may be an outstanding individual and dedicated public servant who was falsely implicated in an incident that was blown out of proportion. Things like this have happened before.

My issue is that he has no business serving as an assistant superintendent of our state department of education. I doubt very much that this position would have been offered to him if not for his direct relationship with the SDE general counsel.

Dr. Barresi even alludes to the fact that he had previously applied to serve as a regional accreditation officer. Ostensibly, he was not hired by former accreditation executive director, Lynn Jones, because he had no qualifications for the job.

So, what did Barresi do? She created a new assistant superintendent position (at a cost of $100K), hired Dr. Birney to the position as Lynn’s boss, and told her to train him. To her credit, Ms. Jones said “no thanks” (or something like that) and tendered her resignation. This is very similar to what happened last spring when Wes Bruce was hired over OSDE Assessment Director, Dr. Maridyth McBee, prompting her unexpected retirement from the department one month before spring testing.

So, here we are three months before a new state superintendent takes office, and Dr. Barresi is chasing away well-qualified, experienced state department leaders for no real reason other than blatant cronyism. I’m not sure how nepotism rules work for state agencies, but my school district’s policy does not allow me to hire the spouse of any current employee in my building, even if they would work in different capacities and not be in the same chain of supervision.

This just smells bad. I would hope that the state board of education will be asking some serious questions and that an appropriate ethics investigation is conducted.

Nonetheless, if I were Dr. Birney, I’m not sure I would unpack too many boxes and get all that comfortable in my new office. Even if Larry is able to keep his job until January, I suspect he will be mailing out resumes soon after the arrival of the new superintendent.

I think there will quite a few others needing boxes as well. This is probably a good thing. I hope we can all make it until then.

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