Arne Doesn’t Have to Do This

I will say this for Governor Mary Fallin—she throws a wicked curveball!

Two weeks ago I would have bet $100 that the governor would sign House Bill 2625 (RSA revision) into law, for no other reason that it was passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. She vetoed the bill and the legislature quickly overrode her veto.

Today, I would have bet another $100 that she would veto House Bill 3399 that repeals the adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Oklahoma. Another curve – she signed the bill!

I am glad I am not a betting man, especially with politicians. They are simply too unpredictable. I would be down 200 bucks already.

At this point, it really doesn’t matter whether you are for or against the CCSS. Unless the courts intervene based on constitutional grounds, the governor’s signature essentially marks the death of common core in Oklahoma. As of today, we revert to the 2010 version of the Priority Academic Subject Standards (PASS).  New academic standards will have to be developed by 2016.

According to the Tulsa World, “the governor said the state was capable of developing its own, more rigorous standards.” Governor Fallin went on to say:

“We cannot ignore the widespread concern of citizens, parents, educators and legislators who have expressed fear that adopting Common Core gives up local control of Oklahoma’s public schools,” Fallin said. “The words ‘Common Core’ in Oklahoma are now so divisive that they have become a distraction that interferes with our mission of providing the best education possible for our children. If we are going to improve our standards in the classroom, now is the time to get to work.”

Admittedly, this was a difficult decision for the governor. As she stated, the issue of common core has become incredibly decisive and controversial. On one side, Mary had thousands of parents who vehemently opposed the standards and coalesced into a loud and unified voice that proved hard to ignore. The level of the public opposition undoubtedly influenced many state legislators to vote for repeal. It is an election year after all and these men and women were elected to represent their constituencies.

On the other hand, many teachers and school administrators have spent hundreds of hours over the past three years implementing new curriculum based on the common core. In many cases, teachers believed the common core standards were stronger than the previous PASS standards for student learning. Most concerns from educators revolved around the new testing requirements associated with common core and not the standards themselves.

Other groups that lobbied hard for her veto included the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition (OBEC), the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Chamber, the Greater OKC Chamber, the Oklahoma PTA, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA), the United Suburban Schools Association (USSA), the Oklahoma Science Teachers’ Association (OSTA), and the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of Mathematics (OCTM), among others. Moreover, there were several entities from outside the state that surely put pressure on the Governor to veto this bill. This includes both business and political interests. As head of the National Governor’s Association (NGA), Governor Fallin had a huge national spotlight shining directly on her.

There will be much debate and discussion about the ramifications of this decision for months to come. The most significant implication that has already surfaced is the potential for a loss of our state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

On page 7 of today’s Tulsa World, we saw THIS full-page ad from the state chambers and the non-profit organization, Stand for Children. The intent of this ad was clearly to convince us that repeal of common core would lead to a return to the draconian mandates of NCLB:

If HB3399 becomes law, the Federal Government can force these 1629 Oklahoma schools to:

  • Shut down
  • Become a charter school
  • Replace the principal and 50% of teachers
  • Be taken over by the Department of Education

Scary stuff. And it is all true. This is what the NCLB legislation has in place to address schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for a certain number of years. However, this would only happen IF Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pulled our waiver. He does not have to. 

This scenario reminds me of one of the closing scenes from the  award-winning movie “No Country for Old Men.” In this dark scene, the merciless killer Anton Chigurh, played very creepily by Javier Bardem, tells the widow of the man he killed earlier that he now has to take her life because he “gave his word” to her husband. She tells Anton, “You don’t have to do this.” As a compromise, he flips a coin and tells her to call it. The underlying message is clear—call the coin correctly and she lives—call it wrong and she dies. If you have seen the movie, you know how this ends up for her. If not, here is the clip. (click HERE if clip does not appear)

While the stakes relative to our NCLB waiver are clearly not as serious, one thing is common to these two situations. The person “in charge” gets to make the decision—not the coin and not the pieces of paper that constitute our waiver application. Just like it was Anton Chigurh’s choice in this scene, it is Arne Duncan’s choice relative to our state waiver.

The ESEA waivers are not based on any federal legislation and have no force of law. President Obama and Duncan created these waivers in 2011 when it became obvious that the mandates of NCLB were becoming untenable for many states and school districts. However, instead of pushing the House and Senate to repeal or revise NCLB, they essentially went outside of their constitutional authority to circumvent established law in order to implement their own reforms. These reforms include the adoption of college and career ready standards and teacher and principal evaluations tied to student growth.

So, why can’t Secretary Duncan just give a waiver to our waiver? The waiver does not mandate CCSS, just college and career ready standards. If the intent of the waiver is to “incentivize” states to adopt higher quality standards, and we are beginning a process to do just that, wouldn’t he be able to grant us the autonomy to complete this process without federal sanctions? Of course he could.

As I have shared before, if you believe in balance of powers and the premise of limited federal government, don’t we have to ask by what authority Secretary Duncan and President Obama are able to grant these waivers in the first place? The waivers are clearly being used by them to drive their own version of school reforms and force state compliance.

It is a classic carrot and stick approach. Implement our reforms and play by our rules or we will use the hammer of NCLB to punish you. Irrespective of your views on the merits of HB3399 or the appropriateness of common core standards, the fact that this is being threatened at all should trouble us.

Have we really gotten to this point in our nation where a non-elected agency secretary (Duncan) ostensibly has sovereign authority and power over a lawfully elected state government?

Could it be that Secretary Duncan enjoys being the one with the power? The man who gets to call the rules of the game, flip the coin, and tell us all to “call it.”

Carla Jean Moss told Anton in the above scene, “I ain’t going to call it.” It didn’t turn out well for her because she was dealing with a mad man with a twisted set of moral principles.

Governor Fallin essentially told Secretary Duncan the same thing today. Duncan can also “pull the trigger” and punish Oklahoma by taking away our waiver.

Maybe this would not be such a bad thing. As John Thompson pointed out in his excellent blog post today:

If Arne Duncan overplays his hand and revokes Oklahoma’s Waiver, that could be the best outcome for the nation, as well as our state. To borrow from the wisdom of Oklahoma Education Truths, we now have to tackle “the rest of the Reformer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Yes, “VAM is far more damaging to the education process.” If Duncan continues to try to micromanage Oklahoma’s schools, however, that guarantees the survival of the diverse coalition that has successfully resisted high-stakes 3rd grade testing and pulled us out of the PARCC Common Core testing consortium. Together, we will defeat the value-added teacher evaluations that Duncan coerced Oklahoma into adopting.

Arne Duncan doesn’t have to touch our waiver. He has choices. So do we!

This Quacks Like a SNAFU!There Goes Our Money!
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