By August 30, 2014 Uncategorized 5 Comments

The Department of Education’s decision to deny Oklahoma’s request for an extension of our ESEA waiver has ignited the passions of many in the #Oklaed twittersphere and blogging community. I wrote on the topic a few days ago (“Playing the Waiver Game”) which was quickly followed by Okeducationtruths excellent 4,000 word missive on the same theme (“What a Week Today Was“). This morning, Claudia Swisher added her brilliant analysis through the use of Wordles (“Words, Words, Wordles”). Nice job, Claudia!

Of course, there has been a lot of political finger pointing from several of our state leaders, most of which directed towards the federal government—yet very little acknowledgment of the fact that this was essentially a self-inflicted wound.

Our state leaders knew that passage of House Bill 3399 would put our waiver request in jeopardy. Agree with it or not, the ESEA waiver policy is fairly straight-forward. The policy states that “states requesting ESEA flexibility must adopt standards common to a significant number of states, or demonstrate that their standards are college- and career-ready by working with their Institutes of Higher Education (IHE).”

Since HB3399 repealed CCSS in our state (“standards common to a significant number of states”), we knew that we would have to work quickly with our Higher Education Regents to certify the existing PASS standards as college-and career-ready.

The U.S. Department of Education responded proactively by sending a letter reiterating this requirement to Superintendent Barresi on June 13th. In the letter, Assistant Secretary of Education, Deborah Delisle, requested that “Oklahoma amend its ESEA flexibility extension request to reflect the newly enacted legislation and invited the state to provide evidence that (our) standards are certified by (our) state network of IHEs as college- and career-ready.” Secretary Delisle then gave the state a 60-day deadline (August 12th) to provide this evidence.

Our state leaders chose to ignore this deadline and essentially forced the federal government to play their cards. Whether this was done intentionally or simply the result of a lack of urgency is open to speculation. What is clear is that very little seems to have been done to satisfy the federal government’s request. Why not?

This very question became the topic of conversation on Twitter last night. At the center of the discussion was Representative Jason Nelson from Oklahoma City. As I have said before, Representative Nelson and I disagree on many issues related to education reform, but I respect his willingness to engage with voters on social media. It is critically important that we continue this type of dialogue, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye.

What follows below is a portion of the conversation involving Representative Nelson and several #oklaed tweeters:

@wfryer: Why do you think our #OklaEd Board of Regents failed 2 act & advocate that PASS standards are college ready? Or amend them?

@jasonnelsonok: Because I asked them, and they wanted, to actually review the standards as an academic document, not a political document.

@wfryer: Do you think the board understood the time sensitive nature of the review process for the NCLB waiver?

@jasonnelsonok: Higher ed understands that its job is to evaluate the standards – not rubber stamp them to meet an arbitrary political deadline.

@jasonnelsonok: Higher ed was not given a deadline in HB3399. They were asked to determine if PASS was college and career ready.

@jmsprincipal: Was the potential impact of losing the waiver even consid. by regents? PASS were ranked in top ten of states in 2010.

@jasonnelsonok: Yes, it was considered.

@jmsprincipal: What’s the harm in playing the political game to protect OK students and schools? We’re still writing new standards.

@jasonnelsonok: I think its a bad idea to sell your birthright for a bowl of stew.

@jmsprincipal: My big Q is what determines C&C ready? Remediation rates? Alignment to college Gen Ed rqmts? Won’t this always be subjective?

@jasonnelsonok: Well, there is the waiver definition: Students that satisfy the standards won’t need remediation in college.

@jasonnelsonok: Sec. Duncan’s waiver requirement for state developed standard.

@jasonnelsonok: The two problems w/ that definition: its only aspirational & each state higher ed system set its own remediation thresholds

@jmsprincipal:  I appreciate that. But why could CCSS be certified C&C ready w/o any evidence of better outcomes or incr. College readiness?

@drjohnthompson: Why would remediation rates be relevant? No reason to say they are linked to standards as opposed to money.

@jasonnelsonok: The state regents for higher education are tasked with the review.

@jasonnelsonok: They (regents) are identifying academic content experts from around the state to work on this.

@bridgestyler: That has been my major concern. CCR = most vague & touchy feely definition I’ve seen come through in awhile.

Here’s what I distill from this conversation: (1) The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education are in no particular hurry to complete this review; (2) State leaders may have actually encouraged them to take their time; (3) there is a lot of confusion over what constitutes college- and career-ready standards; and (4) we would rather have schools and students suffer than “eat a bowl of stew.”

My review of the agendas of the monthly meetings of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education for the past two months found absolutely no mention of the requirement to certify our state standards as college- and career-ready. Don’t you think this would have been worthy of mention in “new business?”

As reported by Andrea Eger in today’s Tulsa World, the regents seem to be working at their own pace.

Angela Caddell, the regents’ associate vice chancellor for communications, said the legislation that repealed Common Core and subsequently called for the state regents’ standards review, did not specify a particular timeline.

She said their report won’t be out until mid-October at the earliest.

“As the process continues to unfold, the findings and recommendations of the committees and consultants may also identify additional work that could require more time,” Caddell said. “Each step of this review will be executed as efficiently as possible without sacrificing the integrity of the process.”

Caddell said the state regents have assembled groups of campus subject-matter experts with experience in developing and reviewing English and math standards to complete a “thorough and efficient” review. As a part of this process, the regents are engaging consultants from the Southern Regional Education Board to provide additional expertise in the review and to validate the process and recommendations.

However, as Representative Nelson stated above, the regents were apparently aware of the deadline and the potential implications of our state losing the ESEA waiver. So, why were they not getting this process started in June so they might have a chance of meeting the federal deadline.

While HB3399 did not give them a timeline, did they not feel some level of obligation to help our state maintain our waiver? If not, did the Governor think it might be important to light a little fire under the regents to ensure this process was completed before the August 12th deadline?

This decision impacts hundreds of Oklahoma schools and may result in the loss of teaching positions and supports for struggling students at a time when we need them more than ever. Therefore, this decision represents negligent complacency on the part of our state leaders.

It seems like the prevailing attitude was that “we know what the feds want and we are in no hurry to give it to them.”

It also appears that we are now stuck in a quagmire of defining what exactly college- and career-ready standards really means.

Think about this. Hasn’t the role of schools ALWAYS been to prepare children for college and careers? It would be hard to find anyone who disagrees with the purpose of comprehensive K-12 education in our country. An educated populace is essential to the sustainability of a healthy democracy, a capitalist economy, and high functioning communities. A highly educated citizenry is also important to prevent the tendency of governments to become increasing tyrannical towards the people.

As Representative Nelson shares above, the standard for “college- and career-ready” seems to have been tied by the USDOE to college remediation rates.

You’ve likely heard the widely disseminated statistic that “40% of Oklahoma’s high school graduates are required to enroll in one or more remediation courses.” This is a complex topic that cannot be fully explained with simple talking points. Suffice it to say that a high number of these courses are taken by students in our community colleges and smaller universities. In some cases, these might represent students who had mediocre teachers or attended schools with low academic standards. In many more cases, however, these are students who are returning to school to start a degree after a lapse of time after high school graduation.

Some of the students are those who admittedly did not try very hard in school yet earned their diploma and went into the workforce. As some point, they realized that they didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives working in a low wage job and decided to return to school to get more education. If you don’t use algebra for several years, it is highly likely you will need some remediation to be able to handle college-level math courses. This is not a bad thing. We should celebrate the fact that these students have matured and have returned to school to better their lives.

Here’s the bottom line. The loss of our ESEA waiver helps no one.  .  . unless we are willing to go all the way and pass legislation repealing everything else we rushed into law to try to earn a RTTT grant four years ago; in particular the harmful value-added models for teacher evaluation which are wreaking havoc in other states.

If our intent is to maintain the waiver until Congress gets off their collective a!@*s and does something to fix No Child Left Behind, then we need to play the game. Since the term “college- and career-ready” is completely subjective and arbitrary, our regents can make this certification based solely on the fact that the 2010 Fordham report found our PASS standards not significantly better or worse than common core and ranked them in the top ten of state standards across the nation.

They could also cite Achieve Inc., the group that wrote the Common Core standards. In 2008, they issued a report declaring Oklahoma’s PASS standards “well-aligned with (Achieve’s) college- and career-ready expectations.”

Why are we playing games with Oklahoma’s children? Those of us who work in schools understand that it is NOT standards that make students college- and career-ready, it is teachers! Slow walking the process to certify our standards in order to avoid “sacrificing the integrity of the process” hurts our schools and students, not the federal government.

Governor Fallin, are you paying attention?  Please, we could use a little leadership!

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