In June, as the primary was getting closer, I suggested a series of questions that anyone should ask our Oklahoma State Superintendent candidates.
First, let’s acknowledge that those school A-F rankings that came out this week are bogus, and both candidates clearly say so.
Second, let’s also acknowledge that the drastic drop in rankings for so many schools after Barresi’s primary loss shows just how the Barresi-led OKSDE has been jiggering the grades all along. Leading up the election? The scores keep improving. Barresi’s point is, well, we are doing great! These reforms are kicking in and we can see it, even though there is room for improvement.
But now, the point she’s making is: These public school leaders who didn’t support me? What do they know? Look how dumb they are! They are doing just awful, aren’t they? They should have listened to me.
So now those bogus grades are out, and the two candidates for State Superintendent were expected to make statements, which they did in print, but also on camera for Tulsa TV station KTUL.
A closer look at those videos, one after the other, show some interesting contrasts.
In two earlier posts I have raised education questions for candidates for any public office in Oklahoma, and specifically for Oklahoma Superintendent of Schools.
To my surprise, Freda Deskin, volunteered her answers to both blog posts in her comments on my Google + timeline where I had posted the separate links. I did not solicit her responses.
(All photos are by Brett Dickerson, copyright 2014 except the thrust stage photo.)
They are wrecking the Mummers Theater/Stage Center building in downtown Oklahoma City. It is likely because of some essential design flaws in the building itself. Often overlooked, those flaws caused it to be financially toxic to each of its owners. In addition, its bold design that made it so notable also made it a relic that could not be used for new purposes.
And so, the building that has wrecked its owners is being wrecked. Justice? Perhaps.
- Martyr pose.
It’s just what we were expecting. Amazing.
There was a larger-than-usual crowd gathered at the Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting yesterday, June 26th. The room filled completely although the location had been changed to a huge Oklahoma Senate hearing room to accommodate it.
After some formalities, Supt. Barresi started off saying that she wanted to first make “some brief comments”. Here is about the first 2 1/2 minutes of those opening remarks. If you can’t take even that much, just stop it and keep reading.
Congratulations to Joy Hofmeister for winning a tough Republican primary campaign. It was even tougher because Ms. “I’m-Not-A-Politician” pulled out every underhanded politician stunt her campaign thought that she could get by with.
The Democrats still have some sorting and choosing to do. Congratulations to John Cox and Freda Deskin for getting into the runoff. That part will come to a conclusion August 26th.
No matter what party these three represent, it is important to ask questions that will allow us to understand who might have the most influence on them later.
And that is important, isn’t it?
The ads for Janet Barresi in the Oklahoma City TV market are almost surreal. Are they even talking about Oklahoma? Yes, they are. But I don’t recognize what they are describing.
Now to get the effect, use that deep, male, monster-truck-tractor-pull scary voice to say the words “teachers unionzzzzzzzzzz“. What? You mean there are for-real teachers unions in Oklahoma?
Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.
— Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain’s House of Commons
One of the biggest issues in my deep red state of Oklahoma is that liberals and progressives very often shrink from the larger, harder debate about how government should be conducted for The People. You know, us.
The recent rise of nation-wide interest in progressive thought comes from a frustration with earlier generations of liberals who maybe tried, but failed to effectively engage in the debate for those who need a voice.
We have seen a transformation over time with President Obama as he tried to take the old liberal approach of reaching out to the other side. It didn’t work. It won’t.
He is just now starting to understand that this is a debate and a contest of ideas. And he seems to understand that unless we advocate for our ideas, no one else will. They won’t be understood or heard.
I wish he had known that in 2009.
Oklahoma Liberals Have Learned the Hard Way
We have seen that here in Oklahoma, where one year after another over the last 30, liberals seemed tongue-tied when opposing corporate-sponsored Republicans. Corporate tools who call themselves “conservative” rode into office on the most bogus of claims about
- reducing government (they haven’t),
- getting government off our backs (it’s even more so, now), and
- lowering our taxes (for the rich, as they raise “fees”, really use taxes, that ordinary people pay daily).
What old-style liberals found out the hard way was that strategies for trying to negotiate with conservatives so that “we all would get along” and so that “we can all be winners” didn’t work then. It doesn’t work now. All it does is buy time for the right wing, whose approach is always – and I do mean always – “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Most importantly, that strategy conceded too many points that the public needed them to stand up for. Without knowing the other options for thinking through ideas, the bulk of uninformed voters had an “oh well” approach or showed angry resignation against those politicians who essentially betrayed the cause. Perhaps they never understood that it was a cause in the first place.
In politics, there really is no such thing as “business as usual”. Either you are winning the debate or you are losing it.
The Necessary Opposition
The debate itself is important. Period.
What I mean by “the debate” is engaging the prevailing mindset and the prevailing party with the determination to not allow a temporary campaign defeat to stop the engagement at the level of ideas.
What we know from history is that groups that have started out small in a democracy can become larger and more powerful by engaging in the debate over time and insisting upon being heard.
Conservatives in general seem to understand this. So do their politicians, either intuitively or because big money donors actually listen to their think-tankers and force their puppets to listen, too.
The value of the debate itself is that more people become informed by the opposition. Most importantly, they are informed from a different viewpoint than the prevailing narrative that slick corporately-funded hired guns deliver to a lazy, compliant media.
Modern-day progressives must push to win in the debate of ideas. It does not serve our concepts or the people who need us to advocate for them if we don’t.
Will we always win? Of course not.
Will we ever win if we never try to win? Of course not.
That’s why the debate of ideas has so much value in and of itself. And debating to win in the arena of public politics and policy is critical.
Time to Participate in a Bigger Way
In earlier posts I have suggested ways in which progressives in this red state can be a part of the debate. It is time to be a bigger part of the debate in this red state.
In the post “Five Ways That You Can Have a Progressive Influence In Your Red State” I showed how you really can have positive, progressive effects on the process in a red state where the dominant Republican Party wants you to believe that you should not be wasting your time.
And since that message is often a real bummer to progressives, I wrote the post “Five Ways for Liberals to Overcome Those Red State Blues”, and posted “Decide that the Ugly Side of Oklahoma Will Note Defeat Us.”
Since pastors are often co-opted by right-wingers in their own congregations in red states, I tried to give progressives some ideas about how to counterbalance that process in this post: “Three Ways to Sway Your Red-state Pastor From Blessing the Radical Right”.
Good Examples of Political Debate
Here are some very good examples of how liberals and progressives can be the fierce, loyal opposition to conservative control of government.
Reps Inman and Pittman speak to the 2014 Education Rally at the Oklahoma Capitol (video is trimmed to start at 9:21 mark)
From Great Britain: Margaret Thatcher – Tory (conservative) Prime Minister Vs. Neil Kinnock – Labor Leader, on Education
From Great Britain: The first ever House of Commons prime minister’s question time that was televised.
The Stand-out Group: Public School Teachers
My post tomorrow will focus on how public school teachers, generally known for their cultural conservatism, and especially in “red” states like Oklahoma, are a stand-out group who are more progressive than people think because of what they see every day in the classroom.
“Enough is enough. Somebody stand up! Get up!” — Chuck D and Public Enemy
In spite of assurances, the testing company hired for testing Oklahoma elementary students is using highly suspect methods.
Currently, writing tests still must be hand graded by real people sitting in a room somewhere. There is little known about who they are and how well they have been trained, especially since book companies have jumped into the testing business only in the past several years.
After having seen first-hand just how much effort it takes to produce a consistent grading process on a massive numbers scale, I cannot believe that these test scores are valid.
My Experience as a Grading Hired Gun
I have four years of personal experience at grading essays for a large service, the Educational Testing Service, which has scored the SAT and the now large array of Advanced Placement course exams each year. Unlike the service that is grading the elementary essays, they put a remarkable amount of effort into grading essays.
Let’s, look at just how much effort and expense goes into a good, credible essay-grading process:
For the grading of essays for AP exams, thousands of teachers fly in ahead of time and engage in rigorous training for several days on the specific questions that they will be scoring.
Readers are organized into a table of 10 readers. Those readers are made up of half high school AP teachers who have graded their students’ essays all year, the other half are college profs who teach the college course that the high school AP course mirrors.
The ETS has a very good quality control system in place that they have perfected over the decades, using table leaders who back-grade some of their readers’ scoring and huge servers to check for grading consistency of those essays at the end of each day.
Actual grading trends of each reader, each table of readers, and each table leader, is checked against the larger numbers of the reading of that same exam question. It is impressive how they can detect when a reader, table, or table leader are drifting in their scores
But, that is the elite process of essay-grading that is not matched by any other company. The money made from fees that students and school districts pay for that testing is lucrative business; but, cannot be done on the cheap. If their reputation ever starts to suffer, the money will go away like a puff of smoke.
Even with all that impressive effort, it is still a human effort that has its quirks. No college slices a test score so thinly that the student is judged as pass/fail.
Which leads us back to Oklahoma and the complete mess of the 5th and 8th grade writing tests. There is not credibility in the process of testing Oklahoma’s 5th and 8th grade writing.
Undeserved Bad Reputation of Oklahoma Elementary Kids and Schools
Because of my experiences at seeing just how delicate the essay test grading process really is, I have not been able to believe that an old text book hustler company like CTB/McGraw-Hill could develop a testing process with integrity over just a few years like they have.
Earlier this weekend, two education blogs, Oklahoma Education Truths, and Rob Miller’s A View From the Edge raised serious questions about the test results from the standpoint of statistics and reviews of the scored exams.
For some impressive specific details about why the tests are suspect, see yesterdays post in Miller’s blog showing how the tests are going wrong.
Today The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World ran a story about how more and more elementary and middle school teachers, principals, and their superintendents are raising serious questions about the quality controls of CTB/McGraw-Hill who have the contract with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to grade writing tests of our 5th and 8th graders.
A host of schools across the state say their fifth- and eighth-grade writing test scores are deeply flawed, but state education officials are standing by the scores issued by controversial vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill.
After discovering abnormally high rates of students receiving the same scores, school officials all over the state are questioning whether the company’s readers properly scored the tests. They also question widespread reductions in scores for “plagiarism” for students they say simply followed instructions to cite directly from reading passages.
Local school officials raised concerns with the vendor and the Oklahoma Education Department in a meeting May 28 but were shocked by the responses they received.
“We have been told all we can do is request a re-score, but if the testing vendor decides not to change the score, we have to pay $125,” said Rick Cobb, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Moore Public Schools.
“At $125 a pop, 80 tests alone would be $10,000. No district in Oklahoma has $10,000 to throw around right now, but we want the kids to get the scores they deserve.”
Clearly there are problems, yet the SDE doubles down on the process, not because it holds water, but because among Republican political consultants who are advising Supt. Janet Barresi, doubling down works when Republicans are wrong.
It’s time for a change.
Having been in the Oklahoma public school classroom for 16 years, and many of those in the alternative ed classroom, I know that I am always looking for that one good thing that a student has done today. One will do. That’s it. We teachers are just wired that way.
And so it is natural for us to see one good vote from our representative or senator, praise them for it, and give them a pass on 10 bad votes that actually work against public education, especially in funding.
But to allow our legislators to use a one-good-vote approach and get by with it is a disservice to educational efforts in Oklahoma. It is also a disservice to the legislators. How?
Some may actually want to be more balanced in their voting, but in the absence of any other pressure, they are going to vote the way that lobbyists for those corporate interests tell them to vote.
So, the most cynical ones need to know that we are watching, and the earnest ones need to be able to point to our pressure as a way of holding off the corporate lobbyists.
There are several good ways to keep track of voting records when making your decision on how to vote in the upcoming primaries on June 24th.
- Use the tools and general information on the website for the Oklahoma Policy Institute which has a track record of providing hard information on legislative matters.
- The Bill Tracker tool on that website is an extremely good way to keep up with matters in the legislature when it is in session and for research in between.
- Use the Bill Search feature on the web site for the Oklahoma Legislature.
Just using those tools alone will allow you to keep up with how your particular legislator voted in this last session.
One Vote In Full View, Another Gets in Under the Radar
Here is one comparison that is very important to seeing if your legislator is consistent in voting for public education and public services:
Public education and the children, parents, and teachers of Oklahoma achieved a big win on House bill 2625 – 3rd Grade Retention, authored by Republican Representative Katie Henke.
It originally passed 89-6 in the House and 43-1 in the Senate. The override of Gov. Fallin’s veto passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate.
During the debate, Representatives Henke, Casey, and Nolan wrote an opinion piece for the Tulsa World opposing automatic 3rd grade retention for students who did not pass the one-time, one-day test. Great!
But, lurking in the shadow of all that passion of the big win, and sliding in under confusion due to the same numbers being in this bill, there was House bill 2562 – “Gross Production Tax Cut”. Here is information provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
It would make permanent an incentive that had originally been given for horizontal drilling, and was set to expire next year. Now most drillers use that technique as a matter of course. After the expiration, the production tax would have moved back up to its original rate of 7%, which is the same rate used in neighboring states.
That bill, signed into law today by Gov. Fallin, offered a permanent tax break for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry that is already flush with cash that they liberally spread around during races for the House and the Senate. It also deprives Oklahoma public services, like public education, of necessary funds in a completely manufactured crisis of funding for Oklahoma government.
The bill passed 61-34 in the House, and passed 23-22 in the Senate.
So, how did Henke, Casey, and Nolan vote? Henke was excused from the floor that day and Casey and Nolan voted against the bill. To me that’s a good example of consistency in voting. Way to go!
How did your legislators, representative and senator, vote on these two bills?
First, you can look up who they are here.
3rd Grade Retention Votes
Click this link for the voting list for the individual legislator votes on HB2625 – 3rd Grade Retention.
(There are problems with the Senate publication of the vote on the last reading of the bill and their later override.)
Gross Production Tax Cut Votes
Click this link for the voting list in the House on HB2562 – Gross Production Tax Cut (Look for the vote on the measure itself, not the vote to make it an “Emergency” measure.)
Click this link for the Senate vote on HB2562.
No More Passes for One-time Show Votes
If they voted for the 3rd Grade Retention bill and the override of Fallin’s veto when the heat was on, good for them.
But, if they voted to give a big early Christmas gift to oil and gas donors in a bill passed at the very end of the session, then it’s time for them to hear from you. They voted to deprive public education and other services in Oklahoma of necessary funds in a time when Oklahoma’s economy is booming.
Decide now. No more passes.