Tag Archives: schools

Teachers: Oklahoma Children Deserve Political Protection, Too

Our children deserve our political protection as much as our face-to-face protection in the classroom.

It is time for Oklahoma teachers in even larger numbers to claim what we know from what we see every day in the classroom. That view is very different from that of lawyer legislators or corporate chieftains.

Continue reading Teachers: Oklahoma Children Deserve Political Protection, Too

We Repealed the Common Core – Problem Solved?

Does eliminating the Common Core really solve our biggest problems here in Oklahoma? Far from it.

I’ve been acquainted with Governor Mary Fallin since she was my District 85 rep way back at the end of the 1980s. She only accepts temporary defeat.

Count on her to be back with the same commitments to standards, charter schools, and testing as a vector of attack on public schools.

She has signed this bill promising, “Superintendents, educators, parent, public policy officials, Superintendent of Education, employers, citizens.” But there’s one more thing that she did not mention.

Power Shift from the SDE to the Legislature

The bill that was signed provides for the legislature itself to have the power to make changes to the standards as they see fit without any recourse for the SDE or those who wrote them. This means that any number of wacky ideas can make it into the those standards once  all of those other folks work hard to develop them. Not a good scenario, is it?

Remember that the language that is being used is not just “repeal”, but “repeal and replace. That’s right, the commitment to a centralized laundry list of standards that will be used to develop new tests is right there and being implemented today.

And it is a mistake to believe that getting rid of the Common Core standards will get rid of tests and the current administration’s commitment to using tests to measure “quality”.  At the same news conference where Fallin gave reasons for signing the bill, SDE spokesperson Tricia Pemberton said, “We’re going to have to cobble a new test together.”

Will Change of Supt. Change Anything? Maybe. Maybe not.

I have criticized Supt. Janet Barresi in earlier posts here, here and here. And so I look forward to seeing what will happen on June 24th when primaries decide which candidates each party will run for state offices.

But will removing Barresi really change anything if the new superintendent taking office next year is just as committed to arbitrary standards, high-stakes testing, and school-shaming from those tests? It won’t.

And if that person is from the Republican Party and gets their money and support, will there be a commitment to make decisions and have a process that starts with educators first, or will organizations like ALEC have a large influence because that’s what the party wants?

Let’s move away from the partying about the repeal of the Common Core and start working toward what replace means.

Questions for the Candidates

Here are some ideas for questions that should be asked at any candidate forum for State Superintendent of Schools:

1. Do you support using standards that are established by other organizations outside of Oklahoma?

2. Do you support using standardized tests graded out-of-state that measure a student’s performance only on one day of a school year?

3. Do you support expansion of charter schools from their current number and status?

4. What would you do to promote the increase of funding for education in Oklahoma?

5 Reasons Why Education Can Never be a “Business”


The current dysfunction with so many charter schools and testing efforts is tied to investors who are trying to make education into a profitable business venture.

In a very well documented story published just a few weeks ago in the Huffington Post, “Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools”, Hofstra University professor Alan Singer shows the many benefits that are lining up for investors in companies that develop private charter schools, especially for depressed neighborhoods inhabited by the poor.

And so to investors who have not dealt with the mysteries of the real education process, this looks like a tremendous new market that just has yet to be tapped.

There  is the same urge to raid public education much in the same way that corporate raiders like Mitt Romney/Bain Capital, T. Boone Pickens and others did to solvent corporations in the 1980s-90s.

What Investors are Missing

But, really, can hedge funds game education-related institutions like corporate raiders did to corporations in those years turning huge profits for the raiders? They have tried over the last decade; but, it hasn’t worked so far. That’s why charter schools are failing at such alarming rates. That’s why testing schemes are failing and losing the confidence of educators and the public at such a fast and large rate.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, This is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools, charters are going belly up with regularity, in one case just 30 days away from the end of their school year.

What investors don’t realize about education is that effective education has many more human mysteries than most regular business ventures. It involves a critical mass of trust and effort being formed between the host community, school administrators, teachers and the students. It is a unique and delicate circle that cannot be achieved by a company that is seeking short-term gains by taking over public institutions and hiring nominally committed teachers hired on the cheap.

A sign of the extreme hubris of investors who have never spent one night planning a lesson is that they believe that they can just import the usual corporate methods into education and turn it from a public good into a market of competing private entities.

I Have Witnessed How Hard It Is

I have seen the public, non-profit part of education up close, and I have seen the for-profit part of education up close, too.

In my teaching career I have spent 16 years as a public school teacher. Four summers out of those were spent grading essays for the for-profit Educational Testing Service for the AP U.S. History exam. Another 2 years have been spent as an online teacher for a for-profit online service that contracted to public schools and charters.  Currently, I am an ESL teacher for a community college in Oklahoma City.

So I have seen many aspects of the education process. And what I have seen is an attempt to turn education into a commodity that is sold using cost-saving measures and debt leverage.

In the case of the ETS, they make a profit by huge volume and having developed a reputation for delivering a reliable service to a narrow slice of the whole education effort. Even then, they come precariously close to failing in certain years.

In the case of the online service that I worked for, they worked hard and made a lot of good moves. However, eventually they had to write off a huge uncollected lump of fees that were not paid by bankrupt charters that had been loosely regulated, if at all. Their parent corporation took the write-off, and then sold them to another similar company. Time will tell if that venture will work.

Five Big Reasons

From a business standpoint, corporations simply cannot replace public schools without depending on the same or even higher levels of tax dollars, the same methods being used in public schools, and a reduction/elimination of accountability.  Corporate market efforts just won’t deliver ethical, reliable, consistent, quality education for less as they promise. Why not?  Let’s look at five big, systemic reasons:

1. Education cannot be stored in a warehouse until the market works in the favor of the vendor.

Children grow every minute of every day and they must have continuity of delivery right now. There is no holding and then releasing of money and inventory when the time is right. In education, the right time for delivery is now.

2. Education is not a product, it is a process that uses products. 

Yet, it doesn’t even have to have those products to work. Books can be borrowed and shared. Many schools in the poorest parts of the US and other countries just use information imparted by the teacher. As long as the human capital of the teacher is there, that is the key.

3. Education cannot be controlled to quality standards in the ways that a manufactured product or simple service can be.

Engineers can determine if an auto part meets engineering standards. Education cannot be measured successfully in the same way. That’s why we are seeing fundamental failures in testing schemes at present.

4. Machines will never be able to do what teachers do, not completely.

Effective teaching involves the teacher’s discernment and their relationship with the student. It is more likely to program a machine to take the place of an engineer than a teacher.

5. Not just anyone can teach, and so labor becomes a bigger issue than market-driven efforts can conquer.

A consistent, trained, monitored teacher corps whose prime loyalties are to the public, have proven to be critical to effective education in the U.S. and other countries over the long haul.

Teach for America is jokingly called “Teach for a Year” for good reasons. No matter how bright the person who goes through that program, it still takes years of experience to develop that critical ability to discern what each unique student needs and then deliver it effectively.  And so, those clearly smart young people see and understand that, and quickly leave for other professions or go into charter school administration.

Public Schools Are Public for a Reason

To hear hedge fund managers and investors talk, one would believe that the only reason why we don’t have a thriving education market made up of private corporations right now is either because people in the past were just stupid or the Communists among us have secretly sabotaged those efforts.

Neither is true.

What leaders over the years found was that public education is a public good like effective policing and fire protection. In U.S. history all three have been tried as private efforts and they didn’t work. Why? When profit motives drive private efforts in those three public goods, they become inconsistent, corrupt, and ineffective. Private efforts allow society itself to suffer.

That suffering is both unnecessary and unacceptable.

Why Writing Test Results for Oklahoma Kids Must be Questioned

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
Only 1/4 of the total of teachers at an AP US History Reading
Only 1/4 of the total of teachers at the AP US History Reading, 2009

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.


Bill Allowing Charter School Debt Threatens Education Funds in Oklahoma

A Bill Advances

SB573 is working its way through the Oklahoma Legislature right now. It will allow charter schools to incur debt, privatize profit, and socialize the risk. The current law does not allow charters to take on debt. Yet, almost the whole of public discussion on this so far is focused on the promises of achievement of the students, ignoring the risk to public education funds if those charters go under and file for bankruptcy. The spin is that only charter schools are capable of offering an alternative to current problems in public education.

The Problem

The problem with this diversion is that charter school laws as they have been enacted in several states have allowed charters to incur debt, and then close, file for bankruptcy, and leave the taxpayers to clean up the mess.

Yet, allowing charters to take on debt is presented as a deal-breaker if not included in new laws. Why? Hedge fund investors “behind the curtain” are the real driving force behind these laws that have been fashioned by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for regurgitation in various state legislatures under Republican control such as Oklahoma.

Why hedge funds? Why would they possibly have such a large investment in charters? They see private charters and the service corporations that sign contracts with them as a new and large investment opportunity with the potential for “growth”. That’s investor speak for making a lot of money.

Schools generally go into debt by issuing bonds, which are a way to borrow money from investors. This bill seeks is to allow charters “bonding authority”, meaning that they can issue bonds, or in layman’s language, borrow money.

Now this is where the hedge funds come in. They stand to make money from completing the circle both ways: They make money by investing in the educational service companies that this bill would allow to actually run the schools, and they make money by loaning money to these charters when they are allowed to borrow.

The largest issue with taking a business competition approach to publicly-funded education is that in the business world companies and corporations fail every day. While certain employees and investors feel the emotional sting of a failure, most know that it’s the way of that world.

But, when it comes to schools, no matter how much re-education promoters have tried, when any school fails, it is crushing to students, parents, teachers, and staff. Why? School, no matter how configured, feels like and is treated like a public good by the constituents, almost like the local fire station. It isn’t an auto body or dress shop in a mall. That’s why giving the reigns to people who have no history in education like hedge fund operators, holds so much potential for deep harm.

The Bill

The proposed law is SB573 sponsored by Sen. Clark Jolley, Republican from Edmond.  The House sponsor is Rep. Jason Nelson, Republican from Oklahoma City-War Acres. It is based upon, and nearly identical to a model law produced by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. You may download a PDF file of their model here and compare it to the proposed legislation in The Oklahoma Legislature here.

News Coverage

The Oklahoman openly promoted the spin of charter success, and covered a carefully staged event on April 9th at KIPP charter school in Oklahoma City. According to some sources, KIPP in OkC receives somewhere around $7,000 more per student than traditional public schools. Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin and former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush were the center of attention at this event where no questions were allowed from the news media or from students. Photos in the article were all flattering and promotional.  Most interesting were comments at the end of the piece at the bottom of page 2.

The Oklahoma Gazette ran a story that passed through policy talking points from a executive with The National Alliance for Charter Schools, leaving out any mention of counter arguments, and made it more of a human-interest story that focused upon one of the current charter school superintendents in Oklahoma City.

The only exception to this type of coverage has been in The Red Dirt Report, a digital news site, where one of the opponents from the legislature points out the threat to public education as too much competition for funds.

The Tulsa World simply passed on the puff piece from The Oklahoman but has reported little on this bill.

Examples of Failed and Debt-ridden Charters

It is amazing how little effort has been exerted by news organizations to simply look up news reports of financially failed charter schools. One single Google search,  “charter school goes bankrupt” produced these results:

From the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, we learn of a careful scheme of circular finance that left the public holding the bag: “Taxpayers’ $1.2 million propped up owner’s 2nd charter-school bust”

From the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina we learn about a large charter school effort that has involved unaccounted funds and general turmoil from mismanagement: “StudentFirst charter school dreams fade in startup turmoil”

And then these sites emerged from that single search; but, are more focused on openly opposing charters. Nevertheless, the information is important.

There is the Charter School Scandals Blog that is a listing of charter school scandals that have taken place in recent years.

The Mommy on the Floor Blog raises serious issues about how the effort to fund charters ends up depriving the whole of public education of needed funds.

This piece in the site The Hechinger Report, goes in depth about the fallout from the failure of charter schools.

What Happens Next?

What happens next in Oklahoma when it comes to charters will have a deep impact on public education in Oklahoma.  Let’s hope that it doesn’t have a negative one. Make sure that you are heard on this matter by contacting your legislators now.

Your voice can be heard by looking up your state senator and representative at the state web site, OkLegislature.gov.


Education Rally Draws Large, Enthusiastic, Angry Crowd at Oklahoma State Capitol

Today more teachers, support staff, parents, and administrators turned out for the Education Rally at the Oklahoma State Capital than expected. Afterward, a majority of them patiently waited in line to go through security checkpoints and talk to legislators about Oklahoma’s being at the top of the list for education cuts.