March 21, 2016

As Voting Deadline Nears, Battle Over Academic Standards Intensifies

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Days before a deadline on approving new academic standards, a pitched battle of sorts has erupted between state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and various critics of the proposed standards.

On Sunday, Hofmeister sent a letter to all state House members (see below) with attachments regarding a resolution that, while approving the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and reading, would set certain conditions that Hofmeister says could delay or scotch the guidelines.

“I question the timing of certain detractors in this eleventh hour. Some of the information, I believe, is of dubious value,” Hofmeister wrote.

The Senate and House have until Wednesday to accept or reject all or part of the standards, and if no vote is taken, they standards are automatically approved. A Tulsa World story on Sunday outlined the various legislative resolutions and views regarding the standards. Senate Joint Resolution 75 and House Joint Resolution 1070 would reject the standards and call for revisions. House Joint Resolution 1070, which Hofmeister’s letter referred to, would approve the standards but lay out a process for revisions.

Critics of the standards fall into different camps but all say the standards are too vague or don’t go deep enough. They include previous supporters of Common Core standards, which Oklahoma embraced and then rejected; a previous critic of Common Core, and, as reported in an Oklahoma Watch exclusive in October, national experts the state brought in for guidance as part of the months-long process. Hofmeister points to the involvement of many education groups, educators and individuals in the standards development.


Hofmeister’s letter to House members: 

Dear Representatives,

I am proud of the new academic standards we have developed as a state, and I am not alone. They have been approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and have received letters of support ranging from nationally renowned mathematicians and literary scholars to leading educators across the state.

I urge you to vote NO on HJR 1070. While I greatly appreciate that HJR 1070 seeks to approve the standards, language in the current resolution creates uncertainties that could invite further politicizing and delay. An analysis by legal counsel outlines some concerns found in HJR 1070 that could thwart, stall or significantly delay implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS). It is attached, and I urge you to read it.

We need to transition to tackling the complexity of creating the standards’ curriculum framework and ancillary support materials for districts and educators (which is necessary with the adoption of any new standards). It is critical that we begin this work immediately. In continuing to draw out this process, our state will risk having to remain with PASS standards for another year. What a tragedy that would be for Oklahoma students when our superior standards await them.

I question the timing of certain detractors in this eleventh hour. Some of the information, I believe, is of dubious value. Why do some threaten to delay or undermine our state’s progress? I believe one reason could be that Oklahoma math and ELA Standards are not Common Core as demonstrated through the required comparison study by the South Central Comprehensive Center (SC3) at OU. It is no wonder, then, that Achieve, a Washington, D.C.-based organization and key architect of Common Core, is not complimentary. Some who cling to Common Core seek to derail our new standards by casting last-minute doubts in the media. Similarly, critiques from Lawrence Gray and Sandra Stotsky are worth consideration, but should not be held as the final arbiters of our standards. (See attached responses to critiques.) It is ironic that HB 3399 demanded Oklahoma-based standards, yet some would seek to stall them over two out-of-state voices.

Finally, it is important to address some misperceptions of remarks made by SC3 in its comparison report of our standards with Common Core. I have attached a letter by SC3 director Belinda Biscoe that clarifies apparent misunderstandings circulating in recent days.

The schoolchildren of Oklahoma deserve to reach their full promise and potential. With today’s economic uncertainty, the legislature may not be able to give our students additional funding, but you can give the gift of time to prepare for the effective implementation of superior academic standards.

Please call me if you have any questions at 918-633-1639. Thank you for your commitment to education.

Sincerely,
Joy Hofmeister
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Oklahoma State Department of Education