Nate Robson
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June 4: Common-Core Political Calculations

In many respects, Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision on whether to retain the Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma involves political calculations.

Fallin has until Saturday to decide whether she will repeal Common Core State Standards just as districts are supposed to be implementing the standards for the 2014-2015 school year. A decision either way could sway the votes of many parents and educators heading to the polls for the June 24 primary or Nov. 4 general election — or at least affect the intensity of support or opposition this year.

Fallin is facing two Republican primary challengers for governor in Chad Moody and Dax Ewbank. The winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Joe Dorman.

Opponents of the standards call them a federal takeover of state education, while supporters say the standards ensure students are better prepared for college or the workforce. In Oklahoma, educators have said the state failed to provide the resources to properly implement the new standards.

Democrats like Rep. Mike Shelton, Oklahoma City, believe the popular decision with parents is to sign the bill, but that means abandoning a policy Fallin once supported. Shelton voted against repealing Common Core.

Fallin drew criticism from many parents and teachers this year by vetoing a bill that would allow school panels of parents, teachers, reading specialists and administrators to decide if third graders who fail the state’s reading test can still advance to fourth grade.

That change is only in place for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years. The House and Senate quickly overrode the veto with strong bipartisan support.

Vetoing the Common Core bill could potentially give more ammunition to Dorman in a general election. Dorman voted in favor of the changes to the state’s reading retention law and voted in favor of repealing Common Core.

Common Core has already been used as election fodder this year in Ohio and Indiana. Anti-Common Core platforms were also not enough to help Republican challengers for governor in South Dakota and Iowa Tuesday. Both states have adopted the Common Core.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad cruised to a comfortable victory against his primary opponent Tom Hoefling, and in South Dakota, state Rep. Lora Hubbel was trounced by incumbent Gov. Dennis Dugaard.

Oklahoma parents have said they are waiting to see how Fallin handles the standards here. Some parents have said Fallin lost their support when she vetoed changes to the reading retention law.

Still, among such parents who are Republicans, would switching to another GOP candidate in the primary really make a difference, since Fallin is heavily favored? Would they vote for Dorman instead in November based on one or two issues?

On the other hand, would vetoing the bill affect Fallin’s long-range political ambitions within her party? Her visitor log shows that an official with the Republican National Committee, which came out against Common Core more than a year ago, met with her on May 30, although it’s unknown if they discussed Common Core.

One factor in Fallin’s decision is that if she signs the repeal bill, she rejects the view of fellow Republican and State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who is in a close primary race with challengers Joy Hofmeister and Brian Kelly. Barresi also opposed changes to the state’s reading retention law.

Fallin has not yet signaled whether she will sign the bill.

Fallin and her staff have been seeking input from a variety of citizens, educators and experts. For example, her office reached out to Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, to get insight on how a decision might play out politically. Gaddie said Tuesday he told the staff member that he hadn’t yet thought through all of the implications.

Fallin’s office has received scores of calls and emails from organizations across the state and nation urging her to sign or veto the bill. She is meeting parents and education leaders this week. The governor’s guest log shows she met with five parents on Tuesday.

Fallin has received letters and pressure from groups such as Stand for Children Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association asking Fallin to veto the bill and keep Common Core in place. On the other side, the Home School Legal Defense Association and Restore Oklahoma Public Education are marshaling support for the bill.

May 23: Lawmakers Say New Standards Could be Similar

Both the House and Senate passed legislation Friday that could potentially make Oklahoma the second state in the nation to drop the Common Core academic standards.

Opponents of Friday’s vote, which marked the last day of session, said the move could throw Oklahoma schools into a state of chaos for the next two years while the state drafts new standards that may still look like Common Core.

Indiana became the first state in the nation this year to drop the Common Core. The state has proposed new standards, but critics have blasted those for being too similar to Common Core.

“Oh, absolutely, that’s going to happen here too,” said Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, who voted against the repeal. “We are playing shell games with the students of Oklahoma, and unfortunately the people of Oklahoma are going to lose.”

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she also believes similar standards will be drafted.

“The fact is these are rigorous standards,” Virgin said of Common Core. “A lot of thought was put in to drafting these.”

Critics of Friday’s vote said Oklahoma is the latest state to retreat from the Common Core because of the rhetoric that equates the standards to a federal takeover of state education.

Rep. John Bennet, R-Sallisaw, called the standards “the most dangerous Trojan horse that’s been brought to our gates,” during an hour-long debate Friday.

Those who opposed the bill said the federal government had nothing to do with creating the standards.

While the U.S. Department of Education has endorsed the standards, the standards were created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Rep. James Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who authored the repeal, said Common Core equates to a federal takeover because the U.S. Department is threatening to punish states that don’t implement the academic standards by revoking their No Child Left Behind waiver.

Losing the waiver means schools with even one child failing to meet proficiency would have to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for use in programs established under No Child Left Behind.

In Oklahoma, more than 1,600 of the states 1,760 schools would likely fail to meet the 100 percent proficiency requirement, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Oklahoma gets about $149 million in federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Education has already warned Indiana its waiver is at risk after dropping Common Core, and Washington state lost its waiver for not tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Nelson said Oklahoma should not bow to that kind of pressure, but added new standards could still be similar to Common Core as long as they are not an exact copy.

“I think this is a discussion we need to have,” Nelson said of the federal governments pressure. “The federal government should not dictate how we run our education.”

Gov. Mary Fallin did not indicate on Friday whether she will sign the bill.

Fallin at one point was a strong supporter of common core, but then issued an executive order saying Oklahoma would not implement standards that cede control of Oklahoma’s education system to outside organizations.

Fallin declined to say if she believes the state’s current standards cede control, adding she has not had a chance to look at the language in the bill.

Shelton said he believes Fallin will sign the bill since it would prove popular in an election year.

Reps. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Virgin said they hoped Fallin will veto the bill given her prior support for Common Core.

Nelson said he believes Fallin could decide either way.

If Fallin vetoes the bill, the Legislature cannot vote to override her since the session ended Friday.

If Fallin signs the bill, Oklahoma will continue to use the current Priority Academic Student Skills standards while new standards are drafted. There are concerns the switch could pose problems in districts that have already shifted to the Common Core, which is supposed to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Regardless of Fallin’s decision, Denney said she does not see Oklahoma retreating from its obligation to prepare students for college or the workforce.

“It’s a temporary situation,” said Denney, who voted against the repeal. “I don’t feel we are stepping back from requiring a lot from our students.”

May 22: Teachers Can Still Retain Struggling Students

Changes to Oklahoma’s third grade reading retention law will not be a blank check to pass students on to fourth grade if they failed the state’s reading test.

Districts across the state are scrambling to have parents meet with teachers and reading specialists to determine if students who failed the test will move on to fourth grade. The move comes after the Senate and House voted Wednesday to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of the bill adding parents to the discussion.

In Tulsa Public Schools, the district started scheduling parent-teacher conferences immediately after results were released on May 9. Those meetings will now include talking to parents about their involvement on whether to retain their child, in addition to talking about other retention exemptions.

Many of those meetings should be done by May 30.

Oklahoma City Public Schools is doing the same thing, and hopes to finish meeting with parents by mid-June.

But teachers and parents may not make a decision on who is retained until closer to August. That will give students a chance to take summer reading programs and alternative assessments in an attempt to improve their reading skills.

Tracy Bayles, chief academic officer for Tulsa Public Schools, said the decision to promote a student must be unanimous, and that teachers will not have a problem going against a parent’s wishes to promote their student.

“We don’t believe in social promotion,” she said. “That’s not what’s best for the child.”

Tulsa has about 1,125 students, or 32.7 percent, at risk of retention and Oklahoma City has about 1,042, or 28.9 percent.

Tulsa hopes to find out how many students qualify for an exemption allowing them to move to fourth grade by the end of the week. Exemptions can apply to students in special education, English language learners, those who have already been retained and those who show proficiency through a portfolio.

Oklahoma City has already determined that about 259 students are eligible for an exemption.

Gov. Mary Fallin, Superintendent Janet Barresi and lawmakers who opposed the change have said the bill encourages social promotion and sets students up for failure.

Rep. Jason Nelson has said he is concerned parents may make an emotional decision to not retain their child even though it may be in the student’s best interest.

Parents have countered that they want to be involved in the decision.

Many parents have also said they would support retention, especially if its supported by their child’s teacher, but that the decision should not be based off the results of one test.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education said the change may carry a cost for smaller districts who will have to hire reading specialists.

A financial impact statement filed by the Senate estimated the minimum cost could be $306,666 to hire reading specialists.

While changes to reading retention were heralded as a success this past week, education advocates were dealt a setback on school funding.

A proposal adding $600 million to education in Oklahoma during the next decade will not make it out of the Legislature this year.

Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said the bill passed both the House and Senate earlier this session. The bill is now stuck in a conference committee to address Senate amendments to the bill that were rejected by the House.

“I am very disappointed, we’ve got to make education a priority,” Denny said. “We will have to try again next session.

A $2.4 billion education budget, which increases common education funding by $80 million, did pass the House and Senate that week and is on its way to Fallin’s desk.

Half of that would be used to cover increased health care costs, and the other half could go into the state’s education funding formula.

May 21

May 16: Increase May Have Limited Impact on Per-Pupil Funding

Oklahoma could add $80 million to K-12 education funding in a budget deal announced by Gov. Mary Fallin Friday, but it’s unclear how it will impact Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding levels.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 calls for adding $40 million to cover health insurance costs for school employees, and another $40 million for the state’s funding formula, according to the state Department of Education. That formula is used to allocate money to districts to pay for teachers, textbooks, transportation and other costs.

If the budget were approved by the Legislature, adding $80 million would be a 3.3 percent increase from the state Department of Education’s current $2.4 billion budget.

Oklahoma ranked third-to-last nationally in per pupil funding, and last in the seven-state region in 2010-2011, according to the most recent data available at the National Center for Education Statistics.

That ranking likely would not change under the proposed budget, especially if enrollment continues to grow as expected.

Oklahoma currently has an estimated 670,890 students.

Variables that will impact per-pupil funding include how much student enrollment increases, how much the cost of benefits increase, any changes in state and local district funding levels, and whether the Legislature approves separate legislation increasing education funding.

The state does have a pending bill in the Legislature that would add $600 million to education over 10 years if the state hits goals for tax revenue growth.

That bill, HB 2642, is in a conference committee meant to iron out the differences in the Senate and House bills. The committee’s deadline to send a bill to the governor is May 30.

Friday’s budget proposal does not include that additional funding. If the legislation were to pass, the state would have to recalculate the proposed budget.

May 13: A ‘Veto-Proof’ Vote to Ease Read-or-Fail Law

Three days after it was announced that nearly 8,000 Oklahoma students are at risk of repeating the third grade for failing the state’s reading test, lawmakers voted to change the retention requirements.

The bill passed the House by bi-partisan, veto-proof 89-6 vote. It requires schools to create a panel of teachers, parents and reading specialists to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a student who failed the test should move on to third grade or be retained. The bill also exempts students who have already shown reading proficiency from taking the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test.

The bill still needs a signature from Gov. Mary Fallin, who has supported the current retention requirement that was added to the Reading Sufficiency Act in 2011.

Both Democrat and Republican supporters who voted in favor of the bill pledged to override any veto.

Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, blasted the retention provision, which was implemented as the state slashed education funding.

“I am here to tell you the enemy is not the parents or administrators,” Shelton said. “The enemy in many situations is us … We did not properly fund it.”

Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said he will urge Fallin to veto the bill, which he said does more harm than good.

“This is not about education,” Nelson said. “If it’s about education, you will make sure the kids can read. This is about social promotion.” Nelson supported the bill in March but said he changed his mind.

Nelson attempted to add a voucher provision to the bill Monday that would have allowed parents to pull their children out of a public school and enroll them in a private school. The voucher would have used state money to cover a portion of the student’s tuition.

The provision was voted down.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday how long it will take districts to assemble the teams of teachers and parents as the school year wraps up.

Districts like Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools have already said they will continue with summer reading programs regardless of what happens with the bill.

May 7: A Final Vote is Pending for Reading Retention Bill

Students worried about repeating third grade for failing Oklahoma’s reading test will have to wait until Monday for a potential legislative reprieve – a move that would come three days after school districts get the test scores back.

Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said she will push to get the bill she co-authored heard on Thursday, but was promised by House leadership that the bill will be heard Monday.

The bill, HB 2625, removes the mandatory retention of third graders scoring at the lowest level on the state’s reading test if they do not meet one of six exemptions. Instead, the bill establishes a panel consisting of a student’s parents, third-grade teacher, fourth-grade teacher, principal and a reading specialist to determine if the child will advance to fourth grade. The superintendent must then sign off on the recommendation.

Henke said she understood parents’ frustration since the bill has been waiting final House approval since April 21.

That frustration is compounded since any changes to mandatory retention would come after test scores are delivered to district offices Friday.

The Legislature does not convene on Fridays.

“I was told it will be heard Monday,” Henke said. “That means parents and children are going to be waiting anxiously over the weekend.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has said the agency expects up to 50 percent of students who score at the lowest level on the test will receive “good-cause” exemptions. Between 5,000 and 6,000 third graders are at risk of failing the test, based on previous years’ results.

The goal of the law currently in place is to push schools and parents to focus on getting students to read well enough by third grade so they can master other subjects going forward. Many educators object to mandated retention based on a test, saying it can impede learning and social adjustment.

Henke expects her bill will pass and head to the governor’s desk given that it has already received the support from a majority of the House and Senate.

But regardless of whether the bill passes Thursday or Monday, the underlying issue on retention will remain. The bill only delays mandatory retention for two years.

“We know we’re going to revisit this,” Henke said of the two-year delay. “Any time you try to pass legislation, there is going to be different view points. This is a compromise we could agree on.”

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton said the state’s largest teachers union is still urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

“As an educator, the emphasis our state has placed on a single test, on a single day to determine whether or not our eight and nine year-olds are prepared for the next grade level is unfair and disappointing,” Hampton said in a written statement.

“I highly implore our legislators to support it and do what is best for our children.”

May 6: Teacher pay raise could cost $100 million

How much would a $2,000 a year raise for Oklahoma public school teachers cost? The state Department of Education estimates the price tag is close to $100 million a year.

A rough estimate giving each of the state’s 43,915 teachers a $2,000 raise would cost about $87.8 million a year, but that number does not include a corresponding increase in benefits.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said a boost in benefits brings the state’s estimate to about $100 million a year.

Teacher pay is one of the biggest education expenditures in Oklahoma. The state spent $2.5 billion on instructional salaries and benefits in 2012-2013, according to the State Department of Education.

Adding $100 million reflects a 4 percent increase in total salaries and benefits.

The state does have a bill pending in the Legislature that looks to add $600 million to education funding over 10 years if the state hits goals for tax revenue growth.

That money would not have to go toward teacher compensation, but districts could opt to implement voluntary pay raises with the new funding.

That bill, HB 2642, was accepted into a House conference committee Monday to address amendments tacked on by the Senate. The committee’s deadline is May 30.

A separate bill providing funding for mandatory raises in the teacher pay failed to make it out of the Legislature this year.

State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi has asked districts to voluntarily implement a $2,000-per-teacher raise using reserve funds.

Districts have said the request is not sustainable since it uses one-time funding instead of creating a new source of revenue.

Barresi has said the move is not sustainable, but hoped it would send a message to lawmakers about the need for a pay raise.

A push for a pay raise comes as Oklahoma districts struggle to recruit and retain new teachers. One of the key challenges cited is Oklahoma is that the state has the lowest pay in the region and third-lowest average pay in the nation.

Oklahoma teachers made an average $44,128 per year in 2012-2013 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The regional average is about $47,157.

Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said her union has pushed for a $3,000 a year raise for teachers, a request that did not gain traction in the Legislature this year.

“Quite frankly $2,000 is not enough,” Hampton said. “This increase would not bring Oklahoma to the regional average and is far from the national average.”

Money used to increased education funding or teacher pay raises could come from increasing the horizontal drilling tax, increasing franchise fees or increasing budget appropriations.

April 25: Loss of Waiver Gets Okla. Officials’ Attention

The reimplementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in Washington state has Oklahoma education officials on alert since a similar move here would tie up $29 million in federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Education revoked Washington’s No Child Left Behind waiver Thursday because the state failed to implement a teacher evaluation system as promised.

Loss of the waiver means all Washington students must meet requirements dictated under No Child Left Behind starting next school year. The biggest requirement is all students must score well enough on state assessments to be considered proficient in math and reading.

Schools with even one child failing to meet proficiency would have to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for use in programs established under No Child Left Behind.

Oklahoma is asking for a two-year extension in the full implementation of its teacher evaluation system in accordance with its waiver. Legislation is also pending that could remove the Common Core academic standards and some high stakes testing, both of which were conditions in Oklahoma’s waiver.

In Oklahoma, only two out of nearly 1,760 schools would likely have 100 percent of their students meeting proficiency requirements. Oklahoma gets about $149 million in federal funding.

Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said limits on federal funding going to schools with high rates of poverty could potentially lead to layoffs since less money would be available for staffing.

Oklahoma, unlike Washington, is still implementing its teacher evaluation system. The state is just asking to extend the timeline for full implementation.

“We can show this is an ongoing process, which gives us hope we can get an extension,” she said.

Washington was the first state to lose its waiver.

April 21: Who’s to Blame for Testing Outage?

Who’s to blame for glitches that prevented 8,100 Oklahoma students from taking their online exams Monday?

State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi minced no words as she berated test administrator CTB/McGraw-Hill for the outage, which affected middle school and high school students across the state.

Nearly 11,000 students were able to complete their exams before the State Department of Education canceled testing for the day.

Testing should resume Wednesday.

Monday’s outage could mean the end of McGraw-Hill’s work in Oklahoma. Barresi said she would recommend that the state Board of Education not renew the company’s contract at the end of the year.

Finding a new test vendor and designing a new test could take a 1.5 years, but State Department of Education officials said they will work to expedite the process. Additional details were not immediately available.

Barres’si announcement came after CTB/McGraw-Hill officials repeatedly assured her in the weeks before testing began that there would be no repeats of last year’s outage. In April 2013, server problems occurred as students in both Indiana and Oklahoma tried to get online to take their tests.

The states now have separate servers, but Monday’s crash was attributed to an unspecified hardware problem at CTB/McGraw Hill.

Monday’s outage was reportedly affecting other divisions within CTB/McGraw-Hill, Barresi said.

Barresi said she has called for company officials to come to Oklahoma to explain what went wrong.

“It is an understatement to say I am frustrated with McGraw-Hill,” Barresi said. “It is an understatement to say I am outraged.”

Barresi said she reluctantly opted to continue the contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill after the 2013 outage because it was too late in the year to design a new test and find a new vendor. That process could take 1.5 years, and would have to go through a public bidding process.

But critics say Barresi still bears responsibility for Monday’s outage since she opted to continue the contract.

Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton said Barresi was quick to pass blame last year, and again Monday, but has yet to take any responsibility herself.

“To quote Einstein, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,’” Hampton said in a news release. “At the very least this makes one question the competency of the state superintendent and the State Board of Education.”

Monday’s testing glitch comes as Barresi is running for re-election and faces potentially stiff opposition in the June primary against former state Board of Education member and teacher Joy Hofmeister.

CTB/McGraw-Hill gets $7.3 million to administer online testing for middle school students, and $6.2 million to administer end of instruction tests for high school students.

The five-year contract, which is in its second year, has to be renewed annually. The contract calls for a $15,000 per day penalty in addition to paying back 3 percent of the contract for outages.

April 8: Effort to Separate Federal Funds and Common Core

Both of Oklahoma’s senators are among a cadre of lawmakers asking that the U.S. Department of Education stop tying federal funding to the implementation of Common Core standards and related curriculum.

The U.S. Department of Education has been a supporter of Common Core State Standards, and has included their adoption as criteria for federal Race to the Top grants.

Oklahoma has never won Race to the Top funds, but Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn are part of a push to end the practice.

Oklahoma adopted the Common Core standards in 2010.

“Decisions about a child’s education need to be made in the PTA and school board meetings being held by the parents and teachers who love and care for our youth, not by the federal government,” Inhofe said in a written statement Tuesday.

A letter asking for an end to the practice was sent Friday to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a ranking member of the subcommittee on labor, health and human services. The letter asks that the prohibition be included in the 2015 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill.

In addition to Inhofe and Coburn, Senate supporters include Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; and John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Legislation is pending in the Oklahoma Legislature that would repeal the Common Core standards. Gov. Mary Fallin, who previously supported the benchmarks, has said she would sign the repeal.

That bill, HB 3399, has passed both the House and Senate. It is currently pending final approval by the House before going to the governor.

March 28: Senate Committee to Hear Reading Retention Bill

Update, March 31: The Senate Education Committee voted 11-0 to pass an amended version of a bill that gives districts more local control when retaining third graders who fail the state’s reading exam. Amended HB 2625 would exempt third grade students already showing reading proficiency from having to meet requirements under Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act. The goal of the amendment is to alleviate so-called test stress from students worried they will be held back if they fail the state’s assessment in April. The amendment also provides more education resources to students who pass the assessment but are still not reading at grade level.The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.

A bill giving school districts and parents more control over the retention of third grade students failing the state’s high-stakes reading assessment this April will be heard in the Senate Education Committee Monday.

House Bill 2625 allows for a panel consisting of a student’s parents, third grade teacher, a fourth grade teacher, school principal and reading specialists to make a unanimous recommendation that the student pass on to fourth grade if they fail the test.

The school superintendent then has to approve the recommendation.

If approved, the student would receive intensive reading assistance in an attempt to improve proficiency.

Under the current Reading Sufficiency Act, students scoring at the lowest level on the test can only advance if they meet one of six specific criteria. Current exemptions include the creation of a portfolio showing proficiency, exemptions for English language learners and special education students.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 third graders are at risk of failing the test, based on previous years’ results. At least half are expected to receive an exemption under the current law.

HB 2625 passed out of the House on May 4.

Also on Monday, the House Common Education Committee will consider a bill calling for the mandatory reading of the “Pledge of Allegiance” once a week. That bill is SB 1143.

The law also requires a written notice displayed in each classroom telling students they don’t have to recite the pledge.

That bill passed the Senate on May 5.

The full House Education Committee agenda can be found here. The Senate Education Committee agenda can be found here.

March 24: Common Core on the Brink

What now for academic standards in Oklahoma?

The Common Core State Standards were approved by the Legislature in 2010 and supported by State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin. Schools and teachers have been trained and are putting them in place. Money has been spent.

Fallin leads the organization that helped write the guidelines – the National Governors Association.

Nevertheless, on Monday, a Senate committee voted, 11-0, on a bill to repeal the Common Core standards.

If the Senate approves House Bill 3399 and Fallin signs it into law, as she said she might, Oklahoma would become the second state, after Indiana, to repeal Common Core.

What would happen next in terms of degree of rigor and effectiveness of state standards remains unclear.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, author of HB 3399 on the Senate side, said the bill gives the Oklahoma Board of Education until 2015 to adopt new standards that push students to be “college and career ready” and requires the education department to begin implementing those standards by the 2016-2017 school year.

The state is now operating with Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards, but after this school year is scheduled to switch over to Oklahoma Academic Standards, which incorporate Common Core standards in English/language arts and math. The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s attorneys would determine if the Oklahoma Academic Standards conflict with the new law, Brecheen said.

His bill addresses critics’ concerns by prohibiting the board from entering into agreements with federal or private groups that would cede or limit state control of academic standards. Standards lay out what students should learn at each grade level.

“We are putting up a firewall that protects our students, protects our classrooms, protects our standards and our assessments from any national control or standardization,” Brecheen said. “We will, in the end, be better for it.”

The Common Core standards have come under fire for various reasons, ranging from allegations of federal interference in state education to a lack of transparency in the standards-making process. Throughout the growing criticism, some conservative leaders, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have maintained their support of the benchmarks as a way to improve student performance.

The state education department also has defended them, saying their source and impact were being misrepresented.

Then, last year, the winds began to shift.

On Monday, Fallin praised the Senate Education Committee’s passage of a repeal bill.

“I support passing legislation that increases classroom rigor and accountability while guaranteeing that Oklahoma public education is protected from federal interference,” Fallin said in a news release. “While House Bill 3399 is still a work in progress, my hope is that it will accomplish these goals and ultimately be signed into law. I appreciate our legislators working diligently and carefully on this important matter.”

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard criticized legislators’ reversal on Common Core standards – first mandating them, then trying to repeal the mandate after the state and school districts have spent time and money preparing for them.

“Where do we go from here? What are we supposed to do now?” Ballard asked. “The state Legislature told us to do Common Core and we’ve invested all of that money and training. What do we do to abruptly and suddenly drop it? It’s no respect for common education. You can’t just pull the plug on something that quick, particularly without any good reason.”

Ballard expressed support for the standards.

“I support Common Core and there’s no reason not to. Common Core has high standards, and we need high standards,” he said.

The education department issued a statement with a tone of determination to ensure tougher standards are enacted. Some Common Core critics say the standards were leaving their children worn out.

“What is of utmost importance, and what cannot and has not been lost in this debate, is the need for stronger academic standards,” the education department’s statement said, adding, “Our teachers, administrators and the Oklahoma State Department of Education stand poised to ensure higher standards and increased rigor within the guidelines set out by state lawmakers and reflecting the will of the people of our state. At the end of the day, what’s important is to have college and career-ready standards that are free from federal intrusion.”

In Indiana on Monday, Gov. Mike Pence signed a repeal of Common Core into Law. But critics are suggesting Indiana’s new rewritten standards look too similar to Common Core.

Ballard said he hopes new standards that are essentially Common Core standards will be adopted by the Oklahoma education board but doesn’t hold out much hope it will happen.

-Clifton Adcock

March 13: Committee to Hear Common Core Bill

The state  Senate has agreed to hear a House bill that aims to replace the state’s Common Core standards – a move that could have financial ramifications in the classroom.

House Bill 3399, co-authored by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and which passed the House Wednesday, 78-12, would delay implementation of the academic standards for two years. It also lays the groundwork to throw out the existing Common Core standards, which set guidelines for what students are expected to know in math and reading.

Joel Robison, chief of staff for State Superintendent Janet Barresi, said the bill requires the state Board of Education to examine what other states are doing with their standards and collect public input before potentially releasing a new set of standards.

It’s unclear what will happen with Nelson’s bill in the Senate.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Senate Committee Chairman John Ford, R-Bartlesville, promised his committee will hear any House bills repealing Common Core in exchange for Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, tabling an amendment doing the same thing. Senate leadership also guaranteed a floor vote.

“Every situation is different,” Ford said about allowing the committee to take up a bill. “This time we decided we would hear a bill.”

Ford said he has heard from people on both sides of Common Core, adding he still supports the implementation of the standards, which were adopted in 2010 and supposed to be in place by 2014-2015.

Any bill approved by the House and Senate still must get past Gov. Mary Fallin, who has thrown her support behind Common Core.

Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin’s office, said the governor maintains her support of Oklahoma’s Common Core standards.

Weintz said any legislation calling for blanket prohibitions on national testing or course content could have unintentional consequences. He pointed to the ACT and SAT as examples, since both have taken steps to align with Common Core.

“(Fallin) encourages lawmakers to work slowly and deliberately through these issues to ensure that any legislation improves education in Oklahoma, increases classroom rigor and does so without unintentionally hamstringing educators or affecting ongoing successful practices,” Weintz said in a written statement.

The statement did not say whether Fallin would veto any bill repealing or delaying Common Core.

Implementation of Common Core was a condition of Oklahoma getting a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Repealing or replacing the state’s existing Common Core standards could jeopardize the state’s waiver.

Losing the waiver means schools would have to meet federal proficiency requirements dictated by No Child Left Behind, Robison said. That means 100 percent of students would have to be proficient in topics like math and reading this year.

Schools with even one child failing to meet proficiency would have to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for use in programs established under No Child Left Behind.

The state estimates that only two out of nearly 1,760 schools would have 100 percent of their students meeting proficiency requirements.

Oklahoma gets about $149 million in federal funding.

“Nearly $29 million would have to be set aside. It would have real specific strings attached,” Robison said. “We don’t want that.”

March 12: Study Finds Real Teacher Pay Remains Flat

Oklahoma teachers saw a 0.2 percent pay increase between 2002-2003 and 2012-2013 when adjusted for inflation, according to a National Education Association report released Wednesday.

Although small, that growth was good enough to place Oklahoma 17th nationally because average teacher salaries across the nation declined by 3.2 percent when adjusted for inflation over the decade, according to the report. Still, teacher pay in Oklahoma remained among the lowest in the U.S.

Wyoming teachers have seen the most growth, with a 15.2 percent increase to $56,775 in 2012-2013. A total of 34 states saw inflation-adjusted salaries shrink. Coming in last for growth was North Carolina, with a 15 percent reduction to $47,344.

Oklahoma, where teachers averaged $44,377 in 2012-2013, ranked 49th nationally in terms of overall pay, followed by Mississippi at $41,814 and South Dakota at $39,018. New York teachers led the nation with an average salary of $75,279

Here’s how states stack up:

AreaAverage Salary, 2012-1310-year Salary Change, Inflation-Adjusted
United States$56,103 -3.2%
New York$75,279 11.9%
Massachusetts$72,334 10.0%
District of Columbia$70,906 10.1%
Connecticut$69,397 -1.2%
California$69,324 -1.9%
New Jersey$68,797 0.9%
Alaska$65,468 3.8%
Maryland$64,248 1.9%
Rhode Island$63,474 -2.1%
Pennsylvania$62,994 -3.4%
Michigan$61,560 -8.8%
Delaware$59,679 -5.1%
Illinois$59,113 -9.5%
Oregon$57,612 -4.4%
Wyoming$56,775 15.2%
Ohio$56,307 -2.5%
Minnesota$56,268 -0.9%
Nevada$55,957 4.3%
New Hampshire$55,599 4.5%
Hawaii$54,300 -3.8%
Wisconsin$53,797 -0.9%
Georgia$52,880 -8.5%
Vermont$52,526 -0.3%
Washington$52,234 -8.5%
Louisiana$51,381 8.9%
Iowa$50,946 2.8%
Kentucky$50,203 1.7%
Indiana$50,065 -12.3%
Arizona$49,885 3.9%
Colorado$49,844 -8.0%
Idaho$49,734 -1.3%
Utah$49,393 1.7%
Nebraska$48,997 1.9%
Montana$48,855 7.7%
Texas$48,819 -3.8%
Virginia$48,670 -5.0%
Maine$48,430 -0.9%
South Carolina$48,375 -5.6%
Alabama$47,949 -1.2%
Tennessee$47,563 -4.4%
Missouri$47,517 -0.7%
Kansas$47,464 -1.1%
North Dakota$47,344 10.1%
Arkansas$46,631 -3.7%
Florida$46,598 -8.9%
North Carolina$45,737 -15.0%
New Mexico$45,453 -3.1%
West Virginia$45,453 -6.9%
Oklahoma$44,373 0.2%
Mississippi$41,814 -6.2%
South Dakota$39,018 -5.2%

March 6: Limited Impact Expected in Oklahoma from Obama’s Education Proposal 

President Barack Obama called for a 2 percent increase in federal education funding while unveiling his budget proposal Tuesday, but little benefit is expected in Oklahoma.

During his presentation, Obama requested $68.6 billion in discretionary education funding. The proposal included no changes in current Title 1 spending, which funds programs for students from low-income families, or special education. Both programs combined take up 39 percent of proposed federal education funding.

Obama also called for setting aside $300 million for a new round of competitive Race to the Top grants meant to reduce the achievement gap. The achievement gap refers to minority and low-income students often scoring lower on assessments when compared with white or middle class students.

It’s unclear how much of Obama’s proposal will survive in the Republican-controlled House. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, on Tuesday called the proposal a “campaign brochure.”

In the Tulsa Public Schools, Jill Hendricks, who oversees the districts federal programs and special projects, said flat funding for Title I and special education is better than cuts, but still adds pressure to the cash-strapped district.

The district received $8.5 million for special education in 2012, $8.6 million in 2013 and $8.2 million for 2014. The district received a letter from the Oklahoma State Department of Education saying cuts are expected for 2015.

Tulsa’s Title I funding decreased from about $17.5 million in 2012 to $15.5 million in 2014.

Title I funding is based on student poverty rates in each state. States with higher rates of poverty get a larger piece of the funding.

Data that will determine funding for 2015 is not available yet.

“If the percent of students living in poverty fell for the state as a whole, the ‘pie’ will be smaller for the state, which could result in a lesser amount of money for all districts,” Hendricks said.

Oklahoma may also be in a tough spot in terms of Race to the Top funding.

The state failed to get money from two previous grants, and the state could continue to miss out on that funding if legislation that passed the House Wednesday is also approved by the Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin.

House Bill 2911 would prohibit the state from ceding control of academic standards to the federal government or any outside groups, and would prohibit the state from collecting federal funds tied to its academic standards.

The bill’s primary focus is on protecting the privacy of student data.

Amber England, government affairs director for education advocacy group Stand for Children Oklahoma, said the House bill means Race to the Top funding would remain out of reach since the U.S. Department of Education looks at whether a state had adopted of the common core.

“Oklahoma probably would not be allowed to apply again,” she said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education referred questions about Obama’s proposal or future plans to pursue Race to the Top funding to Fallin’s office, which declined to comment.

Feb. 21: Sharing Student Data in Early-Childhood Education

Oklahoma is often held up as the national poster child for offering early childhood education to many students.

But according to state officials and educators, the system has a serious weakness: Data about each student’s academic profile is not shared between early-childhood education program providers and school districts, or between providers. That can prevent kindergarten teachers from being able to immediately target students’ learning needs when they arrive, officials say. It also prevents providers from doing the same when a child transfers from one program to another or is enrolled in more than one program.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education plans to roll out a pilot program in eight school districts this spring meant to help districts and early childhood education programs share student data with each other.

The pilot program will start in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Union, Putnam City, Norman, Durant, El Reno and Prague school districts. It should expand statewide by the 2015-2016 school year.

John Kraman, the department’s executive director of student information, said academic data is tracked by individual early-childhood education programs but not shared with districts or other programs, meaning struggling students run the risk of falling through the cracks as they transition to elementary school. That is evident in the thousands of students who are at risk of failing third grade this year because they cannot read at grade level.

There are about 42,755 students ages 3 and 4 in the state’s public early childhood education programs. The programs include transitional kindergarten, often offered by school districts; Head Start, which gets federal and state funding; pre-K education, which can be public or private but is often run separately; special education, and subsidized child care.

“I don’t think anyone alone is going to get all the kids across the finish line, especially with students who are currently struggling,” Kraman said, referring to both the third-grade reading requirement and high school graduation rates.

Work on the pilot program comes as Oklahoma third graders prepare for their first year of high-stakes testing under the Reading Sufficiency Act. Students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the year can be kept from advancing to fourth grade.

Under the RSA, K-3 teachers are supposed to provide specialized lessons to struggling students to help them read at grade level so they can pass the reading test and advance.

The lack of data being shared in Oklahoma and other states was spotlighted in a recent national report.

The study, released Wednesday by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., shows most states store student data across organizations and agencies that don’t share the information with each other.

Oklahoma is among 49 states and the District of Columbia that don’t share all of their early childhood education data between programs. Oklahoma shares no data at all among programs or between programs and school districts. Pennsylvania is the only state that links all of its data between education programs.

Implementing the pilot program to share data will not be easy, Kraman said. Part of the challenge is expanding the pilot program to the entire state while ensuring student privacy is maintained. He said the data-sharing system will be secure.

Oklahoma has thousands of early childhood education programs working to prepare students for elementary school. There are 516 school districts and 25 public charter schools.

“We’re going to start small and work through the issues,” Kraman said.

-Nate Robson

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