Archives for category: Oklahoma

John Thompson, historian and teacher, wonders why the Gates Foundation is so slow to recognize the failure of his teacher evaluation initiative and mitigate the damage he has done to so many teachers who were unjustly fired. Here is the case of Tulsa:

I don’t speak billionaire-ese, but Bill Gates’s 15th-anniversary presentation on his foundation’s education investments seemed to be inching towards a non-apology, concession of sorts. The weird concept of using test score growth to hold individual educators accountable was apparently born behind closed doors; the seed was supposedly planted by an economist and a bureaucrat who wowed Gates with their claim that test scores could be used in a statistical model that would drive the making of better teachers. Apparently, Gates was not briefed on the overwhelming body of social science that argued against this hypothesis as a real-world policy.

Gates apparently was unaware that so-called value-added models (VAMs) were “junk science,” at least in terms of evaluating individuals, and they weren’t intended to make a direct educational contribution to school improvement. He might not have fully understood that VAMs were a political club to intimidate teachers and unions into accepting market-driven reforms.

The value-added portion of teacher evaluations was no different than “Waiting for Superman,” the teacher-bashing propaganda film promoted by Gates. Corporate reformers used top-dollar public relations campaigns and testing regimes to treat educators like the metaphoric mule – busting us upside the head in order to get our attention.

Now, Gates says, “The early days almost went too well for us. … There was adoption, everything seemed to be on track. … We didn’t realize the issue would be confounded with what is the appropriate role of the federal and state government, we didn’t think it would be confounded with questions about are there too many tests” and other controversies.

Gates complains that school reform is harder than his global health initiatives because “when we come up with a new malaria vaccine, nobody votes to undo our malaria vaccine. (emphasis mine) Gates, however, would have never tried to invent a malaria vaccine without consulting with doctors and scientists, would he? Even if the goal is creating his vaccine, it would have been subject to objective evaluation using the scientific method. So, unlike his teacher evaluations, his vaccines aren’t rejected because they haven’t been an expensive failure.

I’ve spent a lot of time – probably too much – analyzing the ways that the quantitative portions of teacher evaluations are invalid and unreliable for the purposes sought by the Gates Foundation, and trying to communicate with Gates scholars. To their credit, Gates-funded reformers typically acknowledged that they promoted the test-driven part of evaluations while being unaware of the way that schools actually function. In private conversations, I hear that many Gates people now know they were wrong to ignore warnings by social scientists against his VAMs for individuals. They often voice disappointment and regret for their hurried overreach. But, they refuse to admit that it was a bad idea to start down the VAM brick-up-the-side-of-the-teachers’-heads road.

My sense is that a primary issue, today, is the Billionaires Boys Club’s egos, and reformers won’t pull the plug on the high stakes testing until Gates et. al allow them to do so. The recent Bill Gates speech nods in that direction, but it shows that he still hopes to stay the course because … ???

Gates now says, “Because of its complexity, the relationship to management, how labor is one, you can introduce a system … and people say, ‘No, we’d rather have no system at all, completely leave us alone.’” While acknowledging that the mass rejection of his evaluations is “a real possibility,” he still wants to “nurture these systems and get it so there’s critical mass” of systems that implement the Gates policies the way that he wants them to be implemented.

As explained by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, Gates said that “too many school systems are using teacher evaluations as merely a tool for personnel decisions, not helping teachers get better. … ‘Many systems today are about hiring and firing, not a tool for learning.'” He says “the danger is that teachers will reject evaluations altogether,” and “if we don’t get this right … (there will be) cases where teachers prefer to get no feedback at all, which is what they had a decade ago.”

The big problem with imposing Gates’s ill-informed opinion on schools was foreshadowed by his language. After more than 2/3rds of states were coerced into enshrining his risky and untested policies into law, the foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) belatedly concluded that effective teaching can be measured. (emphasis mine) Of, course, that is irrelevant for policy purposes. The question they should have asked was how will those measurements be used? Will they undermine the effectiveness of the majority of teachers? Will VAMs drive good teachers out of urban districts, as they also encourage teach-to-the-test malpractice?

I was in the room for several low-level discussions in 2009 and 2010 when Oklahoma was basically coerced into adopting the federal Gates/Obama agenda. I don’t believe I encountered a single educator – then or subsequently – who has classroom experience and who favored the quantitative portion of the system.

We had no choice but to accept the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness system (TLE) which essentially imposed the Colorado teacher evaluation law on Oklahoma. Teachers and administrators recognized the danger of adopting the test-driven portion of the model that could not control for the essential factor of peer pressure. It was inherently biased against teachers in high-poverty schools, with large numbers of special education students and English Language Learners, and magnet schools where students’ scores have less room to grow. And, the idea that Common Core or any college-readiness curriculum could be adopted while holding individuals accountable for test score growth was obviously nutty!

Gates and Arne Duncan gave educators an offer we couldn’t refuse. The best we could do would be to kick the value-added can down the road. After other states found themselves bogged down in lawsuits and as it proved to be impossible to fund a program that would cost 2% of the entire school budget, we hoped the TLE’s quantitative portion would be quietly abandoned.

Oklahoma’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission is now asking the questions that Gates and Arne Duncan should have asked years ago. The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reports that State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “questioned whether the state can even afford the scheme (the quantitative portion of the TLE). Secondly, she said she doesn’t want to undermine the success of the statewide system for qualitative measures of public school educators.”

Similarly, Senator John Ford, the local sponsor of the TLE legislation, is asking the question that Gates should now consider. I strongly believe Ford was misinformed when he was originally told that TLE-type evaluations weren’t “designed as a ‘gotcha’ system.” But, I’m impressed by the senator’s statement, “Things have changed. We have learned. … We are truly learning, and I don’t think we’re there yet.”

On the other hand, the one Oklahoma district which tried to remain on schedule in implementing the TLE is Tulsa which, of course, received a Gates Foundation “teacher quality” grant. The World’s Eger notes that it “has been credited for helping the district release hundreds of ineffective teachers and identify many more to receive additional support and training.”

Tulsa’s administrator who oversees evaluations, Jana Burk, echoes Gates’s spin, “We don’t want quantitative measures to be the fear factor of bringing somebody’s (evaluation) score down …Principal feedback and support and decision-making is ultimately the foundation, but those quantitative measures need to inform principals’ next steps with teachers and certainly are supposed to be drivers of improvement and reflection, not a hammer of adverse employment decisions in and of themselves.”

So, the Tulsa TLE is a tool for getting rid of hundreds of teachers, i.e “a tool for personnel decisions.” Those released teachers may or may not have been deemed ineffective under the quantitative portion of the TLE, and they may or may not be ineffective in the real world. Perhaps, in some schools, the value-added portion can be a tool that doesn’t interfere with the qualitative portion of the TLE but, in many or most schools, they will be the death of the beneficial part of the evaluation system.

I hope the commission will ask some follow-up questions. Just a couple of months ago, Tulsa’s struggle to find and keep teachers was in the headlines. Despite $28 million of edu-philanthropy in the last seven years, Tulsa’s student performance seems to lag behind that of Oklahoma City, where we face bigger challenges with less money. Moreover, Tulsa was the epicenter of Oklahoma’s Opt Out movement, where two highly respected teachers sacrificed their jobs to protest the excessive testing. Since Tulsa was ranked 6th in the nation in terms of receiving Gates Foundation grants, why haven’t the Gates’s millions worked?

Tulsa’s dubious record should now be studied in an effort to verify Gates’s claim that his measures can be implemented constructively. We should ask how many “ineffective” teachers have been subject to termination due to their failure to meet test score targets? Conversely, how many were flagged by the qualitative portion? How many “exited” teachers were actually ineffective and how many were good and effective teachers who were fed up with the system? Also, how many educators believe that feedback driven by those quantitative measures is actually better than traditional professional development?

Whether we are talking about Gates’s teacher training or his malaria vaccine, if they work then they won’t be rejected. Why won’t Gates look objectively at the evidence about the failure of the quantitative portions of teacher evaluations, and the damage they cause?

Another success for “reform.” Oklahoma, like most other states, is facing teacher shortages.

Remember the “reformers” who said we need to fire teachers whose students had low scores? Who said that “great” teachers should have larger class sizes? They keep saying it, and they have promoted ruinous policies that cause teachers to take early retirement.

“An Oklahoma survey last year showed about 1,000 unfilled vacancies, resulting in larger class sizes and the elimination of some courses. The state’s average teacher salary is $44,128 — 49th in the nation….

“Some former teachers say an increase in mandatory testing and a sense of hostility from lawmakers has crushed morale. Recent Oklahoma measures are designed to increase rigor as well as imposing a grading system for schools that many teachers and administrators felt was unfair. But per-pupil funding has kept declining, and teachers haven’t received a pay raise in nearly a decade.

“We used to be treated as professionals who were allowed to have autonomy in our classrooms and play to our strengths or our background or education,” said Rebecca Simcoe, a high school English teacher in Tulsa with a doctorate who resigned last year to do nonprofit work. “Now we’re expected to be automatons following their robotic instructions, just getting these kids to pass tests.”

TNTP, you may recall, was originally founded by Michelle Rhee .to recruit bright young staff for inner-city schools. In Tulsa, they took responsibility to turn around a troubled school. Their efforts failed.,

Teacher and historian John Thompson tells the sorry story. It begins with high hopes and boasts.

“At the beginning of the school year, after replacing 3/4th of the school’s faculty, McClure School Principal Katy Jimenez said, “I have never experienced a vibe and energy like we have right now.” Jimenez said, “The team has come together in an amazing way. My returning teachers gave up their summer to build a team they wanted to be a part of. Their investment is very deep. We are exhausted but so excited.”

“The principal borrowed a line from the corporate reform spin-meisters known as the TNTP and praised a second-grade teacher, Paige Schreckengast, as “an irreplaceable.” Ms. Schreckengast was featured the story’s photograph.”

Tulsa World reporter Andrea Eger “reports that even in this high-profile restart, “two vacancies went unfilled for much of the year because of a lack of applicants.” I’m not surprised by that, however, because many or most of the best teachers have heard the jargon before and many refuse to participate in such restarts because they know that the ideology-driven playbook is likely to fail. Neither am I surprised that “seven teachers bugged out mid-year; and then another seven left at the end of 2014-15.” [88% of the new teachers had less than three years’ experience.]

“The irreplaceable also left.

“Now, Tulsa says that the district officials learned from mistakes made in McClure’s faculty restart. The principal, Jimenez, says that she will no longer accept Teach for America candidates. According to Eger, Jimenez is balancing her remaining optimism with “a brutal, unrelenting reality.”

When will the so-called reformers understand that reviving troubled schools is hard work that requires experienced teachers with a long term commitment? When will they understand that disruption and chaos never saved a school or helped children?

The Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association voted to urge parents to boycott all state tests that are not federally mandated.


Historian and teacher John Thompson writes:


Nate Robson reports in Oklahoma Watch that the Oklahoma Parent Teachers Association (PTA) has voted to boycott all non-federally mandated tests “in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to cut back the number of high-stakes tests students take.” The PTA also asked that the state Department of Education not use the test scores to calculate school A-F grades, and called for the exemption of all schools from A-F grading if less than 95 percent of their students are tested.


As the Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reports, the Oklahoma PTA acted in “direct response” to its members’ concerns about the Legislature’s failure to reduce standardized testing. PTA President Jeff Corbett said, “Parents have had enough. Parents want more for their children than for them to be great test takers. The fact of the matter is this: Our children deserve better.”


Corbett further explained, “In Oklahoma, we know what it is to respond to disaster — and it is time that we responded to the disaster that high-stakes tests have made of our public education system.”


A grassroots Opt Out movement and a bipartisan resistance to bubble-in accountability have demanded a state government response to the testing mania. Parents, students, and teachers rallied at the state Capitol but the legislature did not listen. So, Corbett promised, “Together, we will take our classrooms out of the wallets of the testing companies and turn them back over to our teachers.”


I was in Oklahoma last month to speak to superintendents from across the state, and I got the distinct impression that they too are fed up with the deluge of tests. Many principals were at their meeting and were shaking their heads in assent at every negative reference to tests. They know that the current regime of test-and-punish is wrong. It is bad for kids and bad for education.


This is a huge step forward for the Opt Out movement. This movement is growing and can’t be stopped.



Robson’s story say:


Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister on Wednesday said lawmakers could have avoided the PTA resolution by supporting legislation cutting the number of tests.

It’s not clear whether she supports the resolution.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said they want to see testing reduced, but would not say whether they supported the resolution.

The main concern is a testing boycott could hurt schools and teachers. That’s because blank tests count against teachers in evaluations and against schools on their A-F report cards.

The PTA resolution does ask that the state Department of Education not use the test scores to calculate school A-F grades.

Last fall, two Tulsa teachers said they would not give standardized tests to their first-grade students. They said the test was developmentally inappropriate. They had a splash of national publicity and much sympathy from parents and outside observers. But their district superintendent was not at all pleased. Although he formed a task force to study the issue of testing in K-3, and the task force opposed it, their recommendation quietly died.

Now one of the teachers, Karen Hendren, has decided to teach in a school in Thailand for two years.

The other teacher, Nikki Jones, will soon learn whether she will be terminated for refusing to give the MAP test to her students. Wouldn’t it be great if all the parents of the children in her class opted out? What if there was no one to test? Nikki Jones deserves the support of the parents for protecting their children against this absurd, high-pressure regime of standardized testing. It’s just plain wrong.

Yesterday, Nikki Jones wrote about her ordeal:

Tomorrow is a big day in my public education career with Tulsa Public Schools. As most of you know, in October I made a decision to stop administering the MAP test to my students. A lot of uproar occurred. Most often, the question is “What kind of push-back did you receive?” I HATE answering that question! What I want to tell everyone is that I had a lot of support and was able to continue on my stance of not administering a test. Because, well, I did. I did have a lot of support from all over the nation. That wouldn’t be forthcoming though. That would be a minuscule part of the story. There is a big middle section. Everyone knows the beginning. But, tomorrow marks the end of the story. I have a choice. To die alone on the hill… or not.

Just a brief MAP Testing Explanation: MAP testing is a benchmark test. It is awful. The worst of all 13 options that meet RSA testing requirements. I am certain it is designed to set children up for failure. Certain. It is adaptive in nature and the target score is constantly moving. So, even if a child is at or above grade level in reading, there is a very high chance the child will still fail the test. Failing the test means remediation plans, money, services, and labels. We LOVE labeling children in this country. For some reason, we have the mentality that if we tell children they are stupid, oh, I’m sorry… “limited in knowledge” or “Unsatisfactory” they will then improve. This is research based. We also love utilizing research.

If we take a good look at MAP, we know that it is common core aligned. We have laws in this state HB3399 that speak to the specifics of utilizing common core testing for evaluation of teachers or students. How is this even legal?! Try to get anyone to answer that question! I dare you! I can’t even get a returned e-mail when I ask that question. (Walk away from the edge, Nikki…. walk away and stay on topic.)….

One of my most memorable moments was when a supporter/mentor of mine through the process said in all seriousness “Did you expect to draw this line and not get your ass kicked?” The answer is, no. No, I did not. I knew I would “lose”. I knew that the money and power in my district was greater than me. I knew at the end of the day that they would choose testing over children or good educators. I knew that a lot of the people who held the power to save me would cower. It’s simply the nature of the system. It’s not really all that personal. We are teaching/learning/testing in a system of fear. Everyone is scared! Everyone!

So, here I am… at the very end of the school year. If I do not give the test tomorrow, I will be fired. If not fired, I will be placed on a PDP. This PDP will be a result of a bad TLE score. Even though I have NEVER been docked on my teaching skills, they will fire me. The PDP will keep other principals in the district from hiring me. Nobody wants to take that on. It is a ton of paperwork and a large annoying workload.

What is so disheartening about the whole thing is the perspective of the district. It would be more beneficial for them to fire me than to listen to my concerns or work with me. They played a good game. They put up a big show for the media. They told everyone that we were putting together a testing task force. And, we did. Us teachers met together weekly and worked hard to research all the assessments going on in our district. We voted and put together a recommendation. That was in February. Even after multiple follow-up emails, we have never heard the results of those recommendations. Nothing has changed. Nothing was done. Just one more giant middle finger in the face of all those teachers that worked after contract hours to make the system better for children.

They do not care. That is the bottom line. I don’t know an adjective that properly describes this level of heartbreak I feel for our schools. They will openly, without care, choose to be in the business of eliminating good educators in order to get the testing data. Testing is the MOST important thing in public schools. I am living this reality. Your children are living this reality. Every other teacher in the district is living this reality.

So here I am… left to die alone on the hill, the testing martyr, or not. I am forced to choose between labeling children, causing children to pee their pants, throw their chairs, scratch their faces, and cry; or, I can not administer and be fired. Here I am. Left to die alone on the hill… or not.

Historian and teacher John Thompson reports on the progress of privatization in Oklahoma.


The state naively accepted the Gates compact, which obliged districts to welcome charter schools.


Thompson writes:


“The previous blockbuster discovery for Oklahoma City and Tulsa schools was S.B. 68, the “under-the-radar” bill to authorize cities to compete with school systems in sponsoring charter schools. The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger, in “Change in State Law Sought for Tulsa Public Schools Would Allow Outsourcing of Instruction,” reports that another charter bill, H.B. 1691, “has flown largely beneath the public’s radar during a legislative session that has seen high-profile clashes over bills seeking private school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools into rural areas.”


“Eger reports that the Tulsa Public School System is moving ahead with plans to locate its three newest charters inside traditional public school facilities. Lunch and bus service would be provided for students. All three contract charters would be run by an out-of-state charter-management organization.


“Linda Hampton, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, opposes H.B. 1691 “[b]ecause the bill is so broad in scope, it could open the door to total privatization of public schools.” She adds, “We also want to be sure we are not turning over our public school students to organizations that are looking to make a profit.”


Tulsa’s next superintendent is Deborah Gist, previously state superintendent of Rhode Island and a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.


Watch for a full-blown drive for privatization in Oklahoma.

I am writing today from another country. I am allegedly on vacation. I have a tech glitch. I upgraded my iPad to the latest software, and now it won’t insert links into posts. Instead it pastes old links. So I am posting the link upfront.

This is a terrific post from Oklahoma that contrasts the agenda of the two major media outlets, owned by billionaires, with the agenda of bloggers, who are not billionaires.

It is very informative. I hope you will read it. One of those billionaires is Phillip Anschutz, who lives in Colorado, not Oklahoma. One of his many corporations produced “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down.” Another owns Regal Cinemas, the nation’s largest theater chain (2500 screens). Another is a major fracking operation. Among his political activities: fighting gay rights in Colorado and California. That only skims the surface of Anschutz’s commercial and political activism.

Jeffery Corbett, president of the Oklahoma PTA, released the following statement today:


Oklahoma PTA Encourages Parents to Opt-Out of Field Test



January 27, 2015: In an effort to keep the parents, guardians and students of Oklahoma’s public schools informed about the administration of field test questions in standardized tests, Oklahoma PTA has asked the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to release specific information regarding a field test writing prompt included in both the 5th grade and 8th grade writing assessments for 2015.


“Parents are frustrated by the overwhelming use of standardized tests,” stated Jeffery Corbett, President. “Oklahoma PTA believes that parents have the right to make informed decisions regarding whether or not their child provides unpaid research to the billion-dollar testing industry. They deserve the opportunity to opt their child out of the field test.”


The state department has informed districts that these tests will contain two writing prompts: one that is operational and one that is a field test. A prompt provides the student with one or more passages to read, followed by a question to which an essay response is generated. A field test prompt was part of these tests as recently as 2013.


The OSDE did not inform districts which prompt is for the field test, so parents are not able to obtain that information from their school.


In July 2014, members of Oklahoma PTA unanimously adopted a resolution objecting to the mass administration of field tests, stating that students should not be expected to conduct corporate research for any testing company.


Information obtained through the scoring of field tests is not provided to the student, parent, teacher or school district. The testing company, however, obtains valuable data to help develop tests that will then be sold back to the State of Oklahoma for a profit. This, of course, comes after public tax dollars are spent not teaching students, but instead administering tests to them, creating a meaningless loss of instructional time.


“By calling for an opt-out of the field test prompt, we are taking a strong stand against testing as education,” Corbett stated. “Our future, our children, deserve more than to be great test takers.”


The response to the field test inquiry will be shared with PTA members and made available to the public at once it has been received from the OSDE.


John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, describes the arrival of Parent Revolution operatives in Oklahoma City, come to sell the charter school snake oil. In the five years since PR managed to get legislation in California, only a handful of schools have been converted into charters, so apparently they started beating the bushes in other states.


Oklahoma has thus far escaped the promises and lures of chartering its cities to out of state entities.


Thompson writes:


I wish local charter leaders and philanthropists would disassociate themselves from the Parent Revolution and the agenda of competition-driven reformers. True believers that “the market” will magically solve education’s problems have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in failed experiments in Newark, New Orleans, Memphis and, now, Chicago and Boston. Last week, the secret $2.7 million corporate campaign for mass charterization of Los Angeles was revealed.


Those experiments mostly took bad inner city schools and made them worse. The one semi-success (New Orleans) spent incomprehensible sums of money, beyond anything we could conceive in Oklahoma, as it created a mostly all-charter system. It produced some gains through nonstop teach-to-the-test, but they came at the cost of pushing thousands of high-challenge students out of school and into the streets.


If we follow the Parent Revolution, we will be back to what we saw during the economic bust of the 1980s. OKCPS did its best, but our overwhelmed system had no chance of reaching the dozens of out-of-school kids who we used to see wandering through each of our high-poverty neighborhoods during the school days.



Two Tulsa teachers risked their jobs by refusing to administer state tests to their first grade students, reports John Thompson.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones hereby join the blog’s honor roll as heroes if American children, defending the rights and childhood of their students.

He writes:

“These first grade teachers, Miss Karen Hendren and Mrs. Nikki Jones were featured in a front page Tulsa World and the United Opt Out web site. They wrote an open letter to parents documenting the damage being done by testing and the new value-added evaluation system being implemented by the Tulsa schools under the guidance of the Gates Foundation.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones explain how this obsession with testing “has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.” Our poorest kids are falling further behind because they are being robbed of reading instruction. By Hendren’s and Jones’ estimate, their students lose 288 hours or 72 days of school to testing!

“They inventory the logistics of administering five sets of first grade tests, as classes are prepared for high-stakes third grade reading tests. More importantly, they described the brutality of the process.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones recount the strengths of four students who are victims of the testing mania. One pulls his hair, two cry, one throws his chair, and the fourth, who could be categorized as gifted and talented, is dismayed that his scores are low, despite his mastery of so many subjects. Particularly interesting was the way that “adaptive” testing, which is supposed to be a more constructive, individualized assessment, inevitably results in students reaching their failure level, often prompting discouragement or, even, despair….”

Their superintendent Keith Ballard is no fan of high-stakes testing. But he has a problem: he accepted Gates money:

“Tulsa has an otherwise excellent superintendent, Keith Ballard, who has opposed state level testing abuses. He has invested in high-quality early education and full-service community schools. Ballard also deserves credit for investing in the socio-emotional. I doubt he would be perpetuating this bubble-in outrage if he had a choice. But Tulsa accepted the Gates Foundation’s grant money. So, Ballard is threatening the teachers’ jobs.”

Will Superintendent Ballard listen to his professional ethics or to the Gates Foundation?


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