Archives for category: Oklahoma

This would not normally be news, but in the a Trump era, when science is disregarded, it is amazing.

The Oklahoma Legislature approved state science standards that include evolution and climate change!

The e-word — “evolution” — is unabashedly used: for example, a high school standard for biology expects students to be able to “[c]ommunicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.”

Anthropogenic climate change is also straightforwardly acknowledged: for example, a disciplinary core idea in Earth Systems is that “Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.”

In contrast, the old standards conspicuously avoided use of the e-word, and even their limited treatment of climate change was challenged by the legislature, which repeatedly tried but ultimately failed to block their adoption, as NCSE previously reported.

The new standards were submitted to the legislature for its approval on March 2, 2020. A resolution to approve the standards (House Joint Resolution 1041) passed the House on a 97-2 vote on May 13, 2020, but was not considered by the Senate before adjournment

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, has posted here many times about education and politics in his home state of Oklahoma.

He writes today about the politics of the pandemic:

When David Holt was elected mayor of Oklahoma City, I shared some of the concerns of fellow educators. I worried that the former Republican state senator would push for more charters, perhaps even the so-called “portfolio model.” But, what I’ve seen has been a civil rights advocate who actually listened to all sides. I repeatedly hear from friends that Holt has probably spent more time in African-American churches than all of our city’s previous mayors combined, and I suspect that is a big reason why he hasn’t bought the simplistic spin which many other Oklahoma leaders have.

I’ve attributed Mayor Holt’s open-mindedness, in large part, to the conversations that went with his celebration of the 60th anniversary of the nation’s largest Sit-In movement, which was led by Oklahoma City teachers and students. He listens. He’s not afraid to face hard facts of life.

In his 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Holt proposed a “big picture, everything-is-on-the-table, visionary conversation” about making schooling a team effort. Holt said it would “truly” be a collaboration between the OKCPS, the City of Oklahoma City, and community partners. Our schools and city need a “unified vision,” he explained. We especially need educators who “feel free to talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own.”

https://oklahoman.com/article/5656021/holt-focuses-2020-state-of-the-city-speech-on-idea-of-collaborative-conversation-to-improve-public-schools

Mayor Holt is now facing a challenge he cannot overcome on his own. And sadly, the stakes this month are life and death. I strongly believe that most people in Oklahoma City support the mayor’s leadership and his shelter-in-place policies. But we’re also the state where “one city abandoned its mask rule after store clerks were threatened,” and a McDonald’s customer shot two employees because she was “angry that the restaurant’s dining area was closed.”

So, I’m turning to a national education blog in order to tell a full story of a conflict that is growing across the nation. And since the Oklahoma governor intends to open up the state to an even more dangerous degree on May 15, our mayor, who has listened so respectfully to all sides but, above all, to the science, needs the public’s support.

For the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like Mayor David Holt would be going down in history as Oklahoma City’s version of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Holt deserves much of the credit for helping Oklahoma City once be ranked by the New York Times as one of the nation’s top cities where “There May Be Good News Ahead.” The Times further explains that the April contagion’s decline occurred in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but that the state is facing a rebound of the virus.

After facing irresistible pressure to prematurely reopen the city’s economy, it might seem like the Holt-Fauci comparison won’t endure. I believe that the next few weeks could further illustrate Holt’s and Fauci’s similarities. In both cases, the outcomes could be tragic.

In early March, Mayor Holt made it clear, “We will listen to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), we will listen to our local public health officials and we will follow the best science that the world has to offer.” Despite pressure to reopen Oklahoma City’s economy to boost short-term economic outputs, Holt says, “We will prioritize life.”

Mayor Holt: Plan to reopen ‘will prioritize life’

Similarly, as explained by Stanford’s David Reiman, Dr. Fauci “has essentially become the embodiment of the bio-medical and public-health research” which must drive decision-making. He’s done so by becoming “completely a-political and nonideological.” Fauci learned from the AIDS crisis, where he was among the first to sound the warning. He listened to protesters and adjusted his thinking based on solid evidence. Then and now, and when dealing with epidemics in between, Fauci saved countless lives by placing science over politics.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/20/how-anthony-fauci-became-americas-doctor

Dr. Fauci is disparaged by rightwingers as “Dr. Doom Fauci.” Mayor Holt has faced similar pressures. He must deal with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s dangerously mixed messages. And the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think tank, has pushed a petition, claiming it “appears to fall in line with the recent goals announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt.” The OCPA denigrated “shelter-in-place” orders as “oppressive.” In doing so, it makes the type of simplistic claim which could be doubly dangerous as we navigate the complexities of returning to a more normal economy.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5660521/tulsa-tea-party-leader-organizing-back-to-work-rallies
https://oklahoman.com/article/5659690/stitt-says-his-safer-at-home-order-is-the-same-as-a-shelter-in-place-is-it
https://www.ocpathink.org/post/citizen-petition-supports-reopening-state

OCPA President Jonathan Small argues that Oklahoma doesn’t face a shortage of hospital beds so there is no “valid reason” for not allowing people to return to work. In fact, a premature attempt to return to normal could spread the virus, undermining the economy, as well as causing avoidable deaths. This will remain especially true until widespread testing for the virus is in place.

Even worse, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Governor’s Council on Workforce Development, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, and Stitt have indicated they support policies that could require workers to choose between their health and their income. Worse still, The Frontier reports that Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Sean Kouplen is urging employers to report workers “if they refuse a job offer from their former employer as the state begins to reopen.”

As state reopens, Oklahoma workforce leaders discuss asking for end to federal unemployment payments

State encourages businesses to report workers who refuse to return to jobs

Because of Oklahomans’ pre-existing health problems, our state is especially at risk. Like Dr. Fauci, Mayor Holt’s first and probably most important contribution was the decisiveness which kept Oklahoma City from repeating the tragic quarantine delays in Italy, Spain, Detroit, and New Orleans. When the virus peaks, however, more complicated and nuanced decisions must be made. As Charles Duhigg explains in the New Yorker, “Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainty or hard proof.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not

Even though it made no sense to open barber shops, hair and nail salons, and spas by May 1 or earlier, nobody knows what is the right timing for reopening the economy. As Holt explains, “May 1st is not a light switch, it is a dimmer.” After expressing his concerns about Stitt’s reopening order, Holt said he intends to monitor data and adjust accordingly, and “If there’s a sudden shift, if there’s a spike, then obviously this experiment has failed and we have to go back to an earlier phase.”


http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/msnbc-live/2020-04-27

Holt says he wields “a pen, not an army.” He correctly adds that people are choosing to respect public health officials’ expertise. Holt shares the credit for our social distancing successes, “People are staying home because they don’t want to die.” And yes, he was correct in asking, “who in their right mind” would want to end restrictions too early?

Oklahoma City Mayor Holt issues “shelter in place” order effective Sat night

“People are staying at home because they don’t want to die,” Oklahoma mayor stresses importance of social distancing

A Greater Oklahoma City Chamber survey backs the mayor’s appraisal. It found 67 percent of responding businesses cited “employee fear” as the biggest barrier to reopening. Moreover, 37 percent of companies plan to bring employees back in stages, as opposed to 20 percent intending to return their entire staff at once.

Some businesses reopening, others remain closed

Neither Holt nor Fauci know exactly what our next steps should be and when to take them. But, as long as we can learn from their leadership, we can all make wiser decisions.

Across the nation, some are responding to President Trump’s incitements, even bringing automatic weapons into the Michigan capitol to protest that state’s stay-at-home policies and in Stillwater, Ok, threatening violence to to stop the order to wear masks in businesses.

However, the New York Times’ David Brooks offers hope that Americans will listen to leaders like Holt and Fauci. Brooks distinguishes between “weavers and rippers.” He says, “The weavers try to spiritually hold each other so we can get through this together. The rippers, from Donald Trump on down, see everything through the prism of politics and still emphasize division.” Brooks concludes, “Fortunately, the rippers are not winning. America is pretty united right now.”

He cites polls showing that “98 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans supported social distancing rules,” and that “nearly 90 percent of Americans think a second wave of the virus would be at least somewhat likely if we ended the lockdowns today.”

As Nondoc reported, the early evidence on Oklahoma City’s reopening is mixed. Were it not for Holt’s leadership, however, I wonder how many more Oklahomans would be open to an absurd campaign to discredit “weavers” like Dr. Fauci and the Oklahoma experts who haven’t been able to persuade Stitt to slow down.

https://nondoc.com/2020/05/01/some-oklahoma-businesses-re-open/

John Thompson writes about the latest madness in his home state of Oklahoma:

The shocking headline was that the price of oil dropped to below $1 a barrel. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt was on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence when he heard the news. The legislature now faces “a loss of $1.3 billion in revenue for appropriation between FY 2020 and FY 2022.”

So, why has Gov. Stitt been talking with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about Oklahoma giving some of $40 million of new federal money to private school vouchers?

Even though the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Program, a tax credit that raises money for scholarships to private schools, was supposed to expand school choice for low-income students, it has long been known that “families who earn up to three times the income limits for free and reduced priced lunch (a family of four earning $139,000 a year) are eligible for scholarships.”

‘Tough decisions’: Stitt projects $1.3 billion drop, legislators want the math


https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-governor-stitt-what-oklahoma-education-needs

Increasing the scholarship tax credit hurts public schools and benefits affluent Oklahomans

I’ll save non-Oklahomans the details regarding the range of bipartisan efforts to persuade Stitt to embrace reality. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, it seemed like the legislature, often led by the Teacher Caucus, might be able to counter the completely inexperienced governor’s infatuations with “reforms” that are disconnected from the real world. But, every time one government institution, or grassroots initiative, has successfully pushed back, Stitt finds another, now unguarded, door to Trumpism.

On one hand, Stitt’s effort to ban abortions during the pandemic, claiming that those services are nonessential, was reversed this week by a federal judge. On the other hand, he has ignored the “thousands of Oklahomans (who) have spoken out against the Governor’s health care proposal, which could restrict health care access for up to 200,000 Oklahomans.” Moreover, Stitt has been slow in scheduling the vote on Medicaid expansion. Frustrated by the state leaving billions of dollars of federal money on the table, Oklahomans launched SQ 802 to require the state to accept the Medicaid funding. Stitt hopes that his plan, which imposes a work requirement, will undermine the citizen-led initiative.

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/federal-judge-oklahoma-abortion-ban-enforced-70267625

Thousands of Oklahomans speak out against Governor’s health care proposal

And Stitt hasn’t given up on his most hopeless fight; ignoring legal advice, he’s still fighting Oklahoma tribes, denying that the compact governing casino gambling automatically renewed in January. In doing so, he placed $130 million in education funding in jeopardy.

https://www.news9.com/story/41605034/state-education-could-be-caught-in-the-middle-of-gaming-compact-dispute

So, education is just one area where the politics of destruction are being ramped up so that no disadvantaged families are being left unpunished. Students, especially poor children, have lost months of learning. Schools face new costs for devising virtual learning, not to mention the time and money redesigning schools for a safe reopening. Especially in rural areas, where hospitals have been closing, the challenge of providing basic health services – not to mention virus-related costs – is worsening.

With Possible Student Slump, State Weighs Next Steps

And, yet, the Stitt and the Trump administrations seem committed to a double-barreled blast: subsidizing the flight of families from traditional public schools while cutting their funding. Instead of timely interventions to prevent excessive deaths due to the pandemic, they are launching assaults of education, health, and social services that would hit home next year, when a resurgence of the virus is likely.

https://dianeravitch.net/2020/04/21/cdc-director-warns-of-resurgence-of-virus-next-winter/
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/childhood-in-an-anxious-age/609079/

I said I wouldn’t bother non-Oklahomans with the details of the Stitt administration’s version of Trumpism, but the headlines keep getting crazier. Because of Oklahomans’ preexisting health problems, our state is especially at risk from the virus. And the Oklahoman reports, “Oklahoma is in the bottom four states for testing for COVID-19, according to an email sent this week by the White House coronavirus task force.” But due to bipartisan leadership of mayors in the Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman and other communities, and the way that the public has supported their “shelter-in-place” policies, our confirmed cases and deaths have been lower than expected.

It had been predicted that COVID-19 would peak around April 21, but recent days have seen an increase in infections. So, how did Stitt react?

The next day, Stitt announced the reopening of numerous businesses on Friday, April 24, and more openings on May 1!?!? He implied that the state might try to force cities to comply with his order!

https://oklahoman.com/article/5660710/stitt-oklahoma-businesses-can-start-reopening-starting-friday?&utm_source=SFMC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Oklahoman%20breaking-news%202020-04-2219:43:51&utm_content=GTDT_OKC&utm_term=042220

By the way, the New York Times reported that the Oklahoma rightwingers demonstrating for a reopening of business denied any connection with the Trump campaign. But to understand what Attorney General William Barr, Stephen Moore, and Tea Partiers want, the Times says we need to:

Look no further than the first protest organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund — whose chairman manages the vast financial investments of Dick and Betsy DeVos, the Education Secretary — to see that the campaign to “open” America flows from the superrich and their front groups.

It’s gotten to the point where the fights picked by Stitt, a few other Republican governors. and the President are incomprehensible even in a time of Trumpism. It’s hard to understand how those policies are anything but Social Darwinism tantrums on steroids, as well as an attempt to reelect Trump, regardless of the human costs.

John Thompson writes here about yet another virtual charter scam, this one in Oklahoma.

He writes:

After years of failing to regulate charters, especially online and for-profit charters, Oklahoma is just one state that illustrates how hard it is to catch up and hold virtual schools accountable for either education outcomes or financial transactions.

In July 2019, according to an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation search warrant, “[Epic’s co-founders] enticed ghost students to enroll in Epic by offering each student an annual learning fund ranging from $800 to $1,000.” This was despite the fact that Epic knew that the parents of many homeschool students “enrolled their children . . . to receive the $800 learning fund without any intent to receive instruction.”

Epic’s recruitment of “ghost students,” who were technically enrolled but received minimal instruction from teachers, allowed the company to legally divert state funds for their own personal use, while simultaneously hiding low graduation rates to attract more support.

This year, Epic has received over $100 million in taxpayer money. And the company, in an exposé by the Tulsa World, admitted that over the years its “Learning Fund”—which is shielded from public scrutiny—received $50.6 million from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Tulsa World estimates the Learning Fund could cost the state about $28 million for 2019-2020. Moreover, the private management company Epic Youth Services receives a “10 percent cut” of the charter’s student funding. Also, state appropriations pay for the millions that Epic spends on advertising and generous contributions to elected officials.

If nothing else, Epic is helping to nail down the case that charters are a tool for privatization.

John Thompson describes a professional development session he attended with other educators in Oklahoma that offered helpful advice about helping students overcome trauma. But he then discusses the real world of students who are exposed to murder and violence, and the good advice seems painfully inadequate. What is needed? More counselors, social workers, psychologists, more resources in schools that are not available now to support students who have had traumatic experiences.

Good advice is cheap. Resources to confront trauma are dear and unavailable.

EPIC virtual charter school is locked in a battle with state auditors over the question of whether public money belongs to the public or to the owners of the school.

Face-Off Between Epic, State Centers on Controversial ‘Learning Fund’

EPIC is a charter school but it’s defense is that it is a private business, not a public agency. How refreshing!

The story:

The state is drawing a hard line: Public education funds that flow to a private company are public.

Founders of the state’s largest online charter school are fighting to shield those funds. Their company has refused to comply with subpoenas from the State Auditor and Inspector.

The showdown is headed to court and could have major ramifications for Epic Charter Schools and its for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services, both of which have drawn controversy since inception a decade ago.

At the heart of the issue is something Epic calls the “learning fund.” It’s a major draw for students and families and has helped propel Epic’s stunning enrollment growth.

Here’s how it works: Epic makes at least $1,000 available to each student annually in the student’s learning fund. Dollars are deducted for their choice of curriculum and for a plethora of other items of their choice, such as laptops and iPads, science kits and craft supplies, soccer club fees, horseback riding lessons, gymnastics and summer camps.

Parents don’t receive the money directly but instead request a purchase from Epic. Epic transfers the money to Epic Youth Services, according to the court filing, which then pays the vendors directly. There are more than 1,400 private learning-fund vendors.

The school makes periodic transfers of state funding into a checking account specifically for learning fund purchases. The school transfers into a separate checking account 10% of its total revenue to Epic Youth Services for a management fee.

Epic Charter School co-founder Ben Harris is seen at a board meeting in Oklahoma City on Oct. 16, 2019. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)
Epic was founded by David Chaney and Ben Harris; the two men also own Epic Youth Services LLC. Chaney and Harris have split at least $10 million in profits from Epic Youth Services between 2013 and 2018, according to the OSBI, which is investigating Chaney and Harris on allegations of embezzlement and racketeering.

Chaney and Harris have denied wrongdoing, and no charges have been filed. Through an attorney, they responded to the auditor’s court motion with a written statement.

“The state Auditor’s legal position – that private businesses are subject to state audit – should concern every business owner in Oklahoma. Epic Youth Services has offered to voluntarily allow the auditor to review records appropriate to their request, but we have received no response prior to this court filing. We will vigorously fight for the protection that has historically been provided to private businesses like Epic Youth Services.”

Online charter schools are an “epic” fail, as proved by the disaster of the EPIC online charter school in Oklahoma.

Here is the latest EPIC story:

Like many teenagers, Maggie Waldon caught a sort of senioritis halfway through a traditional high school. She was ready to be done.

With two years left, she enrolled in Epic Charter Schools, the Oklahoma City-based online public school that is now one of the largest virtual schools in the country.

At Epic, Waldon said she easily raised her grades from Cs and Fs to As and Bs. She said she did so with little interaction with her teacher, spending long days clicking through the curriculum. “There were days I asked my teacher for help. But mostly, I just figured it out,” Waldon said.

She was able to fast-track her remaining credits, finishing in one year what would have taken two in a traditional school. She was one of 2,500 students in Epic’s class of 2019.

That’s when she discovered she wasn’t prepared for college, she said. On the ACT exam, she “failed, majorly.” She has put her dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher on hold.

“I wish Epic actually helped prepare you for a future, because we all grow up and become adults. That’s something they didn’t do,” Waldon said.

In a five-month investigation into Epic’s college-going rates, Oklahoma Watch found that fewer than one in five 2019 graduates enrolled in a public Oklahoma college or university last fall. Its rate was lower than rates for all of the state’s 10 largest school districts, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of education data. The data was collected from every college and university in the state.

EPIC has more high school graduates than any of the state’s 10 largest school district, but only 14.7% of their graduates enroll in college or university.

Clearly, state legislators in Oklahoma like to send public money to EPIC, despite its horrible statistics.

Do they care about the education of the next generation of Oklahomans or do they just prefer an uneducated population?

John Thompson, historian and retired teachers, sees signs of disaster in the policies adopted by Oklahoma’s two biggest cities: Tulsaand Oklahoma City. “reform” (aka Disruption) means closing schools. This is a good time to remind readers that SLAYING GOLIATH, to whic he refers, does not say that Go,oath is dead.it says that Goliath (federal policy, billionaires, Wall Street and other agents of disruption) are brain-dead. They continue to advocate for policies that have failed again and again. They have no expectation of making schools better or improving the lives of children. They exercise power and impose failed ideas because they can. Another point to be drawn from this and other accounts: Wherever there is a Broadie Superintendent, anticipate the hiring of other Broadies and a wave of school closings.

Thompson writes:

What’s up with Oklahoma schools? Whether we’re talking about arming teachers or sextupling funding for Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) for private schools, or the latest charter school malfeasance, the controversies surrounding today’s scandals are grounded in pretty predictable, rightwing politics, as well as the Billionaires Boys Club’s technocracy. But the crises in Tulsa and Oklahoma school system are rooted in education policy and they get less attention.

https://www.ocpathink.org/post/trump-stitt-both-support-tax-credit-scholarships

So, I’ll quickly cover the Oklahoma-grown messes, and then address the most serious threats to public education in our state’s biggest cities. I’ll start, however, by hinting at the common cause of our urban school debacles by citing Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath, and her account of how corporate reformers “admire disruptive innovation, because high-tech businesses do it, so it must be good.”

The online, for-profit Epic charter chain got its fair share of 2019 headlines after an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation affidavit alleged that Epic Charter Schools’ co-founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris, split at least $10 million in profits from 2013 to 2018. They were accused of aggressively recruiting “ghost students” in order to collect $800 per student from a state learning fund for homeschool students.

Epic recently made news when its lawsuit against State Sen. Ron Sharp, for allegedly making false statements against it, was dismissed.

But there was no need to worry about Epic dropping out of the limelight. In January, 2020, the State Education Department (SDE) fined Epic One-on-One virtual charter school $530,000 for excessive administrative spending.

And Epic just provided another nail in the coffin for the claim that charters don’t advance privatization. The Tulsa World explains, “On top of a 10% cut of every dollar of revenue, Epic Charter Schools is paying its for-profit management company millions more in taxpayer dollars every year for school expenditures that are never audited and which Epic claims are shielded from public scrutiny.” So, the World made another open records request.

Epic’s attorney responded, “Once the funds are paid to the management company, the dollars are no longer public funds and, therefore, the records of the expenditures of the learning fund dollars are not subject to the open records statute.”

Despite Epic’s refusal, the World obtained “other records that show the constant shifting of public dollars for the Learning Fund to Epic Youth Services, the private management company that law enforcement investigators say has made millionaires out of school co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris.” It reports, “These transfers began at a rate of about $120,000 each, 10 to 13 times per year,” and they grew to “$20.3 million for the 2018-19 academic year.”

Not to be outdone, Dove Academy, which is associated with the Gulen charter chain, returned to the headlines. A 2016 audit by the state found that the foundation which manages Dove Charter School collected around $3.182 million more in lease payments for the Dove Science Academy-OKC school site than original purchase cost. Now, the Dove virtual school is being investigated by the OSBI after the SDE accused it of wrongfully obtaining records of 107,000 children who have never enrolled in Dove schools.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5655421/epic-charter-schools-lawsuit-against-sharp-dismissed

In The Know: The ‘Medicaid expansion showdown,’ Epic charter schools fined, and more


https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/epic-charter-schools-shielding-million-in-taxpayer-funds-from-public/article_445f6458-c147-5efa-ab29-781c72d64011.html
https://oklahoman.com/article/5655515/oklahoma-department-of-education-reports-dove-to-osbi?&utm_source=SFMC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Oklahoman%20daily%202020-02-22&utm_content=GTDT_OKC&utm_term=022220

Moving from the eye-catching headlines to the policy role of “Goliath,” the decline of the Tulsa public schools has been more gradual. A decade ago, the TPS accepted a Gates Foundation “teacher quality” grant, which was followed by donations from local and national edu-philanthropists. Soon afterwards, Tulsa’s Project Schoolhouse was praised for its community meetings and “creative problem-solving” when closing 14 schools in order to save $7 to 10 million per year.

Back then, the TPS was a better school system than the OKCPS. Last year, however, Oklahoma City borrowed from Tulsa’s methods and language in order to close and consolidate schools to fund “trade-ups” or ways to expand equity.

https://www.publicradiotulsa.org/post/project-school-house-released
https://www.publicradiotulsa.org/post/project-school-house-0

Tulsa had lost 5,000 students and faced a shortfall of over $40 million. The latest headlines have focused on this year’s $20 million in cuts. Schools were closed, janitors lost their jobs, class sizes in elementary schools are to be increased, and the administration reorganized. Since the TPS central office has had 13 Broad Academy graduates, and since patrons have recommended cuts the district’s teacher leadership and central office staff, that plan received more attention than before.

The Hit and Miss of Education Reforms


https://dianeravitch.net/2019/11/10/john-thompson-how-billionaire-reformers-messed-up-the-public-schools-of-tulsa/

Ever since NCLB used school closures as an accountability tool, some reformers have been devoted to that disruptive policy. Mass closures are often seen as praiseworthy examples of running schools in a businesslike manner. And they provide opportunities for major administrative reorganizations. So, it should be no surprise that Superintendent Deborah Gist chose to save $5 million by cutting 90 jobs, but not in a straightforward manner. One would ordinarily think that budget cuts, closures, and staff reductions would be enough of an “extraordinarily difficult” challenge. However, Gist described her plan as a path to “dramatic progress” and “transforming outcomes.”

National readers don’t need to dwell on Gist’s details but they should note the way she summarized a large part of her plan:

Delete 55 district office positions and 124 school support positions; and … create 51 district office, 136 school support and 20 school-embedded positions. The potential changes, if approved by our board, would impact our Information Technology, Innovation and Design, Finance, Bond, Campus Police, Talent Management and Teaching and Learning teams, and, most particularly, our Exceptional Student Support Services team.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/columnists/deborah-gist-school-services-must-evolve-to-help-schools-in/article_b2fe5183-1b18-5a7a-8ecd-d906c47a2578.html

A couple of years ago, as the OKCPS rid itself of a Broad-trained superintendent, our district leaders praised Project Schoolhouse’s community conversations, while noting that Tulsa faced a worse mess than we did. Newly elected OKC board members seemed to understand that they had inherited a crisis created by reformers’ commitment to “transformational change.” They focused on building partnerships to provide trauma-informed and holistic instruction; restore counselors, science, music, and art, while moving away from teach-to-the-test; and started towards wraparound student services.

The OKCPS had been saved by immigration, but as it slowed and charters grew, the district lost 700 students per year. It was widely agreed that some schools needed to be closed.

But in a dramatic surprise, the goal of disruptive transformational change took over. The OKCPS used a school closure process, known as Pathways to Greatness (P2G), to “reinvent” schools. It closed 15 buildings and reorganized most of the rest. Again, national readers will be less interested in the details than the impossible length of the “to do” list that the district adopted.

It was supposed to be a virtue of P2G that it will:

Will impact every student, staff member and family in OKCPS … Our plans would likely include big changes such as new school boundaries, school consolidations or closures, the way grades are structured for Elementary, Middle and High School, as well as school buildings being repurposed to meet other needs in the community.

It also required structural changes in reconfigured buildings, the transfer of teachers to staff-reorganized schools, the reorganization of bus routes and hiring additional drivers by the first week of school. The third task proved impossible and resulted in students waiting for hours at bus stops. The district also chose to add to its list by changing application procedures for magnet schools, and reorganizing administrative services for “creating strategic systems and processes that will bring stronger support and accountability at the school level.”

Responding to the widespread backlash that P2G prompted, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said, “This was radical change that upset the apple cart for thousands of people, so we know that there was and still is heartburn and anxiety, and people are upset,”

McDaniel also summarized the additional changes:

We’re invested in this new ILD structure to allow for that additional instructional support. Our new consistent grade bands will provide support, collaboration opportunities. New feeder patterns will allow our students to stay together longer and feel more connected as they move through high school.

OKCPS acting superintendent: ‘We need to talk about feelings’

This year’s OKCPS to-do list has at least 30 big items


https://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/summer-of-change/Content?oid=6442542

This year’s OKCPS to-do list has at least 30 big items

So, how did P2G turn out?

The disruption almost certainly contributed to an increase in fights and suspensions. The rate of student population decline has doubled. If the district is correct, after P2G, the rate of student loss increased to an average of 1,000 per year over seven years. But the decline could become much worse. A district spokesperson cited research indicating that P2G could follow the pattern in other districts’ reorganizations, possibly resulting in a 10 to 15% drop in student enrollment.

According to the numbers the spokesperson provided, the price tag for such a decline could be about $20 to $30 million in state funding, not including lost federal funds. It would be unclear how much of those costs would be attributable to P2G. But, they would add to $32 million of transition costs which the district acknowledged near the end of P2G FAQ Update in February, 2019.

In other words, the OKCPS followed Tulsa down the path of transformational and disruptive change. Both exemplify the destructive feature which Ravitch documents in Slaying Goliath. My sense is that Goliath chose that path for Tulsa, while the OKCPS is inadvertently stumbling towards that outcome.

In her two previous, ground-breaking books, Ravitch changed the terms of debate over public education. She previously reframed the battle over the “Billionaires Boys Club” which drove “corporate reform,” and “privatization.”

Ravitch once said that her favorite line in my book manuscript was, “Inner-city schools need more disruption like they need another gang war.” (But that was years before editors could have read her full indictment of corporate disruption, and I couldn’t keep the phrase from being deleted.)

Ravitch now characterizes data-driven, choice-driven reformers as “Disrupters.” Across the nation, as well as in Oklahoma, “The most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

The second most important lesson for Oklahomans, who had seemed to have beaten back the worst of Goliath, is that we’re like the guy who killed a rattlesnake, but nearly died after being bitten by the decapitated head. In Oklahoma, the future looks much better for most public schools, but the TPS and the OKCPS could become the last casualties of our reform wars.

The complexity of seeking safe and orderly schools

Oklahoma City Public School District announces drop in enrollment


https://www.okcps.org/Page/3746

Oklahoma has just experienced a fraud involving an online charter school called EPIC, which was accused of collecting money for ghost students and billing for excessive administrative overhead. It’s amazing how many of the big scandals in charter land involve the highly profitable online charters.

Now parents in Oklahoma are outraged that a new virtual charter obtained the names and addresses of their children. The charter is aligned to the Gulen movement.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has promised get to the bottom of this breach of student privacy.

Oklahoma has an elected state superintendent of schools. Her name is Joy Hofmeister. Amazingly, she is a strong friend of public schools, and has done her best to shield them from a penny-pinching, anti-education legislature that puts tax cuts first, children last.

So of course, the conservative Republican governor Kevin Stitt thinks it is time to get rid of the elected superintendent and give him the power to choose someone more to his liking, who will not fight to fund the public schools as Hofmeister has. Several years ago, I spoke in the Sooner State and met Superintendent Hofmeister. I thought she was impressive and well-informed. Oklahoma is lucky to have her.

Somehow, a lot of Oklahomans like the idea that they can have some role in picking the state superintendent.

Since they have a very good one, they should keep her. You can be sure that Governor Stitt wants someone who will cut the education budget and demoralize teachers.