Archives for category: Oklahoma

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.

There is not much to admire in Oklahoma’s penurious funding of its public schools. But there is one admirable law on the books. Schools are not permitted to spend excessive amounts on administrative overhead. And when they do, they are penalized.

Epic One on One virtual charter school has been penalized more than $530,000 for exceeding the state limit on administrative spending, a limit imposed by state statute meant to keep the bulk of state education funding in the classroom. 

Epic’s superintendent, Bart Banfield, was notified of the penalty last month, according to an email obtained by The Frontier through an open records request. 

The total penalty of $530,527.20 is based on Epic exceeding the allowable limits on administrative expenditures by 5.58 percent. 

School districts with more than 1,500 students are not allowed to spend more than 5 percent of expenditures on administrative costs, which includes salaries for superintendent, assistant superintendent or any employee who has responsibility for administrative functions of a school district. 

The amount will be deducted from Epic’s next state aid payment, according to the email to Banfield. 

Thirteen school districts exceeded administration spending limits in Fiscal Year 2019, according to a report from the State Department of Education. 

The penalties for the 12 other districts averaged $19,468, with penalties on school districts ranging from $27.39 to $39,514.

Epic’s penalty of more than half a million dollars is 10 times more than any penalty issued over the past three years, according to documents obtained by The Frontier. 

EPIC’s CEO said it was a coding error. The state superintendent Joy Hofmeister said there was no error and the fine would be collected.

Nancy Bailey features a post about an absurdly inappropriate reading program, citing work by Betty Casey in Tulsa. 

Casey interviewed experienced reading teachers, who gave her examples of age-inappropriate questions in the Core Knowledge Amplify scripted program.

Casey writes:

Do you think primogeniture is fair? Justify your answer with three supporting reasons.

You may think this is from a high school test, but it’s a question from a Common Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) workbook for third-graders.

Why is the War of 1812 often referred to as America’s second war for independence? In your response, describe what caused the war and Great Britain’s three-part plan for defeating the United States. This is a writing task for second-grade students.

A first-grade Tulsa Public Schools teacher described this reading lesson: “You say, ‘I’m going to say one of the vocabulary words, and I’m going to use it in a sentence. If I use it correctly in a sentence, I want you to circle a happy face. If I use it incorrectly, I want you to circle a sad face. The sentence is Personification is when animals act like a person.’”

That lesson is given 10 days after the start of school. “I had kids who wouldn’t circle either one,” the teacher said. “Some cried. I have sped (special education) kids in my room, and they had no idea. That’s wrong. Good grief! These are 6-year-olds!”

Oklahoma is famous for underfunding it’s schools. The legislature is under the thumb of the oil and gas and fracking industry, which wants low taxes and no regulations. Teachers revolted and went on strike in 2018 but the legislature continues to starve its schools, opting to satisfy its funders and forget about its children and its future.

The superintendent of Tulsa, Deborah Gist, is a Broadie who previously served as State Superintendent of Rhode Island, where she made her mark by threatening to fire everyone who worked for the Central Falls School District, a high-poverty district that was and remains the lowest performing district in the state.

As superintendent of Tulsa, she has worked with business leaders to cut the deficit by cutting the budget. Apparently the legislature’s neglect is just a given that Tulsa’s civic and business elite don’t want to bother by asking for more funding.

 

A parent sent me this analysis of the surgery Gist is performing on the schools—closing schools and laying off staff. To protect his children, he requested anonymity. Since I know his credentials, I agreed.

He writes:

How To Create A Zombie Public School District And What That Means For Tulsa Parents

Last week at the Tulsa Public Schools board meeting, Superintendent Deborah Gist and her administration laid out part of their plan to resolve a questionable $20 million budget deficit for the 2020-21 school year due to a declining enrollment.  Most of the attention has been focused on the four school closings (actually five), and little attention has been made of the other hits that are occurring.

Last fall, the administration held so-called community meetings to take input on what parents, teachers and students thought was most important for the district. These meetings mirrored the process in 2016 when the district was reeling from nearly a decade of budget cuts to education from the state. Both in 2016 and for the most recent cuts, the district listed identical items to absorb the loss, and asked people at community meetings to prioritize what they felt was important to save from cuts. The surveys included the following recommendations: reduce transportation by changing bell times; reduce costs through efficient use of buildings and operations; reduce central officeservices; increase class sizes; provide less professional development; reduce athletics and on and on.

The 2016 budget reduction outcome results were the following: Close three elementary schools and consolidate them into a fourth, consolidate a middle school and high school, eliminateover 142 teaching positions, increase class sizes, reducecustodial services and a create a supposed $1M savings in district office reorganization, among other items.

The survey results from the community meetings for this year’s(2020-21) budget reduction showed that respondents were leastwilling to: reduce teacher compensation; increase class sizes;reduce social emotional learning and supports. Respondents were most willing to save money in the following areas: change student transportation and bell times; reduce teacher leadership opportunities; provide more efficient building utilization and district office services.

After collecting and ostensibly reviewing the community survey results, the district recommendations for the 2020-21 school year were to: reduce district office services ($13-14 million); close and consolidate schools ($2-3Million); and change the elementary staffing plan, i.e. increase class sizes ($3 million)

Wait a minute. Didn’t the community just say they were least willing to increase class sizes?  Not only is Superintendent Gist recommending increasing the class size, she is also calculating it based on SITE totals rather than GRADE level totals.  What does this mean?  

Say you have a school with 400 students and one grade level has 66 students. A 24/1 ratio gets you 2.75 allocations or 3 allocations. Do this for every grade and you end up being allocated 18 teachers based on grade level counts. However, when teachers are allocated to schools based on the school total rather than the grade level total, a school with 400 students at the site will be allocated only 17 teachers (16.66).  So who gets the extra-large class? Principals are normally reluctant to have large classrooms, so they look to cut other allocations such as art teachers, music teachers, librarians, councilors, gifted & talented teachers and on and on.

And what does “office services” mean? No more school supplies? No more copies?  No more textbooks? Reducing social and emotional services?  So far, the district administration has not shared what “reducing district office services” means.

While TPS was having a “budget crisis” in 2016, what nobody was taking notice of at that time was the district’s declining enrollment (which puts the most pressure on the budget) at the same time that charter schools were quickly expanding. In 2015,enrollment in TPS stood at 39,451 and enrollment in charterschools stood at 1402. In 2019-20, enrollment in TPS is 35,390, a decline of nearly 10%, and enrollment in charters stands at3,119, a 120% increase.  In addition, in December of 2018, the TPS Board approved the expansion of an additional 875 seats for charter schools.

At the same time TPS is scheduled to close four elementary schools, the district is also poised to expand a so-called “partnership” school called Greenwood Leadership Academy(GLA).

The Founder and Chairman is Dr. Ray Owens, Pastor of the MET Church and GLA was supported by the usual charter-loving foundations and organizations: George Kaiser Family Foundation, Schusterman, Zarrow, Walton, Loebeck/Taylor and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center.  

Greenwood Leadership Academy has been a train wreck since it opened in 2017.

In May of 2018: “Greenwood Leadership Academy staff member no longer employed after allegedly leaving student in locker.”  

A few months later, the principal who was a part of the Tulsa TFA cohort of 2013, unexpectedly resigned:  

TPS partner Greenwood Leadership Academy to replace principal”    “I am resigning from my role as principal because I feel led by God to do so. I am, unashamedly, a man of faith,” Asamoa-Caesar.

But, fear not, he landed at 36 Degrees North, an entrepreneurial incubation organization, also supported by George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Loebeck/Taylor Foundation. Asamoa-Caesar has now decided to run for congress.

Despite GLA’s questionable past, an article in the Tulsa World reported on the intent of the TPS administration to expand GLA. “Tulsa school board to vote on accelerating Academy Central Elementary’s conversion into Greenwood Leadership Academy”  

Tulsa School Board Member Jennettie Marshall, district 3,expressed concern about closing a public school to expand Greenwood Leadership Academy, a partnership school, which, arguably, is a failing school.

The article states: Marshall said she’d rather vote on the proposal after the final testing cycle is completed and noted the board typically doesn’t vote to renew GLA until the summer. Her concern stems from a history of underwhelming proficiency rates and disciplinary issues at the school.

She cited a recent data report showing a steep decline in third-grade proficiency. The report states 6% of GLA’s original student cohort, who now are in third grade, were proficient in math during the fall semester, compared to 31% in fall 2018. Their reading proficiency also declined from 27% to 13% during that time.

That’s right, Gist is recommending that those same third graders now enter the fourth and fifth grades under this “partnership” school. But what isn’t mentioned is that TPS promised the North Tulsa Community Task Force a moratorium on its school closures. Greenwood Leadership Academy is co-located in Academy Central Elementary’s building. Apparently TPS doesn’t consider a school closed if they transfer all the students out of it and let a privately run “partnership” school take over the building.   Why not allow Academy Central Elementary to “absorb” GLA, and then work to improve Academy Central Elementary?  

To further complicate the matter, TPS School Board Vice President Suzanne Schreiber works for the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF)/Tulsa Community Foundation.  One would think if your boss was a major donor to the school (GLA) that is before the board for approval (or for that matter any of the other seven charter schools that have received GKFFdonations), you would have some sort of conflict of interest. Schreiber spoke in support of GLA at the January school board meeting:

These are our partners,” Schreiber said. “We need to trust and support them. We’ve seen really robust data and a trajectory going (upward). So I support this recommendation. I’m excited for Greenwood to accelerate to fifth grade, and I just expect that they’re not going to do anything but continue to provide a high-quality education for our kids.”

Let’s rewind:  

5.56% of GLA’s third graders are proficient in math – that’s three students out of 53.  THREE!

13.21% of GLA third graders are proficient in reading.  That makes 7 students.

Who in their right mind thinks that is providing a high-quality education and an upward trajectory?

Shouldn’t the Board Member Schreiber be trusting and supporting the public school, Academy Central Elementary, in the community she works for, or is she working on the school board for GKFF? Where is her first responsibility?

In addition, school board member Jania Wester works for Community in Schools and shares an office with her husband who is the Executive Director of Growing Together, a GLA partner which has also received millions of dollars from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.  No possible conflict of interest there.

And in the category of “You just can’t make this stuff up,” over the winter break Dr. Gist married Ronnie Jobe.  Congratulations!   The groom is Senior Vice President and Manager – Institutional Markets for Bank of Oklahoma.  BOK is the largest bank in Oklahoma and its majority shareholder is one George Kaiser.

And speaking of transfers, what also isn’t being talked about is TPS’s new open enrollment, or as they explain it to their charter partners, “Unified Enrollment.”  This is where anyone can go down to the TPS Enrollment Center and enroll their child in any school if there is an open seat. That’s right, TPS will assist you in enrolling your student in any public school or private charter school merely for the asking as long as there are seats available.  

Do you remember at the beginning of this article when I mentioned the budget deficit was due to declining enrollment?  Does anyone else see a problem here?

To make the process even easier, TPS administrators are also recommending a re-alignment of schools so all elementary schools are configured the same.  That way if you want to leave your public school, you will fit right in to the private charter schools.

To top it off, the charter schools now need space to expand.  Where are they going to get it?  The closed school buildings of course.  And just to make sure those spaces are nice, at the end of December the TPS Board voted to spend $1.6M not for the benefit of TPS students, but to benefit the private Legacy Charter School to improve its building. Simultaneously, one of the public elementary schools slated for closure has plenty of students, but the district plans to shutter it because the building is in need of repair and that would be too costly. Maybe they want those students to move to Legacy Charter School since it’s getting a nice refurbishment.

Tulsa Collegiate Hall has its eye on Wright Elementary, one of the schools slated to close at the end of this year.  Crossover Preparatory Academy wants the Gilcrease school building, which was recently closed in north Tulsa.    Crossover Preparatory Academy was recently visited by governor Kevin Stitt to tout the so-called benefits of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act which primarily grants scholarships to Christian schools .  Tulsa Honor Academy has reached out to the Walton Foundation for a $1 million donationto apparently go at it alone through Level Field Partners.  Does anyone else see a transfer of public dollars to private schools and real estate LLC’s in the future?

Nobody is talking about the costs associated with closing the schools. It isn’t zero. Nobody is talking about what an utter nightmare it is going to be to bus the students who under open enrollment can supposedly go to any school, with district transportation provided. TPS has enough problems trying to get students to school on time, now imagine buses taking any student to any school.

This last Friday it was announced that employees had been notified of the intent to eliminate their positions.  While Gist repeatedly assured the community that her staff would do everything they could to transfer teachers to other schools within the district once the schools were closed, the process is the equivalent of being fired and then having to re-apply for a job as if you had never been with the district.  I can only imagine the high morale of employees who have that to endure.

In five years, Superintendent Gist’s merry band of Broadies haveclosed at least eight schools, lost 10% of the enrollment, expanded charter schools by over 120%, re-aligned all the schools to make it easier for students to leave the district, helped them fill out the paperwork to do so, spent Bond dollars meant for TPS students for private charter schools and are cutting central office services while increasing class sizes.

If you’re a parent like me and are interested in saving public schools, you might want to look at two truly grassroots organizations that take no funding from reformer foundations or those who wish to privatize public schools: Network for Public Education and the Badass Teachers Association.

 

Addendum: The Oklahoma City School Board approved Superintendent Gist’s school closings and budget cuts. 

 

 

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher, who blogs often, here and on other blogs. He has keen insight into what’s happening in Oklahoma.

He writes:

Since 2015, the Tulsa Public Schools have cut $22 million from its budget, even dipping into its reserve fund to balance the books. Now it must cut another $20 million.

Given the huge support for the TPS by local and national edu-philanthropists, patrons should ask why it faces such a crisis, even after the state has started to restore funding. Despite the assistance of the outcome-driven Billionaires Boys Club, the TPS has lost 5,000 students, especially to the suburbs and online charters. But that raises the question of why Chief for Change Superintendent Deborah Gist and her staff of Broad Academy administrators have produced such awful outcomes.

https://www.gkff.org/what-we-do/parent-engagement-early-education/prek-12-education/

After a series of community meeting, Gist recommended school closures designed to save $2 to 3 million. Gist also seeks $3 million in saving by increasing class sizes. Then, Gist proposed $13 to 14 million in cuts to district office administrators.

It’s great that most of the burden will be carried by the central office. But that raises the question why the district has such a well-funded administration.

Even though the Oklahoma press wouldn’t dare ask what the corporate reform-subsidized administration has accomplished, Tulsans should ask why the district in near the nation’s bottom in student performance from 3rd to 8th grades. Why does it have more emergency certified and inexperienced teachers than other districts after being awarded Gates Foundation “teacher quality” grants?

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/tulsa-public-schools-patrons-weigh-in-on-million-budget-cut/article_fecdcb9d-f914-578c-913a-433ecb90d7b7.html

Participants in the recent community engagement process “were most willing to make budget reductions related to student transportation and bell times, teacher leadership opportunities, building utilization and district office services.” Perhaps as a repudiation of the Gates Foundation’s experiment, cutting teacher coaches was the recommendation that received the most votes. Tulsans were most protective of teacher pay, class sizes, and social-emotional learning and behavioral supports.

The fear is that closures and increased class sizes will result in more patrons leaving the district. Community participants also expressed concerns that closures will lead to more charter schools. The Tulsa World’s report on community meetings noted the worries of a parent, Wanda Coggburn:

Many shared Coggburn’s suspicion of a charter school taking over Jones or the other targeted elementary school buildings. But Gist said the needs of the six TPS-sponsored charter schools did not factor into the recommendation to close the schools.

The World also reported the fears of parents with disabilities. The parents of a child who has cerebral palsy and a developmental delay that causes behavioral issues say he was moved from a special education to a general education class against their wishes, and “they worry that adding more students would hinder his progress even further.”

Betty Casey of TulsaKids also describes the protests of parents whose deaf children attend Wright Elementary, which the superintendent wants to close. She talked with a mom who said of Wright:

She fears that it will be given to Collegiate Hall Academy, a charter school which currently shares space with Marshall Elementary. She wants her child to continue at Wright, not a charter school. She pointed out that Marshall has two gyms and a swimming pool currently not being used that could be put to use by public school students. Why not close College Bound Academy and put those students in Wright and Marshall? Closing a small charter school without a building would be much less disruptive.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/tulsa-s-jones-elementary-school-was-closed-once-before-and/article_2a08579f-2236-5bb8-b2a5-feb9db156682.html
https://www.tulsakids.com/where-does-tps-find-20-million/

Why would patrons have such fears? Maybe it’s because Gist responded to a question about a closed building saying “she’s confident the growing TPS-sponsored charter schools are interested in the potential space and are closely watching this process.”

I previously said that the traditional press hasn’t dared to investigate the results of corporate reform in Tulsa. However, Ms. Casey’s TulsaKids is a parents’ magazine that asks the questions that journalists have ducked. She recently wrote:

Why is it that when public schools are starved, and resources are stretched to the breaking point, that TPS is supporting a parallel school system of charters that drain more resources from the public schools? … The savings in closing schools is a drop in the bucket, but once the school is closed, it’s very difficult to go backward. Didn’t the superintendent say she was going to try to draw families back to TPS? Where will those returning families put their children? If Wright becomes a College Bound Charter, the families who wish to remain at a neighborhood school will have only one “choice” of a charter school.

Casey further explains:

I’m glad that Superintendent Gist has vowed to interview all the families leaving TPS. But, it seems a little late to wonder why people are leaving as they walk out the door. Why not work to create public schools that families love right now? …

Maybe it’s time to look at the “reforms” being implemented by the superintendent, and prior to that, Dr. Ballard’s acceptance of Gate’s Foundation money (MAP testing), and admit that those changes aren’t working for our kids, and families are leaving as a result.

https://www.tulsakids.com/where-does-tps-find-20-million/

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, writes here about the use and misuse of NAEP scores to advance disruption in the schools.

 

A new wave of “misnaepery” is heading towards Oklahoma and other states. After most or all of the corporate reform agenda became law in about 90 percent of states, reading scores dropped so much that even a reform true believer dubbed NAEP as “National Assessment of Educational Stagnation and/or Decline.”

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/07/24/37naep.h32.html
https://podcasts.google.com/?feed=aHR0cDovL2VkdWNhdGlvbmdhZGZseXNob3cubGlic3luLmNvbS9yc3M%3D&episode=NzEzNTA2MzJjMDI0NDA0YmJmMjM4NjVhNzAwODE4NzE%3D&hl=en

After test-driven, market-driven reform was implemented, from 2013 to 2019, the nation’s 8th grade math scores for African-Americans dropped by five points. But I would argue that 8th grade NAEP reading scores are the most important and reliable metric, and they dropped seven points in six years for African-American 8th graders.

Today, Oklahoma’s 4th grade NAEP reading scores have dropped to four points below the 1990s pre-HB1017 tax increase level. And since accountability-driven, competition-driven reforms were supposed to improve outcomes for our poorest children of color, it is shocking that from 2013 to 2019 black student 8th grade scores dropped 15 points!

https://www.educationnext.org/make-2019-results-nations-report-card/

https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/worst-news-naep?utm_source=Fordham+Institute+Newsletters+%26+Announcements&utm_campaign=f22e67acec-20160918_LateLateBell9_16_2016_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5fa2df08a3-f22e67acec-71894457&mc_cid=f22e67acec&mc_eid=3095764e3b

Rather than admit their mistakes, reformers have retained their original meme that was used to justify hurried and risky reforms to blow up the education “status quo,” so that “disruptive innovation” can spark “transformative change.”

Two contradictory misnaepery themes are being rushed into the breach by the Fordham Institute. The smiley-faced meme is that teachers and students will naturally rise to meet far more “rigorous” standards. On the other hand, the conservative Fordham Institute has been blaming states like Oklahoma for supposedly hurting student performance by ending high school graduation exams. It is also arguing that we should return to the punitive policies of the former Chief for Change State Superintendent Janet Baressi and retain even more 3rd graders based on reading tests. 

First, ignoring the damage done by their experiments, accountability-driven, competition-driven reformers argue that radically higher testing standards will produce transformative improvements. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was a leader in the reaction against Baressi’s privatization agenda, so I can’t be too critical when she has to adopt some policies pushed by Education Next and other “astroturf” think tanks. Rightly or wrongly, she revised the state’s standards and assessments. There are no stakes attached to these metrics, and they allow the State Department of Education to say, “Oklahoma’s new standards [are] one of only 17 ‘A’ grades in the nation, up from the previous rank of 47th and a grade of ‘D.’”

So, for instance, Oklahoma’s 2017 8th grade math tests set a proficiency level which is at the NAEP proficiency level, basically comparable to around a 300 on that rigorous standard. The only groups in the United States were average scores reach that level are white and economically advantaged students in Massachusetts, a state where per capita income is nearly 50 percent greater. Oklahoma’s NAEP scores currently correlate with a level just above Kazakhstan.  Advantaged students in Massachusetts perform at the level of the counterparts on PISA and TMMS in the top performing states and nations, except for South Korea.

https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/naep_timss/profiles.aspx
https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-United-States-MA.pdf
https://www.epi.org/publication/bringing-it-back-home-why-state-comparisons-are-more-useful-than-international-comparisons-for-improving-u-s-education-policy/#_note11

Of course, now that we listened to conservative reformers at the Fordham Institute and raised our expectations, Oklahoma students will soon join students at the top of the world’s education systems …

Fordham and other national reformers are also launching a second round misnaepery memes.  The 2015 NAEP was its first test of 4th graders after Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act required the retention of 3rd graders who don’t pass a reading test. Once Chief for Change Baressi was defeated by a pragmatic Republican, Hofmeister, educators were allowed more judgment in deciding whether to retain students. Until last year, however, little funding was available for interventions to assist struggling readers, much less adequate training and supports for inexperienced and emergency teachers in early elementary grades. (Oklahoma has hired more than 3,000 emergency certified teachers in a year.)

The 2015, 4th grade test scores increased by 2-1/2 percent. A conservative Republican reformer claimed they “were attributed to the 2014 implementation of a law that barred students from being promoted to the fourth grade if they read at lower than a second-grade level.” Those gains disappeared during the next two NAEPs. So, it is argued that more teeth needs to be restored to the retention policy.

But we also need to ask what really prompted the one-year jump in test scores. As in other states, the retention of low-performing readers can provide a temporary boost in NAEP scores. If you add up the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders who would have been in 4th grade during 2015, but who were retained, the total comes to about 9,000. Before the RSA, the more typical number of retentions was about 4,000. That means that about 5,000 more of the lowest performing students were missing from the 2015 4th grade class of about 47,000. The retention of more than 10 percent of the tested class could explain the one-time test score boost. As those students subsequently entered 4th grade, test scores dropped back to normative levels.

https://ocrdata.ed.gov/DistrictSchoolSearch#
https://oklahomawatch.org/2018/12/14/oklahoma-nearly-tops-nation-in-holding-back-early-grade-students/
https://journalrecord.com/2019/11/07/free-market-friday-student-results-continue-to-decline/

And what happened to that year’s economically disadvantaged students when they took 8th grade tests in 2019? Their scores were down by 2-½ percent in comparison to their 2015 8th grade peers.

Who knows what will be Fordham’s next misnaepery-driven attack on public education. After all, they were one of the think tanks who argued that the No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted in 2002 deserved credit for the NAEP gains of the late-1990s! And now it is proclaiming an “Agincourt-level disaster” is the result of weakening NCLB accountability. The thing we know is that the Fordham spin will be picked up, amplified, and used by rightwing lobbyists throughout the nation to slander public schools.

John Thompson, historian and recently retired teacher in Oklahoma, assays the damage that corporate reformers and their patrons have inflicted on the public schools of Tulsa. The district is overflowing with Broadies and has Gates money. What could possibly go wrong?

 

The Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) offers an excellent case study in data-driven, market-driven school reform.  Before No Child Left Behind, we in the Oklahoma City Public School System (OKCPS) studied Tulsa’s successes, and it quickly became clear that children entering TPS had advantages that their OKCPS counterparts didn’t have. They had lower poverty rates and, due to enlightened philanthropic leadership, they had higher reading skills. Moreover, philanthropists continued to invest in holistic social services, as well as early education.

By 2010, however, when the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) accepted a $1.5 million Gates grant, the inherent flaws of the Gates effort were obvious. Back then, I would visit and learn about great work being done on early education and by Johns Hopkins’ experts advising the TPS. I also asked how it would be possible to reconcile investments in those evidence-based efforts and their opposite – the Gates shortcuts.

https://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database/Grants/2010/02/OPP1005881

When I showed a scholar a scattergram on the Tulsa website documenting the extreme gap between the “value-added” of its high and low performing high schools, the Big Data expert responded in a scholarly way.  Understanding that it would be impossible to control for those huge differences, the consultant replied, “Oh, sh__!”

http://static.battelleforkids.org/images/tulsa/vascatterplots_1_and_3_year_avg_final_2-10-12.pdf

So, how well did the Gates grant work in raising teacher quality?

The TPS now has to rely on the trainer of uncertified teachers, the Teacher Corps, which “is one of many recent strategies for finding bodies to put in classrooms.” According to the Tulsa World, “This is necessary because about 30% of the district’s teaching force started working there in the past two years.” That includes 388 emergency certified teachers.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/in-only-its-second-year-tulsa-public-schools-teacher-corps/article_cd295874-08df-5c0d-8398-cc1f382b6e23.html

As it turned out, the Gates experiment was just one of a series of corporate reform gambles. In addition to promoting charter expansion, the George Kaiser Family Foundation has joined with the Bloomberg and Walton foundations in funding “portfolio management” directors to “absorb the duties of the director of partnership and charter schools,” and “in the future, implement ‘new school models resulting from incubation efforts of the district.’” Worse, in 2015, one of the Chiefs for Change’s most notorious members, Deborah Gist, became the TPS’ superintendent. Before long, Tulsa had 13 central office administrators who were trained in the teach-to-the-test-loving Broad Academy.

https://www.gkff.org/what-we-do/parent-engagement-early-education/prek-12-education/

https://dianeravitch.net/2019/02/26/tulsa-broadie-swarm-alert/

And, how did the Broad-trained administrators do in raising student performance?

In 2017, Sean Reardon’s Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis provided the best estimate of student test score growth from 2009 to 2015. It revealed that Tulsa students entered 3rd grade ahead of their counterparts in Oklahoma City. That is likely due to the great early education efforts led by philanthropists.

From 3rd to 8th grade, however, Tulsa students lost more ground than those in all but six of the nation’s school systems. TPS students gained only 3.8 years of learning over those five years; that was .6 of a year worse than the OKCPS. Neither did 2016 outcomes reflect progress. The updated report shows that TPS scores were .81 grade levels lower than districts with similar socioeconomic status. Its racial and economic achievement gaps were worse, and poor students declined further in comparison to similar districts.

https://cepa.stanford.edu/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/05/upshot/a-better-way-to-compare-public-schools.html?action=click&contentCollection=The%20Upshot&region=Footer&module=WhatsNext&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&moduleDetail=undefined&pgtype=Multimedia

https://nondoc.com/2019/10/19/school-effectiveness-linked-to-diversity/

And the bad news just kept coming.  The State Department of Education’s latest report card assigned an “F” grade to 25 percent more TPS schools than to the more-challenged OKCPS.

https://nondoc.com/2019/03/07/new-school-report-cards-sad-outcomes/

Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist responded with an implausible claim that the district’s own assessments are more meaningful, and show more progress. However, benchmarks tend to encourage shallow in-one-ear-ear-and-out the-other teaching and learning. Gist’s statement isn’t proof that this is happening, but it raises the type of question that report cards should lead to.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/no-perfect-system-revamped-grade-cards-are-better-but-don/article_272ad2b5-4525-52ca-aa7f-e81462473c24.html

Part of the answer lies in another reform investment on reading instruction. Tulsa adopted the Common Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum. Betty Casey, the publisher of Tulsa Kids magazine, began her thoroughly investigated report on the CKLA in Tulsa with an example of the 3rd grade questions that Gist trusts: “Do you think primogeniture is fair? Justify your answer with three supporting reasons.”

Casey quoted a first-grade teacher’s description of a reading lesson:

“You say, ‘I’m going to say one of the vocabulary words, and I’m going to use it in a sentence. If I use it correctly in a sentence, I want you to circle a happy face. If I use it incorrectly, I want you to circle a sad face. The sentence is Personification is when animals act like a person.’”

That lesson is given 10 days after the start of school. “I had kids who wouldn’t circle either one,” the teacher said. “Some cried. I have sped (special education) kids in my room, and they had no idea. That’s wrong. Good grief! These are 6-year-olds!”

https://www.tulsakids.com/is-ckla-the-best-way-to-teach-children-to-read/

So, how is the reading experiment working?

Oklahoma Watch studied federal data and learned that the TPS retained relatively few 3rd graders. But it retained 823 students through kindergarten and second grade!
Education Watch then reported, “Benchmarking itself is not an exact science. … Some kids score poorly because they are having a bad day or they don’t know how to use a computer mouse, which is common with kindergarteners.”

https://oklahomawatch.org/2018/12/14/oklahoma-nearly-tops-nation-in-holding-back-early-grade-students/

Tulsa’s expensive love affair with data may explain its latest crisis.  Tulsa has had a net loss of 5,000 students over the last decade. That means it must cut $20 million next year.

Ms. Casey and  many others suggest that another reason why Tulsa loses teachers and students is that it’s No Nonsense Nurturer classroom management system is a top-down mandate that hurts school cultures.

https://ktul.com/news/local/teachers-speak-on-controversial-no-nonsense-nurturer-program

The TPS held a series of community meetings, but it may not like the message it heard from the community. Two of the top recommendations from the community were: 44% survey-takers “chose to reduce teacher leadership roles …. Reducing the central office was the fourth most popular choice at 43%.”

Gist expressed a different opinion, however. And, in fairness I must add that a massive school closure effort preceded Gist; it was widely praised but as a subsequent post on Oklahoma City reforms will address, it may have contributed to loss of student population. But, Gist’s take of the closures is nothing less than weird. She said that the TPS might be losing students to the suburbs because they have larger schools!

https://www.tulsaworld.com/tps-report-on-community-feedback/pdf_61104782-617b-5b75-876c-cc52dc9fa1a2.html

It sounds to me like Superintendent Gist is grasping at straws. Maybe she is asking the same question that I am: How long will output-driven funders support her expensive and failed policies?

This is a curious article about the makeover of Tulsa Public Schools, where the superintendent is Broadie and former Rhode Island Superintendent Deborah Gist.

https://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/columnists/ginnie-graham-tulsa-public-schools-has-gone-through-major-reforms/article_4bc36885-c247-5858-99f1-7387c48b4fab.html

Under the previous superintendent, a plan called “Project Schoolhouse” resulted in school closings and consolidations. The leaders persuaded the public to accept these “reforms.” In the background was a management consultant brought in by the Gates Foundation; he had no education experience but understood how to use data analytics to persuade the public to go along with his ideas.

When the fate of Rogers High School was on the table, the superintendent was stunned that people cared whether the school remained open.

About nine years ago, a public meeting in the Rogers High School library was so packed that former Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard had to shoulder his way to the front.

Alumni drove from out of state to attend. Neighborhood residents, students, parents and community leaders joined.

The outpouring didn’t line up with other measures that showed a waning interest in the school. It made a difference in the reforms being planned.

You couldn’t fit one more person in there. I was stunned to see so many people,” Ballard said. “A person stopped me and said, ‘We want our high school to be great again.’ We did, too. This was an opportunity to hear what people had to say and for us to talk about changes in the high schools.”

That was just one evening in a year of developing the last TPS district-wide reform, known as Project Schoolhouse.

A similar process is beginning. TPS will be cutting $20 million from its budget in the next school year. School leaders say this is a chance for the public to shape how TPS serves students moving forward.

This is a massive undertaking in a short amount of time. The board is expected to approved a modified budget by Dec. 16.

So the next job is to persuade the public that a budget cut of $20 million will make the public schools great again.

Oklahoma is notorious for tax cuts for corporations and the fossil fuel industry and underfunded public schools.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, writes here about the philanthrocaptalist makeover of Tulsa University. A tale of our times.

Surely we can agree with The Tulsa World’s Randy Krehbiel, who says that the faculty and administration “disagree bitterly … about whether that transformation will be good or bad for the university.

Krehbiel provides plenty of space for the case made by T.U. President Gerry Clancy and the city’s philanthropists. Its supporters cite economic challenges, as well an opportunity for new revenue from courses that include cyber and health sciences. They claim that the plan is “not etched in stone,” and that it can evolve as the faculty weighs in.

Even so, Kreibiel reports, “a large number of students and alumni are furious about not only the plan itself but the manner in which it was developed … The Arts and Sciences faculty voted 89-4 not to implement True Commitment.” He also cites the participation of EAB, an education consulting firm. EAB’s role is unknown, but such secrecy is likely to be one reason why Krehbiel closed with a faculty member’s words, “I don’t think anyone is really optimistic.”

To get really pessimistic, read Jacob Howland’ articles in the Nation and City Journal magazines. He acknowledges the role of local philanthropies, especially the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), in “early-childhood education, delivering health care to indigent families, and making Tulsa more vibrant and economically robust.”

Howland writes:

GKFF spent $350 million on Tulsa’s new Gathering Place, the largest private gift to a public park in US history. The foundation has invested more than $100 million in the Tulsa Arts District since 2009. It is the major funder of early-childhood education in the state, and has spent more than $20 million in Tulsa alone on Educare early-childhood education centers.

But Howland suggests that the GKFF has overreached:

It has also pursued a strategy of populating city boards and commissions. In 2017, GKFF staff members headed the Tulsa school board and the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust, and had seats on the Economic Development Commission, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust, and the Tulsa City Council. For the past two years, a Bank of Oklahoma executive has chaired the board of directors of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Howland concludes, “the True Commitment restructuring were all part of Kaiser’s plan to gain control of the university.” And he argues that “TU’s administration has employed smashmouth tactics in dealing with faculty opposition to True Commitment.”

I’ve long admired the great job Tulsa edu-philanthropists have done in early education, “two generation” family supports, and criminal justice reform, and I’ve often asked GFKK leaders why they have also supported their opposite – the data-driven, competition-driven corporate school reforms that have failed so badly in the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS). I’ve repeatedly urged an open and balanced, evidence-driven public discussion of the TPS, which is led by the notorious teacher- and union-basher, Deborah Gist.

I was then saddened when the GKFF even joined with the Bloomberg and Walton foundations in funding “portfolio management” directors to “absorb the duties of the director of partnership and charter schools,” and “in the future, implement ‘new school models resulting from incubation efforts of the district.’” I was later stunned to learn that Stacy Schusterman donated almost $200,000 to California union-busting, teacher-bashing campaigns.

PreK-12 EDUCATION

http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1372632&session=2017&view=contributions

I would now urge Tulsa philanthropists to follow the links cited by journalists and educators and see if the EAB consultants have evidence to support the policies they promote, and then ask whether the values EAB proclaims are worthy of universities in our democracy.

Nowhere on the EAB website, is there any evidence that it’s approach is beneficial to students or society. EAB’s sales pitch certainly doesn’t sound like it has an appropriate role to play in higher education. On the contrary, its claim to fame is being the “brand police.” But how would its “integrated brand strategy” be able to coexist with the founding principles of universities, and their commitment to the clash of ideas? How could a commitment to academic freedom coexist with EAB brand “that all departments, schools, and colleges were onboard with.”

Its blog proclaims:

At EAB we have an ongoing fascination with organizational charts. (Really, we do.) Org charts can tell a story about a university’s strategy, its priorities, and how it gets things done. And when positions start moving on an org chart, we take notice. The latest example: The rise of the strategic marketing and communications (marcom) leader.

The most advanced marcom departments are strategic marketing partners and get involved in everything from institutional branding to admissions to fundraising. And to make sure that there’s a single source of marketing and advertising truth, they function like an in-house ad agency—their clients are departments, colleges, and offices around campus.

https://eab.com/insights/blogs/strategy/its-time-for-marketing-communications-to-have-a-say-in-campus-strategy-heres-how/

But universities aren’t a corporation where everyone is supposed to be on the same page in the search for a single “marketing and advertising truth.” To take one example, tenure protects the clash of ideas. But, EAB’s approach to “‘what you measure matters’” is a “mentality” that “sparks some ambivalence in academia to put it lightly.” So, how do you reconcile the scholarly and the business advertising mentalities? EAB’s response to tenure is:

One solution is to adopt academic metrics that also capture research effort. These metrics can include:
• The number of proposals or papers submitted
• The dollar amount of proposals
• Proportion of funding from different sources
• Benchmarks for the success rates of proposals and papers

https://eab.com/insights/blogs/strategy/3-ways-to-align-tenure-criteria-with-your-institutional-strategy/

Finally, I have enjoyed many conversations with Tulsa philanthropy leaders at events where they assembled talented professors from the O.U. and O.S.U. medical schools. Even though we disagreed on corporate school reform, I’m sure we would share our respect for those medical professionals who are battling the opioid epidemic. We would likely agree that privatization was a major contributor to the deaths of thousands of people in Oklahoma and across the nation.

I hope that philanthropists, who I am confident will contribute to the battle against opioid addiction, will ask a basic question. How many Oklahomans would still be alive and well if it was university medical professors who educated doctors about painkillers, as opposed to the drug companies’ sales reps who would misrepresent medical science in the name of “so-called unbranded promotion?” In times like these, should we not rally behind the principles which drive our universities’ search for knowledge, as opposed to something called “brand equity,” “integrated brand strategy” or whatever profit-seeking consultants spin?