Friday, June 28, 2013

Oklahoma State Department of Education Denies Public Comment At June Monthly Meeting



 

Today (June 27, 2013) was a sad day for the idea of representative government.

Today a number of us showed up at our state school board meeting in order to speak for 3 minutes during the public comment section of the meeting at the very end and were told we could not.

I got to the meeting around 9am.  I had to sign in and indicate the topic on which I desired to speak.  I wrote “Common Core”.  I hadn’t been in my seat 10 minutes when Chief of Staff, Joel Robison asked me to speak with him.  He asked me to enter a conference room where he politely told me we would not be allowed to speak today as the Common Core (or the P20 Council – a subject on which several on the board had planned to speak) was not a subject on the agenda for this particular meeting.  We could only address the board for 3 minutes if we were speaking either about an item on the agenda.  (Agenda’s for this and previousState Board meetings can be found here)

In a very civil manner, I told him I didn’t agree with that decision.  I explained that we are already one step away from representative government by having an appointed and not elected school board – where the board members serve at the pleasure of the governor, not the taxpayers directly – and that not having a time when parents and taxpayers could speak concerns to their school board left us no recourse for concerns.

Robison pointed to the rules for public comment listed on each written agenda:

The State Board of Education shall hear public comment on any item listed on the current Board of Education meeting agenda.  Public comments will be limited to only those subject matters covered in the current meeting agenda.  Public comment will not be taken on issues relating to: (1) pending litigation against OSDE, OSBE, or agency employees, (2) a pending grievance; (3) an employee complaint; (4) complaints against OSDE employees; or (5) disciplinary action, suspension or termination of an OSDE employee.  A sign-up sheet will be posted at least fifteen (15) minutes prior to the scheduled start time of the Board Meeting.  Sign up must be completed prior to the scheduled start time of the meeting.  The individual signing in must select one of the two public comment periods on the agenda to participate in.  Only individuals who have signed up to speak will be recognized during the Public Comment period and will be recognized in the order in which they have signed in.  Each speaker will be allocated three (3) minutes for presentation.  The Board Chairperson may interrupt and/or terminate any presentation during public comment, which does not conform to the procedures outlined under this Section.  The Board Chairperson reserves and retains the right to interrupt, terminate or postpone public comment as necessary to effectuate the management of the public meeting.

I told him I understood his position, but asked when we would be able to address the board on the issue of Common Core.  I respectfully reminded him that the Department of Education – not the legislature – created their meeting rules and if the Department wanted to change them, they certainly could.  Never rude or unpleasant, Robison instead assured me he would find some way for us to address the board and told me he would work on that.  He asked for my contact information and I returned to my seat. 

As I sat through nearly an hour of “Recognitions” at the beginning of the agenda, all I could think of was, “Can’t this information be given to the media in a packet?  Can’t this be posted on the webpage?”  Not to say that recognitions aren’t important and that these things don’t matter, but could they not be dealt with by either a press gathering/release or webpage/email announcement?  Couldn’t this time be used for public comment – as one of the reasons one often gets for silencing public comment is ‘time constraints’.  As it was, the board again had to bring in lunch for themselves.

I sat listening out of one ear to the discussions while Tweeting and Facebooking our dilemma until I saw this




This slide was part of a presentation given by Meridyth McBee related to agenda item 8(c): Discussion and possible action on the standard setting results and performance level descriptors for OCCT and OMAAP Biology I EOI Assessments.

OEA President, Linda Hampton, was also at the meeting today with a desire to speak about testing.  Tuesday, theOEA released a report calling for the 2012-2013 standardized test results to be declared invalid due to the massive number of issues surrounding the ‘new’ computerized testing format.

Assessments = tests.  No, this agenda item was not specifically related to the McGraw/Hill testing debacle, but where do you draw the line?  Why would they not be able to speak about testing if the issue of testing was clearly addressed by this item?

How was Common Core not germane here?  McBee was discussing the Core Curriculum tests – which, as of this year 2012-2013 – contained Common Core testing elements.  In addition, as per GovernorHenry’s Race to the Top Addendum where he installed Common Core standards for English/Language Arts, Math, SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES as the law of the land in Oklahoma, this item – Biology – under the category of ‘Science’ – was a Common Core issue.  Yes, this was about cut scores and not the standards themselves, but again, where do you draw the line?

I left my seat and approached Robison about this.  To his credit, he didn’t deny that my evaluation was right, he simply asked my “forbearance” on the issue, and again assured me that he would work on finding a way to ‘meet our needs’ for a board level discussion on the issue.

I consented and returned to my seat.  I have several more things to say about the meeting, but I will include them at the bottom after I finish this more interesting portion of the story.

At this point I would like to mention that our State Department continually uses obfuscation as a way to stifle public knowledge.  Not only was McBee speaking about cut scores on ASSESSMENTS (an incorrect word for test but used by the Department as interchangeable), but Richard Karam (an Assistant State Superintendent – how many of these do we need?) discussed C3 Partnership Schools.  What is C3?  C3 refers to, “College, Career and Citizenship-ready” – the name Dr. Barresi has given her education ‘reform’ package that includes the College, Career andCitizen ready Common Core State Standards.  She not only also refers to these as C3 and OC3 on the website, but Oklahoma State Standards as well.  Apparently the DOE likes to play the shell game with names.

By 3pm, Chief of Staff Robison had left me a voice mail about the next Board meeting in July (July 25).  Apparently, adoption of the new Art Standards will be discussed and we would be allowed to comment at that meeting on the Common Core.  (Linda Hampton also reports being told the same thing...but she wanted to discuss testing...what?)

I called Robison back so we could discuss the issue more thoroughly, and was told that yes, ROPE and anyone else who wanted to speak about the Common Core, could do so at the next State Board meeting (He wanted to let us know that the P20 is still not germane to that topic and discussion about that would be stopped, however.)  It was an interesting discussion during which I asked why the meetings were held in this manner.  Robison told me it was to “keep meetings orderly and to keep everyone focused on the topics at hand”.  

I explained again that this process, in effect, disenfranchised tax payers, at which point he wondered aloud about the need for the need for us to speak to the board when we are “already organizing the grass roots by speaking across the state and working with legislators”.

I told him that solutions to every disagreement start with the person with whom you have the argument.  When we are invited to speak somewhere, we are often “preaching to the choir” – to those who also do not like the OSDE policies and feel disenfranchised.  Other than rousing these good folks to talk to their legislators, how is that addressing the genesis of the problem?  


The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Jan. 26, 2012, adopted a resolution to fully support Superintendent Janet Barresi’s goal of having all students in Oklahoma college, career and citizen ready by the year 2020, known as her C³Plan.” 

Obviously, our concern is with both the legislature and the OSDE.

Robison was always very civil and polite – I have no complaint with the man – just the message.

Every year, legislators tell constituents horror stories of what would happen if every bill was read during session.  These are merely excuses, however, for the fact that when legislators get to pick and choose which bills are read, legislators can control the process – can control the will of the people – regulate the voice of the people in whatever manner works for their agenda.  I’m not vilifying legislators; I’m saying that this thought process runs counter to the spirit and definition of “representative government” desired by our founders.

What the OSDE did (does) here is exactly the same thing.  There is no legitimate reason to prevent the public from speaking on whatever educationally-related topic they feel important – in fact; Dr. Barresi is a civil SERVANT.  She serves at the will of the people who pay her salary.  Whether she likes – or agrees with – what we have to say or not, the very LEAST she can do is hear us out.  Many public meetings allow public comment – usually at the end of the meeting after the business of that board/commission is concluded.  If you don’t want to have to sit and listen to what your constituency has to say ONE day a month for as long as it takes, then you needn’t desire to hold PUBLIC office.

It is enough that the meetings are held in a room that PREVENTS attendance by the public – literally there cannot be any more than 50 chairs in this room – most of which are populated by (at various meetings), vendors, state school administrators, OSDE employees.  Where are the seats for “guests”.  Oh, that’s right, there were TWO at this last meeting marked ‘guest’.  How is there a way for taxpayers and parents to attend?  Many have to stand in the hall.

It is enough that the meetings are held at 9am in the morning.  Most people work.  Parents have children for which to find sitters.

It is enough that citizens/taxpayers/parents must get to the meetings well before 9:15 to sign up to speak.

How many gauntlets must a citizenry jump through in order to redress their government?

Yes, Dr. Barresi – and most board members – know our position on Common Core.  You can argue that it is simply not necessary for us to appear before the Board again and again to state our case.  In answer I will use an axiom, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”.  Sometimes government must be addressed countless times in order that the will of the people is not subverted.  

In point of fact, it is in parsing these issues that freedom is lost.

Please, take the time to put the next meeting of the State School Board on your calendar NOW.  Find a sitter, take time off of work because I guarantee you, should the public NOT attend this meeting in DROVES, our cause will be lost and my arguments will be in vain.

OTHER ISSUES:

One of the reasons I personally despise (yes a strong word that I will not soften) government by appointment is that the appointed serves at the pleasure of the one who does the appointing.  This fact is written in state law.  For whom does the appointed hold office?  The citizenry THROUGH the appointing elected official.  Does that appointed official respond first to the level of their appointment or directly to the taxpayer?  I will argue the one by whom they were appointed, and a gubernatorial appointee has told me that much – that the Governor expects her appointees to follow her agenda – which does not necessarily follow the will of the taxpayer.

I believe this idea was in full force during this meeting particularly in respect to discussion on adoption of an emergency rule.

This rule would prevent a school from denying entry to a child desiring to move from another school because of an issue with bullying (a transfer issue).  I will not play-by-play the entire conversation but merely pass on the fact that General Baxter and Member Shdeed did NOT like the rule, while did members Amy Ford and Bill Price.  Quite a discussion occurred among these four members – clearly split in half on the issue – until the time of the vote, with Baxter calling the rule “bad policy” and Amy Ford arguing that the rule must pass even though it’s not a good rule because it can be amended later.  “It’s a process”,  Ford says many times with an apparent understanding as to why she would want to pass a rule that isn’t really going to do what is intended – someone else wants it done.  Bill Price mentions several times that, “We’ll just get Jason Nelson (OK Representative) to amend this bill next session.”

Though arguing vociferously against this rule during discussion, both Baxter and Shdeed voted FOR the rule change.  Don’t forget, this board is TWO members down since the departures of Joy Hoffmeister (to run against Barresi forsuperintendent) and Brian Hayden whoseexit was immediate last month for personal reasons pertaining to new employment.

Sitting next to Dr. Jack Herron (fired by Barresi from the OSDE for no apparent reason), Herron leans over and tells me that the board doesn’t really know what they’re talking about – they don’t apparently even understand the process they’re discussing.   

Which brings me to another complaint; why populate a board with individuals who have no background in education – who are certainly upstanding members of the community – but who have ZERO expertise in education?  Why do we allow those that have no education experience to set rules for those in education to have to follow?  This truly makes no sense to me, leading to my final comment.

Bill Price, during the discussion on the Teacher Leadership Effectiveness report, at one point made mention that, “as a member of the TLE Board”, and then began to illuminate the board and audience about happenings on the TLE Board relating to the topic.  Why is Bill Price on two education Boards?  While I can see communication necessary between many of these board (although I believe 527 Boards and Commissions are excessive here in Oklahoma s this is all leadership through bureaucracy and therefore should be dissolved in my opinion), I do not understand populating these boards with many of the same individuals.  Is there really such a dearth in leadership in Oklahoma that this situation would even be necessary?

In closing, if you do not take time to attend board/commission/city council meetings, you get the government you do deserve.  Long ago, citizens stopped participating in their government.  Long ago, political elitists and government officials with insidious intent understood that the best way to silence the voice of the people (if the sleeping giant was ever to awaken) was to create a bureaucracy of appointed officials that kept taxpayers separated from their ELECTED officials.  They knew that bureaucracies stymie the political process and create government webs that provide no accountability to the people, but entangle them in reams of red tape that stifle liberty while plugging the pockets of the cronies who keep them in power.   WAKE UP.  TAKE ACTION.  RECLAIM YOUR GOVERNMENT.  I have said all I can say.

ARTICLES ON THIS ISSUE:

Commenters turned away at state board of education meeting Tuesday

Why did education panel restrict public comments?

Ed board denies public comments