Monday, March 16, 2015

Legislative Update As Bills Cross Between House and Senate

I'm sad to say, but, as hard as we tried to stay on top of the education bills this year, we just couldn't do it!  There are ALWAYS too many of them and this year wasn't an exception.  Here is the list of just House Education bills for this year in case you want to peruse them and check me up on my definition of too many!  So please forgive our consistent updates.

At any rate, if you'll remember, we started the 2015 legislative session with the goals of:
  1. Trying to stop the grading of teachers via surveys and high stakes testing better known as TLE. 
  2. Upgrading school choice in Oklahoma to include ALL those who would like to participate. We believe the way to do this is through the establishment of Education Savings Accounts.
  3. Continuing to fight for privacy protection for students from data collection.
1.  Our concern with TLE (beyond the idea that it adds another layer to what teachers are already mandated to do), is that TLE measures were built to test Common Core standards. So far, it appears that the quantitative portion of TLE will be put on hold for at least two years and the qualitative portion will be changed slightly as well.

2.  Education Savings Accounts were represented this session in the form of a bill by Representative Jason Nelson (HB2003) and another by Senator Clark Jolley (SB609).  HB2003 was heard in the Common Education Committee where it received a 9 to 9 vote and was killed.  SB609 was pulled from consideration this session before it reached the floor for a vote by the author, due to pressure to kill the bill in the Senate.  I don't want to get into a discussion about this issue, but I will say that it was very disappointing to see such emotional, untrue and mean/rude commentaries by many in the education establishment.  Though there are many issues to work through, it saddens me to hear people who say they care about the education of children, present such illogical arguments to turn the tide of public opinion.

3.  This year, HB1989 was slightly changed (HB2049) in order to create district-level data protection for students.  The bill has passed the House and has crossed to the Senate.

Unfortunately, we've had a fight on our hands we didn't expect - that of a repeal (in essence) of HB3399 (the bill to kill Common Core in Oklahoma) by way of SB707, a bill by Senator John Ford.  We've written numerous blogs about this issue so I won't go into detail here, but I will say that the bill is DELIBERATELY being messaged as a bill ONLY to stop End Of Instruction (EOI) exams by such organizations as Stand For Children, the Oklahoma State Chamber, COSSA, the OSSBA, individual school administrators and others.  The only reason I can think this might happen is because there is specific intent to change the wording in HB3399 to untie the tests from the standards in order to bring in an off-the-shelf test - namely ACT - to serve as a single EOI.  Don't forget, these are the same organizations that worked against us so vehemently to keep Common Core and that alone should present a RED FLAG.  It's also interesting here to note that another of Senator Ford's bills - SB708 did the same thing proponents of ditching EOI's wanted, yet it got zero discussion - another RED FLAG.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, we are FINE with removing the EOI's - it wasn't long ago that a high school student had only to complete his course of instruction with C's and above to graduate high school - PERIOD.  The problem comes in when we try to test other than Oklahoma standards - especially when we haven't even gotten them written yet - though we do now have a process to develop these approved by the State Board on Friday (March 12th) and that is very good news.

In fact, in an interesting twist, previous Common Core proponent, Andrew Spiropoulus actually penned an op-ed for the Journal Record pointing the finger at the ACT as a way to bring back Common Core, so if we're wearing tin foil hats over this one, well, you get the picture.

Enter HB1622.  This bill by Representative David Derby, would phase out EOI testing over time, (a very important step simply because education policy of late consists of rushing headlong into situations that later have to be rectified by passing more laws)  substituting them with ONE graduation test that can be both criterion- and norm-referenced as well as include our own Oklahoma standards.  This is a much better plan that doesn't involve gutting the Common Core repeal from last year.

Please stay tuned as we continue to move forward through the legislative process.  We may have to bring out those green shirts again if we can't seem to be heard on this very important issue - dust them off and be ready.  In the meantime we'll let you know something as soon as we know it.

UPDATE: 3/16/15 SB707 was passed by the Common Education Committee 11/4 with an amendment provided by Jason Nelson that puts back INTO the bill the phrase that was taken out. Though there is no record of the amendment at the time of this posting, it should be available by tomorrow morning.