Education Reform Failure

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I can’t recall a time in Oklahoma when the politics of education was such a mess.

Not all of it is the direct fault of state politicians, which obviously include Gov. Mary Fallin and outgoing, controversial Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, but they are the main factor in the problem. The other factor is the nationwide movement pushing high-stakes testing, which is driven by misguided conservative dogma.

What all this means is that students are getting used as pawns by politicians extoling unproven educational theories based on conservative ideology not best classroom practices. Here’s how that conservative ideology works: Starve schools of taxpayer funding, implement high-stakes testing to show failure, make the claim that privatization and the commodification of the public school system will solve the problem.

But is this all starting to unravel for the so-called “reformers” of education? Two new developments show just how messy things have gotten in Oklahoma educational politics and that this might well be the case.

(1) The federal Education Department is taking away the state’s waiver for its No Child Left Behind program because the legislature and Fallin repealed Common Core standards this year without replacing them with new standards. The stated aim of the repeal was to prevent federal intrusion into Oklahoma’s educational system. Yet the repeal itself has brought that about far more directly than had the standards remained in place. Poetic justice or just plain dumb?

(2) Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi just announced that fifth and eighth grade writing scores will not be used this year to determine the draconian A-F school report cards because of problems with the test administered by the private vendor CTB-McGraw Hill. This is the second year in a row there were what have been called “disruptions” in the company’s online testing system, which has prompted an investigation by Attorney General Scott Pruitt to determine financial accountability.

The two events might seem unrelated, but a closer look reveals this main connection: Conservative school reformers, whether rejecting federal intrusion in schools or pushing for high-stakes testing by private companies, have failed to improve schools and only create quagmires and muddles. Their policies and procedures don’t work.

It’s just too bad we have to continue to play it all out in Oklahoma.