Yes, Jason, $30 Million Is a Big Deal

Yesterday I sat in on two separate press conferences – State Supt. Barresi’s and Rep. Jason Nelson’s – regarding the denial of Oklahoma’s wavier from NCLB. There have been many excellent explanations, including OEA’s (“Loss of Federal Waiver Leaves Oklahoma Education Behind”), about the waiver and what this denial could mean for Oklahoma’s schools. I, however, want to address the disconnect and the frustration I felt after those press conferences.

I felt not only frustration but anger and utter disbelief at some of the remarks which were made. Supporting or not supporting Common Core isn’t really the issue. The issue for me is that there is a true disconnect between the State Department of Education, certain legislators like Jason Nelson, and the reality of what is going on in public schools. The bottom line for me is that we – educators, parents and students – have been left out of the picture, but we will now be the ones who have to live in the chaos that’s been created.

Supt. Barresi said that Common Core was the “law of the land” when she took office, but that this spring she went to Gov. Fallin and said that the parents and teachers didn’t like Common Core so we should listen to them. Whoa! Why has it taken nearly four years for them to decide they need to listen to parents and teachers? That should have been happening from the first day she took office. That’s nearly four years of students and teachers not having their voices heard. Is it any wonder we are now having difficulties? Teachers know the reality of what is going on in the classroom and parents understand how it affects their child. Of course, they should have a major voice in what is happening in public education.

I then headed to Rep. Nelson’s conference and heard him say losing the waiver “…isn’t a big deal,” “…there is no loss of money” and “…it’s a nonevent event.” What?! To those of us in education, the redirection of $20 to $30 MILLION is a very big deal. In a time when Oklahoma schools are operating on a budget that is over $200 million less than it was in 2008, any cut or redirection of money is a big deal. It leaves schools in limbo at a time when they are already dealing with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of resources for students and teachers.

Sen. Josh Brecheen also spoke at Nelson’s press conference about other states’ test scores. I don’t know how to make this any clearer to him – A child is more than a test score. I thought that was a lesson parents and educators made very clear when we addressed the 3rd grade Reading Sufficiency Act this past session. There’s more to teaching and learning than testing. Yes, we should look at other states and what has worked for them. We should have looked at the safeguards Indiana put in place so they didn’t lose their waiver.

Rep. Nelson also said yesterday he had mentioned in the discussion on the floor of the House of Representatives regarding HB3399 that there was a possibility we could lose the waiver. Apparently he and others decided to take a gamble and we lost. Sadly it was done at the expense of our students. They are playing politics with our children’s’ education. Shame on them.


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