An Oklahoma Miracle
If you’ve been in or around P-12 education in the last 15 years, you’ve probably heard of the Texas “miracle.” This “miracle” was the supposed unprecedented achievement of students in Houston schools when the initial test and punish paradigm was implemented. The “miracle” laid the foundation for what later became NCLB and was later proven to be a fraud. Today Oklahoma experienced a miracle and it’s no fraud!
On May 23rd the Oklahoma legislature by a commanding majority reversed its 2010 decision adopting Common Core. However, the bill could not become law without the signature of Governor Mary Fallin. This was problematic because Common Core had been commissioned by the National Governors Association of which Governor Fallin is the current chairman. Gov. Fallin clearly was on the horns of a dilemma. Would she fall in line with the NGA sponsorship of the Core and veto the bill, or would she listen to the voice of the people through its elected representatives? Thankfully, at least from my point of view and that of several thousand other Oklahomans, Gov. Fallin today signed the bill freeing Oklahoma from Common Core, and that is the miracle.
I think it is worth looking at why this has to be called a miracle. In order to get a grasp on that, one must look at the well documented lists of very powerful and very wealthy engineers of the Common Core Initiative. Many researchers have documented these folks—people like Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, the owners and/or CEOs of huge megacorporations such as Exxon and Amazon.com, just to mention a few. All of these entities and individuals have thrown their considerable money and influence at state legislators, often through ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to put in place the hastily written standards concocted in secret by a group of educational test writers. ALEC wrote model legislation that was used by the state legislatures to adopt the standards before they were even finished. In the background was the federal Department of Education under Arne Duncan, which was waiting in the wings with Race to the Top, a competition among the states that would supposedly tie states to commit to the standards in return for a chance for grants to write tests for the standards. Oh, and the states that didn’t win the Race to the Top money could get an NCLB waiver, the legality of which is highly suspect, by signing on to the standards and a few other little things like more charter schools and use of student test scores to grade teachers.
In Oklahoma this was all done in a matter of weeks in June of 2010 by Governor Brad Henry, State Superintendent Sandy Garrett, and a yes vote in the legislature. Slam, dunk! Common Core was now state law. Oh, and by the way, teachers and administrators of Oklahoma, you don’t get any more money to implement this; in fact, you get less.
Some Oklahomans caught on very quickly that we had been had. Others of us were a bit more naïve; we tried hard to make these new standards work. But the more we attempted to work with them the more questions we had. One of the first to question the whole enchilada was Jenni White, who, on her own dime, started a group along with Julia Seay and Tracy Lynn Habluetzel, called Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE). Another early alarmist was Linda Murphy, a former teacher and politician, who recognized much of the Common Core language bore a strong resemblance to Outcomes Based Education that Oklahomans had rejected in the 1990s. These and perhaps others I am not aware of began a very slow process of educating parents and teachers of the dangers of the Common Core Initiative. Jenni began researching the origins of the Initiative and shared the revealing documents she found, among other things, linking the standards to a plan to collect personally identifiable student data collected through the Common Core tests to be transferred to databases outside the state that would be accessible by third party vendors, notably the megalithic Pearson. She took screenshots of the data and put together PowerPoints that she and others traveled literally from one end of the state to the other to share. Both she and Linda began taking advantage of social media to keep in touch with others that became “believers.” For a long time it was a very lonely road for these early crusaders.
One other early crusader must also be mentioned. Representative Gus Blackwell voted against Common Core initially and offered bills in the House repeatedly in the intervening years to repeal it. His bills couldn’t get out of committee. Undaunted, he began holding interim studies to try to educate his colleagues about what was actually happening in Oklahoma education. Jenni and others presented the evidence they had found at those studies, but not many folks were listening.
I got actively involved in the fight about a year ago after struggling unsuccessfully for two years to make sense of the standards for my pre-service teachers. Some things I read in some of my educational journals made me question the origins of the standards and helped explain why I was having trouble interpreting them for my students. I was able to present my own testimony at one of Representative Blackwell’s hearings last November, along with some Oklahoma administrators such as Rob Miller, principal of Jenks Middle School, and Donna Anderson, superintendent at Bennington.
About the same time, a little blonde dynamo parent from Owasso appeared on the scene. Kristal Picolet had moved with her family to Owasso from Colorado, specifically to get away from Common Core. Colorado was being touted as an early implementer of Common Core, but Kristal was appalled by what was being asked of her children in their classes. Not realizing this was a “national” initiative, she thought they would be safe in Oklahoma. When she realized Common Core was following her, she decided, mama-bear fashion, that it was time to quit running and fight. And fight she did. She joined us in the November Interim Study, shaking as she testified, but with a strong voice. She has continued to be a commanding voice in the fight against Common Core in Oklahoma.
The more our little army of dedicated soldiers reached out to educate our friends and neighbors, the more they began to listen. Parent legislative action committees began to pop up all over the state. The names of the organizers are too numerous to mention, but you know who you are. The key element was that these groups stayed in touch through FaceBook and Twitter and shared information they learned with the other groups. These groups also made connections with groups in other states fighting the same battle so that there was a constant pipeline of information and strategies being shared.
When the legislative session began in February, getting a bill out of committee seemed impossible. Nevertheless, large numbers of parents and educators visited the Capitol on three separate occasions, and ROPE members and Linda Murphy met repeatedly with legislators to make them aware of the true impact of Common Core. Many parents and teachers bombarded their legislators with pleas to “Hear the Bill!” The ups and downs of the legislative session were exhausting, and many times it appeared that we would not get a bill. It took an enormous amount of patience and perseverance to hang tough until the final day of the legislative session. The bill literally went down to the wire, and in the end Senator Josh Brecheen gave a brilliant speech defending the bill, that may not have changed any votes but laid out the issues clearly. The bill passed both the House and the Senate in a virtual landslide. This was indeed a miracle. Throughout the legislative session the deep-pocketed corporate reformers had sent in their bought-and-paid-for spokespeople with national organizations such as Stand for Children, Chamber of Commerce, PTA, and others to spout their usual unsupported talking points without benefit of unbiased research to lobby the legislature and the media. In the face of the moneyed interests, the miracle had been wrought by the self-sacrificing hard work of literally thousands of Oklahoma grassroots parents and teachers on their computers, phones and iPads, who stood up and said “No! Not on our watch!”
Some began to celebrate, but those who had learned the ins and outs of Oklahoma politics knew that victory was not in the bag. That’s when the pressure began in earnest on Governor Fallin, and this explains another part of the Oklahoma miracle. The corporate reformers sent in the big dogs including educational organizations (who hadn’t bothered to poll their members before they spoke), the Chamber of Commerce again, and even the military. And Fallin had to be thinking about the fall-out for her own personal political ambitions beyond Oklahoma if she signed the bill. In the end, although continuing to state that the Common Core Standards were well intentioned, but that they amounted to federal over-reach, she signed the bill, stating that Oklahoma can write better standards than the Common Core ever were. As Rob Miller has pointed out in his blog this evening, Fallin has called Arne Duncan’s bluff.
Lately I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, and the comparison to this situation is palpable. Gladwell claims that David was able to beat Goliath, not because he was bigger or stronger, but because he knew Goliath’s Achilles heel, his poor eyesight. I suspect that the Mama Bears of Oklahoma may be the Achilles heel of Common Core.
My apologies to all anti-CC warriors whom I may have overlooked or whose names I have misspelled. This was a true community effort and everyone of you was necessary. Thank you!