Welcome to the second installment of our series on education, where we examine how the mishandling of the state academic standards has affected teachers and classrooms across the state. This past session saw the new Oklahoma Academic Standards pass, but the path our legislature took to get there was long, risky, and harmful to students and teachers alike. Stability is an underrated element of a student’s education, oft overlooked but incredibly vital. Continuity is what allows a classroom to function properly, and for the past six years our educators have been robbed of that continuity.
Oklahoma Republicans have played havoc with our state’s academic standards, beginning with the move to Common Core in 2010. Implementing Common Core was expensive process that would take several years to complete, but a change was probably necessary. Necessary because four years later the federal government would decree that Oklahoma’s P.A.S.S (Priority Academic Student Skills) state standards were not rigorous enough- backed up by the 39% of Oklahoma students taking remedial classes in college. After Governor Fallin decided to nix Common Core English and Math standards in 2014, the failure of the P.A.S.S. standards meant that Oklahoma would have to develop new standards to continue receiving a waiver from No Child Left Behind.
The state Board of Education presented the new Oklahoma Academic Standards to the state legislature earlier this year, but not without controversy. The new standards have been endorsed by the Oklahoma Writing Project and the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of Math, among others. They have also drawn criticism from Professors Larry Gray and Sandra Stotsky, referred to by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister as “experts who were instrumental in developing academic standards in other states” only last year. Achieve, a nationwide educational nonprofit that specializes in evaluating state academic standards and a key player in the development of Common Core, conducted an analysis of the new standards. The organization concluded that the ELA standards “will likely cause confusion for Oklahoma’s teachers because they aren’t sufficiently clear” and that “key concepts are missing across grades” from the Math standards.
After a bizarre saga that included Superintendent Joy Hofmeister vacillating between tacit approval and public condemnation of a resolution approving the new standards with specific revisions, the Oklahoma legislature finally changed the state’s academic standards for the third time in six years. Every time academic standards change, teachers have to develop new curriculum, schools have to buy new textbooks, and students have to prepare for new tests. Adjusting to new academic standards is an arduous process for teachers that should not be undertaken lightly, particularly when there is uncertainty as to how acceptable these standards truly are. By accepting and then rejecting Common Core, Oklahoma Republicans have forced that arduous process on our educators time and time again.
By now, it looks like Oklahoma finally has its new academic standards, providing a small amount of stability that couldn’t be coming at a better time. That’s because some Oklahoma school districts are being forced to move to four day weeks to cut down on expenses, necessary frugality brought on by the steadfast obstinacy of Oklahoma Republicans refusing to fund public education. These four day weeks put even more pressure on our teachers, who now have one less day a week to prepare their students for the standardized testing that can make or break both a teacher’s career and a student’s educational opportunities and job prospects.
Oklahoma teachers are forced to deal with large class sizes, fickle academic standards, forced retirements in higher education and layoffs in public education, and four day school weeks. They have been charged with educating the future of our state, and yet they are continually expected to do more with less. Our teachers are paid poorly, subject to unceasing and unwarranted interference from our legislature, and then denied the funding that their schools and students unequivocally require. How can you stop this? Vote for the 30+ educators running for state office this year. Vote Democrat.
 “The price of Common Core repeal,” last modified August 29th, 2014, http://www.politico.com/story/2014/08/oklahoma-common-core-no-child-left-behind-waiver-110421
 “Diploma in Hand, Many College-Bound Students Must Backtrack,” last modified January 4th, 2016, http://oklahomawatch.org/2016/01/04/diploma-in-hand-many-college-bound-students-must-backtrack/
 “Controversial bill dealing with Common Core passes Oklahoma Senate,” last modified April 1st, 2014 http://kfor.com/2014/04/01/controversial-bill-dealing-with-common-core-passes-oklahoma-senate/
 “State Superintendent defends new academic standards,” last modified March 20th, 2016, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/education/state-superintendent-joy-hofmeister-defends-new-academic-standards-for-public/article_224f3155-c1d3-502c-880b-d8a4d12dc46b.html
 “Four-day school week is a consequence of unwillingness to fund public schools,” last modified November 25th, 2015, http://okpolicy.org/four-day-school-week-consequence-unwillingness-fund-public-schools-capitol-updates/
 Four-day school weeks,” last modified November 29th, 2015, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/education/four-day-school-weeks-districts-weighing-benefits-but-hofmeister-says/