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ANALYSIS: Hofmeister declares victory and the clock runs out, beginning implementation of her Math and English/Language Arts Standards

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. Photo provided.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. Photo provided.

by Patrick B. McGuigan

OKLAHOMA CITY – Most legislative analysts watching events unfold at the state Capitol believe Superintendent Joy Hofmeister declared herself winner of an important joust a bit early. Ultimately, however, as a practical matter she undoubtedly forced an outcome to her satisfaction, fashioning Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/Language Arts that met her expectations.

On Monday (March 28), the state Senate did not consider House Joint Resolution 1070, a proposal was intended to give a final set of guidelines to the state Department of Education, calling for revisions that would not require additional legislative review.

Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, had explained last Wednesday (March 23), without H.J.R. 1070’s Senate approval, “any revisions to the new academic standards by the State Board of Education will have to come back to the Legislature for an additional 30-day review process.”

However, Superintendent Hofmeister had declared the standards approved as of March 23, saying in a prepared statement:

“These new standards are rigorous, user-friendly and, most importantly, created by Oklahomans for Oklahomans to address the particular needs of our state,” she said.

“They strengthen expectations of what our students can achieve and set a high bar to ensure that our schoolchildren will graduate prepared for college or the workforce. I am thankful to every Oklahoman who participated in this process — from those who devoted many months of their time and expertise writing the standards to the thousands of individuals and organizations that provided essential feedback. This was a dynamic, collaborative, transparent process. Oklahoma can truly be proud of these standards.”

Contrary to Hofmeister’s declaration, however, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Thursday (March 24) said in telephone conversations with legislators that the “legislative day” count for consideration of the standards should run through Monday of this week (March 28) because the solons did not work on Thursday (March 23).

However, Hofmeister spokesman Phil Bacharach told Barbara Hoberock of the Tulsa World:

“We feel very confident that the standards are strong and don’t need any substantive revisions. Even with the House resolution which gave us authority to make changes, they were small technical changes.”

According to House sources, however, there was more than ‘technical changes’ suggested in the House version, crafted in response to widely publicized scrutiny of the Hofmeister Standards as vague and inspecific, and could allow “stealth” alignment with Common Core.

Many classroom educators countered, saying over the past few weeks that the lack of specificity in “exemplars” for the standards was a strength, allowing local flexibility for implementation.

Hofmeister had told Senate leaders she preferred the upper chamber’s suggestions to the H.J.R. 1070. In the end, the Senate did not act on anything touching the issue on Monday, with the practical effect the standards will be implemented for the 2017-17 academic year.

Underlying the joust were the provisions of House Bill 3399, the historic 2014 rejection of the Common Core standards. That legislation was intended to assure strong academic standards, albeit specifically under the control of Oklahomans, turning away from Common Core and what is deemed “alignment” with those strictures through other means, including the ACT test which is commonly taken by junior and senior high school students in the state.

As crafted by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, the education department was, under H.B. 3399, to conduct a statewide process with citizen input and prepare the standards for review by the state board of education and members of the Legislature.

After H.B. 3399 was signed into law, then-Superintendent Janet Barresi and her staff prepared a framework for preparation of standards. However, soon after taking office in 2015, Hofmeister scrapped that framework and created her own.

The standards submitted on February 1 to the House and Senate were intended to take effect as “final,” unless legislators passed resolutions calling for revisions. When time ran out on Monday, the standards went into effect. However, future disputes may emerge over differing interpretations of the next stage of the implementation process.

Education Department officials say they can now develop guidelines for schools to implement the Hofmeister Standards, but critics say any substantive revisions will amount to changes that violate the intention of H.B. 3399.

Superintendent Hofmeister is on a bit of a roll, of late.

In addition to beginning the implementation of her standards, she played a part in the death of a new school choice proposal and gained a chunk of taxpayer money from the Rainy Day Fund without making additional reforms to the public school system.

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