- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News Press. May 6, 2018.

We’re looking for more open-minded people to help us in our next Pulse of the Voters series. The News Press spoke with different people from different political spectrums for the first in what we hope will be an ongoing series dedicated to an informed electorate, and those articles ran alongside a national CNHI piece April 1.

The series isn’t so much about who we vote for, but how our experience shapes the way we vote. We learned quite a lot about how, despite an often overwhelming chorus of perceived bias from what’s thought of as a monolithic party or movement, the people we spoke to had very personal reasons to vote the way we do. Outside influences aren’t nearly as impactful as internal ones.

The next will mark the second quarter of the year and the second part of the series. It’s timed to run probably just before the June primary but may be subject to change.



A lot of what we learned is that upbringing influences how a lot of people vote. The next time around will be looking at how religion or personal faith can influence voters. Faith is a big part of the heartland and its influence can often be overlooked by pollsters on the coast.

We’ll also be asking about gender issues, on the back of the #metoo movement and things that could be perceived as chasms between genders.

As always, it isn’t our intention to set an agenda, we would rather have the subjects in this series determine the direction of the story.

If you are interested in helping us with this great community service please email [email protected]

___

Tulsa World. May 8, 2018.

Late in the closing days of a legislative session, there are often puzzling shenanigans that make citizens shake their heads and wonder what lawmakers could be thinking, or if they were capable of thinking.

This year was no exception.

Take, for example, Senate Bill 1599, which would have wired around the inability of big high schools in central Oklahoma to compete with Jenks’ and Union’s gridiron teams by legislative fiat.

SB 1599 would have effectively mandated that the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association artificially group some (but not all) big high schools in a separate division. There’s how to get Norman high schools to win a state championship, a statute that says they never have to beat Jenks or Union.

And what better level of detail for the Legislature to meddle in, even if they can’t get five-day classes mandated, right?

Then there was Senate Bill 1488, the proposal to let wealthy landowners hand out hunting and fishing licenses to their friends and customers.

Under the proposal, if you owned enough land and paid a high enough price, you could become a wildlife department unto yourself. The poor and landless would have to continue lining up for their licenses the old fashioned way.

After they got a little public scrutiny, neither bill made it out of the Legislature, which is as it should be. But neither should have seen the light of day.

Lawmakers who can’t adequately fund public schools don’t have time to mess around redesigning high school football classifications or setting rich fishermen loose on the state’s bass.

But that didn’t stop them from trying.

___

The Oklahoman. May 8, 2018.

National tests have shown a sharp decline in Oklahoma third-grade reading performance. State lawmakers responded by trying to further water down state reading tests. To her credit, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed that bill, proving she takes this challenge seriously.

Under the existing Reading Sufficiency Act, third-graders take an annual state reading test. Results are grouped into four categories that reflect if a student is reading at grade level, above grade level, about a year below grade level, or far below grade level. Third-graders reading at only a first-grade level or lower repeat a grade (with exceptions for those with disabilities or comparable challenges).

The law initially generated major benefit. Oklahoma’s reading scores improved more than all but a few states on one national test. But lawmakers weakened the law and allowed social promotion of children who don’t qualify for any of the numerous exceptions. Under this loophole, functionally illiterate children can still promote to the fourth grade without learning to read. Nearly one in four such students has been socially promoted, and state performance has declined.

Senate Bill 1190 would have done away with the four reporting categories mentioned above. Instead, as Fallin noted in her veto message, the bill would have moved from reporting results in four-tiered bands to two-tiered bands, “creating a pass-or-fail system” that would “mask student performance from parents, school performance communities, and state policy leaders. With a pass-fail system, parents, community members and state education policy makers will not be able to understand if a school is missing the pass level by a point or by significant margins. This also does not allow policy makers to see if all levels of students are improving on tests or just the bubble students.”

A technical advisory committee at the Department of Education endorsed eliminating the four categories because the group felt there weren’t sufficient test questions to provide that differentiation. (That flaw was due to yet another change the Legislature made to the reading law in recent years.) But Fallin stressed there are other ways to address that issue. She has directed the State Board of Education to adopt revised tests better designed to identify student performance at all levels.

Fallin noted SB 1190 also eliminated a requirement for schools to set annual reading improvement goals and report to the State Board of Education when the district falls short.

The bill’s defenders pointed out it passed the Legislature overwhelmingly. Yet the bill’s language is technical, and in such cases legislators often rely on official summary documents prepared by legislative staff. The House summary for SB 1190 merely said the bill “cleans up and reformats language within the Reading Sufficiency Act,” while the Senate summary said it “directs the State Board of Education to ensure students meet certain minimum criteria.”

Thus, it’s safe to say many lawmakers had little understanding of the bill’s complexity and vote tallies signify little.

By scrutinizing legislation, rather than running with the herd, Fallin did the right thing. If reading doesn’t warrant greater focus and effort in Oklahoma’s public school system, what does?

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