Education Montana Politics

The Disaster of Elsie Arntzen’s Tenure at OPI Continues

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In a slew of press releases and news stories featuring the broken syntax and lack of command of the English language that characterize Elsie Arntzen, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction laid out a new set of guidelines for student achievement on federally mandated tests, leaving the largest burden on students with disabilities. The Independent Record reports:

The Montana plan says 4 percent of nonproficient students will have to improve to proficient on state required tests each year. But more students with disabilities get nonproficient scores than the average student. And to move from one proficiency category to the other will require students with disabilities to improve scores faster than their classmates.

Despite these increased expectations for students with disabilities, Arntzen couldn’t be troubled to actually advocate for more resources for those students during the legislative session. Attempting to explain her failure to do one of the most important jobs the OPI chief has, Artnzen offered this assault on both the English language and the canons of logic:

“The policies on special education were going to be dealt with within the Capitol complex,” she said. “If you were in my shoes and a newly minted agency director as well as someone coming from the legislative standpoint not wanting to expend 100 percent of energy toward one policy or another, I came in on 100 percent of budget.”

If you can parse that nonsense, you probably couldn’t pass one of the standardized tests that will determine whether not a student is proficient in English or Math.

Her almost total inability to communicate aside, we can’t ignore the fact that, knowing she intended to increase proficiency standards for students with disabilities, Arntzen couldn’t be troubled to advocate for those students and increased funding to serve their needs before the Legislature. Hell, essentially the only reason Arntzen could consistently argue she deserved election over Melissa Romano was her service in the Legislature, but she absolutely refused to use that experience to advocate for students.

In fact, Arntzen told the Independent Record that she “expected policies related to special education to be dealt with by legislators,” despite the presumed expertise from OPI and the fact that the conservative Legislature certainly wasn’t going to increase funding for any program without a strong, persuasive effort from the agency.

In an interview with the Billings Gazette, Arntzen, referring to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind guidelines, offered this nonsensical claim, further demonstrating her struggles with the language:

“ESSA as a synonym, it could be equity across all subgroups.”

That’s not what a synonym is, Elsie. And what you’re doing is not what a Superintendent does. It’s kind of amusing that you can’t seem to write or speak a coherent sentence, but there’s nothing amusing about your failure to do your job and look out for Montana students in public schools.

Please demonstrate basic proficiency yourself before imposing what well could be impossible standards on students with disabilities and the schools who serve them.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • Superintendent Arntzen also failed to advocate for adequate funding as a legislator. In 2015-2016, while she was running for Superintendent, she also served as Vice-Chair of the School Funding Interim Commission, which examined the adequacy and equity of school funding in Montana. Ms. Arntzen, along with all Republicans and a majority of public members on the Commission, refused to adopt a statement summarizing undisputed facts that show that school funding is not adequate and as a result not equitable. When I saw that funding for special education in particular would get no serious consideration from the Commission unless forced, I prepared a minority report laying out clearly the inadequacy of special education funding, how that is resulting in huge cost-shifting to local districts and a lack of equity and in some cases access to a meaningful special education program. The same majority (roughly) refused to include the minority report in the commission report, even though as a minority report, they didn’t have to agree with it. They effectively voted to bury it, but you can read it here. http://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Interim/2015-2016/School-Funding/Meetings/Aug-2016/SFIC%20Minority%20Report%20(revised%20081616).pdf

    If the proposed cuts to federal programs in the Senate’s healthcare proposal become law, the situation for special education students and for the state and local districts will become even worse. A travesty in a state with the most enlightened constitutional goal — to develop the full educational potential of every student — in the nation.

  • Is she really so ignorant? Crazy? Or does she herself suffer from a disability long ignored? Regardless, this article suggests Elsie hasn’t been doing her job, protecting and advancing the education of all of Montana’s children.

  • What i find amazing is that over 40% of public school teachers in this state vote republican, talk about voting against your own interests. Makes me wonder sometimes how good of an education our kids are getting when 2/5’s of their teachers are apparently very stupid. To bad Romano lost she would have been fantastic.

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