Sunday, December 14, 2014

The New AMERICAN way

We live in a time when it is perfectly acceptable to shape the news instead of simply report it.  I know the realities of the time in which we live; talking heads and entire staffs of "think tanks" operating with an agenda.  My problem is not with the media, the think tanks, or the "staff" editorials which seem to be all the rage in the information age, but with today's consumers of information.  As consumers we have gotten so wrapped up in this "fast food" world of neatly packaged, instantaneous information we don't even recognize that our ability to decide for ourselves has been stolen from us - we don't even get to think about what we are being told because think tanks, talking heads, and editorial staffs are there to tell us how we should feel or what we should think.  Here are some examples and my thoughts on some recent events in Oklahoma.
  • Sexual Assault Protest at Norman - The Oklahoma media reported this story as if a Norman High School student was going around assaulting girls in the hallways and then his friends were harassing the girl for going to the police to report the crime.  Never mind the incident happened during the summer and the school took every action allowed to them by law in removing the alleged rapist from attending school.  The media formed the story to make it look like the school was turning a blind eye to the safety and security of female students instead of reporting the delay in prosecution within our legal system or the limits the law places on schools when these situations arrive.  
  • Superintendent elect Joy Hofmeister's education survey - The Daily Oklahoman editorial staff slams Hofmeister for seeking input on educational issues. This just shows how far education and teachers have fallen from grace in today's society.  If you want to fix a bridge, shouldn't you seek input from bridge builders? If you want to design a better airplane, shouldn't you seek input from pilots, aerospace engineers, and people who travel on airplanes?  If you want to improve education, you would think it would reasonable to talk to teachers, counselors, principals, parents, and STUDENTS. Apparently not. The DOK just trashed the effort based solely on the fact teachers were included in the survey.  The DOK hates teachers and educators so much it tries to convince its readership the people who know education the best can't be trusted to be included in the planning of better education.  If you wanted a legit criticism of the survey, it would be the limited number of student responses. In Oklahoma we have internet and computer labs in every school in the state; why didn't schools take 10 minutes out of the day to allow students an opportunity to respond? I'm guilty too.  If Mrs. Hofmeister wants to open up her survey again, I think every student should get to answer it.  I promise the students in my school will.
  • The think tank OCPA decries the education spending policy in Oklahoma.  OCPA, a conservative think tank, uses an effective infographic to convince its members of all the fraud and tax money waste going on in public schools.  They use the Federal, state, and local average of dollars per pupil spent ($8494) to grossly exaggerate the money not being spent in the classroom.  If you believe their example, students in Oklahoma must be taught in an open field without a building, heat, light, books, desks, chairs, paper, libraries, cafeteria, food, or a bus since the OCPA didn't calculate any money for these necessities.  Because the OCPA uses Federal money, I hope none of the students in their example have a learning disability, is gifted, has any parents, needs to talk to a counselor, or wants to eat anything while they are at school.  Because the OCPA uses state monies, the open field must have Wi-Fi so the kids can take state required exams on their personal computers because the OCPA didn't calculate any money for that.  Not to mention the requirements for RSA Reading, Art, Physical Education, and Foreign Language.  So if you believe the OCPA numbers to be accurate, we have a group of students who live close enough to a public park where they walk to school every day carrying their breakfast and lunch in a backpack with their laptop computer.  Their classroom teacher is a Special Education teacher who is highly qualified in Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language, Physical Education, Gifted Education, and Art.  Furthermore, the teacher must be the counselor, test coordinator, and be responsible for all the paperwork required of both the Feds and the State of Oklahoma.  
To be fair, pro education organizations can be just as guilty.  OEA zealously advocates for all teachers, even those who need to find another profession.  The Huffington Post, CCOSA, OSSBA,, and others use information that is beneficial to them and their specific cause.  However, most of the time these groups do not over sensationalize the story to try to sell you on a point of view.  Do we need to improve education? Yes. Do we need to look at ways to eliminate waste in our schools? Yes.  Should we reduce the number of schools in Oklahoma, increase the number of days taught, should we get more money into our classrooms, and do we need to look at the factors causing a teacher shortage in our great state? These are serious questions educational stakeholders will have to decide.  Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the students if the consumers of education policy actually took the time to gather all the facts and decide for themselves?  Our future depends upon it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Purpose: We don't need no stinking Purpose

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

JFK could spin a phrase. I love this quote because I believe education has lost its purpose.  Maybe lost is not the best way to describe it.  Maybe education hasn't actually lost its purpose in so much as we have been given multiple, conflicting purposes.  I think the plethora of educational purposes are at the root of today's problems.  Is our purpose to prepare every student for college? Their Career? To become a good Citizen?  Is our purpose to get kids to pass tests and graduate high school?  Is common education's purpose to produce a suitable workforce for Oklahoma's industries? Is the school's purpose to teach students good manners, good character, and other necessary social skills?  If you said yes to each purpose, then you are right in line with the College, Career, Citizenship BS being shoveled by politicians trying to appease everyone while accomplishing nothing. 

Let me ask you C3 believers a question: How do we accomplish all 3 when all the punitive aspects of education are centered around test scores?  Every reform aimed at making schools better has been concocted straight out of the "lets get more kids to pass standardized tests" point of view.  TLE was created to give teachers and principals a grade on how well their students do on tests.  A-F comparability was created to let parents and businesses know how well the students do on standardized tests.  Kids have to pass 4 out of 7 standardized tests to graduate high school, so therefore graduation rates are just an indication of how many students can pass tests.  You think a teacher who might be fired at the end of the year because of their TLE score is going to take a day away from instruction to teach students about any of the mandated "citizenship" lessons? How many music programs, field trips, science experiments, class projects, and other valuable learning activities have been cancelled or made to wait until "after testing" all in the name of increasing test scores?

It is no secret Oklahoma public education is at a crossroads.  Academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, has plateaued. Students are unhappy.  Teachers are unhappy.  Parents and other educational stakeholders are unhappy.  All this unhappiness has led to stagnation in the system; students are not motivated, teachers are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced, and parents are searching for the right fit for their children. Adding to the stagnation are a series of reforms which are meant to "jolt" the system, but which is actually perpetuating the problem.  Education is being pulled in multiple directions by multiple groups of stakeholders.  How can we improve the system when we are spending all our time fighting with each other?  How can we improve student experiences when we focus so much on passing a test and not the understanding of the material?  How can we expect our best teachers to stay in the profession when all that seems to matter is the passing rate on the end of the year test?  How can we expect parents to understand that a 70% passing rate school might be a better school than an 80% passing rate school?  

 College, Career, and Citizen ready is a worthy and lofty purpose for our teachers.  I think it is a purpose worth our courage and effort.  But if we want to improve education in this state, we have to stop talking about one purpose while passing legislation that creates another.  Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. If Oklahoma wants to be a great education state, we must focus our efforts and courage toward a purpose that is not bound by the number of students who pass a test.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Accountability vs. Comparability: Its a big difference

There it was in all its glory.  Beaming with pride and begging for someone to take up the challenge.  As a matter of fact, I was beginning to think it was a set up; a trap placed on twitter by the ed reformists trying to bait an unsuspecting educator into a war of words.  For those who don't know me personally, I have never been short of words.  In my family, those who use 5 words instead of 50 to answer a question simply aren't trying hard enough.  But I digress..... The bait, the trap, the question was "Can schools be held accountable without standardized testing?" Challenge accepted!

If my keyboard could scream, it would have as I typed "High Stakes, Standardized testing isn't accountability, it is comparability."  Schools are held accountable everyday of the year without the need for a standardized test.  Does anyone believe there is a shortage of mad mommas waiting outside the principal's office?  Parents avail themselves of their right to conference with teachers, administrators, and make phone calls to board members everyday.  I call that local accountability.  Almost every school has an online grade book where parents and students can see in near real time the "grades" and assignments being used to assess learning.  I call that academic accountability.  On almost every board meeting agenda is an item giving visitors a chance to address the board of education during a public comments period.  I call that stakeholder accountability.  Multiple times per year a State Department of Education Regional Accreditation Officer sits in my office and interviews our staff regarding our accreditation compliance.  Their checklist has gotten so long, it now takes up the front and back of 6 pages.  I call that organizational accountability.  Every year the board of education hires an expensive accounting firm to comb thoroughly through the financial records of the school and report such findings to the board of education, the State Department of Education, and the Oklahoma State Auditor's office.  I call that financial accountability.  If schools are held "accountable" to the parents on a daily basis, the community on a monthly basis, the SDE and State Auditor on a yearly basis, HOW ARE SCHOOLS NOT ACCOUNTABLE WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR STUPID TEST!

The answer was not shocking.  I didn't expect the argument to work because high stakes standardized testing has never been about accountability.  The ed reformists views what they call "government schools" through tinted glasses. The lens through which they view public schools is clouded in either mistrust of educators or through the greed of potential profits.  It is not hard to tell from which paradigm they are making their argument if you know their basic vocabulary.  Mistrust of teachers reformists want to talk about accountability systems such as A-F grading, Value Added Measures, or other statistically manufactured data as a way to COMPARE one school/teacher/student to another.  That is why everything has to be measured and reported has a single metric..... so they can COMPARE one outcome to another.  Greed driven reformists use manufactured COMPARISON to convince people schools are failing and there needs to be some "product" introduced into the school which will help get them back on track.  They like to use the phrase "return on investment" to persuade stakeholders to one of two profitable decisions..... The school needs to purchase "test prep" or other "curriculum" from them to be better at the outcome or the state needs to allow more taxpayer funded school choice.  

Standardized tests are just the "product" being purchased by schools to satisfy the ed reformists greed.  Standardized tests are the means to an end which the "mistrust of educators" crowd uses to invent bad teachers and identify schools who need to do better.  This entire accountability reform agenda has never been about making sure Alex Public Schools teaches math or reading.  The whole accountability craze has never been about "seeing the academic growth" of students in reading and math.  The accountability movement is a cleverly disguised ruse to compare my school to your school.  They want to perpetuate the myth that public schools are failing.  They want what they want, and it has nothing to do with accountability.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hanta Yo

Hanta Yo! It's the Sioux phrase which can be roughly translated into "Lead the Way".  Essentially, Hanta Yo is a meditative state of mind in which one calls on a higher power to provide them with the strength, faith, energy, ability, etc to accomplish what is necessary, but difficult or nearly impossible to accomplish on one's own.  Hanta Yo is fitting for Oklahoma's Public Education; our task is difficult and to accomplish what we think is best for students, we need all the guidance, energy, focus, ability, and faith we can get.  

Earlier this week, Kevin Hime of Clinton Public Schools wrote an excellent blog about the upcoming legislative session.  If you haven't read it yet, you can read it here. Although, Kevin doesn't come right out and say it, he is telling us stop being reactive to the Republican legislative agenda and start LEADING Oklahoma education policy.  Educators can LEAD us toward better ed policy by working with the Republican legislators to create policy educators know works best for students.  Think this is impossible - it is exactly what we did for the right to local control on the 3rd grade retention law.  Think that was a one time event? Not even close.  Last January I sat and watched a panel of legislators tell a room full of administrators they couldn't even consider ACT and its battery of assessments as a possible upgrade to the End of Instruction catastrophe we have now.  Last month, Senator Ford stated publicly he was open to legislation removing EOIs in favor of the ACT and Aspire to measure academic achievement.  

Is this ideal?  No. Does this end the terrible reign of over testing?  Not even close.  However, it does remove the policy of using a worthless test, and, at a minimum, gives our students the chance to take a test colleges actually look at when making college acceptance decisions.  Should we accept this policy as an end result?  No, but it is a step in the right direction for our students.  And it all came to fruition because educators decided the cause was more important than ideology.  

Let's consider the RSA law for a moment.  Remember Gov. Fallin and Dr. Barresi worked the vote hard to override the local control of parents and schools to make decisions regarding student grade placement.  The override failed.  Children and parents won.  How? Because parents, teachers, and administrators worked with the Republican majority to author a bill that was beneficial to #OKlaED AND could be supported by Republicans in the legislature.

Hanta Yo! Lead the Way!  Educators need to stop being ideologues and accept guidance from our association directors so that we can move education forward.  As educators we should pray for the strength, energy, ability, and perseverance to make Oklahoma public education better one policy at a time.  We should educate ourselves as to what is possible and what is a pipe dream; we should start with acknowledging what is mandated by SDE rules, Oklahoma legislation, and what is required of us through the federal law.  We should not waste precious energy and political capitol trying to change what is not within our state's power to change.  Thus, we can't end testing, and we can't rid ourselves of accountability.  We should work with legislators to make better policies for our students.  We should allow Joy Hofmeister the chance to change SDE rules to make things better for us.  We should lead the way for a better Oklahoma.  Hanta Yo!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Solutions not just problems

I’m part of the educational reform problem. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.  So there, I just admitted I have a problem. It was good to get that off my chest.  However, admitting I have a problem is only the first step and only half the story. I’m also part of the solution.  How can I be part of the problem AND part of the solution? It’s a matter of choice:  instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining about the faults and flaws of our system, I need to offer up solutions to the problems I am so quick to point out.  If admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery then offering up a possible solution is the second step in that recovery.  The third step to recovery is action.

Solution plans need action.  As an educational leader, action comes in the form of leadership: vision, creating a culture of lasting educational transformation, resource allocation, and genuine support my teachers need to be successful.  It is not an easy job….. one which will have plenty of pitfalls and other setbacks. However, it is the only way our school (and thus the entire educational system) can move forward toward the improved version we all seek.  So the choice we have as leaders is either to sit back, complain about the problems, game the compliance system, blame our problems on Politicians and educational reformers OR choose to do none of those.  We could choose to talk to our teachers and reassure them on how things will affect them and how things will look in our districts.  We could choose to objectively look at the issue and work to incorporate the intended outcomes into our specific situations.  We could choose to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.  If you want to learn more about how you can be part of the solution, check out “For the People: A vision for Oklahoma Public Education”.

My previous post was about quantitative data in teacher evaluations titled TLE or POS? I was quick to point out the problems with quantitative data.  Now I’m going to point out our school’s solution:

  •         Every teacher regardless of teaching a tested subject will create an SLO or SOO that meets the growth target criteria set up by either their PLC team or principal.
    • In August during in-service training of professional development days, teachers will be given time, resources, and training in SLO/SOO development.
    • Teachers will decide the content/focus, their student population, the window of instruction, and the assessment tools needed to successfully complete their SLO/SOO.
    • Teachers will have autonomy over their SLO/SOO; they decide if they want to measure all their standards or just a specific aspect of it.  They decide which subject, which class, or which demographic group the SLO/SOO will focus. These decisions will have the educational rationale of looking at data to improve instruction.
    • Teachers will be expected to select realistic growth targets for their students which are robust and moves students toward mastery of skills/standards.

      In our district EVERY teacher will have the opportunity to adjust, re-teach, and re-assess based on the results of their SLO outcomes.  To preserve the integrity of the process & to conform to the law, this adjustment will come in the form on a second SLO.  However, our teachers will be armed with relevant information specific to what they wanted to know and allowed to use the data to improve what they wanted to measure. 

The SLO/SOO process will be used to affirm great teaching and learning or provide teachers much needed information about where improvement is needed.  Either way, teachers and students will be supported in this process to make our school better.  The SLO/SOO aspect of teacher evaluations had the intention of improving professional practice.  Instead of complaining about the flaws and faults with using quantitative data in evaluations, I choose to comply with TLE’s intent: to improve professional practice in a positive, nurturing way. I choose to be part of the solution and not just the problem.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Have you been paying attention to what is going on with Teacher evaluations? I can’t say I blame you for not drilling down in on the farcical minutia that is TLE (Teacher Leader Effectiveness).  So a teacher’s formal evaluation, the characterization of the quality of their teaching, is being calculated like their very own personal A-F grade.  Does anyone (only credible people can answer) think a school’s A-F grade is an accurate portrayal of the overall quality of a school? Hell no.  A-F only measures the quality of the student’s test performance in a school, or as I like to point out, the quality of the students in the school.  TLE can’t even boast that claim.  Here is how TLE is calculated: Observation + OAM + VAM or SLO or SOO = Evaluation.  Ugh? Let me break it down:  A teacher’s observation is combined with a teacher determined metric, OAM (of which teachers get to pick their rating scale), plus either a complex statistical formula called Value Added Measure (VAM) or an overcomplicated Student Learning Outcome/Student Objective Outcome (SLO/SOO) (where teachers decide if the student has shown appropriate growth).  Still confused? Join the club.  The far right ideologues and I have found something to agree on: the government screwed this all to hell.  TLE in its current form is just a POS!

The real problem with the quantitative aspect of TLE is not the use of data to improve instruction.  I love the aspect of teachers selecting a Student Learning Outcome and collecting the information to drive changes in instruction or to reinforce great teaching. We should use the data as a professional development mechanism, but not for evaluations.  Teachers, by nature, won’t trust the system when it could ultimately lead them to being branded as a poor teacher and become a tool for their termination of employment.  And don’t start with the song and dance BS about evaluations should be about improving teacher quality and not about hiring and firing….. until great teachers get evaluated the same number of times poor teachers are evaluated, every teacher is going to believe employment decisions hinder on good evaluations.

The real problem with the quantitative aspect of TLE is it is simply an unfair and biased system.  If you teach 4th grade through 8th grade reading or math or Algebra I/II or English 3 you are playing by a different set of quantitative rules than everyone else.  These teachers get a VAM score based on so complex of a mathematical formula, the Oklahoma SDE spent $2 million dollars on the formula’s creation.  All other teachers, however, get to sit in a room and decide the specifics: 1. Which group of students do I want to measure? 2.  What content/standard(s) do I want to measure? 3. What assessment I use to get the data? 4). What student growth constitutes success?  How is this even close to equal or fair for our teachers?  The 5th grade reading teacher must use the 5th reading test and a computer determines student success with test growth scores teachers can’t control, but the 5th science teacher gets to use a teacher created pre/post test and gets to determine successful growth outcomes?

Quantitative data used as part of the evaluation will not elicit the outcome everyone wants: improved teacher quality. Isn’t the whole point of teacher evaluation to improve professional practice? Using quantitative data is a theoretical boon that is a practical boondoggle.  I argue using quantitative data in the formal evaluation inhibits the improvement process.  Do we really expect teachers to challenge themselves with rigorous lessons and robust student growth targets if the results end in an “ineffective rating”?  Do we really expect teachers to attempt different teaching modalities and improve their pedagogy when their livelihood is on the line?  However, if we took the quantitative evaluation piece off the table and allowed teachers to utilize the SLO/SOO process to improve best practices, then teachers could benefit from this otherwise complete waste of time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Free Pizza and Longer Recess

When I decided to start this blog, my intent was to provide an “informed” voice to educational issues in the face of the overwhelmingly combative slurs and slanders being spewed by Dr. Barresi and regurgitated by the Daily Oklahoman.  I was sick and tired of important educational issues being hijacked by the corporate reformers and taken to the pantheon of the privatization movement.  Well, the wicked witch is about to be out of office, but those educational issues are still being hijacked.  Only now they are being hijacked by the other end of the political spectrum.  And it bothers me.

Let’s talk about some of these issues.  First issue up:  Testing.  Does anyone in education think we test too little?  The only people who think we do not test enough are the corporations selling the test and test prep materials to the schools.  You want a litmus test for testing; did you give a test at the end of the first 9 weeks? Did your child take tests at the end of the first 9 weeks?  Seriously, aren’t we just a bit hypocritical if we decry testing as an unnecessary evil while continuing to assess students and give out grades based on chapter tests, quizzes, and such?  Is giving a test bad? NO.  Is too much testing bad?  Hell yes.  It is the summative nature of testing in which is a poor practice.  You add the dimension of high stakes to the mix and it borders on insanity.  But we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  Teachers teaching to a set of educational objectives and monitoring student learning through a formative assessment is good professional practice. 

I don’t understand why school choice is such a tumultuous issue.  In my 17 years of education I do not ever recall any student being denied a transfer.  I guess my arrogance gets me here: if parents do not want their student to follow the rules and work hard in school then I am happy they want to go somewhere else.  It is better for the students who want to be here.  Furthermore, I never understood the concept behind denying a transfer.  A parent can move in or out of the district and there is nothing a school can do.  However, if a parent wants to drive their child to a different school we act like it’s an act of treason.  I don’t get it.  In America where we have the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms , and the freedom of religion we shouldn’t have the freedom to say where our children go to school.  Students should not be commodities that can be bought, sold or owned.  Public, Private, Religious, Charter, or Magnet schools should all be available for our parents to decide which is best for their specific need.  Isn’t this the greatest example of local control: letting the parents decide what is best for them and their child?

With all that said I do have a problem with virtual online charters and using taxpayer money to pay for private educational expenses.  Our parents should have the choice to educate their child in the manner they think is best for their child.  However, I don’t think they should ask for taxpayer money to pay for it.  And don’t give me any BS line about how they pay taxes too.  I pay more taxes than some and less than some others.  I don’t get to drive the Fire truck, fly the stealth bomber, or land on the moon all of which are paid by taxes.  If you want to send your child to a private school then pony up the tuition.  I’d be okay with online charters if they operated under the same rules as every other public school in the state, but they don’t.  Just ask your local school how many students so mysteriously get kicked out of their online charter the week after Oct. 1st?  Those online schools are mostly corporate- for profit schools maximizing their profit margin by taking the State Aid on the student and then sending them back to the public school. 

The last issue I want to discuss is accountability.  What is wrong with being held accountable?  My dad held me accountable for my actions.  My school board holds me accountable for the job I do for my school.  Society holds me accountable, my banker holds me accountable, and so on and so on.  Do I think educators should be held accountable?  Yes.  I think teaching is a professional profession just like doctors, lawyers, and architects.  They all have professional accountability measures.  However, I think trying to summarize all the strengths and weaknesses of a school into a single letter grade might be the second dumbest idea the Barresi administration brought to us from Florida (3rd grade mandatory retention is by far and away the dumbest if you are keeping score & all this TLE BS is 3rd and gaining…).  But the conversation concerning accountability has centered at the two extremes:  the incredibly useless current A-F system or no accountability at all.  Surely we can all agree there has to be some form of accountability which meets the Federal standard, gives accurate and actionable information about school performance, and doesn’t cause educators to flinch in pain.

Every one of these issues and more are important to me.  As a parent I want better for my children than I had it growing up.  As a school superintendent I want a better educational system for this generation than the generation before.  Barresi grabbed these issues and ran so afoul even true conservatives were embarrassed by her actions.  What we need now are conversations about using assessment results to drive instructional practice- not blanket statements about abolishing all testing.  What we need now are procedures in place to ensure every child as a great school to attend and every parent has a choice of where to send them-not hyperbolic statements condemning educational options.  What we need now is to come together and improve our educational standards and our professional accountability-not statements of unattainable promises of yesteryear.   What we need is for Joy Hofmeister to bring everyone to the table to solve some of these issues and not someone who promises us free pizza and longer recess.  Free pizza and longer recess might help Dr. Cox win some votes, but it won’t make our jobs any better and it won’t make our kids educational futures any brighter. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unseen Disabilities

Many of today’s students must deal with unseen disabilities.  We all know unseen disabilities have a profound impact on the learning ability of the child.  Unseen disabilities can come in the form of emotional illnesses, learning disabilities (cognitive issues), dyslexia, autism, speech issues, hearing impairment, vision issues, health impairments, and/or ADD/ADHD.  Each of those internal disabilities affects the learning ability and therefore the achievement of the child.  However, not all unseen disabilities are internal; external disabilities have just as profound impact on student learning.  Children who live with unengaged parents, have abusive parents, have parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, or live in some other form of dysfunctional household are also victims to an unseen disability.

External unseen disabilities are far worse, in my opinion, than internal disabilities.  Children who suffer from dyslexia, hearing impairment, or ADD have in-school advocates and public policy in place to assist their learning by overcoming the disability.  Ask any educator, and they can tell you horror story after horror story about children from abused homes.  They will talk to you about the phone calls to DHS that fell on deaf ears. Talk to those same teachers, and they will break your heart with tales about parents who come to conferences or other school activities high or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  It breaks my heart to see students take backpacks of food home with them on Friday, so they will have something to eat over the weekend.  It is sad when parents have enough money to buy cigarettes but not enough money to buy food or soap.  Ever see how other kids treat their classmates who wear the same unlaundered clothes every day or don’t have proper hygiene? Some parents just are not engaged in the educational life of their child.  Whether it is not attending parent teacher conferences, not helping their child with homework, or refusing to watch them participate in the band, school play, or on the athletic field, it has a profound impact on children. And don’t tell me internal disabilities have ramifications into adulthood whereas external disabilities can disappear at the age of 18. Yes, internal disabilities can be life-long, but the damage of poor parenting also has life long damaging effects, and its cyclic nature tends to show up generation after generation.

Wouldn’t it be great if our social policy mirrored our educational policy with regards to seen and unseen disabilities?  Shouldn’t social services have to meet with parents periodically to ensure the disability is being accommodated in the best interest of the child?  Aren’t our children worth this effort? Anyone think we have enough social workers in this state?  Anyone not think local cops should be able to remove children from the home when domestic violence situations arise?  Shouldn’t instances of abuse and neglect be dealt with swiftly and decisively?  Shouldn’t there be palaces were children could be taken, so they don’t have to deal the problems of adults? Shouldn’t the greatest country on earth guarantee that every child within its borders has basic shelter, security, food and water?

Our politicians would never consider cutting special education services or voting on legislation that would further hamper disabled students from getting an education.  Nonetheless, those same legislators don’t hesitate to tinker with legislation that adversely affects children suffering from a bad home life. I’m not a social policy expert, but there has to be a way to care for our children when it becomes obvious their parents are no longer up to the task.  But if the parents are not up to the task, should the great state of Oklahoma ensure the safety, security, and well being of the children?  Maybe we should stop focusing all our educational reform efforts on issues like standards, accountability, and testing and start focusing on the only thing that truly matters: our children.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What we've got here is failure to communicate

I just love the movie Cool Hand Luke as it is full of classic movie quotes.  I couldn't help but think of Cool Hand Luke as I sat at my computer and watched the live stream of last SBOE meeting.  

·                 We have a new sheriff in town!

I’m sure by now you’ve read plenty about new Assistant State Supt Dr. Birney.  He is the former Director of CLEET who will now be the lead investigator for accreditation infractions committed by all of those outlaw schools. Dr. Barresi accused schools of breaking the law and said her own staff was complicit in the lawlessness by “tipping off” administrators who made evidence disappear.  Are you serious?  Do you get some sort of political prize by slandering both your biggest detractors and biggest supporters in the same statement?  If this is true, what does this say about her administration?  How far does the corruption extend in the SDE? Maybe this is what Dr. Birney will be investigating... Naw, I don’t think so either.

·                 Testing company, we don’t need no testing company

So last April the SDE was shocked that CTB couldn’t provide our test without major technical problems.  Fast forward 5 months and Barresi’s is shocked people are upset with her $2.8 million recommendation to award CTB with a contract for this year’s winter/trimester testing.  Here is the question I haven’t seen anyone ask as of yet; did the SDE just forget we have a winter/trimester testing window? As soon as CTB got fired in May, why didn’t the SDE put out an RFP for this December’s testing window? Was it because JB was so busy with politics she didn’t do her job?  Remember in April and May, she was so busy trying to keep intact her absurd 3rd grade retention law, she was fighting like hell to keep common core, she was traveling the state trying to win re-election, and she was lashing out at anyone who disagreed with her politics. 

·                Some call for Barresi to step down. 

OEA, Oklahoma PTA, Rep. Smalley, and even Oklahoma SBOE member Gen. Baxter called for Barresi to resign.  I completely disagree.  Yep, I don’t want Barresi to resign.  For the past three years educators have been trying to tell everyone how bad Barresi was for Oklahoma.  Man, were we underselling it! I feel like with each passing day we get back some of the credibility the reformists and the Daily Oklahoman stole from us by denigrating our efforts to improve public education.  For those of you who fear the irreparable harm she might cause these last couple of months, relax.  The Gov. is silent, the legislature won’t be caught dead talking to her, and the SBOE has completely ostracized her.  I feel like I’ve earned my ticket to witness the JB crazy train. 

·                  Zebras can’t change their stripes..

At least Barresi is consistent.  In her very first SBOE meeting, the meeting became contentious when Barresi’s questionable hiring practices were criticized by a Gov. Brad Henry appointed State Board of Education.  Not much has changed because at the September SBOE meeting, Gov. Fallin’s appointed State Board of Education members criticized Barresi’s questionable hiring practices.  I wonder if our legislature regrets giving all that power to the State Supt, especially when the SBOE can’t do anything about it.  Ask Gen. Baxter; he calls it like he sees it.

·                 SDE is going to teach teachers how to teach PASS objectives.

This makes no sense to me.  The SDE wants to waste precious time and other resources teaching teachers how to teach to a set of standards we are going to not have in 2 years?  Their argument is we have lots of new teachers who’ve never taught PASS objectives? Here is why this is a BS argument. If the standards are subpar, then why teach teachers how to teach to them.  Is JB now for inferior standards?  If they are not inferior, then why do we need new standards? They say some teachers have never taught PASS. So! Those teachers have taught before.  Let’s give our teachers resources and training beneficial to them now and in the future.  Teaching teachers how to teach PASS objectives is about as silly as teaching them how to set the time on their classroom VCR.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Future of Public Education

Public Education in Oklahoma has endured a great deal over the past four years. Barresi’s adversarial style was hallmark during her tumultuous tenure. Barresi fully bought into the “schools are failing” mantra permeating from the “only thing that matters are test scores” reform crowd.  Any educational idea other than those ideas given to her by the corporate organizations of ALEC or FEE was met with vitriol. But let’s face it; Barresi was able to make hay out of a situation that began long before she was elected in 2010. Remember, it was the FEDERAL legislation of No Child Left Behind of 2001 which brought about accountability measures based on standardized tests.  NCLB required states to test students every year in reading and math and report those results to stakeholders.  Oklahoma jumped on the testing band wagon in 2005 with the passing of ACE legislation. ACE was Oklahoma’s initial response to the “school improvement” craze by requiring students to take “college coursework” and to pass “graduation” tests in order to earn a HS diploma.  Unfortunately, ACE was the beginning of the legislative onslaught not the end.  Legislation such as TLE, RSA, CCSS repeal, or any of the 72 total educational bills signed into law has become the norm not the exception.

This never ending bevy of legislation is a plague on both political parties.  NCLB was the brain child of a Republican president, but ACE legislation was passed during a time when the Democrats held the Governor’s office and the State Senate. Moreover, the Republican party held just a slim majority in the House of Representatives that year, so ACE legislation was essentially a bipartisan effort.  History has shown that politicians have a tendency to change their philosophy based on the next election.  For example, in 2005 the Democrats were fully complicit in passing legislation requiring our students to take tests to demonstrate proficiency in order to earn a HS diploma.  In 2014, the Democrats are using the platform of too much testing to be relevant in both the Governor’s race and the State Superintendent’s race.  This is a huge accomplishment in a state that boosts a current Republican stronghold on all statewide elected offices.  

The political climate at the capitol must be taken into consideration as public education moves forward.  There is a Republican supermajority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The Governor is a well funded incumbent who, if she wins re-election, will not be a strong advocate for public education.  The Speaker of the House of Representatives is 1 of 6 House members who voted against the RSA veto override, the 10 year educational funding increase bill, and who has refused to meet with every educational organization in the state.  There is a vicious rumor running around my capitol contacts saying Speaker Hickman has promised Rep. Jason Nelson both the Floor Leader position and the Educational committee chair as repayment for helping Hickman win the Speakership.   

So how are we to effectively maneuver in the current political climate? For starters, educators have to stop being the “anti” establishment and start offering up solutions to educational problems.  This is possible if we start LEADING the educational conversations instead of always reacting to them.  The OSSBA and CCOSA have already started this transition with their Visioning project. The Visioning project is a collaborative effort produced by educational stakeholders who’ve taken an honest assessment of our education system and have established a course of action for true school improvement.  You can get more information about the Visioning Project here.

The most important thing educators can do is have a leader who can effectively communicate to the lawmakers the credible information they need to make good decision regarding education policy.  We need a leader who will be included in every discussion regarding Oklahoma’s educational policy.  This is why it is essential we elect Joy Hofmeister as our next State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  As the Republican in the field, she will be included in the conversations regarding Oklahoma’s education policy.  As I have pointed out earlier, accountability is a Federal law evident in annual Math and Reading testing for students in 3rd through 11th grade. Our next State Superintendent can’t change that, but they can work with the legislators and governor to create a testing system and accountability system that is fair, accurate, reliable, credible, and meaningful - but only if our next State Superintendent is included in the conversation.  Joy Hofmeister is the only candidate who will be invited into the Republican caucus on education.  I know Dr. John Cox.  He is a good man.  He is a fine educator.  If the situation at the capitol were different, then he would have my full faith and support.  However, I am a realist.  Dr. Cox would be treated as a leper at the capitol.  Our Republican supermajority legislators would seek their educational information from sources like Jeb Bush and his FEE organization or from ALEC and not our State Superintendent.  All the gains educators have made with issues like the local control of 3rd grade retention, national standards, or educational funding would be lost.  The anti public education reform group would gain a major strong hold in education policy because the only source of information would be coming from national sources.  And if all that didn’t matter, it still wouldn’t matter.  Joy Hofmeister wants to include educators in the conversation to improve Oklahoma education.  Joy has already demonstrated her advocacy for schools, students, and teachers when she took on Barresi and the "public schools are failing" crowd while on the State Board of Education.  Joy led the fight against the flawed A-F accountability system and voted against it while on the board of education.  She has advocated for more teacher autonomy and a better climate for our teachers and students.  She wants to lead Oklahomans in the pursuit of educational excellence.  She wants to LEAD us to our vision, and that is worthy of our vote.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An "F" on A-F Accountability

What does the AF grade of a school measure?  Proponents of AF accountability systems tell you AF systems are an important tool to tell community members, parents, and businesses the quality of the school and the quality of the job the people in the school are doing with the tax dollars they are given.  I say it doesn't do any of that.  Here is my logic.  Did you know that at any high school, AF grade is calculated on 7 tests (school performance) and student testing gains (growth) on Algebra I and English 2 (2 components: all student gains and bottom 25% of student performance gain). Here is why it is important for people to understand the components of our current AF system.  First, student performance is based on only 7 subjects.  On our HS accreditation report, (the one that was due last Tuesday) 119 courses are offered to students at our campus or at the career tech and that does not include the 49 students taking concurrent enrollment (so 49 students are taking 4 college courses this year: 2 each semester). So 50% of the high school's grade is based on how students perform in 7 of 119 or more subject offerings?   Half the grade is based on how students do in 6% of our classes!  Let's take this even further.  The other 50% of the grade is based on student testing gains (25% all student growth and 25% bottom quartile growth) in 2 subjects.  Does this sound like an accurate and all encompassing measure of the quality of the entire school?  This type of measurement of a school is analogous to a homeowner buying a house solely based on the quality of the doorknob on the front door!

The second problem with the current AF system is it doesn't measure the quality of teachers within a school, it measures the quality of the STUDENTS in a school.  And before any naysayers can say otherwise, I am not diminishing the efforts of our teachers. A teacher's role is extremely important in the academic success of students. But we are only talking about 6% of the teachers and not all or even a majority of the teachers.  To make matters worse, we are not even talking about all or even a majority of the students.  We ARE talking about how a very small portion of students account for a majority of the grade.  Here is an example of what I'm talking about:  There are 600 students in our HS.  Let us say that 100 students take Algebra I and English 2.  200 total tests meaning 50 total students account for the bottom 25%.  So 50 out of the 600 students or a little over 8% count 33% of the overall grade.  That is 75 out of 225 total tests (100 for the student performance, 100 for the all student growth, and 25 for the bottom quartile growth for each of the growth subjects) or 33% of a total schools grade. 

So with only 6% of the total classes making up 100% of the grade and 8% of the students making up 33% of the grade, AF in it's current format is a terrible way to measure the quality of the teachers or the overall accountability of a school.  Now let me explain why AF is a terrible way to compare schools. Students are not widgets.  If every school had the exact same kids with the exact same abilities, problems, parents, etc then the current AF system would be perfect to hold schools accountable.   If students were identical, then this system would be an excellent way of measuring the quality of the school and would be an excellent accountability measure.  But because we all have different students, it is impossible to calculate through a formula which school is performing better than another.  How do you compare students with different backgrounds and educational abilities to each other? I'm not saying students shouldn't be held to a standard, and I agree that schools should be measured by how well their students accomplish those goals. Shouldn't we let the parents, community, and businesses of each community decide if the school is doing a good job?