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?