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.