Sunday, August 2, 2015

Teacher: The New Endangered Species

My grandfather belonged to what Tom Brokaw described as “The Greatest Generation”.  My grandpa was raised during the great depression and went on to serve his country in Pattons 3rd Armored Division in World War II.  But my grandpas greatest accomplishment wasnt growing up poor or surviving the perils of the European theater.  My grandpas greatest accomplishment was seeing to it that my father got an education.  My grandpa was a high school dropout.  Just like many of Americas youth of the Greatest Generation, my grandpa quit school to join the Army.  He did what he thought he had to do at the time; but he never stopped pushing my dad to go to college. 

One of my fondest memories as a young boy was watching my father graduate from Cameron University with a degree in business that was paid for with my dads G.I. Bill.  My dad earned his college tuition by surviving the jungles of Vietnam.  When he returned home he met my mom, got a job, got married, started a family (Im the oldest of two), and went to college at night.  My mom was a teachers aide who later went back to school to become a teacher.  She retired from Cyril Elementary school last year after 30 years of service.  When my dad died, I was a sophomore in college; it was my grandpa who made sure I went back to finish my degree.  I told you all those things about my family to set up my point: Education is not just something my family believes in, education is what we do.

This brings me to the purpose of this blog: my family is a family of educators;  I married an educator from a family of educators.  Im the son of a teacher, and my wife is the daughter of a teacher.  However, our daughters dont want to become teachers.  And what is worse is I dont want them to be teachers.  This is the root of the teacher shortage in my opinion.  Teaching used to be a profession just like cops or lawyers; sons and daughters following in the family footsteps and carrying on the family business.  But not anymore.  Why?  It is because there is another American tradition that my grandpa instilled in the family:  work hard and work smart to make sure the next generation has it better than you.  The current educational climate and culture has made it impossible for the next generation of teacher to have it better than the one before. 

Although the direct cause of the teacher shortage can be blamed on many things.  Teacher pay, lack of autonomy, adverse work conditions, being blamed for societal ills, being branded as part of the problem and not viewed as a resource for any of the solutions, teacher pay (yes, I meant for it be listed twice), high stakes testing, or any of the other various reasons are contributing to teachers leaving our profession.  However, the real reason we have a teacher shortage is because no one is entering our profession.  Teaching can no longer support and sustain itself as a profession.  We are becoming extinct. 

To fill in the gaps, we are applying for emergency certifications, alternative certifications, filling teacher-less classrooms with adjunct teachers or other non-highly qualified adults.  What we arent doing is solving the teacher shortage issue.  Not only are our political leaders not doing anything about fewer and fewer college students entering teacher prep programs, very few of them are even interested in having the discussion about teacher shortage. 

Our political leaders are more interested in scoring political points by advocating for closing small rural schools because we have too many public school districts while at the same time clamoring for more “school choice” in the form of online charter schools, vouchers, ESAs, and private school options.  What we aren't doing is:  

*   We arent having conversations about changing the culture for teachers, so more college students enter teacher prep programs. 
*   We are not having enough discussions about raising teachersbring home pay to the average salary of other college degree professions in Oklahoma. 
*   We are not working day and night to make teachers jobs less of a struggle. 
*   We are not making the profession of education a job in which todays teachers will start encouraging children to one day grow up to be a teacher. 

Education will never be a destination for those students who only dream of being a millionaire.  But teaching should be a career choice for those students who are just like Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation and just like my grandpa:  for those who want to make the world a better place.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pride Goes Before the Fall

Lately, in Oklahoma, the Republican GOP stands for Glowering Offensive Party.  It has been a rough several weeks for the state Republican Party.  Although my writing may be satirical in nature, the topics Im writing about couldnt be more serious.  The Republican Party in Oklahoma is out of control.  The conservative political machine fears nothing except an attack from the farther right.  The moderates are being shut out and the party is becoming prideful.  How else can you explain the last several weeksworth of actions?  Dont know what Im talking about?  Let me explain with three examples of how people in leadership positions within the Republican Party put personal or political will above the laws of general decency and above the laws of the land.

The Oklahoma GOP started with hiring an Executive Director who had plead guilty to not one, but 2 misdemeanor counts of domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse is one of those “in-tolerable” acts one has trouble recovering.  I dont want to talk about the Executive Director.  I want to talk about the person who hired him.  What was he thinking?  Was he thinking?  In Oklahoma, we still teach the chivary code of holding women in the highest of regard.  We still stand when women enter the room, open the door for little old ladies then help them across the street.  How could hiring someone convicted of abuse toward women not be showing contempt for Oklahoman values?  But it is not just hiring him; it’s galling by thumbing his nose at those who questioned the cronyism.  Randy Brogdon, the person responsible for this debacle, has a habit of talking down to those who question him.  Brogdon repeatedly stood by this hiring even in the face of criticism from other Republicans.  If you think this is just one bad decision by Brogdon….. think again.  It took less than 3 weeks for Brogdons questionable decision-making to fail him again.  This time with an offensive Facebook post.  It was either comparing poor people to animals or saying poor people arent worth supporting, but either way it was damaging.  When asked about the post, Brogdons first reaction was to defend the post by saying those who were offended must have “misinterpreted” the posts meaning.  So, from Brogdons point of view, its not just about poor people and animals, it is the rest of us are too stupid to comprehend what he meant!  If this isnt prideful arrogance, I dont know what is.

Brogdons actions are simply irresponsible and reprehensible.  Even the Daily Oklahoman Editorial board called for his removal.  (I know, once in a blue moon they get something right.  Shocked me too.)  If Brogdons actions were the only failings of the week Id have just railed about the failed leadership of one man.  However, the coup de grace comes from Governor Fallin.  Governor Fallin couldnt let Brogdon stand alone in the Failure of Leadership Department.  After two years of litigation the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Blaine Amendment of the Oklahoma Constitution was violated by the 10 Commandments Monument and ordered its removal from the Capitol.  Agree or disagree with their decision, but they are the highest court in Oklahoma.  The legislative branch wrote the law, the judiciary branch ruled it is unconstitutional, but our executive branch wont enforce the ruling?  That is not how our government works.  As an educator this could have been a real teachable moment about how governments in America work.  Instead, it is a lesson on failed leadership; it is a lesson in one person in government who gets to disagree with the law and then do what they want.  Not good for Oklahoma.  Not good for the Republican Party.

Governor Fallins disappointment with the Supreme Court is understandable.  Ive long thought both the US Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Supreme Court get more things wrong than right.  However, my personal feelings do not change the fact that the court has spoken.  You dont like what they say, change the law.  However, you cant ignore their ruling and do what you want.  No one is above the law.  We established a country to ensure no one was above the law.  Gov. Fallin refusing to comply is not what leadership is about; leadership is about working hard to preserve the rule of law and the function of government, not to ignore the actions of our Republic when we dont get our way.  Fallins leadership failed her party and the State of Oklahoma through her words (3 forms of government: the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the vote of the people?) (Yes, you read correctly) and by her decision to not uphold the constitution. Brogdons leadership just failed the human decency of people.  Both chose political gains over doing what was right.  Both sit in their perspective leadership positions comforted in the fact that Oklahoma is the reddest of red states for the Republican Party.  Pride goes before the fall.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Legislative Lunacy

It’s the first week of May and sirens are going off in many of our Oklahoma communities.  I’m not talking about the tornado sirens.  I’m talking about the alarms warning #OKlaED educators about all the legislative lunacy taking place this week.  None of it makes sense to me.  Maybe, and I highly doubt it, but maybe if some of our legislative leaders read this, maybe they will realize how insanely idiotic some of this sounds to us regular people…..

·       For the first time in my educational lifetime a seemingly unlikely group of people have formed a coalition in an effort to make some sense out of our state testing program.  As it has been told to me, the Governor, the State Chamber of Commerce, Higher Education, School Board members, Administrators, Teachers, Parents, the State Superintendent, and Oklahoma Business officials have all agreed that EOI tests are useless, time consuming, expensive, and not an accurate portrayal of student skills (for the record, those are my descriptors and not theirs) and want to move to a more valid & less expensive test.  In Oklahoma, our college acceptance test is the ACT and as Stephen Crawford likes to say “shouldn’t our HS exit exam align with our college and workforce entrance exam?”  You would think this was a “Slam Dunk” for our legislators because the stars have aligned (The Governor, Higher Ed, & Business were enough), but NO the House of Representative leadership is taking a page from Charlton Heston – “you can pry your ACT test from my cold, dead hands”.  It doesn’t make any sense to me why they would draw this line in the sand.  If it is because of Common Core, then they are uninformed.  If it is because they think it will water down our graduation requirements, then they are woefully uninformed.  If they say they want to wait until Oklahoma adopts its educational standards, then they just don’t understand the purpose for education: ACT assesses skills necessary for college success & WorkKeys assesses skills necessary for workforce success.  Both of these are what common education is tasked with accomplishing regardless of the name we call our educational standards.

·        Information coming out of the Speakers office will remove parent input in the retention/promotion of 3rd grade students.  Yep, you read that right… if the Speaker has his way, he will end the Parent Committee.  Educational stakeholders wanted to strengthen the RSA bill by making parent input a permanent part of the law.  Legislators were willing to extend parent involvement for 5 years, however they wanted to include students who scored Limited Knowledge AND add in more services for students in 1st and 2nd grade.  Great idea – right up to the point where the bill gets in conference, and then the Speaker decided to keep the language adding in all the educational stuff while removing the parent committee from the bill.  So if the Speaker gets his way, all the Representative and Senators who voted to override the Governor’s veto last spring will have to flip flop and will now vote to make the parents of children irrelevant into the educational decisions of their children.

·       Educators thought we had an agreement with proponents of charter school expansion allowing for school boards to sponsor charter schools wherever and whenever local communities felt there was a need for charter schools.  This agreement was quickly challenged by some members of the legislature who wanted to bypass educators altogether to allow city councils to sponsor a charter school.  This makes as much sense as allowing cigarette and fast food companies to sponsor hospitals. 

·       We passed laws which prohibit the use of tobacco on school property 24/7 365 days out of the year.  We already had a law which prohibited tobacco use on school property, but apparently we needed a new law.  Additionally, they passed laws allowing for schools to allow trained school employees to carry loaded guns on school property even though Federal laws says you can’t.  We had an Attorney General send us a letter saying he will stand behind schools who violate multiple US Supreme Court rulings regarding Religion and schools.  It seems to me we pass a bunch of laws that have no effect on improving education yet ignore and prevent the laws that will.

As we rush headfirst into the final days of the legislative session, I feel my frustrations growing as an educator.  We seem hell bent on passing legislation that makes no sense to educators, or at least this educator.  Which brings me to another issue:  If the legislative session is officially over by May 31st by law, then why do legislators get to declare “Sine Die” or adjourn early?  Can you imagine the outcry if the public schools just declared school over after testing even though there were nearly 2 weeks of school left?  But then again, with the legislative track record recently with education policy, I say they can’t adjourn fast enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

If I was King for the Day

If I were King for the day, the first thing I would do is solve more than 1 or 2 problems.  Seriously I’m shocked my other blogger buddies didn’t think of this first!  Didn’t you learn anything when you were a child and you were given 3 wishes?  Wasn’t the first thing everyone wished for was unlimited wishes”? 

The intent of this question was simple: To demonstrate that educators have some great ideas on how to improve public education.  Education reformers do not have a monopoly on the desire to improve public schools.  If we want to improve education we have to tackle both sides of the education coin:  instruction and attainment.  Maximizing one without improving the other is just a recipe for failure.  Here is my list without any thought to priority:

·       Society has to get better to minimize outside factors which hinder student learning.  Yes, outside factors hinder student learning.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us student learning is affected by hunger, fear, acceptance, being loved at home, and a multitude of other physical and psychological factors.  Don’t believe in Maslow’s?  Try teaching a group of kids a new math lesson the last 15 minutes before lunch.  Even the teacher wants to time warp to lunch!  Hunger is bad enough when you get 3 square meals a day, but how about the student on Monday whose last meal was what the cafeteria served on Friday?  Add in kids who are abused, scared, bullied, or neglected and you have a bunch of students who care less about the lesson and more about survival.  If you want to improve student learning, Oklahoma must invest in social services to provide for the children whose parents won’t provide for them!

·       Every classroom should have a highly effective teacher.  Notice I didn’t say highly qualified teacher.  There is a world of difference between effectiveness and qualified.  Let’s face it, some members of our profession should be doing something else.  Some members of other professions should be teachers.  If I was King, I’d create a compensation package ensuring the profession of “EDUCATOR” is competitive with other college degreed professionals.  I’m not saying Teachers should be paid like Doctors, but we should be paid better than convenience store managers, truck drivers, burrito makers (see Supt. Hofmeister’s #OKhigh5 plan), and 2014 HS graduates who work in the oil field.

·       Under my rule, Oklahoma would test less and teach more.  Standardized testing isn’t the answer to measuring instructional practices.  In theory, standardized testing should measure student attainment.  However, it cannot measure the impact on student learning.  The depth of understanding, the magnitude of human impact, the creativity of the mind, nor the breadth of critical thinking can be measured by a standardized test.  Let’s face it, the instant you create an assessment is the instant when you limit the scope of learning.

·       Make teaching a 240 day job.  Before everyone goes crazy and claim I’ve lost my mind, let me explain.  I’d require students to come to school 200 days per year.  The other 40 days would be professional development days in which teachers worked at becoming better: by analyzing student data and collaborating with their peers.

Can you imagine a world where beginning teacher pay is $40,000 plus benefits and 25 year veteran teachers make $75,000?  Where beginning teachers are given a highly effective mentor teacher for the year and they work 40 additional days at becoming better for their students?  Can you imagine what our students could accomplish if they came to school ready to learn and was always taught by an effective teacher?  Can you imagine what students could do if lessons were relevant to them and lessons could be created independent of some worthless standardized test?  If I were King for the day, this is what school would look like.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ACT: The Time is Now

There is a growing movement in Oklahoma to change how we assess student achievement.  For years, many educators, including myself, have worked diligently to persuade our Senators and Representatives to move to the ACT and ACT Aspire as a better option over the current End of Instruction Exams and their 3-8 counterpart, the OCCT.  Yesterday, ROPE (Restore Oklahoma’s Public Education) wrote a blog opposing this movement.  I have a lot of respect for ROPE and the work they do educating parents about Oklahoma’s education policies and their blog does an excellent job of stating why they oppose the movement toward the ACT suite of assessments.  However, I felt compelled to share with #oklaed why moving to the ACT is the very best option for Oklahoma students if we are to maintain a high stakes testing culture in Oklahoma. 

In ROPE’s blog, they outlined 2 major reasons why Oklahoma shouldn’t move to the ACT (Yes, Mr. Hime I know you are not supposed to write a rebuttal blog, but I couldn’t help myself):  1) The ACT is aligned to Common Core and 2) Oklahoma needs to maintain its sovereignty over test questions and state academic standards. Noble goals, but both needs to be clarified.  First, the ACT test is standardized (meaning all students answers the same questions), criterion referenced (meaning its questions measure student knowledge against a specific learning target), and norm referenced (meaning it compares student answers to students from around the nation). ROPE would have you believe the ACT is aligned to Common Core.  Actually, the ACT is aligned to the College and Career Readiness standards.  CCR standards are nationally recognized academic learning targets American high school students should know if they are to be successful post-secondary education.  This is the very same goal of Oklahoma’s public education system: College and Career Readiness. Recently, the Oklahoma Regents of Higher Education certified that PASS standards were aligned to College and Career Readiness Standards.  We should not claim PASS, ACT, and Common Core are the same thing just because they are all aligned to a minimum set of knowledge standards we want all high school students to know when they graduate.

The idea that Oklahoma should maintain sovereignty over its standards is right on the mark.  Oklahoma teachers should have autonomy over the learning activities in their classrooms.  Oklahoma teachers should work together to develop rigorous standards for Oklahoma children.  No one is denying the necessity for sovereignty over standards.  However, there are only a few companies which are proficient in writing, developing, and administering assessments to measure Oklahoma student achievement.  ROPE mentioned the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement Tests as viable options.  YES, they both are standardized, norm referenced tests.  YES, both are not aligned to CCR or Common Core.  And YES, neither are developed by Oklahoma teachers nor controlled by Oklahoma standards.  And YES, neither are used for college admission.  Isn’t the purpose of our testing reform movement to find an assessment that has practical application to our students?  The ACT is the basic test used for college entrance.  Using the ITBS or the Stanford 10 would be just like the EOI – providing us information about student achievement (after the fact mind you) but not having any validity toward post-secondary life.   

The ACT and its ACT Aspire tests would provide Oklahoma teachers a comprehensive assessment program to provide formative data from grade 3 through graduation.  The test would satisfy college entrance requirements for those students who wish to seek a college education.  The work keys aspect of the ACT suite of exams would provide our business and industry organizations with vital information about a student’s ability to go to work.  Both of those are key components to Gov. Fallin’s goals of increasing more college degrees and career tech certifications.  It only makes sense we use a test aligned to Oklahoma’s College and Career Ready goals.  It only makes sense we use a test which is more cost effective (putting more educational dollars back into the classroom).  It only makes sense we minimize the time needed for testing (thus maximizing instructional time).  It only makes sense we use an assessment which benefits our students in the pursuit of their post high school goals.  The ACT is the right assessment to meet all these goals.  Join the movement.  Make Oklahoma education better for ALL our students.    

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Slogan War

I know it has been some time since my last blog and I hope you will forgive my absence from the blogosphere.  I’ve been a little busy, but mostly I’ve been just trying to keep my head down and my mouth shut (I have the right to remain silent, but not the ability).  Furthermore, with bloggers like my friends Claudia Swisher, Rick Cobb (formerly OKeducationtruths), Rob Miller, Brett Dickerson, and Blue Cereal banging away at the keyboard all the really good topics where completely covered.  That was until today.  I, and a bunch of other first year superintendents, attended the State Board of Education meeting fulfilling a requirement in what Dr. Ann Caine of Stillwater calls Superintendent’s Kindergarten.  I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t think it would be as contentious as it was four years ago, but I also didn’t know it would go so smoothly.  My friends….. what a difference leadership makes.

I have said all along that Oklahoma public education has been losing a slogan war.  The anti-public education crowd has had us playing defense for the better part of my 17 year career.  It started with “All kids can learn” and then morphed to “No Child Left Behind”.  From there we have heard politicians bloviate with “hold our schools accountable” so that now they claim without fear from reprisal that “our schools are failing”.  The school choice people have now started referring to public schools as “government schools” instead of public schools.  Why?  Because it is a better slogan and allows them to refer to public schools as “monopoly schools”. Some even go to calling us “drop out factories”.    For far too long, Oklahoma public education officials have played defense in the slogan war.  But our silence has stopped as Supt. Hofmeister openly embraced social media with her #OKhigh5 slogan. Declaring once and for all that every Oklahoma child deserves to have the very best education provided by the very best educators. #OKhigh5 calls for the end of the shortest educational calendar in the region and shines a spotlight on the more than 500 classrooms with an emergency certified teacher …..what a difference leadership makes.

I refer to this onslaught of words as the slogan war because its sole purpose is to destroy public schools and not to help the children of Oklahoma.  It is a carefully crafted money grab.  I firmly believe that the majority of education reformers are less interested in helping your child get a better education and more interested in helping their child get a cheaper education.  But I honestly believe the tide is changing.  Oklahoma now has a leader….an advocate for ALL of Oklahoma’s children.  Supt. Hofmeister has always held firm to the Oklahoma conservative belief that parents not only have the right, but an obligation to make a quality educational choice for their child.  The difference here is that she doesn’t think you have to destroy one to make the other better.  What a difference leadership makes.