Monday, September 1, 2014

Waiver Revealed

Sunday night on twitter was a great discussion regarding the loss of Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver. The frustrating thing for me is all the misinformation that continues to surround this critical time in education.  Here is a no nonsense explanation of what happened, what it means, and what is next for Oklahoma Public Schools.

What Happened

According to a letter sent from Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle, Oklahoma could no longer meet the pre-requisites needed to qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver. In her letter, she stated all states must commit to “adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics for kindergarten through grade 12 at the time of its request, and to have implemented those standards no later than the 2013- 2014 school year”.

My Take – If you remember, Oklahoma rushed to adopt Common Core State Standards and its assessment component PARCC to meet the college and career component of the waiver. If you go back and look at the original 2011 waiver, you will notice on page 14 the very first principle of the waiver was college and career readiness standards. Oklahoma leapt at the chance to get out from under the unrealistic AYP benchmarks required by a NCLB that hadn’t been reauthorized in 2007 and was severely out of date.

·         HB 3399 repealed CCSS in reading and math making PASS our state standards.
·         Regents of Higher Education have not certified PASS as College & Career ready.
·         No CCSS and no other College & Career standards meant no more waiver

What’s Next

Oklahoma will be required to follow the guidelines of the NCLB legislation and not the policies put in place by OKSDE, the Governor, and our legislators. Oklahoma must calculate an index score for each school and compare the index to the benchmark set by NCLB. Furthermore, the state must calculate Annual Measureable Objectives (AMO’s) for each school. Schools not meeting or exceeding the benchmark or meeting its AMO’s must be designated a school in “Needs Improvement, Corrective Action, or Restructuring” based on the number of years the school has not met the benchmark since 2011—2012.

                My Take – The interesting thing here is how our state leaders will react to this. The way I read the letter and accompanying documents from Deborah Delisle, the federal requirements of NCLB have to be implemented “no later than” the 2015-2016 school year. Does this mean the timeline of the NCLB requirements will be left to the discretion of the OKSDE? Will the SDE wait until next year or will they take this opportunity to implement now?  Immediate implementation will cause irrevocable harm to schools. Some leaders even question the legality of the USDE to deny the waiver based on standards. My take is the SDE can implement NCLB at the beginning of the 15-16 school year which would give schools the time they need to make adjustments, give the Higher Regents time to review our standards, give the state of Oklahoma time to re-write college and career standards, and the new State Supt. Of Public Instruction time to request a new waiver.  Want to bet it doesn’t happen that way?

What it Means

The OKSDE must relinquish control over how schools meet the requirements of NCLB. This means schools will have a performance calculation in every subgroup where more than 30 students are tested in reading or math. AMOs will be calculated, and the schools will be labeled as “needs improvement, corrective action, or restructuring”.  In other words, schools will be given a post mortem label for every year since 2011.  The loss of the waiver means schools will also get an AYP determination and an A-F grade.  A-F is state law, but AYP is federal accountability. 

                My Take – The real question is how the OKSDE interprets the letter from the USDE. The way I read it, it appears the OKSDE can use discretion in several components of re-implementation of NCLB. First, no money will be lost this year, nor will any set aside be required by the feds. Second, supplemental services and public school choice isn’t required until 2015-2016.  Most importantly, in my opinion, school designations should move forward only 1 year based on 2011-2012 status. In other words, if a school was in year 1 in 2011-2012, they could only be in year 2 for 14-15.  Even the Obama administration understands you can’t fast forward 3 years when you were under a different set of rules. However, this all depends on how the Barresi administration handles it from here on out. Technically, she could implement all the aspects of NCLB right now. She would require 20% of Title 1 money to be set aside for public choice and supplemental services. This could force schools to lay off teachers and teacher’s aides. She could fast forward schools not meeting AYP to the maximum level of designation. For some schools, it could require teachers to be fired. It could mean administrators and board members to be removed.  Worse, some schools could move from never have been on the list to year 3 and not even had the chance to address issues masked by the A-F grading system.  Remember all those flaws OU and OSU researchers told us about? They could possibly come to fruition.  You think JB has a vendetta against public schools? We are about to find out. You think the reformers want to KILL public education in this state? The potential is there, and they get political cover because the reformers will blame the Obama administration. Only time will tell.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Waiver, No Standards, Big Problem

DENIED!, said Arne Duncan to Janet Barresi and her request for a 1 year extension to Oklahoma’s ESEA waiver. Immediately our state’s elected officials started doing what they do best: blaming someone else. Everyone except Representative Jason Nelson; he calmly looked the reporter in the eyes and proclaimed Obama’s administration’s egregious action was “no big deal”. At first glance, the loss of the waiver is not that big of a deal.  No loss of federal money for 2014-2015 and the Feds gave Oklahoma until “no later than” 2015-2016 to require schools re-implement supplemental educational services and school choice.

If the waiver only dealt with money and school choice, Jason Nelson would be correct.  However, the gist of NCLB was accountability and therefore the biggest portion of our waiver was flexibility in Oklahoma’s accountability. According to the letter made public by Shawn Hime and the OSSBA Oklahoma is to immediately resume the determination of schools that are in “Needs Improvement, Corrective Action, and Restructuring”.  

What does this mean? According to NCLB, schools must meet Adequate Yearly Progress in reading and math in several student subgroups.  If ANY subgroup fails to meet AYP for 2 consecutive years the school is placed in “Needs Improvememt”. Fail again, the school moves to year 2 of Needs Improvement. Fail again it is on to Corrective Action, then onto Restructuring. Corrective action is the firing of teaching staff, extended school year, and new curriculum.  Basically, it is state takeover.  So the automatic firing of teachers, the forcing of schools to change their school year and their curriculum when they were not even AWARE there was an issue is NOT a big deal?

While it has major ramifications to those in education, it is also a big deal to the “public schools are failing” reform crowd. Here are some of the reasons why Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin are pointing fingers and shouting out accusations:

·         The waiver gave the state the flexibility to meet the accountability piece of the ESEA legislation. Which means the reformers in power decided what schools had to do to be compliant not the Feds. Loss of the waiver actually means loss of their reform platform.
·         Every school is going to get the old API/AYP calculation sheet for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.  I wonder how the reformers’ beloved A-F calculation will stack up against the AYP calculations?
·         I’m betting there are at least 50% of the A schools who will be placed on the “Needs Improvement” list because of A-F’s inability to desegregate the data of the individual student subgroups. I’m also going to predict there are multiple schools listed as “Targeted Intervention” because of the A-F grade that will meet “Safe Harbor” and therefore not be labeled as “Needs Improvement” All this will be a major body blow to public school reformers and their coveted A-F grading system.
·         Of course the Reagents of Higher ED wouldn’t certify PASS standards as College and Career Ready. If PASS standards are subpar then PASS can be the patsy for the increased remediation rates of incoming college freshman. Higher ED can’t blame teachers as almost every teacher graduated from one of their prestigious Universities. Also, Higher ED can’t say their business plan benefits from freshman taking zero level courses. Furthermore, Higher ED can’t say since the implementation of OHLAP, they are experiencing record number of enrollments which pads the books if those students go 5 years instead of 4 which is a main reason why some students are guided to remediation classes. Don’t believe me; look at how many buildings have been added to each campus since the passage of OHLAP.

So the loss of the waiver is a big deal to Oklahoma’s public schools. Elected officials yelling and screaming with a reform agenda can make public schools jump through unnecessary hoops, and then blame the Obama administration.  Pay attention folks, if any changes are required in 2014-2015 to meet NCLB, then it will be at Janet’s and Gov. Fallin’s discretion and no one else’s. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

800 pound Gorilla

There is an 800 pound Gorilla in the room. It is big, ugly, and wrecking havoc on our children’s education.  Yes, I’m talking about the 800 or so classrooms with children ready to learn but no teacher available to teach them. Why are we 800 teachers short? - many, many reasons. For some it may be about pay… for others it may be about testing. Climate, culture, autonomy?, valid reasons all around. Large class sizes, unfair accountability measures, evaluations based on factors outside the teacher’s control? - understandable. Russian roulette with educational standards is certainly a reason to seek employment elsewhere. A philosophical difference with principals and superintendents has to be considered a reason to find another profession. Narcissistic students and unreasonable parents or derogatory Facebook comments or politicians who belittle our craft or newspaper articles who blame us for all of society’s ills are all contributing to the growth of the 800 pound Gorilla. If we don’t stop feeding the beast, how big will it be next year?

Let me be blunt: We have some really bad administrators and some really bad teachers who shouldn’t be able to get a job. Yep, call me names if you want, but you know I’m right. We can all think of a teacher or administrator who shouldn’t be a teacher or administrator. Hell, the only reason the really bad educators are able to keep getting hired is because there is no one else out there keeping the bad ones from getting a job. This is embarrassing. Bad teachers are being recycled because schools have no other choice. How awesome would our schools be if there was an applicant pool of 5 qualified candidates for every job! How great would it be for parents to know their child had the best, not the best available? For this dream to become reality teacher pay has to rival other professions.  The best and brightest high school seniors should seek to become educators just like they seek to become engineers, physical therapists, dental hygienists, or advertising/marketing executives.  We should have stringent standards, so only the very best effective teachers keep their job because the job pool is so saturated.  We should have petroleum engineers leave the oil field to become science teachers, not science teachers leave for the oil field.

I personally know 1 outstanding superintendent, 2 principals, and dozens of teachers who left the profession this year. They left for jobs that paid better, or they just retired because they didn’t HAVE to put up with a system which they felt treated them like dung.  None of them left for other states. However, I offered a job to several elementary certified entry year teachers who told me they were taking jobs out of state. Just out of curiosity, I asked and found out almost all of them went to college with OHLAP! I am not aware of any HS seniors who stated they were going to college to become a teacher.  So our problem is multifaceted. We don’t have enough college students choosing education as a career, and we are losing our current allotment of teachers through mass defections to retirement or career change.  Do we really expect the very best and brightest our state has to offer to choose education as a career when many of the graduates have to work 2 jobs to earn a living wage? I was talking to a great young sophomore English teacher from US Grant HS who cleans swimming pools afterschool and on weekends to supplement his income, so he can support his family.

Seriously, I don’t care what anyone else says, teacher shortage is the number 1 problem facing public education today. Oklahoma Education is in crisis mode. 911 has been dialed and 600,000 students are waiting for their call to be answered. If we want to solve this crisis we should be taking a 2 pronged approach: we have to create a working environment worthy of the best and a working salary good enough to rival other professional careers.  Only then will class sizes, accountability measures, derogatory opinion articles, and philosophical differences be reasons for the weakest of us to get out of the profession and not the reason for the best of us.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Just the facts, Ma'am.

Just the facts “Ma’am”.  Famous words from Dragnet Detective Joe Friday. I don’t know if the numbers expressed in the DOK opinion piece this Sunday are accurate or not, but I want to talk about the numbers they seemed to ignore.  I know several of my good friends and people who I look to for advice are about to cringe because they have repeatedly asked me not to twist off on the DOK and do a rebuttal blog. However, as I’ve been told more than once in my career – “Jason, you have the right to remain silent but not the ability”.

The numbers as reported by the DOK article this Sunday:

·         998 3rd graders “failed” the 3rd grade reading OCCT
·         342 of 998 meet exemptions in place before the Grade Placement Committee
o   67 were students who had disabilities
o   67 were students who qualified as ESL with less than 2 years of English instruction
o   79 scored high enough on an alternative test
o   118 were on an IEP and had previously been retained
o   10 students were not on an IEP but had already been retained twice

The DOK claims these numbers as evidence of “substantial” exemptions already in place within the law and uses these numbers as a philosophical bat to beat up Oklahoma lawmakers who value the wisdom of local control and parental involvement. Obviously, the DOK editorial board has a bone to pick with the new RSA law. I don’t think I’ll ever know why, but I’d love to sit down and just have a conversation with them about it. They are still drinking the Kool-aid being handed out by those with a highly skewed view of Child Literacy reform.

Let me give you my take on the EXACT SAME numbers the DOK uses.

  •          998 3rd graders “failed” the 3rd grade reading OCCT – The only thing the DOK and I agree on – 998 is too high.
  •          342 is only 34% of the total “failing” students – hardly “substantial” in my opinion of the effectiveness of previous exemptions. 

o   67 students who had disabilities – These are students who took the OAAP test; students who have such profound disabilities they are not subject to the same academic standards. Why does the state force these students to test?
o   67 students who qualified as ESL – research shows the average language acquisition time to understand the English language on a student’s grade level is 7 years. This fact keeps being lost on RSA reformers. They act like this exemption is a good thing. Try telling that to a student who moved to the “land of the free” when they are 16 and can’t pass the Eng. 2 EOI and therefore won’t graduate.
o   118 were on an IEP and had previously been retained. WHAT?  You mean to tell me there were 118 students who had already been RETAINED once and they failed the test? I thought retention was the answer to the child’s reading problems? Retention didn’t work for these 118 students. Now they are 1 or 2 years older than their classmates and according to the reformers still 2 grade levels behind in reading. (I don’t agree with the previous statement; being two levels behind is possible, but you’d have to give some reading diagnostic to be certain and not use an ELA test for comparison)
o   10 students are not on an IEP but have retained twice. This is just tragic. Some research shows over 80% of students who have been retained twice become HS dropouts.

The DOK looks at the numbers and tries to explain how the old RSA law could have worked. They point to their number of 342 students who met exemptions and say “see, the law is working”.  I look at the 656 students who are being forced to repeat 3rd grade, and find it tragic because the adults in their lives failed them. The DOK thinks this blame should be placed solely on the backs of teachers who work at public schools. I think there is plenty of blame to go around. Parents who lack parenting skills are to blame. An economy where parents have to work 2 jobs just to feed their children is to blame.  Ineffective teachers and ineffective school administrators are to blame. An argument could be made to blame policymakers and politicians. However, any argument among the adults as to who is to blame for childhood illiteracy is a complete waste of time. A child who can’t read has been failed not by just someone but by everyone! However, the DOK just wants to blame teachers. But they are just wrong.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Educational Leadership Condundrum

Lately I haven’t been sleeping too well. To be more accurate, I haven’t been staying asleep too well.  Falling asleep isn’t my problem; staying asleep has been.  For the past couple of months, I have been getting less and less sleep, and I think I know why. My brain is in a constant state of flux; an internal struggle is waging in the educational lobe of my brain. I fall asleep because I am tired; I don’t stay asleep because I’m afraid I know who’s starting to win the war- and my heart doesn’t like it. The struggle is this - Do I do what my professional training knows what is best for the whole child, or do I play by the rules set up by the political winds of the educational game? I find the differences between the two to be growing. Thus, I don’t sleep very well anymore.

The rules of game simply state students and schools are judged by onetime events. You see, the political powers that be have defined academic success as passing a test or passing a series of tests to graduate high school. For the student, it all boils down to a test. For the school, it all depends on testing - averaging the sum total of the tests given. It doesn’t matter that some students are homeless or abused or hungry or scared. It doesn’t matter that schools are facing teacher shortages, outdated textbooks, ancient buildings, rising costs, and declining per pupil revenues. The game refuses to take into consideration poverty and parental involvement; the two things research has shown to have a significant impact on learning. The game simply states students are only successful if they pass the test, and a school is only successful if 90% of the students pass the test at a time arbitrarily set by the politicians.

My professional training tells me something else. Learning is not time dependent - I wholeheartedly believe learning is an individual process without an expiration date. For some, the concept can be learned quickly without effort. For others, the concept doesn’t come as quickly, or it comes with a great deal of effort. My professional training tells me some students can find English Literature fascinating while Geometry is a waste of time. Some students argue with logic while others use emotion. My professional training tells me students from broken homes or from abject poverty or from situations of abuse and neglect need more from their teachers than test prep. My professional training tells me to love the child, give them an early foundation, and later expose them to things to foster interest and cause them to think and explore and expand the world around them.

I know brain based learning; I know the brain takes new concepts and builds upon previous knowledge. In other words, do children need to know math facts like double digit multiplication before they can do Algebra? No, doing Algebra is a behavior that can be taught just like a mouse can be taught to run through a maze. However, a student must know their math facts before they UNDERSTAND Algebra. There is a difference.  Do students need to know dystopia before they comprehend the utopian world of books like The Giver? No, students can comprehend the meaning of the words, but do the words resonate with them; is the underlying theme relevant to them? There is a difference between giving a book report over the main idea, the characters, and the setting and being moved to emotions of joy, sorrow, and empathy.

So the battle rages on - often times in the wee hours of the morning. Do I play the game to obtain the academic success for students and my school as outlined by the rule makers? Do I cast aside the political definition of academic success and follow what my professional training and my heart knows is the best course for the long term educational well being of the child? I am falling asleep quickly because I’m tired. I’m tired because I am trying to accomplish both tasks at the same time. This is the conundrum of educational leadership, and it’s exhausting.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Brave New World: Testing or Thinking?

An argument against High Stakes Testing Accountability:

My argument against high stakes testing accountability is simple; it doesn’t work. To put it more precisely, high stakes testing accountability isn’t increasing student’s ability to put to use the knowledge they are learning.  This is the crux of the problem: the purpose of education. Why do we want our citizens to learn? Is it so that they “know” the answer when confronted with a question? Or is it so they can use their education as a foundation to interpret, analyze, design, and create? Let me put it this way; do we want our children to grow up to be a nation of Jeopardy champions and crossword puzzle experts, or do we want our children to find the cure for Alzheimer’s, compose a symphony, or argue a case before the Supreme Court?  For me personally, I want my daughter to become the 1st female President of the United States. Which brings me to another failure of accountability measures based on high stakes testing; intangible and necessary qualities such as persistence, perseverance, intestinal fortitude, motivation, and leadership can’t be measured. If we want to improve our schools, then we need to move away from the idea that “all kids can learn” and move toward the mantra of “all learners can apply what they know”. Taking a test at the end of the year guarantees learning stays stuck in the “knowledge” arena and not the application mode of education.

The test not only fails to measure what technocrat reformers want it to measure, it has a drastic negative impact on instructional practices. The test changes the goal for both the student and the teacher. The accountability piece incentivizes the prioritization of the false educational goal of test score outcomes. Teachers and students both willingly accept the segmentation of skills and standards as learning outcomes instead of how those newly learned skills and standards can be applied.  Some examples of this negative focus:

  • Deciding to use text passages and multiple choice quizzes instead of novels and Socratic discussions in English Literature or Reading classes because passages and questions are what is on the test.  
  • Taking students out of electives such as Art, Music, etc. so they can take a remediation class so they can take a remediation class so they can pass the state test.
  • Putting off field trips until after April 24th because that is when testing is over.
  • Doing away with World History as a sophomore social studies elective so U.S. History objectives can be taught for 2 years before students have to take the test.

There are many, many more examples of the negative impact caused by the high stakes test and the accountability that comes with it. What I don’t understand is why reformers keep doubling down on high stakes testing. It does not measure the critical thinking and problem solving skills reformers scream is missing from American students. It perpetuates a decline in the application of knowledge everyone thinks is essential to the 21st century. Let us stop the madness of moving in the wrong direction of educating America’s youth.  Let the teachers and the educational experts move from an “all students can learn” to “all learners can apply” model of education. Put the accountability piece where it belongs - with the parents and the local community. Let’s teach our students to think instead of to test.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Random Ramblings about #oklaed

Okay, its been about 6 weeks since my last post. Sorry for the absence, but its been a crazy couple of weeks. I just completed my Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction (FINALLY!) and just changed jobs. I am now the Superintendent of Alex Public Schools. For the record, just as in Clinton, the words on this page reflect my personal views and are not necessarily the views of Alex Public Schools or the Alex Board of Education. 

  • About the Election:  
    • How can you justify voting to re-elect the current State Supt when she doesn't even know how many tests a 5th grader takes? JB's answer was 2; the correct answer is 5 (reading, writing, math, science, and social studies) if you only count OCCT. It is 6 if you include the "item try out" test this year, maybe 7 if you include the required Arts Assessment.  JB went on to say the test only takes about 2 hours. If you look at the test administration manual (you can look at page 4 by clicking here), the suggested multiple choice test times for Math, Reading, Science, and Social Studies are 7.5 hours. The Writing test has a suggested time of 90 minutes (you can look on page 4 here).  
    • Talk about Double Talk! Did anyone else notice during the Flash Point debate how JB said she works with educators everyday to seek input into reforms, but then told Kirk Humphreys (who was a little more than biased in my opinion) she wouldn't listen to educators and couldn't work with teachers, principals and superintendents to implement reforms? Which is it? You listen to professionals or your don't? Make up your mind.

    • The Daily Oklahoman ran an article suggesting we give JB another 4 years to get some of the mistakes she made in her first term corrected? You have got to be kidding me. How sad is that.
    • Can you really smear your opponent for not being sensitive to the needs of special needs students after you intentionally released their names and addresses to your campaign AND printed their names, disabilities, and GPA's (illegally I might add) in a State Board of Education meeting agenda? 

    • Next time JB says she works with educators and educational stakeholders, I want somebody to ask for names, places, and dates! I'm betting a vast majority of people she claims to work with are either teachers from the charter schools she helped start, a political policy adviser from FEE or ALEC, or works for a vendor.
  • About Education in General:

    • HB2625 only weakens the RSA law if you have a general distrust in the decision making of educators! 2625 gives local control over the extenuating circumstances of local children. I know at my school we will take the grade placement committee option very seriously. I trust teachers and school personnel to make the best decision possible. Why doesn't our State Supt or our Governor trust teachers? If you trust a teacher to supervise children from August through May, but do not trust them to make educational decisions, then I submit you view teachers as baby sitters and not professional educators.
    • If the AF accountability system is as accurate, valid, and simple as the public has been led to believe, then why did it take 10 versions over several weeks to get a final result? I know my former school's AF grade was incorrect, how many others are wrong? 
    • CCSS vs. PASS vs. C3 vs. OAsS vs CCR, vs OCCRA vs PARCC vs ACT vs ACE vs RSA vs ETC. Seriously, what #oklaed  needs is a acronym department!
    • Testing - I agree with the educational philosophy of 'test less and teach more'. I'm all about data driven decision making, and I fully believe in using diagnostic & formative assessments to drive instruction. There has got to be a middle ground where policy wonks can have the accountability system they desire and teachers can have the testing they need to be better at their jobs.

    • Shouldn't everyone be striving to give children the love of learning?
    • Wouldn't it be nice if teachers were valued like other professionals? Maybe our pay wouldn't be so low that teachers leave the profession to go manage a Wal-mart or drive a truck in the oil field. If you are like me and believe the greatest educational tool ever invented was a teacher, then you must also believe the profession of teaching can't survive on the charity of good Samaritans and those who couldn't do anything else. As Kevin Hime has said ever since I've known him, "you can't have teacher quality until you have teacher quantity". I have always understood this to mean that until we have multiple GREAT teachers applying for the same job every time, there will always be a place for the ineffective teacher to go. Kids deserve a great, inspirational, effective teacher in every classroom!