Sunday, December 8, 2013

Headline: Classroom teachers being killed by ed reform~

American Exceptionalism is the term often used to describe the special characteristic of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty.  Basically, it dates back to the Declaration of Independence with phrases like "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" and "all men were created equal" which was reaffirmed at Gettysburg by President Lincoln.  Lincoln honored the fallen solders at Gettysburg by reminding American citizens those soldiers "gave the last full measure of devotion" so that the "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth". American Exceptionalism is the core belief Americans hold believing the American way of doing things is better than anyone else's way of doing things. History tends to agree with that belief. Tom Brokaw proclaimed the World War II generation as the "greatest generation" because of these ideas.  America's educational system is based on these ideas.  We have set up an educational system where children have access to a "free and appropriate" education.  Our educational history has not always been stellar, but we are where we are today because of American Execeptionalism.

The question I ask today is, "Is American Exceptionalism being destroyed by current educational reforms?" Basically, is the American way of educating its citizens still better than the way other countries educate theirs?  Many who say American education needs to be reformed point to the 2012 PISA results for 15 year olds.  They say the results show a stagnant trend line of math and science scores and how other countries are passing the US in the rankings.  Diane Ravitch and others say America has never fared well on international tests and using these results to show a need for more reforms are disingenuous.  Diane Ravitch (read her full analysis and conclusions here) points out that when testing started in the mid 1960's the US was either last or next to last on every math assessment.  Remember, the 1960's was the generation of mathematicians and scientists who put Americans on the Moon!  The fact of the matter is America's students perform well when disaggregated for poverty. The fact of the matter is education is a powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty. The fact of the matter is that as long as poverty exists, educators will need to do a better job of educating the impoverished children of America.  However, it is a matter of opinion and not fact on how to improve our educational system.  It is fact and not opinion that every attempt to improve our educational institutions drastically and dramatically affects classroom teachers!

Oklahoma, like many other states, has started receiving, passing, and implementing cookie cutter legislation designed to improve public education:  social promotion of 3rd graders, using testing data to measure the effectiveness of teachers, High Stakes Testing, OAsS, and A-F accountability systems to name just a few. Have you noticed every reform intended to improve student learning has been directed at the teacher and no reforms have been dedicated toward the actual student or parent? Why is that? We all agree student learning is an active and highly personal process.
 Instruction is part of the equation, just as standards are part of the equation, but so is the student's part of the learning process.  ...why are the effects of poverty or lack of poverty continually ignored in any school improvement reform initiative with the purpose of improving student learning?  Why are teachers constantly under attack? ...but I digress.  These educational reforms are constantly putting additional pressure on our classroom teachers.

There are a plethora of current educational reforms placing an undue burden on our classroom teachers.  Great teachers are great because they care for their students.  They develop and nurture professional relationships with their students, so they will be better equipped to teach them.  However, these reforms often pit the best interests of the kids against the best interests of the teacher.  For example, how can we expect our best teachers to want to work with the most at risk students if testing data is used to evaluate teacher effectiveness and to reward merit pay? How can we have school improvement when individual teachers knowingly have to do things that cause them personal angst for the possibility of improved student attainment?  If teachers had a guarantee these reforms would work, then they would be the first to go along with them, but there are no guarantees.  The only thing reforms have proven to do is create a toxic climate for our classroom teachers.  They have created animosity between teachers of tested subjects and non tested subjects.  They have created distention between primary, elementary, and secondary teachers of the same subjects.  They have created an environment of discontent between teachers, counselors, and administrators. In some cases, teachers are not allowed to practice their craft as their professional philosophy suggests in order to satisfy requirements of educational reforms (see socialization vs academic learning in primary grades). Let's be clear, the intent of educational reforms is to show that American students can perform as well as their international peers on achievement tests.

How can one continue to think America's way of educating its citizens is better than the rest of the world when teachers are required to teach math like they do in Singapore or strive to have a PISA ranking like China, Finland, or Japan?  Shouldn't our teachers continue to educate Americans using American Exceptionalism ideas and beliefs?  Don't parents want their teachers to look at their children, and teach to the learning style of their children?  Shouldn't schools want teachers to teach to the teacher's ability in a manner in which the student learns best?  Why would we want our teachers to teach students to pass a test like the kids in Shanghai when Shanghai is trying to get their kids to think like American children?  As an educator, I want students to be able to create, think, problem solve, and experience the wonderful emotion of Lincoln's Gettysburg address.  I want to let students engage in discussions where their opinion is expressed through individual experiences and backed up by evidence.  I don't want students to memorize the 272 words of Lincoln's speech; I want them to understand the importance of his words. They can't understand the significance of Lincoln's speech and its application of American Exceptionalism if the only reason they learn it is to get the right answer on a test!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A-F: Their words, not mine

An interesting phenomenon happened this week with regards to the A-F grading transition system.  The 3 biggest players in Oklahoma politics (my apologies to the esteemed Senator from Edmond) lined up to defend the A-F accountability system.  I would point out that the A-F accountability system is useless; simply pointing to the fact that it is inaccurate (changing as many as 10 times), it’s flawed (see researchers from Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University, University of North Carolina, and the University of South Carolina), and it doesn’t do what it is designed to do (more on this later).  But there they were, staunchly defending this accountability system that is getting more bad press than Obamacare.  Our Governor, Secretary of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote OP-EDs, conducted interviews on TV shows, wrote letters, and held press conferences in an attempt to defend the system and it’s catastrophic implementation.  Here is the thing; although they each defended the system, they should have choreographed their message. I’ll use their words to make my point.

From our Governor (you can read her OP-ED here)

     The Governor issued an OP-ED saying that Oklahoma’s A-F grading system is a “system that accurately measures success and failure”.  She goes on to say A-F gives “parents an accurateeasily understood method of measuring the quality of education their children are receiving.”  Furthermore, she states that “superintendents and teachers of schools receiving a D or an F must remember: a bad grade is not a punishment; it is a call to action.”

Our State Secretary of Education said this (you can read his response here):

“Reporting school performance in a transparent and understandable way is a valuable tool for educational improvement
He continued his defense of A-F by proclaiming that grades are a great way for parents to compare schools.

And from our State Superintendent of Public Instruction (in her letter to Guthrie Parents)

She starts off with this:  “it is intended to be a clear and accurate report to you and other stakeholders regarding the progress of your child’s school and its current academic status … therefore, parents and stakeholders must have an accurate report about each school’s performance.  The A-F Grade Card is part of an overall information packet that provides you with a comprehensive picture of each school’s effectiveness.

So it appears that every member of the defense committee has the same theme: accurate measure, easily understood, school performance, comprehensive picture.

Now let’s read what the State Department of Education’s website says about A-F (it is listed under “intro to Oklahoma’s A-F School Grading System”

You really should read the entire introduction; it is full of comical contradictions to the big 3!
It starts with: “As this is still a relatively new system, however, we must ensure that A-F system is both understandable and interpreted appropriately” What!? I thought this was supposed to be easily understood as indicated by our Governor and Secretary of Education.  I thought it was clear and accurate as indicated by the Secretary and State Superintendent.  Then why is it necessary to have a 30 page technical document to explain it?  Why the need for the State Department of Education to place a “What is and what isn’t” intended to be measured by the A-F report card?

What is next is what I like to call the death blow to any credible defense of A-F by the big 3!

“The A-F Report Card is not:
·     A measure of the “school” or “teacher” effect on student learning
·     A statement about a school’s overall quality of services provided

In other words, much like a student report card, the A-F grade tells us how students at a particular school are doing…”

Right there in black and white print on the SDE’s own webpage with the State Superintendent’s smiling picture! 

It is not a measure of the performance of a school or the effects of teacher effort!”
It is a measure of the students in a school

So, if it is NOT a measure of the school or the teachers of that school, then why do the Governor, State Secretary, and State Superintendent continue to tell the public it is a measure of a school performance?  Why do they continue to insist on providing a public grade for the quality of students at a school? After all, that is exactly what the SDE claims the intent of the report card does!  And I haven’t even mentioned according to Teacher, Leader Effectiveness legislation 50% of a teacher’s and principal’s evaluation will be based off a report card NOT intended to measure the teacher effect on student learning!

But hey, if you don’t like me saying the A-F system doesn’t make sense, then let me leave you with the State Superintendent’s own words (in a letter to the Guthrie parents). “I agree that this does not make sense. It does not reflect the direct instructional impact of teachers on your child’s performance”.  I couldn’t have said it any better!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fallacy, Fallacy everywhere, but not a drop to think!

It has been a crazy, almost insane, last couple of weeks for Oklahoma educators.  Here is a short list of the happenings in #OKlaED

  1. Governor Fallin threatens educators who are being critical of the AF transition system.
  2. Politicians (POLs) saying they can't fix the AF transition system because it is the law, or its because of the rules, or its because of the waiver.
  3. CTB wants to charge schools $125 to appeal a writing score that schools don't even have yet.
  4. Governor Fallin writes an OP-ED in the Tulsa World proclaiming the accuracy and validity of the AF transition system.

This blog is not dedicated to those weird events, but to the logical fallacies in these events or the responses from those trying to convince you those weird events are not weird.  A logical fallacy is just a simple error in reasoning when trying to convince, explain, or justify something to someone else.  In politics it’s called "spin". To me, the logic that emanates from politicians when things go wrong is comical. So the purpose of this blog is to point out the absurd by being absurd!

I really can't say when the craziness started, but last Friday night seems about as good as a place to start as any.  Even at10:30 pm schools' A-F grades were still transitioning.  I have started calling the grading system in Oklahoma a transition system because by Saturday morning our grades had changed again, making the total number of changes equal to 10.  So A-F grades are almost in a constant state of flux, transitioning from 1 grade to another.  AND THEY ARE STILL NOT CORRECT!  I really do not want to justify anymore space to discussing the A-F grade transition system because I'm not wasting any more time and effort on a grade that is inaccurate, invalid, and incorrect.  To save space and your time, I'll use bullet points to identify other really weird events so we can get to the logical fallacies of the responses:

·   Gov. Fallin issues a statement regarding the criticisms of the A-F transition system! You can read her statement here.

For starters, why would Gov. Fallin get involved in this? The A-F transition system is not only NOT her problem, and the political fall out is not directed toward her.  So why make a public comment on a failed government program?  I don't know, but not only did she comment, but she made a hum dinger of a comment.  Yep, she implied educators should "get behind" the A-F transition system, and if we didn't, she would cut educational funding!  What, is she going to take away our allowance if we don't behave?!  SO, students will be punished for adults exercising their 1st amendment rights of free speech? (a logical fallacy of my own to point out the craziness of her actions).  Furthermore, her biggest logical fallacy, in my opinion, is in the reason WHY she wants educators to "get behind" the transition system; she said, "it is the law".  So it shouldn't matter if the actual calculation is invalid, incorrect, or inaccurate BECAUSE it is the LAW.  This brings me to my second crazy occurrence of the week.

·   Its the waiver! No its the law! No its the rules! 

This is an example of a circular logical fallacy. They concede that something is wrong with AF transitional systems, but nothing can be done about it, because it is a law, or it is in SDE's permanent rules or it is because of the waiver.  Several times in the last couple of weeks when talking to the SDE, I was told there was nothing they could do because A-F was law.  I talked to a Senator and 2 Representatives who told me there was nothing they could do because A-F was written in the ESEA waiver, and it is our federal compliance document.  This is the classic "It's not my fault" line.  I used to do this with my little brother when I was 10.  "I didn't break it mom, it was Andy; I promise".  So I'm guessing if we do what good principals do and put everyone in the same room and ask the same question, we will either get one hell of a show watching all the POLS throw each under the bus, or we can get to the bottom of this broken system!

·   Barresi saying how frustrating it is to get the A-F grades correct!

This particular statement by our State Superintendent is both accurate and full of indignation at the same time.  I'll give her credit, because she is really good at this type of stuff.  Of course the merry-go-round nature of the A-F transition system is frustrating, and that is exactly what she said.  But it is not frustrating for her in the same way it is frustrating for me.  She's frustrated because educators want a little accuracy to go with our accountability!  I wonder if she honestly believes version #10 is any more plausible than the previous 9 versions? And to back up her point, she pointed to the schools and the over 1,000 data verification correction requests as the reason the SDE has had so many versions. She's RIGHT! But what she fails to mention is between the SDE and CTB, almost every mistake on the A-F transition system was not the fault of the school. But hey, why let the little details drive you off message.

·   CTB offers to regrade the regrades but only for a fee!

The latest by CTB is an absolute stunner.  This is the modern day equivalent of a con game called "3 card monte".  We have 2 and sometimes 3 exam scorers.  Some exams have fallen from ADVANCED to UNSATISFACTORY on the 3rd scorer AND you want us to pay $125 for the 4th! No thank you. Here is the best part. CTB hasn't provided schools with the actual 3rd rescore, but they say if the grade changes the appeal is free. However, if the grade doesn't change the school will be billed.  Let me see if I get this straight. CTB, which has not shown schools the 3rd score, can claim the 4th score was the same as the 3rd score and earn $125! Regrade the test and earn nothing, do nothing and earn $125.  BUT here is the major problem for schools; we have to tell parents there is an appeal available. How can a school tell a parent that their child is not worth $125!  This is crazy.

·  Governor Fallin (or her proxy) writes an OP-ED in the Tulsa World

I’ll get to the point on this one. The whole premise of her argument is the A-F transition system is fair, accurate, and a simple way for parents to determine if their child attends a quality school.  Ask any parent if the A-F transition system tells them anything now that they didn't know before!  The logical fallacy of her argument is this: educator criticism can’t be trusted because these criticisms are coming from educators. It SHOULD be a concern to her that almost every educator (even those pesky researchers from OSU and OU), parents (see the Parent Legislative Action Committee), and newspaper editors (just do a google search for A-F & newspapers) are all saying that the current A-F transition system is not valid because of all the flaws.  This might be the evil triad for POLS; Educators, Parents, & local newspaper Editors agree on something!

Remember all this posturing by people on both sides is because of the A-F transition system. It is the most polarizing issue I've encountered in my 17 years of education.  One side claims it is broken, and the other side claims it is necessary.  So let’s get together and fix this necessary but broken system.  It really is that simple. So why can’t we do it?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Letter to Legislator

It is a simple question:  Is your legislator representing your interests or are they representing the interests of someone or something else?  The question entered my mind at the District 9 OSSBA meeting when one of our legislators tried to defend the AF grading system.  It didn't bother me so much that he was in favor of accountability, as I'm in favor of accountability.  It bothered me tremendously in the way he defended it.  It was as if a representative from ALEC/FEE or Senator Jolley's office had supplied him with talking points!  He was adamant and passionate about the issue.  I was shocked and dismayed, but then I realized I shouldn't be shocked or dismayed.  It occurred to me he wasn't afraid or even slightly concerned to tow the party line in a room full of educators.

For some proper background, I feel I need to tell you how the defense of AF goes.  First off, it started with this: "It is okay that the grades keep changing.... at least they are getting them right".  Ever notice how people who blindly believe something to be necessary just gloss over the salient details?  It never enters their minds that the 8th or 9th time something is "fixed" that the system is flawed.  They just say that they finally got it right.  Are you serious? Finally got it right?! How the hell do you know it is right!  For all I know they ran out of time, stopped trying to figure it out, or just gave up, but believers just assume the final version is correct.  What if the grades change tomorrow?  Will that grade be correct?  Why don't the believers ask the obvious question; Why did it change?  Then they move on to something like this:  "Our schools are doing an excellent job.... this is not about us it is about (fill in the blank) schools".  So we move from the argument that AF is necessary for our parents & community members to make decisions about schools, to it is necessary for someone else somewhere else to make decisions about schools!  Seriously folks, this is the deflection argument; its the "we don't need it but they do" logic. My mind immediately goes to local control issues!  Ever notice how many politicians say they are for local control, but continue to vote for things that take away local control and make it state control?

This dog and pony show can go on and on and on and on and on. It really doesn't matter (although it is quite entertaining) what they say, it only matters in what they do.  Don't ask them how they feel about testing children into oblivion, A-F accountability systems, or educational funding.  Asking a politician a question is almost like asking to be lied to (no not all politicians will lie to you, some will just talk down to you or just dance around your question). Have you checked the voting record of your senator or representative lately?  How have they voted on education legislation?  Have they given a floor speech advocating for teacher pay raises?  Have they authored any bills that would benefit you as an educator?  Have they voted against things that you believe to be harmful to education?  Check to see how they have voted on CCSS, TLE, A-F, testing, educational funding or any number of educational bills.  Do their actions and their words align?  Or do they tell you want you want to hear and proclaim to be "a friend of education"?  Legislators love to tell you that they are a friend to education, then tell you there is nothing they can do.  It is the political sweet spot.  They tell you they are supporting education, and they get to vote with the leadership and the reformers.

Until we hold our elected officials accountable (they are holding you accountable to difficult tasks) the current trend in education will not change.  Until you get involved, politicians will continue to marginalize educators.  By getting involved, I mean more than just calling or emailing your legislator.  I'm talking about voting and more.  Yes, I believe we have to do more!  I think we should recruit educators to run for office!  I think we should help education friendly people get elected.  We have to start telling people what we think, we have to start knocking on doors, wearing campaign buttons, putting up lawn signs, and donating to candidates to get them elected.  Just by doing this we will put people in office who WORK in schools and not people who just WENT to school.  I sent my representatives a letter asking them to prove they are a friend of education instead of telling me how pro education they are.  You can read my letter here.  I'm tired of the rhetoric, I want action.  My action starts today.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What do AF accountability systems measure?

My boss and I were driving home after the football game Friday night discussing our AF grades (I said grades and not grade because as of Friday evening each school site had received 6 different versions of an AF grade).  We came to 3 major conclusions:  1) we need to verify that the data the SDE used for our calculation is correct because with 6 different grades we just can't trust that the final product is accurate, 2) the AF grade for our school tells us absolutely nothing we were not already aware of and working diligently to improve, and 3) AF in its current form isn't even close to measuring the quality of our school.  I don't want to waste your time with another diatribe of exposing the litany of errors made by the SDE in calculating AF grades (and using "transparency" as the reason as to why the site was left up is really weak).  I want to focus this blog on what AF actually measures and why it is not a very good system to provide the information it proposes to provide.

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?  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

And now it begins!

I have always tried to make this blog about issues that are affecting public schools and not about the professional and personal attacks these issues continue to make.  It is becoming harder and harder to do this and yesterday's Daily Oklahoman opinion regarding A-F grades might have just been the breaking point.  For those who haven't read the article or would just like a refresher, you can read it here.   The title of the opinion piece is called "Pending A-F grades will reflect more accuracy in our assessments".  This type of journalism just makes my blood boil.  It is disingenuous at best and downright journalistic malpractice at worst. Do I need to mention the fact the A-F grades have yet to be released! How does the DOK opinion staff know what the grades will be and what the grades say about schools?  Is the DOK opinion staff privileged enough to get a sneak peek of the grades? No! But once again they write a politically motivated opinion trying to discredit any legitimate questions regarding this controversial reform.  They do not know what the grades are, they just want to blindly believe the load of horse manure that is being shoveled out by people who want YOU to believe these grades are accurate and valid.  Let me tell you that A-F grades are neither accurate or valid.  And instead of asking you to blindly accept my version of the truth as better than their fantasy version of the problem, I'll back up my statements with facts and not accusations.

Before I point out all the idiocy in the DOK's opinion piece, let me provide some facts about the impending A-F grades.  First and foremost, the results given to schools are littered with scoring errors due to the testing company, McGraw Hill's, ineptitude (I will not even talk about how inefficient and incompetent this company is and how corrupt their systems are, not to mention the fact they were given the bid to conduct testing for next year).  At my school, we received notice that 12 of our writing tests will have to be re-scored due to internal rater reliability error.  (It is nearly Fall Break and we have been in school for an entire 9 weeks and we still do not have all of our testing results. WHAT?!)  It has also been reported by our principals and counselors that nearly 30 students have been identified by the testing company as having different scores on different reports; some students received a "Did Not Attempt" when in fact they have been given a performance report from the testing company.  How are these students being recorded for accountability? No one has been able to give us the answer to this question! Will our school be accountable for the Did Not Attempt the testing company is reporting to the SDE or the score being reported to the student? We also have had several students who do not even attend our school show up on our reports for demographic and test corrections.  Some of our students who took modified or portfolios are listed as making an unsatisfactory score on a test they did not take.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying this process should always be mistake free, but when mistakes seem to be the norm and not the exception, how much credibility will the end result accountability grade have?  To overstate my point about test reporting credibility, I refer to you to the now infamous "testing trailer" pictures.

I swear to you these are actual pictures of our testing materials being delivered or picked up.  These are the same tests we have to inventory, store under lock and key, have test security measures out the wazoo, and face potential teacher certificate issues if they are lost, photocopied, or in this case fall through the gaping holes in the delivery man's trailer!

So to recap why A-F grades are an inaccurate and invalid measure of a school, let's look at some facts. First, the law was changed to ensure schools received a lower grade. Second, the criteria to receive a passing score on some tests changed after the tests were scored to guarantee a minimum of 50% of the students failed. Thirdly, test type and structure was changed without enough notification to change instruction (it is like playing basketball all year long and then when you get to the playoffs they raise the goal from 10 feet to 15 feet without

telling you). And finally, no one can say with any certainty the test data is accurate in the first place - remember the test malfunctions? (Any student who tested on a day in which the online test failed due to CTB's server issues and scored unsatisfactory on the test, their score has been thrown out and it doesn't count toward a school's accountability.) These are enough reasons to raise concerns about the credibility of A-F grades.

Now to the DOK's insanely stupid opinion piece.  There are two logical reasons as to why the DOK would come out with this opinion piece:  to discredit any school arguments about A-F grades and cast blame as to why grades decreased.  Both reasons seem to have a political agenda behind them.  For those who already think public schools are failing, then using the illustrious NAEP (by the way, Oklahoma standards and therefore curriculum and instruction are not aligned to the NAEP; and is the reason why Oklahoma 4th graders do not score well) reiterates their notion that schools are failing and something needed to be done. One the other hand, for those who haven't already sold out to the notion their public school is failing, this piece is quick to point out school grades are decreasing because of changes to the law through legislative efforts.  All this is designed to strengthen the position of the reformers and to weaken the arguments by educators against these reform movements! I've said this many, many times - public schools are not failing!  My school is not a failing school!  Students in my school have the opportunity to get a superior education. We do not need school choice, the political purpose of A-F grades.  If you want to come to my school, move here or walk into our office and fill out the paperwork.  And finally, not everything good that takes place in a school can be measured on a test. As soon as parents and community members get tired of their school being attacked, the DOK will stop printing stupid opinion pieces like this.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why not ACT?

I don't know about most of you, but I am confused.  The powers that be decided that Oklahoma needed to adopt the Common Core State Standards.  The rationale behind that decision was if Oklahoma joined the other 47 states and the District of Columbia in adopting CCSS then there would be commonality between the states with regards to academic achievement of students.  The adoption of CCSS didn't bother me at all.  And why should it?  PASS was a set of standards. Common Core is a set of standards.  And as I outlined in my previous post, standards are just simple educational targets of the skills we want our students to know and when we want students to know them!  However, as I also discussed in my previous post, it is the assessment that matters!  Although I do not want to rehash the reasons why the assessment matters, I do want to talk about assessing the college and career readiness that seems to be the central theme in both the CCSS, the C3, and OAsS standards.

The whole stated purpose for the College and Career Readiness assessments was to be able to easily ascertain how Oklahoma students compared to their peers in other states.  This was the basic reasoning as to why Oklahoma decided to transition from the PASS standards to the Common Core State Standards.  The most reliable and valid mechanism to compare Oklahoma students to their peers was if everyone took a common assessment.  PARCC was supposed to be the mechanism that allowed for these state to state/peer to peer comparisons.  But we dropped PARCC because of the testing issues (Was it our fault or the testing companies? This is the conspiracy that will not stop).  So the powers that be decided for our CCR test we would go it alone (can you go it alone in developing your own tests when there are only about 3 testing companies and states like Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, etc who are all doing the same thing).  Yes, our go-it-alone CCR assessment program is now infamously called OCCRA (you can't make this stuff up folks).  The major problem with all of this - Oklahoma educators have no idea what the assessment will look like, so we have no idea how best to prepare our students.

This lack of knowledge about the CCR assessment has been a major hot topic.  And this lack of knowledge is absolutely not necessary! It seems to me that if you really wanted to assess the college and career readiness of our students, then we should just use the test that ALL Oklahoma colleges use for admission:  The ACT test.  It makes perfect sense to me.  Oklahoma can assess students' college and career readiness and compare how their students perform against other states.  This takes care of both the stated purposes of changing to CCSS.  Remember, we changed from PASS to CCSS to be able to compare the academic achievement of our students to other states.  However, Barresi has indicated that the ACT is not a good enough assessment to measure college and career readiness for Oklahoma (you can find the link to her interview saying ACT isn't worthy for Oklahoma here).  Ok, so simple deductive reasoning says that if the ACT is not good enough for Oklahoma, then Barresi must be supporting the SAT.  WHAT?  I don't know if the ACT is a better exam than the SAT.  You can read the Princeton Review about the differences between the ACT and SAT here.  However, I don't have to decide which is the better college and career readiness assessment, Oklahoma colleges have already answered this question.  It is the ACT!

Barresi's statement against the ACT is perplexing.  As a matter of fact, it is down right confusing.  Remember the state of Oklahoma, directly funded by the SDE, pays for every 8th grade student to take the EXPLORE test and every sophomore to take the PLAN test.  Both of which are part of the EPAS (Explore, Plan, ACT) system of college and career readiness Oklahoma schools use to help make guidance suggests for students.  Now Barresi wants to bash the ACT, the final step of the EPAS system, because it does not meet the "standard for excellence in Oklahoma".  WHAT?  I wish she would make up her mind!  She says public schools are failing and we need more accountability against the liberal establishment, yet the ACT doesn't meet the superior standards of excellence for Oklahoma Public Schools.   If she doesn't think the ACT is a quality enough test, then is she for the SAT?  This is problematic for me for several reasons.  First, the people who actually have the final say if a student is college ready are the Oklahoma colleges.  And guess what, every one of them prefer the ACT.  So why does Barresi think she knows more about college readiness than colleges?  Second, Oklahoma just adopted a standards based college and career readiness curriculum (you know OAsS) and the ACT is a standards based college and career content assessment.  The SAT is not a standards based content assessment (If you don't believe me, go back and read the Princeton Review!)  If we are not going to have an assessment based on a set of standards and that assessment does not measure a set of content skills then why have content standards such as OAsS?  

Is it me or does it seem like we are going out of our way to make things as confusing and as difficult as possible.  If you want a satirical example of how crazy all this testing nonsense is becoming, read Rob Miller's portrayal of the "Oklahoma testing standard".  If you are like me, you believe it shouldn't be this controversial or difficult.  What do you do if you want to take a trip to the moon?  Do you call NASA who has been doing space travel for decades, or do you call a start up company who has never built a space ship and ask them to "develop" you a shuttle? If you want to know how Oklahoma students compare to students in other states on a college and career readiness assessment, do you call a company who has never developed a college and career readiness assessment and ask them to develop one, or do you call ACT who has been doing it for more than 50 years?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

To carryover or not to carryover, that is the question.

To carryover or not to carryover, that is the question.

Much has been made of school districts' carryovers in the past couple of weeks.  Carryover, for those not familiar with educational jargon, is the term given to the money a school district has saved at the end of the year.  In my household we call our carryover a savings account.  Actually, as an educator we refer to it as the "coins found in the couch".  Instead of paycheck to paycheck like a family, school superintendents and school boards of education carryover their savings from one fiscal year to the next.  Carryover funds are important to school districts, but moreover it is extremely important to the students.

No doubt you've heard the many reasons why school's carryover money.  Sure, schools carryover money so they can pay the bills (you know those pesky teacher's salaries, electric bills, and school supplies - like paper and textbooks) until the combination of state and local tax dollars get disbursed. But, in my opinion, the biggest reason why superintendents and school boards manage the finances to maximize carryover funds is to protect the educational opportunities of the student.  Let me say it this way; maximizing the carryover maximizes factors that lead to student learning.  You want your child's 3rd grade class to be split into classes of 20 instead of 25 because of the new 3rd grade promotion law? Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child's bus to be less than 10 years old?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child to be able to take art, band, AG, choir, yearbook, or AP classes?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child to go on field trips, have access to technology, have safe playground equipment, and a decent meal in the cafeteria?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  And before you discount any of the previous statements, think about what would be the first thing a school would have had to cut because of the devastating decreases in funding over the last four years (It has been reported recently that Oklahoma leads the nation in educational funding cuts at around $810 per student) if not for carryover funds.

So now that we have established that carryover funds are not just important but educationally vital, let's explore the recent attacks on school carryover funds.  For the record, I'm having a really tough time believing the increase in carryover funds from 11-12 to 12-13 is $205 million.  I know several superintendents would swear it is not possible, especially as they watched their district's carryover shrink for the second or third straight year. But for arguments sake, let's say the increase in carryover is $205 million.  Let's put this amount in perspective shall we?  There is 1,057,955 weighted students in Oklahoma.  That works out to be a savings of $195.00 per weighted student for the year, $16.25 per month, or about $1.00 per day!  I'm saving more than $195.00 per year cutting coupons!  Are people supposed to be upset superintendents are actually saving taxpayer dollars?  Seriously! We put more money than this in the state's rainy day fund and people are holding press conferences to pat themselves on the back.  But educators save some money for their rainy day and it gets reported as a bad thing?

You want more proof the dim-witted argument against school leaders saving taxpayer money is bogus?  Their argument suggests all schools are equally guilty of saving money instead of providing essential educational services.  Saving money instead of providing services is the only logical reason anyone could be against school districts being fiscally responsible.  If this is happening, isn't the local board of education responsible and ultimately held accountable by their community?  If this isn't happening, if services are being provided and money is still being saved, what is the alternative? Waste taxpayer money on goods and services that are not needed and not educationally effective?  As a Republican this is irritating on 2 levels: the state superseding local control and government waste.

 Republicans are all about local control and stopping government waste.  So what is the real reason school carryover funds are under attack?  Is it because for the past 3 years there has not been one public mention of pay raises for teachers from the State Department of Education and we are now in an election year?  If giving teachers a pay raise is a true priority for our elected leaders, then why not demand a teacher raise with the same zeal being demonstrated in attacking school superintendents and school boards of education?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Standards: Are they curriculum?

Why are educators like me concerned with the constant revolving door of Standards? According to the newsletters coming from the SDE, standards are not curriculum.  Wait, are standards and curriculum different?  Educational Standards are simply statements about the knowledge and skills students should posses and when they should come to possess those skills and knowledge.  Basically, standards are what we want students to know and when they should know it.  Curriculum is the activities and resources used to meet educational standards.  So, in theory, standards are not curriculum and vice versa.  However, this isn't theory!  Muddying the waters are the ASSESSMENTS!  If standards are what students are supposed to know, then it only reasons standards are what should be taught.  What is taught is curriculum, intended or hidden.  Skills that are taught are taught by activities and teacher resources (curriculum).  To further add to the confusion are the items being assessed. Blue prints and item specifications tell teachers which skills are being assessed and what percentage of the test is each skill.  As long as there is 1 assessment being used, and teachers know exactly what standards are being assessed, then those standards will be taught.  In summary, having an assessment over a set of standards dictates the curriculum of the teachers.  No, it doesn't make a teacher pick a certain story for reading or a specific lab experiment for Biology.  It also doesn't give the Biology teacher Carte Blanche in setting the curriculum for the year.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction have released several documents in the last couple of days regarding standards, curriculum, and assessments.  If you have not been paying attention, let me bring you up to speed!  Sorry if the following alphabet soup of acronyms causes severe confusion.  I honestly think they could not have made this more confusing or difficult if they had tried!

PASS – Priority Academic State Standards
CCSS – Core Curriculum State Standards
C3 – College Career Citizen standards
OAS- Oklahoma Academic Standards (we only assume they took out “State” for obvious reasons, but I like to put it in there to sooth my Middle School personality)
PARCC – Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers
OCCRA – Oklahoma College and Career Readiness Assessment
OCCT – Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests

I will try to give you a general play by play of the changes to curriculum, standards, and assessments over the past 15 months.

            PASS will be changing (but still assessed for 2013-2014) to CCSS but not for Science and Social Studies.  PASS subjects will be assessed using the OCCT, but CCSS will be assessed by PARCC.  Social Studies and Science changed from PASS to C3 standards (but not really, because Biology standards are still in development, so we assessed them for PASS even though it was supposed to be C3).  Then it was decided that CCSS standards for some subjects and C3 standards for other subjects wasn't such a good idea, so CCSS + C3 standards would be referred to as OAS!  Then the decision was made that Oklahoma public schools were not ready for PARCC assessments.  Oklahoma dropped out of PARCC assessments but remained in the PARCC consortium as a governing state.  Next, it was decided to forgo 3 years worth of transition planning and training for PARCC to adopt OCCRA for OAS assessments. (Does anyone else not think that PARCC & OCCRA are both college & career readiness assessments and therefore virtually the same thing?)

So the next time you hear someone try to explain that the constant changing of the standards are okay because standards are not curriculum, you will know that as long as we have 1 assessment, curriculum and standards are basically the same thing.  Next you’ll probably hear it will be okay that children fail these new assessments because it will bring about a new way of learning!  Seriously, a new way of learning?! I'll talk more about that next time.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Professional Accountability

Ever stopped and thought why we have so many standardized tests in education?  Seriously, between students taking pre and post assessments so that growth can be measured, common formative assessments to see if students are actually learning the standards, benchmark assessments so that we know if students are tracking toward passing the state test, teacher created assessments so we can give out grades, and finally the state mandated high stakes tests it is no wonder educators are adamant about too much testing.  But have you considered why students are required to take so many tests?  Almost all testing has been added in the name of accountability.

Accountability is one of those neatly packaged catch phrases that is running rampant in educational circles, but not always in a good way.  That begs the question; what is professional accountability? To look at the words separately might give us an idea.  “Professional” means characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.  “Accountability” can be defined as an obligation or willingness to take responsibility for one's work or performance.  Basically, professional accountability in education means teachers providing justification and being held responsible for their performance.  But what are we responsible for and to whom are we responsible?

There will be almost as many answers to that question as there are educators, but let me tell you what I think is professional accountability. An educator’s job is not to teach, it is to facilitate learning.  This is the major tenant of our profession.  Our job is not about teachers teaching; it is about students learning!  Students do not leave our classrooms with what we have taught; they leave with what they have learned.  As for the technical and ethical standards of the profession, teachers make sure of their student’s safety and security, their emotional and psychological well being, and they make sure that every child experiences learning activities associated with the standards of the class/subject and learning activities on those standards are on grade level.  Furthermore, the educational profession requires that teachers never give up on their students; that we take students from where they are academically, and we do everything in our power to move them as far down the learning continuum as we can.  Professional standards require that every student is exposed to a guaranteed and viable curriculum.  It is simply not enough for teachers to stand in front of their students and present the material nor is it enough for teachers to arbitrarily decide what our students will and will not be exposed to.

Who are we accountable to?  I say it is the students, the parents, the community, and your fellow teachers.  Your students today are someone else’s students tomorrow.  If teachers arbitrarily dictate what is taught, to whom it is taught, and to what level it is taught are we living up to our professional standards?  If I teach a subject/class differently than my same subject/class peers am I being accountable to the students, parents, school, or my fellow teachers?  NO! It is simply not enough to justify my actions with the pretense of “the best interest of the students”.  Those teachers who deviate from the guaranteed and viable curriculum and think they know what students should and should not know better than the state standards or school adopted curriculum are just using students as an excuse to be pedantic.  In short, those types of teachers are simply doing what they want to do and not what the professional standards require of them. 

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that teachers have to teach the same thing the same way; teachers must have autonomy to teach the standards in a manner that maximizes their teaching talents and their students’ learning styles.  For the record, it is also professional malpractice for our teachers to be so microscopic on the testing blueprints that they purposely skip standards to maximize test preparation.  These educational extremes neither meets the professional standards or accountability standards required of our noble profession. Some of our nation’s very best teachers have one or the other of this type of mentality, and that is why the standardized test craze has become both so prominent and so reviled in today’s educational system. 

#OKlaED Chat Questions


1.      What is professional accountability?
2.      How can professional accountability be supported?
3.      Can we have accountability without testing? How?
4.      What are obstacles to professional accountability?
5.      What are educators accountable for?
6.      To whom are educators accountable?
7.      What can we do to overcome the obstacles to professional accountability?

8.      What role do teachers play in peer to peer professional accountability?

Friday, May 31, 2013

A-F: Why?

"What the hell is going on out here" - Vince Lombardi

I think this quote is a very accurate description of how most #OKlaED feels regarding the A-F grading system.  Welcome to the age of Educational Accountability.  I say welcome because most of us (including me) were or still are in a state of denial.  Yes we are sheep; naive in the ways of politics and privatization of core government services.  Accountability! Doesn't sound like too awful of a word.  How can you be against holding people accountable?  Oh how wrong were we. As a taxpayer, I think accountability is a grand idea.  I want good roads, safe bridges, quality hospitals, clean water, and a host of other things.  I want the police to "protect and serve," and I want them held accountable if they don't protect or serve.  Sounds simple in theory, but I'm not living in theory; I'm living in the real world where theory always sounds good but rarely is.  

Allow me to take a shot at the A-F system.  It is by far the biggest and most absolute non-working contraption ever conceived in the history of the world.  I know that is a big statement, yet I feel that it is also accurate.  Let me justify my remarks a little bit.  As a parent who has lived in your district for your entire life, do you actually care about the mathematical formula or the AVERAGE?  Say you think your child's teacher is not doing a quality job for your child, do you care that the school's average is an A or a B?  Are you going to stop thinking your child is being mistreated when during a meeting with the teacher the principal says "just look at our report card and you will see that we are an A school"?!  "Oh in that case, I will stop being upset at the treatment of my child because the school's grade is so good" will NEVER be a response to this situation!  So what does the average of the school do for you here?  NOTHING!  Second example, your daughter just made a 5 on the AP English Comp test, just earned a 32 on the ACT, and just accepted a full ride National Merit Scholarship to Oklahoma State University.  Are you going to run up to the principal and complain that your child isn't getting a very good education because the high school's A-F grade is a C?  NOPE!  Why, because parents care about how their child's education is going and not the mathematical average of all kids.  

The only logical explanation for the grade is for people who might want to move and have a choice of districts or a company that might want to relocate.  I'm betting the family moving and looking for a school for their child will look at a lot more than the school's A-F average.  I'd venture to say that housing, neighborhood, and other amenities rank higher on the list.  However, for those who are looking solely at education to make their decision, I think they make their decision on things that aren't even considered in the A-F formula.  For instances, where in the formula is the calculation for Clinton's back to back Legal Team State Championships?  Where in the formula is the calculation for the Academic All Staters, National Merit Scholars, the West Point Appointees, Band State Championship, the Vocal Music State Sweepstakes Champions, the 30 or so Vocal and Band All Staters, or the school's 16th State Football Championship?  Not to mention, Clinton's AG program produces State and National FFA degrees every year; we've had multiple State and National honorees in FCCLA every year, our Golf and Tennis teams make the State Tournament every year, and every kid in school gets an iPad.  Where is that in the A-F formula?  I've said for ever there is more to education than you can measure by taking a test.  I think those things I mentioned matter, and I think they matters to parents too!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Way more than 180 days per year

Ever hear the age old adage about teachers;  Must be nice to work half a year, 8 to 3, and get all those summers, weekends, and holidays off?  I ran straight into this very argument the other day when I was at the capitol advocating for teacher pay raises.  I was told that Teachers get paid "pretty good" for only working half the year.  They even said it with a straight face.  For the first time in my life I was speechless (for those who know me know what a rare occasion that is).  The insinuation that teachers only work half the year is ludicrous.   No ludicrous is too polite: foolishness, folly, idiocy, reckless, and just plain stupid!  Ever driven by an elementary school around the middle of July?  That parking lot full of cars isn't the glee club.  It is elementary teachers getting their class rosters, putting up bulletin boards, working to make their classrooms perfect, and getting all their lesson plans ready so they can welcome all their students on the first day and go to work educating them!  And it is not just elementary teachers. Secondary teachers almost always put in time on these so called days off.

As I'm driving home from the capitol, I just kept getting more and more angry about the flippant attitude the legislator used to dismiss my suggestion of raising the state minimum teaching salary.  Then it struck me; I'll compare teachers to legislators!  Did you know that the legislative session is only 90 days per year?  Exactly half of a Teacher contract.  You think their pay is half what a teacher makes.  Nope. Not even close.  According to News 6 (click to see the full news story) beginning Oklahoma Legislators earn $38,400 in base salary plus a per diem of  $9,472.  That adds up to $47,872 per session.  First year teachers on the other hand earn a salary of $31,600 per year plus $0 per diem.  And I'm not even talking about benefits.  Just straight apples to apples comparison of scheduled days in session.  Legislators (and I'm not talking about leadership positions; they get $12,000 to $17,000 more per year) earn $47,872 for 90 days.  That equals $531.91 per day of session.  Teachers: $31,600 for 180 days rounds out to be $175.55 per day of the school year.  Legislators are term limited to 12 years and then can retire on a legislator's retirement package.  Teachers have to put in 90 years of age and service.  Most of them work until they can draw social security. Me, I have to put in 37 years as an educator before I can retire.  So legislators put in 12 years for full retirement, teachers have to put in over 35.  Some might argue that every 2 or 4 years legislators have to win an election.  I say that teachers get voted on every year.  To be fair, I have no idea what the legislator retirement system is like.  I do know that teacher's retirement is one of the worst funded retirement systems around.  Heck, even those guys who rebuild our roads and bridges have a retirement system that is better than ours, and they only have to work 20 years to retire.

Now, I do not think for a minute that legislators only work 90 days.  I know they spend a bunch of time in the fall with their interim studies.  I know many times legislators start committee meetings around 8 am and they do not finish the day until late in the night.  I know they spend time in meetings, budget hearings, conference calls, and caucus meetings.  Furthermore, I know they read tons of emails, answer thousands of phone calls and letters, listen to constituents, attend lots of community meetings, and marshal the local parade.  So I know it is ludicrous to suggest they only work 90 days a year.  Everything I just said about legislators and their days in session applies to teachers.  Teachers spend hours at home grading essays, working nights and weekends getting lessons ready, staying in their rooms on parent teacher nights so they can talk to parents.  They attend their students' ball games at night, and work concession stands and gate duty.  They get stopped at the grocery story, post office, and the quick shop by parents and grandparents who want to know about their kids and grandchildren.  They take classes during the summer, attend professional developments to improve the way they do their job, and study their subject area so they are better equipped to teach our children.  They attend workshops geared toward improving their proficiency with technology and then spend hours converting what they did in the past to work with the new tech they just learned.  And that legislator had the gall to tell me teachers only work half the year!  If that is true then he only works a quarter but gets twice the pay!