Wednesday, March 12, 2014

REQUIRED by law



It has been a week or so since my last blog. I really have so many things to write about I couldn't just hone in on one. So, instead of drilling down into the finer points of this week's education reform, I just wanted to skim over some of the more salient points.

I had an interesting conversation with several lawmakers the last couple of weeks.  After all these conversations, the one thing I came away with was “REQUIRED by law” seems to be their mantra, the cornerstone of their philosophy.  Here is what I mean:
·        I actually had 3 legislators tell me the only reason educators do things is because it is “REQUIRED BY LAW”.  One actually told me the only reason educators teach reading is because the RSA law requires it. They went on to explain to me (and yes, it is not fun sitting there being told what your job is by a person who has never ACTUALLY done the job, but I digress) they HAD to put mandatory retention into RSA BECASUSE educators were just passing kids onto the next grade without teaching them anything. Yes, this legislator really was convinced of this. This legislator actually believes if the mandatory retention is, in their words, “weakened” then educators will stop screening for reading deficiencies, pulling out students for remediation, and all the other things educators do to help children.

·        Speaking of “REQUIRED BY LAW”, isn’t this the most self aggrandizing, self righteous position you’ve ever heard of! The notion that educators, or any other person for that matter, only do what is right, moral, and ethical in our profession is because a legislator had the foresight to write a bill that became law.  WOW!

·        More on this in a later blog, but can we at least talk about the RSA law with some truth? The early screening, intensive researched based remediation, academic plans, and the general focus on child literacy are GREAT aspects of RSA. But to impose a ZERO TOLERANCE aspect in mandated retention is absurd. So we retain students who score unsatisfactory (I still do not care what ANYONE says, you can’t determine reading grade level by the number of correctly answered raw questions on a test that has questions where reading comprehension is not the desired outcome of the question). The SDE says 12% of students will score unsatisfactory; which is about 5,000 students. The SDE also magically says 50% of those will qualify for a good cause exemption; leaving 2500 students who are required to be retained. What I want is the ability to decide at the local level with the input of the parent what is in the best interest of the child! Why is that so bad? If we just socially promote students who can’t read then shame on us. If we are forced to retain a child who finally started making strides in reading but not enough to be promoted then shame on the law and the legislators who signed off on a bad Florida law!

·        One last thing on RSA (not really, I have business cards printed that says “have soapbox; will travel!). Ever notice all the great things in RSA just magically end in 3rd grade? Once limited knowledge students get to 4th grade (the State of Oklahoma and the famous legislators who believe it only gets done because there is a law requiring it) all the support goes away. No academic plan, no research based intervention, no summer school, no intensive remediation, no funding, and no mandatory extra instructional time is required for those students in the 4th grade. WHY? Cause the politics of it goes away. Our state sup says 3rd grade is the “switch” where you go from learning to read to reading to learn. What a crock? If we stop teaching students to read in 3rd grade, then why does almost every school I know of having reading classes through 8th grade AND then why do we spend millions of dollars on a reading test in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade! You are right, the better question would have been, “why do we have reading questions on an ELA test in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade!  HB2625 allows parents, teachers, and reading specialists to make educational decisions based on the child. This decision is being made in the community that has to live with their decision. Not at the state level, where children look an awful lot like widgets! It also requires students who scored LIMITED KNOWLEDGE to keep their academic plan; to continue their remediation, intervention, and extended instructional time to get caught up with their peers.  Why do legislators keep turning their backs on parents and students of the largest group of struggling students?

·        Speaking of RSA: Apparently, The Daily Oklahoman feels perfectly fine telling its readers that 678,000 children really don’t matter! 3 times the DOK ran editorials in the last 2 weeks or so that specifically mentioned how the Rally for Education on March 31st was a “waste of time”, etc.  Education is the state’s largest employer. Educators are not the only people who are feeling the effects of the nation’s largest cut to an industry. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher’s assistances, secretaries, crossing guards, custodians, etc PLUS the 678,000 children in this state have had to do more with less.  They are tired of it. Not to mention that cuts to Clinton has a million dollar PER YEAR economic impact on our community.  But hey, according to the DOK the hard working Oklahomans who decided to stand up for the 678,000 children are just wasting their time.


·        So we are most likely going delay Common Core State Standards! This is a classic politician’s political move. Those opposed Common Core are being so effective that our legislators feel they need to do something, but they don’t feel strongly enough to do something permanent? What’s good about a delay?; nothing! Some will say we need to study Common Core’s impact. Why didn’t we study it BEFORE we adopted it? Why wait to study it after some schools have been teaching it for 2 years now? I think I’m like a lot of educators when I say this, “I’m in favor of unifying our standards, but I’m not in favor of the increase in high stakes testing that comes with common core”.