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.