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Vision 2020 – Tuesday

June 11, 2012 Comments off

Tuesday at Vision 2020 is where the real fun begins. The Cox Center will be chock full of learning opportunities for the 4,500 reported registrants. And according to the multiple emails I received today, parking – in spite of the NBA Finals being across the street for the first time ever – will be in abundance.

Meanwhile, with a quick review of the program, I see several high-quality keynote speakers and breakout sessions. Featured presenters Bill Daggett and Cathy Seely are always worth hearing. Also, our state’s obsession with all things Florida and reading continues. And the K-20 Center is well-represented as always. Three sessions in particular, though, really caught my eye.

At 1:45, you could attend “The Marriage of Mr. Social Studies and Ms. Common Core: Introducing the Newly Adopted Oklahoma C3 Standards for the Social Studies.” Getting past the ridiculous name, this session promises to focus on “the role of citizenship literacy and development” and explain how the standards were designed. If you go to this one, you might want to ask the presenter why Oklahoma participated in the development of national standards for Mathematics and English/Language Arts, but opted out of national standards development for Social Studies and Science. It seems contrary to the narrative that has been woven across the last two administrations about the need to conform to national standards in education.

Another workshop at the same time that makes me smile is “Congratulations! You’re a Grandparent! A Genetic Look at Traits.” Unlike the Social Studies workshop, this one is just funny for the name. The description itself actually sounds like a pretty good lesson plan that would be engaging for students – which is always a good thing.

Not to make your selection even harder, but my other favorite workshop is yet again in the same time slot: “Party Like a ROCKST★R?” This workshop decries the increased use of caffeine by students and promises to give participants “the real bull on Red Bull.” Seriously. That’s what it says. It’s not clear, however, if the presenters will discuss the connection between increased stress caused by new graduation requirements that come with free abdication of privacy for any appellants.

If you aren’t afraid of the Thunder traffic and can stick around long enough to attend the 2:45-4:30 sessions, the workshop presented by two SDE staffers on “Using the New State Grade Card System” might be interesting. If you do, be sure to ask question one from my conference primer. They’ll love that.

Most importantly, enjoy the conference, and try to learn something. This is likely the only significant professional development opportunity the SDE will provide until this time next year.

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Vision 2020 – Monday

June 11, 2012 Comments off

If you’re going to Vision 2020 tonight for the Parent Power Night sessions, there appear to be some fairly standard offerings: basic information about Career Tech, substance abuse, college planning, cyber-bullying, and parental involvement in schools. At 7:00, however, a session titled “SDE Initiatives” is being offered in Room 1. This will be a 45 minute overview of:

  • The state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind;
  • The new evaluation system for teachers and principals;
  • The Common Core State Standards; and
  • College and Career Readiness.

I’m not entirely sure how one person can do any of those topics justice in that short of a period of time. Expecting that all will be covered adequately is certainly too much to expect. Maybe part of “parent power” is giving them just enough information to be confused.

If anyone makes it to the Cox Center tonight, I’d love to hear your insights.

Top Ten Questions to Ask at Vision 2020

Let me take a minute here to give the SDE more free advertising for Vision 2020. They’ve put together a huge conference in what seems to be a short period of time under a set of parameters that have been constantly changing. However the conference goes for them, I bet their ever-shrinking staff will be glad when the week is over.

For educators around the state, this will be a rare opportunity to interact with SDE personnel. Back in the olden days (2010 and before), the agency was full of professional educators who made it out to schools to provide technical assistance to districts. Since your direct contact with their staff is limited, and this is a great opportunity to meet with the people charged with supporting public education, I’ve compiled a top ten list of questions you might want to ask when you see them:

1. Why did it take until April to produce NCLB report cards, when Pearson produced correct data by the end of October?

2. After failing so badly to produce accurate data last year, why did the SDE renew the contract with Pearson?

3. Why does the SDE have more people working in communications than in STEM and Literacy combined right now?

4. Why does the SDE have a STEM director who never worked in public education in Oklahoma (and only in the distant past out-of-state)?

5. Why did the SDE’s Literacy Director quit meeting with school district personnel?

6. With mandatory third-grade retention for students not reading on grade level less than two years away, why did Superintendent Barresi choose not to fund Reading Sufficiency for 2012-13?

7. Where’s my chocolate fountain?

8. Why do so many of the high-performing reward schools come from affluent areas and so many of the high-improvement reward schools come from  high-poverty areas?

9. Who’s leaving next, and will it be voluntary?

And if you’ve paid attention to the insanity about posting student records on the Internet and releasing them to the media…

10. What were you thinking?

Feel free to add your own questions in the comment box. And if you go to Vision 2020 and get to visit with any SDE staff, I’d love to hear your stories – positive or otherwise.

Merit Pay for Teachers? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bribe!

June 9, 2012 Comments off

Coming soon, to a school district near you!

DIARY OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER

And you know they would! 🙂 Merit pay, how realistic is it that our pay could actually be tied to test scores? Very realistic!

What is merit pay?  Noun :extra pay awarded to an employee on the basis of merit (especially to school teachers)

What “think tank” thought up this idea, maybe the same one that stated that smaller class size doesn’t matter? I am amazed by what people (non-educators) come up with in order to hold teachers “accountable.” Or is it to make sure that the “better” teachers get what they deserve? No matter the reasoning behind this premise, it is ridiculous!   I know it probably sounded like a good idea, but it is difficult to come up with criteria in the education field that would allow this idea to work.

Tie our pay to test scores? Are all students equal? I don’t think so. If…

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Governor Fallin Wants to Have “The Talk”

Governor Fallin yesterday said that “It is time to have a debate about the structure of our school systems.” This comes a week after the Oklahoman said that it’s time to have a serious discussion about funding public education. That gives us a lot to talk about. In essence, she wants to discuss consolidation of small school districts in Oklahoma, while trying not to lose political capital.

A good place to start would be by going back in time another week. As the legislative session was winding down, Oklahoma Policy Institute showed very clearly the extent to which state support for public education has been declining while enrollment in public education has been increasing. Another important consideration should be who gets to be included in the discussion – and what level of input they will really have.

When the SDE was writing the state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind, educators from all parts of Oklahoma were invited to the Oliver Hodge Building for a day of committee meetings. Many of the unanimous decisions of committee members were discarded, with SDE staff making clear that most of the framing of the waiver had already been done. The committee had been brought in as a formality.

Similarly, with every promulgation of rules for various education reforms in the state, a nominal comment period has been allowed. The SDE has even allowed interested parties to come speak to a room full of tape recorders over spring break.

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In any important policy discussion, several key elements need to be in place. You have to invite key people and seriously consider their input. You have to address key issues. You have to have facts. You have to consider unintended consequences. And you have to understand the limits to what people who are impacted by the decisions you make are actually willing to live with.

So if the governor wants to embark on a discussion about consolidation of school districts, she needs to understand the issues in play. Some school districts are so small, that they have an administrator serving as a combined principal/superintendent. Many of those same districts are in remote locations. As such, combining districts won’t necessarily close down buildings. The savings would be minimal. In the case that rural schools are closed and students have to be transported long distances with sparse population, the unintended consequences will include long bus rides for small children and drops in attendance.

Fallin speaks of the potential benefits that would come from consolidation, such as increased academic opportunities for students. There is no doubt that is a critical advantage of larger high schools. As the state pushes for increased virtual instruction, however, it could be that small districts can find creative ways to stay open, reduce costs, and improve the academic menu.

One thing they will all have to consider is the impact of a policy change on their chance for re-election. Most members of the legislature represent multiple school districts. Any vote to consolidate schools on a large scale would likely cost them votes. That’s probably why the governor wants to float the idea with the hope that districts will consolidate voluntarily. The problem is that districts have been able to do that for decades. Without legislative action, the number of school districts in Oklahoma will never change drastically. Wherever these policy discussions go, let’s just hope that the politicians having them truly have their constituents in mind.

 

We Weren’t Wrong – We Just Caved

Yesterday, I wrote about the State Board of Education meeting, at which several students from around Oklahoma had waiver requests heard. These students had not met the requirements for graduation under the ACE law, affecting Oklahoma seniors for the first time this year. The meeting and appeals that happened there were a matter of routine. The posting of student academic records that occurred was inexcusable.

Late today, the SDE announced that this will not be standard operation in the future, while defending its earlier actions. Legislative Democrats and Republicans alike piled on the criticism, which is hardly new. Scott Inman said it best: “Under the direction of Superintendent Janet Barresi, we see a lack of professionalism, competence and common courtesy. I am sorely disappointed that these students, who are earnestly trying to receive their diploma, will suffer as a consequence.”

SDE spokesperson Damon Gardenhire pledged to review “how this is handled in other states.” I assume by “other states,” he means Florida. This administration has serious Florida envy.

Oklahoma open records laws are different than other states. Other states simply don’t matter. School districts and state agencies fall under the same rules for transparency. While I join others such as Oklahoma Watchdog in praising the modernization of State Board of Education meetings, I cannot help but think that their own arrogance got in the way of this being a complete success.

You just don’t share student records with the public. Ever. School districts have figured out how to hold student hearings in closed session and vote in open session without violating kids’ privacy. If the SDE had not worked so hard the last 17 months to have less contact with school district leaders, they might already have a blueprint for this.

Or they could just search Google.

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Vision 2020, or Whatever We’re Calling it This Year

For the 20 years that Sandy Garrett was state superintendent, administrators from around the state gathered (usually at the Myriad/Cox Center) for her annual Leadership conference. I’m not going to pretend that this was the definitive professional development event of anybody’s summer. It was, however, a great time for school leaders to come together, learn about new legislation, receive allocation notices, and connect one-on-one with SDE staff who would spend the next year providing them with technical assistance in running their school districts.

Last year, following the elections of 2010, the Leadership conference was replaced with Innovation 2011, which was promoted with the intent of “bringing administrators the information they need to move education forward in Oklahoma.” I went, and the information consisted on, as would be normal, a review of the compendium of initiatives from the 2011 Oklahoma Legislature. This review lacked, however, any clarity about how the reforms would be implemented. The conference also consisted of numerous breakout and keynote sessions geared around discussing how schools are failing – proving that the SDE knows how to engage an audience.

Early in the 2011-12 school year, districts started hearing from their various contacts at the SDE that there would be no Innovation or Leadership conference in the summer of 2012. Instead, there would be a week-long conference geared around literacy. That plan changed, of course, and the SDE planned what is now being called Vision 2020.

(By the way, I don’t know for certain if this is supposed to be some kind of joke – that a dentist would have an optometrist theme for her major conference. Or if maybe we’re trying to see eight years into the future when none of the people enacting these reforms are still serving in policy-making roles.)

This is a week-long conference starting Monday, June 11, with no appreciable theme. One day is for parents. The next two are for teachers. The last two are for administrators. Sessions cover curriculum, policy, product promotion, and everything else imaginable. Last I heard, over 2,000 people are registered to attend.

That wasn’t always the case, however.

Originally, the conference was going to cost $25 per attendee. This was going to include one day’s parking pass and one lunch session with a keynote speaker. Then, one day, the SDE realized that they couldn’t pay for open-ended parking passes, but everything else was the same. About a week after that change, registration became free on the SDE website, but attendees could still select a luncheon for $25. Then that changed too; luncheons were now $8.

So it took several iterations in planning, but now the SDE has a new conference. Content for breakout sessions was only posted this week. In that time, some of the content of the luncheons that people have paid for has even been altered, even if the program does not reflect this. In short, a lot of people are going to show up next week, hoping that their time isn’t being wasted.

If you go, and you have a story to tell about the conference, shoot me a message, either through my blog or my Twitter account. I’d love to share the grins and giggles we’re all expecting in this space.Image

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What What?

Originally, I had planned on titling this post A Tale of Two Headlines. You see, yesterday, the State Board of Education held a hearing to decide whether or not to grant waivers to students who did not graduate from their respective high schools due to the ACE graduation tests. In reporting on this hearing, the Oklahoman titled their story “Oklahoma board of education grants waivers, diplomas to two.” The Tulsa World titled theirs “Seven students denied diploma waivers.” I wasn’t at the hearing, and I definitely can’t speak to the merits of the students’ appeals. That the board took two hours to reach a decision after hearing the student appeals shows that this was serious to them.

I just found the difference in reporting to be interesting. It’s the same story. It’s moderately noteworthy. And both articles have essentially the same facts. Most of the students requesting waivers, though, were from the Tulsa area. Also, the World  tends to be less sympathetic to the state superintendent than the Oklahoman in general. It’s hard to say whether either of these issues made any difference in the headlines.

The issue lingering with me is the fact that the SDE posted student records online. I understand making students and/or their parents sign a FERPA release so that state board members can go into executive session and examine student records. That does not mean, however, that it is either legally or morally permissible to do so. An SDE spokesperson with about 17 months of institutional memory defended posting the information saying there is a “longstanding precedent” to make information available to the board also available to the public.

While the intention is good, there is also a line that needs to be drawn. Not all records the board reviews in closed session carry the same degree of sensitivity. Across the state, school boards often go into closed session to discuss sensitive matters involving students or personnel. Most of those boards rightly post an agenda item vaguely referring to that student or employee. Here’s an example of an Oklahoma school district that managed to note what was being discussed regarding a student’s appeal of a suspension without making the details of that student’s life known to the world.

As it should be.

At the best, this was a misinterpretation of the Open Records Act. Perhaps something more sinister was happening. The former high level employee who called Tulsa-area superintendents “dirtbags” was not reprimanded by Superintendent Barresi. It is also noteworthy that the feud between Broken Arrow (which originated many of these student waiver requests) and Barresi was made public when she accidentally hit the “Reply All” button on an email. Surely the release of student records wasn’t clumsy. Hopefully it wasn’t done as a deterrent to discourage future appeals. And it certainly wasn’t retaliation. What was it then? Simply inexplicable.

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Giggly

June 5, 2012 Comments off

Giggly

I’m glad that while the State Board has been deliberating the fate of students appealing for high school diplomas for the last two hours, one of the SDE’s six communications staff members can take the time to laugh.

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Shell Games

June 4, 2012 Comments off

The legislature is adjourned for the year. Teachers and students are (mostly) home for the summer. There’s nothing to see here, right? Wrong.

The SDE is going to have some choices to make, and I think we’ve all seen this movie before. In spite of a “flat funding” year, the agency will have a shortfall in excess of $14 million – funds that will be cut from programs such as Professional Development for all teachers; Reading Sufficiency for first through third grade students; and ACE Remediation.

I’ve discussed in previous posts the number of reforms being simultaneously enacted right now. While teachers and principals are typically good at doing the things the state asks them to do, it helps if they understand the changes being made to those things. Developing a deep level of understanding of any new initiative takes collaboration time, training, and a budget. School districts can expect to lose all their Professional Development money for a second straight year.

Funding for Reading Sufficiency has been touch and go since Sandy Garrett’s last year in office. With the new requirements for third grade promotion going into effect in two years, we don’t have time to waste not funding this highly effective program.  If the SDE thinks the usual suspect “whiners” around the state are frustrated with graduation requirements for seniors, just wait until third graders with borderline reading skills are retained and the funding that would have helped them was diverted to fund other initiatives within the department.

As for the ACE Remediation funding – what do they think has kept the number of students not graduating as low as it is (and it’s not low). Knowing that students learn at different rates and sometimes need extra help, it won’t be a pretty sight if the SDE holds onto the money designated to help those students.

If you’re reading this, what you can do is contact your legislator. Contact state board members. Contact the governor. Groups representing teachers, administrators, and school board members around Oklahoma are already trying to get commitments to these programs. Add your voice to theirs. Don’t make it easy for them to take funds from the programs that need it most.

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