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March Review / April Preview

March 31, 2013 1 comment

I pretty much took Easter weekend off from blogging but made a quick appearance on Twitter tonight while working on my end-of-month post. Once again, Representative Jason Nelson (R-OKC) has taken the position that he can’t support more funding for schools until he has a number of how much is enough. Several Oklahoma educators have pointed out to Nelson that with rising enrollment, reduced funding, and a whole slate of reforms, we’re nowhere near enough. I think he gets that, but I honestly don’t have an answer. At no point have we done an honest analysis of the “true cost” of public education. If we did, we’d have to admit that it’s not the same in Tulsa as it is in Poteau or Guymon. So while he has a point, it’s a pathetic excuse for the inertia of the growing school funding crisis.

With that said, here’s a look back at the top five blog posts from March:

  1. CCOSA Call to Action – Parent Trigger – Oklahoma educators continue to have concerns about this legislation. It will pit parents against schools and even against each other. More importantly, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible push from a recognized parent group for the law. In short, it is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem. That won’t stop our legislature though, unless parents from around the state remind them that they are here to serve Oklahomans, rather than ALEC and FEE.
  2. Senate Bill 1001 – Parent Trigger – In case I didn’t mention it clearly, I’m not a fan of the Parent Trigger bill. It seems blog readers aren’t either. The top two posts this month were ones that were critical of the proposal. In this one, I also linked to an article about a Florida school where the parents wanted to fire the charter school company, which then was taking them to court. Seriouly. This is where we’re headed if we don’t stop following Jeb Bush.
  3. Two Year Delay for TLE? – Readers were also enthusiastic this month about the possibility of the SDE getting a two year reprieve from trying to figure out how to calculate value. I hope they get it. And in the meantime, I hope we can have a discussion about how to calculate votes. There has to be a better option out there.
  4. And Then There Was Roster Verification – We added to our vocabulary this month, as the state announced a plan to pilot a program to calculate the percentage of student time spent with each teacher, pretty much from day one of school. This way, we can hold Pre-K teachers accountable for the number of students who graduate 13 years later. I am told, however, that roster verification will not calculate how many days each student came to school hungry or traumatized from some event that caused an amygdala hijacking. As always with things that are tied to TLE, we should remember that the SDE staff over this program have never had to evaluate a single teacher or principal.
  5. Teachers Respond to TLE Commission and Senator Mike Mazzei’s Response to a Patron (tie) – A group of Jenks teachers wrote a spirited response to the TLE Commission early in March and got a cursory response. I am unaware if there has been any follow-up, however. There was a response given by a state senator to a patron about SB 1001, however. In it, Mazzei (R-Tulsa) made it clear that this law would never apply to suburban districts anyway. It’s really targeting the urban schools. And no, that’s not at all patronizing.

April is going to be an important month to be active. Once again, everything from funding, to ALEC/FEE based policy decisions is on the table. There will be another push for school consolidation. One thing we know is that there are hundreds of superintendents, thousands of principals, tens of thousands of teachers, and hundreds of thousands of parents in Oklahoma. If we can be a little more well-informed and a lot more vocal, maybe this will be the month it all turns around.

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Pull Out? Not Going to Happen

March 29, 2013 2 comments

The Common Core State Standards became Oklahoma’s curriculum for Math and English/Language Arts in 2010 when Brad Henry was governor and Sandy Garrett was state superintendent. The hard work to transition to the standards in schools has come under their Republican replacements. They are the adopted standards in 44 states (though it used to be 48). Some of these states are red. Some are blue. The CCSS are not a part of any federal mandate, but all discretionary grant money from the US Department of Education is now tied to states adopting certain reforms, such as College, Career, and Citizenship readiness (C3) standards.

The people working in schools are struggling with this transition. State support has been incomplete at best. Communication with the testing consortium has been confusing. And every vendor with a rolodex now has Common Core aligned materials, just for you.

In 2010, when we adopted the standards before they were completed, some things made sense about this process. The expectations for third grade reading or Algebra I should be the same in Oologah, Oklahoma as they are in Mashpee, Massachusetts.  The push for literacy instruction across all content areas also made sense. It’s an idea that aligns with what I’ve always thought. In fact, the use of informational text in literature is a key component of almost all Advanced Placement subject. Students who do well in those courses and on their tests are strong writers. The same is true with students who do well in college.

When I read the CCSS, I have a few quibbles with specific standards being placed somewhere when I would prefer they were somewhere else. I may not like the wording here and there. That’s to be expected, though. I would assume that among the people on the committees who developed them, several feel that way too. There is no perfect document when it comes to instructional standards.

However, the chatter in Oklahoma against the Common Core is getting louder. It’s coming from schools who are frustrated at the lack of state support (REAC3H) has been ineffective. And it’s coming from the Tea Party conservatives who are concerned about federal overreach. It’s coming from concerned parents who don’t like Constructivist instruction. Though I may disagree with the reasons they are concerned, I wish I believed their voices were being heard.

That’s the problem. Nobody listens.

This week, Scholastic’s Administrator magazine ran an article listing three reasons why resistance to the Common Core is happening. First is the top down approach to implementation. As I often complain about other state initiatives, this idea has come from somewhere else. And we are being coerced into using it. While I may like certain things about the CCSS, I too have a problem with this. The second is testing overload. We are already knee deep into a testing process that the occupants of the SDE aren’t proficient at administering. Making it more complicated and longer does not appeal to parents, students, teachers, or anybody – except reformers and the testing companies. The third reason is the lack of resources. The hard truth is that there still isn’t much out there that aligns to the Common Core. Publishers don’t turn around their products that quickly.

We are knee deep into this. Some want us to cut our losses and move on. While I doubt that will happen, those who feel this way should be heard, listened to, and valued. What I want is time and support to do this well. Regional conferences, guest speakers, and 60 REAC3H coaches learning their jobs on the fly aren’t enough.

We’ve had standards-based education for more than two decades. Whatever happens with the Common Core, we will continue to have standards-based education. With the rule changes adopted this week by the State Board of Education, it will be easier for the SDE to change those standards too.

30 Years of Reform (and Counting)

March 28, 2013 Comments off

In the fall, I wrote “A Brief and Recent History of the Status Quo,” a 700 word post about education reform centered around the idea that schools and school people have always responded to reform with action. In short, the idea of the status quo is something of a myth:

For decades, the status quo has been that things change – in an orderly, collaborative, and productive fashion. This state has always had great teachers and administrators. And this state has always had leaders who insisted on reforming and improving the system. That process has always had bumps, but they have always been overcome by collaboration.

This week, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released a new 54 page report by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center titled “Educational Reform in Oklahoma: A Review of Major Legislation and Educational Performance since 1980,” going much deeper into the data, political history, and results of the various efforts to improve public education in Oklahoma.

One piece of advice: if you’re not following the Oklahoma Policy Institute – by Facebook, Twitter, or email, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. They’re a great source of news in addition to what we get to digest from the major state newspapers and television stations.

Another piece of advice is that you read the report. I find the visitors to this blog to be well-informed and capable of holding meaningful discussions of the issues we all face as we try not just to improve education – but to improve the lives of all students. Many of us have lived through all or some of these reforms, but I know that some readers here have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Even some of the reforms that occurred during the early years of my career were off my radar when I was just trying to survive as a brand new college graduate.

Probably my favorite part of the report’s executive summary was this paragraph explaining the problem with implementing too many reforms at once:

There have been so many reforms that it is impossible to state with certainty which ones have worked and which have not – with this amount of change from year to year, attribution of results is a problem. It is easier to assess the impact of programs for which in-depth data are published, but most of the reforms address broad themes that affect all schools and grade levels (e.g., implementing a new state curriculum). For programs such as these, the effects are so diffuse that it is difficult to determine the efficacy of any single set of reforms. The statewide student information system should make it easier to evaluate the effectiveness of specific reforms in the future, if reviewing those data is built into the system.

In other words, if anything has improved for students, we can’t pin down the specific reform that made it happen. With what we’re seeing in the anti-school climate pervasive in the legislature and at the SDE, with initiatives brought in from Jeb Bush and ALEC, that effect will only be increased in the future.

In a Timely Manner

March 28, 2013 1 comment

Yesterday’s article in the Tulsa World discussing the lag in getting testing materials out to schools – and the hardships it is causing – is worth a second read. Heck, if you went to the REAC3H Conference on Tuesday and heard Professor Shanahan (or have read any of his work), you probably understand why it is worth a third read (see slide 22).

We knew this would happen when there was a delay in awarding the testing contract, pushing the writing test from its February perch into the regular testing window.

This problem is emblematic of what is wrong with our testing culture. We are spending ridiculous sums of money with vendors incapable of meeting our needs and deadlines. We are guiding instruction through a narrow lens to meet the parameters of those tests and stopping instruction altogether to administer them. We spend countless hours in review, which is the least engaging instructional method known to mankind. We do all of this in order to produce results that are pretty much meaningless.

The tests are a waste of money, and our obsession with them is ruining education. And with the reforms on the horizon, it’s only going to get worse.

Special SBE Meeting – Rule Changes

March 27, 2013 3 comments

At 9:30 a.m. today, the State Board of Education will have a special meeting to discuss proposed administrative rule changes. The agenda lists nine items, and no action will be taken today; the changes will be approved or disapproved at the regular meeting tomorrow. I’m going to limit the focus of this post to two of them.

A-F Report Cards – The proposed changes to the state’s flawed accountability system probably only would make it worse. As I have written before, high-achieving schools would be penalized under the system. And one change the SDE is very proud of – allowing high schools to count more than one advanced course per student – won’t even change a district’s letter grade. Unfortunately, as enacted before and under the proposed revisions, the SDE still has too much latitude for interpretation. And the result will still be a product that schools find unusable.

Revocation of PASS – This has become a point of contention in the comments section of this blog. Usually, even posts that receive a lot of traffic don’t get many comments. Any feedback is typically provided through email, Twitter, or Facebook. That said, the common thread seems to be that the SDE is proposing to eliminate the rules-making process altogether:

Because the academic content and process standards have increased in volume, the Agency believes that discontinuing the use of the rulemaking process to promulgate academic content and process standards as rules in the Oklahoma Administrative Code and replacing the process with a new procedure for submission for Board approval will reduce administrative costs and will afford education stakeholders more opportunity to provide input prior to revisions of the academic content and process standards.

I understand that the adoption of the Common Core State Standards by the legislature in 2010 renders some of the previous standards under PASS obsolete. This proposed rule goes far beyond that reality, however. As one commenter wrote:

Why would the SDE revoke non common core standards — social studies, science, the arts, PE, etc. — if this was about common core? And, if they revoke things like Oklahoma history and Personal Financial Literacy, can they still be required for ACE and a high school diploma if no state standards for those courses exists? What will be the impact of social studies adoption under way — standards just revised by the SBE and approved by lawmakers in the last year? And, how does the SDE think that a rule can legally overturn a law, e.g. HB 1017?

My glib answer is that the SDE leadership thinks they can do whatever they want. And why wouldn’t they? Upon taking office in 2011, the legislature re-wrote the rules for them, and the governor gave Superintendent Barresi a friendly slate of board members. Even when the occasional dissent surfaces, it is quickly suppressed.

That’s the modus operandi of the agency now. Comply or leave. Oversight is no longer a concern.

REAC3H Summit

March 26, 2013 1 comment

Today in Norman, the SDE will hold its fourth (or fifth – I lose count) REAC3H Summit. The morning will open at 8 a.m. with a keynote address from well-respected college professor Timothy Shanahan:

Professor Shanahan is a Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at the University of Illinois at Chi­cago where he is Di­rector of the UIC Center for Literacy and chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. Professor Shanahan will speak on the challenges of the Common Core State Standards. This presentation will explore the implications of shifts in educational practice, particularly in regard to English language arts curriculum and instruction, in addition to more challenging text, close reading, disciplinary literacy, informational text, and writing about reading in literature, math, social studies, and science.

Hopefully, Dr. Shanahan can shed some light on the challenges schools face in the implementation of CCSS. Teachers want their students to be successful. Principals want their teachers to be successful. This requires the availability of high-quality, sustained professional development. As good of a professor, writer, and lecturer Shanahan might be, a two hour overview this morning for a select group of educators (REAC3H coordinating districts were each given six slots, while other slots were made available by invitation from some of the SDE curriculum staff) will hardly move the needle.

The loss of message fidelity from expert, to attendee, to the next group Shanahan’s audience talks to will be huge. If 400 people hear him today (and I have no idea what the registration number is), how many will go back to their own districts – much less their REAC3H network districts – and successfully convey Shanahan’s message?

This is not a knock on guest speakers. This is a criticism of the CCSS implementation plan for the state which includes:

  • Bi-annual summits such as this;
  • A summer conference lacking coherent instructional strands;
  • Regional workshops by SDE curriculum staff;
  • 60 REAC3H coaches distributed around the state; and
  • No professional development funds for schools.

As Dr. Shanahan speaks this morning, I wonder if he’ll outline a plan that resembles something vastly different than that.

Goodbye, PASS – Hello, Undefined Process

March 25, 2013 8 comments

Typically, when any state agency proposes changes to existing administrative rules, it is in response to legislative action or some kind of experience with the impact of the previous version of those rules. Take the A-F Report Cards for example. The implementation was an abject disaster, and for the most part, schools view them as completely irrelevant. Legislators have proposed multiple bills to either change or eliminate the existing rules. The SDE responded to this with several proposed changes, which upon careful reading, seem to make things worse.

That’s why so many people have written to me alarmed at the proposed rule changes on the SDE website for eliminating PASS and replacing them with a process largely to be determined by the state superintendent. There was no legislative mandate for this. There was no system failure that rendered it necessary. And as I’ve responded to several of those who’ve written me, I can’t tell if this is absolutely nothing or something huge. The accompanying impact statement includes the following:

The purpose of the proposed rule at 210:15-1-3 is to establish a procedure for adoption and publication of academic content and process standards by the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education in accordance with the provisions of 70 O.S. § 11-103.6a. Because the academic content and process standards have increased in volume, the Agency believes that discontinuing the use of the rulemaking process to promulgate academic content and process standards as rules in the Oklahoma Administrative Code and replacing the process with a new procedure for submission for Board approval will reduce administrative costs and will afford education stakeholders more opportunity to provide input prior to revisions of the academic content and process standards. The proposed rule provides for implementation of a volunteer advisory council to provide the State Department of Education with recommendations for revision of the academic content and process standards prior to drafting proposed standards. The proposed rule also provides for a process of review and public comment of draft proposed standards by the public prior to submission of the standards to the State Board of Education for approval.

As far as I can tell, this change removes all standards that have been in place for years and replaces them with nothing. In place will be a process that has less interaction and supervision than previous standard-setting efforts. In other words, the SDE will have the option to reinvent the standards with as little or as much input as they want from professional educators.

If this is just the SDE clearing out space for the Common Core State Standards, so be it. I just can’t accept that it’s as simple as that.

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