Reason #11 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Evolution of the REAC3H Network
One of the fun things about this countdown is how much it reminds me of high-stakes testing. We spend all this time learning new material, and then we spend a few weeks reviewing for the test. As we reach the halfway point, maybe we should spend some time reviewing how to properly mark your ballot on in 15 days.
#15 – Pulling out of PARCC
#14 – Value-added Measurements
#13 – Being Damned
#12 – Holding Back State Aid
#11- Evolution of the REAC3H Network
Beginning in 2010 with the adoption of the Common Core by the Oklahoma Legislature, schools in our state have faced a rapid onslaught of reforms. Most (TLE, A-F, RSA, Virtual Instruction) were enacted in 2011, but as a group, this represented the most significant education reforms in a generation. Together, they were going to help us have College, Career, and Citizenship readiness schools – C3 for short. It was natural, then, that the SDE would create a network of support (and fabulous logo) that somehow included this acronym.
Thus was born the Regional Educators Advancing College, Career, and Citizen Readiness Higher – REAC3H – network. Late in the summer of 2011, the state organized its 500+ school districts into 70 regions. Each region had a lead district, as this two page reference sheet shows. Each region would work together overcoming obstacles as they transitioned from PASS to CCSS. There would be statewide conferences for the lead districts. The first of these included something of an altar call in which district representatives came forward with their signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) vowing to do everything possible to help their fellow school districts.
The SDE was also developing toolkits that we could use together as we set forth on this productive struggle as partners. Toolkit #1 was named Making the Case for the Common Core State Standards. The PowerPoint for the meeting lists the goals as:
- Understand the reasons for adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Oklahoma
- Know what the CCSS encompass
- Know the timeline for implementation of the CCSS and assessments
The toolkit included timelines and transition planning tools. All districts, large and small, rural and urban, would create four year transition plans that would be completed by…June 2014 – hey, that’s right now!
Soon, the scope of REAC3H would begin to drift. The term was used to describe the working groups that convened that fall to “help” the SDE work on Oklahoma’s waiver to No Child Left Behind. As we have learned, most of that work had been done in advance. The SDE just wanted high-level school district officials to sign off that they had contributed to the process. Here’s how they recruited participation:
With those ambitious goals in mind, I am asking for volunteers from districts within the REAC³H Network to participate in working groups toward this effort to develop a plan that the REAC³H Network can recommend for OSDE to take to the State Board of Education for approval.
As a grassroots effort, the REAC3H Network can be most effective as the larger group of volunteer coordinating districts divides into smaller working groups, each with a specific area of the application that they will address. After we’ve had the opportunity to review specific waiver guidelines provided by USDE, I will disseminate additional guidance on the path forward. Much of the working groups’ efforts on a waiver request can be accomplished digitally or via conference call, so I do not expect this to be an additional burden or a significant time commitment.
This is an exciting opportunity for all of us and one that will allow us to assure that we are empowered to focus more on what works for children.
Exciting opportunity indeed! You too can rubber stamp bureaucratic jibber-jabber!
After the April 2012 summit, the SDE sent out the following communication to those in attendance seeking input. In it, you can see the beginnings of dissent and confusion from SDE staff in how to deal with it:
|I know that each of you is busy but if you have a moment I need your help with a few things.
The REAC3H program has endless possibilities and benefits for all of us, but I do not want any of us to move forward with blinders on if there are certain things in the network that are not working. If we need to move districts around and adjust, let’s adjust. In order to be transparent I want to let you know I will soon start conducting random telephone surveys of participating districts from each local network to get a better feel for how things are going. I will keep a log of all information I gather and if you are interested I will share the feedback with you, but I will keep the district names anonymous.
While most districts simply signed their MOUs at the first summit, many chose to amend their partnership agreements the second time around. As the toolkits became less helpful, the networks had begun to unravel. We weren’t realizing our endless possibilities and benefits. Unquestioned loyalty to the agency or the process was becoming unrealistic. Plus the coffee was cold.
Later that spring, we received word that the SDE was set to hire 60 REAC3H coaches to help us with the transition to Common Core – all grades, reading and math. They were to be paid with federal jobs money. My first thought was that I didn’t understand how they were getting 60 coaches into 70 districts. Then I realized they were going to task these people with working with all grade levels and all subjects. None of this seemed realistic.
After the hiring was done, the SDE quickly had the coaches focus on literacy and spend most of their time with the elementary grades. Here’s how the SDE presented them to us formally in August 2012:
|REAC3H Coaches Assist State Teachers with Literacy Goals
OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 28, 2012) – As they undergo intensive training this week, a front line of 60 professional educators is preparing to assist Oklahoma schools with the implementation of new education reforms such as third-grade reading sufficiency and the transition to Oklahoma C3 Standards, which include Common Core standards in reading and math and new state standards in social studies.
After undergoing their second full week of intensive training this week at the State Department of Education, 60 REAC3H Coaches will be dispersed throughout the state to help train classroom teachers in the foundations for reading.
“These are highly trained professionals whose main focus will be job-imbedded professional development,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “The overall goal will be training in Oklahoma C3 Standards to increase proficiency and rigor in schools. Their primary assignment is in the area of prekindergarten to 3rd-grade literacy to assure that all children are successful on the third-grade assessment. It will be very difficult to be successful in our new standards if children at the earliest ages are not proficient in literacy”
REAC3H, Regional Educators Advancing College, Career, and Citizenship readiness Higher, is part of Superintendent Barresi’s overall C3 Plan, which will ensure each Oklahoma student graduates college, career and citizen ready. The plan is built on a number of reforms being implemented over the next few years, including the new curriculum standards, third-grade graduation requirements, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluations, the A-F School Grading System, and a new Student Longitudinal Data System.
Deputy Superintendent Chris Caram said the REAC3H Coaches have an amazing amount of energy and practical resources to share with Oklahoma classroom teachers. She said the coaches – all former classroom teachers or reading specialists, and some with administrative experience – will be the most highly trained teachers on Oklahoma C3 Standards. They will be the first to receive training on the next generation of assessments under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
The 60 coaches will train one week each month at the State Department of Education and then will offer training through workshops and one-on-one visits to classrooms to the more than 60,000 teachers in the state.
The state has been segmented into thirty regional districts, with 30 school districts agreeing to employ two of the coaches. The coaches will be housed at Career Technology Centers in their home region. Federal Ed Jobs funds from the U.S. Department of Education have been awarded to 30 Oklahoma school districts as a grant to offset the cost of salaries plus benefits of the 60 coaches, a total of about $4.1 million.
REAC3H Coaches will communicate with districts in their regions to offer before-, during and after-school training based on best times and dates available for teachers, substitutes and administrators. The coaches also will offer training to career technology teachers and higher education instructors.
By October, I had formed my own opinion:
Over the summer, REAC3H took on another meaning as 60 instructional coaches were hired to work with schools around the state. They are being paid this year with federal money that is set to expire, and Superintendent Barresi has included $5 million in funding in next year’s budget request to maintain the program.
Interestingly, the coverage areas for these coaches are not aligned at all with the REAC3H consortium. They operate in pairs, and for the most part, use office space in Career Tech centers around the state. Some serve only one or two districts. Other pairs serve more than 20. They have been well-received in some places and kept at arm’s length in others.
At first, REAC3H coaches were going to help with every reform initiative. Now they are focusing on K-2 reading. Since many of the coaches were secondary teachers and may not even be certified in English/Language Arts, their impact may be questionable. (Though to be clear – many schools are reporting satisfaction with their REAC3H Coaches at this time.)
In all honesty, the REAC3H coaches haven’t been bad. I’ve attended training presented by several. I’ve worked day-to-day with some as well. The imbalance, however, is in what they’ve had the ability to learn versus what they’ve had the ability to teach. These individuals are professional educators who have had extensive training in methods for helping struggling readers. As they have worked with their assigned schools (amid heavy SDE interference from what they have told me) coaches have often found themselves to be simultaneously training and learning. As we have learned in the last few weeks, they’re out of a job now. Fortunately, the best of the REAC3H coaches will have no problems finding good work.
As for the original network with the 70 lead districts? We haven’t heard from that for a while. It’s not really a thing anymore. There was also a short period of time when the SDE was inviting district-level administrators to the Hodge Building for monthly, then quarterly REAC3H Checkpoint meetings. If I remember correctly, though, more were cancelled than weren’t. I think they just didn’t want to develop another acronym.
The SDE has even quit using the term C3 all the time. That used to be the piece of string holding our standards together. Then came the umbrella term Oklahoma Academic Standards (which gets its own top ten entry on the countdown).
The REAC3H concept at one point was the key to Common Core. Then literacy. Now nothing. It’s another big push – an all the expense that goes with it – straight down the drain.