Home > Uncategorized > Life of Illusion 2020: Conference Wrap-up

Life of Illusion 2020: Conference Wrap-up

July 17, 2014

Tonight on the way home from Vision 2020, I tried to wrap the conference up in my mind. I have so many thoughts about the week, the conference, and Oklahoma education in general, that I’m struggling to get them coalesced into something that fits. I wanted to stick with the vision puns I’ve so enjoyed this week, but there are too many out there.

Then the magic of my iTunes library came through in the clutch for me, in the form of Mr. Joe Walsh. The song is a great one, but the lyrics really fit how I feel about where we are right now.

Sometimes I can’t help the feeling that I’m
Living a life of illusion
And oh, why can’t we let it be
And see through the hole in this wall of confusion
I just can’t help the feeling I’m
Living a life of illusion

This morning, what really hit me while listening to Scott Barry Kaufman’s speech was that all three of the conference’s keynote speakers, in their own way, told us that we shouldn’t rely so much on standardization or testing. I wondered if I was the only one who had caught that, so I went to Storify to capture what seemed to be the relevant tweets from the last three days. Reading through all the #OKVision2020 comments, I confirmed not only that, but the fact that so much of the conference’s offerings could be tied back to testing. There were sessions over VAMs, SLOs, and SOOs; testing updates; A-F Report Card updates; and the ESEA waiver. Even many of the sessions aimed at improving instruction circled back to test scores.

The problem is that these tests don’t tell us what they claim to tell us. They are the bricks that build the wall of confusion. We hold them in place with public policy, polished accountability reports, testing pep rallies (one of the most sickening concepts ever), and even more tests designed to predict how we’re going to do on the actual tests.

Pow! Right between the eyes
Oh, how nature loves her little surprises
Wow! It all seems so logical now
It’s just one of her better disguises
And it comes with no warning
Nature loves her little surprises
Continual crisis

If you talked to any high-level SDE staff on the first day of the conference – Superintendent Barresi, the curriculum people, the federal programs office, the assessment crew – they didn’t know what would become of the HB 3399 lawsuit. They all had contingency plans for different scenarios based upon what the Supreme Court might rule, but there was a lack of clarity in some of the information they provided. Maybe the ruling (or the speed with which it came) wasn’t a little surprise, but it certainly feeds the cycle of continual crisis.

A realtor once explained to me when I was looking at a house that activity begets activity. There were parts of the home that would need immediate updating. In doing so, other rooms would become dated. The same concept is true for us in education. For every professional obligation that makes us work in a frenzy, we produce outcomes that generate more work. It never ends. When we re-write the standards, we have to re-write the tests. If we have benchmark tests in place, we’ll have to re-write those as well. The accountability measures will need to be re-worked as well. Of course, if we’re implementing standards (science) in 2014 that we won’t be testing until 2016, then we have to decide how much transition to pursue. What will we really be teaching this year? These are the things that keep many teachers and administrators awake at night. Even the SDE staff with public school experience have expressed similar restlessness.

Hey, don’t you know it’s a waste of your day
Caught up in endless solutions
That have no meaning, just another hunch
Based upon jumping conclusions
Caught up in endless solutions
Backed up against a wall of confusion
Living a life of illusion

That’s what we do. We walk aisle to aisle, talking to vendors, seeking endless solutions to our problems with test scores. Some of these people (companies, really) have great products, but they have had to alter them for reasons that really have nothing to do with teaching and treating kids well. At least the school bus vendors are just school bus vendors. And they’ll always give you a hat.

The over-arching problem is that we have created a school culture in which the test matters more than the kids who take it. What was it Barresi said in November?

If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.

Sure, she’s on her way out, but that is only one part of fixing our profession. Most of her reform policies are still in place. Oklahoma will still hire a new testing company this fall to replace CTB/McGraw-Hill and spend many millions in the process. Even though HB 3399 overturned those unmentionable standards and took us back to PASS, the text of the law itself tells us that we need better standards and that we will be taking tests over them anyway. We’re paying a new company a ton of money to develop tests over standards that we think need to be replaced. We will spend every day teaching to help students do well on those tests. We will spend every professional development dollar we can find helping teachers do those things better. Then in 2016, we will start over.

On Day One, if you heard the compelling student from Tulakes Elementary say, “I matter. That’s why teachers matter,” she wasn’t talking about standards or tests. If you heard Day Two speaker Paul Tough say that we need to find a way to lower the stakes on standardized tests, then you had to wonder what conference you were attending. Today, during the keynote address, even the SDE Twitter account parroted the speaker, saying, “Engagement is an active, deep and personally meaningful connection between the student and the learning environment.” At least the PR firm running social media for them understands.

I should be happy because Barresi lost the election – and deep down, I am. Things are turning around. At times, I walked around the conference with that feeling. At others, I felt anxiety knowing there is so much more work to do. We must make school about the children again – not the tests or the reformers who value them. This is my life of illusion.

Too many of us work too hard to build relationships with our students and their families. We are over-tasked by the same SDE that promised us they would lighten the regulatory burden. We know what matters, but we spend most of our time on other things – because we have to. Still, we show up to help struggling students, coach their baseball teams, provide them with academic and personal guidance, and go to their art shows. We spot them money when our schools have a book fair. We go to their basketball games and high school graduations even if they were our students 10 years ago. Sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we teach alongside them a little later even. If you want to know when our students quit being our students, read Claudia Swisher’s post from yesterday. The answer is never.

I’m glad I had some drive time tonight. And I’m glad that Joe Walsh helped me organize my thoughts. Hopefully using the song tied my this together for you. If not, well, it could have been worse. The next song my iTunes played was by Chumbawamba.

  1. Incognito
    July 17, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I had a feeling that we were sitting in the same break out session today. As I read this evenings entry, you had one sentence that confirmed it. You should have come back this afternoon. One of the SDE representatives exposed the festering wound from the March rally.


  2. July 18, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    Public education in Oklahoma.


  3. joeddins
    July 18, 2014 at 7:27 am

    New day. The same Governor, same Legislators, and same Laws. More high stakes tests.


  4. Rob
    July 18, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Seriously one of your best ever! You have done an excellent job capturing the current state of confusion in education. Since the reformers have successfully perpetrated the narrative that public schools are failing, politicians feel like they have to do something, but they don’t know what “something” should be. As a result, they fall back on the status quo of more rigorous standards, tests, and rewards/punishments. We need to bring the focus back on people, not programs!

    Again, exceptional post!


  5. missk
    July 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Incognito, spill the tea!


  6. joanhagy
    July 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Excellent! I could not bring myself to attend this year. I’m moving grades and schools and I’m all wrapped up in 5th grade ELA and Social Studies. There were so few sessions that I felt would be valuable to me this year. You’re right, the amount of sessions about data and testing drove me away.


  7. Bec
    July 18, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Two observations: 1) I always gave my students a pep talk when I basically said, “Doing your best is all I can ask of you and that is all you can do. If you do your best, I don’t care how many items you get right.” Our politicians have forgotten this basic principle. They think if you just keep hammering teachers, the kids will produce better test scores and the politicians will look better. Silly, huh. 2) The enormous, tremendous cost in money, time, and effort of high-stakes testing is absolutely ridiculous. If politicians demand high school testing, why can’t we use the ACT? That would be much more cost effective than what we are doing now. You are doing a great job; please keep on keeping on.


    July 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I made up my mind last year that I was done! I will no longer ask my teachers or students to engage in this stupidity. We know what students need developmentally and that is what we will teach. We will NOT test our kids to death. We believe that what we are doing is what is right for them and if that means we get an F on our report card, well then so be it. It is time to say enough is enough. Our parents and our students know we are making a difference. We know we can show improvement where it matters.

    It is time for an education revolution! Just say NO! It may be time to refuse the boxes next year when they ship out those worthless tests.

    I say put the joy back into teaching and learning. Do what is good for kids and maybe the rest of this nation will join us. If not, I will at least know I did what God called me to do before they fire me.


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