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Then There Were Two

August 27, 2014

Congratulations to John Cox, who won the runoff election last night to claim the nomination as the Democrat in the race to replace Janet Barresi as state superintendent. Over the next 10 weeks, he will turn his sights towards Republican Joy Hofmeister, who annihilated Barresi in June. And no, saying that never gets old. Hopefully we will see a clean, positive, issue-oriented campaign. It’s politics, though, so I assume we’ll see some of the nasty stuff too. Maybe there will be more on the good side.

On the blogger side, Brett Dickerson was out of the gate early this morning with his take on the top issue in the campaign.

Charter School Debate Is Not Over

Investors believe that corporate charters paid for by taxpayers is a huge market waiting to be sprung open. So there are millions that have been spent and will be spent lobbying for laws that will usher in charters as direct competition with public, democratically controlled  schools even in the rural areas.

In April I published two posts against the corporate charter school approach that ALEC and it’s affiliate organizations were promoting:  Bill Allowing Charter School Debt Threatens Education Funds in Oklahoma, and This Is What Happens When Bankers Run Public SchoolsBoth pieces point out the weaknesses and even dangers of corporate charter schools, cynically called “public charter schools” by proponents.

Eventually the radical charter schools proposal, SB573 was defeated. But something similar will be back. “Money never sleeps,” as the saying went in the movie Wall Street.

Brett is right to point to charters as a huge issue moving forward. If I were a venture capitalist rather than an educator, I’d be all excited about corporate education reform, including charters and virtual schools. If you can extract school funding with fewer quality controls than public schools have in place, you can turn a nice profit. That’s not what the charter schools in Oklahoma currently do, but widespread expansion would lead to that. Still, with all due respect to Brett, this is not one of my top four issues as we decide in 69 days between Cox and Hofmeister (as well as between Dorman and Fallin).

Teacher Shortage

As you know, we are about 800 teachers short in Oklahoma right now. Imagine sending your child to kindergarten or Algebra I or any other class and finding out that a long-term substitute is in place. You’d be frustrated at the least. You might be furious, even. I hate paraphrasing any part of No Child Left Behind, but every child deserves a highly qualified teacher in every class every day. I don’t think it makes sense to be mad at the schools. They can’t conjure applicants from the atmosphere.

The problem lies in the allure of the education profession at this time. People entering the profession never expected to get rich. They loved children. They loved their content area. They came from a family of educators. They had friends who had taught and told them how meaningful it was. They had a teachers who changed their lives. Any of those things could have inspired someone to become a teacher. Any still could. But the likelihood of a confluence of factors serving to recruit future educators decreases every year that salaries lag and the profession faces public caning by politicians who lack the … nerve to teach. I still wouldn’t trade my career for anything. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I do. Fewer people are choosing to follow this path though, and it’s a huge problem.

Excessive Testing

Recently, Arne Duncan himself said that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” I want a state superintendent and a governor with a plan to restore sanity – a workable plan. While I’d like to see the ACT and it’s suite of testing replace our current state tests, there are legislative obstacles to that happening. It also would cut out all of the other companies who bid on such things. What we have right now is a system by which we spend tens of millions of dollars for test results that are ill-fitted for the high stakes we’ve attached to them. We have tests over high school subjects that colleges ignore. We have little alignment between the third grade “reading” test and the alternate tests that can be used in its place. We have testing companies that fail us time after time. It’s insane.

Assessment has always had a place in public schools. Decades ago, we had the ITBS in all grades. We had the Otis-Lennon. We had all kinds of diagnostic instruments that helped us understand the students we taught. We’ve gone away from that. At this point, who can point to what we do and give a succinct statement (15 words or fewer) explaining why we test? That’s where the conversation needs to start.

VAM

We slayed the Common Core in Oklahoma, and now other states are looking to our example to figure out how to do the same. In turn, Oklahoma should look to states such as Tennessee and rid ourselves of teacher evaluations tied to test scores before they ever fully take effect. We should never be in a position to let someone’s mysterious algorithm replace qualitative observation by an administrator. In many cases, we’re just making things up so we can measure them. It’s like the EOIs all over again.

On the other hand, we have a colossal teacher shortage. Will school districts really be able to fire teachers with low VAM scores? Who will they get to replace them?

Funding

Oklahoma schools lost about 20% of state aid from 2008 to 2013. We got a piece of that back this year, but still, our class sizes are rising and our infrastructures are suffering. Many schools are using old, out-of-date textbooks held together with duct tape. This is not the picture of a state that supports public education.

The state salary schedule has not been adjusted since 2006. Some district have made their own increases to the scale, but others have not been able to. At this point we need a drastic bump for anything positive to happen in terms of teacher recruitment. I’d propose a 10% increase to each line on the scale, but that actually seems too modest. It hardly moves the conversation. All aspects of school funding need an increase. Districts shouldn’t have to use bond money to buy textbooks. Technology and buildings should be bigger priorities. Duct tape shouldn’t be a classroom supply.

We have a long way to go until November. All of these issues deserve serious discussion – not empty rhetoric. The candidates need to spare us the clichés and loaded words that typify campaigning. When I hear a real solution, I’ll make it known on here.

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  1. P3
    August 27, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Districts shouldn’t have to raise a bond issue to buy textbooks. Of course, when CCOSSA supports inane legislation that frees up textbook money so that it can be spent on other things (like football helmets and salaries for superintendents), then that money gets spent on what it shouldn’t. Also, freeing up the money leads the legislature to believe we don’t really need an increase in funds for textbooks and other instructional materials. I also hope the next superintendent has the sense to know you can’t just google everything.

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  2. Brooke
    August 27, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Well said! I know that Dr. John Cox has addressed each of these issues in the survey that was sent to the last 3 candidates. Joy never filled hers out.

    Here is some fancy copy & pasting: 😉

    Here is Dr. John Cox’s stance on high stakes testing.

    High Stakes Testing:
    “We test too much! We need to remove the high stakes nature of state testing and return to taking care of the individual student instead of focusing on a test score. I will streamline our testing to mathematics and reading since those are federal requirements, allow districts to assess the other disciplines such as social studies and science, and take our special needs students out of the regular testing and allow districts to use an assessment that can truly measure the growth of each individual special needs student. We use inappropriate tests for this population of students.

    Further, we need to utilize our time with the children who have the most severe disabilities by providing life skills training instead of filming them over and over until they complete a task and then sending the video in to a stranger at the SDE for their approval and grading. We need to give our teachers back their classroom and allow them to teach to the individual needs of each student instead of focusing the curriculum to passing a test.”

    Here is Dr. John Cox’s stance on Teacher evaluations, recruitment, and retention.

    TLE Teacher Evaluation:
    Although I do not have major concerns with the qualitative (observations) portion of the evaluation, I do not agree with the value added model and putting student test scores on a teacher’s evaluation. There are so many things wrong with adding student data to a teacher’s evaluation, and one is that we truly do not have control of the performance of a particular student on a specific day. The evaluation of the teacher should always stay in the district that employs the teacher and not on a state-wide database for the SDE to monitor.

    Teacher Recruitment and Retention:
    To retain quality teachers and entice new recruits, we must first value and support our teachers. We must also provide a wage that is honorable to our profession. Our teachers should not live in poverty and struggle to pay bills. As state superintendent, it is my job to advocate for our teachers and provide an environment that is conducive to learning and give teachers back their classrooms.

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  3. August 27, 2014 at 11:05 am

    I know he addressed funding, too, but I’ll have to search for it and get back.

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