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Remembering HB 1017

April 27, 2015 4 comments

I was in college when it passed – landmark legislation to reform and increase funding for public education. Having grown up in an education family, I heard the reasons why we should support this: smaller classes, better pay, new Kindergarten and early childhood programs. As a future teacher, it all sounded good to me – even the parts I didn’t understand at the time.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of its passage, the Democrats in the Legislature marked the occasion with a press release and a cake:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 27, 2015) – House Democrats on Monday marked the 25th anniversary of House Bill 1017, the landmark school reform measure enacted in 1990 to substantially improve the state’s common education system.

The legislators were joined by educators for the celebration, which was replete with a custom-baked cake, in the House Lounge at the State Capitol.

“We gathered here today to commemorate the passage 25 years ago of this historic piece of legislation and to reflect on its legacy,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

“But we also think it’s appropriate to point out that three of its primary pillars – smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and increased funding for public schools – have been systematically eroded over the intervening years.”

Genesis of HB 1017

Prior to 1990, Oklahoma steered away from drastic reforms that departed from the core of public education in the state since the 1960s and ’70s: local control.

However, realizing that education reform needed to be broader in scope to ensure that all Oklahoma children would benefit, both the executive and legislative branches of the Oklahoma government began to work with various stakeholders to attempt to bring Oklahoma to the forefront of achievement.

Then-Gov. Henry Bellmon, this state’s first Republican governor, signed House Joint Resolution 1003 creating “Task Force 2000” in May 1989, sparking what has since become a constantly changing tide of reforms and budget battles over education for the last 25 years.

Later that same year, then-House Speaker Steve Lewis began to develop his own education plan, “Education: Challenge 2000.” The Legislature went into a special session dedicated to the bill and spent seven days ironing out the myriad provisions of this singular piece of legislation.

House Bill 1017 was the culmination of Task Force 2000 recommendations and Speaker Lewis’ plan, and was endorsed by several thousand school teachers who thronged to the Capitol for a rally in support of the measure. The bill was signed into law by the late Governor Bellmon on April 25, 1990.

HB 1017 is widely deemed to be the single most important piece of legislation regarding education reform in Oklahoma. Yet in the quarter-century since passage of the bill, Oklahoma has experienced a substantial increase in students, fluctuating budgets, and the dismantling of several key reforms.

Reforms Implanted in HB 1017

Among the host of reforms incorporated into HB 1017:

  • Progressive increases in the minimum teacher salary schedule were scheduled.
  • Maximum class sizes were established at 20 students for grades 1-6; 36 for grades 7-9; and 120 students per day for grades 7-12. Also, class sizes were incorporated into a school’s accreditation criteria.
  • Statewide curriculum standards were introduced. In the future, high-school graduation would be based upon attainment of specified levels of competencies in each area of the core curriculum, rather than upon simply the time a student had spent attending school.
  • Norm-referenced testing was established for grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, to provide a national comparison.
  • HB 1017 intended for millions of additional dollars to be pumped into this state’s public school system.
  • The legislation mandated that members of local school boards and the State Board of Education had to have obtained either a high-school diploma or a GED diploma, and continuing education was required for members of local school boards.
  • Half-day kindergarten attendance became compulsory in 1991-92, and school districts were encouraged to offer all-day kindergarten starting in 1993-94. In addition, school districts were permitted to offer pre-K for at-risk children, to supplement the federal Head Start program.
  • The office of County Superintendent of Schools was abolished.
  • Hands-on vocational programs for all students were encouraged.

1017 cake

These were great reforms and made an impact in Oklahoma for a generation. That almost didn’t happen, however. As soon as Republican Governor Henry Bellmon signed HB 1017, the repeal effort began, culminating with the vote on State Question 639 on October 15, 1991. It took 126,796 signatures to get the question to the ballot. In the end, the initiative was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%.

639 a

For some reason, I’ve saved the bumper sticker and brochure all these years.

639 b

I thought I had also saved the column I wrote for the OU Daily at the time (which triggered a few angry phone calls from 639 supporters – my first experience with that). I can’t find what I wrote anywhere online, but I can find what then-Oklahoman editorial writer Patrick McGuigan wrote. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s a laundry list of reasons for the state question’s supporters to have hope.

The group trying to keep 1017 had their own reasons:

639 d639 c

I don’t remember the graduation test that came from 1017. Do you? Honestly, don’t these reforms sound familiar? Standards…check. Financial accountability…check. Firing bad teachers…check. School consolidation…check. Some ideas just never get old. We hear the same things from reformers now, but without the funding promised in 1990.

For their part, the House Democrats enumerated the ways in which the reforms of HB 1017 have been rolled back:

Where We Are Today

  • In the 1988-89 school year, Oklahoma ranked 48th in the nation and next-to-last in the region in average teacher salaries.
  • The average teacher salary in Oklahoma 24 years later, in 2012-13, was 48th lowest in the nation, last in the seven-state region (Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma), and almost $12,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
  • HB 1017 provided that in 1994-95, the salary for a beginning teacher in Oklahoma would be $24,060. In comparison, the lowest salary on Oklahoma’s minimum teacher salary schedule 20 years later, in 2014-15, is $31,600. Oklahoma’s minimum salary scheduled has not increased since 2008. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary is just 78% of the national average.
  • At least in part because of relatively low salaries, the ratio of public school teachers in Oklahoma with advanced degrees today is 24.8%. In contrast, 41% of Oklahoma’s teachers held advanced degrees in the 1989-90 school year.
  • School accreditation is no longer tied to class size; today all 500+ school districts in Oklahoma are exempt from the mandate. The current average is 17.8 students for each teacher, and 11.9 teachers for each administrator – the highest ratio in 20 years. Schools may be deregulated from any mandate that does not affect the health and safety of the students without losing accreditation.
  • Dan Nolan, an AP History teacher at Norman North High School, said he has “29 chairs but 36 students” in one of his classes. Nolan was a finalist for State Teacher of the Year in 2009.
  • A week ago today a House Democrat was contacted by a veteran teacher in Davenport who said she is responsible for “about 130 kids a day, 4th-7th grades.”
  • Testing mandates have been amended by the Legislature every year except two since passage of HB 1017 in 1990.
  • Norm-referenced testing has been replaced with criterion-referenced testing for grades 5, 8 and 11; the number of tests has grown substantially; a revolving door of five different testing vendors has caused concerns among educators, parents and legislators alike; and the state continues to spend tax dollars on testing results that do not provide a method to track progress from year to year as the standards change, nor to track a student’s fundamental growth of knowledge.
  • Oklahoma has spent $81.7 million on testing since 2004.
  • Educational standards in Oklahoma are in flux since passage of House Bill 3399 last year, which repealed Common Core. The State Board of Education has been directing multiple committees to develop “Oklahoma standards.” Oklahoma nearly lost a federal waiver last year due to the earlier standards, to which this state reverted, because they did not meet the State Regents for Higher Education definition of “college and career ready.”
  • Revenue allocated to Oklahoma public schools remains below funding levels of a few short years ago. Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor have cut public education funding by 23% — more than any other state in the nation.
  • The $2.507 billion appropriated for public schools for Fiscal Year 2015 was $64.5 million less than the $2.572 billion appropriated five years earlier, in Fiscal Year 2010.
  • The instructional budget declined in four of the five years between the 2006-07 school year and the 2011-12 school year.
  • As the “1017 Fund” has grown, legislative appropriations for common education have decreased. For example, the 1017 Fund increased by $91.2 million from FY 2012 to FY 2013. In comparison, state appropriations to education during that same period declined by $93.3 million.
  • Local and county funding for public schools has increased four times faster than state funding; consequently, districts that have lower property valuations are able to generate less funding per student.
  • Public K-12 schools in Oklahoma receive 38.4% of their funding from local revenues (33rd highest in the U.S.), 48.9% from state appropriations (23rd highest in the country), and 12.7% from the federal government (11th highest in the nation).
  • In the fall of 1990, enrollment in Oklahoma public schools numbered a little over 579,000 students. Student enrollment in 2015 is almost 684,000, an increase of nearly 105,700, or 18%, in 25 years.
  • Yet Oklahoma has the third-lowest average per-pupil funding level in the nation, leading only Nevada and Utah.
  • Oklahoma schools are no longer required to have media and library assistants.
  • The Legislature voted in 2010 to allow school districts to divert their annual textbook allocation and library media program funds to general school operations for the next two years. That exemption has now been authorized three consecutive times, through school years 2015 and 2016. As a result, some schools are using textbooks that are up to 14 years old and in tatters, held together with tape.
  • “My school district has not purchased textbooks in 10 years, and my library has not had funding in almost as long,” a Skiatook teacher wrote to a House Democrat on April 20.
  • Full-day kindergarten and a marked increase in pre-K participation led Oklahoma to be recognized as #1 in the nation for early childhood education. However, the Legislature voted to repeal that mandate in 2013.
  • HB 1017 directed schools to provide technology education. Today, roughly 60% of this state’s rural schools still do not have funds needed for technological upgrades.
  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ranked Oklahoma 48th among the states last year in meeting the needs of the “new economy.” The ITIF index employs 25 indicators in five categories (knowledge jobs, economic dynamism, the digital economy, innovation capacity, and globalization) to assess each state’s fundamental capacity to transform its economy and incubate innovation.
  • “We call today for a renewal of the principles that made House Bill 1017 such a groundbreaking measure when it was adopted 25 years ago,” Inman concluded. “This is a bittersweet anniversary, looking back on what might have been.”

It took long enough, but I guess they have finally passed SQ 639. I think I’ll pass on the cake.

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Ten Observations on Three Years Blogging

April 25, 2015 9 comments

This blog turns three today, which is 21 in dog years. How do we celebrate 21st birthdays? I forget. Besides, I don’t own a dog.

nelson-birthday

I don’t know that there’s much significance to the blog turning three. A lot has changed during the last 36 months, and no, I’m not particularly taking credit for any of it. Here are 10 observations from my first 535 posts.

  1. Three years ago, Oklahoma educators were fed up with policy makers who were ripping apart our education system. They’ve had to slow the pace of implementing corporate reform, but they’re still on the move. We’re still fed up. The agenda is still moving forward.
  2. Parents are the best voice for public education. As many educators as there are blogging and contacting legislators, we only impact policy to a point. Parents move the needle. Even better is when parents and educators band together to advocate for children.
  3. Electing a state superintendent who respects teachers is a game-changer. There’s been a change in the mood among educators since January, but there is only one meaningful difference in terms of the elected leaders of this state. We still have the same governor. We still have the same senators and representatives dredging up the same bills. We still have RSA and ACE; A-F Report Cards; TLE and VAM (though maybe with a delay); and funding for public education is still critically low. The difference is that we have replaced the state superintendent who blames teachers for everything with one who goes to bat for them. Joy Hofmeister understands that teachers aren’t bad people. Rather they’re the people who spend all day with our children. They deserve respect.
  4. High-stakes testing is unpopular with most students, parents, and educators. It’s only certain politicians and “philanthropists” who love it. This seems obvious now, but remember that my first post was filled with frustration that we were sorting and ranking schools by test scores, without regard to poverty. Over time, okeducationtruths has become one voice among many expressing anger over this. Those of us calling for testing reform don’t always agree on solutions, but when it comes to the harmful effects of using tests to label people and schools, we’re together.
  5. I enjoy reading blogs probably more than I enjoy writing them. This isn’t a humble-brag statement. If I didn’t think I could write, I wouldn’t. I just know that I’m not the only game in town. At various times, I’ve tried to capture a list of Oklahoma education blogs and national blogs I read regularly. That list is sadly out-of-date. I’ll probably work on it again when the school year ends. Among my fellow Oklahoma educators are writers who say it better, and bloggers who are more popular. There are also some who are just getting started. I try to read them all.
  6. I treasure the friends I’ve made from blogging. These aren’t just shallow acquaintances who happen to share a common interest in saving public education. These are real people with students and families and stories and histories that make them who they really are.
  7. Sometimes I just can’t tell what’s going to be a hit. For example, last week I wrote two posts. In the first, I described how I would introduce poetry to my students 15 years ago. I spent hours on it. In the second, I heaped praise on Hofmeister for acting quickly to find a solution to a tough problem. I wrote that in 15 minutes while waiting to pick up my daughter from play rehearsal. The second post has been viewed five times as many as the first one. I’ve received several comments – both privately and publicly –stating that the first was one of my best, which is how I feel as well. That isn’t to say that people are wrong. I am probably just a poor judge of what will stick.
  8. Teachers will band together to protect their content areas. There’s a reason the APUSH legislation in both houses of the Legislature fizzled into a joint resolution with all the impact of a greeting card. My Save AP post from February is sixth for page views all time on this blog. It’s the most-viewed post that doesn’t talk about the third-place finisher in last summer’s Republican primary. Well except for one…
  9. Teacher pay in Oklahoma still hovers around the bottom of the country. My January post discussing teacher pay jumped to number three when it made another viral run around social media in March. In 1970, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In 2013, Oklahoma teachers made 80% of the national average. In between, there’s been little fluctuation. At the rally in March, we heard every excuse imaginable from our elected leaders about why teachers can’t have raises right now. This from the same crowd who don’t want to hear excuses from legislators. What they’re really lacking is resolve, and it’s apparently a generational problem that spans decades and knows no partisan preference.
  10. Blogging anonymously was fun, but getting to know my readers has been better. At edcamp in February, I was able to participate in a roundtable discussion about advocacy and blogging with the likes of Joy Hofmeister, Jason James, Rob Miller, Kevin Hime, and Claudia Swisher. At this year’s education rally, I had many candid conversations with people about what they’re dealing with at their own schools. I wondered how taking off the mask would impact the blog. It’s more popular than ever. Page views, Twitter followers, and Facebook likes affirm that. I just wish I had more time to write.

As Rob explained this morning, we still have much to keep us angered. We don’t fight for self-interest. If that were our motivation, many of us would have changed careers years ago. We fight because we want our schools to be places that help children thrive rather than places that demoralize them. We want teachers to be taken more seriously than tests. Thanks for reading; here’s to another year!

birthday paddlin

 

A Sense of Urgency

April 20, 2015 9 comments

When I was 16, I began my official days as a wage earner at Mazzio’s Pizza on the north side of Norman. At the very minimum wage of $3.35/hour, my goal was to make enough money in one shift to pay for the gas it took my 1974 LTD to drive there and back from the south side of Norman. Sure, gas was something like 79 cents a gallon, but this was one of the great American land yachts. By my admittedly sketchy math, it wasn’t worth my time to work fewer than four hours at a time.

photo (1)Once I was at work, I’m not sure I was even worth what they were paying me. I remember my very first night there. I was washing dishes with one of those hoses that hangs down over an industrial size sink, just casually rinsing a rack of plates that was ready to go into the big, bad commercial dishwasher. The assistant manager walked up behind me and asked, “Rick, do you know what the phrase, ‘sense of urgency’ means?”

I said something along the lines of, “I think so.” She said, “Good, because if you want to have a second night here,” you’ll show me. Well, I did want a second night. I was 16. I had a gas guzzling car. Most importantly, Mazzio’s had a promotion featuring cool, colorful sunglasses that the rest of my high school surely would mistake for Ray Bans™. I spent the rest of that night washing dishes, busing tables, and mopping floors like a mad man. I had entered numbers and words onto a W-4 for the first time and I was not to be denied.

That was 1986, and to this day, the phrase “sense of urgency” makes me think of my first night of a seven year run in food service. It’s also the phrase that has come to mind frequently during the past week as I have watched Joy Hofmeister work to right a wrong.

In case you missed it, last Monday night, social media was buzzing with the information that most students taking online state tests were receiving instant scores and performance levels upon submitting their last answer. While I’ve always wondered why getting scores back to the schools takes so long after testing, I wasn’t exactly looking for an instant answer either.

After attending a work event, Joy noted on Twitter that she wasn’t ok with this practice either.

What I found out several days later was that she called testing staff into the office that night and immediately tasked the testing company, Measured Progress, with fixing it.

That’s a sense of urgency.

What I also didn’t know at that time was that this new feature of online testing was a surprise left for all of us by the previous administration. In fact, it’s right in the 2013 Request for Proposals (RFP) for the testing contract.

Oklahoma’s online testing program stems from the need for students and educators to receive the results of testing quickly as required by law. The online system must provide to students immediate raw score results (and performance levels for pre-equated tests) and complete student results within two weeks for schools and districts. The supplier should provide a detailed description of the system that addresses each of the topics below. In addition, the SDE prefers an online management system that enrolls and tracks paper and online testers within the same program (p. 20).

How did we miss that at the time? I guess we were all busy looking up the new testing vendor to realize that the state was asking for new features. Measured Progress actually had to write new code to make this feature possible. I don’t know if it was a large or small undertaking, but they did it, meeting the terms of the contract. When asked by Joy to undo this as soon as possible, they did – in under a week.

I won’t get into the horror stories of students seeing the word Unsatisfactory on the screen and bursting into tears. I will say that fixing this problem is a good cap to a solid first 100 days by the new state superintendent. She ended double testing in junior high math. She eliminated the writing field test. She announced the mode of writing for February’s fifth and eighth grade tests. She’s lobbied the legislature for testing relief and money for teacher pay. She actually showed up at the education rally, and other than a slam poet from Mustang, she stole the show.

If the first 100 days of her administration have been marked by urgency, I hope the next 1000 will be marked by persistence. There are many more battles to fight. Many are much larger. All involve the same goal – doing right by the students of this state.

Blogger Challenge & The Heartbreakers

I’m over a week late getting to this, but fellow #oklaed blogger Blue Cereal Education issued a challenge a few days ago to write about content for a change:

Most of you are or have been classroom teachers – whether that classroom is actually in Oklahoma, in a traditional public school, or whatever. We talk policy a great deal – and rightly so. From time to time we’re inundated with pedagogy – which can be either helpful or a tad pompous depending on who’s doing the inundating. But it’s not all that common to use the wonders of the interwebs and edu-blogosphere to get all giddy sharing something content-related that gets us all tingly in our hoo-ha.

I don’t know about that last part. It must be Latin or something.

Lesson: Introduction to poetry, featuring Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty (solo, without the Heartbreakers actually)

In 1989, Tom Petty released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. I already owned every Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers record (yes, record), so I had to buy this one too. Since then I would have to say that Free Fallin’ (which is a colloquialism rather than a nod to our current governor) has become my favorite song, conveniently located on my favorite album, and recorded by my favorite artist. In fact, Full Moon Fever is one of three Tom Petty (and/or the Heartbreakers) I keep framed on the wall of the home office.

photo

Early into my career teaching high school English, I came to realize that my favorite things weren’t always my students’ favorite things. And that was, as Stuart Smalley would have said, okay. One of the things I have always enjoyed was poetry. Among my favorites:

The thing with teaching sophomores is that you can’t just lead with Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Sordid boon? What’s that, Mr. Cobb? Plus, the next line contains the word bosom. There’s nothing wrong with the word, but you don’t start there when your audience is a bunch of teenagers. So I introduced poetry with song. I’m not the first to do this. I’m probably not even the first to do this with Free Fallin’.

I would start by showing them the lyrics. This was the late 90s and early 2000s, so most knew the song, but few could say they knew all the words.

If YouTube had been a thing back then, I would have made them watch the video. Even in 1999, then we would have had a good time with what people were wearing in 1989!

I would start by reading the lyrics without inflection. It was probably something of a Ben Stein or Steven Wright type performance.

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

I’d get about that far and they’d stop me. Mr. Cobb, you’re doing it wrong. You need to read it with some emotion. I would continue, just as before.

It’s a long day living in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy ’cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

And I’m free, [LONG PAUSE] free fallin’
Yeah I’m free,[LONG PAUSE] free fallin’

Again, they’d interrupt. You’re not really … [searching for words] … performing it. I’d ask, do you want to try it? Usually someone would. They’d read it with slightly more feeling than I had, and then we’d discuss the song, section by section. Through the few years I did this lesson, the conversation went about like this:

Me: Who is the speaker?

Students: Tom Petty

Me: No it’s not. That’s lesson one. The author is usually not the speaker.

Students: Well then who is it?

Me: Look at the lyrics. Who is narrating the song here?

Students: [after an uncomfortable silence] A bad boy?

Me: Yes, a bad boy. Maybe the song is autobiographical, but we don’t have enough evidence from this one song to assume that Tom Petty is a bad boy. So we know the speaker is a bad boy. Why is this? Why is he bad?

Students: [much faster this time] For breaking her heart!

Me: That’s right. For breaking her heart. But does that necessarily make you a bad boy? Sometimes, things don’t work out, right?

Students: But he doesn’t even miss her!

Me: No, he doesn’t. What do we know about her?

Students: [simply parroting the lyrics] She’s a good girl! She loves her mama! She likes horses!

Me: Okay, we have a list of reasons she’s a good girl. She loves a predictable set of things. Her mama. America. Horses. Jesus. Elvis. There’s nothing wrong with this list, is there?

Students: Not really.

That one student: Well, kind of.

Me: What do you mean?

That one student: It’s a predictable list of things. It’s boring.

Me: Fine, but does that mean she’s not a good girl, as the speaker has suggested?

That one student: No, but that doesn’t mean the speaker has to stay with her.

Me: Well of course not. So is he really a bad boy? I mean he doesn’t even miss her? What’s the deal with that?

That student with recent experience: Sometimes you just feel you’re better to rip the band-aid and move on.

That student who used to date the previous student: And sometimes you just don’t care about other people’s feelings.

That awkward moment: [silence. long, uncomfortable silence]

Me: [with vigor] Let’s look at the rest of the song.

All the vampires walkin’ through the valley
Move west down Ventura boulevard
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
All the good girls are home with broken hearts

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’
Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m
Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m

I want to glide down over Mulholland
I want to write her name in the sky
Gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Me: So, what does Tom Petty mean by vampires?

Students: Speaker.

Me: What?

Students: What does the speaker mean by vampires?

Me: Yeah, right. What does the speaker mean by vampires? Who are vampires? Why are they vampires?

Students: Because they just walk around with glazed-over looks on their faces.

Me: You’re thinking of zombies. Vampires are the blood-sucking ones.

Side note: I think I should get some credit/blame for re-igniting the vampire book craze. I’m sure that’s when it started.

Students: Where’s Ventura? And Mulholland?

Me: They’re in California. That’s a good point…do we necessarily need to know anything about these locations?

Students: Not really?

Me: Would it have mattered to you if the line had been, I want to glide down over El Reno?

Students: That would have been weird.

Me: Agreed.

Keep in mind that the above conversation is an amalgam of comments from several years of classes. In the end, opinions would vary as to whether or not the speaker was in fact a bad boy. Sometimes, students would even argue that the girl wasn’t actually all that good. There’s so much we really don’t know from the lyrics, and that’s part of the beauty of poetry. Writers can use language, with economy, and stimulate thought or tell a story. We discussed speaker, word choice, tone, and many other literary elements within the framework of this one song.

As a classroom teacher, I probably was never more effective than when my students were engaged with a work of literature that I could discuss passionately. From here, we moved to songs they brought to class to poetry of different eras chosen by me to poetry that they found from different anthologies that I made available for them. Now, with fairly universal access to the Internet, we would have an endless anthology from which to choose.

One year, at the end of the poetry unit, I had a boy walk up to me after class and say the words that should be on my tombstone someday.

Mr. Cobb, that didn’t totally suck.

That may be the single biggest compliment I ever received as a teacher. All of my former students are in their late 20s and early 30s now. I am friends with quite a few of them. More mention the song Free Fallin’ to me than anything else we ever did in my classroom. And that doesn’t suck at all.

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Blogger Challenge: The Things We Pretend

April 15, 2015 4 comments

The Education Land of Make Believe

We are deep inside another blogging challenge. And I have one from last week to make up. In fact, I’m way behind on my blogging. I’ll try to do some catching up the next few days. For now, Blue Cereal Education’s 1200 word challenge will have to wait. In the meantime, if you’ve ever thought of starting a blog, I suggest jumping in on one of these challenges. This is a great way to crowdsource our ideas – and we need more of them.

This time, the prompt comes from Iowa’s Scott McLeod. Somehow, I’ve never read his blog, Dangerously ! Irrelevant. That stops now. Sign me up.

Seriously, I wish I could go back three years and come up with a catchier blog title. Okeducationtruths? What was I thinking?

Here’s my short list:

We must stop pretending…

  1. …that homework tells us what students know and what they’ve learned. In reality, it tells us how compliant they are, and sure, there’s value in that. We don’t know how much help they had or if it turned into a group project. Likewise, an assignment that is not turned in tells us even less. I could cheat and say this exact same thing about grades.
  2. …that seat time equals learning. I saw a headline yesterday about parents of a straight A student being pulled into truancy court. What does it say if a student has 20 absences and still has an A in every class? School isn’t a must be present to win scenario, is it? Sure, I think that attendance increases the likelihood that learning will occur. And yes, the students who have a lot of absences and high grades are the exception. Then why punish the exception?
  3. …that we can buy curriculum better than we can make it. Find out how much your school district spends on textbooks. Then ask teachers if they could browse the Internet for free content and collaborate on lessons, units, and assessments that would be cheaper and better than what the publishers are selling us. Think about shifting that funding to the pockets of our teachers. Think about the professional growth that would come from such collaboration. Think of the technology that we could put directly into students’ hands. And by the way, I feel the same way about all the computer programs we buy for reading and math interventions. Sure, some are good, but they’re pricy as heck. Teachers are always a better bargain.
  4. …that poverty has a binary impact on student learning. Some students are poor and have tremendous home support for education. Some students are wealthy and don’t. Also, there’s a difference between poor and destitute. Some situations are harder to address at school than others. As researchers, defenders of public education, and even reformers, we all fall into the trap of talking about poverty as a singular problem. While schools serving populations with a high concentration of deep, generational poverty are harder places to teach, there are some that have been successful.
  5. …that we should create public policy based on the outliers. Some schools defy trends when it comes to poverty and student achievement. A lot of what the teachers do there is replicable in other situations. Some isn’t. We can learn lessons from these schools about hard work and seizing on opportunities – such as smart use of grant money when it becomes available.

It took restraint to stop at five. Here are some other entries from Oklahoma bloggers:

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Teaching from Here

Mrs. Waters English

Educating Me

And here’s a video from the Pretenders:

Just because.

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