A-F Breakdown: Let’s Define #ourschool Ourselves
Each of the last two weeks the Journal Record has published columns by individuals affiliated with a certain right-wing non-partisan think tank in which the writer is critical of those of us who have been critical of the A-F Report Cards. I enjoy watching people defend the indefensible as much as anybody, but it’s probably good to run a scorecard of the responses we’ve seen so far.
First, it was Oklahoma City University professor Andrew Spiropoulos who wrote about being puzzled that Governor Fallin didn’t even defend her own reforms:
But when you don’t control the debate, you lose control of the government. Look at what has transpired this month concerning the issue of education reform. One of the most important and bitter fights of the Gov. Mary Fallin years was the establishment of the state A-F school and district grading system.
While managing the system is always a difficult work in progress, the system’s benefits are evident. Every month, it seems, you read an inspiring story about a school, usually in the inner city, that used a failing grade as a spur to transform itself and, because of these efforts, improved both student achievement and its state grade.
But the education establishment isn’t going to allow proof that a reform is working to temper their lust to repeal it. As you would expect, the bureaucrats took the certification of this year’s grades as an opportunity to once again criticize the system and call for its repeal. The state superintendent of public instruction, the education establishment’s hired hand, refused to promote or even defend her own department’s work.
Did he really just call us the education establishment? That’s so 2014 of him.
I also find the governor’s silence telling. Maybe she’s busy managing the boon to our economy that a decade of tax cuts has brought the state. As deeply moved as Spiropoulos is by anecdotal stories of schools making great gains, he fails to see that outliers prove nothing when it comes to dispelling trends. For most of those schools, the gains have come with the infusion of federal school improvement funds and a narrowed academic focus. One of those is a good thing. The other is a narrowed academic focus.
As I’ve said in different ways countless times, a singular focus on testing sucks the passion out of both teaching and learning. Curiosity – not test prep packets and the loss of electives – is the root of learning.
Michael Carnuccio, the outgoing president of said think tank also expressed his disdain for our collective show of frustration with the A-F grades.
When Oklahoma’s new A-F report cards were released last month, many in the education community were quick to pronounce the grading system “flawed” and “unfair” and to insist that the grades don’t accurately reflect student performance.
Tulsa World columnist Jay Cronley noticed the defensiveness and remarked (sensibly, I thought) that “if people focused more on improving themselves and their families than complaining about everything from the headline in the newspaper to the testing procedure, maybe more schools would improve their grades.”
First, I’ll take issue with Jay Cronley. I can’t speak for the entire education establishment, but in the course of my typical 60 hour week, I maybe spend an hour or two complaining about public policy issues. I do some more on my own time, as if that’s a thing. The truth is that we’re too busy trying to teach kids and run schools to sit in our palaces and dwell on every bad idea. Yes, we have increased our advocacy against those who insist on repeating the false narrative that public education is failing. We do plenty more than that, though.
Carnuccio then lists every other report card known to man. For each, I could have a separate response. I’ll be brief, however. Oklahoma schools have more students in poverty than most other states. Oklahoma is outperformed by most other states. The US has more students in poverty than most of the comparison countries. The US educates ALL students; other countries don’t. So yes, there are statistical differences there too.
With Oklahoma’s A-F Report Cards, if we were to compare school sites’ poverty levels to the report card grades, we would see a strong correlation, just as we did in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Similarly, if we ranked states and countries by poverty levels, we’d see similar trends. Oh, wait, that’s already been done.
For what it’s worth, in case you missed it, Dr. Joe Siano (Norman) and I wrote a brief message expressing our thoughts on the A-F Report Cards. The Oklahoman was kind enough to run it. It wasn’t just two OKC metro-area superintendents, though. CCOSA sent the letter in advance to their members, and over 230 superintendents around the state signed off in agreement.
Are we dodging accountability? No, just mythology. Here’s how we ended the letter:
Fortunately, a task force is working with researchers to study options and solutions to address flaws that have been identified. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have questioned the methodology and the usefulness of the A-F calculations. And, the creation of the task force, proposed by our own state leaders, clearly demonstrates that inaccurate and misleading information is being distributed to parents about Oklahoma’s schools.
As teachers and administrators, we should be held accountable for our work. However, any accountability system should be an accurate measure of the comprehensive work that contributes to the overall success of our students and schools. In spite of the millions of state dollars spent annually on the current system, it is not helpful in guiding districts. Instead, district and state officials spend countless hours tracking data errors for a product that has no instructive value.
Regardless of the accountability system used, we remain committed to student success and will continue to advocate on behalf of our state’s future leaders. We hope that ongoing research and commitment by state leaders and school district officials will lead to an improved measure that we can use in helping patrons understand all the indicators of school success.
Others who came out against the report cards include State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist. Hofmeister’s press release points out that even the USDE has problems with the system. In fact, few in the Legislature who still support it. That’s why they ordered a study about ways to reform it. That study includes researchers from the state’s flagship universities who have criticized the grades from the first year moving forward.
All this is to say that the scorecard stacks more heavily to the side of those of us who think these report cards are a slap in the face. Maybe it’s a breakdown in confidence that caused the governor’s silence.
(Did I say breakdown? Hold on for some gratuitous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.)
I’ve always objected to the letter grades on a very basic level. If all you want to tell me about my school is that we are an A or an F or something in between, you’re missing the bigger picture. We do things that aren’t measured – always have, always will. Sometimes, that one thing that keeps a child in school is something that a test or a report card just can’t capture.
That’s why I floated the idea of a new hashtag to a couple of blogger friends the same day that Spiropoulos published in the Journal Record. None of us could come up with a good one that we could use to capture what’s right with our schools. They were either to clunky or too easy to mock if you’re a middle schooler.
That night, I was excited to read Seth Meier’s post on his blog, Excellence in Mediocrity. It was simply titled #OurSchool. He included several sources of pride for Jarman Middle School. It was something I could appreciate as both a blogger, and his superintendent. Here are some of the things Seth highlighted:
- #ourschool examined referral data that focused on student demographics, which allows us to individualize positive behavior supports for students.
- #ourschool provided a huge basket of goodness for a teacher that recently endured a heart attack.
- #ourschool had school-wide team competitions to help build unity within our grade-level teams.
- #ourschool gave food to families that do not have any.
- #ourschool teaches with integrity, even when we feel that we aren’t appreciated.
- #ourschool has worked with amazing parents.
- #ourschool has been parents to those that need it.
- #ourschool has helped homeless families.
- #ourschool has challenged our kids in the best ways.
- #ourschool has grown as a family.
This is what we should all be doing. We should be fighting back with the things that bring us pride. Instead of letting think tanks that want to destroy public education define us, we must do it ourselves.