2015 Year in Review (Part I)
Barring something unusual happening in the next few days, I’m going to finish the year with a series of all-over-the-place posts. I’ll talk about the blogging awards, this blog’s five most popular posts from 2015, five posts that meant more to me than the popular ones, and where I think we’re headed in 2016.
I wrapped up 2014 with a song from my own iPod for each month of the year. Those of you reading back when I was still writing anonymously should’ve been able to narrow from those selections that I’m a 40-something suburbanite. This year, I’ve added plenty of new music to my collection, and I’ve used some of it on the blogs too. I’m not going to use music to thread this one together, though. I’ll stick with what I know best – words, from some of my favorite authors.
January: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
This was a pretty eventful month. Janet Barresi left office, hiring and firing people up until her last day. Joy Hofmeister was sworn in as state superintendent, and suddenly, #oklaed had everything we had ever wanted, right?
No, It’s not that easy. It never is. While I have no reason to believe that Hofmeister’s attempts at providing relief to students, parents, and educators from the mistakes of the previous four years have been blocked at the governor’s office, there have been several instances of the Legislature closing the door on meaningful change for no other reason than spite. Still, from day one, the culture at the Oklahoma State Department of Education has been different. It has been better. Joy has invited – and utilized – the input of actual practicing educators in her decision-making process.
As I wrote at the time:
I can’t promise you that next week all your public education dreams will come true. It won’t happen in a month or a year, either. It’ll take some time – and I assume that I won’t get everything I want out of the Hofmeister administration. Neither will you. Honestly, Joy Hofmeister probably won’t get everything she wants out of her time in office either. That’s not how this works.
And that has shown to be pretty accurate. The OSDE has experienced wins and losses. They’ve taken positions close to the ones that I would have taken. They’ve also done things that made me bite my tongue. Well, maybe not entirely. I’ve been pretty vocal about the policy differences I have with them. Unlike a year ago at this time however, I can talk to them, and they’ll listen. It’s refreshing.
One other big change in January was that I quit writing anonymously. Rob Miller had announced a few days earlier that I would reveal okeducationtruths’s identity after a Sunday night chat. Up until I hit the submit button, I was making edits. I was sweating bullets. I didn’t know if this would be a good thing for me or not. Until that point, the blog had been about ideas more than me as a person.
The anticipation leading up to the reveal was a blast too.
Up to that point, I think fewer than ten people knew who was writing this blog. There were probably others who knew but had the good taste to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Since January, I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about writing anonymously – mainly whether it was the right decision. With some of the stories I’ve heard from OSDE staff since then, I’m going to say that it was a good call.
February: “There is no limit to desire but desire’s needs.” – John Gardner, Grendel
Joy kept the early surge of momentum going with two actions geared towards supporting writing instruction. First, she killed the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing. Then she graciously recorded a message for students at Moore West Junior High in advance of a writing showcase they were having. Here’s what I thought then:
It doesn’t take a perceptive person to understand that I love writing. It’s why I majored in English in college. It’s why I became a teacher. Fundamentally, I believe that writing well opens doors for people. In desperate times, it can be the thing that feeds the soul.
As an administrator in Moore at the time, I can’t express enough how much this message meant to our students and our teachers.
Meanwhile, a fringe group of legislators was busy trying to convince us that Advanced Placement US History was a witch and that we should burn it. This became one of the most discussed topics on my blog, and then it went away. It’ll come back in February, though, so be ready, and know two things: (1) we can’t let this go anywhere; (2) it’s a convenient distraction from the burning house our Legislature has left us with financially.
Oh, and #oklaed fought against vouchers, yet again. The bill went nowhere in 2015, but it will be back in force come February. This time, the pushers behind it are in their last legislative session before they face term limits. They will pull out all the stops to get the bill passed.
This is why it’s worth taking the time to review 2015. Some of what we have seen will reappear.
March: “I don’t think you fully understand the public, my friend; in this country, when something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way.” – Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
March began with EdCamp OKC, which had been postponed from the last week in February because of snow.
This was my first EdCamp – and my first of three in 2015. I’m already signed up for two in the first three months of 2016. That’s how much I love these. There’s no agenda. Professional development forms organically. If a session doesn’t suit you, you’re free to walk on to another one. Social media helps drive the engine. Oh, and I can’t state this clearly enough:
THERE. ARE. NO. POWERPOINTS.
This was also the first time I had a chance to be in the same room with such #oklaed advocates as Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, Tyler Bridges, Kevin Hime, Jason James, and Joy Hofmeister at the same time, discussing our efforts at raising awareness towards a common goal: improving education. That’s why we get together and discuss strategy for communicating with parents and the public. That’s why we try to work with our legislators.
Speaking of which, March was the month when we most actively pursued replacing the meaningless End-of-Instruction exams with the ACT. To refresh your memory, right now, students have to pass four of seven EOIs (or their alternate exams) to graduate. Many students pass the first four by the end of their junior year. Many have alternate scores in place that keep them from having to take the tests at all. No colleges look at the scores. In other words, they’re a colossal waste of time. Meanwhile, most Oklahoma high school graduates have taken the ACT at some point.
This will come up again in 2016, this time with the blessing of the feds. It makes too much sense to do this. Let’s not let the moment pass again.
April: “I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face.” – Langston Hughes, The Early Simple Stories
In April, Joy showed us what the phrase sense of urgency really meant. When online tests started showing students their score levels on the first day of testing, she had her staff working with the testing company around the clock to find a solution. Maybe this wasn’t the biggest problem in the world, but since we knew she had said she didn’t want students defined by a test score, the fact that she acted so quickly was a huge illustration of her character.
We also celebrated a time 25 years ago when urgency was nigh (or maybe it was Bellmon). April marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of HB 1017, which overhauled our state’s education system, providing us with standards, accountability, and funding. Unlike the reform onslaught of 2011, these measures were student-centered and came with cash to support them.
May: “We’d all do well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle
The Oklahoma legislative session ends each may, usually with much rejoicing.
This year, the big news was that in spite of facing a $600 million shortfall, the state managed to cobble together a budget that held education funding flat. Using that precedent, and knowing that we face a shortfall twice this size, we should expect what? An increase maybe?
In truth, the budget was an illusion. The revenue projections included in it were never realistic. I suspect that many of those who presented the budget to the full Legislature for approval knew that.
In any case, last week, Superintendent Hofmeister asked for an increase in funding, just as she should have:
Despite a dramatic revenue shortfall projected for the upcoming fiscal year, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said it was her duty to advocate for Oklahoma students and teachers by asking for $60 million to fund a teacher pay increase in fiscal year 2017.
“It is my job to advocate for the needs of the school children of Oklahoma and what they need more than anything is a teacher in every classroom,” she said Tuesday following her agency’s budget hearing in the Senate. “That means solving the teacher shortage and there is no other way to solve that but to include in that a regionally competitive compensation plan. I’ve asked for that plan to begin.”
The teacher shortage is worsening. This modest increase would help, but it’s just one of many steps our leaders need to take.
June: “It’s easier to bleed than sweat.” – Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
For administrators, June is the month in which we are furiously planning for the year ahead, completing myriad statistical reports for various agencies, and reviewing spreadsheets of student testing data for any kind of coding errors. We don’t have to keep an eye towards Oklahoma City for policy changes or budget discussions. We are closing out one school year while preparing to begin another.
In 2015, June began with the announcement that the writing test would not count towards the A-F Report Cards for the second year in a row. Math and English/Language Arts standards writing committees were in full force. And some of us were contemplating career moves. Just your standard summer slide, right? This lull in visible activity made room for those who will oppose just about anything anyone does to concoct some of the most hysterical conspiracy theories ever.
And that’s where I’ll leave off for the first half of the year.