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Dropping the Ball

As part of the education reform agenda passed through the 2011 legislative session, the governor signed a law establishing the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System (TLE). This post will not discuss the relative merits of TLE; that is a conversation for another time. The law has been passed, requiring that by the 2013-14 school year, all school districts will use an evaluation system based 50% on qualitative measures, 35% on quantitative measures of student academic growth, and 15% on quantitative measures of other academic factors.

This will be the evaluation system for principals and administrators alike, and the SDE is requiring all districts to participate in piloting TLE during the 2012-13 school year. Again, without editorializing about whether or not this is a good thing, I want to give a little background.

This TLE Commission Report to the legislature and governor, approved by the State Board in December 2011, provides an easy-to-understand overview of the law, explanation of the adoption process, and breakdown of the components of the TLE system. Page five of the report explains that three teacher evaluation models (Tulsa, Marzano, and Danielson) and two leader evaluation models (McREL and Reeves) have been approved. In spite of Superintendent Barresi’s state preference for the Marzano model, the Commission voted to make the Tulsa model the default teacher evaluation model for the state. More than 400 school districts then proceeded to choose the Tulsa model.

In the background during this process has been the understanding that the SDE would provide training to school districts in a timely manner to prepare them for successful implementation of TLE. Along with this understanding has been Barresi continuing to assure districts and policy makers that this – along with all other reforms – can be implemented with minimal cost to districts.

Then on Friday afternoon, superintendents around the state received their Leadership Post newsletter from the SDE in email. In it, the Department explains that while anticipating a budget of $1.5 million for all districts to train necessary staff would be enough, the proposals for training actually came in nearly three times that amount. Unable to negotiate the price very far between $4.3 million and the budgeted amount, the SDE had but one choice. I’ll let their words speak volumes.

Given that time is of the essence, to best serve the needs of districts, and to provide you with more autonomy over these funds, SDE has determined that it will indeed be most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training.

That one sentence has so many parts to it:

  • Given that time is of the essence: If that were true, the SDE wouldn’t have waited until June to complete the RFP process. By statute, evaluators must be trained by August. With a limited number of trainers available across the state to work with districts, there will be a scramble to get something set up quickly by all 521 school districts in the state. Compounding the problem is the fact that July is the absolute worst time to try to have training. This is when most principals on an 11 month contract are off. Some will still be around and available, but not all of them.
  • To best serve the needs of the districts: This would be believable if the SDE hadn’t spent the entire spring trying to countermand the will of the Commission and promising to have the training set up – while blocking districts trying to proactively get out in front of their training needs.
  • To provide you with more autonomy over these funds: We’re only giving you funds that will cover 1/3 of the actual cost of the TLE training, but use them as you wish – and good luck making up the difference!
  • The SDE has determined that it will indeed most effective to distribute the $1.5 million directly to districts to seek TLE evaluator training: You’re on your own, and we’re probably not going to be able to give you any precise figures on how much money you’ll actually have for a while; just carry on knowing that you’ll be absorbing those costs on your own.

In the movie Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood had a word for this type of situation. I’ll let you Google it and come back…

Cathartic, isn’t it?

Vision 2020 – Wednesday

I hope everybody had a great day at Candyland Vision 2020 Tuesday and is ready for day 2.5 of professional development Mecca! Wednesday is the second day designed specifically for teachers, with many of the presenters also being held over for administrators on Thursday. For attendees who have come in groups from rural Oklahoma (where your district is safe – for now), the Wednesday/Thursday swing promises to have the most impact.

You can start the morning with an 8:15 session with the SDE’s STEM Director. His session promises to reveal where there are “pockets of excellence” in the state. I hope someone asks him how he knows there are only pockets of excellence and if this means that mediocrity is the norm. Math and science teachers who have met him already know that he’s more of a salesman than content area specialist, anyway.

General Sessions at 9:00 with Drs. Joseph Renzulli and Janet Allen should both pack a tremendous punch. Either would be a good selection, though they have perhaps opposite target audiences. Renzulli is a foremost expert in the field of gifted education; Allen provides strategies in teaching literacy skills that can be used with low-achieving learners and in all content areas. Hopefully both draw large crowds and educators missing one will have a chance to hear the other in a breakout session.

After that, the day becomes a series of good-sounding titles that may or may not be up to the hype. Implementing Inquiry-Based Science Standards is a good thing for science teachers. Robotics demonstrations are always good. Using iPads in the classroom will take on increasing importance in the years to come. In the end though, these are disconnected, one-shot, hit-or-miss workshops. This conference was put together with such little advance planning, that in the end, it won’t likely be the game-changer SDE officials are hoping for.

So come for the keynote speakers. Buy a Thunder t-shirt. Eat in Bricktown. Make some professional networking connections. Blow up the SDE’s Twitter hashtag #eduvision2020. And then head back to your district, knowing you may not see any of Barresi’s staff in person for another year.

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