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Posts Tagged ‘Reforms’

Countdown: 15 Days

March 18, 2018 9 comments

Brace yourselves, friends. I think we’re in for a rough one.

In 15 days, we may witness history if teachers across the state walk off the job in protest of years of ineptitude at the Oklahoma Capitol. I know no one who wants this to happen. I’ve been in meeting after meeting with leaders in my district and meeting after meeting with leaders from across the state trying to figure out all of our contingency plans.

What about feeding kids?

What about support employees?

What about the testing window?

What about activities and student trips?

What if it lasts 5 days? 10? 20? More?

What about graduation?

Can we still have prom?

That’s a sample of the issues that we have to consider. Just the same, our board – along with many, many other school boards – has passed a resolution supporting teachers. This is their movement. While many of my superintendent friends wanted a different deadline for the looming walkout, nearly all I know were in agreement that we needed to fall in line behind what our teachers demanded.

Explaining how we got here is pretty simple. The last time the Legislature funded teacher raises was in 2008. Per-pupil funding from that time is significantly higher than it is now. Teacher and support salaries are stagnant. Class sizes are high. Textbooks are in terrible shape.

Ratchet textbooks

Courtesy: @bosticteacher

To their credit, every legislator I know understands that all of these problems are real. Most have voted in favor of one or more proposals to help. Also to be fair, many of those who have voted yes on recent revenue bills voted in favor of last year’s budget that the State Supreme Court unanimously voted to be unconstitutional. And many of the same recent education funding supporters opposed SQ 779 in 2016.

My point is that nobody passes a purity test when it comes to the quest to properly fund public education. Some of the people who voted YES on the step up plan have consistently voted for vouchers and tried to get school consolidation bills heard in the House and Senate. If you pay attention long enough, everyone will make you mad eventually.

Nor is the push for a walkout simply about pay. Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard many legislators and candidates for public office say that they’d like to see additional funding tied to reforms. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pin any of them down on what reforms they’d like to see. I did see one survey on Facebook, sent out by a group I’d rather not name.

POE survey

Nearly every item on the survey was an insult to the professional educators I know across the state. All make nice distractions and ignore the fact that public education faced a mélange of reforms earlier this decade. A-F Report Cards. Retaining 3rd Graders. Adopting and then eliminating Common Core. Adopting new standards – again.

Going back to 2001 at the federal level, we’ve had No Child Left Behind, Achieving Classroom Excellence, tightly-constructed waivers for NCLB, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As education advocates, we’ve fought against full-on voucher programs and for allowing parents to participate on committees that decide whether 3rd graders are retained.

The first half of this decade taught us that the Legislature includes people who will never trust educators, people who give us the credit we deserve, and a group in the middle that could lean either way. All three of these groups will always be in the Capitol. The width of each band varies after each election cycle.

During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, public education was probably more on the defensive than at any point in the previous 20 years. Since then, more education-friendly legislators have been elected. I try not to give a legislator too much credit for one “good vote.” Or two or three. The opposite is also true. Some of the lawmakers I consider to be strong public school advocates make me want to bang my head against a desk sometimes.

Over the next few weeks, as we’re all closely watching what happens at the Capitol, I’ll dust off this blog and add a few thoughts, highlight some relevant data points, and generally try to make sense of the evolving political landscape. As always, when I’m writing here, I speak for myself. I may use an experience from my district to illustrate a point, but any opinion expressed on this blog is mine, period.

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What Comes Next?

September 20, 2012 2 comments

The last 20 months have brought an onslaught of education reforms, the scope of which has never been seen in Oklahoma before. As one of more than 40 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, we are following the likes of David Coleman (now head of the College Board) who want to change the way all schools teach all content areas. While I personally like some of the changes in the Common Core, I don’t as much like the top down approach.

The changes in curriculum have been largely bipartisan. They were embraced by Sandy Garrett and Brad Henry, and then maintained by their successors. Following the 2010 elections, when one party gained control of every state office, and the Oklahoma Legislature and governor saw fit to fire the State Board of Education and replace them with cronies, the reforms have all had their roots in out-of-state legislation. The A-F Report Cards, 3rd Grade Retention, and new evaluation systems for teachers and principals were not the intellectual offspring of anyone from around here. Our education policy is largely driven by ALEC and Chiefs for Change, and modeled after the implementation of such reforms in states such as Florida and Indiana.

This is important to remember because of today’s article in Education Week containing an interview with crooner Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett. In his comments, he urges even more “aggression” in pushing for school reform – namely school choice. In this area, other than the Lindsey Nicole Henry law, Oklahoma is actually behind these slightly less conservative states.

Bennett did offer some good advice in the article, however. He says that new state school chiefs “have to be willing to go in with a very clear agenda, and … be willing to communicate that agenda on every front.” This timely advice comes as our state superintendent prepares to meet with 51 school district superintendents from around Oklahoma. Some of the missteps in implementation by the SDE could have been avoided by holding meetings such as these from the beginning.

Oklahoma educators have a wealth of experience and the best interest of children at heart. Even the Oklahoman (sort of) acknowledges that today. There are more reforms coming – we can be sure of that. School superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents should be given the chance to shape them.

False Dichotomies

Superintendent Barresi must be feeling the heat coming from all angles: parents and the state board over her handling of graduation appeals; school leaders over the SDE’s inability to adequately fund training for the new evaluation system; and members of her own party in the legislature over taking liberties with funding last year in opposition to legislative intent. With all of that in the background, she has another state board meeting tomorrow, and I don’t know anybody who expects it to be smooth.

That must explain why she published two separate editorials today – one in the Oklahoman painting her critics as beholden to the status quo, and one in the Oklahoma Gazette pouring more fuel on the flame around vouchers for special needs students to attend private schools. Good politicians know that when things are going well, it’s best to stay focused on one consistent message. They also know that when the pressure is on, they need to unleash their entire arsenal.

The first piece offers this statement, which has been a point of emphasis since she began campaigning for office:

We must shift our focus — from the needs of adults to helping students be successful; from an education system that obscures information to a system focused on transparency and accountability; from a system that crams information into a student’s head (what to think) to a system that equips students with critical thinking skills (how to think); and from a system based on an outmoded industrial model to a system focused on choice.

This loaded statement is worth breaking down into its component parts:

…from the needs of adults to helping students be successful: In making this statement, Barresi paints teachers as not only recalcitrant, but also obstreperous. The truth is that teachers sacrifice time and money to meet the needs of children. They always have. Teachers take a lot more pride in the successes of their students than in their paychecks or 25 minute uninterrupted lunch periods (that tend to get interrupted).

…from an education system that obscures information to a system focused on transparency and accountability: The State of Oklahoma has made student outcome data available to the public electronically since 1996. No Child Left Behind report cards have been available for a decade. They are being replaced by a new report card modeled after Florida’s – one that takes 32 pages to explain and distills all of the different data down to a letter grade based on criteria that were developed somewhere other than broad daylight.

…from a system that crams information into a student’s head to a system that equips students with critical thinking skills: If she’s referring to Common Core, she’s referring to the reform piece getting the least resistance. Unfortunately, for all the strengths within the new standards, there is also tremendous confusion over what the testing process will look like. One thing we do know for certain is that there will be more of it. Nothing kills the creativity inherent in teaching and learning like excessive emphasis on testing. Going back to her point on accountability – teachers and principals don’t oppose testing; they oppose death by testing.

…from a system based on an outmoded industrial model to a system focused on choice: I don’t know very many people working in schools who want the education they provide to look much like the education they received. Barresi states earlier in the article that our Prussian roots are what holds back Oklahoma achievement. I would argue that the problem with our educational system is that the state has never really funded the industrial model. Also, we don’t do a very good job of accounting for the fact that teaching in high-poverty, high-mobility schools requires a deeper financial commitment from the public. Should we be more 21st Century than 19th? Absolutely. Professional educators understand this better than the public they’ve been explaining it to for years.

The second article takes the idea that you’re either with her or against children to an even more unfortunate extreme. She starts with a tired analogy about how we have more choices in milk than we do with school. Lost within this metaphor is the fact that parents do have the right to choose non-public options for their children. When they do, they are also choosing to send their children to schools unencumbered by standards, transparency, and accountability. In the sense that they would be choosing something opaque like milk, I guess it makes complete sense.

Later in the Gazette column, she decries “opponents to the scholarship program [who] try to make the reform sound like a nefarious plot with breathless rhetoric about ‘dismantling public education.’” I don’t know if she and her top staff have a plan to dismantle public education, but I know they lack the skill set to improve it. Meanwhile, among her strongest supporters is the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, an ultra-conservative think tank that assails all government spending. This is an organization that would end public common education and public higher education.

It boils down to the fact that the state constitution prohibits the use of state funds for religious purposes. The judge who ruled the scholarship program unconstitutional agrees. The two districts (also referred to by her former staffer as dirtbags) suing the parents are actually counter-suing them – a distinction lost on the countless Oklahoman articles that have discussed it.

Oklahomans who want a well-educated public must accept reforms – that much is true. A reluctance to accept the SDE’s clumsy implementation of those reforms does not indicate a preference for the status quo. Believing that it does is convenient, at best.

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