Saturday, September 15, 2018

"THEY WILL TELL US" Another Interim. More Questions

Thursday’s Interim Study was collecting information about the virtual charters in our state. This growth is interesting  development in #oklaed. We have a combination of charters sponsored by K12 virtual charters, sponsored by the state virtual charter board, and even at least one university in the state. All are ultimately run by a for-profit organization. 

I still remember the first time I was made aware of virtual schools, computer-driven…soon after her election to State Superintendent of Public (oh, how she hated that!) Schools, Janet Barresi visited a K12 school…she came back to Oklahoma and waxed poetic about how efficient they were – with their teacher student ratio of 1:300 (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating…slightly).

Now, OK has four Virtual Charters:

So, it appears that for-profit charter schools are alive and well in #oklaed…all our virtual charters are being run for profit. What could possibly go wrong?
While these schools are classified as public schools, like other charters in our state, they are driven for profit, for the bucks, and their growth shows there is a lucrative market in our state.  They are partially funded by state school money…receiving the state aid, but not the local money…and they are hungry for more. I’ll explain below.

Emily Wendler, reporter for KOSU, the local NPR station, has written two pieces about charters…good and not so good. I recommend them both.

My reporting here may have holes, because the speakers moved so fast through slides with lots of charts and graphs…just as I had my phone up to snap a shot, we were off to the next slide. Senators at the study got spiral-bound books with all the information. Old grannies in the audience were trying to listen and take notes, and sometimes that didn’t work.

There is a state virtual schools board, with members appointed by the Governor, Senate Pro Tem, and Speaker of the House…the purpose of the Board is to bring accountability to this industry. And make no mistake, it is an industry. I believe each school also has a local board, appointed in some way.
The Interim, called by Chair Stanislawski, was to look at performance data. And we got into the weeds almost immediately.

EPIC Charter, our largest virtual charter in the state, has information about why families leave the public school setting for virtuals…some reflect negatively on schools: bullying, overcrowding, limited resources, and ‘problems’ with schools. Safety is an issue. There are also positive reasons for the transfer: more parental involvement, the ability to accelerate instruction, or receive intensive remediation, and individual needs that were not addressed in the public schools.
Parents identified benefits: safety, engagement, quality of the academics. And they identified challenges: social interaction, academic struggles, lifestyle adjustments.

My heart will always be with public schools, so I look at that list through the lens of the recent strangulation of schools…resources…overcrowded classes…teacher shortage…individual attention that every child deserves. My question from the start was, “How much of this need for an ‘alternative setting’ have we manufactured by starving our schools, and what would happen if we were fully funded?”

Virtual charters in OK are public schools—run by for-profit corporations. But like other charters, they receive only a portion of the state allotment. They do not receive local funding, or ad valorem funds, and they are not able to bond, or piggy-back on public school bond elections.  Because of the high mobility of student enrollment, virtual charters typically get large ‘mid-term adjustments’ in state funding. Virtual charters also have no brick-and-mortar upkeep, transportation costs, or child nutrition costs.

Virtuals have a double management organization…a local board (not elected as public districts have), and a for-profit management organization. It was not said in the meeting, but I have heard others say the board’s work is transparent and subject to all the same accountability as public schools. The management organization is not as transparent, and it may be difficult to identify accountability issues.

Students at virtuals are tested, just like all other charters and public schools. They must bring students to regional centers to test with the same safeguards as other schools. And scores are reported to the state.

But here’s where it got sticky, and the meeting got testy.  All (or nearly all) students in a school must be tested by state law. But for evaluation purposes, only certain student scores are counted in this evaluation…students who are identified as Full Academic Year…enrolled within the first 20 days of the school year, and not absent for 10 consecutive days up to the testing window.

EPIC folks were sharing their test data, showing that for most grades their students outperform public students…Two Senators, Smalley and Pemberton, asked pointed questions about the number of FAY students at public and virtual. A spokesperson from EPIC said he didn’t have the exact number, but it was close to the public school rate.

OSDE folks in the back were able to access the information, and it told a drastically different story. In public schools, 93% of students are considered FAY, and their scores are combined for reporting purposes. Virtual charters? The number was nowhere near that…so the spokesperson was woefully misinformed. 31% of virtual charter students are considered FAY, and their scores ‘count’ in the total. I understand that the 31% of virtual students whose scores ‘count’ are not necessarily the highest-scoring, best students…but, a comparison of 93% of one population and 31% of another cannot be accepted as a fair measure.

The Senators present, all members of the Senate Education Committee, seemed ready with their questions.

We moved on to graduation rates…also a source of great differences. EPIC Charter’s graduation rate is computed at 36%. Again, that number does not tell the whole story because of the way that number is computed. To be counted in this number, a student must be a member of a four-year cohort…beginning high school with his peers, and graduating on time four years later. This number leaves little room for family catastrophes, health issues, developmental differences, discipline. The state must count the students who entered high school and graduated four years later.

This number would be lower for a population as mobile as virtual charters. And I wanted to ask how many students entered a virtual as a freshman, but went back to a brick-and-mortar sometime during those four years. Or transferred TO a virtual, or took a year off, or, or. Or.

We understand the variables are too many to count. But that is the bar we are all judged by. Speakers spun the data in so many different directions, I , frankly, lost the thread. And Senator Stanislawski was quick to jump in and tell the group that graduations numbers are meaningless to virtual charters. Throwing shade much?

Attendance for charters has always been a big question. In public high schools, students must attend all classes all day. They’re counted absent or present for every class. If they miss 10 consecutive days in any class, they automatically lose credit in that class, and if it’s a core course, they’ll have to take the semester over.

For charters, the requirements are different…I think it used to be a requirement that students ‘log on’ each day to be counted as present. One log-in any time during the day. Speakers shared that now students must complete 40 instructional activities in a nine-weeks to be considered ‘present’.  In Norman Schools, high school students would take 6 classes, and teachers were required to log two grades each week. 18 as a minimum for the quarter. Times 6 classes…

Another way virtual charter students can be considered present is to complete instructional activities (I assume that means at least one activity) for 90% of the school days.

There was an exchange between the CEO of EPIC and Senators over funding. No charter in #oklaed receives local money. I can see with virtuals it would be hard to apportion local property taxes to schools that serve students from all over the state. Didn’t stop them from pushing again.  Dr. Chaney is not happy that virtual charters do not receive the same amount of funding as brick-and-mortar public schools…his voice shook as he talked about ‘return on investment,’ with a chart and an emotional line: “Are virtual students worth less?” Since we have no view of his for-profit management, we must ask him, and no one did, “How much are you paying yourself, where is the accountability for public funds the state HAS given you to educate these students? Are funds being invested in students or in your for-profit management?”

This is when Chairman Stanislawski said “They (public schools) will tell us (virtual charters)…” I was highly troubled by his aligning himself with virtuals, against public schools…the public schools he’s responsible for overseeing and shepherding…crafting and advancing legislation to protect and strengthen. I know he’s deeply involved in the virtual charter world, but he seemed, in that one line, to make his loyalty clear.

At that point, I might have written a bad word in my notes….not sure.

Interims are previews of possible legislation…so, I’m predicting we’ll be seeing bills to change the funding formula for virtuals…and even loosen regulations. Last Session there was a bill to allow charters to share in public school bonding capacity, and I expect we’ll see that again. And judging from the informed questions from other Senators, I wouldn’t be surprised to see legislation requiring more accountability and transparency.

I have friends who work for virtual charters…they pay infinitely better, and offer bonuses. I do not blame them for choosing to make a living in the profession they love. I have friends who are using the flexibility of virtual charter to educate their children. I do not begrudge them that choice for their children.  For some students this is the best setting for them.  And there is funding available for families to help with extra-curricular activities. One cheer team advertised that they are now a vendor and accept those funds.

But there are issues with virtuals that must be addressed: lack of transparency, recruiting bonuses, mobility, attendance, graduation…

In a perfect world brick-and-mortar public schools would be fully funded, with an accomplished teacher certified in the subject in every classroom, with all the resources and texts and technology needed to educate our children.  There would be public school options – blended learning, emphasis on arts, music, humanities, STEM and STEAM. Flexible hours for students. When those conditions are not met, and other alternatives are offered, it’s no wonder we’ve set up this conflict. In a perfect world, face-to-face classes, virtual classes, would be available to all our students…and we’d make all our decisions based on what’s best for this child now?

We are not there yet.

And, Senator S, you tried to ‘razzle-dazzle’ us. Didn’t work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Studying Bullying

Legislative Interim Studies are so very interesting to attend…the atmosphere is laid-back, everyone’s a bit more casual; and, in advocacy, you can sit and watch and listen. Then you can predict what possible legislation might come from the Studies…what the big ideas will be.

Today I attended my state Senator, Rob Standridge’s Interim Study on Bullying in the Classroom.  Speakers came from across the state, and represented private organizations, universities, virtual charters, private schools. Students spoke as their own best advocates. Steve Hahn, of the Parent Child Center in Tulsa began the presentations with specific questions and recommendations. He had worked with the legislature in the past on anti-bullying legislation, and curates the website

A representative of A New Leaf in Broken Arrow brought three clients, adults with disabilities, who told their stories of overcoming childhood bullying. Their sponsor spoke about the need for inclusion in schools, including in the lunchrooms. He also spoke about crowded classrooms making it harder for teachers to be aware of covert bullying. One client told the story of how Special Olympics gave her the confidence to become her own advocate. I’ve worked with high school students as we volunteered at Special Olympics Oklahoma, so I know first-hand how barriers and stereotypes can be smashed when disabled and non-disabled students work together.

 Trinity private school in OKC was represented. Trinity works specifically with students with disabilities, and typically these students have suffered some kind of bullying. As I browsed the site, I found their tuitions and fees, but no mention of vouchers that could be used. I’m certain the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarships are offered to families to offset the costs. The speaker extolled their social skills curriculum, Love and Logic, which is part of every class.

The superintendent from EPIC Charter School, students, parents and educators spoke eloquently about what drives some students out of the public schools into online charters. The stories were heartbreaking, and hard to hear. I don’t want to make excuses for us in the public schools…I want us to be more proactive about recognizing and stopping bullying of all kinds.

Trish Hughes, a professor from OSU shared her research as well. She was asked for her top recommendation for schools working to prevent bullying. She enthusiastically suggested character education for all students. She specifically spoke of Great Expectations, and told the story of visiting a Great Ex school and witnessing the positive, accepting climate. She made the point that an entire school needed to buy into the program for it to be successful. I have not gone through this training, but I work with National Board Certified Teachers, and candidates. They often tell me this training is the most profound work they’ve participated in, for making an immediate difference in the climate of their classrooms.

Parents and students told harrowing stories of systematic bullying in schools, and inadequate responses, or disrespectful responses, or NO responses from public school teachers and administrators. One high school student created a presentation as part of a 4-H project. Students and parents were clear…they did not feel supported by the public schools. That made me so ashamed. 40 years I worked. 40 years I tried. But these students and parents were not supported the way they deserved.

I’ve written about bullying and how I always felt recognizing and responding to bullying was my greatest failing in the classroom. I hosted an #oklaed chat, and compiled the resources we talked about.  I craved more information and read every book I could get my hands on. But…I never felt I protected my most vulnerable students the way I should have. To think they could have been talking about me, and that my response was not supportive breaks my heart.

So, I approach every discussion about bullying from that hollow space of, “did I do enough? Did I fail to notice? Did I communicate my expectations? Were kids bullied in my classroom under my nose?”

Listening to the parents and students share their stories of school responses reminded me there are some phrases that MUST MUST MUST be removed from teachers’ lexicon. When a student reports bullying, I want my teacher friends to never say:
  • ·         Just ignore them
  • ·         Tell them to stop
  • ·         Just walk away
  • ·         Play somewhere else
  • ·         Play with someone else
  • ·         We can’t do anything
  • ·         It’s his/her word against yours
  • ·         No one else witnessed it, so we can’t do anything
  • ·         Boys will be boys

Any time professional educators use phrases like this, they abdicate their professionalism, their authority. They reinforce the bully’s power and the bullied student’s helplessness. Can we just stop? Yesterday?

That brings me to a disturbing stat from this morning…when asked, 90% of school personnel said they responded to students’ reports of bullying. But, when students were asked, only 5% FIVE PERCENT, said their teachers were responsive. Is it because some teachers think they’ve done their job with, “Well, just walk away”?

Steve Hahn, from Family Child Center, showed a moving video of a dad who lost his 11-year old son to depression over being bullied beyond endurance. In response to his story, high school students created Stand for the Silent, an online community whose mission is to bring awareness to bullying and the devastation of families it causes. Perhaps it’s time to let the young people lead. I would hope schools would tap into this resource.

The Senators who attended heard from experts…both professionals who’ve studied, and families who have suffered. I’m going to report what I heard, and how I sifted through my own lens of classroom teacher and brought my own terminology to what I heard.

I heard the speakers recommend more inclusion of students who are different…disabled, on the autism spectrum, kids who learn differently. Inclusion, especially at the secondary level, could be a great project for a service club or student council. One speaker admitted this kind of project would need teacher supervision and sponsorship; but teachers are already under such stress and pressure during the school day, it would be one more responsibility. Maybe using the resources from Stand for the Silent would be useful.

One speaker talked about class sizes, and how larger classes in reality means less individual attention, and more bullying…A student said teachers needed to know her…but in large classes, it’s so much harder.

A teacher said that bullying does not start in the schools…it starts at home and is brought into the schools. EPIC has an emotional video sharing the hurtful things students were called by other students, and it’s clear that some of those words and attitudes were modeled by the adults in their lives and brought into the schools. True, but it affects the lives of our students in our classes, in our schools.

Speakers mentioned cyberbullying, but no concrete suggestions were given. I think this is a new area where schools, communities, parents, and maybe law enforcement could work in partnership…It’s the way much of the evilness is spread nowadays ,but I know it’s so hard to get a grip on solutions. We must…but how? Speakers had no ideas.

So, speakers did mention some steps schools and teachers could take: social inclusion of students, lowered class sizes, building trust so students feel safe reporting, social skills curriculum, even having a working definition of bullying…one we systematically teach to students and families.
What they did not mention, but I extrapolated from their reports: teacher shortage combined with larger class sizes are giving bullies the advantage. I wonder if the high number of alternative-and-emergency certified teachers without formal teacher-preparation training is making the issue worse. Building relationships is still the most important work in the classroom…it can break down the climate of fear, giving bullied students the strength to come to their teacher; it can tell everyone bullying does not happen in this classroom.

I think the issue of ACEs Adverse Childhood Experiences – was alluded to, but not by name. One mother told of her son being diagnosed with PTSD after years of being bullied at school. ACEs affect all our students, but I’m betting the bullies and the bullied experience more. I’m grateful that our state is acknowledging and addressing this issue with educators with trainings planned this fall on Trauma-Informed Instruction.

Would a community school, with wrap-around services, help students and families find new ways to interact? I think it’s worth a look. Edgemere Elementary School in OKC would be the perfect place to start. Such schools could have social services, extra counselors, family counselors, parent education classes, health care facilities, all as part of the physical school. When someone makes the mistake of asking me what school reform I would support, they get an earful about community, wrap-around schools.

School districts are hiring more counselors whose job description includes being student advocates, crisis managers. These counselors could work with teachers, students, and parents, to address all the issues that come along with bullying. Norman and Noble have done just this in response to the need for more student support.

All this takes money. All this takes commitment. All this takes the courage to stop doing what we’ve always done, and do something more.

I was heartened by my Senator saying that even though students and parents and administrators from EPIC Charter were allotted a large chunk of time, he was not saying he sees online charters as the only answer to bullying.

But, Chairman Stanislawski responded at the end in an emotional speech, talking about his own daughter’s struggles with bullies in public schools, and his family’s decision to enroll her in a private school, at personal expense for the family. He ended with his hope that all parents would have the ‘right to choose where to send their students with state support.’ He just upped the ante on the conversation to include more vouchers…for any parent. Not one of the speakers had suggested vouchers as a solution.

I left the Study with a strange mix of feelings…rage, and yes, guilt, that students were abused right under the noses of educators who should be protecting them. Pride, as young people bravely stood up and told their stories…and gave us ‘the rest of the story,’ overcoming adversity. Hope at some ideas that could help us become proactive. And, frankly, defeated, that it appeared the Chair’s idea is to take funding public schools desperately need and divert it to more choice, instead of addressing the needs of public schools.

I fear more voucher bills are in our future. But how does that help the vast majority of students in our public schools, many of whom are afraid to go to school? These students are OURS, ours to educate and protect. We need support and tools and resources, and that all costs money. Will new vouchers strip even more money from public schools in their efforts to address bullying?

Maybe the answer is to trust the then stand for the silent

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It's Time to Chalk the Vote!

Runoff elections are in one week. Both the Democrat and Republican tickets have races for House, Senate, and state races. Libertarians have a runoff for the office of governor, and,  Independents, remember you are welcome to vote in the Democrat's runoff.

I have harped on elections and voting before on my blog.  I've pointed out that teachers are sometimes our worst enemy when it comes to voting, and voting for #oklaed. I may have used the term "shooting ourselves in the foot." I've pointed out the dismal numbers for teachers: former State Senator John Sparks told me 30% of teachers vote. The former Superintendent of Schools, and no fan of teachers, Janet Barresi, DDS, put the number closer to 18%. Former State Representative and governor candidate, and my friend Joe Dorman, says about 1 in 6 teachers are registered to vote, and vote.

Joe, as Chief Executive Officer of Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, is fulfilling a dream to serve the children of our state, and to be a catalyst for educators to hold themselves and each other accountable on election day. He and I have talked about Chalk the Vote, a 'get out the vote' initiative aimed at teachers, since his own race for governor. Now we both have time to devote to this effort, and Tuesday the 28th is our first test. Can we encourage teachers to support each other's efforts to go to the polls? I hope so.

I hope we will continue the energy of our Chalk the Vote Meet-up at the Capitol during the second week of the Walk Out in April. It was cool and windy, but the enthusiasm was infectious. We were working together for a positive goal. We met old friends and made new friends as Joe spoke into a bullhorn, sharing his vision of educators working together in a totally nonpartisan way to brainstorm ideas for making it easier for teachers to vote.

We have a FaceBook page, and teachers have volunteered to be Block Captains, being the point person at their school to share voting information...NOT WHOM to vote for, just HOW and WHEN and WHY to vote. We share resources, including the Oklahoma Election Board website, where you can see a sample ballot for the runoff, and check your voting precinct. We all have strong opinions, and I'm hoping that teachers saw first-hand which candidates were supportive and have earned their votes. Chalk The Vote is about getting us to the polls.

I was a teacher. I know what it's like to teach all day on a Tuesday, drive home, and then remember that it's election day. I know how hard it is to stay informed and feel like your votes reflect the attention you've paid to races. I know.

I know it's hard to stay informed as a teacher...our days and nights and weekends are filled with planning and grading, and family and children. So, Chalk the Vote is trying to be a clearing house of information on how and where to vote.

On our FB page, we've talked about mail-in voting...which requires notarization. We've talked about early voting in each county the Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning before election day. We've talked about strategies to help teachers slip out, as is legal, and vote while their classes are covered by subs or by colleagues. We've talked about having tables for voter registration at parent nights, and having forms in the teacher's lounges. We've talked about the deadlines for registering and requesting mail-in ballots. Our page has been a safe place for us to put aside our partisanship (and everyone KNOWS I'm partisan), to just celebrate our right to vote.

We are working on extending the concept of teacher support to parents and to high school students. Talks with PTA parents are beginning, and we are beginning to reach out to student civics groups to replicate our support system.

We want to inspire all citizens to fully participate in the electoral process. To proudly proclaim that we've voted. To wear those stickers proudly, to be a model for our students and our children of an active, interested citizen.

Chalk the Vote is actively seeking ideas for how to make voting easier for busy educators, parents, and students. We want to hear your thoughts.

There are plenty of places to learn about candidates. Social media is one. Connecting with candidates on FaceBook or Twitter can give you a sense of their issues and views. Attending community forums is another way to see and hear candidates in action. Several groups online have lists of recommended candidates and ones to avoid. I'm not going to tell you how to vote, but I hope if you're my friend, you are a voter, and #oklaed is a priority. Some candidates have stronger credibility with the education world than others. That's for you to learn about the candidates you'll be voting for.

After the runoff, and once we have a full slate of candidates for office, I'm hoping you'll find candidates you can support...donate time and money to. Put out a yard sign, share positive news about your candidates. Knock doors, attend fundraisers, write checks. Knock doors. Be vocal about whom you support and why. Talk to neighbors and family. Share why these candidates have earned your support.

And vote. And help friends to vote. And support colleagues as they vote. And stand a little taller, knowing you've done your part to make our state the best it can be.

So...Chalk the Vote. Join us.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Brittani Pollock: "I Left Teaching. I Had To."

 I'm donating my blog today to a former student, now friend, Brittani. She was my student and an officer in my club, Teen Volunteers, at Norman North. I always knew she wanted to be a teacher, you could see her deep love of children when she volunteered. I watched her get her teaching degree and watched as she began what we both thought would be a long career in the classroom. I planned to watch her become a National Board Certified Teacher. Things did not work out the way we hoped. And my heart is broken for every student who will never know Miss Pollock's love.

In December of 2014 I graduated with my degree in Early Childhood Education. I was so excited to finally be able to have my dream job. I got a job offer for the 2015 school year, and boy was I THRILLED. I got a job at an inner city school. My life was forever changed. It was the most rewarding job I ever had. I learned SO much just in my first week on the job. Coming from Norman, it was definitely a “culture shock” but there was no where else I would rather be. I saw things in 1st graders I never thought I would see in my life. Yet, I got to make a huge difference in their lives. Discipline is an issue everywhere, and it was definitely an issue where I was. Yet, these kids just needed love and guidance. Tough love? Oh yes, all the time. I had students with all sorts of backgrounds and all kind of stories. I loved my job. I left for the summer loving my job. These kids have touched my heart, my life, and my soul. I began my second year. That had a lot of challenges as well. However, at the end of the year I walked away LOVING my job. My third and final year came along. I started the year with positivity and I was so excited to meet my students. My students my final year were the same as years before - just needing guidance and love. However, this last year something had change. If anyone ever says I left because of the kids’ behavior, it is a bold faced lie. They are first graders growing up in horrific circumstances. It wasn’t their behavior that drove me away. My heart BLEEDS for the children and it always will. Let me tell you why this was my final year.

It all boils down to Oklahoma needing to get their act together. Here are all of the ways Oklahoma and its school systems have failed their students.

I had a student who was supposed to be placed in a special ed classroom in my classroom. I loved this child so so much. However, she couldn’t handle the environment she was in with 26+ students. She would hit the students, pull their hair, hit me, punch me, punch them, etc. Now, could she help it? Probably not. However, if she was placed correctly it wouldn’t have been an issue. I would call her guardian and let them know of her behavior, and because everyone knew that she had psychological issues, nothing was done. She was still in my classroom. Yes, it was her least restrictive environment. However, it was not her safest environment. I would get phone calls every day from parents about how much their kids were getting hurt by this little girl. Do I blame the little girl? Absolutely not. She is a child who is going through so much. Do I blame the school system for letting that happen? Yes. This same girl one day had a necklace around her neck in the gym in the morning she was “pretending” to choke herself. Knowing that she has tantrums, I was told by an administrator not to poke the bear and let her keep playing with it. Five minutes later I am taking my class back to my room, and I see her turning blue with that necklace wrapped around her neck and she can’t get it off. THANK GOD it had a snap and I pulled and ripped it off of her. She finally got placed…in MARCH. She was safer and she was happier. However, I saw our systems fail us when she was supposed to be there to begin with and no one thought it was crucial enough to keep not only her safe but my other students safe as well. I had another student. He was in a different class to begin with, but he caused trouble. As a team player, I volunteered to take him as my own kiddo. I was told if I did, I would have so much support in helping with him. I never received it. Luckily, the person that I am, I like to handle as much as I can on my own. However, this child - poor thing was being abused at home, so of course I took him under my wing. Did he pop my wrist and hit me every day? Yes. But I loved that child so much.

I had another student. He came from a self-contained classroom in his other school, but like the other girl we were trying out his least restrictive environment. He obviously needed to be tested. We signed for consent in SEPTEMBER. He got placed with ONE MONTH LEFT OF SCHOOL. That boy, he grew on me so fast. However, the environment was not okay for where he was. He would kick, punch, choke, and hit students EVERY DAY. He would kick, push, and hit me most of the time too. He would throw chairs around the classroom. I would have to evacuate my classroom because of his violence at least twice a month. Daily, he would run out of the classroom around our three story building. I would have to stop class to chase him and find him to keep him safe. Then I was told not to chase him, to let someone know. But even then, I’m worried for his safety. When I’d chase him, I wasn’t supposed to. When I wouldn’t chase him. I was supposed to. It was a damned if ya do and damned if ya don’t situation.

I had another student almost get kidnapped at my school. A coworker and I basically saved them, they were walking to a car with the wrong people. We got threatened by those people. Did anyone take it seriously? No. That same girl held scissors to her throat in the middle of class one day trying to cutmherself. My class was in tears scared. That poor girl. She’s a first grader and feeling the need to do that.

I had a fight every day between students. All of those kids I have mentioned above, I love with EVERY PART OF ME. What they did/didn’t do isn’t why I left. They are kids. They have been through situations I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So what made me leave? As much as people and our state want to say it, THEY ARE NOT HAVING THE KIDDOS’ BEST INTEREST AT HEART. I totally understand where these students are coming from, I know why they are the way they are. HOWEVER, not placing a student where they should be placed is FAILING them. Acting like their behavior is “justified” is FAILING them. Whenever fights, or hitting, or any of the behaviors happened listed above, I would do ALL I COULD in a classroom setting.

However, they’d be sent back to my classroom with Takis or food. No discipline. I’m not saying to suspend these kids, but discipline is needed. We are FAILING our kids EVERY DAY when we don’t hold them to the same standard as everybody else. How will they become successful adults? TOUGH LOVE. LOVE THEM WITH ALL YOU HAVE, but loving them also means looking out for what will benefit them in the long run. My duty as a teacher was to PROTECT MY STUDENTS AND LOVE THEM ALL. I loved them all. And, my God, I wanted to protect them all. I was always told that the kids I had problems with, we are just giving them a chance (duh, they deserve all the chances. No matter what the student did I ALWAYS treated them fairly). BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER STUDENTS? The other 24 that are in the class? The ones that get hit everyday, are scared everyday, cry everyday because their stuff is being thrown around by the other children who should have been in a classroom better fit their needs?

 I was shocked at the end of the year how much my class had grown in academics, because this last year of teaching I felt all I was doing was chasing children, evacuating my classroom, trying to shield other kids from children. I am so proud of every child in my class. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Male or female. White, Hispanic, or African American. Tall or short. Good behavior or bad behavior. THEY ALL GREW ACADEMICALLY AND WORKED SO HARD. I will always love them, they will always be my kids. HOWEVER, I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR WATCHING MY STUDENTS BE SCARED OR HURT ALL THE TIME. I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR WITH KIDDOS WHO NEED TO BE PLACED CORRECTLY (FOR THEIR OWN SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS) - the problems they gave were because the environment was overwhelming. I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR BEING TOLD BY THE STATE THAT WE ARE DOING WHAT IS BEST FOR THE KIDS.

January, 2018,  I was already feeling disheartened about teaching. It wasn’t that I didn’t love teaching. It wasn’t that I was stressed because of the kids. It wasn’t because of any of the reasons people like saying. It’s because I was so tired of seeing the children I love in situations they do not deserve, and not being able to do anything about it.

Then in the spring, the Oklahoma Walkout happened. It became clear our legislators don’t care about the students either. Having very little curriculum is ruining the chance these students have to succeed. Not having money to keep teachers around is failing the students, not so much the teachers. We all know the politics of this. So after the walkout it was clear to me that if I stayed in the profession I would continue to see the demise of our current situation with public schools. There were already so many other things that teachers have to deal with, funding the classrooms shouldn’t be one of them.

Legislators being condescending shouldn’t be one of them. I may not be a teacher anymore, but I am still in this fight with all teachers FOR THE KIDS.

I applaud every single teacher out there. You are all heroes. I left teaching. I had to.

I couldn’t witness some of those things anymore and not be able to do anything about it. I had to do it for my mental health and happiness, and those who understand - thank you from the bottom of my heart. Those who don’t, it’s okay - but you are not me. I will not feel guilty for the choice I made. My heart and soul are still with every student in America. I just have to take care of me. I will be at the polls in November. I will forever support public education. I will rally any day for public education.

Teachers, you are heroes. Keep fighting the good fight. For the kids.

Brittani Pollock graduated from Norman North High School in 2010, and majored in Early Childhood Education at East Central University. After graduation, she taught for three years in an urban school in Oklahoma. She is now a federal employee.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Students Deserve Accomplished Teachers

I love students...I've often told my classes that my mission in life is to show the world how brilliant they are. I saw this brilliance on display last week, and I was reminded of the humble joy it is to spend time with young people in the classroom. 

"Every student deserves an accomplished teacher." That statement reflects on the bedrock values of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and  the Five Core Propositions of accomplished teaching. Everything starts with these Core Propositions. 

  1. Teachers are committed to their students.
  2. Teachers know their subjects, and how to teach those subjects to students.
  3. Teachers manage and monitor student learning.
  4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  5. Teachers are members of learning communities.
I am a proud National Board Certified Teacher and I see life through the lens of the Propositions. So, it wasn't a surprise that I found them in a recent panel discussion.
Photo: OSDE

I participated in the EngageOK Conference, the traveling summer professional development hosted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. I attended the meeting held in Norman -- at my old school, Norman North High School. One presentation was a student panel, moderated by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. At North, the students were from big schools and small, and had a variety of experiences in school. They were brilliant, just as my students had been. The questions were thoughtful, and the answers were eloquent.

I was sitting with my Oklahoma House Representative, Jacob Rosecrants, a former teacher, and even earlier, a former student in my English 1 class. We both agreed this group of students made us deeply miss being in the classroom.

As they answered questions, I became aware of how the students' answers reflected the Five Core Propositions. When asked what makes an exceptional teacher, and what advice they'd give to new teachers, they used examples that could be organized under four of the five Propositions. The only Proposition that students did not articulate was the one they would probably never see in the classroom, Proposition 5: Teachers are members of learning communities, but I could make a strong case for their creation of a learning community. The space and time students are with teachers in the classrooms...that's a learning community.

Without knowing anything about the Propositions, students could and did articulate descriptions of them in their answers. They said more, but these are the responses that spoke to me and the Core Propositions.

How would you describe an exceptional teacher?

Core Proposition 1 -- Teachers are committed to their students
  • Helps us engage
  • Sets the climate
  • Is understanding
  • Has unfailing respect
  • Brings me into the school
  • Asks me how I am
  • Invests in students
  • Says we're in this together
  • Expands our vision of what we can be and do in the future

Core Proposition 2 -- Teachers know their subjects and how to teach those subject...
  • Engages us in the subject, not just teaches for the next test
  • Cares about what they're teaching
  • Connects the class to our lives
  • Takes something they're passionate about and uses it to help us learn
  • Shares how their subject connects to our future.
  • Boring teachers don't connect their subject to us

Core Proposition 3 -- Teachers manage and monitor student learning
  • Adds physical activity when we're tired and distracted
  • Keeps us off our cell phones
  • Uses voice tone and pitch to hold our interest
  • Moves around the room to keep us on task
  • Has consistent procedures

What advice do you have for new teachers?

Core Proposition 4 -- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience:
  • Show us you're learning too
  • Build to be that veteran teacher
  • Know you won't be perfect all the time
  • Don't try to please everyone

Representative Rosecrants asked the students to speak to us about the effects of class size...and here, also, I heard them talk about the first three Core Propositions...
  • It's hard for teachers to invest in 40 kids in one room (1)
  • Small classes let teachers know me (1)
  • In small classes, there are more opportunities for attention and participation (1, 2)
  • Small classes let teachers individualize the curriculum (2)
  • Small classes let teachers give more and better explanations of the material (2, 3)
  • Teachers can see what kids need and give us that in small classes (2, 3)
One student said, and I agree, "Teachers deserve smaller classes." I'd add, "STUDENTS deserve smaller classes."

Students watch teachers all day long. They understand more than we know. They know what works and what doesn't. Without even knowing there are these Five Core Propositions, they can describe what four of the five look like in the classroom, and know teachers who live these Propositions are more effective...are exceptional. They want to help new teachers learn and develop into exceptional teachers.

Students deserve accomplished teachers. 
Teachers deserve the opportunity to pursue National Board Certification, and to be rewarded for measuring their practice against the highest voluntary standards in our profession. 

If you're interested in finding out more about the program in #oklaed, ask me! I love to talk about this transformative learning experience.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Primary Elections Matter-Vote for our Kids

Hi! Remember me? Your neighborhood nagging granny.  I'm here to beat the drum for voting Tuesday. It's not like I haven't talked about voting before...One of my first posts was about voting...and the fact teachers DON'T.

One example of our power as voters  was the State Superintendent race in 2014. We (actually, the GOP in their primary) did send a loud message to the SuperinDentist, when she came in third in a three-person race.We can make a difference when we vote.

I wrote passionately about the Teacher Caucus in 2016 -- this amazing group of educators who took the risk of running for office. I wrote. I cheered. And I watched nearly every candidate go down in flames. We didn't vote. And the past two years of legislative inaction is a direct result of our neglect.

Speaking of VOTING: Tuesday!!

So, Tuesday we have another opportunity to vote. To vote #oklaed. To tell our students how much we care about their future. To tell the new teachers I've watched do their interning in Oklahoma classrooms, who choose to move to TX to teach, "Stay. We need you and we will pay you."

There are several lists of recommendations out there and by all means, look at them all. Oklahoma Parents and Educators publish their Apple list. Start there. And then, as a responsible citizen, do your own research.

Here is a new site I really like, VoteOK. They have guides that include all candidates' websites. One page guides you though listing and prioritizing your issues, so you can look at candidates through that lens.

Educators can join Chalk the Vote and stay up-to-date on election information...we hope to also encourage each other to VOTE. Chalk the Vote is sponsored by Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and is the brain-child of Joe Dorman. I highly recommend book-marking OICA's legislative page. Lots of great information about advocacy.

All the information you need about elections is on the Election Board website. I've printed out a sample ballot and used that to search the candidates. You'll find all the information you need to be ready to vote.

Candidates DID pay attention to the Teacher WalkOut, and all candidates remind us they're related to someone who taught once. They all tell you they care deeply. Education is their top priority. But...we must be informed voters to see beyond their heart-felt commercials set in an empty classroom. We must be careful readers and voters...

What follows is my list...a list of words to search for on candidates' webpages, FaceBook pages, and listen for in their statements. With the help of the smartest friends in the world, I've put together a list of RED FLAG words that might mean a candidate is not as education-friendly as they are trying to tell us. These words should give you pause as you visit their pages. And they should encourage you to keep looking for that candidate.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, you will see a bias in my list. The bias is in favor of fully-funded and supported public schools in Oklahoma.

Not-so-subtle attacks on #oklaed that should worry voters:

Accountability for schools
Audit school districts
Big government
Car allowance
Competition is good for schools
Conservative values
Consolidate schools
Corporate investment
Education gets more than half the budget
Education Options
Entitlement programs
Extreme liberal as an attack
Failing schools
Fraud in schools
Free market
Government bloat
“I’m a businessman, not a politician.”
Increase testing
Job creators
Job-killing regulations
Job-killing taxes
Local control
No new taxes
Parental choice
Principled conservatism
Refers to any human as ‘illegal’
Religious freedom
Remote classrooms
Run government like a business
School administrators’ salaries are the problem
School choice
School competition
School Funding Abuse
Spending problem, not a revenue problem
“State budget is just like a family budget”
Status quo
Taxes are theft
Total education funding is increased
Traditional family values
Trim the fat
Use money from Office of Land Management
Where’s the money from the lottery?
Workers Comp abuse

What other words and phrases (yes, clauses too) set off alarm bells in your head?

I'm off to go vote early. If you have never done that, try! It's fast and fun. And you still get a sticker!! 

Monday, April 9, 2018

"Waste! Fraud! Abuse!" Aysha Prather's Guest Blog

One of the joys of my advocacy journey is meeting other people who care about public schools, who sit with me during boring committee meetings, and floor debates. Who inform themselves and ask tough questions. My friend Aysha is one of those friends. We were recently sitting at a coffee shop, having just listened to Representative Emily Virgin talk to teachers and citizens about the Teacher Walk-out when we began laughing about the legislators we can always count on debating about the waste, fraud, and abuse in education...Aysha made a leap I expect from her to the REAL waste, fraud, and abuse in education: required standardized testing. I begged her to write this and here is her response to the real waste, fraud, and abuse in our schools. Enjoy...or don't enjoy. Get mad and write to your legislator.


Those of us who watch the Oklahoma Legislature regularly hear certain legislators sing the refrain of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. It’s their answer to any suggestion that an agency or program isn’t properly funded by the state. And we heard it again this past week during debate about bills that would have raised revenue to fund Common Education. We can argue all day long about just how significant waste, fraud, and abuse are in state agencies, but there is one area where millions of dollars are wasted in schools, resulting in fraud and abuse that cheats students of their education for weeks or months of the school year.

We’ve also heard elected officials say that teachers should be in the classroom, rather than at the Capitol demonstrating for more funds in their classrooms. I support teachers’ continued action at the Capitol, and one reason is that during the month of April, my children do precious little learning in the classroom, anyway, due to the waste, fraud, and abuse that is state testing.


Every April, every public school student in grades 3-8 takes state tests. They are administered under high security, with test booklets and answer sheets sealed until they are passed out to students, and every testing room having both a certified teacher and an independent monitor to watch for any irregularities. Testing in every grade takes multiple days, with each testing session lasting two or three hours. During those hours, the teacher in the room is not allowed to do anything but watch the students complete their tests (or solve technical problems for testing on computers). Not grading, not preparing lessons, not doing any useful work. Those hours are WASTED. The volunteer monitor isn’t as restricted—they’re allowed to read or write (I usually bring paper and write long letters to my legislators), as long as it’s not on an electronic device, but it’s time WASTED that volunteers would rather spend helping the teacher in the classroom or doing any of the other tasks that parent volunteers do in schools every day.

When my children were in elementary school, they often spent the rest of testing days watching videos, because going out to the playground would have made too much noise for students who needed extra time on tests or those in other grades who were testing on a different schedule. In middle school, they test with their language arts classes, but test sessions take longer than a single class period, so every other class that day will have students missing. Those class periods are WASTED, as far as learning goes, because teachers are reluctant to introduce new material while some of the class is absent.

At my children’s middle school, tests are administered on computers, but there isn’t enough equipment for every student to test at once, so students rotate through the testing rooms. School staff have to move every computer into those rooms, remove or cover every bit of written material on the walls, connect the computers to the internet, and test to make sure each machine will work properly with the state testing system when a student is sitting in front of it. So much staff time and effort WASTED, and computers tied up for testing instead of being available for students to use for research, or writing, or learning skills necessary to 21st century workers.

In my children’s district, the counselor is also the test coordinator at each school site. She spends April making sure every batch of tests stays secure and gets to the right room at the right time, rounding up parents and community members to serve as test monitors, walking the halls during testing in case a student, teacher, or monitor needs to use the rest room (or to help an anxious 3rd grader who’s vomited on their test paper), and then collecting completed tests and keeping them secure until they are returned to the state department of education for scoring. She’s not spending those weeks counseling, or doing any of the other jobs that school counselors take on. When my children were in elementary school, that meant their weekly Gifted and Talented enrichment session was canceled for a month or two. So much counselor time WASTED and student needs not met.

The State Department of Education pays Measured Progress, the company that prepares our tests and scores them, millions of dollars per year. Last year, because state tests and score categories were revised to align with new standards in math and language arts, scores were returned to districts much later than usual. 3rd graders got their language arts scores first, in mid-summer, because the the Oklahoma Reading Sufficiency Act requires 3rd graders pass the state test in order to be promoted to 4th grade. Other students were well into the next grade before they or their teachers saw their scores. I finally saw my middle schoolers’ scores in November or December. They were no help to their teachers in revising instruction, or to my children in identifying areas of weakness. More than half a year later, they had moved on, and those weeks of testing last April were a WASTE.


Federal law requires annual testing by states in language arts and math, and testing in science once each in elementary, middle, and high school. Oklahoma state law reflects this, but adds the requirement that 3rd graders achieve a certain reading score in order to be promoted, and requires 8th graders to achieve a certain reading score in order to get a driver’s permit. Also, despite the state legislature repealing the requirement for 5th and 8th graders to take a writing test (after the writing test scores were thrown out two years in a row), there is a writing section in the language arts tests for those grades. My 8th grader’s language arts teacher told me that when she finally saw the scores from last year, they were absolutely meaningless. Administering a writing test is both contrary to the will of the Legislature and a FRAUD perpetrated on the students who spend hours composing written responses.

Annual testing is supposed to provide accountability, and the state turns a school’s test scores, along with other school information, into an A-F grade. How that grade is calculated has been revised, and may be a more sensitive measure of performance than in previous years, but it is still FRAUD to try to capture a school’s performance in a single letter grade, and it is FRAUD to tell parents that these tests tell them how well their children’s schools are performing.

The FRAUD is also perpetrated directly on students. Because school accountability measures are based on test scores, school administrators and teachers are under a lot of pressure to get high test scores. So they tell students that the tests measure what they’ve learned over the year, or that they may be used for placement in advanced classes next year. Here are practice questions for my 7th grader. The only thing this test would measure is her ability to stay on task when given passages to read that are as boring as writers can make them.

I usually browse through the sample test questions every year. I have yet to see them acknowledge that 21st century students go to google to answer all kinds of questions, and that kids need tools for evaluating which online sources are useful and factual.


When my children are spending their time on state tests instead of learning, and their learning time is disrupted because of the logistics of administering tests, that is ABUSE.

The worst ABUSE, however, is what we do to 3rd graders. The Reading Sufficiency Act requires that all 3rd graders receive a passing score on the reading portion of the state test in order to be promoted to 4th grade. Parents and teachers and Representative Katie Henke fought hard in 2014 to add parent and teacher team input to the decision of whether or not to promote based on test scores, and we’ve had to fight every year since to keep that team involved. What 3rd graders hear, though, is that if they don’t pass the test, they won’t go to 4th grade, period. In many schools, they spend weeks drilling on practice questions and worrying about their performance. Parents complain that the anxiety makes their children physically sick. Inflicting test anxiety on eight- and nine-year-olds is child ABUSE.

The other ABUSE is of the professionalism of teachers. All teachers give assessments—to find out what their students already know, to determine whether students have mastered the course content and concepts, to assess whether their own instructional methods are working. They have training and experience to prepare their own assessments and evaluate the results. The state assessments could be an objective reflection of how well students are mastering state standards, and provide useful feedback to teachers. But they would have to receive the results in a timely fashion, not half a year after the tests were administered, when they’ve already mapped out their lessons for the year. And they would have to have confidence that the test results were meaningful, and score ranks represented their own objectives for students. I trust my kids’ teachers to assess whether their instructional methods are effective--and whether my kids are doing the work required to learn the material--because their teachers are highly trained professionals. The state should treat them as such.

There are so many educational activities I would rather see my children doing in their classrooms than sitting for state tests. There are so many things their teachers would rather be doing. There are so many parent volunteers who would rather be helping teachers and students to stay focused on and enjoying learning. Everyone I talk to in their school seems to recognize that state testing is WASTE, FRAUD, and ABUSE. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get state officials to understand that?

Aysha Prather is an entomologist, a graduate of public schools and three public universities, the mother of two middle school students in Noble Public Schools, a gardener, goatherd, chicken keeper, and an accidental advocate for public schools and science education.