Friday, April 21, 2017

My Rules for Reading

I was at a presentation by friends Lara Searcy and Josh Flores where they talked about their personal rules for reading...they challenged me to compile my own rules.

My mother always told me on those long middle-of the night feedings when I was a newborn, she'd hold me in one hand, nursing, and hold her current book in the other. I used to joke that I absorbed my love of reading through mother's milk. Years later, I found a line from Steinbeck that said much the same thing, and I gasped in recognition:

"Some literature was in the air around me. The Bible I absorbed through my skin. My uncles exuded Shakespeare, and “Pilgrim's Progress” was mixed with my mother's milk."

I pretended to read before I was in school, memorizing my Golden Book version of Cinderella. I can remember the first word I read by myself: "morning". I used the picture clue in the early reader and the context clues. In our house, everyone had a book...or two, and everyone read.

So, you'd've thought that I'd have my rules for reading right at my fingertips. But no. It took some thinking, combining, crossing come up with my rules. They are eclectic. They will make some readers cringe. Shake their heads. Roll their eyes. And I love that.

Once we learn to read, the very act of reading becomes our own. I learned early on I was not a phonetic reader, so I never tried to sound out words. I'd use pictures and context clues, like I did with "morning". If that didn't work, I *gasp* skipped the word and went on reading. And I did OK.

So, my rules of reading:

1.  Never, ever, apologize for your books. Read whatever you want. Every book makes you a stronger, more insightful reader. I have always read whatever I want. As a teen, I read Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, when my mother wanted me to read Dickens. I read Cherry Ames, and I read Dickens. I reread books. I read books that are too easy, and books that are too hard. I sometimes challenge myself, reading unfamiliar authors, about unfamiliar places.

I read trash and I read treasures. My parents never censored my books...but Mom did try to hide Peyton Place from my sisters and me (unsuccessfully in my case). Reading widely, reading bad writing and good writing, helped me hone my tastes. In my class I made sure my students saw me reading widely and indiscriminately. They saw me read.

2. Have several books going at the same time (now, for me, this includes Audible books). I can then look at my books and decide what I'm in the mood for. I'll usually have at least one novel, a young adult book (or two), a nonfiction, and a professional book, all unfinished, waiting for me. . So, I look at my titles, and grab the book that whispers to me.

3. Read the ends of books without shame. Sometimes I've been known to read the end of a the bookstore, before I buy it.

I met author Norma Fox Mazer years ago and I told her I'd just bought her book, had read the first chapter and the end. She stared in horror and asked me why, in the world, did I do that? I stammered out that I wanted to know where the book was going to take me. She whipped out a tiny notebook from her back pocket and jotted down a note. I always feared I would see myself in a book as the crazy lady who only read the ends of books.

But, that's the truth. I want to know the end of the journey, often before I've taken the first step. No guilt. Just a fast way to sort through all the books competing for my attention. Most of the time I will choose to read the book, knowing the conclusion. That way I can savor the book, the language. I can see the foreshadowing clues. Enjoy my read.

4. Never feel impelled to finish a book. I usually do finish books, but if I don't, I can toss them aside without a qualm. I listened to my students talk about giving a book 10 pages, or 50 pages, or 5 pages. I've got no arbitrary number -- I just know when it's time to put one book down so I have time for another. The two that instantly come to mind for me are Enigma and A Simple Plan. Life's too short to read books that don't engage you.

5. Read actively, with a pen, markers stickies and two (not one) bookmarks. I have one sticky bookmark at the page I started reading that day. I move the second bookmark as I read that day. I learned that trick from a student who placed one bookmark on the last page of the current reading assignment and another marked his progress toward that goal. I just happily hopscotch my bookmarks day by day. I use stickies to mark beautiful passages, insights, figurative language. Good writing. Before I used stickies, I dog-eared the pages I wanted to remember. With not an ounce of regret.

My reading buddy and I have agreed that if we borrow someone else's book and want to mark or highlight, we just do it...and then buy our friend a new book, keeping the one we read and marked.

6. Claim the book as your own. I have intense conversations with the book and the author. I write notes in the margin. Once a book is in my hands, it's my book, and I'm in charge of how I read. One student brought up an old copy of Jane Eyre, laughing. I'd read it, and had made angry comments about Rochester in the margin. On one page I'd written, "Jerk!" She agreed. At that point in the novel, he was a jerk. And I needed to document that fact.

I make a book mean what I need it to mean. I read slowly; I read quickly. I skip the boring parts (long paragraphs of description) and skim until I find dialogue. A conversation reminded me of the books through which I skipped the most: Fellowship of the Rings -- especially the first time I read it. I would warn first-timers to Tolkien that there will be a lot of walking and a lot of's ok to skip. When I read Grisham's The Firm, I skipped and skipped, saying to myself, "OK -- it's a chase. I get it!" And then there's Clancy...Dear Lord. I can never make sense of his techie writing about gadgets and weapons. His books are where I learned to skip and find a conversation. Nowhere in the contract between reader and author does it say I must read every word. My book. My choice.

I reread favorite passages. I reread favorite books and learn something new every time.

I fell in love with Joy Luck Club when it first came out. I read it from cover to cover (yes, after I read the ending). Then I read it again, this time reading all the mothers' stories together, then the daughters' stories. Then I read it again, reading the mother-daughter stories together. Each rereading added meaning for me. I was in charge. I could read as I pleased

7. Respond to books. I laugh out loud. I gasp. I cry. When I read with my students, I always warned them that at least once in the semester I'd cry. Their job, if they saw me, was to roll their eyes and smile indulgently. Once, in class, while reading the ending of Twelve, I just about cried off my makeup. I didn't realize it, but a student had been watching me. When I put the book down and tried to compose myself, she tiptoed out of her desk, crept to my desk, picked up the book, returned to her desk, and started reading. I laughed so often that we began to call those books that elicited laughs, "Snork Books." Students often asked for a Snork Book. My emotional responses to my books did as much to sell books to teens as any book talk.

8.  Return to the beginning of the book and reread or copy your beautiful passages. So often, when I do that, I find I've identified important insights, themes, symbols. Without trying to. I just mark words that sing for me. My students could (and did) decide which of my books was worthwhile by seeing how many stickies I had in the book.

9. Take the time to think about your books and write about them. Once for my birthday a friend gave me a book journal. I loved it. I read and wrote in front of my students. The act of reading became more meaningful because as I read, I was thinking about what I wanted to say about the book. What quotes I might include. This was my last reflection of the book, and it helped me put it in a bright focus. I filled up probably 10 journals until I discovered Long before I joined Facebook, I was showing the site to my students. One told me goodreads sounded like Facebook for book nerds. And it is. It's a place to think about and write about books, and to see what your friends are reading. Just this month, I've had conversations with former students about our books, and what we might read next. More than my solitary journal, goodreads reminds me that reading is very social...when we find a book that moves us, we really want to share it with someone. Goodreads will link to FB and to Twitter, so friends can see what I'm reading.

10. Return to your TBR stack (or, for me, my kindle or my audible application -- yes, I'm an omnivorous reader. Love my audible when I walk, my kindle when I travel -- instead of filling half my suitcase with books so I'd always have one, my 'real' physical books when I want to return over and over to those meaningful favorites) and decide what I'm in the mood for, and grab the next one.

My rules are not particularly academic or systematic or logical. But they're mine.

I'm interested, what are some of YOUR reading rules?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

SB393 Keeps Sailing Through the Legislature.

Just days after watching Representative David Brumbaugh urge and cajole and charm SB393 through committee last Thursday, he died of what I've heard was a massive heart attack. I'd not had reason to speak with him in the past, but seeing the sincere mourning of prominent Oklahomans, I can see he was well-respected. My heart goes out to his family on such a sad day for them.

There are days that leave me scratching my very old grey head, trying to put contradictory stories and experiences into some kind of sense. Today is one. A wacky Thursday.

I attended the General Government Oversight and Accountability Committee meeting today…to hear an education bill. An education bill that was not going to be heard in the Common Education Committee, so it was reassigned to this committee I’d never heard of before. The bill? Senator Brecheen’s ‘Teachers Teaching Intelligent Design and Climate Change Denial’ bill. SB393.  And I read an article about a truly generous Oklahoman who will make a huge difference in our state.

Some history on SB393 from my notes:

I attended the Senate Education Committee when Senator Brecheen introduced his bill. I noticed that he was very distracted at the beginning of the meeting. He conferred with the Assistant Chair of the Committee, Senator Ron Sharp, and then caught the attention of the Ginger Tinney, the Executive Director of Professional Oklahoma Educators, who was sitting in the room. Brecheen and Tinney left the chambers together and returned, talking about a paper the senator held. I wrote in my notebook: “Brecheen and Tinney working something?”

Then minutes later, Senator Brecheen was asked to explain and present SB393. I realized that all the scurrying around made sense. He started his presentation by telling us that Louisiana and Tennessee both have similar bills, and they have not been sued.  Interesting way to introduce your bill, huh? He then got down to business. His bill protects teachers. Empowers teachers. He read from a paper (the one I saw?), quoting a survey from POE that teachers felt pressure when they avoided teaching certain subjects in science. 7% of those surveyed felt ‘pressure’ when they taught climate change denial, and 21% reported ‘pressure’ when they taught a form of intelligent design. No word on the size of the survey. We know POE may have 7000-10,000 teachers as active members. Not all of them would have contacted about a science survey. So, the question I have had since that first day is, “21% of how many returned surveys?” I think it’s a valid question that deserves an answer, since we seem to be about to make law based on those 21% surveyed. Instead of working on the budget.

Lots of lip service was given to ‘both points of view…looking at both sides…the full realm of science.” We were told that “Indoctrination (I assume this is current science teaching) is not critical thinking,” and the pathway to a Leftist-leaning agenda. We were assured this bill allows teachers, with no liability, to share documents about ‘both sides’ of ‘the argument.’ Senator Brecheen promises that this will build better scientists…and even used Galileo as an example…sorry, I lost the thread. Only one senator voted no…thank you, Senator J.J. Dossett. I cannot share the words I wrote in my notebook that day…they were vitriolic.

I was NOT there when the bill passed the Senate, but pass it did. This time, 10 senators voted no. Thank you, Senators Bass, Bice, Dossett, Floyd, Holt, Matthews, Paxton, Pittman, Sparks, and Yen.

The bill was then assigned to the House Common Education Committee, but the Chair chose not to hear the bill. Since this is the last week for bills (that originated in the other House) to be heard in committee I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping we were finished with this bill.

But then Senator Rob Standridge, my senator, wrote an op-ed piece for the Daily Disappointment Oklahoman extolling the merits of the bill, as ‘a man of science. Senator Standridge is a trained pharmacist and runs an international business, Health Engineering Systems, from Norman.

That set off alarm bells…why would a seemingly dead bill get such a glowing review? Well, the answer is the bill wasn’t dead. It wasn’t even badly wounded. It was suddenly reassigned to this committee I visited today: General Government Oversight and Accountability. Which meets on Thursday, the very last day of legislators’ work week (funny how some are Hell-bent to force schools to be in session five days a week, when they’re not).

I did not get the memo that ‘the color’ of the day was red…we were first going to wear green…so I was a mossy blot in a sea of red.

Representative Brumbaugh, a caucus leader, is the House author and he came in armed with lots of hand-written notes. I was close enough to see that, but not the notes themselves. Rep. Brumbaugh extolled the virtues of this bill: It would promote thinking skills while giving teachers immunity. He told us it was about academic freedom. He also told us that Louisiana and Tennessee are leaders in this push (Don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily want to trip down the lane with those two state’s school law as my guide). He wants teachers to teach ‘all’ theories, promote no doctrine, and somehow keep wackoos from teaching (more on that word later).

He faced questions: Why was this bill, clearly an education bill, assigned to this committee? Lots of soft-soaping about timing, as this is the last committee meeting on Thursday. Discussion of the term “shall prohibit,” questions about limiting school boards and schools’ personnel decisions. Representative Cyndi Munson brought up my biggest concern: our students will be ill-prepared for the ACT and for higher education, for any kind of STEM profession if they’ve been taught by teachers who ignore the standards and curriculum.

Brumbaugh talked about the wonders of learning, of improving education, of open discussions, of critical thinking, of ‘circular thinking’. He promised this would contribute to educated youth.

We are grateful to Rep. George Faught for allowing public comments…five minutes for those opposed to the bill. Five minutes for those in favor. The room was packed with those of us who are opposed, but four chose to speak. One, a trained scientist, spoke of the giant skeleton discussion in her child’s science class. She argued this bill will not enhance critical thinking. Another, a retired educator, spoke to the standards and curriculum that were expected to be taught, and about the loss of local control with this bill. Another, a local science-education professor warned passage of this bill will lead to ill-prepared STEM students in higher education. Another said this bill will open up ideological, non-scientific opinions that will take time away from the classroom.

One speaker supported the bill: Professor Don Ewert, a medical researcher. His field is hearing loss research. He also beat the drum for critical thinking in an ‘intellectually safe place." He extolled freedom of interpretations, and warned about the limitations of the scientific method. Then he attacked current science textbooks as ‘slanted’. He promised that all discussions in classrooms would be fact-based. Then he brought up Neo-Darwinism, which made me scurry to Google. I am grateful to reader, Bob Melton (see comments) for finding Professor Ewert's name on the list of 100 science skeptics. How convenient for Rep. Brumbaugh that he's right here in OK...and since the Chair allowed my friends to speak, Professor Ewert was given five minutes to speak.

At the conclusion, one representative asked Rep. Brumbaugh, point blank, “Do you give your work that nothing wacko will be taught in science classes?” Brumbaugh promised. How very easy that promise came from his lips.

The bill passed the committee 4-3, with one member absent. No votes (I have already sent my thanks): Cyndi Munson, Greg Babinec, and Roger Ford. Representative Tadlock, the other Democrat with Rep. Munson did not attend the meeting.

There was a passionate young high school student at the meeting, who would have also made a great witness. As we stood in the hallway, sharing our frustration, he spoke up. “He kept talking about circular thinking as a good thing. I was taught it’s one of those logical fallacies.” You’re right, young man. That’s not a good thing, circular thinking. On closer inspection, there’s circular reasoning (which, if this is what Rep Brumbaugh meant, is pretty funny), and circular thinking (which sounds kinda…wacky), and circular thinking (now I’m confused), and circular thinking (whaa??).

So, now we have to see if the House leadership has cooler heads…whether it makes it onto the House calendar, and whether we have to drag ourselves up to 23rd and Lincoln one more time to fight for our students’ right to be taught the standards of their discipline, to be prepared for that ‘college and career’ future we all want for them all.

I said this was a head-scratching day.

As I was trying to put SB393 into some kind of sense, a friend shared a story of an Ardmore man who was moved by the fact that the Oklahoma State Science Fair would be unable to hold a contest next year because of state and federal cuts to STEM education.  James Young reached out to his representative, Pat Ownbey, about how to donate to the Science Fair. Mr. Young wrote a check for $50,000! Rep. Ownbey spoke glowingly about the opportunities this donation will afford Oklahoma students to further their education in STEM.

I’m assuming with his great commitment to STEM education, I can count on Rep. Ownbey’s no vote on SB393.

Some days just make you just roll your eyes and scratch your head. Or bang your head on your desk. 

Today was one.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dear Swish -- Letters About Testing

One of the joys of social media is keeping in touch with my former students...I see pics of their families and get to interact in their lives. Invariably, our conversations come around to books and reading.

I received this message from a former student, Amy...our conversation about testing, and what young parents need to know about testing, grew. I'm sharing (with her permission), our discussion.

Educator friends, What did I miss? What other advice do you have for Amy and other parents sending their children to public schools? I want all 'my' parents to approach public education with their eyes open, asking the right questions. My words to Amy are in italics.

Hello Swish!

I hope everything is going well with you! I want to ask your advice. My son, E,, is six. I've been homeschooling him for preschool and kindergarten. We are wrapped into a great home school group with park days every Tuesday and nature days every Friday, plus he gets to see his all-ages friends in plays, and we do a Shakespeare festival twice a year where the kids act out scenes, recite sonnets... It's awesome.

HOWEVER. I am tired. And I know it's only going to get more academically demanding as the grades go by. I want to be 'just mom' instead of trying to be everything. So I'm putting him into our local public school for first grade in the fall.

We're in California so I'm not sure how similar the standardized testing is to Oklahoma's, but that's what I wanted to pick your brain about. You've had a front row seat to that. I think you and I share the same view of them; they are a poor assessment tool, stressful for kids, undermine a teacher’s methods and take away time from other worthwhile subjects and classroom opportunities.
I'm waffling between starting a local opt-out movement at this school, or just having him take the tests and not worry about it. I don't believe there's any testing here before third grade, but if I'm going to make any waves it's probably better to start early than late.

What's your advice about standardized testing to an individual parent just getting their kids started in today's schools?

Anyway, that's the question. But I'll tell you some fun stuff since I'm already here. E. is six, and he's a bit wild, but very funny. J. is three now, and she's very sweet and sings a lot. E. LOVES to be read to. My husband or I read to him for almost an hour every night. He loves chapter books, especially if they are slightly age inappropriate, and will hardly look at picture books anymore! J. also loves to read, but she loves Dr. Seuss. She loves him so much that she has memorized The Grinch and recites it to me in the car pretty often. We all go to the beach and on little hikes often. There is so much cool stuff to do here, it's a fun place to raise kids.

I've been reading a lot. Finally got the bookshelves of my dreams lining the wall in my bedroom. And now I'm just trying to make a dent in all the books I have on them! It's been wonderful. I'm on a Norse mythology kick right now.

Hope you are doing great. I think of you often, and I'm glad I get to keep up with you a bit on Facebook. 

Love, Amy

AMY!! It doesn't surprise me that you're a hands-on, reflective parent! Your life with your kiddos sounds grand.... You've packed a lot here, and I'll need time to look for resources. There is a national opt-out group, so you might search to see if there's a CA group. You want to know if test scores are used to: *Grade schools *Evaluate teachers *Promote or retain kids. Those are all bad, bad, bad.


Then, we talked about books (as my students know we will!)…Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology—Amy has always been a passionate reader, and I remember with fondness the books we would read together and discuss…I miss her, and all my other students…


So, Have you gotten any info about what test scores will be used for? That's important information, because it predicts the direction of the pressure on parents to NOT opt-out.
If the state has some kind of school grading system (we have A-F), counselors and principals will be after high-performing kids to test...since their scores will contribute to the school's grading system.
 IF there's a 'value-added measure' which evaluates teachers on the 'growth' students show on standardized tests, kids who are 'teachable' -- most apt to show growth (NOT the very low or very high-performing kids) are the ones a teacher will who can show growth. Think of it. Gifted kids who are already at the 98th or 99th percentile have NO room for growth!! So that could adversely affect a teacher's evaluation. Teachers will be 'fighting' for those kids in the middle who have room to grow, but are NOT high-maintenance' to teach.
IF the state requires (as we do) that all 3rd graders pass a specific test to be promoted, then those kids who have NOT had the rich toddlerhood your little ones have, who are just developing a little slower than the norm, who are traumatized in the countless ways kids can be traumatized, will suffer.
In OK, 3rd grade reading and 8th grade reading are high stakes FOR KIDS. No drivers license until you have an 8th grade reading level. NO 4th grade unless you pass the third grade test. Problem is, neither of these are tests that measure a reading level...they just count the number of questions correct, and students must match a 'magic' score to prove proficiency. Oh, but wait!! That magic score, also called a 'cut score?' Teachers and students don't know what that score is when they're testing...everyone takes the test, scores are recorded, AND THEN the cut score (pass score) is set and students learn if they ‘passed’ or not.  Lunacy.

NOW, you need to find out if CA has an opt-out tests are used beyond the intended use: a snapshot of a student's achievement at this moment in time. Then you you want to opt out, or opt in?

One more thing you should know: because many states have stakes for schools, for teachers, and for students, attached to these standardized tests, they add 'benchmark' tests to check identify kids who struggle and lag behind...lots of benchmarks!! LOTS. OF. BENCHMARKS. That's the way schools can be prepared for the bad news of kids not making the grade on a test that will have high stakes for someone. And, these all take valuable time away from teaching and learning, as you mentioned above.

SO, it's not just the 'spring' tests themselves, and how they're's all the “cover-your-a** benchmarks so as not to be surprised at the end” tests. It's all the practice for the tests. That takes more time away from instruction than the actual tests.

ONE MORE THING you need to check is the state's and school's schedule of testing. No Child Left Behind Act (and its replacement, Every Student Succeeds Act – doncha love those titles??) requires states to test all kids in reading and math every year, and one science test, 3-5, 6-8 (reading and math every year, one science test). And then once - reading, math, science- in high school.
Oklahoma added MORE tests – social studies, tests every year 3-8. They also added the high stakes for kids in 3 and 8...and added End Of Instruction tests (SEVEN, when the feds only required three) for kids in high school. And they added the high stakes – students had to pass 4 out of 7 in order to graduate. Last legislative session in OK, they did away with the EOIs and the high stakes, but because of federal law, they still must test reading and math and science one time...we are not sure what this will all look like. But a bill is wending its way through the legislature that will require all high school students to take and pass a citizenship test. One more hurdle place in students’ ways by our state lawmakers, when we have been trying to lighten the load.

You have some homework: ask your school about the testing schedule and any high stakes attached. Ask about benchmark testing (they may call it something's the interim testing before the spring tests.). Google to see if your state has an opt-out group. If so, they will be very helpful in providing information and guidance.

Yeah, I've had a weird educational journey with my kids so far. Preschools out here in CA are crazy expensive, and I met and became close to a homeschooling family while I was actually pregnant with E. So right from the beginning I was researching and reading tons of material on homeschooling methods, educational philosophies (Charlotte Mason!), and curriculums.

There is so much about homeschooling that I love, and think is ideal for learning, but for my particular family it has been just too hard. I spend way too much energy on it, and I feel like for me it's made my children into part of a 'project' instead of just letting them be my kids. So I'm able to see that it's not ideal for ME, but I still have a lot of fear about putting E. into a traditional school. I wonder what is ideal for HIM, and how much sacrifice on my part that should require.

My hope is that our local school will be awesome, and that he will love it. And all the best homeschooling things are things that we can do as a family anyway. Reading, visiting museums, learning about our local plants and animals, artist study, nature journaling... So, I think it's going to work out. And I'm so excited to get a little bit of mental space back when I'm not constantly thinking about homeschooling. So. There's that.

As an English teacher I bet you constantly have old students telling you their life stories, don't you? 

I love it when I can stay close to you all...I'm so stinking proud of all of you and who you've become. Listening to your story, I'm not surprised you threw yourself into being the best teacher/mom you could be. And, yes, it's so tiring. Your first and most important and permanent job is to be their mommy. You'll always be their first teacher and their advocate. BUT you can't be your best if there's nothing left of you at the end of the day. Does that make sense? I love the way you go into a new project with your eyes and heart open, ready to learn. And eager to teach...

Absolutely. They can have many teachers, but they only get one mom. That's exactly the problem, I have nothing left to give them at the end of the day, and nothing left over for myself!
So, I'm taking this thing off my plate and I think we will all be much happier for it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Member of the "Education Establishment" Responds

Nearly everyone (except some legislators) has attended school, and considers himself or herself an expert. 

Last week, following the latest revenue failure, Secretary of Finance Doerflinger made a statement about all the problems he and his colleagues are having trying to create a budget…and how committed they were to finding raises for teachers (because he knows teachers!), and providing other services for our state.

My colleagues Rob Miller and Rick Cobb have both written eloquently and pointedly about the news conference, and I have little to add to their analyses-Rob and I did see red over the same statement. paragraph from Secretary Doerflinger’s  statement, one, sent me for my blood-pressure pills. In one paragraph he reveals how he really feels about educators, and he dismisses us all, one and all, as greedy, self-serving graspers.  Any good-will his pandering ‘I know teachers’ comment was lost when he said:

“If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.”

Two things…three things stand out to me in this statement…”agency known as the State Department of Education.” It’s not ‘known as.’ It IS the State Department of Education. Why the tortured wording? All I can think is he’s trying to deliberately destroy the credibility of the department charged with the public education of our children.

Shall I call the Governor’s office ‘the office known as the Governor?’ Or the official known as the ‘Secretary of so-called Finance?’  Or ‘the so-called Secretary of Finance?’ Words matter and they are chosen to make a point. All I can think is he is trying to delegitimize the entire department… What’s up with the attack on OSDE?

Then he blames all our woes on the ‘Education Establishment.” They are the villains causing all the problems. If they would just stop asking for money to buy books, and repair school buses, and pay the electric bill; if they’d just be grateful for the scraps from his financial table…everything would be just fine. It’s all, obviously, the fault of the Education Establishment.

Who’s the “education establishment?” I guess that would be me. 39 years of teaching in three states, 10 schools. 34 years in Norman – every grade level in public education. Thousands of students, many of whom are still in my life in meaningful ways.  I must be ‘establishment’.

The library media specialist at my Grand’ schools: doing more with less…teaching, planning with classroom teachers, getting to know students and their tastes so well they can say, “Sorry, no new Minecraft books today,” when little Johnnie comes through the door. They must be the education establishment.

Or the principals who’ve gone back to school (on their own dime) to learn more about administering schools, to be more effective.

Or the choir teachers who work with 70+ students at a time, and make magic with all the blended voices singing works they’d never dreamed they could perform.

Or the English interns I work with at Oklahoma State: bright, idealistic young people who are very aware of the challenges that await them in their own classrooms.

You know who else is ‘education establishment?’ Your third grade teacher who works every day with students who may not have the advantages of a stable home, or enough food to eat.

The special education teachers who lose sleep at night trying to find new ways to help their students succeed.

That American History teacher who sees the realities his students face with one or both parents incarcerated. He’s part of the education establishment.

The art teachers who inspire students to believe in themselves and their talents. They’re part of the education establishment.

The counselor at school – who sees the great needs of her students, but she must ignore those needs to plan and implement state testing.

The parents who partners with educators to advocate for their children. 

The Education Establishment is every teacher working in a public school in Oklahoma. Mr. Doerflinger tells us, no doubt with great sincerity, that he knows teachers. He wants teachers to have raises…and then in the next breath attacks all educators as part of the ‘Education Establishment.’ He seemed to be entirely unaware that he both praised and slammed the folks who teach 90%+ of the children in our state.  Or, more likely: he just doesn’t care.

He accuses us of only wanting to maintain the status quo. He must not know what the status quo is in our schools:
  • ·         No new library books in many schools
  • ·         No new electives for high schools
  • ·         Four-day weeks to try to balance the budget
  • ·         Sustained standardized testing and a culture of fear
  • ·         Promising programs being cut
  • ·         Record number of alternative and emergency-certified teachers
  • ·         A-F school grades, punitive accountability
  • ·         Third graders who can be retained on the score of one test
  • ·         Over-crowded classes
  • ·         Students whose needs are not met by over-extended, overworked counselors
  • ·         Smaller custodial staffs
  • ·         Openings for substitutes and bus drivers – and teachers take up the slack
  • ·         Schools losing teachers who take jobs in the prison system, or at high-paying private schools, or out of state
  • ·         More and more unfunded mandates on top of other unfunded mandates.

That is the reality, the status quo, of our schools. I challenge you, Secretary Doerflinger, to find a member of the ‘Education Establishment’ who supports that list…You and your reformer buddies are responsible for the current status quo…it’s YOURS. And we don’t wish to maintain any of it.

OK, I lied. There are four things in that one statement that infuriate me…I think he just called every educator in #oklaed “sick and really disgusting” and lectures us about what does or does not  “benefit the children in this state.” I can’t even.

And he wonders why the best and brightest teachers are ready to abandon this state.
I’ll see my OSU students Thursday…I’ll look into their eyes, I will read their reflections. I will do everything I can do to encourage them to stay – stay in this profession, and stay in their home state to teach. Because we need them. Our children need them.

I reject the Secretary’s assessment. 39 years taught me what really matters. I believe in my profession, and in the educators who show up – every day – to teach.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All the Novels I Need to Read

I have brilliant friends, friends who read...some even read more than I do. When I put out the call for books we all need to read during the next turbulent years, it was answered enthusiastically. And I discovered my very brilliant friends had read books I needed to read. Books that could give me that comfort and empathy that books -- especially novels -- have proved to provide for us who read.

The list I present for you today are novels I've NOT read. Novels I will put on my ever-growing 'To Be Read' list. Novels that friends recommend to us all in trying times. And, yes, there are books here that I certainly SHOULD have read...even English teachers can't read everything. Lewis's book, and Askew's, and Hamid's books are physically IN MY HOUSE, on a stack.

Some appear to be those dystopian novels we have all been referencing recently...of 'perfect' societies run by men and women who have all the answers...who brook no disagreement, who control all parts of others' lives.
So, read through the list...find one you'd especially recommend for me...or add a book you don't see.

Reading keeps us human...and it's never been more important to be loving, accepting, reflective, empathetic humans.

Fiction I need to read:

As I Lay Dying -- Faulkner
Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Atkinson
Blood for Blood – Graudin
Blood Meridian – McCarthy
Disc World Series – Pratchett
Echo -- Ryan
Every Man Dies Alone – Fallada
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway
Howl – Ginsberg
It Can’t Happen Here – Lewis
Johnny Got His Gun -- Trumbo
Junkie – Burroughs
Kind of Kin – Askew
Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro
Station Eleven – Mandel
Super Sad True Love Story – Shteyngart
The Children of Men – James
The Children’s Hour – Clavell
The Circle – Eggers
The Cucumber King – Nostlinger
The Diabolic – Kincaid
The Dispossessed -- Le Guin
The Gate to Women's Country – Tepper
The Hate U Give – Thomas
The Iron Heel – London
The Leftovers – Perrotta
The Light Between Oceans – Stedman
The Mandibles – Shriver
The Plot Against America – Roth
The Reluctant Fundamentalist -- Hamid
They Thought They Were Free – Mayer
Version Control – Palmer
We – Zamyatin
When I was the Greatest – Reynold

Wolf by Wolf – Graudin

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nonfiction for Hard Times

I promised four posts, all with extensive book lists, and here's my second, "Nonfiction I Have Actually Read."

I am married to a surprise. But, Bob Swisher reads nonfiction. In our 52 years together, I remember him reading two novels: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Killing Mr. Watson. Neither of those made MY list of novels to read during trying times.

He mocks my fiction-reading habits, and I was happy to report to him in the past few years my nonfiction reading equaled my fiction. But, I still prefer stories, so many of the nonfiction books I enjoy are narrative nonfiction: memoir, biography, and just plain-old stories. Creative nonfiction feeds my soul.

Other than narrative, I DO read education policy books. I'm excited to say, I now read the books of friends -- social media friends. Pretty cool to be only that degree separated from authors.

Of  the four lists I will share, this is my shortest...a lifetime of reading novels means I have not caught up.

The nonfiction I share now are all books I have read. I have learned, I have enjoyed. Every one of them has left me a better, smarter, person.

My next two blog posts will be the books my very well-read friends suggested for our bibliotherapy through  tough times.

How many of these have  you read? What would you tell someone about them?

Nonfiction I’ve Read

Devil’s Highway – Urrea
Diary of a Young Girl  – Frank
Dreams from My Father – Obama
Girl Interrupted – Kaysen
Hoosier School Heist – Martin
I Am Malala -- Yousafzai
Ishmael -- Quinn
Man’s Search for Meaning – Frankl
March Trilogy – Lewis
Most Dangerous – Sheinkin
New Testament
Partly Cloudy Patriot – Vowell
Quiet – Cain
Ratf*cked – Daley
Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty – Gorski
Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Manson
Symphony for the City of the Dead – Anderson
Teachers Have it Easy -- Eggers
Testimony – Williams
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack -- Skoot
The Innocent Man – Grisham
The Myths of Standardized Tests – Harris
The Other Wes Moore – Moore
The Power of Habit – Duhigg
The Stories We Live By – McAdams
There Are No Children Here – Kotlowitz
What it is Like to Go to War – Marlantes
Worst Hard Times -- Egan

Zeitoun – Eggers

Monday, January 30, 2017

Message from Choice Summit? "We're Gonna Hurt You Some More"

I am offering my blog to Angel Worth, a Metro teacher who DID attend the School Choice Summit last week. Many educators were refused admittance, with their tickets for the event in their hands. Dr. Rick Cobb, Superintendent of Mid-Del Schools and his wife were turned away with flimsy excuses. Aaron Baker DID get in, and his report of the experience is here...
I found Angel's insights chilling, and I thank her for attending, for asking questions, and for sharing the words of the participants...this gives us a better idea of what the proponents of 'choice' (vouchers) really want.

Into the Lions’ Den
Angel Worth | January 29, 2017

This past Thursday, the Oklahoma School Choice Summit and Expo was held at Oklahoma City Community College. The summit began at 4:00, and after ushering straggling students out of my classroom, grading a handful of late papers, and prepping the next day’s lesson plan, I strode out of the high school brimming with both fire and fear.

Upon arriving at OCCC, I sat in my car for a full fifteen minutes, staring through the windshield at the signs directing the public to the Performing Arts Center. I’m a first year teacher, so feeling out of my depth is no rarity for me. However, the feeling that gripped me as I walked up the sidewalk and into the summit was a different kind of displacement. I’d never really considered the phrase, “into the lion’s den,” until I stumbled over my name at the check-in table and allowed a young, smiling woman to slip a yellow band around my wrist. Dozens of people stood across the lobby. Most were dressed in tailored business suits and dresses, and nearly all wore a yellow scarf draped around their necks. The scarves were handed out as people checked in, but because I did not register in advance, I was not offered one.

After looking over the itinerary I had picked up at the check-in table, I picked the three breakout sessions I was interested in attending, and I made my way to the adjacent building.

Charter School “101”

Brent Bushey, the Executive Director of Oklahoma Public Resource Center, facilitated the “Charter School 101” session. Bushey is a tall, but soft spoken man. He wore a wrinkled navy blue suit, and he shuffled from one foot to the other while clasping and unclasping his hands throughout his presentation. Using charter school jargon, Bushey explained the process for how charter schools are opened, and in the last twenty minutes of the session, Bushey opened the floor to questions.

I searched the room for a friendly face, trying to identify if there was a Public Education ally in the room, but I was alone. The slogan on the banner at the back of the room caught my eye, “Every Child. Every Choice. Every Chance.” I took a shaky breath and raised my hand to ask for clarification on concerns I’ve heard echoed throughout the Public Education community.

“How is the money that charter schools are allocated by the state budgeted, and how transparent is that budget?” I asked. I could hear my own voice quavering. After stating that charter schools are tracked the same way public schools are, Bushey shared a surprising statistic.

“50-70% of charter schools that are closed are closed due to financial problems,” he said.

“So charter schools close most often due to financial mismanagement?” The words had left my mouth before I could bring them back.

Bushey shuffled, “It’s less an issue of mismanagement, and more so financial incompetence.”

Perhaps to Bushey incompetence sounds better than mismanagement, but, as an English teacher, I couldn’t help but be appalled at the connotation associated with a word like incompetence. Is it supposed to be comforting that charter schools across the nation are shut down because they’re too incompetent to properly write a budget? Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, public schools across the state continue to function as their budgets are slashed and their funds are bleeding because of the “incompetence” of our state legislature to do the same thing. That’s a difference between public and private schools that’s worth noting: public schools have the resilience and commitment to their students to keep their doors open, in the face of anything.

Emboldened, I asked another question, “When comparing public, charter, and private schools, the concept of attrition is almost never acknowledged on behalf of charter and public schools. As a public school teacher,” I glanced around the room, “I feel like there are several steps taken before a student is removed from school. Charter schools have much higher attrition rates, which makes me wonder what process do charter schools follow to have students removed from their programs? And what liberties do charter schools take in admitting students with learning disabilities and disciplinary issues?”

Pivoting away from the topic of attrition, Bushey instead decided to address the latter half of the question. Bushey identified himself as a past teacher of students with disabilities and also as a father of a daughter with Down Syndrome. He shared an anecdote of his experience when he first moved to Oklahoma. He called a charter school to see if they would accept his daughter, and they said yes. He then asked them if they had a Special Education program, to which they said no.

“This is where it becomes a matter of school choice,” Bushey said. “I could have sent my daughter to that charter school, but instead I chose a school that was the best fit for her.”

What I got out of Bushey’s story was that a charter school was willing to accept his daughter despite not having the necessary program to ensure her success, which begs the question: what are IEP and 504 programs like at charter and public schools? Are these schools in compliance with IDEA? Do these schools know what IDEA is? *cough cough DeVos*

Advocacy for School Leaders

Before I could ask anymore, the session was over, and I was on my way to a session called “Advocacy for School Leaders.” The session was facilitated by Matt Ball of CMA Strategies and former Representative Hopper Smith of Strategic Resource Consulting. The goal was to teach those present how to elevate those in favor of school choice from “passive stakeholders” to “active advocates.”

Outside of Matt Ball referencing Waiting for Superman as an informative source on charter schools, the thing that caught my attention most took the form of an older man named Charlie Daniels, who I later found out is the Vice President of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund. With both Senator Pederson (District 19) and Senator Rader (District 39) in attendance, Daniels provided scathing criticism of local school boards.

“The school board is the captive of administration,” Daniels said. “Most of them are sinkers; you cannot change their mind with a bomb.”

A few moments later, Daniels went on to say, “You’ve gotta go beyond the local school board. They’re going to be your enemy.”

It was at this point that Hopper Smith became visibly uncomfortable as he nervously laughed and claimed that “enemy is a strong word.” Daniels went on to tell about a time that he spent a day at the Capitol going from office to office of elected officials. He said that one time, he stopped in at a legislator’s office whose district Daniels was not a part of. Daniels told the legislator that he should vote in favor whatever school choice bill was on the docket that session, and the legislator responded by saying, “Thank God. I’ve been getting hundreds of phone calls from Public Education people all day, and now if I vote for this I can say I’ve got some cover.”

It’s good to know that our legislators will disregard the voices of hundreds of constituents in favor of one person’s opinion if it serves the legislator’s own self-interest. In case the legislator has forgotten, their jobs exist to serve use. Their jobs do not exist to serve themselves.

Moving on.

Communities of Color Panel

The next session on the list was one called “Communities of Color Panel.” Before entering the room, however, I had an informative mini-session in the form of a conversation I overheard between former State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi and keynote speaker Dr. Steve Perry.

I initially became aware of the conversation when the words “Betsy DeVos could be good for us,” came out of Barresi’s mouth, but my favorite part of the conversation was when Barresi complained about the “quality of educators that colleges of education are producing.”

Dr. Perry guffawed loudly and replied, “That whole sentence is an oxymoron.”

It took everything in me not to step forward and identify myself as a public school teacher. Instead, I took deep breaths, pictured the goddess of education that is current Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and followed Barresi into the next session.

The communities of color panel was comprised of Dr. Steve Perry, Phillip Gover of Sovereign Schools Project, and Marilinda Garcia of the Libre Initiative. I most looked forward to this session because I wanted to see how the panel addressed the research that suggests charter and private schools compound the issue of systemic racism. Instead, Dr. Perry said in his opening statement, “We are taking a system that was designed in 1635 that was designed to keep certain communities apart...and has so effectively done it, that it almost seems natural.”
Dr. Perry went on to suggest that teachers are the hostages of unions to which we pay our ransom (union dues), and that the public school system is too traditional and racist.

Now, I acknowledge that there is inequity in the public school system. Schools that are located in areas of dense poverty are attended by predominately students of color, and these schools often have lower graduation rates. However, the solution is not to open up charter schools so that portions of the student bodies in lower-income schools are pulled out. What about the students who are left behind? The students who don’t make it off the wait list? They’re left to attend a school that has even less funding. In Oklahoma City, in particular, these students would be left in classrooms that are filled with unqualified and uncertified teachers because of a massive teacher shortage. The solution to this problem is not to open more schools, it’s to fund the school that stands, starting with teacher salaries, to ensure quality teachers are present to provide a quality education. As much as the summit reiterated that the student is the most important part of education, they must recognize that students’ education starts with their teacher.

Before the last session dismissed, the room was notified that a protestor, allegedly, pulled the fire alarm in the theater to prevent the second part of the program from happening. Dr. Perry laughed joyously at this.

“I’ve been to a lot of cities, man,” he said. “And ain’t no city where they’re pulling fire alarms. To those protestors: you showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”

This was met with whoops and hollers as those in the room stood to begin their walk back to the Performing Arts Center.

Main Program

It just so happened that I was behind Janet Barresi on the way back to the Performing Arts Center, so I was lucky enough to see her reaction when we reached the doors to find dozens of pro-Public Education people standing in line, waiting to be admitted to the summit.

Barresi rolled her eyes and shared a look with the woman who had been accompanying her, and they pushed their way through the line to get into the lobby. As I had already checked in, I followed.

When I reached the front of the line I realized that those who were waiting to check-in were being turned away. Most of them clutched EventBrite registration confirmation tickets in their hands, and one man at the front of line began to get irate.

I asked one of the summit event’s coordinators why the group of people waiting to get in were being denied access to the public event. He claimed that those organizing the summit had caught wind of a protest group on Facebook, and so they cross referenced the list of people who were associated with the Facebook group and the people who had registered for the event, and the summit’s organizers canceled the group’s tickets.

I found out later, however, that several pro-Public Education people were turned away who had no affiliation with the protest group on Facebook, which leads one to wonder what sources the summit organizers were using to decide who could and who could not attend a “public forum”?

I did not stay for the entirety of the main program that was held in the Performing Arts Center’s theater because I needed to go to the store to buy supplies for the project my students were doing the following day. I did, however, stay long enough to hear Rep. Jason Nelson moderate a panel comprised of Sen. Stanislawski, Sen. Loveless, Rep. Chuck Strohm, and Rep. Calvey.

The panel was essentially five men tossing around school choice buzzwords to incite applause from the audience. I’m currently teaching rhetoric to my freshman, and I was almost tempted to start recording the panel in order to have my students analyze and identify the heavy use of pathos and the noticeable lack of ethos and logos in each of the legislator’s arguments for school choice.

As I drove away from the Oklahoma School Choice summit Thursday night, I reflected on what it means to be a public school teacher in the current political climate. Oklahoma teachers have been fighting the state legislator for many years to protect Public Education, and now that fight might find itself carried to the national level with the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

With every anti-Public Ed proposed legislative bill that I read, I feel my faith in the future of Oklahoma public school’s diminish. After leaving an environment where public school teachers like myself were categorized as union thugs, racist, selfish, and inept, my passion for public school teaching was reignited. Since Thursday, I’ve thought back to Dr. Perry’s words again and again, “You showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”

Dr. Perry and many of the other speakers at the summit are not from Oklahoma, so perhaps they won’t understand. However, I feel it necessary to warn them not to mistake determination for being “hurt.” Don’t be so foolish as to misinterpret grit for fear. The war on Public Education has been waging in Oklahoma for many years now, and though it’s been trying and adverse, public schools and their teachers have persevered—and we will keep on persevering.

Angel Worth is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma. She is in her first year as a freshman English teacher, and she decided to attend the Summit to engage in meaningful dialogue and better understand those who support “school choice.”