Thursday, June 7, 2012

Legal or not, it's bullying by adults

In Oklahoma, high school students must pass four of seven End of Instruction (EOIs) exams in order to graduate, according to the legislation, Achieving Classroom Excellence, A.C.E. Last week, the Oklahoma School Board heard appeals from several high school seniors who were denied their diplomas because of their test scores. This is not the time to discuss high-stakes testing and the philosophy of lives being shattered because of a test. This blog is a letter sent to the members of the School Board, after personal information about the students who were denied their appeals was published online. Students or their parents had to sign a waiver foregoing their rights to privacy under the federal law, Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act  (FERPA). 

Dear School Board Member:

I am writing to express outrage and horror and to enlist your assistance in reaching out to wronged students. I read recently about the recent Board meeting where you met in executive session to discuss the appeals of several students who have been unable to meet the ACE requirements of passing 4 of the 7 EOIs. I appreciate your protecting the privacy of students by keeping your discussions behind closed doors.

 I was surprised to learn that all the students whose appeals were denied by the Board had their names, their GPAs, and their disabilities published on the SDE website. I know Mr. Gardenhire is telling us it’s perfectly legal, since the students (or their parents, because these high school seniors must be underage) were forced to sign a waiver in order to have their appeal heard. I read the waiver as presented in the Tulsa World, and I saw nothing that said, ‘if you lose, we will publicly humiliate you on our website.’ I DO see ‘weasel words’ that the SDE must be using to justify this act.

I hope you share my deep concern over this act. We are talking about young people, 17 or 18 years old. Young people just starting their lives as adults. Old enough to vote and join the military, yes, but still young. This act may have repercussions for their rest of their lives. And for what? What could possibly be gained by doing this? Is it not-so-subtle intimidation and bullying? Is it a warning to other students who may have to appeal for graduation? Is it an ugly object lesson from the SDE?

I don’t know enough about the law to know if this is even legal. If it is, it is not right. It is not in the best interest of anyone to do this. It is mean-spirited.  I have been told that FERPA, as a federal law takes precedent over a state law, such as the one requiring the waiver to be signed. We could be facing costly litigation, and there’s a part of my heart that hopes these wronged families do choose to sue the SDE.

As a teacher myself, I tell my intern teachers that students learn from us all the time. They may not be learning just the lesson I’ve prepared. They will be learning how adults treat youngsters, they’ll be learning about fairness and justice. They’ll learn how society works. They’ll learn about respect and how relationships work.

I want you to ask yourself and ask Dr. Barresi one simple question: “What’s the lesson our students across the state have learned from what has happened?” Then ask yourself if you want to be affiliated to that answer.

This is an action that can’t be undone. You can’t ‘unpublish’ these names. Taking down the names simply stops future prying eyes from reading about these students. All you can do is demand Dr. Barresi and Mr. Gardenhire take down that page. Apologize to those students and their parents. Work with these young people as they try to earn their high school diploma. 

Support their efforts to move on after this public humiliation.

Claudia Swisher
7550 Nutmeg Drive
Norman, OK
National Board Certified Teacher
Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From New Math to Common Core

So, here we go – a new and improved silver bullet that’s going to save education, revolutionize education: Common Core. My reaction to this reform has been different than my reactions to other ideas. I’ m more frustrated, more angry. I am suspicious.

When I surprise myself like this, I set about watching myself – I analyze my responses, listen to my words. I often learn why, and I think I have.  I think I’m tired. I’ve responded the way a good teacher does to reform after reform for over 35 years. I’ve found the good in each and been ready to move ahead, adopting whatever the flavor du jour happens to be.

My first year of teaching in Indiana, in a sixth grade, self-contained classroom , the state had just legislated New Math to be taught in all elementary classrooms. My teaching math was bad enough (I WAS an English major, teaching on an emergency certificate), but New Math? The gimmick was that each grade would teach the ‘base’ that corresponded with their grade. My mother-in-law was lucky: she taught 2nd grade. Binary! 1 and O. But sixth grade got to teach base six! I was so excited to have a job I did everything I could to prepare and teach, even though I did not understand the underlying philosophy. Didn’t matter – it was new and improved! I would persevere.  I did, New Math did not.

I left elementary the next year, but I knew from my mother-in-law, Indiana’s experiment with New Math was short-lived. As was our flirtation with metrics…we all rushed to understand just enough to stay a few days ahead of our classes. But never fear. Metrics went the way of New Math.

Then there were the Reading Wars…phonics? Whole language? Why not use it all and see what works with each child? I have two children…one learned phonetically and is now a musician. The other, like me, can’t sound out, and she learned using sight words and whole language. But the political landscape in schools didn’t want compromise…we had to declare ourselves in one or the other camp. Now, I hope reading education has found the balance.

Later, Outcomes-Based Education was going to save us. Until it became a political hot-potato. I remember coming back from a field trip with high school kids who asked me what OBE was…their parents were sure it was the first step to Perdition. When I explained it required me, before each unit,  to know what I wanted my students to know and be able to do at the end of each unit, they looked around and shrugged. How was that subversive?

Curriculum Mapping and  4MAT came and went. I found so much positive in both and I’m still using those principles. Technology in the classroom…I’m forcing my old self to use as much as I can, and I’m actually letting my students teach me.

Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, Flipped classrooms, online learning…the list seems endless. And the good in each is undeniable.

Now comes Common Core – Standards for English Language Arts that will coordinate learning standards around the country. Standards will deepen understanding, allow for creativity. Assessments will be more authentic. This will free teachers and students up to teach and learn. It’s just for me, the last. I’ll be retiring before I see teachers adopt, respond, revise lessons, and then be told, “Oh, here’s the next new thing! That isn’t any good.”

Color me tired. CCSS isn’t the first reform touted by non-educators. Legislators and governors have always had these great ideas to ‘save’ education. It isn’t the first with good and bad elements. It’s not the first to promise more than it can ever deliver. It’s just the last for me.

So, in a few years, the short attention span of reformers will have another silver bullet, and teachers will do what teachers always do…they’ll learn, revise, teach, assess, and repeat.

More than angry or suspicious, I have discovered I’m just fatigued. Tired of people who’ve never been in the classroom deciding they know my job better than I, they know my students better than I. 
I started my career with New Math, and I’ll end it with Common Core. 

It’s been a ride, but I’m tired.