Saturday, February 16, 2013

HB1659 Will Strangle the Oklahoma National Board Program...Slowly

I should begin this post with a statement of deep gratitude to the state of Oklahoma, the Legislature, and
Education Leadership Oklahoma for giving me and so many others the opportunity to hold my practice up to scrutiny, to challenge myself to work to the highest national standards of teaching and learning devised. I was awarded a full scholarship to go through the National Board process, to video my classes, to analyze and reflect on my teaching. I have repaid my state by staying in the classroom, full time. I have worked with new candidates in support groups and other professional development settings. I have continued to be a reflective teacher and an asset to pubic education in our state. The state's investment in my expertise has been mutually beneficial. I've seen how important this program has been to students in our state; I know we are a national leader in the NBC world. I know how strong we used to be. Now, I'm watching it be slowly strangled to death.

It will be a busy week at the Capitol as lawmakers try to slide out from under their responsibilities to National Board Certified Teachers, transfer that responsibility as yet another unfunded mandates to school districts, and cut the current stipend for NBCTs to a $1000 line in the salary schedule.

Representative Denney's HB1659 will have its first hearing in the Appropriations and Budget Committee Monday morning. I have grave reservations about most portions of the bill, and need to share my concerns.

Historically, Education Leadership Oklahoma has awarded scholarships for the entire amount of the NBPTS portfolio fees of $2700. ELO provides, free of charge, intensive training and organized support meetings for all candidates -- those who received the scholarships and those who decided to pay their own way. Even those pay-your-own candidates were reimbursed for their fees when they attained NBC. Usually ELO awarded 400 scholarships and worked with first-year candidates and Advanced Candidates who have two more years of active candidacy. But, we have been working under a Legislative moratorium on scholarships for the past few years.

Because of that, the only candidates in the state are a handful of third-year Advanced Candidates. Last year, with no scholarships, and no hope of a stipend (the other part of the moratorium), only 9 candidates went through the process. We dropped from 400 candidates to nine. NINE.

Representative Denney's bill reinstates some of what we've lost...but with strings.

Now ELO will choose no more than 100 new candidates (the selection committee is cut from this bill, so ELO is charged to come up with some kind of rules of selection) to receive "a portion" of the fees for the process. Specifically, $1300 of the $2700 cost. Candidates will also receive a $500 payment for expenses. I'll be thrilled to see new candidates being supported by the state, but the amount of support might not be enough for many teachers who are trying to support their families. It troubles me deeply that new candidates will be expected to work under a different set of expectations than all the rest of us have. The law's changes will make pursuing NBC more difficult.

The troublesome phrase 'availability of funds' is literally stricken from the language. That's because Rep. Denney has cleverly figured out how to make the National Board Fund disappear. Under this bill, the state is no longer responsible for paying NBCTs anything. They won't have to worry about whether school districts have the money. Not their problem any more.

That will free up that $15 million to use as merit pay for the teacher evaluation program. We will be losing support of a nationally-recognized board certification, to be replaced by an unproven state patchwork program and the junk science of merit pay based on test scores.

But I digress.

HB1659 crosses out "no school or school district shall be liable for payment of bonuses.' That's because under her bill, the entire responsibility for 'bonuses' will NOW be the districts' She has added a line in the minimum salary schedule for NBC. For the year 2013-2014, instead of receiving the $5000 bonus promised to us by the state, NBCTs will receive a $1000 line in the salary be paid by the districts. NO mention of any financial support for this burden from the state.

Let's do some math. The Legislature usually budgets between $12 million and $15 million for these bonuses. They now send the money to the districts, minus our FICA payment that the state, as our 'employer' SHOULD pay. The districts now bear the cost of processing and dispersing the bonuses to NBCTs. There are 3056 NBCTs in Oklahoma, not all are eligible for the bonus, and many have retired. But, let's pretend they're all full-time teachers in a public school in the state. NOW individual districts must come up with $1000 per NBCT to be in compliance with the law.

In my district, Norman Public Schools, with 143 NBCTs, that means nearly $150,000 must be diverted from an already strapped budget to comply with the law. This in a time when the Legislature has consistently cut funding to public schools. Norman has lost $3.6 million since 2008, with 1500 more students. But, if Rep. Denney's bill becomes law, now Norman will have to cut programs, lay off teachers and support personnel, do something to find that $150,000 to pay NBCTs a portion of the stipend the state promised to pay. Instead of being a point of pride to have NBCTs employed in your district, now it will be a financial liability. Now, if the state would continue providing districts the funds for the NBCT payments, we could start a conversation -- beginning with the reminder that $5000 was the state's promise to us.

Now, remember the state's "generous" contribution toward the candidates' process? If a candidate certifies in the first year of candidacy, the $1000 bonus will not cover the teacher's costs of certification. It will take two years to recoup the money spent. Again, the rules will have substantially changed for any new candidates, and I'm saddened that new candidates won't have the same support I had, and that 3055 other NBCTs had.

There is no mention in the bill about support for Advanced Candidates, and the NBC process is designed to be a multi-year project. I guess Advanced Candidates will have to pay for any retake work themselves, making it even more expensive upfront, and for years after certification. These are all considerable issues for a teacher thinking about NBC.

Now, what's positive about this? Putting the 'bonuses' into the salary schedule allows teachers (I believe) to count this amount toward their teacher retirement. Stipends were specifically excluded. This would have been a help to me as I face retirement. But I would receive $4000 less each year. So, I think I'd've preferred the money in my pocket.

An intriguing statement on page 9 that is never referred to or explained: "It is the intent of the Legislature that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education incorporate the National Board  certification portfolio development into all programs in education leading to a master’s level degree." We had an amazing program at Southern Nazarene University that did just that. The program died when it became apparent the State Legislature was backing away from its commitments to NBCTs and ELO. Now state universities are just supposed to trust them?

I understand the 'emergency' clause with which this bill concludes is just a formality, but it infuriated me. "It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval" Emergency? Oh really? For whom? The Legislature who slid right out from under its responsibilities to the NBCTs of the state, or the school districts all over the state who will be faced with another crippling unfunded mandate?

There is little in this bill I can support. 

Oklahoma Senate Bill Will Rename National Board Fund

So far this legislative season, there are three bills proposed that will fundamentally change the landscape for our National Board teacher program, administered by Education Leadership Oklahoma. One, Senator Ford's SB316 will go to committee Monday.

I do not claim to be an expert in reading and translating legislative bills, but unfortunately I've had more experience in the past couple of years than I'd want. As my husband often points out, I'm much happier reading fiction. But with Common Core coming at us like a runaway freight train, it's time to do some close reading of these bills. The same close reading we'll be forced to impose on our students.

SB316 renames the National Board Certification Revolving Fund, proposing to call it the Oklahoma Teacher Performance Pay Revolving Fund. Yup. Performance Pay. Merit Pay. It does more than change the name of the fund. It modifies the purpose of the funds and redirects the payments.

Now, $15 million will be appropriated for the fund. I was intrigued with the phrase "The fund

shall be a continuing fund, not subject to fiscal year limitations..." in the original law, funds were always 'subject to availability." Good change...except

NOW, after 'bonuses' to NBCTs are paid, all leftover funds will be paid out as TLE bonuses for teachers earning 'superior' or 'highly effective' ratings on their teacher evaluation. NO language here that spells that out. The teacher evaluation process has been a frustrating, moving target all year.

Furthermore, no 'bonus' amount is spelled out for NBCTs. In the original law, it was set at $5000. Nothing here. The TLE bonuses are set at $1000 for superior and $500 for highly effective evaluations.

Concerns? Oh, yeah! NBCTs have already been evaluated by the rigorous National Board process...a highly challenging journey of deep analysis and self reflection of our teaching. We've videotaped in our classrooms, we have analyzed our practice in and out of the classroom. We have produced a multi-component portfolio of our work, and have sat for timed tests. That process is much more demanding than the state evaluation, and yet, now the fund for NBCT stipends will be renamed and shared.

There is no mention of how long NBCTs can receive the stipends, or how much the stipends will be. We will just be sharing our fund with the unproven TLE evaluation system.

I see this as a cynical grab for the money set aside for NBCTs -- money, which quite frankly, we never know will be available (that is the only part of this bill I appreciate...the availability of funds language is struck.

So, the Education Committee will hear the bill on Monday. Look at the list of members, and if your Senator is on the Committee, contact him or her and express your concerns.

We must face the fact that we have little support in the Legislature for this program.

It is an incentive pay program, promising payment IF teachers would hold up their practice to the scrutiny of the National Board Standards. But, once legislators saw a way to strip this program, a national leader, and replace it with true "merit" pay that can be controlled at the state level, we knew NBC was doomed in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is still, even with our small population, in the top ten of states with NBCTs. 3056 NBCTs! Our leaders used to be proud of this fact, we used to provide scholarships for teachers to pursue NBC. Now, not so much.

Contact your Senator! Share your stories and evidence of student learning. Do it now!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"What Do We See? What Does it Mean?"

Those are my favorite questions to ask.I know some students are much more comfortable with focused, yes-no questions, questions with only one answer. But I'm not interested in them. I just read a blog that challenges teachers to stop asking questions to which we already know the answers. That's always been a pet peeve.

The greatest compliment a student ever gave me was an exasperated, "You don't ask questions like other teachers do...the answer depends on lots of things!" I'd asked him who would be the better leader, Brutus or Marc Antony, from Julius Caesar. He continued: "If you want a wimpy, Jimmy Carter leader, Brutus is your man." LOVE that encounter...and you can tell it occurred several years ago. I try never to ask yes-no questions and pose one that give students the right and responsibility to THINK.

I've loved my project this year with the stickies...I've loved watching students place theirs on the white board, then re-place them, then re-place them. I saw students first semester take ownership in their attitudes about reading, and in being good role models. I was eager to do the same thing this semester.

I learned that I'll need to give students a chance to do that final 'vote' and reflection earlier in the semester. I waited too long last January and lost a great opportunity to let students REALLY reflect on the entire semester. See, old teachers can learn!

This semester I have more students -- and 155 votes on the board. Once we had most of the votes set, I asked students those two questions: "What do you see? What does it mean?" Students who'd been in my class before were much more comfortable with my vague questions, and they got right to work. When newbies figured out there was NO right answer, they reflected too.

A summary of their insights:

Sixteen, mostly returning students, said the seven people who hate books hadn't found the right book yet. I loved that, because I do believe that's the key. Jim Trelease, author of  Read-Aloud Handbook, called these books our 'homerun books,' and far too many teens have NOT found theirs yet. At least one student saw it as a responsibility of us all to find good books to read and share. Several students talked about the fact haters probably didn't even know the kind of books they might enjoy. Again, this is in line with what I know about the class...

They talked about choice. "If more people could choose what they read, then they would probably read more." And "There are a lot of people who need a good book" And "Some students don't know there are a lot of good books, you just have to find one that appeals to you."

While I look at this chart and zero right in on the 'HATE' column, feeling already like a failure, students put it into perspective for me. "Starting out, we have over 50 people who love to read. That's brilliant." And "The charts two largest categories are LOVE and love." And "Twenty-six students LOVE to read and only seven HATE it." I know I have at least one challenge: "The most important thing [about the chart] is where my sticky note it. It's on the HATE column." One student put it this way: "Lots of people...are experience readers and can help influence others who don't like it." I am so excited to see comments like shows my students understand we're building a reading community.

We made our reflections a couple of weeks after we placed our stickies, and several students talked about the fact that their attitude has already improved! Woohoo!

"Even after two weeks, I've grown to listen to those different authors I've never heard of or read before and now I want to read them."

"I think that over time people will enjoy reading more in this class. I know I already have."

"I feel like I already like reading more than I did when I first came here."

"I put, on the first day...a sticky... on 'don't like' to read. Now that I read every day, if I put on a sticky note, it would be on 'OK if I choose.' I used to hate reading but now I really enjoy it."

One of the things I love the most about these kinds of questions is I'll get the truth!

"The cynic in me wonders how many people actually LOVE reading."

"Maybe some people just wanted to please the teacher. Maybe some students said they hate it to be funny or make trouble."

"Some people may be trying to suck up a little."

The response that still has me reflecting is this: "...reading isn't a priority in our lives." How can we change that? I know my class, during the semester we're together, makes reading a priority, but what can we do as a school and a society to make certain every young person makes reading a priority?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Happy Teacher Dance -- Senior Discovers Books!

One of the exciting and frustrating things about teaching all semester classes is January and February. Saying goodbye to one group of students, introducing yourself to a new group; writing and administering and grading finals while planning first-week activities; finding the time to put the first semester into perspective while focusing on the new's daunting, and I've never done it completely successfully.

This year is no different. I tried something new this year, and I was eager to see what it meant. We constructed an attitude chart three times during the semester -- the first few days, at midterm and the last day. I goofed, because there wasn't enough time for students to reflect on the new data during the final exam. I'll do better this semester, and then the lesson will be lost. So, at the beginning of the semester, my kids told me what they thought of reading:

We reflected on the data, and what it meant. I was interested especially in one boy who proudly slapped his sticky under "HATE" and let me know, with words and body language and unwillingness to choose a book, that he was a hater. We had a great relationship, and he was never a behavior problem. He just let me know he wasn't going to be a pushover...but then, neither am I. I offered my 'tried-and-true' books: Chris Crutcher, Gary Paulsen, Paul Volponi, Walter Dean Myers...he rejected them all. I finally gave him a stack of 7 books and told him he would choose one of them as his first book, and then we'd go on from there. He did...he read...he wrote. He didn't love the book, but he prepared a book share over it. He complied. That's not enough if my goal is to help him change his mind about reading.

A friend suggested Ellen Hopkins' series starting with Crank. A bold move, one I wouldn't have predicted would be successful. But the friend knew something I didn't. This student has family who struggles with addiction, just as Kristina does in Crank, struggles. His Logs became insightful meditations on what he was learning about his own family dynamics by reading this book. He appreciated all the white space on the pages of poetry as a dedicated non-reader, but he GOT the story. This was his home-run book. And lucky for me there were two sequels!

At midterm, I cleaned the back white board of all stickies and gave students new ones. I am clear to them that I don't want to see them place their sticky because I want to make sure they feel comfortable being honest. My guy, tho, needed me to know some progress was being made. He asked if he could add a new category: "mraw", meaning he didn't HATE reading anymore, but was kind of indifferent. He knew it was progress, and I took it gleefully as progress.

We all kept reading. Students prepared elaborate book-sellers projects and talked to classmates about  their books. He volunteered for the first day, and talked about Crank. His presentation was confident and sure. He was at ease and honest about his interest. I encouraged him to write to Hopkins about what the book has meant...still working on that.

On the last day of the semester, during the final exam, I had students, for a third time, create our attitude charts, again anonymously. Again my student made sure I would know immediately where his sticky was. First the class chart. HATE!!

 Woohoo! One of my missions accomplished. I still have one student who doesn't like reading, but even that student could have moved from "HATE" or "hate" -- I'd like to think so. Together we worked on reading and finding books. Students DID grow as readers and thinkers, and they could see their own growth.

You can't see my guy's sticky from this shot, but it's under 'like' now...He found his book. He found his author. He's learned to write about his books authentically. He knows how to talk about books that matter to him. He is now a reader!

And his last message to me about the impact of the class was there, on the board, under 'like':

In case you can't read: " I like it (reading) as long as it's Ellen Hopkins. Awesome, addictive author." Now, technically, this would put him in the 'OK if I choose' category for his new attitude, but I'm doing the 'happy teacher dance' thinking of the miracle I was allowed to witness last semester....Wonder which student will provide me with my last miracles in the classroom?