Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Blessing...Here's the 'Why'

“Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Buckle up. Hug a dad or a mother. Tell someone you love them.” I know it’s not grammatical. It should end, “Tell someone you love him or her.” Blech. Not gonna happen. “Tell someone you love them” completed our classroom charm.

I seldom forgot in the hectic days, but occasionally I did. Most often, students reminded me to yell at them. They waited, they joined me. It became a sacred tradition.

My motives were simple—I wanted to remind every one of my students, even the ones who were hard to love, that they were precious to the world. They had important relationships in this world. They had responsibilities to friends and family, and to themselves. I wanted the last words they heard from me to be a reminder of how easy it is to be positive, to reach out and make a difference. 

I wanted to create a classroom with mutual trust and respect were paramount. That trust and respect had to start with me...from the first day, from the first Friday. And continue every day, every Friday. Forever.

Sometimes I was the mom who received the hugs, and I accepted them gratefully. Sometimes I was the one who heard, "I love you." I would tell students they'd need to tell someone else too! It was a festive way to end the week -- we all were smiling as we said goodbye. 

I wanted to challenge them to be their best selves all weekend, and to come back to me on Monday, ready to learn. I want to remind them that someone cares about them, believes in them. Trusts them.

Take care of yourself – make good decisions, stay safe.
Take care of each other – look out for friends and family and strangers, reach out to others. Be kind.
Buckle up – please, please, please
Hug a dad or a mother – make a connection with a parent who’s doing the best he can to raise up a kid. Acknowledge her efforts.
Tell someone you love them – acknowledge the power of those words in another's life

Now, I ‘yell’ virtually on Facebook and Twitter. I post every Friday morning and then sit back and wait. It’s a class reunion for me as I watch to see who likes the post, or responds, or shares or retweets. I get to see former students from years past…over twenty years worth of students, all coming by to say, “Hi. I remember. I’m still living up to that charm.” I know the relationships we've forged through our Friday blessing has continued to grow, even after they have left my class, after they've made careers, built families of their own.

Over the years, former students have taken the blessing with them into their lives. Some print their own version on a bulletin board in their dorm room…Others designed original art: a poster or even a meme. One friend paraphrases the blessing to fit her own life and shares it every week with her friends and family. It makes me proud to see others adopt the words into their own lives. I love when they tag me on their own creations. I'm proud they continue to see value in the relationship we've created.

This year, Erin Raiber, a former student is beginning her own journey as a teacher and asked if she could copy my blessing to yell at her students. I love that idea! Those words are still ringing in classrooms…kids are still sitting impatiently to hear the words wash over them. These new students are recognizing their teacher cares enough to send them home for the weekend blessed and protected by love. Relationships are continuing to be strengthened with the words and the meaning behind them. Erin will carry these words into classrooms I'll never see, blessing students I'll never know. 

Now, when you see my posts on Friday, you'll know the rest of the story. These words have power…if not to protect, at least to remind you someone cares, wants the best for you, and holds high expectations of your behavior. The words are the manifestation of the connections we've forged and continue to build every week. 

Take care of yourself. 

Take care of each other.

Buckle up

Hug a dad 

...or a mother

Tell someone you love them!

Miss Erin Raiber, I am so proud of you, and so excited to share my blessing with you. I hope your teaching career is as fulfilling as mine was, even with the sad times. I think my blessing was really about giving me hope and reminding me what really matters in the classroom. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Superintendent Barresi certainly enjoys benefits from being the incumbent in a large group of candidates currently running for her position. She has friends on the editorial board at Daily Oklahoman who regularly supports her positions against all comers.

She can also submit opinion pieces and be assured of considerable inches in the prime-time Sunday edition.
She took advantage of those benefits this week and published an opinion piece designed to head off criticism of her beloved A-F school grades that dramatically illustrate that schools of children in poverty do not fare well…that her beloved A-F really carefully measures the economic status of the parents whose kids attend school. Even the headline, “Poverty not an excuse…” attacks the educators by implication.

Her big opening sounds promising:

“Does poverty have a significant impact on a child’s academic performance? Of course.
Are such problems a considerable obstacle for a student to overcome? Absolutely.

Is poverty, then, good enough of a reason to hold these children to low expectations that essentially relegate them to a lesser education?
No way!”
Look at the two first statements. She seems to agree with critics. But, it's that insincere smile to get close enough to shove her shiv between our ribs with the next two sentences. Nicely played. Surprises no one. We knew it was coming and have made plans to deflect the blade

She’s implying that educators regularly and systematically have low expectations for our students.
What ‘relegates’ poor kids to a ‘lesser education?’ She wants us to believe it’s the educators who work in the schools. Could it be the highest percentage of cuts to education in the country? Could it be bigger classrooms, fewer counselors, fewer librarians? What about less money to replace aging computer labs? What about no money for school libraries to buy new titles? How are educators responsible for any of these real outcomes?

Our policy makers in Oklahoma have turned their backs on our children, at the same time blaming the woes of the schools on the dedicated professionals who do the work. Our policy makers spend valuable resources on a testing climate that helps no one but the testing corporations, and has been proven to be detrimental to real intellectual growth in our kids.

Our policy makers have tricked the public into voting for measures that will severely damage schools in the future. Corporate tax cuts and credits also cut available funds to schools. The picture will get bleaker very quickly.

Three statements in Superintendent Barresi’s editorial raised my English-teacher ire…

It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty, but that should not, and cannot, allow for its acceptance. Poverty is a factor, not an excuse.”


“Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty, but providing a solid education for children in poverty can be a huge step toward giving them a pathway to a different future.”

And, only because I know she doesn’t mean a word of this statement, I’m adding it:

“It will take a tremendous effort, but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task.”

One description of the conjunction 'but' is adversative...what a wonderful word. What a true word in this case. That ‘but’ takes away everything in the clause it follows – its purpose is to slap us with the fact she’s right, and we’re wrong… with that one little word, she implies we DO accept poverty…we DO use it as an excuse. We DON’T support breaking the cycle of poverty.

Think of how we use the word ‘but’ – “He’s such a nice boy, but dumb…She’s so sweet, but ugly.” It negates everything…it contrasts, it sets up the real truth in the statement, after a positive beginning. It’s the snark that says, “You didn’t really believe me before, did you?”

So, two statements that are serious slaps at educators, and we’re supposed to believe her last “but” statement at face value, “but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task?” Ironically, we are, but she doesn’t believe it. This is her pretense to play nice, to show her total support of Oklahoma educators. Educators she hopes will vote for her, right after she gently withdraws the blade between our ribs and pats the bleeding wound. If educators DO vote for her, they deserve this continued abuse. Unfortunately, the rest of us suffer too.

And then there’s: “This is a matter of civil rights.” Many conservative pundits use that phrase, trying to co-opt the civil rights struggle for their own purpose. They want to provide vouchers and charter schools as ways to address inequity.

How about funding schools? Hiring and retaining dedicated career teachers? Assuring library books and working technology in every school?

Yes, equity in education IS a civil rights issue. Here are some ugly facts missing from this fluff-piece: 21,000 children in Oklahoma are homeless.  Also, In Oklahoma, 24% of our children come to us from poor families. According to a very recent study, 85% of variability in school performance is attributable to economic well being of students’ families. Oklahoma schools did not fare any better. The Center for Public Education has combined 19 research studies on class size, and has concluded lowering class size leads to higher achievement, especially in early grades, with an experienced teacher.

No matter how great, teachers cannot combat these realities in the classroom. We need politicians brave enough to do the right thing. If our policy makers were serious about tackling poverty in our schools as the new civil rights issue, let them start here, not on the friendly pages of the DOK

“It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty,” but politicians will continue to ignore and deny in their quest to blame educators.

“It will take a tremendous effort,” but educators will stand alone in this battle.

“Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty,” but educators will be charged to do just that, and blamed when we cannot.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Questions We WISH Media Would Ask our Superintendent

I get frustrated watching interviews of politicians on the talk shows, both national and state. To my husband's irritation, I often yell at the interviewers: "Ask him THIS. Ask your question again -- she didn't answer it. Ask this follow-up question!!" 

Too often politicians are given a free pass on the tough questions and are allowed to simply spout their talking points, taking all the time for the interview, and never having to face an honest question.

It happened on "Flash Point" last month when Superintendent Barresi appeared. No substantive, knowledgeable questions were asked. My Facebook friends and I brainstormed some questions WE would have asked, if anyone consulted us. The questions we wished the media would have asked. The questions that are important. We vented, and some of our questions were rude and funny and pointed. Then we got down to the business of what questions must be asked of our policy makers.

A few of us compiled questions and then read them to work on the tone of the questions. There may still be flashes of anger and frustration in these questions, because educators feel deep anger and frustration at non-educators sweeping the airwaves with their 'reform' messages.  Many of the Oklahoma 'reform' soundbites neatly parallel American Legislative Exchange Council and Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. Both these groups have corporate reform as their goal: high stakes testing to promote students, evaluate teachers, and grade schools, weakening of teacher organizations, and privatizing schools with vouchers and online schools.They support more and more testing in the schools, which drains needed funds from the classroom.

So, here are our questions for Superintendent Barresi on two of her achievements: the third grade retention law, and A-F report card law, both modeled after legislation in Florida. Had our state examined the Florida experiences with these laws, we would have seen deep flaws, that after ten years, have not been solved. But here we are, following blindly, instead of leading the way for Oklahoma's children.

Third Grade Retention/Reading Sufficiency Law

The decision to promote or retain students has historically been made with multiple measures, by a team of educators and the parents. Now one test will determine a student’s fate. What is your response to the parents of a third-grader who are upset that they are being left out of the decision to promote or not promote their child to the fourth grade if the child does not pass the third-grade reading test?

The preponderance of research shows holding a child back based on only one subject (reading, for instance), and not being allowed to promote with their peers, is detrimental. Numerous studies  show retention based on test scores does not improve student achievement or progress through school. Please provide us with the research base used to promote this law, and  share the studies that refute the previously-referenced evidence.

How are schools going to accommodate all the third graders who fail? Those testing unsatisfactory are supposed to be retested in November and if they pass, they will rejoin their fourth grade class mid term. At that point, they will be twelve weeks behind their peers. How does this make sense? What do you see this looking like in a classroom?

Are the 3rd grade reading test scores guaranteed to be certified and published by the beginning of the school year next year in order to make timely retention decisions? 

What provisions should elementary schools make for the staffing needs of third and fourth grades next year? Schools need student numbers at the beginning of the summer in order to make their decisions. With students retained, but possibly moving to the next grade in the middle of the year, what is your recommendation to schools for assuring proper staffing at both levels?

State remediation funding from OSDE to schools is less than $80 per child, from which schools are expected to provide professional development to teachers, supplies for remediation, and salaries for tutors. Explain this allocation, and give districts some guidance in how to stretch this money to provide robust remediation.

A-F Report Cards

The recent research study by research scientists at our two leading universities, peer-reviewed by a Distinguished Professor Emeritus, identified major flaws in our current Report Card Grades. Please cite the mistakes in their research. Cite other education research to support your position, besides the in-house ‘study’ prepared by your own office. What other peer-reviewed, recognized research can you cite?

What kind of accountability will there be in the OSDE office for the troubled roll-out of this year’s school and district grades? What is your response to the frustrations of parents and educators who saw grades change more than once?

What are your plans to adjust the system to account for new schools with no testing data and for schools that are configured in a way that does not fit your model? Why did these schools receive an inaccurate grade instead of no grade?

What is your response to the troubles with Florida’s Report Card the last 10 years: changing formulas, inaccurate data, and flawed scores? How are you working to avoid the same here?

A school's grade is dependent on test scores for a small group of its students, thus rewarding or punishing schools on small samples of test scores. What are your plans to expand the accountability measures to better represent the accomplishments and struggles of schools?

Please address specific concerns about details

• What are your plans to adjust the system to account for brand new schools with no testing data, and schools that are configured in ways that do not fit your model?
• Why is 50% of a school's grade based on growth from assessments that are not designed to measure growth?
• What is the reasoning for counting the lowest students’ scores multiple times? How does this give an accurate picture of a school?