Tuesday, June 24, 2014

January, 2011 -- Barresi Slashed NBCTs' Stipends Without Notice.

I found some old files from 2011, the year the dentist began reigning over the OSDE. This post is also about the first State School Board meeting, but it's specifically about the stipends promised to National Board Certified Teachers. 

By law, NBCTs are to receive a stipend every year by January 30, of $5000, as long as they teach full time in a public school classroom in Oklahoma. This is an amazing program that allows dedicated teachers to stay in the classroom where their heart is, and still contribute to their family's finances. 

The speech pathologists piggy-backed on the law for NBCTs, as they did in every other state that rewarded NBCTs, and they received an equal stipend..but they could earn the stipend doing part time work in public schools; NBCTs lost their stipend if they went half time.

The School Board meeting revealed the money to pay the speech pathologists' stipends was "gone." Obviously this was not new information to the Superintendent...she even had speech paths there to speak. No NBCTs were invited or told.

The Board's decision was to take the NBCT funding and add the speech pathologists to that 'bucket' of money. It meant a deduction of $1800 per NBCT, just weeks before the stipend was supposed to be sent to teachers. No notice. Just one fell swoop.

I listened to the Board meeting and took notes. I wrote a letter to the Superintendent. It was my first, and it was the first she ignored. To date, she has ignored every letter, email, snail-mail, and one note I delivered into the hands of her assisitant. Someone from her office has replied to three of my snarky tweets. Three-and-a-half years. Countless leters and emails and tweets. Three replies of under 140 characters.

My notes from listening to the meeting dated 1/30/11:

Ok -- just listened to the School Board discussion to combine all NBCTs and Speech Paths in the same fund. Superintendent Barresi prepared a memorandum (which I would love to see). There were speech paths and school psychologists who were there to speak. The Board voted to prorate PART TIME speech paths. If an NBCT goes part time, there is NO stipend at all. Lots of confusion...I think people just wanted to 'play nice' that late in the day.

In preparation for the meeting Super. Barresi said she spoke to speech paths and the 'legislature' to talk about the fact that the speech path revolving fund was low. A Mona Ryan, who was present and spoke, talked to Super Garrett when she discovered the speech path fund was not fully nowhere with Garrett.

The law that granted speech paths their stipend supposedly mirrors the NBCT-ELO law, but Board member Rozell several times talked about part time speech paths getting a bonus. No NBCT who works part time, or in a private school is eligible for a bonus. Hmmmm...One thing to include in any note to the Board.

Speech paths in attendance were allowed to agree with Super Barresi that their certification was 'life changing.' A school psychologist was invited to the podium to speak, and she had sent a seven-page packet 'comparing' the various 'national certifications.' The Board didn't have it...the attachment didn't open. No one from ELO was invited to speak.

Barresi says, " My understanding is those people (speech paths, psychologists) had to work just as hard for that year, and do the same...." Several times she repeats "We realized it was not...We researched this..."
The saddest thing was a side discussion that confused National Board Certification and national certification. I believe Barresi said "they are all national board certified.'

Again, NBCTs and nationally certified speech paths must NOT turn on each other, but I felt, listening, that there were points of truth that were glossed over or distorted or misunderstood.

I listened to the entire, toxic meeting, to hear if we could discover what happened to the revolving fund for the speech paths, but never heard. That's still the question in my mind...where is the money??
Now I have to take a shower to wash off the stink of that meeting.

More of Super Barresi's words from the recording "We realized, We researched, We talked to Mr. Herron (the man who brought the packet to the Board), We talked to the legislature (there were two legislators there and they spoke)." She certainly had her hand in this. You can almost hear the fatigue in everyone's voices by then...they just wanted OUT of there...

One thing I left out -- 2319 NBCTs eligible for the stipend...695 speech paths and psychologists...some of whom are part time, but getting the stipend.

NO NBCT one was asked to speak...nothing, nada. I don't even know if anyone knew before the agenda was published a couple of days before the meeting...

And my letter to Superintendent Barresi...I believe I sent copies to members of the Board as well. Dated 2/3/11.

Superintendent Barresi,
 I am a teacher in Norman, an NBCT, a finalist for Teacher of the Year at three schools, a Teacher of the Year at two, Norman Teacher of the Year, and a finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. I have been awarded the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, Medal for Excellence in Secondary Education. I have taught 31 years in this state, and took a $1000 cut in pay in 1979, the year our family moved from Iowa. That’s $1000 real dollars of income lost, with one more year’s experience.  I have continued to lose ground compared to my colleagues in Iowa and Indiana, but I have been allowed the luxury to teach because my salary was never the prime salary in our family.

I  am open to changes that may come in the future with a new administration. That said, I was embarrassed, not just by the members of the Oklahoma School Board last week, but by you as well. You were elected by 56% of ‘the people,’ but that means you now represent 44% of ‘the people’ who did not vote for you. You represent us all…even those who voted for someone else, or didn’t vote at all. I’m hoping in the future there will be recognition that you’re working for all the students and all the teachers of this state, not just those who support your quest to expand choice and ‘competition’ in the schools.

I was disappointed by Senator Rozell’s remark about Ms. Russell, but as I listened to the entire meeting, I see two things clearly that I feel you and Governor Fallin deliberately distorted: 1. He is right. She ‘would (will) be worthless to us’ when she is home on leave, during the most critical weeks of the Legislative session. We will have no voice at the State House protecting the interests of teachers and students. 2. I believe without a doubt, you misrepresented the situation for political gain. He did not say she was worthless as a human being. He did not attack a pregnant woman. He pointed out she will not be on the job when all the students and teachers of Oklahoma need a strong, active advocate. Why did you and Ms. Russell even think she should take that job this year, knowing she would be on leave? And why has the position of Legislative Liaison been added to the SDE this year, only to be awarded to a person who will not be present?

This was a highly-charged meeting, and that off-the-cuff remark by a public official who should know better was unfortunate. The way you and Governor Fallin twisted the story made my head hurt from the spin. You chose to attack him, whereas he was attacking the situation we would be in now that Ms. Russell was hired.
I listened to the entire meeting to hear the discussion about the NBCT and speech path stipends. More concerns, Madam Superintendent.

It appeared, through your words, as if you and Mona Ryan worked together with Mr. Herron (I do not know if I spelled his name correctly) on the proposal to use the NBCT stipend fund to cover the losses in the speech paths’ fund. You continuously used the word ‘we’ when talking: “We researched…we realized…we worked with Mr. Herron…we talked to the legislature.” If there was time to do all this prior to the Board meeting, why was there no time to alert OCTP or ELO, or any NBCT of the meeting and the concern?

Your contention that “My understanding is those people had to work that year as hard…and do the same…” is not true. The two national certifications are extremely different.  But while I am deeply concerned, and always have been, that speech paths and school psychologists piggy-backed off the NBCT law, that’s a done deal.  I refuse to turn on a fellow education professional in these troubling times. Some policymakers may actually hope we’ll be distracted by in-fighting  and forget what the real concern is. I hope you misspoke when you said, “They are all National Board Certified.” Only NBCTs have National Board Certification.

It sounds like speech paths can earn the stipend if they’re working part time. If so, that law does not, as Senator Rozell believes, mirror the NBCT law. To earn the stipend for NBC, a teacher signs a promise every year that she works full time in a public school in Oklahoma. I’m hoping you can clarify that, as I have several  NBCT friends who gave up their stipend when health concerns forced them to work part time. I would hope their lost bonuses will be pro-rated back to them if that is the case.

I have three other deep concerns about that discussion. First and foremost, where did the money go for the speech paths’ revolving fund? Why aren’t any of you screaming that question? Where is the money? Why was it gone?

Why were no NBCTs allowed to speak at the meeting, why was the director of OCTP not recognized to speak, when there were speech paths and school psychologists who seemed to be invited to the meeting specifically to speak? Was OCTP informed of this meeting, or was it only speech paths and psychologists? You even prompted them, “Your national certification was life-changing…?” and asked them to speak. Any NBCT could have been eloquent and specific about our certification, and the impact on student learning.
And, finally, why did this all happen literally days before the checks were to be in the hands of the NBCTs and speech paths, by law? Why did this happen NOW?

You are my boss and I assure you I will work as tirelessly as I always have for the students of Oklahoma. I am a fourth-generation teacher. This is my family’s business. My heart and soul are in this profession. I will go to school tomorrow and revel in the student learning I will witness. I will be here tomorrow and beyond, no matter if policies and laws make my job increasingly difficult. I’m a teacher; I adjust and make things work.

Politics aside, I will go back to my classroom and do what I do best: teach, and impact the learning of my students.

I am requesting copies of the proposal Ms. Ryan gave the Board, and would further request a copy of the ‘comparison’ chart the school psychologist who addressed the Board referred to. I think all of us deserve to see this information.

I appreciate the opportunity to be honest here and await a reply.

Claudia Swisher
National Board Certified Teacher
Norman North High School

Needless to say, I never received the answer to my question, "Where did the money go?" and I did not receive notes. I received nothing from them then, and less since then.

This is why we must vote today, and if need be, in the runoff. 

Vote Today! And Thank Superintendent B for the Inspiration.

Superintendent Barresi has inspired teachers and parents and administrators, not by her inclusive style, but by her disdain. Her arrogance. Her lying. 

She's inspired some of the most active, informed education bloggers in the country:

Rob Miller
Jason James
Seth Meier
Brett Dickerson

There are other equally insightful bloggers as well, but these are the most vocal

She has inspired parents in a whole new way. They have learned to organize and lobby:
Tulsa Area PLAC -- Parent Action Leadership Committee
Oklahoma Central PLAC

Cleveland County PLAC

There are other active parent groups, but these are the ones I work with. 

She's inspired a huge coalition of churches, civic groups, and teacher organizations:


She inspired my career as a blogger, first in the last years of my career, aware that I represented not just myself, but my school and my district. I was careful to stay on the safe side of incendiary until I retired, and then I let loose.

It all started for me with the first School Board meeting...most educators knew they happened, but we were busy, and they were held during the school day.

That first one was a doozy. I listened to a recording of it in my office one Sunday afternoon. Between the yelling of the members of the Board, and MY yelling at the Board and the Superintendent, my husband came in and closed the door...we were interrupting his football game.

The next week, Barresi's 'journalistic' arm printed a cartoon of the meeting: The Board was portrayed as willful, misbehaving children. Barresi was portrayed as the harried's buried someplace in the archives, but we don't have time to find it.

I wrote a letter to the editor, surprisingly never published. I share it on FB, because I didn't know how this new-fangled blog thing worked.

Barresi has inspired be vocal, to unite forces, to stand up for our students. She must inspire us to do one more thing: VOTE!

Here's my letter that never got published.

The cartoon and editorial in the Sunday Oklahoman depicts the Oklahoma School Board as a bunch of misbehaving youngsters and Superintendent Barresi as the harried teacher trying to keep order. I listened to the meeting online, and I have another perspective.

Much has been made of Senator Rozell’s inappropriate remark. But, as any teacher or parent will tell you, the person who swings the roundhouse, as he did here,  is not the one who started the altercation, just the one who got caught. So, who was throwing sand and poking sticks? Listen to the meeting and you’ll see Superintendent Barresi was not an innocent victim of the mean old Board.

Some of the sand thrown by Superintendent Barresi:

  • ·         Not replying to Board member Gilpin’s requests for information about the proposed members of the Superintendent’s staff, people who worked on Superintendent Barresi’s campaign but have no education training or experience.
  • ·         Appointing people to senior positions in the SDE who have neither training nor experience in education. Superintendent Barresi’s answer was they ‘had worked with educators.’
  • ·         Allowing her campaign aides to work in senior positions at the SDE before the Board approved their hiring
  • ·         Paying these campaign aides with funds from a private Foundation
  • ·         Appointing a woman to the position of Legislative Liaison who will be absent from the job during the most important weeks of the Session
  • ·         Introducing her ‘staff’ and sharing the happy news about new babies before any staff was approved.
  • ·         Increasing the salaries for her campaign aides from the previous staff positions from $75,000 to $96,000.

So, imagine yourself on the playground with another child who threw sand in your face, who poked you with a stick, but only when no one was watching. Then imagine you’re the one who got blamed for the entire altercation. Did you do the wrong thing? Absolutely. Should you say ‘sorry’? Absolutely. But what about the sand-thrower? Should she say ‘sorry’ too? Absolutely.  

Happens every day on playgrounds.  Teachers know to look for the child with sandy fingers , dropping a sharp stick.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What About Those Odds?

Here in Oklahoma public education we have been living a dystopian nightmare…with a Superindentist, driven by out-of-state overlords, to rebrand, reshape education in our state. From the public schools described in our populist Constitution, to charters and online schools, to vouchers and tax credits for ‘contributions’ to private schools. She has, as her Information Ministry, one of the two major newspapers in the state. Close ties between the paper and the Superindentist are well documented and she wields her power over the paper to smear opponents, to force half-hearted endorsements, and to slant news in her favor.

The Superindentist takes her marching orders from Jeb Bush, leader of Foundation for Excellence, as in FEE-D his political ambitions on the backs of children and teachers….he wants to use his minions to create a national presidential campaign. His minions are charged with creating little ‘utopias’ around the nation to which he can point and crow of his success.

Unfortunately, if you’re not the overlord or his Superindentist minion, you’re not living a utopian existence…You’re living with the control, the shortages, the fear. We have seen more mandates, more demands being placed on schools as support has dwindled. Schools are being starved to prove they are failing. The disdain for our work. The single-minded concentration of power. The disrespect for privacy of our students.

As is often the case, we contributed to our own misery in this dystopian society…we voted for the Superindentist. Or, worse, we didn’t vote at all. We were too busy, or too uninterested. We couldn’t be bothered. We gave the Superindentist and her overlord dominion over public education. And we suffered mightily.

From the first Board Meeting it was clear she would have her way. She bullied, fired, defied. She enlisted the Governor and Legislators. She encouraged bills that changed the landscape of educators’ and students’ work in the classroom. Third graders now flunk based on one test…well, not this year and next. But the law is still in place and it is a labyrinthine task to bring your third grader safely through the red tape and requirements. What did the Superindentist do? Called the legislators who overrode her wishes, “Pathetic and outrageous” and fumed at the insurrection…

Now schools and districts are graded…in a system so deeply flawed research scientists have twice declared it a disaster. What did the Superindentist do? She hired her own researcher, and paid her to disagree with the scientists. So there. The Superindentist continues to support her A-F grading system, recently calling it ‘great’ in a candidate debate. She was the only one.

The Superindentist pledges to work for expansion of charters and vouchers. It’s part of her platform. She pledges to restore the punitive aspects of third grade testing. She pledges to install merit pay, based on the state’s version of value-added measures, a completely discredited system, proved to be junk science.

She travels the state, occasionally dropping in on candidate debates, smiling her insincere smile, speaking in her carefully-modulated hypocritical voice, sounding much like Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter. She has a plan for her second term. She’s been open about much of it. More high stakes tests, more charters, more vouchers.

With HB3399 now law, whoever holds the power in the OSDE will control the manner in which our new Standards will be written. Power to include or ignore educators. Power to revise at will, even after groups have agreed on the Standards. Power to control what and how we teach. If we give her this power, we are fools, willing accomplices in our own destruction.

Unlike dystopian societies in literature, we have the power to change, to reject the Superindentist and her overlord. We created this landscape by our own neglect, and we can change it.

All it takes is a vote…my vote. Your vote. Your neighbor’s vote. Your family’s vote. Your Sunday School class’s votes. Each of us doing our part.

Indiana overthrew the overlord’s representative. Sent him packing back to the overlord, defiant until a scandal brought him down too low for even the overlord to save him.

We can do this…we can vote…vote early, vote Tuesday. We can vote and end this dystopian world now.

Because if we don’t do it Tuesday, the odds will never be in our favor.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Janet Barresi, In Her Own Words

I have a very selfish reason (three, actually) for fighting Janet Barresi’s reelection bid: my granddaughters. Haley is entering ninth grade, Ashley will be a seventh grader, and Katie just finished first grade. Their experiences in school have been defined by the reforms Janet Barresi has championed, their schools’ cultures have been tainted by her reforms. There is a toxic climate of fear in schools that can only be changed with a change of Superintendent.

I will use her own words to highlight the damage she’s done. She recently participated in two debates, one with all of the Democratic candidates, and one with her main Republican rival.

I want to start with the second debate, because it goes to this grandmother’s heart like a stake.

During the open-question portion, a fifth grader asked both candidates a question. I’ll quote the exchange:

“During an open question-and-answer period at the end, Caiden Catcher, a fifth-grader from Union Public Schools, told the candidates: “I tested for two weeks, and I also tested with a computer. I want to know how you will decrease testing.” Barresi responded, “If you’re a fifth-grader, I really don’t know why you were tested for two weeks, because there should be only two — two tests that should take about an hour apiece. Perhaps those were tests given by your school district.” Hofmeister then said, “I am so sorry you had to spend so much time testing and not learning. … I don’t know the particular details of your school, but everywhere I go, I hear over and over again that schools are responding to mandates. “We need to have a leader who will listen and not dismiss. There’s a practicality that you only understand when you are a part of it and you are there and you can see and feel the stress of it. It is toxic, and it needs to change.””

Look again at the Superintendent’s words, her first words to this child: “IF you’re a fifth grader…” Before addressing the question…IF? IF? “If you’re too dumb to know what grade you’re in? If you’ve made a mistake?”

Then, she contradicts the child who DID test for two weeks to explain that was wrong. This fifth grader is supposed to be the business of our Superintendent.  Every public school student in Oklahoma should be the most important stakeholder for our leaders. Instead of responding to the child’s concerns, instead of respecting the child, complimenting the courage it took to get up and ask that question, Barresi dismisses the child and the concern with her ‘IF’. Also notice the slap at the school district, trying to instill distrust in the professionals closest to the students.

I was struck by the difference in tone from Hofmeister, even on the page: “I am so sorry…” She begins by acknowledging this student’s concerns and feelings.  I can see this little one’s shoulders relaxing, that quick breath as someone listened to the question and responded with respect.

Barresi says over and over how she’s in office to protect the students of Oklahoma, not the adults. Well, she had a very public opportunity to show us how she values our kids…she failed the test in my mind. I envisioned my Grands asking that question. I know they’re the experts about how many tests they took, how long they tests…They know what those testing days feel like, the anxiety, the stress. This Granny might have launched herself toward the stage if the Superintendent had spoken so dismissively to my girls.
Oh, and by the way…guess what? The child is right. The Superintendent of Public Instruction is wrong. Is she smarter than a fifth grader? Guess not.

Earlier in the week candidates participated in a forum and I listened with interest, as this was one of the first appearances both she and her other phantom opponent, Brian Kelly, have attended.

Barresi’s closing statement tells me everything I need to know about her delusional views of our schools, our kids, and the climate she has created in Oklahoma.

She rests her campaign on three pillars: Reading, Accountability and Parent Choice. And her record as a ‘reformer’.

At least she left Horton the Wilders at home that evening, but she is still dead-wrong about early Reading. She said there was no bigger problem to overcome in our state. Nothing was more critical. She continues to misunderstand reading difficulties and special education, and told us that special education numbers would drop when we ‘solved’ reading. Dropouts would also magically disappear when all our children read at level.

The subtext here is she loves her punitive RSA…she believes flunking third graders on the results of one test is a good thing. Remember Katie? She could easily be caught in Barresi’s buzz saw called RSA. She and her classmates will NOT be protected by the recent HB2625. Her mother and dad and teacher will NOT have the right to work together to decide the best placement for Katie if she ‘fails’ the reading/ELA test when she’s a third grader. There is just as much research that shows children who are retained become our dropouts as there is showing remedial readers are dropouts. She said we need to move forward (punitive RSA), not roll back (HB2625) our efforts. How interesting, considering she recently fired all the REAC3H reading coaches around the state…great way to move forward.

Her second campaign issue is Accountability – more tests, more punishment. Earlier in the debate she stood confidently behind her A-F system of grading schools…confident and alone: the only candidate who had a good word for A-F. She told us it was great; she told us it was accurate. She stands behind it. She continues to ignore the independent research of the leading scientists in our state. Accountability also includes her teacher evaluation system that rolls out connected to test scores.  She loves her high-stakes tests, and she reminded us all that ACT, which will be aligned with CCSS, can no longer be used in OK, since HB3399 specifically says our curriculum, our standards, our assessments must not resemble CCSS at all…really wish the moderator would have asked a follow-up question about that…

Her third issue is no surprise for those of us who paid attention, during her campaign in 2010, and during her 3-1/2 years. Parent Choice. Janet Barresi never met a charter or online charter she didn’t love. Choice…If it’s the choice to leave public schools. Parent Choice, if it’s the choice to take a special education student out of a public school, use public funds to attend a private school, where there may or may not be IEP services available. She and Rep. Jason Nelson are firmly for parent choice…to leave, to abandon. He exhorted us to ‘just trust parents’ about vouchers. She trusts parents…UNTIL it comes to third graders’ parents. Then, the choice and trust are turned off like a spigot. No trust is afforded parents who want to work with teachers to properly place their children for the next year. Parents obviously cannot be trusted to sit in a team and make that kind of decision.  Her deep disconnect makes my head spin.

So, a vote for Janet Barresi, in her own words, is a vote for a leader who ignores the concerns of our children, even publically denies their concerns. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against my granddaughters and their friends. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against parents’ ability to make educational decisions about their children, WITHIN public schools. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote for more high stakes tests, and more high stakes. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against the public schools in Oklahoma.

Her own words are clear. Will we listen? Katie and I need you to listen and vote for a change. We’re counting on you.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our VOICEs Will be Heard! VOICE Call to Action 6/8/14

I just attended an invigorating meeting of citizens from around the Metro, all committed to learning more about the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Schools. VOICE, Voices Organized In Civic Engagement, have formed an alliance of church populations, OEA, PTA’s PLAC’s to inform and listen. They’ve done informational meetings all over the state and have identified broad issues from those meetings. I attended one in Norman, and I can tell you, the information was top-notch, the ability to talk and listen, to identify issues, was beneficial.

VOICE collected all the feedback to their question: What are the elements of a Quality School and created broad categories:

School Climate

The planning committee for today’s meeting wrote questions from this feedback, and provided a chart in the program for listeners to take notes and highlight what was important to them.

I could NOT tweet fast enough, so I took notes of the meeting…Hopefully I captured exact words, or intents of the speakers. I will identify speakers when I can, but the meeting was so well organized and ran so quickly that I often couldn’t catch who said what.

  • Pastor Theodis Manning: Let’s stop report-carding everyone in this state.
  • Can we commit ourselves to take action.
  • One of the best public things is the public schools
  • Rev. Lori Allen Walke read us “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and ‘the system has no clothes’ was our rallying cry.
  • Lori Allen Walke: there are only 125 days a year for instruction after testing, benchmarking, and preparation for tests.
  • Lori Allen Walake: OK spends $5.3 billion a year for testing
  • Pastor Ray Douglas called for collaboration for student performance systems…that will champion our schools
  • Parents told stories about their children – special education, IEP students, ELL students. They highlighted their concerns and focused us on real kids with real needs. Very powerful
  • Melodie Garneau: Shouldn't the goal be to help them (IEP students), not label the school?
  • Ruben Aragon told us that OKC schools expelled low-performing students in an effort to raise A-F grades, devastating families.

There are four Democratic candidates for Superintendent. In alphabetical order: John Cox, Freda Deskin, Jack Herron, Ivan Holmes. All four were present.

There are three candidates on the Republican ballot: Janet Costello Barresi, Joy Hofmeister, Brian Kelly. Neither Barresi nor Kelly appeared. Joy Hofmeister sat all by herself. The moderators set down the rules that they would read each name in order, whether or not the candidate was present. It became our ‘inside’ joke to yell, “absent” every time Baressi’s name and Kelly’s name was called.

Six questions were asked of each. I learned that the candidates were given the questions about 30 minutes in advance of the meeting, and the questions were printed in our programs, along with space to take notes and rate the answers. Candidates had from between 45 seconds and 1-1/2 minutes to respond. The timekeeper was ruthless. Heather Sparks and Pastor James Dorn took turns asking the questions. And, as the master teacher she is, Heather would pointedly ask each candidate to answer the question with a ‘yes or no’ if he or she wandered off topic. Notes were recorded by Tammy Greenman on a large chart in front of the candidates, with summaries of their answers. My friend, Michale Gentry said THIS was a good example of a data wall...a little 'teacher humor' for those of us inundated by data.

#1: Would you work to eliminate high stakes testing?
Cox: IEP kids are inappropriately tested, he would work to develop workforce skills
Deskin: HST is child abuse. A single test should never define a child
Herron: Must eliminate HST – tests should be tools written by teachers.
Holmes: We should ignore tests; they are flawed. Let educators control education.
Holmes: Tests don’t teach kids; teachers teach kids
Hofmeister: HST must go away. That would take away pressure, toxic climate. Tests should be tools

#2 How would you increase funding directly to the classroom for smaller classes and teacher salaries?
Hofmeister: As an OK School Board member, she saw money staying at OSDE that should have gone to the schools. One-size-fits-all solutions from OSDE are not the way to go.  We must respect local control of schools
Cox: $200 million gone from OK schools. Teachers need raises to pay the bills. They also want to be valued and supported.
Deskin: Funding for schools keeps shrinking. Resources must flow to the classroom, smaller classes. Talked about having 45 kids in a class.
Herron: OK schools have not been fully funded since 1981. HB1017 has not been fully funded. Money is needed for schools, for pensions, for teacher pay
Holmes: OK has ruined teacher morale and starved teachers. Where is the lottery $$? We must ask Legislators to fully fund education.

#3 What are your top-three recommendations for restoring a love of learning?
Cox: Reduce testing; take care of children
Deskin: Relationships with students & families; make education relevant; then add rigor as internalized learning
Herron: Kids have got to want to go to school; K-3 flexible pacing
Holmes: Assure save, secure schools; teachers who care about students and love them
Hofmeister: High expectations and support (class size, environment); time (less time testing, more time teaching); trust, which must precede relationships

#4 How would you address testing company problems?
Hofmeister: Establish advisory groups – consistent groups, not ceremonial ones, or ones formed in crisis. There must be an advocate in OSDE, not adversary. OSDE must be in allegiance with the people in the state
Cox: VOICE, OEA, other stakeholders must be involved. 3rd grade ‘reading’ test measured language arts; 5th grade writing test measured reading comprehension. He would rely on VOICE. “It will take all of us to turn this thing around.”
Deskin: Pilot assessments with small groups/ Create tests with partners
Herron: Go back to paper-and-pencil tests. All of us should be involved, in collaboration
Holmes: Put the testing people out of business. Mentioned ALEC.

#5 Would you do away with A-F grading of schools?
Cox: Yes
Deskin: Yes
Herron: Yes
Holmes: Yes
Hofmeister: Yes

#6 What are your ideas for an alternative accounting system for schools?

Hofmeister: Called accountability as a series of mirrors to reflect back, accurate, valid, and reliable information. Mentioned research scientists who had offered to help OSDE. Said she would use their help.
Cox: Listed HST, TLE and data collection. We must look at the whole child
Deskin: All schools are different. We need to identify school climate and vision concerns – spoke of her school which requires new students to participate in character-building activities and diversity awareness.
Herron: Listed demographics, funding, testing and curriculum
Holmes: Smiles on kids’ faces and smiles on teachers’ faces important. Teachers must help kids think. Students must know they are safe.

Hofmeister got a positive response when she said the current administration is a ‘closed fist’ when working with schools.

We have the candidates…well, most of the candidates…on record. In front of 1500 Oklahoma voters.

Several candidates for other offices attended and introduced themselves. Joe Dorman, candidate for Governor got an enthusiastic reception.

Linda Hampton charged all who were present to commit to talk to five people about this election every day until election, and encourage them to speak to five people a day. The energy was positive.

Linda Hampton: Our children's future will be decided (with this race). Be their voices. Learning not testing is vital.

Suzanne Nichols: Take education back from the testing companies.

NOW we must vote. And make sure our loved-ones, our neighbors, our friends, vote. 

We must grow that energy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Why We're Not Celebrating -- Yet

Common Core is repealed! Yay!

Common Core is repealed! Oh dear.

Common Core is repealed! Now what?

The two teachers collaborating here represent other educators...we know most of our colleagues immediately went to the third response: Now what?

We saw all these responses and more in the past few days. There’s an old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Man, have we been cursed.

Christie Paradise and Claudia Swisher are teaming up on this post and one more. We have forged a strong friendship based on some strong differences in political leanings. Often we are in agreement, and equally as often we are not. Christie often says that if you look at the facts, we should really not get along.  But instead of focusing on those facts, we have spent years talking, listening to each other respectfully and with open hearts and minds, and over that time, we have learned much from each other.

Christie is an elementary teacher and has taught 5th, 4th and 3rd grades.  She has been involved in Oklahoma’s adoption of CCSS as part of the Oklahoma Educator Leader Cadre (ELC).  Originally, this was part of the PARCC implementation, but as the state pulled out of PARCC and began moving to Oklahoma Academic Standards, the team stayed together to help Oklahoma teachers and administrators find their way through the changes. She proudly continues to serve on the ELC and will be working to address some of the issues we discuss here.  Christie neither supports nor opposes CCSS and feels that any needed changes could have been done through the normal revision process for state standards.  As a relatively new teacher (now going on 10 years in the classroom) and alternatively certified at that, Christie has found that collaborating on curriculum and standards both at the state level and the district level has been extremely valuable.  Her biggest disappointment in the last few years has been that many politicians do not share that willingness to collaborate with teachers, parents and administrators.  This has resulted in bills that may be good intentioned but are poorly implemented and cause chaos in the school system.

Claudia retired before CCSS would be an issue in her classroom. But, as a 39-year teacher, she has seen the appearance and disappearance of many reforms that were going to be ‘the answer.’ As a teacher, she loved being in the middle of innovations in the classroom, and would have worked to make CCSS applicable for her students. But, she’s grateful she’s on the sidelines for this reform effort. Her concerns with CCSS include the fact classroom teachers were not allowed to participate in writing the Standards, only ‘responding’ to them after they were written. She objects to the narrow focus in the ELA Standards of close reading without context, to the use of excerpts at the expense of longer works. She is deeply skeptical of the involvement of Bill Gates and his money. She agrees with Senator John Brecheen, who called CCSS an ‘experiment’. The Standards and the assessments that accompany them, are untried. No district or state has piloted and researched the effectiveness of this grand experiment. Most troublesome is the fact that these assessments, when they come online, will be high stakes -- for students or teachers or schools, or all of the above. This seems to be a disastrous course to her.  She has out-lived many other hunches of non-educators who just knew THIS idea was going to work. She is deeply skeptical of CCSS, and has been vocal with that opinion.

So, HB3399. One would think Christie would be an opponent and Claudia would be a supporter. But, the issue is much more complicated than that.
As educators, we both see the rush to repeal as a mistake which will leave schools and teachers with more questions than answers, more doubts than reassurances. We see this issue with schoolteachers’ eyes. The eyes of teachers who have the obligation to provide quality lessons regardless of the quality of the standards. The eyes of teachers who are accountable to our students and their parents.  The eyes of teachers who feel the responsibility for reaching every child, no matter where they come from, and for helping them love learning.tweets.jpg

We have watched social media activity and want to share other educators’ concerns. Educators will be charged with making standards work, with educating students for ‘college and career,’ with preparing them for high stakes assessments. We share these concerns with the hope of furthering conversation and finding common ground. We know there are only 2-½ months on the calendar before students return to classrooms. Until they have the expectation that teachers will be ready to teach.

Some teachers are wondering what they’ll be teaching next year...not just the grade, but the standards, the objectives. Teachers are deeply practical folks. We want to know how to plan, what to plan for. We want the certainty that we’re going in the right direction. But at the moment we are in an alphabet soup of ‘what the heck?’

"Not a laughing matter but kind of funny that we teachers were asking each other the same question at the beginning of the school year last year. PASS? OAS? CCSS? The last I read was that we are back to PASS."

“Okay, Yeah! Fallin signed 3399. But my question is... if we are to use our current PASS over the next 2 years, WHAT will our OCCTs look like in the Spring? Don't we have a contract with Measured Progress already for CC like tests? I am thrilled CC is tabled, but WHAT am I suppose to prepare my students for in the Spring 2015??? Anybody? Please Help!”

“So, what does this mean in my classroom? Will it change anything at all?”

What will our policy makers say to these teachers? Remember, 2-½ months and classrooms are filled with kids ready to learn.  Also, summer is a teacher’s time to plan for the next year.  Lesson plans are being made, curriculum is being studied.  For teachers changing subjects or grade levels, this is the only time they have to prepare before they are surrounded by students who rely on them to know what they are doing.  Are they supposed to spend their (unpaid) summer time and effort getting ready for PASS, but to be tested like OAS?  Teach PASS and be tested like PASS?  Or should they bide their time and save their money, knowing all of this will change in 2 years?  Those 2 years that are vital for our students, the only two years they will spend in those grades.  

Another concern we have seen deals with the changing of content from one grade level to another when changing from PASS to CCSS and back.  For example, if Grade 5 was responsible for teaching fractions under PASS, but it moved to Grade 4 in CCSS, a school transitioning to CCSS would have taught it this last year in 4th grade.  Now that we are back with PASS, that same skill will be a 5th grade skill.  Do you teach those kids the same content again because the standards changed?  Do you invest your time and money in resources that are more advanced, knowing they will only be used this year?

Other teachers voiced deep frustration at the time, effort, and money they and their districts have invested in the past four years, getting ready for a CCSS party that will never happen. They feel betrayed. They’d done what was expected of them, got on board with CCSS, prepared, collaborated. Now everything changes. With very little time to change directions.
“You know this whole education system is a complete mess! What's ironic is that 4 years ago when we started working our tail ends off by aligning our curriculum to common core and having tons of meetings, and spending countless hours figuring out how and what to teach... I said the words,"this is all a waste of time because it will never come to fruition." People said "oh it's happening!" Well, I'm saying it.... I told you so! What a complete mess!”

“I have been going to trainings and doing research for 4 years preparing for this. Back to square one. Will we have these standards before school starts or back to PASS? What will the test be like? We changed our entire organization of language arts for next year so that each teacher teaches English and Reading in a block to better accommodate CCSS. If it is back to PASS, we are better off staying split like we were before.”

“Well, I'm sooooo glad I spent so much money on Common Core resource books... And I get to do it again when we get new standards! Yea...not. But in all seriousness, I hope people realize the real problem was not with the standards as a whole, it's with the how and why of the assessment process. Of course, this is my opinion and I'm giving it free of charge.”

“Though I don't love them, the CCSS for High School English are not impossible or inappropriate. (The CC testing, however, is a completely different story!) I'm obviously not qualified to comment on other grade levels or subject areas, but we have been transitioning to these standards since they were adopted. MILLIONS of dollars (and COUNTLESS hours) have been spent throughout this process.”

“Now, we go back to the standards we abandoned years ago, then re-transition to OAS...or whatever they will be called next (and they will most likely be VERY similar to CCSS).”

“So many school districts spent money on new books and training for teachers also. I want to know how the state is going to pay for these, once again, 'new standards' to be written and researched.”

"And yet again, Fallin and Barresi cause millions of dollars of problems, years more of uncertainty for Oklahoma schools, and more years of discontinuity for the children who are being taught during this time.”

All these frustrations come from teachers’ deep commitment to their students. Teachers want to do the right thing. They want to contribute to a positive learning experience. They think first of kids and how to teach them.

“Be careful of what you ask for, it can and probably will get worse. The main concern I have what is best for the student. This is not a race to see who can come up with the hardest test, to show who is the best in the US. How about we measure growth. Keep in mind research shows that no measurable gains can be made for 3 full years after implementing a new program. Again, 3 years before you begin to see growth.”

I have complete faith in teachers to keep teaching what students need to know to be successful, but it frustrates me that my own children will go through HALF of their PK-12 education without clear standards for their teachers to focus on! When will our students and their education become more important than political games?”

“I hope the people who asked for this get what they wanted, because what they did was put the state legislators 100% in control over what the children in our schools will be learning. They have made politics the number one factor for setting curriculum.”

HB3399 was passed and signed after schools had dismissed for the summer. Children have left for vacation; teachers have cleaned up their rooms and turned in their keys. But HB3399 now changes everything for those teachers and those students, with only 2-½ months before they’ll reunite. The responses we shared here are those first, “How will this affect me and my classroom and my students” thoughts.

Many of these issues/questions/concerns could have been addressed with a more gradual change both to and from CCSS.  Underlying these first thoughts, however, is the law itself, and our leaders’ public comments. Do we really know what it says, beyond waving a magic wand and making CCSS disappear in Oklahoma? Are there surprises waiting for us?

Our next piece will look more closely at the law and possible ramifications, as well as the Governor’s and State Superintendent’s public responses.