Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One Week, then the Hard Work Begins

One week. In one week one of the longest, most contentious, passionate election cycles will come to an end. One week, and finally, the hard work begins.

Next Wednesday, some will be celebrating and some will be mourning.  Emotions will be close to the surface …elation, despair, promise, pessimism. No matter the outcome, we will face a new reality Wednesday, and a new opportunity to be of service.  Overcoming differences, putting partisan feelings aside, letting go of the rhetoric that has sustained us through the campaigns.  We need to bring our passion with us, passion for the work ahead. We need to be ready.

What we do next Wednesday matters for us all.

Next Wednesday, kids will file into classrooms and teachers will teach. Pundits will ‘pund’. Spinners will spin. But all that really matters is our kids and the education they receive.  

Next Wednesday, new alliances must be forged, new plans must be made. After being fiercely supportive of one or another candidate, we must come together and move forward…together. For our kids. We must remember our ultimate goal is a robust public education for every child in our state, and we deserve to be part of the discussion, part of the solution.

Can we do it? We must. Our kids desperately need all the grownups in their lives to create a new path together. We need to put differences aside. We need to reach out to our new office holders and offer to help, to be there, to work for Oklahoma kids, for #oklaed.

We must be able to say to our policy makers, “I voted; now I’m here to work. I want to forge policies, to ask important questions. To put a face on education reform in Oklahoma. I’m not going away. I will hold you accountable.” That’s why we voted.

Next Wednesday. One week. We will have had our say, and it will be time to step up and do the work.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Our Kids Can't Vote, So We MUST Vote

My first vote was for Bobby Kennedy. Shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me…May 7, 1968, in the Indiana presidential primary. Indiana University students all voted at the county Court House in Bloomington, and the line snaked around the block. It was positively festive. We voted with hope and were supportive and friendly to all those voting for another candidate. It was magic…until Los Angeles.

I have tried to vote in each election since. Of course I’ve missed some. But my New-Deal  Democrat mother and Eisenhower Republican father inspired me to vote, even if your candidate won’t win. Be loyal, be respectful of others who have the right to their opinion, their vote.

Be there. Have your say. Vote.

This election, more than others, we need to vote…We need to vote for our students; we need to vote for education issues.

We need to vote: educators have a dismal voting record. Maybe 30%; maybe 18%. Depends on who you ask. We are busy, we are distracted. We are so busy we haven’t informed ourselves. We can’t get to the polls before or after school. I’ve heard them all. Not good enough, friends. We need to vote.

Policy makers count on our low turnout. They ignore us after elections. They label us ‘whiners’.  If we can look our politicians in the eye, and begin every conversation with the words, “I voted; I will continue to vote. I vote education issues and I am watching your work.” we could begin an accountability program for elected officials…just a thought.

I have climbed up on this particular soap box before: here and here. Scott Haselwood wrote a strong piece here. And here.

We need to vote education issues. Not other emotionally-charged wedge issues. Not our own narrow vision. Education. Why? Because our kids can’t. They will be deeply affected by this election, and they have no say. Their lives will be changed for better or worse, and They. Have. No. Say.

HB2625, the bill that overrode the Governor’s veto, to give a team of parents and educators the right to examine data and make a decision about a third grader’s placement was a landmark. But those protections will expire. This year’s second graders are not protected by this law. They will be tested and flunked on one test. You need to protect those 2nd graders from politicians who are determined to test and punish. My second-grade granddaughter needs the same protections her third-grade friends will have this Spring. We need to elect people at all levels who will continue to work for fair assessment and placement of our kids…who can’t vote.

I’ve hear politicians promise that vouchers will be back in the next Legislative session. That policy will take money out of public schools and send it to private schools. Support for our schools will continue to erode, as tax dollars make their way into corporate hands. That will hurt our kids in public schools…kids who can’t vote.

The Wal-mart-Schools charter group has been sniffing around the state, ready to make another pitch for for-profit charters, whether we want them or not. For-profit charters will create a two-tier educational system in our state. Our kids will suffer with even fewer resources…kids who can’t vote. The Walton’s partner is Oklahoma Public School Resource Center,  who, as Okeducationtruths pointed out in the primary, has, as its mission: “Our core strategy is to infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities. When all families are empowered to choose from among several quality school options, all schools will be fully motivated to provide the best possible education. Better school performance leads, in turn, to higher student achievement, lower dropout rates and greater numbers of students entering and completing college.

If, as reformers say, public education is broken, it’s because policy makers are deliberately starving and strangling it. In Oklahoma we have the dubious distinction of living in the state that has cut funding to education more than any other state in the nation.  Let that sink in with all its implications. While piling more and more mandates and demands, Oklahoma has willfully cut funding more than anyone. Funding that would have gone into our kids’ classrooms…kids who can’t vote.

Our politicians will continue to ask for more tax cuts for the rich, further complicating funding issues for schools…and our kids can’t vote.

You see my angle. Kids can’t vote. But they will be helped or harmed by the policy makers who are elected next week.  They will take more or fewer tests…the tests will have higher or lower stakes. They will be educated in classrooms that are or are not supported with adequate resources.  They will be educated in classrooms that have full-time educators or substitutes because of teacher shortages…and they can’t vote.

You say you’re too busy to research the issues? You teach fulltime, have a second job, and come home to be a parent? All the more reason to look at the candidates and their stands on issues. But you don’t have to do the deep research. There are several sites that can help, all bipartisan…all committed to collecting information.

VOICE, Voices Organized in Civic Engagement, includes education as a civic engagement concern. VOICE has identified four education issues: Funding, testing, curriculum and school climate.  VOICE hosted the wildly successful Superintendent candidate forum before the primary, and has been active in finding those citizen voices, and areas of agreement. They have held accountability sessions across the state to raise awareness.

The Facebook page my friend Matt Esker and I run, Oklahoma Education Voters, identified five issues with many threads: Funding, top-down policies, testing issues, teacher recruitment and retention, and no confidence in the current OSDE and state policies. We have tried to be a communications hub for education research on these issues. Please join us.

The League of Women’s Voters is a trusted clearing house of information and candidate statements.

The information is out there.

I don’t presume to recommend you vote for any particular candidates. I don’t know your convictions, your priorities. I don’t know your situation.  I hope, if you read my work, that education is a priority for you.

For some races, I’ve made up my mind and have shared my convictions…for others, I’m still in the process of making up my mind, with lists of strengths and weaknesses, a wish list for change, and a magic 8 ball to hopefully predict the future.

I was raised by parents who laughed as her New Deal vote and his Eisenhower vote cancelled the other’s out. That never stopped them. They voted…they were poll-watchers, she for the Democrats, he for the Republicans. They never tried to convince the other he or she was wrong. They decided how to vote from the deep convictions of their hearts. And they voted. I have a sneaking suspicion their voting record for education issues was identical.

We need to come together like this, in respectful support of each other. You need to look at our candidates through that lens of education…of YOUR issues for education.  And you need to vote those issues.

When you go to the polls and vote, you represent some of the 673,910 public school students in our state.  They are standing there, behind you, whispering their thanks. They can’t vote. They are counting on you to vote for them. For their future. For candidates who will carry out policies to support classrooms, students, teachers…learning.

Then the hard work begins: rebuilding #oklaed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TLE: Should be DOA. One Teacher's Story

I posted Rob Miller’s insightful blogs here and here on TLE – Teacher Leadership Effectiveness program, designed, IMHO, as a way to intimidate teachers, overwork administrators, and label educators as failures when observations are linked to student test scores, in the failed practice called Value-Added Measures, or VAM. Other states and cities have used VAM teacher evaluation with disastrous effects, incorrectly labeling excellent, award-winning teachers as bad teachers.

The research is clear…this is rotten practice, but it goes along with Bill Gates’ hunches about getting rid of bad teachers, and since Gates’ hunches and experiments run US educational policy, state politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. And as that has happened, Gates has backed away from some of his earlier enthusiasm. No matter…we’re going full speed ahead on a failed practice.

VAM measures take the joy out of teaching and learning. It upsets the balance in the classrooms.

We in OK have tried to communicate with the policy makers running TLE, to no avail. We have shared links to research, but it’s like they don’t care: “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.” Policy makers are bound and determined to hold teachers ‘accountable’ for student learning.

NEWSFLASH: standardized tests measure innate abilities, parent socio-economic status. They predict the score on the next standardized test. They were never designed to be anything but a quick snapshot of ONE KIND OF learning. They are being abused by every state that evaluates and assesses teachers or schools, or students. Policy makers simply don’t care. They want to root out those lousy teachers and fire them. To replace them…with whom? All the teachers who are knocking down the doors of OK schools begging for jobs? Don’t our politicians know there’s a teacher shortage? And, how do we assure those lousy teachers are replaced with better ones? Don’t confuse them with facts. Their minds are made up.

Here is an image of the 'formula' used to compute a teacher's value-added measure. Sorry, I don't understand an evaluation system I can't understand.

I’ll be honest, TLE is the reason I retired. I wasn’t afraid of being held accountable. I was accountable to every one of my students (300+ a year), to their families. To my department chair, my principals, and to the patrons of Norman Public Schools. I was not afraid of being evaluated. I simply knew TLE would not evaluate my practice or my influence on student learning with any accuracy . I knew it was junk science put in place by non-educators, with no research base. I could walk away, and I did. Throughout my 39-year career, I saw wrong-headed reforms and good reforms come and go. I wrote about it a few years ago.

I could walk away.

I did walk away.

My friends and colleagues cannot.

Today I received the following message from an online friend. I have permission to share one teacher’s experience. Again, teachers are not afraid of being evaluated. We see effective evaluation as a way to grow. That’s why I pursued National Board Certification. I wanted to challenge myself with the highest standards in my profession.
One teacher’s story:

 I was excited for TLE. I thought, for once, I would get some positive feedback as to how to improve. I know I am a good teacher. I constantly strive to improve, because I have weaknesses.

I was fearful of getting a 3...knew I was not deserving of a 5. Yes, I got a 4, but every standard my principal marked as low I thought was my strength. What was high was my weakness.

Then I spoke with teachers from other schools. At the TLE training, they were told if you give a 2 or a five there is an extensive documentation and additional paperwork. So good or bad, A school or F school teachers get 3 or 4.

In defense of the long has it been since they were in the classroom? How do they have time to evaluate teachers, deal with parents, students, discipline...etc. my principal also teaches 2 hours a day. Because of lack of funding, schools cannot hire assistant principals. Who should evaluate? I believe that each school should have a curriculum specialist who attends a specified number of workshops in every area throughout the year in order to stay abreast of change. I think they should attend free if charge and at the expense of the SDE.

 As it is TLE is a useless tool. Many teachers are assessed by people who are not qualified to access curriculum. I relate it to doctors. If your medical specialty is podiatry...I would not use you as my oncologists. Or have a podiatrist evaluate an oncologist.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Anthony Cody Writes the Book We Need: an Expose of Gates Foundation

Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, right
Anthony Cody is one of the first educators I saw using his ‘teacher’s voice’ to stand up to reformers…to push back against reformers. He helped organize and host the Save Our Schools March and Rally on July 30, 2011. I was there, in awe, watching education heroes come to the makeshift stage and remind us how important our fight was…How much the children of our country needed us to keep pushing.

I was able to meet him in person at an NBCT Conference in DC. He and my friend Nancy FlanaganA and online friend David Cohen were all on a panel of NBCTs encouraging others to begin blogging. I had eagerly followed all three of these leaders, and their encouragement helped me take that step and begin this blog.

More online friends. Jon Hanson, left and Gail Richie, right
Attending the SOS March and Rally was a highlight of my career…Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meir, Taylor Mali. Jonathon Kozol…all right there in front of me. Oh, and Matt Damon, too! When we marched around the White House, Meier was right there in front of me, in stifling heat and humidity. 

That day gave me the courage to use MY teacher voice.

Deborah Meier
Linda Darling Hammond
Diane Ravitch

As we watched the Gates Foundation roll out their ideas on ‘multiple measures’ for teacher evaluation, I was hopeful. But as I read the document, I saw it was just the same old ‘value added measures’ Gates had been hawking. Anthony and I emailed back and forth, clarifying the issues, and he invited me to write a post for his wildly popular blog, Living in Dialogue. Still a thrill to think I’m published on his blog.

But this piece is really a book review!!

I watched Anthony take on Bill Gates and his Foundation. I read the series of letters back and forth on important issues.  His new book, The Educator and the Oligarch, was born, partly from those dialogues.
But it’s more. It’s a careful investigation into the how and why of Gates’ power play. The circular reasoning that allows him to live in his echo chamber, unconcerned by the voices of students and teachers who are being forced to live with his many hunches about education.

Gates has fixated on the ‘bad teacher’ myth and he believes, with no evidence, that teacher evaluations connected to student test scores is the way to find those crummy teachers and root them out.
Anthony takes apart this argument with the precision of a surgeon, and leaves the foul carcass bare…
Anthony connects the dots…money buys power. Money buys more power. Money buys politicians. Money buys influence. But Gates’ money cannot buy teachers. And I think that bothers him.

Anthony shows how Gates has bought into the education establishment: ASCD has been partially funded by the Gates Foundation. NBPTS has been funded by the Foundation to revise the National Board process. Gates was invited to speak at the conference last year, and Anthony reports his words…his intentions. He asked NBCTs to be vocal about supporting CCSS…now, he wants help from teachers.

Anthony’s dialogue with the Gates Foundation revolved around fundamental questions about public education: How do we build the teaching profession? How do we consider evidence of learning in evaluations? Can schools defeat poverty by ignoring it? What is the purpose of K-12 education? What happens when profits drive education? Good for the Foundation that they agreed to engage in this conversation…they just didn’t realize that Anthony held all the intellectual weapons. These questions SHOULD be the centerpiece of any discussion about reforming schools…

Anthony chronicles some of Gates’ more bizarre hunches: galvanic bracelets, his TED talk promoting video cameras in classrooms, his fixation on evaluations tied to scores, his faith in technology (a funny/sad look at BF Skinner’s teaching machine reminds us we’ve dealt with this nonsense before), MOOCs, Common Core, technology, technology and technology.

My favorite chapter was the “Billionaire Philanthropist Evaluation.” I laughed out loud and cheered.

Standard 1 – Awareness of the social conditions targeted by philanthropy
Standard 2 – Understanding of how learning is measured
Standard 3 – Understanding how teaching is evaluated
Standard 4 – Understanding of effective instruction.
Understandably, Mr. Gates was below the standard in each of these four areas.

I took 10 pages of notes, quotes from the book that sang to me.  I’ll just share a few:

“Last September BG said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”
  • ·         VAM is a disaster
  • ·         Charter schools, are, as a sector, not better than public schools
  • ·         CCSS and the high-stakes accountability system is on its way to the graveyard of grand ideas

“Bill Gates has made it clear that this was an experiment from the start. What he did not seem to allow for in his scenario was the possibility that his experiment would not succeed. Hand there was an impatient imperative in his demands—“They have to give us the opportunity for this experimentation.””

“We, the citizens, students, parents, and educators, were not asked nor allowed to vote on this. BG and his allies decided this was needed, and they made it happen, suing the levers of power within their control.”

Indeed. When are we the citizens, students, parents, and educators going to rise up, use our voices, and tell Gates enough is enough.

Anthony has given us the evidence, and the call to action.

Buy this book if you care about public education. Then buy another copy and donate it to your legislators.

Make them accountable for following their lead. Maybe Antony will write a “Legislators Education Evaluation” instrument too!