Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Unhappy Birthday, HB1017 --

"Unhappy birthday to you. Unhappy birthday to you." Not very catchy, but very true. We celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of HB1017 and the hope we all had; and we mourn the reality of what education in Oklahoma looks like today. 

I was there for the debate and enactment of HB1017. 

Unlike Rick Cobb. Who was a college student, I’d been teaching in Norman for over ten years. I’d taken the $1000 pay cut my first year in Oklahoma, and tried not to think about how much MORE money I’d lost when we moved here from IA. We loved Norman and we loved the schools our son and daughter attended.

Norman West Mid High OEA members voted whether to join the walk out, and travel to the Capitol. I come from a long line of public school administrators, and voted ‘no’ because I feared this move would drive a wedge between teachers and administrators. I’d seen first-hand with my dad how friendships and trust could be destroyed…I appreciated the strong connection of all educators in Norman. I voted in the minority, and surprised my friends when I said I’d support the walk out and I’d go with them to the Capitol.

We trekked up together; we marched; we chanted; we carried our signs. We listened to Kyle Dahlem, president of OEA, and  a personal and professional hero. We went into the Capitol and spoke with our Legislators. I remember a heated exchange with my own Rep…he was surrounded by teachers from Norman and we were peppering him with questions. He finally said, “We’ve worked for nine months on this bill!” My filter was temporarily ripped off, and I blurted, “None months? That’s a school year. You have wasted a year in my students’ lives.” Whoops. He glared at me and I glared back, waiting to see who would break eye contact first. Just to prove I could muzzle that faulty filter, I did NOT say, “Sir, I work with ninth graders. Do you think you’ll win a staring contest with me?” Didn’t say that! Wanted to. Didn’t. He broke eye-contact first. 

After the special session and the vote, Governor Bellmon signed it, and HB1017 was the law. A model of reform which required and rewarded. Raised standards and provided support. WE were so hopeful.

Class sizes would drop to a manageable level. Teachers would be expected to participate in professional development every year, and would be paid a stipend for achieving the required number of contact hours. Funding would support the reforms. Oh, and teachers would get a raise.  Hope…it appeared as if we were all on the same page: wanting what was best for students.

OEA produced a good summary of the story of those days in April, 1990. It's long, but worth the 30 minutes of time.

There was immediate push-back from people who didn’t want to invest in schools, and that pushback might be what we are still suffering from today…the push-back seems to have vanquished any gains we enjoyed with HB1017.

But…that support eroded. Step-by-step, reforms were abandoned. I think I got one stipend check for professional development. Teacher pay stagnated again. Class sizes inched up with the help of deregulation laws…all the gains evaporated.

Whereas administrators worked to keep high school class sizes under the required 120 students a day, we saw those numbers creep up year after year. My last years of teaching (albeit an elective, but a class that required weekly reading and writing for students and weekly reading and grading for me), my total student load was closer to 150 or 160. One memorable English 4 class had 36 students…in a room designed for an occupancy of 24. We became each other’s best friends because of the close proximity…and I lost my desk to a student every day.

Pay raises? Don’t make me laugh.

Funding? Since 2008, the state of OK has cut funding to schools more than any other state in the nation. Have prices dropped in that time? Of course not.

We have more students and less money per pupil to educate them. The false accountability of test scores has become fashionable. As have schemes to invite private charter chains into the state, and use public education funds as vouchers for private schools. Educators pay for needed supplies out of their own paychecks. This is the post-HB1017 reality.

Yesterday, the Democratic leaders reflected on the legacy of HB1017 – the initial hopes and the crushing reality. In one statement, the press release summed up all the hope…and despair…of our journey from the promise of 1990 to the wasteland of 2015:

But we also think it’s appropriate to point out that three of its primary pillars — smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and increased funding for public schools — have been systematically eroded over the intervening years.”

There was a cake…but it must have tasted like ashes.

I remember voting to strike, marching, lobbying…I remember returning to my classroom so full of energy and optimism. I thought there was a change coming, one supported by both sides of the aisle.

Twenty-five years later, I’m older, and wiser, and more pessimistic. I know educators are still fighting for funding, for smaller class sizes, and yes, for raises. Educators are fighting against simplistic assessments and high stakes. We are fighting for our kids’ future.

I may have retired in the middle of this battle, but that just gives me more time to fight…while my colleagues and friends stay IN the classroom and work with our students.

Hope to despair…but we will not give up.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Beware Gifts Left by Departed Superintendents.

Last week we discovered an ugly surprise left by the former Superintendent of Schools. She left office, and left a grenade that just detonated last week, almost 100 days into Superintendent Hofmeister's administration. In her contract with Measured Progress, Barresi asked for a new feature. In the past, when a student doing his or her test online completed the assessment, and clicked ‘submit’, only the raw score would appear. But this year, we discovered last week, the raw score AND the performance level appeared…in bold letters. Thanks to the former Superintendent, students immediately know their performance level: Advanced, Proficient, Limited Knowledge, Unsatisfactory. They don't know where, within that level, their raw score rests. This instant information can be completely demoralizing to students who have tried their very best. 

I have a story…of course I do.

I proctored for my Grand’s school last week…8th grade math. Not because I support the testing industry, but because I support my Grands’ schools, because I support the educators who are required to submit to the testing industry. My job was to watch the monitors and assure that they followed directions, read everything word-for-word, didn’t feed answers to students, and followed all the protocol.

Because I love kids, I also watched kids…saw who was engaged, who wasn’t. Who appeared nervous, who seemed assured.

Before the testing began, a little pixie of a girl, absolutely swimming in the adult-sized sweatshirt, raised her hand. She asked, gnawing a nail, “Will the score on this test be on my math grade?” I felt confident telling her, no, this is a separate assessment that will not affect her grade. She had a follow-up. “Will this test keep me from going to 9th grade next year?” Again, I could say that schools might refer to the information when putting students into math classes, but her grades in all her classes would be what determined if she went on to Norman High. So, she began the test with those anxieties.

I wandered the room, whispering to the teachers, watching kids work, trying to keep the early-birds quiet while others finished. I can say with perfect assurance, no cheating or deviation from the standardized directions occurred.

Because the Pixie and I had bonded over test- and math-anxiety, I kept an eye on her. We would catch eyes and I tried to encourage her with a smile. She worked longer than many, but never flagged.

I just so happened to be walking past my Pixie when she finished. I just so happened to see the screen flash with her raw score. I know neither of us saw the score, because what we both focused on was the message, “Limited Knowledge.” All her hard work, and what did she see? Limited Knowledge. Limited Knowledge. Limited Knowledge. I saw her shoulders slump inside that sweatshirt, and mine mirrored hers. She not only had to take the test, she had to see, once again, she struggles. Her questions to me before the test were her nightmares..her fears, because she knew she struggled. But here was her label, rubbed into her face...

So, thanks, Dr. Barresi. You’re the one who had Measured Progress alter their program so every child would face their performance level. You’re the one who made Pixie’s shoulders slump. This little girl was well aware of her difficulties. But Dr. Barresi, you made certain she faced them in bold letters.

I learned that the request came in the RFP, not "Reading for Pleasure," but "Request for Proposal." This appears to be the instructions to prospective vendors who may want to bid on a particular job, not the contract itself. I like my meaning of RFP better...I'd rather read for pleasure, than read a dry request for purchase.

After wading through 20 of the 49 pages of the RFP written by the previous administration, I found this:
"C.11.2 Oklahoma’s online testing program s tems from the need for s tudents and educators to receive the results of testing quickly as required by law. The online system must provide to students immediate raw score results (and performance levels for pre-equated tests) and complete student results within two weeks for schools and districts. The supplier should provide a detailed description of the system that addresses each of the topics below. In addition, the SDE prefers an online management system that enrolls and tracks paper and online testers within the same program."

I know Superintendent Hofmeister learned about this ugly feature of the online tests last week when test administrators learned of it. I know Rob Miller, as usual, jumped right on the issue, and put it into perspective for us all. I know Superintendent Hofmeister has been in contact with Measured Progress…I know through the grapevine of #oklaed that to change this feature of the tests, MP had to write a new program, take the test offline, then replace the revised tests online. A lot of work on many people's part to change that little present...

I know today, because the test coordinator at my Grand’s school called, that today when kids hit ‘submit’ all they see is the score. Not the performance level. The work with MP worked! The revision worked! 

Over the weekend, MP had to recode the testing program for all online tests,. They took the system down over the weekend, fixed the program, and had to reboot everything this morning. With fingers crossed.

It worked! Other anxious students will now only see the raw score. Teachers have access though the OSDE website to the information about performance levels and can track their students’ work, That’s the way it should be.

So, that pile of poo, in the paper bag, set on fire at Superintendent Hofmeister’s front door? She deftly stepped aside and found a water hose to douse the ‘present’ on her doorstep. With precision and speed, and firmness, and I'm sure a large measure of charm, she worked with the testing corporation to create a culture that doesn’t rub kids’ faces in the remnants of the dentist’s gift to us all.

UPDATE: Last night Rick Cobb posted another piece about this 'snafu', and made a point I'd overlooked. This RFP was written in 2013. The former Superintendent probably believed, as did many of us, that her reelection was a shoo-in, a walk in the park. She fully intended to be in office last week when we discovered this feature of the Measured Progress contract. When we discovered it and complained, I can predict her response...silence. Or maybe she'd get outraged and then accept more professional development training from MP, instead of working with them to revise and change. But a funny thing happened on her way to the fait accompli...

So, instead of a deliberately-placed bag at the front door, this seems to be a bag left in the haste of moving, of cleaning out. And it must have spontaneously the drummers in THIS IS SPINAL TAP. No matter how it got there, Superintendent Hofmeister did a great job taking out the trash.

I appreciate the proactive response, on behalf of all students who did their very best on the tests, and didn’t need to see immediate evidence of the fact their efforts came up short. There’s time to share that message. Most kids already know.

I wonder what other flaming bags of poo are waiting for our new Superintendent? And our kids? And our teachers? And our parents?