Monday, April 18, 2016

I've Got a Little List...of Questions

 It all started with a friend telling me a candidate had knocked on her door and said he (for illustrative purposes, our candidate will be male) told her he was deeply committed to public schools. She said she wished she'd had some specific questions to ask, to assess his depth of knowledge and positions on issues.

So, we started thing led to another, and another. Several more posts and lists. Lots of input. And I am now sharing our combined list of questions...more than any one candidate would want to field, but I know we all have those pet issues about which we truly care.

As always, my posts are works in progress...if I've left off your favorite question, please include it in the comments. 

My lists of House and Senate educator- and family member-candidates has NOT been vetted. I have not interviewed the candidates. I will not endorse...We're all smart people (LOOK at this list!!). Each of us must research, read, listen...and then decide.  

I share the questions we brainstormed as a starting place for all of us who care deeply about schools and students.

What are your top five priorities as a legislator and your plan to accomplish them?

Education issues

What is the purpose of public education, in your opinion?

What is society’s interest in public education?

Your connections to public education

  • Do your children/grandchildren attend public schools?
  • Who, at your school, can vouch for your involvement in the school and support of public education?
  • When is the last time you visited a school in your district? What did you learn?
  • Are educators and students and parents part of your team?


How do you intend to increase funding for schools?


Teacher Shortage
  • Teacher preparation
  • Teacher evaluations – TLE, VAM
  • Alternative Certification
  • School Library Media Specialists
  • Salaries, benefits, retirement

Class Sizes

High Poverty Schools

  • What is the free-and-reduced lunch statistics for schools in your district?
  • What does a successful high-poverty school look like?
  • How will you address the inequity in resources for some of our schools

A-F grades for schools

Arts, Career Tech
  • Electives, recess
  • Special Education issues
  • Physical Education

Testing – EOI, ECCTs, other state-mandated tests –

  • Reducing high stakes and ‘accountability’ – reducing number of tests
  • What is the purpose of assessment and testing

Charter Expansion



Position on Oklahoma Standards

Position on higher education and Technology Centers


  • Who sponsors your fund raisers?
  • Do you have out-of-state contributors?
  • Are you connected to ALEC, Walton Foundation, or OCPA or other think tanks interested in controlling policy?

Taxes, Revenue

  • Tax policy, TIFs
  • Tax credits, loopholes
  • How do you propose to raise revenue for mental health, DHS, safety, roads, and beyond

Questions about the general welfare of Oklahoma

  • Health-care expansion
  • Prison Reform
  • What is your position on the rights of those who do not share your values, beliefs, political affiliation, socio-economic level, lifestyle?
  • How will you protect children and the elderly of our state?
  • What is your position on raising the minimum wage?

Plans for outreach and communication

  • How do you plan to learn more about the issues that are new to you? Do you have a team of advisers (I am assured this is the older spelling -- I think I like the other!), trusted sources of credible data, or other methods of quickly learning about the issues?
  • How do you plan to work across the aisle to gain multi-partisan support for legislation?
  • What is your strategy for staying connected with your constituents, and having open communications?
  • How will you work with others in the Legislature to hold state government accountable to our students?

Most of you won't have seen The Mikado, or the updated one, or the Family Guy version...this one is PG.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

House Candidates -- Teachers & Families

Rough draft of House candidates who are educators, or family. This is a list I want to perfect and revise, so please let me know if I’ve left anyone out, or if you have information to fill in the blanks.

I am NOT endorsing any candidates…I’m sharing all the educators and their family members who have stepped up. If you find a candidate in your district, reach out. Start a conversation. Ask questions about the issues that are important to you: funding, teacher shortage, testing, vouchers, deregulation. Ask tough questions.

Then, if you find candidates with whom you agree, volunteer, donate your time and money. And, for heaven’s sake…VOTE!!

I will update as I find websites or new candidates! Please contact me with this info.


I DO deeply thank every candidate for taking this step to serve.

HD Name Website Party Educator
2 Tom Sites R Adjunct
3 Troy Dyer D Yes
4 Matt Meredith D SchBd
5 Joe Wilhelm III R Yes
8 Rick Kibbe R Yes
12 Darla Milligan D Yes
13 Wayne Herriman D Daughter
14 Lee Ann Langston D Yes
20 (Gregory) Matt Failing Former
25 David Weir D Yes
27 Trey Baker R Spouse
28 Yasminda Choate D Higher Ed
29 Macy Gleason D Parents
30 Mike Gambill R Yes
33 Caryl Talley Yes
33 Connie Parker R Yes
42 Liz George D Higher Ed
42 Jim Beckham R Yes
43 Mike Bounds D Spouse
46 Jacob Rosecrants Yes
46 Marilyn Goll Yes
50 Melissa Tilley D Yes
52 John Thomas R SchBd
58 Rochelle Covington R Daughter
60 Chad Slane R Yes
60 Patrick Case R Yes
60 Rhonda Baker R Yes
62 Ruby Peters D Yes
63 Randy Batt D Yes
64 Jacobi Crowley D Yes
65 Rick Gilleland D Spouse
66 Dianna Phillips D Higher Ed
67 John Croisant R Yes
67 Tom McCloud R Spouse
72 Monroe Nichols D Yes
75 Karen Gaddis D Yes
76 Glenda Puett D Yes
82 David Dickerson I Yes
83 Jason Stone D Higher Ed
84 Tammy West R SchBd
84 Donnie Ryan R Spouse
87 Kelly Meredith D Higher Ed
93 Mickey Dollens D Yes
95 James Cook D Higher Ed
100 Donald Wentroth D Yes
101 Cheryl M-Hessman D Yes
101 Johnny Jump R Yes

Educators -- and Family -- Run for Oklahoma Senate

My list of educators and family members running for Oklahoma Senate...this is a work in progress, and I welcome any revision suggestions.

Right now I'm focusing on only educators and family. I will try to compile self-idetified advocates later.

This list is not an endorsement of any candidate...That's why I've included websites when I can find them. Vetting is YOUR responsiblility. 

Contact the candidates, especially ones running in your District and introduce yourself. Ask his or her stances on vouchers, deregulation, consolidation, funding, teacher shortage, testing, and any other issues that are important to you. 

If you find a candidate you can support, donate your time and funding when possible.

I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY CANDIDATES ON THIS LIST, because that's YOUR job as voter...please check out their websites, contact and ask questions, and then make up your mind for whom to vote.

Candidates, I deeply appreciate your willingness to serve and run!

SD Name Website Party  Educator
1 Michael Bergstrom R Yes
3 Rhonda Cox D Yes
5 Stacy Ebert D Yes
9 Jack Reavis D Yes
9 Dewayne Pemberton R Yes
13 Eric Hall D Yes
13 Greg McCortney R Spouse
15 Shawn Sheehan I Yes
19 Rhonda Harlow D Yes
19 Roland Pederson R Yes
23 Lonnie Paxton Spouse
25 Lisa Kramer R ScBd
29 Robert Jobe D Yes
29 Jean Oliver R Yes
31 Chris Kidd R Former
31 Toni Hasenbeck R Yes
37 Lloyd Snow D Yes
37 Brian Jackson R Spouse
39 John Waldron D Yes
41 Kevin McDonald D Yes
43 Paul Scott R Spouse
45 Mike Mason Yes
47 Judy Hopper D Yes
47 Don Sherry D Niece 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thirty-Six Questions

*Special thanks to Barbie Jackson for fact-checking!

I waxed hyperbolic in a conversation the other day when I said I was put on this earth to advocate for vulnerable kids. Hyperbole, yes, but it comes from every cell in my body. I am here to speak for struggling learners. That’s why the Reading Sufficiency Act which requires third graders to show on-grade reading to progress to fourth grade has been a windmill I’ve tilted at for years.

Remember the number 36. It will be important later.

It all started my second year of teaching when I taught ‘reading’ to eighth graders…that meant I had the SRA box in my room and I was supposed to make kids progress through all the colors. I knew there was more to reading that that, and got my Reading Specialist degree so I’d never feel that inadequate again. I spent the next thirty-seven years working with struggling readers in one classroom or another. Remedial, Title I reading lab in an elementary. Remedial reading in two mid highs, and Reading for Pleasure, where I made sure struggling readers felt welcome. My goal was always to help students learn to love reading, to read a lot, because I knew good test scores would follow. I saw it year after year.

I preface this post with my background to make the point I know reading instruction, and I know kids, and I will fight for those kids who are labeled failures.

I  fought the current RSA bill, when the original author Sally Kern and I had heated email exchanges. I’ve tried to share my expertise to craft a law that actually works for kids and supports their learning. I was there when the House overrode the Governor’s veto of HB2625, which would allow a team of educators and parents to actually make appropriate decisions about a third grader’s placement. The Senate added its vote to override as I was driving home, celebrating the House victory.  I wrote about the shameful responses of our policy makers to that override…shameful in their zeal to flunk our kids.  I watch with fear as I know third graders next year must score proficient on their reading test, or risk retention. The teams of teachers and parents will still be in place…for now.

I shared Jason James’ posts analyzing the tests for our third graders, when we realized the test is not a reading test, but a reading-ELA test. Questions range from comprehension and vocabulary, to alphabetizing guide words on dictionary pages, and the use of almanacs.

I researched beyond policy makers’ rhetoric that a child who cannot read (I’ll come back to that) at third grade is destined for a life of misery. I’ve found forced retention is just as harmful, is more expensive for schools, and leads to higher levels of high school dropouts.

I’m tired of the rhetoric.

“Third grade is crucial, because that’s when we stop learning to read and start reading to learn.” Oh, Puleeze. This one lights my hair on fire. We are always learning to read. And we are always reading to learn. Every new book gives us new comprehension challenges. Even as adults…this one is just an excuse to blame kids who are learning at their own rate…you know, that internal compass that cannot be changed, no matter how many times you try to cram reading strategies down their throats. We all learn to read our entire lives. We all read to learn…our entire lives. If you don’t believe me, try reading a bill from the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Teachers and parents put too much emphasis on the tests and that makes kids stressful and nervous.” WHO put the high stakes on this test? Not the teachers. Not the parents. Who tried to tie test scores to teacher evaluations? Not the teachers. Not the parents. Who tied test scores to bogus school A-F grades? Not the teachers. Not the parents. 

“We need to use tests to hold schools and teachers and students accountable.” You know, standardized tests were designed to be a snapshot of achievement…one piece of information. They are good at predicting performance on the next test. They were NEVER designed to be high stakes…for students, for teachers, for schools, or for districts. The current testing climate is based on the misuse and abuse of standardized tests, and the children who take them.  Teachers do not run away from accountability. They can share multiple examples of student learning and growth. They can share lesson plans and teacher-made assessments. Accountability through standardized tests is an idea that needs to disappear.

“We all took tests – they aren’t so bad.” If you are an adult, your experience is not at all comparable to our kids’ experience. Yes. We took standardized tests. And those scores were put into our permanent records and promptly forgotten. No one was flunked on the scores, no teacher was fired, and no school was labeled as a failing school. We took those tests and then went about the real business of learning.

“Kids will have to take high stakes tests in the future. This is no different.” This is very different. Students will take ACT and SAT tests for entrance to college, or to earn scholarship funding. Those tests are voluntary. They can be taken multiple times. There are high-powered test prep courses and books galore. In many professions there are high stakes tests that must be passed as a gateway to the profession. Also voluntary. Also chosen. Also supported by test prep materials. Also may be taken over and over. Our third graders get one shot. One day in April.

“If kids can’t read, they shouldn’t move on.” In my career I met exactly two students I considered non-readers. One, a fourth grader, came to us in early March…we were his 4th school of the year. When asked to read ‘cat’ he laboriously mouthed, “Cuh-AAh-Tee.” Words held no meaning to him on the page. We set him up with recorded books about cars and he listened, read, and learned to read his first book. I remember how excited he was to read his book to our principal. Just as we hit our stride, though, he was gone…on to his fifth school of his fourth grade year. At Norman North, I had a freshman in my Reading for Pleasure class who’d been homeschooled by his very-ill grandmother. She was not equipped to teach and control him, so he steadfastly refused to learn. He came to us with pre-primer skills. And we started working…working…working…Just as he was beginning to show progress, he too, disappeared from school and we never saw him again.

Every third grader taking the test this month IS A READER. Make no mistake every child is a reader. Now, are they all reading ‘above average?’ Of course not. Are they all the same height? Do they wear the same sized shoe? Can they run equally fast? Only a non-educator could expect every kid in third grade to read at level. Educators know kids begin at their own starting place and make progress…not steady progress, but they make progress.

My third graders years ago remarked on how well I read…I had not thought about how intimidating it must be for a child to hear a proficient reader. I told them we all started learning to read when we were six years old…they were not eight and nine. I was forty.  Who should be a better reader?

I also asked them about how they learned to ride their bikes…how did they get better and better? By taking the bike apart on the lawn? By taking a test identifying all the parts? By watching others? They got better and better by riding…by getting on, falling off, wobbling down the street. By picking themselves up and trying again. This is the only way our kids progress with reading…by reading. Not taking tests and benchmarks. Not by pronouncing nonsense syllables, by reading unrelated words quickly. We must give them books they will love and we must support them as they read.

“Retention will give kids the gift of time.” I had a student in my elementary class…he struggled as a second grader, as a third grader, as a fourth grader. But we had supports in place for him. We cheered his small victories and his large victories. We didn’t flunk him. We individualized for him and supplemented  for him. Yes, he struggled, but he never gave up, and he never doubted himself, and he never saw himself as a failure. Today, that young man is a teacher…a National Board Certified Teacher. A teacher who looks out on his classes and recognized himself in his students’ faces and is the teacher they need.  Would he have gone on to be a college graduate and a teacher if we'd've flunked him as a nine-year-old? We gave him the gift of time…

“Kids won’t even understand that they’re repeating a grade. It won’t hurt their emotional well-being.”  A friend recently told me about her morning ritual with her children, one of whom is a third grader…they pray on their way to school each day, to set the tone for a good day. Her third grader prays every day to pass the test.

I have a friend who is a child therapist. She tells me more and more of her patients are talking about the anxiety they feel about the test…and how that test will decide their futures. This is not pressure others are placing on kids…this is pressure they’re trying their best to survive.

Last month my third-grade Grand, sitting in the back seat of my car, said in a tiny voice, “I hope I get to go to fourth grade next year.” She never looked up, hands in her lap, face down, hidden by the curtain of her shiny brown hair. Her sisters, middle school and high school, laughed and said, “Of course you’re going to fourth grade next year.” I couldn’t stop them. It’s not guaranteed. She DOES struggle…she IS a reader, but she struggles to perform on these tests. I looked at all three and was so sad at the changes in our schools since the older girls were in elementary. It IS different now.

This year’s third grade reading/ELA test will have 50 questions. But only 36 are identified as reading comprehension or vocabulary. So, third graders’ placement for next year will rest on their performance on 36 questions mingled with the other literary analysis and reference questions on one test. One day in April.

Thirty six questions.

For those kids who have yet to prove proficiency on the other measures schools can use…for those kids whose last chance is THE TEST…I say, ‘best of luck, little one, on those 36 reading questions. Do well. Or stay in third grade. Thirty-six questions will decide their future. Not the progress, albeit slower progress, they’ve made. Not the small victories. Not your love of reading or your love of learning.”

Thirty-six questions.