Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another grab for power by the State Department of Education

*Sigh* I look forward to the time I'm not spending time and energy writing to legislators, some of whom have steadfastly ignored my every word for over a year now. I'll also say every letter I've ever sent or delivered or mailed to the Superintendent has likewise been ignored. But here's another.

Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation has a singular political history in our state -- I don't pretend to understand, but I DO know it has been the guardian of the National Board program in the state since its beginning. Education Leadership Oklahoma has supported over 6000 Oklahoma teachers as they attempted certification, and boast of nearly 3000 NBCTs -- 10th in the nation! Now, again, the State Department wants to take over OCTP and control the funds generated. No word of the fate of ELO under this new world order, but I shiver in fear. 

My latest letter -- which will probably be ignored again.

Recently, while reading an OEA legislative message, I read a disquieting remark by Joel Robinson,  actually a post on Facebook…I’ll return to Facebook later in my letter: ““With legislation now moving through the Legislature that will shift responsibility for the NBCT program from the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation to the State Department of Education, the agency will continue to work to make the verification process quick and efficient,” Joel Robison commented via Facebook” So, he’s confident enough of SB1797 that he’s announcing on Facebook?

I understand that almost every year the SDE makes a power grab to take over  the professional development funds administered by OCTP, but I was surprised at how very, very confident Mr. Robinson appeared…’Legislation moving through,’ just tripping along to gut one of the most successful agencies in OKC to give the SDE more money?

I am closely aligned with one of the offices at OCTP – ELO. I can tell you ELO, Education Leadership Oklahoma, with its unwavering dedication to our state’s premier National Board Certification program, has changed the face of education in our state.  This year has seen a fierce struggle to reinstate this program back to a reflection of its glory days; nearly 3000 NBCTs in our state are serving students in public school classrooms every day. The training and support candidates and NBCTs receive from ELO makes a difference in schools all over the state.

Now, once again, from another direction, it looks like we’re fighting for our lives again. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because for over ten years I’ve been a proud part of the ELO family. I’ve been a trainer at the Summer Professional  Development Institute, I’ve  created writing workshops for candidates. I’m the Regional Coordinator for the Norman area and hold twice-monthly support meetings. These meetings are the most amazing examples of true professional learning communities, and we all benefit from coming together and working. I’ve been a member of the Selection Committee and have read applications for the scholarships that the OK Legislature has generously provided to give teachers an opportunity to go through the National Board process. I have been to national conferences with other NBCTs and have always been proud of the work OCTP and ELO does to nurture and support NBC candidates, and celebrate NBCTs once we’re certified.

I’ve read the summary of SB1797 – have yet to plow through all 53 pages, and see no mention of ELO…only OCTP. What’s to come of ELO and the National Board program in our state? Why would you think about handing ELO over to the SDE? We saw what happened last year when we trusted the SDE and the State Superintendent to do the right thing for our NBCTs. She cut the funding and threw the responsibility of her job back on your shoulders. Her contempt could not be more clear.

We are now in the middle of verification processes to finally pay our NBCTs the stipends we were promised by law by no later than January 30. The SDE has known for months a process of verification would have to be invented, and it seems to have waited until the last minute to pressure districts and teachers for proof of NBC, and employment as full-time teachers in public schools. The SDE’s lack of planning has, indeed created an emergency upon our parts.

Districts scrambled to verify the employment of their NBCTs, and to send that information to the SDE as quickly as possible. The SDE, in turn, was to contact every NBCT within the district to inform him or her of the next part: teacher verification online through the certification website. I can tell you my unofficial poll is showing about half of us are being informed by the SDE. In my building, with over 20 NBCTs, about half of us got any message from the SDE. On my hall, only one of the four NBCTs received the email from the SDE – I was one of the three that got nothing. Instead, we’ve had to rely on email, word-of-mouth, and Facebook to learn we have until May 1 to log on and verify our information. To add to the stress, May 1 has been given as our deadline. No word that we were supposed to verify, but May 1 is our deadline. Think of this – professional educators must rely on social networking for the communication of something as important as verifying our NBC status!

After we’ve gone to the website, created a profile and walked through the verification process, some NBCTs receive an email in response telling them they were successful. Some saw a pop-up window that said the same. Some, like me, got no response, so I can only pray I did everything right. Again, a break-down in communication that has us all on edge.

I tell you this story to ask you why in the world would you give OCTP and ELO into the hands of the SDE? OCTP has proved its efficiency, its dedication and professionalism over time. The SDE has created chaos that may very well result in an NBCT not being paid because he or she didn’t know the procedures.
Might I also remind you, all this NBCT furor is happening at the height of the testing season in every school in the state? Teachers are already stressed and distracted and truly don’t want to have to spend the kind of psychic energy we’ve been force to, on ourselves. We would rather be focusing on our students and their performance.

And this is the agency you’re going to put in charge of OCTP, and I assume by default, ELO? You’re going to give OCTP and ELO to an agency that has shown over the last two years it has nothing but contempt for teacher preparation, teacher development, teacher training, teacher learning. Teachers.
Please, defeat SB1797 and give OCTP and ELO your vote of confidence. They’ve earned it every day, with every teacher in our state.

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