Sunday, October 21, 2012

A year-and-a-half ago, I listened to Dr. Barresi's first State School Board meeting. She obviously came into the meeting determined to antagonize members of the Board, and she did. This is the first commentary I wrote about education 'reform' in our state. The images here are still the dominate ones, even though the entire Board has now been replaced by appointees by the Governor. All the posturing and manufactured outrage after that meeting in 2011 set the tone for the bullying behavior of our OSDE and our Superintendent of Public Schools who's trying to privatize the schools. I offer it as the first look at what we've been suffering ever since.

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. The details sympathized with Dr. Barresi's attempts to keep her unruly class in 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? Who started the fight?

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.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bullying in the Schools...Bullying OF the Schools

We hear so much about bullying in schools, and we're admonished to identify it, call it out, and stop it. In my classroom I the halls I try. I will confront teens who are much taller than I and tell them their behavior is bullying. I explain to my girls that eye-rolling is a form of bullying. I work to make my classroom a bully-free zone. But, what can I do when the biggest bully in my professional life is the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction? What can I do when I'm the victim, along with other educators, of a woman who believes she has a mandate to intimidate, threaten and abuse public school educators?

Any history of Dr. Janet Barresi's treatment will accidentally leave some episodes out, so I'm going to rely only on my hazy memory. Like many victims of bullying, incidents seem to blend together into a toxic environment where I'm simply waiting for the next metaphorical blow. Wayne Green's reporting for the Tulsa World will fill in the gaps.

It started at Dr. Barresi's first State School Board meeting where she came in ready to pick a fight. That's what bullies do, isn't it? She engineered the situation so members of the Board confronted her refusal to provide the Board with information about her appointees. I listened to the entire meeting -- the yelling, the snide comments on both sides. It was hard to believe that professionals would carry on this way. When Dr. Barresi didn't get what she wanted with the Board, she managed to manipulate the situation to make herself look like a victim (bullies are good at being able to appear the victim when confronted), and got herself a hand-picked Board, one that was to rubber-stamp any of her decisions. She got her appointees, even though they didn't meet the qualifications of the office. But she got what she wanted.

Since then, she's strong-armed the Legislature and the Governor's office to carry out her vision of reform. We now have a law that will flunk third-graders who don't pass the reading proficiency test, despite research that shows this is not in the child's interest. We have a law that has tried to erode due-process for teachers. We have a new teacher evaluation system that is partially based on student test scores. We passed a law that will assign each school in the state a letter grade, A-F. She got everything she wanted. Bullies are good at doing that.

They're also skilled at ignoring their victims' attempts at assertiveness. I attended and spoke at the Public Comments meeting, for the A-F grading, along with district superintendents, principals, central office leaders, legislators, PTA officers. We were there at the meeting. The only member of the OSDE staff attending was the lawyer to pushed 'play' on the tape recorder. Bullies marginalize their victims with their disdain.

Our state waiver from the requirements of NCLB includes a provision that if any of these laws is repealed, our entire waiver is null and void. So, we're trapped, as victims often are, under the weight of her vision.

Bullying other adults, professionals with whom you're supposed to collaborate is inexcusable, but our OSDE completely crossed the line when it chose to bully the very people we're all charged to protect: the students of our state.This summer for the first time graduating seniors were required to pass four End-of-Instruction exams in order to earn their high school diploma. Under pressure from the Legislature, the OSDE set up a process for students and their parents to challenge this process and appeal to the State School Board. We were horrified to learn that in order to do so, students and their parents were required to waive their rights to privacy under the federal FERPA law.  Every one of these students was already traumatized by the state's requirement they not only pass all their high school classes, but they also pass four of seven EOIs. Every one of these students was a story, a special circumstance, a tale of honest endeavors and broken dreams. Every student hoped to have a hearing in front of the State Board to plead his or her case. The price of that hearing? Loss of all privacy. All privacy. I wonder if the OSDE hoped students and their families would be intimidated into silence by being forced to waive their rights. They may have trusted the OSDE to handle their information with respect and sensitivity. Boy, they put their trust in the wrong bunch.

Ostensibly, signing the waiver was to allow the Board to examine school records and make their ruling. Instead of limiting the records to only the Board, the OSDE published private information on its website: name, address, even special education labels! Every year teachers are required to complete training on the privacy act so we never violate a student's rights. Our OSDE had no qualms at publicly embarrassing these students and their families.

But bullies don't worry about niceties. They barrel over people; they do not respect the weak, the hesitant. Instead they gravitate to them and seem to enjoy the power they have over others' lives. After a public outcry complaining of the students' treatment, the OSDE took down the names and identifying information, but only after the Board insisted. OSDE still asserts they did nothing wrong...typical bully behavior.

Bullies' victims become anxious, depressed, and educators in Oklahoma are feeling this. When the victims are our own students and we are powerless to protect them, we feel even more beaten down.  We keep wondering what's next? When's the next attack going to happen? Who will the next victim be?

We didn't have long to wait. The unveiling of the A-F school grades was to be a triumph for the OSDE. They'd railroaded objections, they'd ignored research, requests to slow down the process. They are charting a course unlike other states' grading systems, and they're determined to power through without input. They'd decided what would happen, and they made it clear they would have their way. Then district superintendents banded together. They spoke out. They held a news conference. They stood up to the bully. And, they got called names by the bully and her buddies. The Governor and the Superintendent sounded like mean girls as they called these dedicated professional educators names. The tone of their remarks was snotty at best.

So, Dr. Barresi's hand-picked, rubber-stamp Board stood up to her and voted unanimously to postpone the grand unveiling of the scores, going against the OSDE's wishes. In the kind of flash of anger we expect from bullies, the Superintendent lashed out at one of the Board members after the meeting, shaking her finger in the member's face and acting rudely. Bullies do not like to be confronted and they seldom respond with maturity. In fact, after weeks of threatening districts to silence about the grades, and after the Board voted to postpone the release of the scores, the OSDE contacted all the districts and told them they COULD release the scores, in direct conflict with the Board's vote. Bullies don't like being thwarted.

Two more years. That's how long we have to survive this bully. Two more years. But there's hope. The district superintendents, nearly 300 of them, stood up to her. Her own Board voted against her wishes.

There is hope our days of being victims may be over...Then maybe we can begin to heal.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Letter to OK House Education Committee Responding to Interim Study of National Board

I just sent this note to all the House members of the Education Committee. They are studying the feasibility of the National Board support program and stipend program in Oklahoma. Of course the meeting is during the school day, so I can't attend. 

I have found this year highly frustrating, since more students means less time to write and to communicate to my Legislators. I'm sure they're not heart-broken, but in my effort to grade and keep up with my students, the writing has had to stop. Unintended consequence of education reform, I guess....

Good evening. Thank you for letting me talk to you about National Board. I will not be able to attend the meeting's our last day of classes before Fall Break, and I really need to be with my students.

I have not been able to share my concerns with you this year, since I have more students -- 155 per day, and more students means more grading, more contacts, more emails. II know timely feedback to students is one of the most important ways to impact student learning, and that means I work hard to get papers back the day after they're turned in.  That means no time for writing, for communicating with you, even for's been a tough beginning of the year. I'm hoping to get the balance back soon. I don't want you to think my silence is disinterest or apathy. It's bone-numbing fatigue of 3+ hours of grading a night.

I know you're studying the feasibility of our ELO-NBPTS program in Oklahoma, and you're wanting evidence of the effectiveness of NBCTs in the classroom. Boy, do I have opinions. I was in the third class of NBC candidates, and have recently renewed my certification, even though I am retiring this year. There was no way I intended to retire as a former NBCT! This certification is the most important professional learning of my long career. Not only because of what I've learned, but also because of the many ways I can affect student learning, document that learning, and expect even more from my students.

My NBC has allowed me to work with education professionals from SNU, from OU, where I've taught undergraduate and graduate classes as an adjunct. I've participated in a national committee through National Writing Project and have been asked to present at National Council of Teachers of English. I am visible as an NBCT, in the classroom. My NBC is my ticket to state and national leadership. This all comes back to student impact, because my leadership helps me learn new ways to reach out to my students.

Since my NBC, I have crafted an English elective, Reading for Pleasure, with student impact in mind. I invented the class to prove students can change their attitude about reading and their practices. Students leave my class more confident in their reading, and much more likely to enjoy it. They face college or the workplace much more able to communicate. 

Students see the direct connection between my class and their performance on standardized tests -- their EOIs, their AP tests, and the ACT. I have evidence of improved scores, more confidence when taking the tests if you'd like to read my research.

This year, in four weeks, my students have read 390 books. They have reflected on their attitudes about reading, they have set personal goals for their class. They have recorded their reflections about books. They have had conversations with other students, and they have produced multi-media presentations.

Students have, for the past two semesters, read nearly half-a-million pages each semester. They report they read faster and comprehend better. They see the cross-over to other high school classes, and improvement in their writing skills in all classes.

None of this would have happened without my NBC. I would never have seen my students as co-researchers in my class, I wouldn't have understood the incredible power of self assessment and self reflection, a backbone of NBC.

I would love to have you come and visit my class and see my students in action. My empowerment through my NBC has helped empower my students. They are amazing. In case you think every student in my class came to me loving reading, let me set the record straight. This class is for everyone...9-12. I have advanced, AP students sitting next to IEP students, sitting next to remedial readers, next to ELL students. Some students DO love to read, but many haven't finished reading a book for years. Students have often remarked that our class is one of the most democratic classes, and everyone here treats each other with respect and support.

This program reinvigorated my career. I have always scanned my faculty at Norman North and targeted the bright new teachers I want to go through the NBC process...I only lack two departments before I'll have an NBCT in every department at Norman North (can you tell I take this program personally!). Think of that. An NBCT in every department in a school of  2400 students. Look at our test scores. Look at our report card. We are highly effective. Part of that success is the high number of NBCT on staff, make no mistake.

I understand the concern about sustainability of the program. But, it seems to me for every new NBCT, even at the height of the program, at least one NBCT retired, as I will, or left the profession, or left the state. I would imagine the program was close to reaching that balance of one-in-one-out. When that happens, there won't be any additional expense for stipends.

Other suggestions: fund stipends for the 10 years of the original certification...then fund 10 years for a new NBCT. This would also sustain the program.

Continue the amazing ELO program with support and training. But expect new NBCTs to pay back the scholarship with their first stipend check. That will zero-out the scholarship costs.

Tie stipends to some kind of candidate support and/or district leadership. Documentation should not be difficult. Expect more from our NBCTs outside the classroom.

But, DO NOT expect NBCTs to 'create' higher test scores. Most of us do not teach in a tested area, and that was NEVER the intent of NBC -- or teaching, for that matter. Student impact, not student test scores, is our focus. 

WHEN student test scores do increase, it's a great side effect of effective teaching and reflective learning. It's not the direct result. We see 'student impact' in a much wider, systemic way. We're educating the whole child, and often the whole family. We're educating for much more than a narrow test score, one day in April. That should be the reason you want to invest in this program.

Most of us can go on forever about how our teaching has changed. We see the classroom differently. We can quickly diagnose confusion in learning and distracting behavior. We are able to effect changes and are willing to keep trying until we've changed behavior or gotten through to a student. We understand and use feedback to reteach and redirect. We step up and mentor other teachers, we share our expertise. We lead from the classroom. We change lives every day. You want us in the classroom, and for this work, the stipends are a deserving way to acknowledge our contributions.

Thank you for YOUR contributions to our state, and to our state's children. We truly are partners, working together. I hope I can be helpful. I would love to visit further...thank you for your time, I'm going back to my grading! :)