Saturday, April 26, 2014

Surprise Your Elected Officials! Vote!

We march to the Capitol, we talk to our Legislators. We write, call. But nothing seems to change. I could never wrap my mind around that until my own state Senator told me, according to his figures, only 30% of teachers vote. That dumbfounded me.

In my home (with an educator – my dad was a principal, my principal), voting was expected. Mom was a New-Deal Democrat and Dad was an Eisenhower Republican. They laughed about how they canceled out each others’ votes, but vote they did. And “vote” they expected of their daughters.

So, that 30% figure rocked me. Only 30% of my colleagues even go to the polls? I wrote about it, calling my profession’s habit a “Self-Inflicted Wound.”

A new friend, Matt Esker – a former teacher, husband of a teacher, father of school children, still working with young people in Oklahoma – and I met and bemoaned the abysmal participation of teachers, and others who care about education. We wanted to do something to change this trend – it may be our only hope in Oklahoma. We started a FB page, Oklahoma Education Voters, in the hope of providing a forum for people who care about education as a top issue, and sharing education research to support our issues. We hoped we could create a space for conversation, brainstorming, support.

Matt created a great, easy survey to ask people about their top voting issues, and he asked them to rank their three top issues in education. We found that over 95% of our group saw education as a top-three issue, which meant we had found our audience. In just a week over 500 people have liked the page, and nearly 250 completed our survey.

Please visit our page and "like" it, and stay for the conversation.

We found what we knew we’d find: the top two issues with Oklahoma Education Voters are funding and high-stakes testing. 

The issues our participants indentified show that we are informed. A-F grading, Arts education, Common Core, class size, curriculum, funding, health-safety-developmental issues, high-stakes testing, local control, mandates, parents’ rights, poverty, privatization, national reforms, respect and support of teachers and schools, state policies that weaken schools, special education, the current Superintendent, teacher evaluations, teacher recruitment and retention, and teacher salaries. These are smart people who care about these issues.

We should, can, and must be a force in the next election.

Now, we’re sharing links to research on these issues, and we intend to formulate questions from these issues to present to our candidates for local and state office. We’ll compile their answers and share. And share. And share. Then we’ll watch.

After Matt and I launched Oklahoma Education Voters, the world conspired to show me we are working in the right direction. I’ve learned more about this deep disconnection of education voters and our policymakers.

In a conversation with a friend whose parent is an elected official, I learned that politicians are pretty clear: they know teachers may make a lot of noise, they may march, they may write letters and email, but the politicians know teachers don’t vote. So it’s easy to ignore them.  And we’ve seen the results of that.

Another friend corrected my 30% figure with information from the pollsters for our current State Superintendent of Public Education (she may have removed the word “Public” from her title…). They put the numbers at closer to 18%. This isn’t a self-inflicted wound if correct, this is a fatal hemorrhage. Again, if this is true, we deserve to be ignored.

And, in a recent trip to the Capitol, I met the irrepressible Jerry McPeak, Democratic Representative for District 13. I only meant to visit his office, and give his assistant a ‘thank you’ card for his support of our National Board program.  But he was in his office, and he yelled out, “Until everyone gets off their fannies and goes out and votes for education, we’ll continue to have these problems.” That day happened to be the day all computer tests in our state were suspended. He was fired up, preparing for a TV interview about the problems.

So, over and over, this lesson is being hammered: teachers and other voters concerned with education must vote. We must continue to write, to visit, to march and rally when necessary. We must inform ourselves and share our research and evidence. My own state Representative counters my evidence and research for positions he opposes by telling me he doesn’t need research. He uses common sense.

Well, I’ll use it too: common sense says if you care about an issue, you’ll do something about it. If you have the right to vote, you WILL vote. You will inform yourself, you will reach out and volunteer (and contribute if you can) to candidates you support.
And you will vote.

I’m from northern Indiana, close to Chicago. All through my years there I heard the phrase, “Vote early and often.” A real Chicago slogan. When I read Sinclair’s The Jungle, I learned how early Chicago politicians DID pay people to vote early and often. I am not recommending that.

We have one vote…one precious vote. We must use it. But we must, if we care about education, vote for those issues. We must engage candidates and ask about our issues. We must ask them their positions on our issues. We must record those positions and remind them.

We must listen, decide and VOTE.

Nothing will change until we do. We have no credibility with politicians. They think they’ve predicted our voting records based on our past records. We must shock them with our overwhelming numbers, and the focus of our issues.

Then, we must watch our officials, and hold them accountable (man, how they love to beat us up with this word) for every word they told us, every position they said they’d take.

And we will remind them we voted, and we plan to vote in every election.

Vote early or vote late. Vote once. It should be enough.

Primary elections will be held June 24, and general elections on November 4. Here's a link to the Oklahoma site if you need to register.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Little Women...Bonding with Tears

The brilliant and passionate Laurie Halse Anderson retweeted a provocative question:  “what is the most moving moment in children’s literature? Before I peeked at the responses, I thought of my own answer…maybe the horrifying moment  In Book Thief when Leisel loses everyone and everything in a bombing attack. We, the readers, had been amply warned of this moment, but it still was a pain in my heart.

After I framed my own answer, I read others’. Giving Tree? Yes, that is a moment of sacrifice, unappreciated. Charlotte’s Web? Heartbreaking yet uplifting. Then I read several answers the same…Beth’s death in Little Women. I recently reread Little Women and was as captivated this time as I had been when I read it as a girl.

These other answers reminded me of a rare and precious moment of bonding over books with my mother and my sister. Mom and I were the readers. Mama thought she’d invented the phrase, ‘absorbing the love of reading through mother’s milk,’ but I discovered John Steinbeck had beat us to it. Mama and I read together, we read separately. She and Dad always had books in their hands. I sneaked a copy of Peyton Place from the bookshelf, but I’m sure Mama knew I had it.

She despaired when I read cheap romance paperbacks: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and the like, but even then, I knew it was reading that was the key, not what was read.  I read about Cherry, I read the great books my mom suggested. I read. I read omnivorously, haunting the library bookmobile when it stopped right by my house every week, all summer.  I had to be reminded that the room had gotten dark while I was reading and I needed to turn on a light. I read while I did chores. I read.

Mama and I shared the love of several books: Little Women and Jane Eyre were our two favorites. I still have a cherished cameo she bought me in England that reminded her of Jane.

My sister, Jamie, was a rebel. If I loved to read, she would avoid it for more active pursuits. When I took choir, she chose clarinet. Where I was quiet and introspective, she was a planner and a mover. At less than five feet tall, she is still one of the most formidable people I know. My children learned to mind Aunt Jamie, because the consequences could be grave. Jamie could and can organize huge projects with ease, and bend everyone to her will. And I love her dearly for all the ways she is NOT me.

But back to Little Women. One summer Mama and I badgered Jamie to read the book so we could all talk about it…our own little family book club. She dutifully plowed through it, showing a cooperative attitude.  We would check in on her progress from time to time.

Our dad was a junior high principal (OUR junior high principal!! Just hold that image for a moment!!), and he worked every day throughout the summer…probably unpaid. I can remember him creating master schedules on huge pages he’d taped together. He draped the pages over the piano bench, the only surface long enough! Daddy came home for lunch during the summers, and it was always a highlight for us all…he ate his soup and we all visited about our day. Very domestic.

One day, Daddy came home and Jamie snapped at him over something. We were all taken aback. Daddy and Jamie adored each other. They never were cross with each other…I often envied that sweet relationship.  I think we all stared at her goggle-eyed. Daddy said something in the way of correcting her behavior, and she blew up at him. For nothing. Daddy’s temper was hard to arouse. But when it was, he could bellow with what we called, “The Principal’s Voice.” It was loud and deep. It commanded immediate obedience. It could stop the biggest-baddest kid in school. Our goal in life was to never hear the principal’s voice in our house, and here it was, aimed at Jamie! Daddy snarled a bit more and tried to eat his soup.

I suddenly realized and whispered to Mama: “Beth just died!”  We shuttled Dad out the door, promising that everything would be better in the afternoon, and turned as one to Jamie.

“Beth died, didn’t she?” I can remember Jamie’s stricken face, her tears, my mom’s tears, my tears.  We hugged and cried. Then we dried our eyes and talked about the book and how it touched us.  Beth, the sweet, the perfect. The one who deserved nothing but the best. And instead, Beth dies, leaving us all bereft.

As I reread the book, I remembered this moment…the power of books to bond. The power of books to make us see life and death. The power of books to help us live different lives, in different times and places.

Mama and Jamie, we weren’t the only ones crushed by that moment in the book. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Curiouser & Curiouser" Or Can We Opt Out of Try-Out Items?


“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” Alice in Wonderland

I must admit, I’m feeling much like Alice right now as I listen to conversations about parents’ decisions about opting their children from the field tests try-out items that will be administered this year following the mandated testing window.  

It all started with this message on Facebook. I received it with lines missing.

It has been current practice that parents may opt out of field tests try-out items. Last year Jenks Middle School’s parents did just that, and only about 50% of their students participated. That enraged the OSDE, and fur (and threats) flew. They demanded email records from school administrators and were determined to prove educators were the culprits who undermined the field tests try-out items. They wanted to pull administrators’ teaching licenses.

Well, this year, the state, in anticipation of our transition from PASS standards to OAS standards, and from OCCT tests to OCCRA tests, we will need all new tests. All new tests. It appears that this is the only year that field tests try-out items will be administered, to create a pool of test items for the new OCCRA. Shouldn’t a process like that take years to refine? But like the rollout of CCSS, speed trumps professionalism, and we have to get it done NOW. The results of these field tests try-out items will never be shared with schools, parents, or students. Their results are purely research for test writers. No one knows what will be asked on them, and some parents are concerned about that.

The original announcement said all school districts would participate. Then, suddenly it was announced that Jenks and Owasso would be opted out by the OSDE…Jenks was a hotbed of opting out, and Owasso had passed a resolution supporting opting out…so, they were opted out by the OSDE! NOT ONE student from those districts will take one field test try-out item. The rest of the school districts will carry the burden.

We have been very vocal about parents’ rights to opt out of these test items. They are not mandated. They are not required.  And because they are not mandated, they cannot be used in the Machiavellian A-F grading schemes to grade schools and districts.

So, more and more parents have been contacting schools with letters. One is here. This letter has been accepted by the child’s school district. There are videos with encouragement and suggestions. We know this is scary stuff to parents who strongly support their schools and want the best for everyone involved.

Then, just this week, murmurs began to bubble…schools were telling parents the field tests try-out items were required. They would count on the schools’ A-F grades. Parents couldn’t opt their children out.

Like Alice after she fell through the rabbit hole, now we didn’t know what to believe; we no longer trusted our own eyes and our own judgment. Alice might have believed she wanted a world of nonsense, but soon she realized it was not worth the effort.

Here are snatches of conversations on Twitter and Facebook with smart professionals, trying to figure out what the OSDE is up to.

Some of us are certain the ‘old rules’ apply: field tests try-out items are not mandated, they can be opted out, and they will not affect schools’ grades:
  • ·         We were told they did not affect A to F at all.
  • ·         It is my understanding that they do not affect the grade. But, who knows? That may have changed since yesterday.
  • ·         Unless they somehow change the legislative rules for A-F. I wonder if they could change the rules over the summer to make that threat a reality?? Surely not...
  • ·         I don't see how they could enforce that. Field tests are not part of A-F calculations. Bluff!
  • ·         This is clearly a bluff. There is nothing in our federal waiver that states this. Jenks MS had less than 50% last year.
  • ·         If that were true about field tests, Jenks and Owasso would automatically get an F because they are taking NO field tests. I don't see those two districts letting that happen.

And some were adamant that their schools believed they will be required.
  • ·         From a school principal...if less than 95% do not take any state tests including the field test, it will drop their "grade" one letter grade. If less than 90% take the test, then said school would receive an F. Please provide documentation if possible contradicting this.
  • ·         Yesterday I specifically asked in our faculty's Test Admin training if parents could opt their children out of field tests. "No" was the response.

Some are terminally confused, getting mixed messages:
  • ·         Been texting today with a mom who was told by a principal that it would hurt the district's A-F score if she opted out her children (from the item try outs...the field tests) That can't be right...I have heard so many different things, though!
  • ·         The response to a Union PTA chair from SDE office about consequences of opting out of field tests after numerous attempts to get an answer was finally, it won't affect a schools grade at this time. The "at this time" is why Union PTA took a stand and passed a resolution at their Council meeting yesterday against field tests rather than encouraging parents to opt out.
  • ·         I (a school principal) have not been told that the field test, now renamed "item try-outs," will affect our school report card grade but have been informed by our curriculum director that we are required to test 95% of our students. So go figure... Of course as stated above, that requirement may have changed by now

We are clearly down the rabbit hole and may never find our way. Is this any way to run a state education system?

Also from our discussion: “if you as an administrator don't know for sure about field test opt out, then you have reinforced my biggest problem with Baressi's administration. She doesn't communicate with schools. I think she doesn't know how to do her real job and really just wants to live up to her political persuasions, rather than do a good job for Oklahoma's schools.”

One mother emailed the OSDE directly for clarification. See if YOU think this is clear communication, or Wonderland speak:

“State law requires the State Board of Education to conduct criterion referenced tests in grades three through eight and end-of-instruction tests in grades nine through 12, as well as field tests to ensure all tests are validated and appropriate for administration. In addition to statute, the board's administrative rules state that all public school districts in the state shall administer the state-mandated academic achievement tests, meaning school districts are required to provide a test to every student”

I think my only response right now is: ”How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail…” I feel like a blithering idiot.

How DID Alice escape her nightmarish Wonderland?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Until They Listen, We Will Enjoy the Rally Signs

I've marched before...for HB 1017, even when I was concerned that marching would be a wedge issue between educators. I marched. I rallied before, that Spring Break several years ago, when Legialators ran for the cover of Chambers, and refused to meet with us. I have visits the Capitol with parents, with retired educators, with National Board Certified Teachers. I'llbe up there soon...with letters and notes. I'm not going away.

I missed this march and rally, but sitting in Norman, I acted, I hope, as Command Central, monitoring Facebook posts and tweets on Twitter. I reposted, I retweeted. I saved images and cross posted....I tried to flood my newsfeed and my Twitter feed with real-time news about this latest march. The response was great...lots of shares and retweets...we did create interest. We did stand together, even if we weren't at the Capitol.

I remember the optimism...the  collegiality...the fellowship. I remember being swept up in the knowledge that these people with me GOT IT. 

Unfortunately, too many either don't get it, or simply don't care. Not even a day after our rally, the Senate went forward with plans for a tax cut. Now politicians are bemoaning transportation's loss of funding, to make up for the record-breaking education cuts in OK. Now politicians have dug up self-serving stats that show schools are adequately funded....they don't tell us that figure includes ALL local funding as well....disingenuous at best. Lying with numbers if I feel cynical.

The truth is grim: Oklahoma has cut education funding more than any state in the Union. The state invests $17 per day in our children. I've already explored this subject.

When will they listen? Obviously they are listening to someone...not educators. Not parents. 
Until we are forced to March again, I am sharing my favorite images from this march and rally. Hopefully my work at Command Central was helpful.

Lousy layout due to my lack of editing expertise....didn't say Command Central ran perfectly!