Monday, May 26, 2014

Myths, Fairy Tales, Fictions...or Lies?

Learning-to-read-reading-to-learn. It’s a myth. Like Loch Ness and Big Foot.
Learning-to-read-reading-to-learn. It’s a fairy tale. Like Little Red Riding Hood.
Learning-to-read-reading-to-learn. It’s fiction. Like Horton Hears a Who and Little House on the Prairie.
My mom visited Loch Ness -- no Nessie sighting.
Every time our Governor and State Superintendent of Public Schools talk about reading and books, I begin growling.  I hear them bloviate about reading instruction…and I can’t stay still. I have spent the bulk of my 39-year teaching career working with young readers: beginning readers, struggling readers, reluctant readers. Avid readers, alliterate readers, remedial readers. Confident readers and diffident ones.

In all those years, I met two non-readers. Guess what? Family issues meant they moved constantly, had little supervision in their lives, and too much chaos. One boy, a fourth grader, surely knew his letter sounds. “Cat” became “Kuh-AAA-Tuh” No meaning at all. We got him reading his first book…and he disappeared. Family moved again. The other, a freshman. Had been raised and homeschooled by his grandmother who finally got tired of his defiance and sent him to school…for the first time in his life. Again, just as we started getting a handle on his strengths and weaknesses… and he was gone.

I don’t know why I’m surprised when the Governor and Superintendent ignore education research, best practices, good teaching, when making their political points. They were dead-set against HB2625, which will now allow a team to make a unanimous decision to promote a 3rd grader who failed the infamous Reading/English Language Arts test now required. That’s all this law (man, that sounds awesome!) will do. Western Civilization is not destroyed. A parent, the child’s teacher, a teacher from the next grade, a principal, and a reading specialist can now sit down together and decide what’s best for a child. The vote must be unanimous to promote. Then the Superintendent must approve. A parent cannot veto the vote. There will be no ‘social promotion’ – another phrase that makes me quiver.

But to support their opposition to this team, they, once again, pulled out ‘Learning-to-read-reading-to-learn.’ as the reason we can’t trust a team of professionals and parents. “In 1st through 3rd, children learn to read; then they read to learn,” they parroted. Children must be retained, without parent input until the state, on a test that can’t measure either learning to read or reading to learn, has its pound of flesh. In the name of ‘learning to read.’

All it took was a 30-second Google search to find numerous links to prove this is a myth, a fairy tale, a fiction. Writers for ASCD, a respected professional development organization, traces the phrase back to educator Jean Chall in the 1990’s. I was surprised that the phrase was invented so recently…I’m sure I’d heard it before then. But there it is…1990.  Scholastic, another respected site, also agrees that this simplistic myth hides the real complexity of reading and reading instruction. My search also led me to Dr. Kimberly Tyson, a literacy expert. I share her deep frustration with adults who are not literacy professionals weighing into the discussion, exposing their ignorance. She cringes when uninformed people use the phrase; at this point, I grind my teeth.

The truth is, we are constantly learning to read, and hopefully, we’re reading to learn. Taking in information and making some kind of sense. Predicting, testing, questioning, confirming or correcting. There is continuous interplay between reading and learning.  Every time we pick up something to read we are learning. A menu, a brochure, a classic novel, a popular novel, nonfiction, a manual, directions, a magazine.

As we are learning to read constantly, so should we be reading to learn. Students need to be reading important pieces from the very first day of reading instruction. They should be reading pieces that have something to say, pieces that make them think and wonder and ask questions. The adults in their lives should be inviting them into the reading club, the club that knows reading is important work.

I’m well past ‘senior citizen’ status and I never stop learning to read; I never stop reading to learn. To say any different, with the surety of our leaders, as often as they say it, does not make it so. It’s still a myth. And repeating it makes it impossible to move forward, finding the best ways to assist every one of our students in learning to read and reading to learn.

Now that I'm retired, I volunteered all school year in my granddaughter’s elementary library. I watched the eagerness of the readers who returned books so they could check out more. I watched their choices. I talked to them about their favorites. They loved nonfiction: books about wolves and sharks. Books about world records and cooking. Books about science experiments. These children, on their own time, were choosing to read to learn.  They also spoke passionately about picture books and novels.  Even preschool babies were coming into the library with a stack of books, and leaving with another. I know the novelty of borrowing books was part of the appeal, but so were the words, the magic of the words.

With every book we read, we learned something about reading and the world. That’s the magic of reading.

I have a radical suggestion for our Governor and our Superintendent: if you truly want to support the literacy learning (reading and learning) of our children, support school libraries. Make certain they have the funds to buy new books, to replace beloved books that fall apart from devotion. Staff the school libraries with professionals and aides. Make sure the libraries are open all day every day. Make sure the library media center is the center and the heart of the school.  I saw that this year…lessons, books, the principal doing a lunch-read-aloud. Students coming in with their library pass to get more. Gentle negotiations with the librarian to promise to find those books that are still checked out so more can be taken home.

I also volunteered at my Big’s middle school and watched the process continue. Passionate conversations about books, students who come to the library to read and to learn. A professional librarian who supported both with love and knowledge. What a pleasure it was to watch the magic that happens in school libraries.

In 2012, SB1443 allowed strapped schools to divert funding from their libraries and use the money for other needed services…That means in some districts, no money has been invested in buying new books, and making sure there are certified library media specialists full time in libraries. It was a cynical move to force schools to prioritize their work. I know in Norman schools, the citizens have approved school bonds, and that is how we have new books. The money is allocated in October and must be spent by October. Other districts don’t have that kind of support, and that means no new books.

Even with the bond money, I know for the last two years I was able to buy (from my own salary) the new releases for my classroom library than our school librarians were. Because I spent my own money, my students did have access to the brand new titles we all love to read. But I paid the bill.

I would love to share research with our Governor and Superintendent. I have a book to suggest they read to learn:  Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading, is clear: strong school libraries support reading for pleasure, for learning, and makes our children stronger, more able readers.

More research shows the same thing: school libraries contribute to higher test scores.  Instead of supporting our libraries and librarians, our state forces districts into a ‘Lady or the Tiger’ choice. The state forces districts to make decisions that contradict good research, in order to survive.

What lots of people don't know about me is I have school library certification, and am a librarian in my heart, as well as a classroom teacher, English teacher, and reading specialist. I feel qualified to share my experience and my research with our leaders.

I hope I don’t hear these myths, fairy tales and fictions from our policy makers any more. I hope they look for ways to support learning to read and reading to learn. Let’s make sure every child in Oklahoma has plenty of books so she can do both: read and learn; learn and read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pathetic...You Know What's Really Pathetic??

What a day for #oklaed! I trekked up to the Capitol for the third time in two weeks to be there for the House override vote of Governor Fallin’s disappointing veto of HB2625, which would allow a team of parents and educators make a recommendation about children’s placements if they scored ‘unsatisfactory’ on the infamous third grade reading/English language arts test. Last night I waited, in vain, along with many online friends, for the Governor to send the House her veto message. I listened to the proceedings online, and the Representative presiding kept asking if they had received the message. The Tulsa World newspaper had it at 5:31, but the Governor chose NOT to send it to the House until 11:59, assuring no override vote last night. In the meantime, the arm-twisting began. She wanted her veto to stand.

Before I left for the Capitol, I wrote one more email to the Representatives.

I want to share facts, not rhetoric, facts, about the bill from my perspective as a reading specialist with 20+ years of experience with remedial reading at the elementary and high school levels.
2625 is a needed course-correction for RSA. The test on which it all stands is deeply flawed:
2. It cannot give reading grade levels. It is a criterion-referenced test, not a norm-referenced test. There is no way to say, as I've heard many politicians say, that a child who scores Unsat on the test reads at the first grade level. Might be he doesn't know what an almanac and phone book are for.
3. The cut score for 'Proficient' is a moving target, often changed by politicians, even after the test is given.
This flawed test is the foundation of RSA, and we must find ways to bring more flexibility into the process of retaining or promoting our children.
That is all 2625 does: it allows flexibility, on a case-by-case basis, to look at all the data about a child, including this flawed assessment, and make the best decision for each child.
Why in the world would the same Legislators and Governor who supported vouchers, school choice, and Parents' Bill of Rights, now balk at providing deeply committed public school parents the right to participate in decisions about their own children?
I listened to the debate and vote in the House about Rep. Nelson's voucher expansion, and he said, quite eloquently, "Let's trust parents."
So, I challenge you today, vote to override the Governor's veto...
"Let's trust parents."

So, up to the Capitol I went…again. We lobbied Representatives, requesting their presence, and told our stories. My own Representative, I learned, had a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the team, and the outcomes that were possible. He told me I was mistaken, even when I explained again. *Sigh*
We waited, we talked, we told our stories. Parents brought certificates of achievements, blue ribbons for academic excellence, they talked about their children. They had pictures of their third graders on their phones, they cornered the lawmakers with their passion. Teachers told eloquent tales of exactly what the current RSA looked like in their classrooms. How children would be affected without the override. Legislators were, for the most part, polite…some fibbed and told parents they were ‘on the fence’ about the vote, only to vote exactly like we’d predicted. One Representative even signed up to debate against the override…not so much fence-riding as he let on, huh? We kept unofficial tallies of who was a ‘yes’ vote and who was a ‘no’ vote. One extremely rude person suggested a parent just homeschool…after asking if she had a job. Are you kidding??

A huge unforseen thrill of the day was meeting friends who are tiny avatars in my life. Now I've met Jason James and David Blatt. I met Keith Ballard. I even reconnected with an old friend who was lobbying for D.A.'s. It was a busy day, and there was time to visit as well.

All morning we waited. We waited and vote-counted. Did we have enough? Friends (and we have some great friends) in the House warned us it would be guarantees.We waited through the 1-1/2 hour lunch break. We waited as they reconvened. Then, we heard that the vote would come to the floor. I rushed up to the Gallery again, absolutely uncertain of the outcome. We needed 76 votes to override, with the emergency, which allows the bill to become law immediately. The emergency was vital for this year’s 3rd graders who had not passed the reading/ELA test.

The preliminaries to the vote are a mystery to me, but I waited…they were going to debate, and then they didn’t. They voted. We watched the board… on May 12th, the bill had passed the house overwhelmingly – 83 to 6. The support was bipartisan and strong. But we knew the Governor was pressuring, promising endorsements, and we heard, Thunder tickets for a ‘no’ vote.

The electronic board ticked away…65…70…71. It seemed to get stuck on 73…I held my breath…and suddenly it was 79. More than enough to override with the emergency. We cheered. They cheered on the floor. The gavel banged and banged again. We were reprimanded and told to stay quiet. We celebrated silently. But we celebrated.

I headed home, and by the time I got here, the Senate had already overridden, with only two ‘no’ votes. They wasted no time…they did the right thing.

Then the responses began to appear…petty, small-minded responses. Uninformed responses. Ignorant responses by politicians who are obviously jockeying for positions in their own minds, on the national scene. They were thwarted, and they were angry.

Governor Fallin  said she fears “we are setting these children up for failure. We are asking them to succeed when we haven’t given them the skills they need to go on.” She has not provided the resources for schools to do that, but now that is the issue. I’ll see if she offers more support for RSA, but I’m not holding my breath.  She spoke of the ‘widespread reading deficiencies we see in our schools.” I dare her to come to any school in this state and find “WIDESPREAD DEFICIENCIES. Hyperbole is ugly sometimes. She obviously believes this reading/ELA test that cannot give reading levels accurately measures reading deficiencies. It doesn’t.

Superintendent Baressi was more pointed and bizarre. “Oklahoma children must be able to read…Today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back.” Remember, she’s speaking about the elected Legislators who had overwhelmingly passed the measure, and had deliberately overridden the veto. She just called them pathetic. Now they know what it’s like to be in her target. Teachers have been there since she took office.
She brought up the specter of ‘a failed system of social promotion,’ obviously not understanding the work of the team which will now be in place. See, Superintendent, the default decision is to retain. Everyone on the team, the parent, the 3rd grade teacher, a 4th grade teacher, the reading specialist if the school has one, the principal, all have to agree to promote…do you really think a group of professionals will socially promote, and then send that decision to the district superintendent for final approval? Don’t bother answering…I guess you really think that little of the professionals and parents…you really think they’d promote a child even though it’s not the right thing to do academically. THAT is pathetic.

Then she went against my previous recommendation, and dragged out Dr. Seuss…at least she didn’t use Horton again…what IS her obsession with Dr. Seuss?? And, frankly, Seuss is tricky to you remember all the invented words, the twisted rhymes? He's a challenge for any parent reading a good-night story, let alone a third grade reader. Come on, Dr. Baressi...give it a rest.

“Looking ahead, it is important now that we do everything in our power to make sure Oklahoma schoolchildren can read” Are you kidding? What does she think every Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher has been doing this year? Just sitting around, waiting for her to inspire us?

There is no doubt. Our third graders can read, Superintendent. In spite of dwindling resources and larger class sizes. Not because of your mandates and requirements, but because that’s what teachers do.

What’s truly pathetic is you don’t even know that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls Held Hostage by Janet Costello Baressi, DDS

Janet Costello Baressi, DDS, must be a skilled dentist. She has been successful, and her own smile is lovely. I would never presume to critique her work, or to offer suggestions.

I am a reading specialist, with 39 years of teaching experience, K-12, and college level adjunct work. I have taught remedial reading classes in elementary and secondary settings. I offer this as my credentials.  I am an NBCT, with current certification in English Language Arts, Reading Specialist, Library Media, Yearbook (we all have yearbook certification) and World History (don’t ask!!). I am qualified to speak to DDS Baressi’s remarks about reading and reading instruction.

I attended the House debate and vote yesterday for HB2625, which amends the current RSA, giving parents and teachers a voice in the promotion or retention of their students. It was eye-opening, and gratifying to see the House join the Senate in overwhelmingly supporting parents and their rights to be involved in their own children’s education. There was a slight hiccup when Representative Nelson tried to include his voucher bill, but he lost big, and spent the rest of the afternoon sniping and posturing.

DDS Baressi was disappointed that the House and Senate both voted to substantially change her signature bill, the 3rd Grade Flunk law by having the temerity to include parents and teachers on a committee that will make retention decisions. She holds complete faith in a test to do that job, and she isn’t shy about telling us so.
Her press release, offered less than 20 minutes after the final vote in the House, eeirely echoed the words of Representative Nelson in the House Chambers – that this bill will promote social promotion. I wonder if they were working from the same page.

DDS Baressi, in her own words:

Illiteracy in our children must be a call to action. 

Did she just call our kids illiterates? Our nine-year-olds, who have been practicing their reading skills for just a few years? Kids who are still learning the complexities of taking meaning off the page?

“The RSA ensures the greatest resources and amount of time available to intensive, customized reading instruction.

No, the RSA provides fewer than $100 per child for remediation…for supplies, resources, professional development, and tutoring costs. Florida, which is the originator of this idea, funds their version with tens of thousands of dollars, every year. Once again, Oklahoma is mandating on the cheap, on the backs of our kids and teachers.

The point of the RSA is to focus education for struggling readers long before they reach third-grade.

I highly resent her implications that teachers weren’t focusing on struggling readers before her magic-pill law. I’ve worked with elementary teachers…they are heroes of epic proportions. They respect and honor the complex work of learning. Every day they create magic.

Instead of providing an alternative to learning to read, which this pending bill does, we should instead spend our energies helping these students read.

“Alternative to learning to read?” What is an alternative to learning to read? Reading takes time. Not all of us learn in the same way, at the same time. Representative Henke pointed that out in her remarks in the House Chambers: “All kids learn differently.” Those of us who cheered and applauded were reprimanded…no displays in the Chambers…but applaud we did.

Instead of taking the easy way out, we need to make certain every effort is made by parents, teachers and our communities to help these children learn to read.”

Remember, this bill gives parents a place at the table when making decisions about their own children’s education, something DDS Baressi and Representative Nelson  scream to the housetops when it involves charters and vouchers. But parents’ rights for public school parents? That’s the ‘easy way out.’ That’s somehow thwarting a child’s education. To quote Representative Inman, “I’m sick of this rhetoric.”

House Bill 2625 reinforces a status quo that has failed far too many children.

You know, the real status quo is the current testing climate. Over ten years of NCLB, and now RttT, has created this new status quo: high stakes testing attached to everything in school. Now kids are failed and refused diplomas because of test scores. Now schools and districts are graded on test scores. Soon teachers will be evaluated on test scores. THAT is the status quo, and I absolutely agree – this status quo is failing children. I don’t think she knows what that phrase really means.

It places exorbitant costs and time on school districts by mandating fourth- and fifth-grade reading remediation for students with Unsatisfactory and Limited Knowledge scores.
NOW she cares about costs to schools? Oh Puleese! This is the same woman who suggests districts pay a raise for teachers out of their carry over funds. Now she cares??

It undermines a law that districts have had three years to comply with and involve parents in its implementation.

I’m intrigued by that last statement. Is she saying parents were involved in the implementing of the current law? Are they like those mythical teachers who wrote CCSS standards? Parents, please let me know if you were consulted and involved in this bill. I’d love to know more.

Before the vote, State Superintendent Janet Barresi said Monday if a third grader can’t read first-grade level Dr. Seuss books, fourth grade books like “Little House On The Prairie” are really going to frustrate a child.

BUT what really chapped me, the reading specialist, the reading teacher, is this, her insistence that the current RSA and the current test actually tests reading levels. First, the test she is bound to, the test she wants to flunk kids with is NOT a reading test. It’s a hybrid reading-language arts test…with vocabulary questions, literary elements questions, and reference questions. Second, the test cannot (I repeat CANNOT) give us reading levels. Her cute visuals of the books is bogus. This test does not give reading levels, something a reading test could. And third, instead of reading levels, this test is one that can be manipulated by politicians and policy makers. The score for ‘proficient’ the cut score is set, by a committee, or not. The score moves from year to year, at the whims of people far removed from the children and the teachers whose lives are affected by the scores.

Back to Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls. She identifies Horton as a first grade level, and Little House as a fourth. Jason James, who has written extensively about the third grade reading-language arts test, points out DDS Baressi’s two examples are really closer in grade level than she realized. Not a surprise…she is a dentist, not an educator.

This is not the first time she’s waded into the reading arena unarmed with any facts. In an appearance before of stalwart GOP loyalists, she tried tostart the Reading Wars again, bringing up the dreaded ‘Whole Language’ readingmethods.

She says the children retained because of their test scores do not actually “repeat” third grade, they only take reading classes to catch up.
I’m completely baffled by this assertion. Kids won’t be repeating third grade? They’ll actually be in fourth grade, trekking down the hall to take reading instruction? What?
Representative Reynolds, in an act of complete brazenness, asserted strongly that he knows kids are “more likely to learn to read with other kids who read at the same level.” I muttered under my breath (I hope), “RESEARCH??” He later said he didn’t need research, since he had stories of how retention is good for kids…he must not have gotten the memo that this will NOT retain kids in third grade…NONE of us did.
Barresi said, “For those few children that don’t qualify under these exemptions, then let’s just stop as a state and say ‘let’s give you the gift of reading’.”
Gag me now. Just gag me. 7970 third graders did not pass the reading-language arts test. 7970 children were told they are not good enough, and won’t pass. Henke in her remarks in the House quoted a figure of 2%-3% of these 7970 children will qualify for a ‘good cause exemption’ and be promoted. Who am I going to believe? Not the dentist.

IF we’re not retaining these kids, as she said above, why are we ‘stopping?’

I couldn’t find evidence that yesterday she used her patented line, ‘Learning to read vs reading to learn.’ I think my head might have exploded. As it was, more than once yesterday, I was ready to launch myself over the railing in the balcony of the House, to confront a stupidity uttered as truth by one Legislator or another.

DDS Baressi is on the wrong side of this argument. The parents, grandparents, teachers of those 7970 children are on the right side. While her words are practiced and smooth, her skills are not those of an educator. She is tied to a policy that will continue to fail our children. She must put Horton and the Ingalls back on the shelf and find a way to work with the legislators and parents who have stood up to her and said, enough.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Graduation Speakers Don't Matter...Unless They Do -- OU Makes a Mistake.

Graduations are not about the speakers. They’re about the graduates. No one remembers the guests who come in and say, essentially the same things to graduates in uncomfortable caps and gowns, graduates who just want that piece of paper, to walk across the stage, and to celebrate their accomplishments.

Some ceremonies can be moving. I attended the OU Native American ceremony several years ago and saw a true celebration – of heritage, of family, and of accomplishment. Each graduate stood before us all as his or her family was named, degree mentioned, and future plans shared. Each graduate had his or her moment in the spotlight, some in traditional dress, some in those uncomfortable caps and gowns. It was a true celebration. I was honored to be invited.

My cousin recently spoke at the graduation of housing co-op students at Berkeley. He is active on the Board, and knows the benefits of lower-cost housing for students – he was a co-op resident himself. He and his audience shared so many experiences and struggles. I know his speech resonated.

Graduations are not about the speakers – unless they are. Unless the political choice of a speaker seems to support a mission diametrically opposed to the mission of the university. Such is the case at University of Oklahoma this year.

The Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education will proudly confer 335 undergraduate and graduate degrees this year…students who have chosen the traditional path to education, who are living examples of the mission of the Rainbolt College: “… to promote inquiry and practices that foster democratic life and that are fundamental to the interrelated activities of teaching, research, and practice in the multi-disciplinary field of education.”

Undergraduates have spent two years in general education classes, and then two more intensive years taking education courses, participating in field experiences at different public schools in the area. They have, or will soon, participated in a full semester of a teaching internship with a master teacher, learning the craft and day-to-day realities of their chosen profession. They will still stumble in their first years in the classroom. Teaching is complex and demanding; but they will have a firm foundation of knowledge and experiences from which to draw as they continue to learn and grown. I have worked with several of these young people as a former adjunct to the College of Education. I know the level of their commitment to teaching as a career; I know how carefully they have reflected on their choices. I know they are ready for that challenge. I am beyond proud of their accomplishments, and I am grateful for their decision to enter the profession I love.

This year, OU has chosen to invite Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America, as their keynote speaker. 

Her story is well known – why not use the good reputation of the Peace-Corps  and send a teacher corps into the classrooms in poor schools and teach for a few years, with the intent of earning $10,000 of student loan forgiveness, learning about education policy, and use the experience as a stepping stone to a more prestigious, lucrative career. I believe TFA recruits bright, generous young people who want to contribute. I believe the leadership of TFA is cynically using them, and using their students as well. There is nothing Peace-Corps about TFA now.

Teach for America’s mission:  “TFA is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.” And they define ‘excellent education’ as passing tests.

TFA students are some of the best and brightest from our universities. They receive, not the intensive two-year work load of traditionally-prepared teachers, but instead have a five-week summer program, where they may be in front of a ‘class’ of students a few hours a week. Their job is to raise test scores at the schools they’re assigned, however they can.

The agreement between school districts and TFA include a ‘finders fee’ per teacher -- $2000-$5000 per teacher, paid by strapped school districts back to TFA. Teachers are expected to teach 2 years. They are not building a resume as an educator. They’re using education to build their resume. Gary Rubenstein, one of the few TFA grads who stayed in the classroom after his commitment wrote an open letter to Kopp, highlighting his concerns with the organization. He explains that many TFA alumni are at the forefront of the teacher-bashing reform movement, including Michelle Rhee, who laughed about putting tape on her students’ mouths, and lied about her results (test scores) in the classroom.

TFA teachers now have moved into the suburban schools and charter schools…with the same mission: raise test scores. There were allegations that some of Chicago’s career teachers who were laid off would be replaced by new TFA hires. This author differs. That there is even a conversation about career teachers being replace by TFA part-time teachers makes the issue problematic.

I engaged OU in a conversation about their choice, knowing the choice was final. 

Your own school trains and inspires career educators, ones who make measured, reflective decisions to become teachers. Kopp's Teach for Awhile slaps five weeks of haphazard training on young people who, with a few exceptions, never intend to become educators...they want to pad their resumes, or get student loans forgiven, or play school on other people's children. They are told in their placements NOT to listen to the career educators in their building, and only listen to TFA trainers. They seldom stay through their short placement, and then they go off to do 'bigger and better' things. All this time, YOUR graduates are continuing to learn, to build relationships in the classroom and in their departments. YOUR graduates are asking questions, and deepening their craft.
Kopp and her attitudes about education, teacher training and teacher retention conflict with the mission of the University and the College of Education.

Thank you for listening. This woman, and Edelman, stand for everything I've fought my entire career. They demean and belittle career educators. 

OU’s response was to tell me the process of selection:

We did want to provide you information on how OU's Commencement speakers are selected. At the end of each academic year, the OU Commencement Committee, comprised of students, faculty and staff, suggests a list of names of possible Commencement speakers for the following year that the committee deems acceptable. Those names are forwarded to the President for his consideration and determination. Consideration is given to the speaker's ability to talk to our graduates about the world in which we live as well as the availability of the speaker. 

We hope this information helps to provide some clarity on the process for selecting OU's Commencement speaker. Please feel free to contact us if we can ever help you in the future as well.

My response…asking WHO recommended her:

So, who vets possible speakers? To see if they support the mission of the school? Wendy Kopp's mission is completely opposed to traditional teacher preparation schools. She thinks she knows best.

I understand the PROCESS, but not the justification of her choice. Why buy into the reform agenda that is trying to destroy the profession you have prepared your school of ed graduates for?

Her appearance tarnishes you. Not the Rainbolt grads...they will sit there with their heads high, knowing they are doing the right thing. They spent years and thousands of dollars to enter the teaching profession with the best background they can have. She believes 5 weeks is all it takes to 'make' a temporary teacher.

Your choice is wrong. Your process is flawed if she is the best available speaker.

They responded:

We understand and respect your opinion. There are currently 49 OU students with 2 year teaching agreements and 86 OU graduates who have taught through Teach For America. 

We understand that not everyone may agree with the choice of speaker every year. However, our commencement committee always has the goal of finding a commencement speaker who will inspire our graduates to go out into the world and achieve something of which they will be proud. 

We will be sure pass your concerns along to the commencement committee for their future consideration. 

Thank you again for your email. We are always here and happy to help if we can. 

I am nothing if not persistent:

I have heard in OKC schools where TFA "teachers" have been hired (with a kickback charge per head to TFA), veteran teachers have had to give up their classrooms, to become traveling teachers, working from a rolling cart, because TFA requires each of their '"teachers" to have his or her own room. 

I do not need a have told me nothing that justifies this choice. You've told me that just over 100 graduates, in the history of OU, have gone to TFA. That's not anything to be proud of. You have NOT told me how many Rainbolt School of Education graduates will receive degrees at graduation. I'm thinking that number overwhelms the TFA number pretty thoroughly.

I will continue to share links, providing the vetting of this woman that someone should have done.

So, it comes down to this: the 49 current OU-TFAers and the 86 former OU-TFAers trump the 335 graduates THIS YEAR. OU has thrown its support to a woman who would gut schools of education, has denigrated career teachers, works with reformers to undercut unions and life-long educators.

I’ve watched, listened, read, and learned about TFA – a group some of us call, ‘Teach for Awhile.’ Many alums are not  staying with the party line…An important book about TFA is entitled, Teaching Other People’s Children. The title is a deliberate choice. A very non-diverse group of privileged young people spend a couple of years ‘playing school’ with other people’s kids. Kids of poor families, kids in struggling schools.

I will officially offer the apology my friends graduating with degrees from the OU Rainbolt College of Education will never hear from the University’s leadership, so eager to cozy up to a ‘real reformer.’

Friends, I’m so sorry. Know I’m proud of each and every one of you. I celebrate your commitment to education, your passion for your students, and your living example of the mission of the College of Education. Thank you for choosing a life of service to our children. I am proud of you! Your students and families are proud. They are the people who matter, not a graduation speaker. Never forget that.

I’m so sorry.