Friday, March 27, 2015

Deja Vu All Over Again...With a Twist

I, quite literally, have Janet Barresi to thank for my blogging career. I listened to a podcast of her first Board meeting after I heard about the fireworks. I sat there, screaming at the computer…so loudly, my husband closed the door to the spare room so he could watch football uninterrupted.

Soon, the DOK, whom we learned later would be Barresi’s staunchest ally, printed a political cartoon, showing the Superintendent as the harried teacher, with a class full of sand-throwing children acting up. I’d heard the meeting, and I knew who the real playground bully was. If you listened, as I did, to every word, it was apparent she had gone into that meeting ready and willing to poke the Board members until they erupted. And they did. She went to her first meeting with an agenda: to bully and confront.

I wrote a long-ish piece which I knew would never get into the paper, so I posted it on FB as a note.

I remember how quickly and decisively Governor Fallin and the Legislature acted after that meeting  to protect Barresi from the evil School Board. A new law was enacted that allowed the Governor to immediately replace Board members, and she did. She packed that Board with allies. Barresi wanted a rubber-stamp Board, and she got it. Except for one independent, courageous member, Joy Hofmeister, who asked tough questions, and voted with children as her only agenda.

Now, fast forward four years. The now blessedly-former  Superintendent was handily defeated in her own primary, coming in third, behind a candidate who rarely showed up for public events. Her own party voted her out of office.  Not the education establishment…her own party.

Currently we have a new Superintendent with a Board left over from the old administration. And fireworks erupted again yesterday. This time, it appears the deliberate, provoking behavior was on the part of two members who expected Superintendent Hofmeister to carry on the traditions of that disgraced predecessor.  Apparently, Superintendent Hofmeister did not allow  enough time for Board member Bill Price’s new business (the Senate bill proposed, written, and supported by Board member Amy Ford) and the failure to hire a Board secretary seem to be the surface reasons for the mutiny.  After the meeting, other petty complaints arose.

There is obviously more afoot here that an early adjournment. Member Amy Ford seems angry that ‘her’ bill, SB301, was not endorsed by the Board. In the article she calls it ‘my bill,’ then backs off and says she asked Kyle Loveless to sponsor the bill. Senator Loveless may have his name on it, but he was unable to answer questions put before him in the Education Committee as the committee considered the bill. Luckily enough, that morning, Board member Ford just so happened to be in the audience and was allowed to explain what Loveless didn’t understand. This is her project, and she is pushing Loveless and whispering in his ear. I watched the Ed Committee tell him his bill was a mess; to quote Senator Jolley, it’s “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” But it was passed through committee. Then, on the floor of the Senate, Loveless was a bit better prepared. He again promised to ‘fix’ the bill, to address all the concerns. It passed.

This is the bill Ford wants endorsed.

We again have bullies on the playground. NOW the bullies are a couple of Board members who promised, in their best bully voices, to oppose Superintendent Hofmeister, just for the sake of opposing her. Just because they didn’t get their way.  Just because they can…

Tulsa World covered the meeting and the raised voices. “Ford vowed to “uniformly vote down every issue” until the dispute is resolved in her mind, and Price concurred. So, they get their way, and they get their bill supported, and they get their secretary, or they will block all business of the Board. Bullies at work.

To me, the two Board members undercut all their possible credibility by referring  to the ‘good old days” of the previous administration, and the practices of the former, disgraced, Superintendent. Did the Board members not take note of the election? Did they not see Oklahomans voted an incumbent out of office in the primary? Do they really think mentioning how great things were under the former Superintendent would bring supporters to their side? Not bloody likely.  I read their toadying to the previous Superintendent with disgust.

As Superintendent Hofmeister said, her administration is only two months and two weeks old. A bit of patience might be in order, some relationship-building. Some listening, some creating new traditions. Instead, we got bullying of a duly-elected official.  And promises of more bullying.

Rob Miller was first to jump on this story, connecting dots from the previous administration’s questionable hire of a law enforcement officer for the Accreditation Section. A hire who chose to quit moments before Hofmeister’s administration would take control. Rob wonders if SB301 was written to give said law enforcement, and husband of a friend of the Board, a new job. I don’t know, but it’s something to consider as we look at the bluster and bullying. There’s something behind all this.

As a teacher, that’s the first thing I’d do with conflicts between students: look beyond the surface, behind the wall --  the behavior, the words. Look for the reason, the motivation. The “why”? of the conflict. I couldn’t help students solve the surface problem until we’d looked deeply at what they were feeling, what happened before, usually completely unrelated to the incident at hand.

The WHY? bothers me a lot. Why? Why this temper tantrum? Why this temper tantrum now? Why all the posturing? Why bring up the disgraced former Superintendent as a model of leadership?

And then there’s the ever-important “What”? question.

What will Governor Fallin do now?

Here’s my advice: the bullies must go.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#oklaed Queen for a Day

An #oklaed chat on Sunday night ended with a challenge – could bloggers, in 600 words or fewer, share the first two reforms they would enact if they were suddenly “Queen or King for a Day.” I will start with a history lesson, as I’m sure I’m the only one who remembers the reference. 

When I was a little girl my mom and grandma watched a cheesy TV show called ‘Queen for a Day.” The producers would find women with compelling sob stories and drag out every excruciating detail of their lives for the camera. Four women told their stories, and the audience voted by applauding, to choose the Queen for the Day, and then shower them with gifts (actually clever product placements…a first for TV!) that were supposed to make their lives magically better.

 I never understood how a wringer washing machine or a Dishmaster would change someone’s life, but the women seemed overcome. The competition, the prizes, probably had unintended consequences. But it was great TV.

If I’m #oklaed Queen for a Day, I want positive reforms.

Whatever we do to reform #oklaed must be more meaningful than a one-shot product placement. The changes need to be systemic and meaningful.  They need to make a difference in the culture of every school in the state, and a difference in the lives of our kids.

So, for my first pronouncement, I would immediately call for a moratorium on all unfunded or underfunded mandates in schools.

I love Joy Hofmeister’s line: Every mandate ends up on a teacher’s desk. Unsaid but implied is – and a student’s desk. Intensive remediation for our learners who struggle with reading? Fully funded. Raises for teachers? Fully funded. Stipends to encourage NBCTs to stay in the classroom? Fully funded. Specialized education experiences for ELL students? Fully funded.  Textbooks, libraries, technology. Quality professional development for teachers. Required courses that also require highly qualified teachers? Mandates that require administrators to oversee? Mandated testing not paid for by the state? Funded.

 If it’s important enough to mandate, policy makers would fully fund up front.  With smiles on their faces, knowing they have contributed to our kids’ lives.

Second…policy makers and schools (with full funding) would tackle the crippling inequity in the lives #oklaed students.

More #oklaed children live in poverty, and are hungry or homeless than the national average. Poverty leads to Adverse Childhood Experiences that become huge burdens some students bring to school every day. They experience traumas no child should. Our children are sick, have debilitating toothaches, asthma; they haven’t eaten since school lunch the day before; they don’t know if they will have a bed to sleep in. These children cannot be held accountable for academic learning until their physical and emotional needs are met. Policy makers owe that to our children.

Schools would provide wrap-around services for families – medical and dental clinics, social services would be housed in neighborhood schools. Parents could consult with other professionals about ways to support their children’s learning. Schools would be open into the evening for parents and children to use the libraries, the computer labs. Schools would be true neighborhood schools…inviting the community to participate in the education of our children.  Schools would provide engaging activities after school for students who would otherwise go home to empty homes.

Families must be supported as they do their best to raise their children.  Living wages for parents working full time and medical insurance for all children would be provided, because we would all be committed to raising the healthiest children we could.

If I was Queen for a Day, I would want the changes I made to be lasting, positive contributions to schools and students and parents. No wringer washers, no dish-o-matics, no gimmicks.  Real commitment to impact the way Oklahoma treats our most vulnerable citizens.

So, now I just need to find my tiara and scepter.

Related posts from fellow bloggers:

Queen for a Day -- Tegan Malone
If I Am the #Oklaed King for a Day -- Scott Haselwood
Another Brick in the Wall -- Shannon Mellott
If I Were Queen of Education -- Niky Shobert
#Oklaed King for a Day Submission -- BlueCerealEducation
If I Were King of #Oklaed -- Rob Miller, with a nod to Monty Python

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hoosier School Heist Predicts Sooner School Stickup

Thanks to the Oklahoma Observer for the cartoon. 

I was born in Indiana, started my career in Indiana. Most of my family of educators taught there. So, I was saddened to read Hoosier School Heist by Doug Martin, about the systematic destruction of public schools in Indiana. I learned about this book from Justin Oakely, an education activist who was teaching in the district I started teaching: Martinsville Public Schools. The illustrious John Wooden of UCLA fame also started his career in Martinsville.

Oklahoma and Indiana school systems were once ruled by Chiefs for Change, Jeb Bush’s cadre of school-choice proponents. Indiana was the first to show their Chief, the vilified Tony Bennett, the door. His opponent, Glenda Ritz, earned more votes than the governor or Mitt Romney. I was proud when our Chief came in dead last in the Republican primary. Despite these victories, reformers are clearly in charge.

Until I read this book, I didn’t know how bad it was in Indiana. How far down the path of privatized education my beloved home state has gone. I see this book as a cautionary tale for us in Oklahoma. We must pay attention.

Indiana’s charter laws are much more lenient than ours. For-profits, online schools, religious schools have all been welcomed with open arms and open palms accepting donations. Vouchers are equally wide open. Public schools have been stolen. And Martin traces the story, one Foundation, one player, one payoff, one school at a time.

Martin systematically uncovers the agenda of several big players: the pretend liberals, the “Free-market Jesus” religious interests, and the government-corporate complex. All coming from a different place ideologically, they converged in a perfect storm attack on public schools.

The Pretend-Liberal Saviors include KIPP, the no-excuse charter chain, and Annie E. Casey Foundation, which does great work for kids. But they also funnel funding to groups who want to privatize education, including Teach for America, Stand for Children, and Democrats For Education Reform. These groups, as well as Bill Gates, use the language of liberals to push an agenda that will kill public schools. Free-market charters and vouchers to private schools are their tools; profit their aim.

Martin traces the work of religious groups in Indiana. Starting with the John Birch Society, he discusses groups funded and supported by the power brokers: Excellence Through Choice in Education, supported by Dan Quayle (yes, Dan, P-O-T-A-T-O-E, Quayle), John Bennett, and the Friedman Foundation. Others include Excellence Education for Everyone and Institute for Justice. Also mentioned are the Ayn Rand Institute and a religious charter chain called Lifeline, Youth and Family…who may or may not practice conversion therapy (the parallels keep appearing).

Then he zeroes in on the unholy alliance of government and business in Indiana and beyond: Chris Christie, Chris Cerf, Jeb Bush and his family, Walton, DeVos, supported by the Amway fortune, the Eli Lilly Foundation, and K12 online schools. All with buckets of cash to donate to hungry government agencies. He speaks at length about the Gulen charters. I know we have some in Oklahoma, but they must follow our charter laws…at the moment. Gates’ and Broad’s cozy partnerships with government agencies are here. Governmental agencies seem to be conspiring with business – for a price.

Martin ends his book with the defeat of Tony Bennett at the polls, calling him the “Sam’s Club Hero.” We know the rest of the story, with the allegations of abuse and fraud at his beloved charters. We know he didn’t last long at Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. But the damage he and his buddies wrought didn’t go away.  

As I read the book, my head hurt from all the names of groups and foundations and institutes and societies and federations and associations. If we needed any evidence of how well-connected and well-organized the privatizers are, Martin leaves no doubt. I reread the book, copying the groups and individuals he mentioned. I was overwhelmed by the power they wield.

But this book is information, and information is power. We can use the Hoosier Heist as our warning.

Right now as I write, SB68 has passed the Senate and is on its way to the House. It will give cities power to create charter schools, and cripple the already-struggling public schools. It appears that any charter – for profit, religious, ideological – can petition for a school. The author, Sen. Holt, cites all the middle-class parents in the inner city who want a choice. I read ‘white parents who want to send their kids to schools with other white kids, leaving the ‘others’ in their struggling school.’

 SB609, the voucher bill, will be the finishing blow. Tax money leaves the public schools for private schools with no accountability. None. No real choice for parents either, since the choice is all on the side of the schools. From Martin: “'School choice' is their choice and will only make the gap wider." In one document I’ve seen that by 2028, Oklahoma public schools will be subsidizing every child in private schools…and what will be left for our students in public schools?

These two bills seem to be inspired by the success of Hoosier School Heist. Gut the current charter school law and invite Wal-Mart Charters, and then funnel public money to private schools with any agenda they choose to promote. Will we be talking about a Sooner School Stickup in the near future?

A quote at the end of the book from Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, crystallizes all my fears for public schools, and for my family business.

"We may well find, in a future world--where the rich have their own system of education, the religious have theirs, the poor don't get educated at all, and everyone is schooled in contempt for those who are different (my emphasis)--that we have kept all our rights, yet lost everything but the pretense of democracy."

We have been warned, Oklahoma.

What follows is an alphabetical list of some the major players identified by Martin in Hoosier School Heist. Scary. I will not link to each of these…but if you have any information, I’d love to hear more. Please feel free to comment.

All Children Matter (DeVos)
Alliance for School Choice
American Enterprise Institute
American Federation for Children (DeVos)
American Quality Schools
Americans for Prosperity (Tea Party)
Annie E Casey Foundation
Ayn Rand Institute
Black Alliance for Educational Options (Walmart, Bradley)
Bradley Foundation
Center for American Progress
Center for Education Reform
Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning
Challenge Foundation
Charter Schools Development Corporation
Charter Schools USA (FL)
Christian Focus on the Family’s Indiana Family Institute
Clubs for Growth
Connections Academy
Democrats for Education Reform
Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation
Discovery Institute (Intelligent design)
Ed Power
Edison Learning
Education Action Group
Education Writers Association
Educational Excellence Network
Excellence Through Choice-in-Education (Quayle, Bennett, Friedman)
Excellent Education for Everyone
Foundation for Excellence in Education (Bush)
FourD Education Foundation
Freedom Works (Bradley)
Friedman Foundation
Gates Foundation
Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation (Walton)
Gulen Schools
Hechinger Institute
Heritage Foundation
Holy Dove/Turkish American Society
Hoosiers for Economic Growth
Hudson Institute
Ignite! Learning (Bush)
Indiana Charter School
Indiana Education Roundtable
Indianapolis Mind Trust
Institute for Justice
Institute for Justice
John Birch Society
Joyce Foundation
Lambe Foundation (Koch)
Lifeline Youth and Family Services
Lumina Foundation
MATCH Corps Recruiting
MET – teacher evaluation (Gates)
Mind Trust
Niagra Foundation
National Council for History Education (Bradley Foundation)
National Heritage Academies
New Horizons Youth Ministry
New Teacher Project
Noble Network of Charter Schools
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (Bush)
Pearson (Sandy Kress)
Purpose Built Communities
School Choice Indiana
School Choice Wisconsin
Stand for Children
Strategic Capital Partners
Strategic Partners Urban Fund
Teach for America
Teach Plus
The Project School
Thea Bowman Leadership Academy
Tiger Foundation (Robertson)
Troops for Teachers
Turnaround Academy Public Charter Schools Association
US Chamber
Walmart American Federation for Children
Walton Foundation

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Oklahoma Teachers were busy Saturday: Two Opportunities to Learn -- #EdcampOKC and ORA

I was the oldest person in the room. No surprise anymore, but I was struck by the energy of hundreds of teachers who got up on a Saturday, ready to spend the day working and talking with other professionals – about teaching and learning. On a Saturday. Away from their own families. Some driving over four hours to get there by 8:30.  This was MY first #EdcampOKC, and it was a smashing success.

And it wasn’t the only amazing learning opportunity yesterday. Donalyn Miller, of Book Whisperer fame, was just down the road, talking to the Oklahoma Reading Association. More teachers, taking time from families, from grading, from lesson planning…all to work and listen and learn. All to be better, stronger educators.

The Edcamp model pitches traditional professional development on its head, and forces a reassessment of what it means to be an educator-learner. No typical presentations. No powerpoints. No handouts (can I say I kind of missed handouts? My visual-learner mode kicks in when I have a handout). Most rooms when possible were arranged in a circle for authentic conversation. And that’s what I heard. Authentic. Conversation.

The schedule is built right in front of our faces, as educators sign  up to facilitate conversations…sometimes to gain knowledge about a subject they want to know more about, sometimes to assemble like-minded folks to plot and plan, sometimes to talk policy, sometimes to talk technology, sometimes to talk lessons. Participants were in charge of the schedule.

You don’t arrive with your schedule printed, and your choices already made (I can’t be the only one who does that!). You arrive with an open mind, looking for possibilities.

I intended to tweet more, but found I wanted to simply take notes and listen..piping in when I thought I had something to contribute. So, I did not uphold my part of that bargain.

We had ample evidence of the change in climate in our education community. Superintendent of Schools, Joy Hofmeister, was in attendance, not as a publicity stunt, not as a wave-and-out-the-door. As a participant. She has attended #Edcamps since before her election. She has forged relationships with the leadership, and with the teachers who attend. She was in one of the sessions I attended, doing active problem-solving to improve communication among educators, and with the OSDE. Her new Deputy Superintendent, Cindy Koss, attended, as did several of her curriculum directors. This enterprise has the total support of the elected leader, as well as her active participation.

For me the highlight of the day is meeting online and PLN friends. I recognized some from their tiny Twitter avatars, but name tags really helped. This old bird finds online communities interesting and exciting, but I still need face-to-face connections. And I need hugs. Kevin Hime jokingly singled me out for PDA in one meeting when I hugged a former student. I came for the information and the hugs. I left with bunches of both.

I learned that #oklaed and the Sunday chat was born at an #edcamp. In that tradition, four of us are working on a new idea, begun with Christie Paradise’s practice of tweeting #1coolthing about her classroom at least once a week. Read Scott Haselwood's blog describing #1coolthing. Barbie Jackson and Megan Cabe and I had lunch together, plotting a #1coolthing campaign to reach out to our Legislators. From other sessions, we learned that many policy makers are on Twitter, but not active after election season. We heard that good old-fashioned snail mail will reach the offices of our policy makers and be handled by a real person. We brainstormed. Letters? Postcards? Postcards with a catchy logo that would set our positive messages apart from other mail? We’ve created a possibility from snippets of all the sessions we attended. We will keep working, in the spirit of that first #Edcamp that inspired #oklaed.

Edcamp did not charge any registration, and fed us! Breakfast and lunch. That was made possible by the generous sponsors who knew there would be no 'exhibit hall' to pitch their products. They contributed and supported us for nothing but a hearty 'thank you.' So, here's mine.

The profession is in good hands. These educators, and the ones attending Donalyn Miller’s presentation, sacrificed a day off to learn, to network, to share.

Man, these lazy teachers…gotta do something about them. We need to thank them. Acknowledge their commitment to their profession and their students. Rewarding them with a pay raise would be nice. But, that ‘thank you’ goes a long way, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

#oklaed Chat Resource Guide to Address Bullying

I was lucky enough to moderate an #oklaed chat about bullying in schools, efforts to thwart, and resources to combat. I promised at the end of the hour, to compile our ideas and resources and share. I have done that, the the resources are in the link at the end of this post.

I’d never moderated a chat before…I had my questions ready and then revised and revised again. I made sure they were focused on inviting conversation, and would allow parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders a ‘way in.’ I was pleased to see high school students, college students, and two Oklahoma legislators joining and at least reading.

The hour flew by, and I found myself frustrated by my inability to read and respond as I can when I’m participating. I had to have a timer (Kevin Himes’ idea!) to remind me when to post the next question. But, I forgot a couple of times to reset my timer. Anne Beck is in charge of "storifying" (is that even a word?) the conversations on our weekly chats. She had the Storify link ready moments after our chat. I was able to read through the conversation on my own time.

The discussion was rich…educators and parents shared stories, ideas, best practices, and I discovered several experts who have agreed to be resources for us.

The resource document I’ve compiled here includes books I’ve read, and books listed in the latest book I’ve read. There are websites recommended by participants. Books for children and adolescents. #oklaed educators who volunteered to be ‘go to’ folks for ideas and trainings.

Together we created a powerful document for schools and parents. Together we had an honest conversation.

Together, I hope, we have started the hard work of supporting all students and educators and parents in creating a positive culture.

I thank all who joined the conversation and helped me compile this Resource Guide. Please feel free to comment with more ideas…I want to make this a living document. I will continue to add material and to add links. Michelle Waters has volunteered (ok, I begged her) to help create a prettified brochure after all the revisions are made. We will have an important document when we're finished. 

So, help me out. Correct my errors, add ideas, give me new titles and links. New resources.