Happy Thanksgiving to Those Who Build Our Future!

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As in many of your homes this morning, my house is being filled with the comforting sounds and smells of turkey roasting, pies and fresh rolls baking, pots and pans clanging, the opening and closing of the oven, knives chopping, the laughter of friends and family, and the endless chatter about things meaningful and meaningless.

After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. Oh, and football…but that comes later in the day!

I suppose for some it also means planning your “Black Friday” strategy, but that is definitely NOT this guy! I love Amazon and online shopping!

Thanksgiving is obviously also a day that we reflect on the many blessings we have as citizens of this great nation. A day to remember the many ways that we are similar rather than dwelling on our differences. A day to be thankful for those we love and for those who love us. A day to pray for those less fortunate.

Since this is primarily an education blog, I want to spend a few minutes thanking all of you who have committed your lives to be a positive influence and role model for our nation’s children.

Today is a difficult time to be an educator. The challenges become greater every day. The politicians don’t appreciate you. They think they know how to better educate your children and judge your worth, even though few of them would last a day in your classrooms.

Instead of telling you how you are failing and “losing generations of children,” they should be thanking you every day for your service.

Here is the truth:

Every one of you is a hero.

You go to school every day because you have a purpose and a mission. You are a teacher because you want to make a difference in the lives of children.

And make no mistake, YOU do make a difference!

Your students know how important you are in their lives and appreciate what you do.

Years from now, they won’t remember who the governor was, they won’t remember who Arne Duncan, Janet Barresi, Michelle Rhee, or their State Representative was, but they will remember YOU.

They will remember how you changed their life. You kept them safe and dried their tears when they scraped their knees. You listened to them when there was no one else who would. You hugged them and told them it would be okay. You set high standards and encouraged them to push beyond their boundaries.

Today, you stand on the front lines of poverty and witness the social dysfunction in our communities. You work diligently every day to breathe life into the ideal of leaving no child behind. You fight to help each and every child find and enhance their unique potential as human beings.

Many people don’t understand why you do what you do. They think merit pay will make you work harder, as if you’re holding back. They don’t understand what motivates you. They think the threat of being labeled “ineffective” or grading your school an “F” will inspire you to care more, as if the knowledge that you hold the future in your hands on a daily basis is not incentive enough.

Maybe these sticks and carrots work for bad teachers, but they tend to demoralize the great ones, and there are thousands of great teachers in our public school classrooms today.

Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This drive for hyper-accountability and labeling of teachers is a pesticide that is being over-sprayed, thereby causing irreparable harm to the entire garden of public education.

When we try to advocate for hurting children, we are told to stop making excuses, raise our standards, and prepare kids for tests that will tell us if they are “college and career” ready— somehow without measuring qualities like empathy, character, persistence, creativity, or passion.

History will recognize that teachers in these years stood up against the deformers’ machine and instead focused on the needs of children.

History will judge our current leaders who refused to confront the pandemic issues of neglect, fatherless homes and child poverty more than it will the teachers who worked courageously to overcome it. It will judge those who allowed inequitable and insufficient school funding to persist for decades and those who refused to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they could come to school ready to learn.

Despite this, you do everything you can to improve the life of each child who comes to your classroom.

So, today on Thanksgiving Day, I want to thank those teachers who helped to mold me into the person I am today, as well as those who work tirelessly to educate the future leaders of America.

You are all special and deserving of our nation’s appreciation. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Arne!

In case you missed it, Oklahoma received some good news today from the United States Department of Education. Here it is, according to THIS State Department press release from earlier this afternoon:

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced today it is reinstating Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Flexibility Waiver for the 2014-15 school year. Although the waiver had been pulled after state lawmakers repealed Common Core academic standards deemed college- and career-ready, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reconsidered that earlier decision after Oklahoma higher education officials determined the state’s existing academic standards were sufficient.

This piece was not mentioned in the press release, but Superintendent Barresi was actually informed of this decision via a holiday postcard from Secretary Duncan himself.

Lucky for you, I just happen to have a source in the state department mail room who was able to capture a picture of the card this morning.

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I thought it was awfully nice of the Secretary to send such a sweet card.

So, anyway, all is good in our state again.

Instead of having to deal with the draconian requirements of the 2001 NCLB legislation, we have now been given official permission to continue to suffer under the onerous mandates of President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s unconstitutional ESEA Flexibility Waiver.

Oklahoma gets to keep our wonderful A-F school ranking, sorting, and punishing system, as well as our well-received third grade retention law which has given thousands of eight-year-old children an extra year of school, FREE of charge!

We also get to continue implementing our research based never been tried Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) System. This will facilitate the process of quantifying effective teaching by using highly inaccurate and unreliable value added models, SLOs, SOOs, and Other Academic Asinine Measures (OAMs), including foolproof surveys of kindergarten students.

And, don’t worry, we will still get to keep all of our beautiful tests. In fact, like Florida and other RTTT states, we will likely have the chance to add even more tests in the coming years to further prove that our teachers and schools are doing a lousy job.

Seriously, I do understand why this is considered good news for our schools. The potential loss or redistribution of federal funds would have had a devastating effect on many schools across our state.

And, as Dr. Barresi said, “The ramifications of losing the waiver would have been significant and with potentially disastrous consequences. Instead, Oklahoma now has an opportunity to build upon the innovations and successful reforms of recent years.”

Wait. . . come again, Janet. Innovations and successful reforms? Did I miss something? I could spend a few more paragraphs dissecting that comment, but, eeeh, why bother?

In the spirit of the holidays, I will instead just wish our state superintendent a happy Thanksgiving holiday. It is her last one in office, which gives us all one REALLY good reason to be thankful this year.

Courageous or Crazy?

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If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know I am not a big fan of high stakes testing. Okay, that is an absurd understatement. I have a intense disdain for high stakes testing. As Diane says, it is educational malpractice.

Many of us believe this because we have seen first-hand the negative implications of using student test results to rank, sort, and punish schools, teachers, and students. The widespread repudiation of test-based accountability has become a central purpose of this blog and one of my missions in life.

Corporate reformers and the politicians who serve as acquiescent accomplices have wagered the bank on the fact that the results of high stakes testing will support their narrative that public schools in America are awful and need to be replaced.

They are also doubling down on a out-of-date educational paradigm that will leave our children ill-prepared for success in a rapidly evolving, innovation-based 21st workforce. By forcing schools to comply with a rash of regressive and punitive reforms, they are hampering school leaders from implementing the type of true reforms that need to take place in our education system.

The reformers’ efforts are pernicious and intentional. I contend there are entities seeking the deconstruction of the American system of public schools in the interest of unadulterated greed, and, in some cases, to support a more insidious intent of creating what fellow blogger John Thompson refers to as “neo-Plessyism,” or a state of separate but unequal schools in America, particularly in our urban centers.

This has caused a considerable amount of unrest in schools and communities across the country. As you are aware, I spent a short time in Superintendent Barresi’s crosshairs after 800 parents from my school exercised their right to opt their children out of field tests during the 2013 spring testing session.

This past year, Dr. Barresi and her staff intentionally excluded Jenks and Owasso Public Schools from field testing to avoid any negative publicity from our engaged, educated parents.  Barresi’s apparent mindset was: “If you can’t beat them–do what you can to silence them.”

In the past week, we have learned about two courageous first grade teachers at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa: Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren. Their story has been superbly told by the Tulsa World’s education writer, Andrea Eger, in a series of articles over the past few days.

In today’s piece, Andrea starts by asking the simple question: “Why are two first-grade teachers risking the jobs they love to take a stand against new student tests and surveys?”

Her answer: Because they know they’re not alone.

I honestly hope that this is true. While I am certain that many teachers and parents have similar feelings about the expansion of testing and its use in quantifying effective teaching, how many others are willing to take a stand like Nikki and Karen?

These two educators have bravely chosen to go way out on a limb, say NO, and do what they believe is in the best interests of the students they teach and love. Will they make this jump safely or will they fall short?

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A review of some recent history is in order. Nikki and Karen’s decision to boycott the administration of the district’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) is very similar to what occurred at Seattle’s Garfield High School last year.

If you recall, In January 2013,  the entire faculty at Garfield High School voted unanimously not to administer the MAP test of reading and mathematics.

Garfield’s testing coordinator, Kris McBride, planted the seeds of revolution in December 2012 when she told frustrated remedial-reading teacher Mallory Clarke, “You can refuse to give the test!” The two women first sought—and won—support from the language arts and math departments, then asked for the backing of the entire teaching staff. With a few abstentions, Garfield teachers unanimously voted to support a boycott of the January-February cycle of MAP tests. Garfield teachers sent multiple letters, emails, and voice mails to the office of the Seattle School Superintendent Jose Banda after their December vote, with no response. So on Jan. 10, 2013, they staged a press conference.

The Seattle Teachers’ Association published the following statement on behalf of the teachers of Garfield:

We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students. We want to be able to identify student growth and determine if our practice supports student learning. We wish to be evaluated in a way so that we can continue to improve our practice, and we wish for our colleagues who are struggling to be identified and either be supported or removed. The MAP test is not the way to do any of these things. We feel strongly that we must decline to give the MAP test even one more time.

Then an email from Superintendent Banda hit their in-boxes with a clear and unmistakable message: that a teacher boycott of the district’s MAP test was intolerable and any teachers involved in the boycott would face, at minimum, a ten-day suspension.

The national ripples were immediate.

A February 6 National Day of Action in support of Garfield teachers inspired rallies across the country. In Chicago, for instance, parents at 37 schools gathered signatures on anti-testing petitions. Banda’s office was “bombarded” with emails.

An International Day of Action in May 2013 brought support from teachers and parents in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

In the weeks and months following the Garfield declaration, teachers at six other Seattle schools joined the MAP boycott. When Banda’s office ordered school administrators to give the test anyway, local families added power to the revolt, with about 600 students opting out of the winter tests.

Banda convened a task force to study the issue, and in May 2013, he announced a partial reversal of district policy: MAP testing now is optional for the district’s high schools. Despite the early threat of 10-day unpaid suspensions, no teachers were punished for refusing to administer the MAP.

Incidentally, earlier this year Superintendent Banda accepted an offer to become the superintendent of Sacramento Public Schools.

In short, the teachers won.

Garfield teacher, Jesse Hagopian, said: “This wasn’t just a victory against one test. This was a victory for a key concept: that teachers should be consulted about issues like testing and what kinds of learning are best for our students—before districts go to high-paid consultants and billionaires for solutions.” 

This brings us back to Nikki and Karen. I believe these educators have provided a strong and cogent explanation for their position. THIS letter they sent to the parents of their students was articulate and passionately written.

Like the teachers at Garfield, Nikki and Karen are not troublemakers. They are not arguing against the use of reasonable assessments to gauge their students’ learning and inform their instruction. They are simply saying that the MAP is the wrong way. Additionally, they are arguing that the use of surveys for first grade students as a component of teacher evaluation is developmentally inappropriate.  As a result, they refuse to continue to play the game.  Their jobs are on the line and they know it. The bottom line is that Nikki and Karen have put the interests of their students ahead of their own.

What remains to be seen is if this effort will be successful. That is up to the teachers and parents of Tulsa Public Schools. If they believe Nikki and Karen are wrong in their actions, they will leave them alone on an island where they will be forced to either fall into compliance or be disciplined or terminated for insubordination.

On the other hand, if this serves to energize other educators and parents in Tulsa and across the state, people will have to take notice. As Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said in Andrea’s article today: “It wouldn’t take a whole bunch to have those two become 200. Teachers are not on board with this — they were uninvited to the conversation about assessments. My view is this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Depending on our level of support, Nikki and Karen are either being courageous or crazy. Do their actions truly represent the tip of an iceberg, or just a few random pieces of floating ice? I sincerely hope it is the former.

Either way, they have earned my respect and admiration.

 

The Theft of Democracy

In the final months of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln penned the following in a letter to Colonel William Elkins (emphasis mine).

We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . . It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

When you examine all that is happening in our country today, President Lincoln’s words seem eerily prophetic, though they were written 150 years ago.

In a previous post, I discussed the ongoing acrimony between Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence, and Democrat Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz.

If you recall, Ritz defeated incumbant Republican Tony Bennett in the 2012 Superintendent race. Since her election, Governor Pence and Republican state officials have executed several bureaucratic maneuvers in an attempt to marginalize Ritz’s authority. These moves were made in order to continue to push forward their aggressive reform agenda—an agenda that has as its centerpiece the expansion of vouchers and corporate charter schools throughout the state.

Ritz was elected on a wave of public dissatisfaction surrounding the manner in which these reforms were being hastily enacted with little public input. Sound familiar?

Based on an article in today’s Education Weekly, “Push to Eliminate Election of Indiana Superintendent Possible in 2015,” the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has now entered the fray.

“Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar told the Associated Press Nov. 17 that the group wants a change in state law that would allow the governor, or failing that the state board of education (whose members are appointed by the governor), to select the next state superintendent, not the voters, in 2016, the next scheduled election for the office.

Justifying the chamber’s proposal, Bringer cited how “incredibly dysfunctional” the state board meetings are. Since Ritz defeated former Superintendent Tony Bennett just over two years ago, she and board members have clashed about the state’s evolving accountability system, teacher licensure, and the Indiana Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new education agency Pence created in 2013.

The Indiana Constitution specifies that there be a state superintendent of public instruction, but it leaves the method of selection up to state lawmakers. A spokesman for Ritz, Daniel Altman, told the AP that eliminating the election for the superintendent’s office would be “shortsighted” and give voters a raw deal.”

So much for democracy and the notion of representative government in Indiana. The Chamber of Commerce would simply like to place the entire authority of the state’s public school system under one person. If these folks are successful in lobbying the legislature to change the law, the Governor would have absolute control over the selection of the state superintendent and the state board.

To hell with the will of the voters and their desire to have a system of checks and balances in state government. Ostensibly, the people of Indiana are just too dumb to know what is good for them. Glenda Ritz is simply an impediment to educational “progress” and corporate profits.

I suppose this would address the inconvenience of having Indiana’s elected representatives actually have to debate and discuss public policy issues. Governor Pence could just do whatever he wants and his hand-picked sycophants would happily rubber stamp. The corporate charter operators would then reward the Chamber with their financial support, which eventually filters into the reelection campaigns of loyal Republicans.

Read Abe’s quote another time.  Are you also feeling anxiety about the safety and future of our great nation?

These are precarious times, my friends. As fellow blogger, Brett Dickerson, quoted in a recent post, “Money never sleeps.” This dictum is apparently alive and well in Indiana. Here, too, if we care to look for it.

Can You See the Zwischenzug?

I am going out on a limb to say I am likely the first education blogger to ever use the term zwischenzug (schwee-chen-zoog) in a post.

imageThe German word zwischenzug (intermediate move) is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move (commonly a recapture of the capturer of a piece that the opponent has just captured) first interposes another move, posing an immediate threat that the opponent must answer, then plays the expected move. Ideally, the zwischenzug changes the situation to the player’s advantage, such as by gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent.

This tactic is all about forcing your opponent into making tough decisions. These kinds of situations will generally provide you with a tempo advantage as your opponent retreats.

The reason I bring up the topic of zwischenzugs and chess strategy is because of the parallels with the current game being played on the table of America’s public schools. One in which the reformers are about to execute their end game.

This phase of the reformers’ strategy seeks to capitalize on their decades-long efforts to paint public schools as incompetent, inefficient government institutions that have failed America. Their checkmate strategy is to replace the current system with unfettered school choice and for-profit charters to gain access to billions of dollars of state education funding.

In doing so, an unavoidable implication will be the resegregation of schools based on race and socioeconomic status.

This game is currently being played out in urban areas across our nation. In New York City, Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and many others (including Tulsa), the reformers are currently moving their pieces into final positions to complete the takeover.

I realize this comes across as hyperbole. I wish it were.

If you are unconvinced, take a few minutes to read the following article from the September 24, 2014 edition of The Nation, titled: “How to Destroy a Public School System” detailing the methodical destruction of the Philadelphia public school system. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.

To summarize, the reformers’ strategy over the past thirty years has been fairly obvious for anyone who has been paying close attention.  The key elements of their game are listed below. I ordered them from one to ten, but in reality, many of the tactics are occurring simultaneously.

1. Promote narrative that public schools are failing. This narrative is fed by the use of international test comparisons which fail to take into account the effects of poverty and other socioeconomic factors. This has been a relatively easy process for high poverty schools, yet convincing suburban parents that their schools are equally awful has been more difficult for reformers. This is why steps 7-9 below are so important.

2. Blame teachers and school leaders.

3. Dismantle teacher protections and unions.

4. Reduce funding for public education while simultaneously increasing expectations and mandates.

5. Introduce alternatives to public schools in the form of charters, vouchers, and virtual schools. This will siphon additional resources from public schools to expedite the dismantling process.

6. Create system to replace high cost, experienced educators with lower cost, temporary educators (TFA)…or a laptop.

7. Implement national standards and national assessments to enable comparisons between schools and create a never-ending supply of failing schools. Think about it. As long as we are ranking schools, there will always be a bottom 10% to takeover or replace. That is, until there are no more left.

8. Connect student performance on standardized tests to teacher and leader evaluations and school rankings.

9. Increase the “rigor” of national tests by increasing cut scores so that large numbers of students cannot pass.

10. Blame the teachers and school leaders (I know I already said this one, but we really can’t say it enough, can we?)

If we take this list in order, you can see that the game appears to be close to over. Let’s take a closer look at number nine. In case you missed it, on Monday, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of the two consortiums created by RTTT, released their cut scores for this year’s national assessments.

Here is the article as published in Education Week, “Cutoff Scores for Common Core Tests.” It is rather depressing. Take a look:

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test has four achievement categories. Students must score at Level 3 or higher to be considered proficient in the skills and knowledge for their grades. According to cut scores approved Friday night by the 22-state consortium, 41 percent of 11th graders will show proficiency in English/language arts, and 33 percent will do so in math. In elementary and middle school, 38 percent to 44 percent will meet the proficiency mark in English/language arts, and 32 percent to 39 percent will do so in math.

The reformers now have the perfect assessments in place to “prove” to America’s parents that their schools are not just bad, they are awful beyond repair. Seriously, the SBAC’S prediction is that only one in three high school students will be proficient in math, with similar abysmal pass rates for elementary and middle school students. What can this possibly achieve other than to make schools look bad?

The reformers will use these low scores to further demonstrate that the majority of teachers and school leaders are lazy, uncaring, ineffective neanderthals. The majority of public schools will earn failing grades on whatever accountability system their state is using.

The corporate reformers will then ride in on their white horses to save the day with shiny, new charters and virtual schools—full of rigor and attractive, caring educators. You’re welcome to attend, so long as you play by the rules, do all your work, and pass all your tests. If not, “No soup for you!” Back to public school, whatever is left of it.

How do we evade this seemingly inevitable checkmate? I submit we do it by executing a full-scale zwischenzug. In the past few years, the reformers have worked to keep us distracted by inconsequential debates over common core standards and what it means to be college- and career-ready. This has never been a critical part of their strategy.

The real weakness in the reformer’s game is the tests. It has always been the tests. It is where the conversation started back in 1983 with the release of the “Nation At Risk” report. Every piece of the reformers’ strategy is dependent on successful implementation of test-based accountability.

The move we need to make is obvious to me. Can you see the zwischenzug?  If you can also see it, the question then becomes how do we educate and energize enough people to make the move?

We are down to our last few chess pieces and we must play them carefully, yet aggressively.

Are The Feds Going Gumby on Us?

Shortly after posting my 2,800 word tirade against value added models (VAMs) and associated teacher evaluation metrics yesterday, an alert reader brought this article to my attention. It was posted on November 14th by Derek Black on his blog: “Education Law Prof Blog.” 

Apparently, last Thursday, the United States Department of Education released its updated guidance on the renewal of No Child Left Behind waivers. Deciphering the real meaning behind some of this bureaucratic drivel is akin to breaking the Enigma code during World War II. However, according to Mr. Black, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education may be softening its stance on how and when a state might meet the waiver conditions.

Most notable is in regard to teacher evaluations. A state can now delay implementing their system, if they can check these two boxes on the waiver renewal form:

15.b.i. Continue to ensure that its LEAs implement teacher and principal evaluation systems using multiple measures, and that the SEA or its LEAs will calculate student growth data based on State assessments administered during the 2014-2015 school year for all teachers of tested grades and subjects and principals; and

15.b.ii. Ensure that each teacher of a tested grade and subject and all principals will receive their student growth data based on State assessments administered during the 2014-2015 school year.

Black also contends that the Department has created the potential for states to diverge, within reason, from the conditions themselves.  The guidance suggests, without explicitly saying so, that a state might adopt a new approach to teacher evaluation. I encourage you to read this first paragraph out loud.

A SEA (State Education Agency) requesting other modifications to its teacher and principal evaluation and support system guidelines or implementation timelines that require additional flexibility that goes beyond the flexibility offered in the document titled ESEA Flexibility as well as the documents related to the additional flexibility offered by the Assistant Secretary in a letter dated August 2, 2013 (Teacher and Principal Evaluation and Support Systems Flexibility), must provide a narrative response to this item detailing:

a) The progress made to date in ensuring that each LEA (Local Education Authority) is on track to implement a high-quality teacher and principal evaluation and support system designed to support educators and improve instruction;

b) The proposed change(s) and the SEA’s rationale for each change; and

c) The steps the SEA will take to ensure continuous improvement of evaluation and support systems that result in instructional improvement and increased student learning.

Did you get all that? Yes, that was five—count them FIVE—uses of the word “flexibility” in ONE sentence!

What this seems to say is if states would like additional flexibility above and beyond the original flexibility in the ESEA flexibility document or the additional flexibility letter from last year, they just need to ask and provide rationale. Gone from this new guidance is the original language requiring SEAs “to implement measures that include, as a significant factor, data on student growth.”

This level of potential open-ended reform was nowhere to be found in the original NCLB waiver documents.

The big question is why has Arne Duncan gone all gumby on us? The DOE seems to be softening or even backing away from what were previously absolute conditions.

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As Mr. Black details in his blog, two immediate explanations come to mind: (a) state resistance to the conditions coupled with the questionable legality of the Department’s authority; and/or (b) “the data driven teacher evaluation systems are not nearly as reliable or fair as the Department had originally assumed and the Department is sympathetic to states that now find themselves defending lawsuits in which the evaluation systems might be declared unconstitutional due to their unreliability.”

With the rash of recent litigation (New York,  Tennessee, Florida, and Texas, among others), it may be time for Oklahoma to reconsider its stance on the use of quantitative measures as a significant portion of its teacher evaluation system. As I described yesterday, this entire system is ripe for potential law suits against both school districts and the state department of education.

The process for repeal or rewrite of the original TLE legislation will not be easy. Even if the new waiver guidance provides Oklahoma and other states with additional flexibility relative to teacher evaluation systems, our legislature must be convinced that the existing rules are bad for Oklahoma schools. As we know all too well, our Governor and legislators are very reluctant to pull back on their original reforms for fear of “looking weak” on school and teacher accountability.

It will take lots of persuasion. It may take tens of thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls to legislators. It may take a few lawsuits. It may take another march on the Capitol. It may take large numbers of educators refusing to play the game of rank, sort, and punish. It make take parents speaking out against high stakes testing and the manner in which they are being used to label students, teachers, and schools. It will take a concerted effort on the part of many people.

For the past fifteen years, educators in Oklahoma have been too flexible by passively accepting the rigid mandates of our state and federal government. It is time we stiffen our backbones and begin protecting our public schools.

To Slay a VAMpire!

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According to Wikipedia, the modern-day repository of all earthly knowledge, a vampire is defined as “a mythical being who subsists by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures.” Some vampires can allegedly shape shift, and lure their unsuspecting victims often by appearing to be charming and attractive before striking.

Similarly, Value Added Models (VAMs) are a real world beast that subsists by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of morale and institutional culture) of public schools.

VAMs have been forced upon American public schools through the Federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grants and state ESEA waiver requests. They have been cleverly disguised as an attractive, reasonable-sounding approach to help teachers and administrators use student achievement results to inform instruction.  If this was the only purpose, we might be inclined to let them live. It is not.

I have written extensively about VAMs in previous posts, including this 2400 word missive, “Why VAM must Die,” from last May. If you are not familiar with the “science” and research behind value added models, this would be a good place to start.

The true goal of VAMs is to provide a tool for education reformers to prove the existence of millions of horrible educators in public schools across America.

The reformers know (because, you know, they just know) that there are a whole ton of terrible teachers out there. In their mind, the old evaluation systems didn’t reveal the existence of these awful educators, so the old system must not have worked. Thus, they must look for a new system that does work, and they will have proof that it works when it confirms their belief that a huge number of American school teachers suck. VAM may not work any better than tarot cards, palm reading or tea leaves, but if it tells them that many teachers suck, and that’s good enough for them and certainly an improvement of the old system.

Value added models are the next step in the reformers playbook-one that has as its objective the dismantling of teacher unions and the disparagement of professional educators. They provide the next chapter in the narrative that American public schools are failing, and failing because teachers and school leaders are lousy and don’t care about children.

Once these VAMs have successfully infiltrated the fabric of schools, they will serve to leach the joy out of teaching by using inaccurate and unreliable data to sort, rank, and punish educators. Instead of promoting teacher collaboration in the best interests of students, VAMs and their associated student growth metrics will introduce self-serving competition, teaching to the test, and continued loss of student engagement.

In case you are not aware, Oklahoma is in the final stages of implementation of the state’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Evaluation system. The TLE legislation, passed into law back in 2010, requires districts to base half of teacher and school leader evaluations on classroom observations (qualitative) and the other half on “multiple measures of student achievement (quantitative).”

The entire evaluation system depends on a so-called “mythology of objectivity.” This is the idea that we can quantify everything, come up with the perfect formula, and reduce all aspects of teaching to numbers that will not lie – after all, they are numbers.

But even if we assume for the moment that those high-stakes-tests our children are taking yield legitimate results, there are still serious problems with using those tests to evaluate teaching. First, they were only designed to measure student achievement – not how well our teachers are teaching. As any scientist will tell you, when you want to examine something, the measurements have to be designed to actually look at what you’re interested in. And second, they completely omit many of the most important elements of teaching – you know, those very things we as parents and concerned community members think about when we recall our very best teachers.

I recently saw the negative effect of VAMs at my own school. I watched the blood drain from the face of one of my best teachers when I shared with her the VAM score computed by the OSDE using student test results from the 2012-2013 school year. Despite the fact that this educator had over 95 percent of her students pass the algebra I end-of-instruction (EOI) test, her assigned VAM score was a ridiculous 2.3 on a five point scale. In short, one of my more effective and highly requested educators in my building was given a rating of “needs improvement” from the state department!

The reason for this low rating was easy to see. At Jenks Middle School, the majority of seventh grade students are enrolled in prealgebra, an eighth grade math course. Yet, by law, these students take the 7th grade math OCCT instead of the 8th grade prealgebra test at the end of the year. Since these students are advanced by one year, they tend to do well on the 7th grade math test, with the majority scoring advanced.

About two out of three of our students move on to take Algebra I or higher math course in eighth grade. A prerequisite for students to take algebra at our school is that they score advanced on the 7th grade math OCCT.

This sets up a scenario where students’ algebra I scores are compared to their 7th grade math scores. However, as I have explained, these students have skipped a year of math. As a result, a high number of the students who earned a very high 800+ OPI (Oklahoma Performance Index) in seventh grade may earn a significantly lower score on the Algebra I EOI the next year (but still pass). Incidentally, the average score of this teacher’s students on the Algebra EOI exam was an incredible 763.8 (700 is passing).

By comparing our seventh grade students who earned high seventh grade math scores to other students in the state with similar scores is NOT accurate because many of these other students were enrolled in prealgebra their 8th grade year and were able to keep their scores higher. If they had also been enrolled in algebra I, their scores likely would have fallen as well.

The bottom line is that because of a school-based decision to place students in a higher level math course, my eighth grade algebra teachers are penalized with low VAM scores.

So, as a principal, do I continue a practice that will negatively impact my teachers (advancing students to higher math courses), or should we just keep our students on grade level. Our rationale for giving students the opportunity to take algebra and geometry in middle school was to provide a higher level of rigor and the chance to advance through Calculus in high school. However, if we were motivated by high VAM scores, we would abandon this initiative. Of course, we are not going to do this because it would be negative for students.

Another example of the negative effect of VAM on my school is teachers potentially “teaching to the test” rather than teaching the broader curriculum.

As I said, the majority of our seventh grade students are enrolled in pre-algebra. The state standards for each of these courses are obviously different. By not allowing our students to take the appropriate level math OCCT, the state incentivizes my teachers to teach to the 7th grade test (using the 7th grade standards), rather than teach the prealgebra curriculum needed to prepare students for algebra I the next year. One of my teachers did this very thing and earned a very high VAM score. At the same time, her students were less prepared for algebra I than students from other prealgebra classes.

By focusing almost exclusively on preparing her prealgebra students for the seventh grade math test, this teacher unintentionally set her eighth grade colleagues up for failure. They will enter their algebra classes with very high 7th grade test scores yet will likely score much lower on the algebra EOI due to their limited background knowledge in prealgebra.

Again, this places me in a dilemma. This teacher had 98 percent of her students pass the 7th grade OCCT. Do I congratulate her for her students’ outstanding pass rate or do I admonish her for failing to adequately prepare students for algebra I in eighth grade? These are the types of scenarios that are created by an overemphasis on high stakes testing and a lack of flexibility in the Oklahoma state testing program. It also begs the question: Why don’t schools have the flexibility to give the proper math test to our students?

Another way that VAM will suck the life out of my teachers is by setting up two completely different evaluation systems.

Math and language arts teachers in grades 4 through 8, plus teachers of Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and English III are the only teachers who will earn a VAM score. All other teachers will have their student academic growth (SAG) calculated by completing what the state refers to as a Student Learning Objective (SLO) or Student Outcome Objective (SOO).

The slide below is from the state department presentation during the Vision 2020 conference this past summer.

 

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This gets complicated. If you really want to learn more about this process, you can access the OSDE links HERE.

Essentially, the SLO process goes like this. A teacher or group of teachers decide on a set of knowledge or skills they want their students to attain. They then conduct some sort of pretesting or data review to establish a baseline. Using this information, they set “rigorous yet reasonable” growth targets for their students. As the end of the instructional period (could be a full year, a semester, a quarter, or foreseeably, even one unit), the teachers conduct a post assessment. This assessment could be a test, a student portfolio, project, essay, or about anything else the teacher(s) deems appropriate.

The table below shows how this might look.

Proposed Growth Targets (Secondary Teacher)

Pre-Assessment Score
Growth Score
0-40 points70 or more points
41-70 points80 or more points
71+ points85 or more points

Based on student scores on a pretest, the teacher establishes growth targets that his or her students must meet. Where do these growth goals come from? They are simply plucked from the air with seemingly no historical basis. According to this example from the OSDE, any student who scored between 41 and 70 will have to earn an 80 on the post assessment to show adequate growth (and earn a point for the teacher).  Ultimately, teachers are incentivized to have a large number of students reach their growth goals. Why, because of this criteria set by the state department.

OSDE SLO/SOO Scoring Rubric

SLO/SOO Score
Percentage of students who met or exceeded their growth targets
5.090-100
4.585-89
4.080-84
3.575-79
3.070-74
2.565-69
2.060-64
1.555-59
1.050-54

 In order to earn a 5.0, a teacher needs to have 90% of his or her students reach the growth goal that the teacher set themselves. Just like setting cut scores for state testing, this process is highly susceptible to manipulation. As a teacher, I can simply set my growth goals lower to earn a higher score. If my administrator does not allow me to do this, I can just teach to the test by providing my students with “highly detailed” study guides for the post assessment. I can also encourage student to blow off the pretest (“Just fill in the bubbles, kids–it’s not for a grade anyway”), while simultaneously making the final exam important to their grade.

Some of you may be thinking, “C’mon, Rob, do you really think that teachers would intentionally play the system to earn a higher score?” If this was not a part of their formal evaluation, I would hope not. However, by making this a 35% component of their evaluation, it almost guarantees that some teachers will do what they think they need to in order to keep their job.

This is an obvious implication of implementing this type of system. So, what do the creators of this nonsense advise states and districts to do if teachers and administrators do not take this process seriously.

This document from the OSDE website was written by an entity called the Reform Support Network. It provides some recommended guidance on what states might do if teachers attempt to game the system and set academic growth goals too low in order to earn higher SLO scores.

Although the development of SLOs is typically a collaborative process, States and districts must set policies for who has final approval of an SLO and will be held accountable for its quality. In Rhode Island, administrators must certify SLOs, attesting to their quality. In Georgia, the Department of Education must approve all SLOs. Finally, the quality of SLOs developed by teachers in a school can be included as a performance measure in principal evaluations.

Allow me to translate. If the state believes that some administrators are allowing teachers to set “low quality” SLOs, some possible remedies are to hijack the process (Georgia) or even count them against the administrator. Subsequently, if my teachers’ SLO scores are too high, my evaluation could be negatively impacted. Again, this sets up a scenario where I am competing against my teachers. I can force them to set higher goals for their SLOs, which will lower their scores, but increase mine. This will certainly do wonders for building a climate of trust, respect, and collective efficacy in my school–NOT!

What is the wonderful research that the OSDE provides to justify this new SLO/SOO process? Take a look at this slide from the Vision 2020 presentation.

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This is outrageous! What they are saying is that “we have seen some positive things, but also some negative things, so we are really not sure at this time.”  Yet, we have no problem inflicting this unscientific and inaccurate process upon our educators. But, again, the biggest issue is that some teachers are going to be evaluated by VAM scores for which they have little control, while the majority of educators will be able to design their own evaluation instrument and measure their own progress. This is fundamentally unfair.

You think we have a teacher shortage in Oklahoma now? Wait a few years!

Along these same lines, Tulsa World journalist, Andrea Eger, published a very revealing article in today’s paper detailing Tulsa Public School’s use of student surveys as one component of teacher evaluations. While I have not studied their system, I cannot imagine using feedback from kindergarten students as a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation. Likewise, we all know how seriously secondary students take these types of surveys. From the perspective of students, if you are a middle school teacher who does not assign homework, gives out As and Bs, and allows us to listen to music on our phones during class, you are likely to earn some good marks. Conversely, if your class is too hard, you give us too much work, and you don’t let us text in class, we might have to punish you with low ratings.

I do think that parent and student surveys can provide useful information for educators and support authentic conversations between teachers and their administrators. That being said, I do not believe they should be used as a metric for evaluating teacher effectiveness.

So, I suppose I need to bring this to a close!  At this point your head may be spinning. What’s the big deal? Why should we care?

If VAM is a sham, why are we wasting our time – and untold taxpayer dollars – on this stuff?  VAM is garbage in, garbage out. There’s no research that shows a way to accurately and reliably account for out of school factors. This is all in the experimental phase. No one has done it. Research from other states has shown teachers who getting bad VAM scores can be the very ones who get the highest ratings from parents, those who inspire kids and are most humane.

The take away is this: we are wasting precious resources on a system that will not give us good results, resources that we know would be far better spent on early childhood education, or even textbooks and technology for our schools.

I would like to see our elected leaders have a real conversation about the impact of this legislation during the upcoming legislative session. They need to ask principals and teachers. If they don’t ask, we need to tell them. It is time for all of us to shine a bright light on the potential damage about to be inflicted on our schools by this VAM beast.  We need to grow a backbone and begin to speak out. Enough is enough. These high stakes tests – and the VAM sham they perpetuate – are damaging our schools, our kids, and our teachers.

We must drive a stake through the VAM’s heart and kill it.

We Appreciate Our Veterans!

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This picture absolutely stirs my heart.

In 2011, amateur photographer Frank Glick was on his way to work early one morning when he drove through Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota. He spotted a bald eagle through the mist, perched on a gravestone, and snapped a few shots with his aging but ever-present Nikon camera.

Since Mr. Glick first posted this picture online, tens of millions of people have been moved by this hauntingly beautiful image of one of our nation’s treasured symbols standing guard over the men and women who served to protect her.

Over the past 200-plus years, millions of Americans have raised their right hand and taken a solemn oath to defend our nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The have donned a uniform and honorably served our nation as members of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, and Coast Guard. During peacetime and in war, our veterans have made incredible sacrifices to preserve our country’s security and way of life.

With this in mind, it is appropriate to take a day off from the seemingly unending skirmishes related to our nation’s current political issues—which serve to divide Americans—and instead reflect on the meaning and importance of Veteran’s Day as a means to unite us.

To begin with, I want to express my gratitude to the millions of men and women who have served our great nation as members of the Armed Services. I am honored to be one of them, having served as an artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1983 to 1993.

As I tell people every year, the Marine Corps did far more for me than I ever did for it.

Serving in the Corps transformed me from an immature, irresponsible 22 year-old boy to a confident, self-disciplined, and capable man. I honestly would not be the person I am today without experiencing the challenges, adversity, and daily lessons of leadership I learned as a Marine.

Like the Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I entered the Marines “dull” and ten years later came through much less so (there is always sharpening to do). I owe whatever success I have achieved to the many men who honed my character and leadership on a daily basis.

Being a Marine never leaves you, hence the expression, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” The camaraderie and esprit-de-corps that is developed between and amongst Marines is difficult to explain. Suffice it to say, I will always be faithful to the Corps and will die a Marine in my heart.

On November 11th, like many others across Oklahoma, my school will host our annual Veteran’s Day Assembly. Each year, we invite veterans from our community to commemorate and celebrate the service of our men and women in uniform. I look forward to the event for weeks in advance. I am thankful to still be able to wear my dress blue uniform and enjoy sharing my reflections on Veteran’s Day with our students. Our band, orchestra and vocal music groups (over 400 strong) also perform patriotic music and make the event very special to those in attendance. It will be an awesome day!

The day also brings out some feelings of melancholy. I remember friends I didn’t know for long enough–Wayne and Dusty and Bobby, among others. I think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country during war: 116,516 in WWI, 405,399 in WWII, 36,516 in Korea, and 58,209 in Vietnam, and many more in conflicts around the world.

I remember the 6,785 men and women to date (including 129 Oklahomans) who have been killed in the war on terror since 2002. This does not include the tens of thousands of veterans who suffer long-term effects from their exposure to the horrors of war, to include severe burns, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post traumatic stress disorder, amputations and other deep emotional and psychological scars. Sadly, these veterans are reminded of their sacrifice on a daily basis.

And, tragically, we also regret the 22 veterans on average who make the fateful decision to take their own lives each day in America.

My heart also aches for the many families who will forever mourn the loss of a loved one in service to our country.

But, ultimately, today is a day to celebrate those who are currently serving or those who have served and come home, for the millions of men and women across America who have hung up their uniforms and are now woven into the fabric of our society. Folks who now serve their communities in a wide range of professions; as doctors, pastors, commercial pilots, police officers, fire fighters, data processors, construction workers, teachers, and yes, even middle school principals.

In particular, today is a day we should keep in our hearts and prayers the many soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen who keep us safe today. They are stationed in bases and outposts throughout the United States and around the world. We especially pray for those in harm’s way today. May God keep them safe until the day they are able to finally return to those they love and maybe be in a heartwarming video like this one (grab a tissue first): Click HERE if video does not show below.

I also love this welcome home to a veteran from one VERY happy dog. This one will make you smile, I guarantee it! Click HERE for link.

In closing, I want to thank all of our veterans not only for their service to our country, but also for reminding us why America is and always will be the greatest country on Earth.

May God bless our veterans and our United States of America.

Veterans-Day-Holiday-2014-3

We Say NO, and We Say it Loudly!

I enjoy reading the thoughts and opinions of fellow blogger Jason James. His posts (HERE) are rationally and thoughtfully articulated and infused with a high level of passion and personal conviction.  I truly appreciate Jason’s straight-shooting, no-nonsense, “get to the heart of the matter” approach. From my meetings with Jason on several occasions, I can also attest to the fact that Jason is a doer, and not just a talker.

His two most recent posts are worthy of your time. In his post yesterday, Jason speaks about the folly that is the state’s TLE system (he terms it “farcical minutia”) – in particular the new quantitative measures. This system threatens to suffocate teachers and school leaders in a putrid swamp of acronyms: SAG, OAMs, SLO, SOO, and VAM. I agree with Jason that the entire TLE process is a POS, not to mention FUBAR and a big snarly pile of CF (charlie foxtrot).

Today,  Jason provides a cautionary message on why it is important for all of us to avoid falling into the tendency of just identifying problems; instead, he encourages us to focus on proactive solutions. He then shares how his district is complying with the new batch of TLE mandates while working to make the process somehow meaningful for their teachers.

I generally agree with Jason’s premise. In order to be welcomed as professionals with a sincere commitment to improving public schools, we have to be able to offer more than just criticism of current reforms. We need to be able to clearly communicate our vision for schools and demonstrate how our efforts will improve the lives of our students, as well as support the long-term competitiveness of our state and nation.

Many public school advocates would relish the opportunity to share our proposed solutions, IF we thought that policy makers were actually listening. However, we have become all too accustomed to leaders saying they “value our input” while just doing what they wanted to all along. The A-F school grading system is a perfect example.

There are also some universal proposals that are just bad ideas, and that are based on faulty reasoning and lack of valid supporting research. Many of these reform ideas are nothing more than opinions and anecdotal postulates thrown out by entities seeking to profit from the narrative that our public schools are failing.

For many of these bad ideas, the best response on our part is a loud and resounding “NO!

So…getting back to Jason’s posts about TLE:

When politicians and policy makers who have never taught a day in their lives say they know better than us how we should grow and develop our teachers, we say NO, and we say it loudly. The approach for evaluating teachers should be flexible and determined through collaboration and cooperation between local school leaders and their educators.  What works in Tulsa or Oklahoma City Public Schools may not be the most effective approach for suburban or small rural districts. The state or federal government should not be dictating HOW we evaluate the performance of our employees, no more than they influence how police officers, firemen, other public sector employees are evaluated by their leaders.

Further, when proponents of the current TLE system claim that they can accurately and objectively compare teachers using widely disparate systems (VAM vs SLO/SOO), we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When VAMsters say they can accurately and reliably measure an individual teacher’s impact on student achievement using a mathematical formula 99% of Americans could not understand, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When policy makers continue to propose merit pay schemes for teachers based primarily on student test scores, despite a long record of failure across the nation, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When national reformers say the system of public schools in America is broken and should be replaced with for-profit charters and vouchers, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When state and national leaders say poverty does not matter and that providing additional funding for schools will do nothing to help close the achievement gap, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When our legislators and policy makers insist on lowering tax rates for billion dollar corporations instead of adequately funding public education and other social needs, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When politicians fail to provide adequate resources to address socioeconomic inequalities in our society while ignorantly insisting that students just “need more grit,” we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When reformers say the solution to higher student achievement is more high stakes testing and more accountability measures, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When state leaders insist they know better than the parents and local school educators which students should be retained or denied a diploma (3rd grade retention & EOI graduation requirements), we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When reformers claim that all schools are failing and that the same set of  one-size-fits-all reforms and approaches should be imposed on all schools, we say NO and we say it loudly.

When our legislature seeks to reduce or redefine pensions that have been promised to existing Oklahoma educators, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

When reformers continue to use bureaucratic carrots and sticks to force compliance with mandates, rather than doing what is right for America’s children, we say NO, and we say it loudly. 

Finally, when reformers insist that student performance on standardized tests is the most effective means to measure a child’s unique potential, we say NO, and we say it loudly.

yes-no

By saying no to much of the silliness packaged as school reform over the past 15 years, we might actually have a chance to affirm practices that could truly help improve our schools and foster the development of 21st century learners.

By saying NO to high stakes testing, we are saying YES to problem-based learning, creativity, and more authentic learning experiences for our students.

By saying NO to inaccurate and unreliable measures of teacher effectiveness based primarily on test scores, we are saying YES to providing more meaningful instructional coaching for some teachers, while simultaneously providing master teachers with increased autonomy and responsibility. We are also saying YES to being diligent in ensuring that every classroom has a competent and caring educator in front of students.

By saying NO to using students’ performance on tests to label and rank them based on weaknesses, we are saying YES to identifying and capitalizing on each child’s unique strengths.

By saying NO to increased state and federal accountability measures, we are saying YES to increased transparency and cooperation with local stakeholders.

By saying NO to state mandates for third grade reading retention and EOI passage for graduation, we are saying YES to our moral and ethical obligation to help each and every child reach his or her potential.

On matters that seek to improve the conditions for our teachers, students and schools, we should be willing to say YES and to work with policy makers to implement new ideas. At the same time, those of us who have given our careers to improving schools must also be willing to say NO to those ideas that are harmful to our schools and children.

After all, if we in education don’t speak up and say NO, and say it loudly, WHO WILL?

Why I Hope for Joy!

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I gather that most of us are looking forward to the end of this particularly long and tumultuous election season. This is especially true for the highly contested offices for Governor and State Superintendent for Public Instruction.

While the past few years have provided lots of fodder for education bloggers in our state, it has not been a positive four years for Oklahoma’s students, teachers, and schools.

Whoever wins the post for State Superintendent for the next four years will have an enormously challenging job on his or her hands. With Governor Fallin’s support and consent, Janet Barresi has completely run the OKSDE train off the rails and into a deep ravine. The cleanup will be extensive.

Oklahoma continues to lead the nation in the percent decrease (23%) in per-pupil funding for Oklahoma common education since 2008. And while the 2014 state budget was the largest in Oklahoma history, the percent allocated to common education (33.8%) was the lowest percentage since 1991. Educators have not seen a state increase in teacher salaries for ten years. Even slight increases in compensation at the district level have been offset by concomitant increases in health and dental premiums, meaning that many teachers are actually making less money now than they were five years ago.

Soon after Superintendent Barresi assumed office in early 2011, it became obvious that she had absolutely no interest in working with school administrators and teachers to improve public education in our state.

Janet’s nihilistic ideology was predicated on the false premise that our schools were failing and that educators were not adequately motivated to do anything about it. She spoke disparagingly about teachers and the organization which represents them, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). My previous district superintendent was accurate in referring to her as the State Superintendent of Private Education, as her clear motive from the start was to plant the seeds for expansion of charter schools and vouchers in Oklahoma.

In response to a critical report card for her from the OEA last November, Janet provided this angry and revealing response:

“I’ll be damned if I am going to let the union, or anybody else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children. These are individuals who are opposed to accountability. These are individuals who are focused on maintaining their power base in the state of Oklahoma. This is part of the education establishment. They’re not focused on students, they’re focused on adults.”

One of the primary purposes of my blog and others has been to hopefully counter the distorted and damaging rhetoric and policy coming out of the Oliver Hodge Building over the past few years.

One thing we can all be thankful for this Tuesday is that the name ‘Janet Costello Barresi’ will be nowhere to be found. We owe this fact to Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister.

In 2013, many educators, legislators, parents, and business leaders began the search for a candidate to challenge Janet Barresi in the Republican primary. I was very excited and optimistic when I heard that Joy had accepted the challenge. She did not seek this opportunity; she was asked to do this on behalf of the children, parents, and educators of Oklahoma. Joy agreed to put her family and her work on hold in order to take on a well-financed incumbent.

On June 24th, Joy survived an avalanche of negative ads paid for with Barresi’s own millions and won the primary. She did so convincingly, capturing all 77 Oklahoma counties and nearly 58% of the vote to only 20% for Barresi. That evening, thousands of us celebrated. I danced to the Pharrell William’s Happy Song on the beach in Florida. I’m still dancing!

Like many others, I have supported Joy since she first announced her intention to run. I continue to support her today because I believe she is the best candidate to lead our state department and effectively advocate for the best interests of Oklahoma’s public schools.

A former public school teacher and businesswoman, Joy Hofmeister has devoted her life to teaching students and promoting higher student achievement. She has spent the past 15 years operating Kumon Math & Reading Centers which works through parent partnerships to ensure higher academic achievement for children. Leading a staff of 40, Joy serves 750 students from public, private, charter and home schools. Joy’s students continue to rank in the top 1% of student achievement within Kumon’s 2000+ centers in North America.  Joy served as an officer for the Jenks Public Schools Foundation Board of Directors, the Select Committee for the Study of School Finance, and various other committees within the Jenks Public School District, as well as other civic and professional committees.

Let me also say that I have nothing negative to say about Joy’s Democratic challenger, Dr. John Cox. I understand why many of my fellow educators will be voting for John this Tuesday. Though I do not know him well, I have met him on several occasions and can say he seems like a genuinely likeable guy. He is a respected educator and successful superintendent with nearly thirty years of experience. I also concur with many of his positions relative to the over testing of our children, the restoration of local control, the dumping of our current state A-F report card, and pay increases for our hard-working educators.

That said, these are all positions that Joy has advocated for as well and, I believe, possesses a greater capacity with which to gain traction to actually make these things happen.

I trust Joy. She is smart, competent, hardworking, and tenacious. It became obvious soon after her appointment to the state school board in January 2012 that Joy was there to fight on our behalf and not merely serve as a minion for Barresi or Mary Fallin.

There are numerous examples in the public record of Joy taking on Barresi and her policies. If you would like to see specific evidence, read through the minutes of the March 2012 Board Minutes. In this meeting, Joy presented herself as knowledgeable and well-researched. She asked tough questions and did not back down when Barresi countered. During this particular meeting, Joy was one of two dissenting votes on the new OKSDE rules for A-F.

Throughout her 15 months on the state school board, Joy presented a tough, yet polished and conciliatory tone that serves as evidence of her desire for real solutions, not just discourse for the sake of debate. Joy is not opposed to reforms. Rather, she supports school improvement efforts that are homegrown and involve the active participation of those whom the reforms will impact. Joy possesses the ability to listen to others and inspire others to work together.

I also know first-hand that Joy was proactive in seeking the thoughts and opinions of people outside of the state department in reaching her positions. She called on district superintendents, key legislators, school teachers, business owners, and university leaders to help craft policies that supported accountability while affording appropriate levels of local autonomy.

Before the Primary Election, Joy earned the endorsement of 45 State Senate and State House members. More than half serve in leadership positions and 11 serve on House and Senate Education Committees. Joy is committed to building on those relationships to better advocate for Oklahoma students with our legislature. More recently, she had secured the endorsements of former Democratic State Superintendent Sandy Garrett and two former Secretaries of Education, Phyllis Hudecki and Floyd Coppedge.

As Sandy Garrett stated in her endorsement:

“Joy will be a superintendent for teachers. I believe teachers need and advocate at this critical time in our state’s history as we are witnessing an exodus of educators from our profession…we also need a leader who can collaborate at the state Capitol to achieve our goals. Joy has demonstrated an ability to build coalitions, and that is desperately needed if we are to put a renewed focus on education in Oklahoma. Our next state superintendent has to be effective.”

Our next state superintendent has to be effective. 

This is the biggest reason why I am placing my hope in Joy. She is fully aware of what she is up against and is committed to getting the job done. Her relationships with current state legislative leaders, government officials, teachers, school superintendents, and business owners make her uniquely qualified to build consensus and make genuine progress on cleaning up the mess left by Janet Barresi.

I am a pragmatist. While I agree with my friend at okeducationtruths and will also be casting a vote for Joe Dorman this Tuesday (my first time ever voting for a Democratic Governor), Joe’s chances of pulling the upset are not strong. If Fallin wins reelection, she will retain control over the composition of the state Board of Education and the Secretary of Education. We will be left with a super majority Republican House and Senate.

Our current scenario is eerily similar to what transpired in another dark red state two years ago.

In Indiana in 2012, Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, did the unthinkable by pulling a stunning upset over Republican schools boss Tony Bennett. Like Barresi, Bennett had attacked teacher unions and funneled education money into charter schools that essentially are owned and run by Republicans.

Ritz actually earned more votes than Republican Governor Mike Pence in his own reelection campaign. The Indiana Legislature also retained strong Republican majorities in both houses.

Glenda was elected based on a groundswell of public dissatisfaction with the manner in which school reforms had been pushed by Pence and Bennett in the previous four years. Bennett was a former Jeb Bush Chief for Change, along with our very own Janet Barresi.  Barresi sings from the same hymnal as these reformers and has mirrored her reforms (A-F, third grade retention, etc.) on similar changes in Indiana and Florida.

As with supporters of John Cox, citizens In Indiana thought that by electing Ritz that they would be able to stem the growth of charter schools and other reforms harmful to public education in their state. As the former head of the Indiana Teacher’s Association, educators believed that Ritz had the political savvy and strength to battle the reformers head-to-head and turn things around.

They were wrong.

Soon after the election, Governor Pence began working immediately with Republican leaders in the Indiana House and Senate to marginalize Ritz’s influence over education policy. Since the election in 2012, Pence has systematically stripped away the powers of the Office of State Commissioner of Education and transferred them to the State Board of Education, which he controls.

In August, 2012 Pence created an entirely new layer of bureaucracy, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI). The role of the new CECI is to provide support staff to the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.

In other words, in one executive action, Governor Pence stripped Glenda Ritz of any direct control over the State Board. The CECI now reports directly to Pence and Republican legislative leaders. It employs 15 staff members, six of whom are paid over $100,000 a year, ostensibly to make life difficult for Ritz. Additionally, the legislature is currently working to strip additional powers from Ritz by taking away her title as chair and reapportioning the authority to the board as a whole.

In summary, the playbook has already been written on how to handle attempts by the citizens to take back the voice of public education. If John wins this election and pushes hard against the current Republican leadership, they will push back.

Like their contemporaries in Indiana, Governor Fallin and her allies in the legislature will move quickly to stack the Board of Education and stifle any attempts of John to roll back their reforms. Fallin and the legislature can add responsibilities to an existing state agency such as the State Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. In essence, Fallin and her Republican brethren in the Legislature can simply paint John Cox in a box and marginalize his potential impact.

Can the same thing happen if Joy Hofmeister is elected? I suppose it could, but I honestly believe that Joy possesses the knowledge, skills and personality to foster the type of working relationships necessary to move her agenda forward. Her agenda is one that the schools in Oklahoma desperately need to be successful.

My hope is that you will join me and support Joy Hofmeister for State Superintendent.

We cannot afford four more years of internal fighting and unproductive discourse.

On that note, I want to close with some wonderful thoughts from my fellow blogger Claudia Swisher. Claudia is the author of Fourth Generation Blogspot. A few days ago, she posted this excellent blog entitled,” One Week, Then the Hard Work Begins.”

As Claudia deftly articulates:

“Next Wednesday, new alliances must be forged, new plans must be made. After being fiercely supportive of one or another candidate, we must come together and move forward…together. For our kids. We must remember our ultimate goal is a robust public education for every child in our state, and we deserve to be part of the discussion, part of the solution.

Can we do it? We must. Our kids desperately need all the grownups in their lives to forge a new path together. We need to put differences aside. We need to reach out to our new office holders and offer to help, to be there, to work for Oklahoma kids, for #oklaed.

We must be able to say to our policy makers, “I voted; now I’m here to work. I want to forge policies, to ask important questions. To put a face on education reform in Oklahoma. I’m not going away. I will hold you accountable.” That’s why we voted.

Next Wednesday. One week. We will have had our say, and it will be time to step up and do the work.”

The work has just begun. I look forward to working with all of you in the upcoming months and years to take back public education in our state. Please vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same.