Mommy, Please Make the Bad Lady Go Away!

All due credit to the fabulous Claudia Swisher for the title of today’s post. It captures well the sentiment shared by many of us relative to our outgoing state superintendent. January 12th cannot come soon enough.

I have written previously about my unhealthy habit of reading Superintendent Barresi’s newsletters HERE. I am not sure why I keep doing it, particularly since she is a lame duck with less than thirty days left in office. It’s a sickness.

That being said, I feel compelled to at least issue my standard Surgeon General’s warning before you dive into this edition. I would hate for anything bad to happen this close to the holidays.

WARNING: “Reading this drivel from our state superintendent may cause severe physiological and psychiatric reactions, particularly for educators. These side effects may include elevated blood pressure, irritability, migraines, and eyes literally rolling back in your head. Proceed with caution.”

Now that I have provided appropriate warning, here is Dr. Barresi’s column, entitled the “Importance of TLE.” It’s good stuff!

I have taken the opportunity to add a few comments via Thinglink, a WordPress plugin that enables the use of interactive graphics. You should be able to hover over the screen and see the red buttons. Touch the buttons to see my editorial comments.

If the letter does not appear below, click HERE for the online version.

<img src=”//cdn.thinglink.me/api/image/601588921037488129/1024/10/scaletowidth#tl-601588921037488129;1043138249′” class=”alwaysThinglink”/><script async charset=”utf-8″ src=”//cdn.thinglink.me/jse/embed.js”></script>

The Incomparable Tom Coburn!

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Senator Tom Coburn in his Capitol office this past September. The visit was part of the National Association of Secondary School Principal’s (NASSP) National Institute in Washington, D.C. This annual event serves as an opportunity for the various state Principals of the Year to advocate with their elected representatives on behalf of important educational issues.

As you might expect, Senator Coburn was very gracious and accommodating. The Oklahoma delegation consisted of Dr. Vickie Williams, Executive Director of CCOSA; Rod Maynard, Oklahoma High School Principal of the year from Davis (and his wife); and me. Despite being very busy, the Senator gave us about 30 minutes of his time to listen and exchange ideas about the state of education in America.

One issue that NASSP has advocated for passage in Congress in recent years is the Success in the Middle Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 708).

According to the summary of this legislation, the law would direct the US Secretary of Education to make grants to states, based on their proportion of poor children aged 5 to 17, and: “(1) implement state middle grades needs analyses and, on the basis of such analyses, improvement plans that describe what students must master to complete successfully the middle grades and succeed in academically rigorous secondary school coursework; and (2) award competitive subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs) or partnerships of LEAs and institutions of higher education, educational service agencies, or educational nonprofit organizations to implement a comprehensive middle school improvement plan for each eligible school.

While this legislation has as its intent the strengthening of middle schools across America, it also advocates for increased federal funding to make it happen. It also increases the budget and authority of the US Department of Education.

As a strong fiscal conservative, it is no surprise that Senator Coburn would not be a fan of this type of federal expenditure. In fact, during our visit, the Senator shared his contention that over the past forty years, the federal government has “spent over one TRILLION dollars on education, and has very little to show for it.”

Many of us have long appreciated Senator Coburn’s consistent, heartfelt adherence to the constitutional idea of limited federal government, instead favoring the rights of individual states. Others over the years have criticized his tactics in stalling various pieces of legislation, referring to him pejoratively as “Dr. No!”

Senator Coburn’s annual “Wastebooks” have exposed to the American public the many ways our federal government spends tax dollars in seemingly absurd, wasteful ways. In this year’s edition, Senator Coburn blasts the use of federal funds for things like “Voodoo Dolls, Gambling Monkeys, Zombies in Love and Paid Vacations for Misbehaving Bureaucrats.” As always, he is honest, straight-forward, and uncompromising. Agree with him or not, one must respect the depth of Senator Coburn’s conviction and his willingness to “go after” the federal bureaucracy in general and his fellow legislators by name if necessary.

Suffice it to say, Senator Coburn has earned the respect and admiration of millions of Americans well beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma.

I say all of this to preface a letter I received from the Senator this afternoon. One thing I believe will become obvious to you after reading his eloquent and refreshingly honest words is that Senator Coburn will be sorely missed in Washington, D.C. People like him just don’t come around very often.

“Dear Mr. Miller,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about S. 708, the Success in the Middle Act. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.

As you know, S. 708 was introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on April 11, 2013, and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for further consideration.

I appreciate your comments, and agree with your concerns. However, I have met with and heard from many educators in Oklahoma, and I am convinced that when the federal government gets out of the way, those in this field who are dedicated to the education of our youth will use innovative techniques to improve the school systems. It is my belief that the federal government should decrease involvement if not completely separate from education decisions. There are numerous challenges facing our education system today – from student proficiency and teacher salary to school facilities and curriculum offerings. We can drastically improve in every aspect of education. Decisions regarding education should be controlled by those who have closest contact with students — parents, teachers and staff — rather than bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Constitution does not set forth any role for the federal government in education, and students do not benefit when learning decisions are dictated from politicians and government bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Education — many of whom are not teachers and have never even worked as school personnel — are controlling billions of dollars in funding and making curriculum decisions for students across the nation. I believe this is the core problem which is breaking our education system from the top down. When the federal government becomes involved in areas of society where it doesn’t belong, the effects can be very destructive. Education is the perfect example of this.

Again, thank you for contacting me on this very important issue. Best wishes.”

Sincerely,

Tom A. Coburn, M.D.

United States Senator

To Senator Coburn—-BRAVO!

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my letter. Your words are powerful and honest. More than that, however, I want to THANK YOU for your incredible service to our state and nation. You have represented the citizens of Oklahoma with honor, integrity, and passion.

You have made Oklahoma proud. Well done, Senator!

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A Few Billion Reasons to Love Testing!

With all the negative reports about the US economy these days, you will be happy to hear that at least one sector of the American market is doing just fine, thank you very much!

A recent report from the education division of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) shares the uplifting news that there is HUGE money to be made in educational testing.

No, no…I’m not making this up.  This may come as a big surprise to you, but the PreK-12 testing and assessment market has experienced remarkable growth over the last several years.

According to an executive summary entitled: “Testing and Assessment- A PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market Report,” this growth has occurred “in difficult economic times during an overall PreK-12 budget and spending decline.”

To translate: “Even though schools across America are being cut to the bone marrow, educational testing companies are still making money hand over fist. Yippee!”

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The authors of the report go on to say: “Testing and assessment sales have experienced such significant growth that it is now the largest single category of educational technology sales. Testing and assessment sales have increased a dramatic 57% over the last three years of the survey. For the 2012- 2013 school year, sales in the testing and assessment category represented almost $2.5B.

$2.5B looks like a small number if you forget the “B” stands for billions, as in $2,500,000,000 or 2,500 million dollars.

With that in mind, I think it’s a good time for a segment I’ll call:

HOW MUCH FREAKING MONEY IS THAT?

  • image$2.5 Billion is slightly more than the ENTIRE Oklahoma Common Ed budget for FY-2015.
  • If you had 2.5 billion dollars, you could spend or give away $10,000 a day, each and every day, for the next 685 years.
  • You could line up one dollar bills end-to-end from the Earth to the moon (224,936 miles at perigee, or closest point). You would also have enough bills left over once you reached the moon (124,675,840) to make a stack of bills nearly twice the height of Mt. Everest (48,831 feet)!
  • $2.5 billion in all $100 bills would weigh over 55,000 pounds, or 27 and a half tons, or about nine average sized African elephants.
  • With $2.5 billion, you could buy Pinterest!
  • For perspective the other way, Bill Gates adds about $2.5 billion to his net worth every two months. If we paid down the United States’ debt of $18 trillion at $2.5 billion A DAY, it would take us 20 years to become solvent! Wow, that’s just depressing.

Suffice it to say, $2.5B is still a whole lot of moolah. Does anyone want to place a bet that this number continues to grow over the next few years?

Participants in the SIIA survey identified four factors contributing to the huge influx of money filling their burgeoning coffers.

1. The Common Core Standards are changing curricula
2. The rollout of Common Core Assessments are galvanizing activity
3. There is widespread demand for more and better formative assessment
4. Testing and assessment is leading the transition from print to digital

These testing companies would likely subtract points from students with these type of subject-verb agreement problems on their writing tests but, these are marketing guys.

I wonder how the rollback of common core assessments in several states will affect the all that “galvanizing stuff” SIIA refers to in number 2.

And, hey, which one of you is clamoring for more formative testing? If it’s YOU, stop it!

The survey participants do (or is it “does”–they have me confused now!) LOVE the Common Core standards because they are changing curricula and creating a large demand for “more and better” formative assessment. The transition to digital platforms also increases the bottom line for the testing companies, while increasing demand for student technology, which then makes Bill Gates another $2.5 B every two months, which he can use to promote his test-based reforms, which then make more money for testing companies, and so on. It is one big, beautiful, love-filled circle of money.

It is WIN, WIN, WIN, for everybody, oh… except, of course, for cash-strapped schools and testing fatigued students who are definitely on the LOSING end of things!

The SIIA report also takes the time to rank various product lines in terms of revenue generation. Summative testing is most of the money mountain, yet is likely to have peaked in most states and may actually be moving the other way.

Fortunately, due to the increasing high stakes associated with summative assessments, the formative testing industry will become the next big money-maker. This, and textbooks, test-prep booklets, online “teaching” programs, teacher development products (to teach teachers how to better teach to the test) and remedial programs for students.

Finally, the report makes a brief mention about concerns over threats to and violations of student privacy. This is coincidental considering my previous post about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and its support of parents’ rights to opt children out of certain online activities like testing.

For that reason, I will again caution against sharing this opt out information with parents. It could cause irreparable harm to the beleaguered testing industry which has “suffered” through 19% per annum sales growth over the past three years.

If their profits went down, they may not have enough dollar bills to finish their bridge to the moon.

Keep This on the Down Low!

I am alerting my readers to the following information so they are aware of a dangerous new initiative which could possibly gain traction in our state. We must do everything we can to prevent this knowledge from getting to the parents of Oklahoma’s public school students.

If you are a parent of a sixth or seventh grade child under the age of 13, I encourage you to stop reading and forget that you ever opened this post. I’m serious–immediately close this page, flush your eyes with cold water, and turn on some reality TV to clear your mind.

There is a valid reason for my warning. I am very concerned that if too many parents read and follow this reckless advice, it could endanger the efficient administration of our state’s testing program.

Lacking the results of high stakes testing to guide education reform and effectively rank, sort and punish our schools, our public school system would be like a ship adrift at sea.  The federal government’s control and authority over our schools would also be greatly compromised.

Consequently, our state might be forced to return to the failed model of localized control where school boards, professional educators, and community members were trusted to make decisions based on the needs of their students. All of the wonderful reforms implemented over the past few years would eventually be endangered. This includes the popular third grade retention law; the simple and highly reliable A-F report cards; and the eagerly anticipated teacher evaluations linked to student test scores.

I know—this is scary stuff! We simply cannot allow these things to happen.

According to an article released today by The Network for Public Education (NPE), there are sinister forces in action who are trying to develop a national opt out strategy from high stakes testing.  On their webpage, the nutcases at the NPE foolishly boast that “We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together we will save our schools.”

These people are absolutely delusional and must be stopped!

Apparently, last weekend several so-called parent advocacy groups (United Opt Out and Student Privacy Matters), released some information related to the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

According to NPE and these parent opt out groups:

“COPPA states that parents of children under the age of 13 not only have a right to know what online information is being collected from their children, they have a right to opt them out of any online program that their child participates in at school, including online testing.

See what I mean? The folks at United Opt Out (UOO) are clearly out of their minds! Why are they targeting the online testing entities? Don’t great American companies like CTB/McGraw-Hill have a right to provide a service to our citizens at a modest profit?

Upon hearing this information, some are saying that the COPPA statement may be the key to a national opt out strategy. One blogger, Peg Robertson, even went as far as to say this in her blog “Pen with Peg.”

This has serious implications for the Opt Out movement. As PARCC and SBAC and other online tests roll out we have a national strategy that can be used, for all children under age 13, as we opt out/refuse the tests. Currently, any other online programs and online testing in use for under age 13 can be halted. We know that there will be many questions to answer as we move forward with this strategy – understand that the only way to get our questions answered is to try it. Let’s do this.

This woman is as nutty as the Mad Hatter. Does she not even care about the impact that the loss of high stakes testing would have on our most fragile children? These tests are the highlight of the academic year and provide kids with hundreds of hours of rigorous test-prep curriculum. Lacking these important measures, teachers will have no idea how to prepare their students for college and careers. If carried out to fruition, this act of rebellion could undercut the foundations of our democracy. It might even cause well-meaning billionaires and corporations to pull their generous offers to provide our communities with outstanding new “non-profit,” private sector charter schools.

In fairness, there is some difference of opinion about the application of COPPA to online testing of students. COPPA applies to commercial web sites that collect personal information from children under the age of 13. Whether a commercial operator like Pearson or CTB is collecting personal data from students when the data is being received from state departments of education is something that may have to be tested through litigation, although Student Privacy Matters seems to think COPPA would apply.

In the NPE’s article, they also share links to the Student Privacy Matters webpage, which provides sample letters for parents to send to their children’s school to get information regarding what on-line programs are in use, as well as to opt them out off those programs. United Opt Out recommends using the sample opt out letter HERE to opt children under 13 out of the upcoming PARCC tests, which will be mostly administered online in many states this year.

Anyhow, we must do everything we can to keep this anti-testing “pornography” out of the hands of highly impressionable parents in our state!

Fortunately in Oklahoma, this opt out campaign would only apply to 6th and 7th grade students taking the ONLINE reading, math, and geography tests. For students taking advanced math, it could also impact the administration of some online EOI exams.

That being said, I am sure you can imagine how damaging this would be for our state. If a large number of parents chose to join this movement, the quality and reliability of the data collected from these two years of testing would be greatly compromised. It would destroy the validity of the A-F report card for schools with these grade levels. The value added models used to evaluate these teachers would be rendered worthless.

I know I can trust you to keep this insanity just between us. Whatever you do, please DO NOT post this information anywhere where members of our Oklahoma PTA might read it.  If you recall, this summer they passed a set of crazy resolutions calling for a moratorium on high stakes testing in our state. Just imagine the damage that might ensue if the wrong people got this information.

So, mum’s the word, people. Keep this under your hat.

Shhhh! The children are counting on your silence.

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Want to Be a Bad Scientist?

Tonight, I would like to share something important with all of my readers. It’s simply not fair to keep this secret to myself any longer.

Are you ready? Here goes: I have discovered the key to maintaining a healthy height/weight ratio and performing at peak physical performance, even after one’s fiftieth birthday.

I suggest you stop reading and grab a pen. You will want to write this incredible information down to be able to share with others. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here…

The clear reason I have been able to keep a relatively low BMI index and continue to run marathons at my age can be directly and unmistakably attributed to my rigid adherence to my “if you see a donut, EAT a donut policy.”

It’s really very simple. If you come up to me and ask, “Hey Rob, would you like a donut?,” my answer will be, “You’re damn straight!” Likewise, if I see a box of donuts setting in the mail room, I am getting mine before they are all gone. I won’t give it a second thought.

To summarize, when it comes down to choosing whether or not to eat a donut, I submit the best approach is: “Just say YES!”

I have eaten donuts my whole life and rarely have denied myself the pleasure of savoring this sweet confection. It started when I was younger when my grandma would visit and bring a dozen donuts. My brother and I would eat them all in about ten minutes. Maple and coconut are my favorites but honestly I am not that picky about it. Bismarks, glazed, blueberry, chocolate, baked, caked, sprinkled–I’ll eat um all. Sometimes I will cut one in half to give the impression that I am watching what I eat. I’m watching, all right! As soon as others turn their back, that other half will be gone too! I know you do this as well!

Last year, before running my best time ever in the Route 66 Half-Marathon, I consumed an entire QT maple bar a half hour before the race. My weight is also the same as it was when I left the Marine Corps 22 years ago and my dress blue uniform still fits well. Of course, I owe it all to my faithful and consistent consumption of donuts, especially as I grow older. My parents also eat a lot of donuts and are generally thin and healthy in their late 70′s. What more evidence do you need?

Okay, I’ll be serious now. What I have just presented to you is bad science. I do like donuts (more than I should quite honestly), but they are not the primary reason I am relatively fit. It’s more about genetics. I also run a lot and generally eat sensibly. Therefore, I have made an absurd claim about donuts and health based on flimsy evidence lacking clear reasoning and rationale. This is a classic example of what statisticians call a type I error, or false positive. I have not adequately considered the potential effect of other variables (exercise, diet, genetics, etc.) which likely have an even larger impact on my general health and wellness. I am making a correlation between variables (donuts and healthy body weight) that could not stand up to any real scrutiny.

Type I errors occur when people make correlations between variables when they really do not exist. The other type of common errors, type II or false negatives, happen when people fail to make correlations when they really do exist.

A common analogy from Larry Gonick’s “Cartoon Guide to Statistics” describes the difference between type one and type two errors like this:

Type I: Alarm with no fire.

Type II: Fire with no alarm.

Think of “no fire” as “no correlation between your variables” (or null hypothesis is accepted). Conversely, think of “fire” as the opposite, true correlation, and you want to reject the null hypothesis, because there really is something going on.

“Alarm” is evidence of correlation. So you WANT to have an alarm when the house is on fire…because you WANT to have evidence of correlation when correlation really exists.

Let me share one more example. National reformers commonly use the “poor” results of American students on international tests to make the correlation that public schools–and by extension, teachers and school leaders–are failing. In essence, they create an alarm when there is no fire. But they don’t stop there. They then proceed to label educators as arsonists for starting a fire that doesn’t really exist, or, at a minimum, is much smaller and more manageable than the reformers want the public to think.

All that to bring me to my current dilemma.

I provided the background above to explain the scenario I am going to face when I stand in front of my staff tomorrow to provide training on the state’s new Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) and Student Objective Outcomes (SOO).

All certified staff members who do not receive a value added score are required to develop a SLO/SOO which will count as 35% of their evaluation next year. After the OSDE provided training to district representatives in late October, sites were given until mid January to train staff and have SLO/SOOs developed.

So, tomorrow, I will tell my faculty that donuts will keep them healthy, that the Lochness monster exists (I’ve seen pictures), and that writing an SLO will make them a more effective teacher. All three are false claims.

In short, I will ask them to become bad scientists.

With limited previous training in statistics, quantitative analysis, or even basic scientific protocols, my teachers of social studies, art, music, PE, drama, computers, Vo-Ag, band, and so on—as well as my counselors, librarian, and nurse—will be asked to develop and conduct an quasi-experimental study to determine if a selected intervention has a desired impact on their study group composed of widely varied, unpredictable, and highly complex adolescents! What could possibly go wrong?

And the outcome of their study will count for 35 percent of their annual evaluation!

After I set the stage with some statistical mumbo-jumbo, I will proceed to explain to my teachers how they should identify an area of focus based on essential knowledge or skills they want their students to attain by the end of the year. Once they do this, they will need to evaluate which of their students’ characteristics might affect the SLO/SOO and collect baseline data of their students’ current skill levels. Are you with me so far?

Once the teachers have accumulated baseline information from each student using whatever “measure” they have developed, the next step is to create a growth target for each one, based on their best guess on where they believe students will be at the end of the SLO/SOO period. Since most of the teachers have zero historical data related to their growth measure and their students’ anticipated growth towards this target, they will simply be making numbers up.

In accordance with SDE guidance, the teacher will have to explain why the growth target is appropriate for each student or group of students, as determined from student characteristics and baseline or trend data. Since I assume the phrase, “I pulled the numbers out of my a@#” will likely not be acceptable for the SLO/SOO form (despite its accuracy), the teachers will have to put some convincing words together so their administrator can approve the targets.

What the teachers DO KNOW (because the OSDE has already established the required success rate for the growth targets) is that they need to set their goals “realistically low” to ensure they earn a certain score.

For example, if a teacher wants to earn a 5.0 on this portion of the evaluation, they know that 90% of their students must meet the growth target they set. For a 4.0, they need 80%; for a 3.0, 70%; and for a 2.0, 60%.

Thus, any teacher who makes the mistake of setting their growth targets too high risks being labeled ineffective or unsatisfactory IF less than 60% of their students fail to meet the goal. Again, the growth targets that each teacher sets are mostly subjective and derived from estimates and rosy predictions. The targets also fail to take into account all other variables that might affect the student’s achievement of their growth goal!

Finally, at the end of the SLO/SOO period, the teacher will assess how many of their students met the unscientifically derived growth targets that they arbitrarily established to earn a high score. This score will be sent to the SDE and combined with the results of the teacher’s qualitative evaluations and their Other Academic Measure (OAM) to give them one score: a score that can then be used to make high stakes decisions about that teacher.

The entire SLOBS process (I’m guessing you can figure that acronym out:-) is rife with the potential for numerous type one and two errors.

If a teacher or group of teachers do well in making their growth targets achievable, their students might score well. The teacher (and their evaluator) might incorrectly attribute the students’ success to the teacher’s intervention, when in fact other factors caused the improvement or the teacher simply set a low target. Regardless, the teacher(s) will earn a high score and be deemed highly effective or superior. It may or may not be true.

If a teacher or group of teachers set their growth targets too high and too many students fail to show “adequate growth,” the conclusion will be that the teacher(s) did not apply the intervention effectively. As a result they will be rated ineffective or in need of improvement. Again, it may or may not be true.

Two effective teachers in different subjects may develop a similar goal or area of focus. However, each teacher’s score will be derived from the setting of their individual growth targets. They also have different students so the setting of targets is completely inaccurate and unreliable. What works for one group of selected students may not work with a different group of students in another class or in another year. In short, they are not comparable lacking an analysis of other factors affecting student achievement, such as poverty, disabilities, or learning English. Some comparisons may be apples to apples, but most will be apples to oranges, or even apples to waffles. Data obtained in one classroom will not be transferable to another classroom in the same building, let alone another school with completely different variables.

I have written before on how value added models (VAM) are junk science. The logic behind SLOs and SOOs is worse. They represent voodoo science and are just about tinkering and wishing for the best. Yet we are “teaching” this crap to our educators to masquerade the fact that the state has no accurate way to conduct VAMs for teachers of untested subjects. So, to provide the illusion of fairness, the state makes up something completely and totally devoid of scientific value to waste our time. Thousands and thousands of hours of time that should be spent writing lesson plans or eating donuts.

Teachers SHOULD BE trained to use student data to guide instruction in accurate and reliable ways. This is important to promote transfer of lessons learned, both good and bad. Teachers should NOT be evaluated based on how good they are at playing the SLOBS game, but sadly, this is exactly what will happen.

I know it, my teachers know it, and people at the state department know it! 

It might be okay if they at least provided free donuts!

PS: I know this is already long but thought you might enjoy a quick rewrite of the first part of Foghat’s iconic hit, “Slow Ride.” If you have not heard or somehow forgotten the song, click HERE for the link.

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SLO write, not so easy- SLO write, makes me queasy,
SLO write, not so easy- SLO write, makes me queasy,

Not in the mood, the timing’s not right
Half of the year’s gone, so this really bites!
Oooh, oooh, SLO write – oooh, oooh …

SLO write, not so easy- SLO write, makes me queasy,
SLO down, back down, why the rush to push
Hold it, scull it, SLO writin’ teachers are too tired
Not in the mood, the timing’s not right
I think this is stupid, and I’m ready to fight, yea.
Oooh, oooh …

Uh Oh! The OSDE is Turning Schools Around!

In case you missed it, there was some exciting news out of the Oklahoma State Department of Education this afternoon. The Office of School Turnaround apparently threw a big party to celebrate their herculean efforts to turnaround a large number of sucky schools across our state last year.

HERE is the full press release adorned with pretty pie charts and lots of shiny rhetoric and propaganda.

Basically, the OSDE wants to tout the fact that “more than half of Oklahoma’s 175 Priority Schools have shown positive growth over the past two years.”

By definition, schools designated as Priority are in need of the most intensive help in raising student achievement. All school earning an “F” on the state’s A-F report card are automatically placed on the Priority school list. The Office of School Turnaround “partners” with Priority Schools to help develop a plan of improvement and to provide resources and other supports.

According to Richard Caram, assistant state superintendent of school turnaround: “This is about the hard work of helping turn around schools.” “This is about examining data to drive and change instruction down to singular students and specific sub-groups of students.”

Caram is absolutely right that 56% (“more than half”) of the schools listed as Priority in the 2012-2013 school year showed improvement in 2014. What the OSDE neglects to mention in their bulletin is that 42 percent of the schools on the state’s list actually got worse!

Reminds of me of what former President Ronald Reagan referred to as the most terrifying nine words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

This is a great example of cherry-picking data to support a predetermined narrative. In this case, the OSDE wants people to believe that if schools will just listen to them, magical things will happen. Experts from the state department will ride in on good luck unicorns, trot through the halls and sprinkle magic dust in classrooms, causing even the most disadvantaged students to perform above expectations.

However, with many schools “helped” by the state moving from F’s to EVEN LOWER F’s, the magic dust apparently only works if educators truly believe.

As Caram says, it’s all about changing the culture. In fact, “schools that successfully transform their culture can overcome challenges such as poverty, speaking English as a second language and other issues.”

As we ALL know, students living in poverty, struggling with disabilities, or learning English just need higher standards, more rigorous instruction, and tougher tests. Adequate funding, social services, technology, textbooks, professional development, smaller class sizes, and enriching, arts-based curriculum are not all that important in the big scheme of things.

On the list of Priority schools, we also see turnaround schools like Howe Elementary in southeastern Oklahoma. I wrote about their incredible story several months ago (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE). As a result of the school’s failing grade in 2013, the district moved away from their students’ use of cutting edge technology and problem-based learning and back to a more traditional test prep curriculum last year. This approach worked in improving the school’s grade from an F to a C+ in one year. The OSDE says that teachers and leaders must be held accountable, yet Howe’s definition of student success did not match what the state said it should be.  As a result, they were punished. They learned their lesson and turned around. As a result, their students and educators suffered.

Of course, Superintendent Janet Barresi saw fit to share her wisdom relative to school improvement by saying, “Educators who explore specific data for a struggling student — including daily classroom work, test scores on the school and state level, attendance and the like — can pinpoint why that child is having trouble academically.”

What incredible insight, Janet!  Educators never thought to look at things like whether kids come to school, do homework, or study for tests (“and the like”) as a means to see why kids might be struggling.

In all seriousness, the A-F grading system is so fundamentally flawed to have any real value for comparing school performance from one year to the next. For instance, remember that this year the state department made the decision to omit the writing scores from 5th and 8th grade students from the A-F calculations. Less than 50% of students passed these tests statewide last year. Therefore, IF the OSDE had included these scores, it is safe to assume that the turnaround statistics touted by the state would have been much less rosy.

As I illustrated with the example of Howe Public Schools, it is important to remember that the OSDE defines school improvement based solely on student performance on selected tests in specific grades. As a result, we are merely turning children into data points.

The image of a data wall below has become all too familiar in faculty lounges and workrooms across Oklahoma.

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What you see are pictures of children sorted, ranked, and color-coded based on their math and reading scores from state testing. How absolutely sad!

We have come to the place where we are now labeling many of these children as inferior compared to their peers because they do not do well on tests.

The hell with meaningless stuff like how kids do in science, social studies, art, music, athletics, teamwork, creativity, empathy, curiosity, responsibility, citizenship, or communication skills. When teachers observe these students in their classrooms, instead of seeing a beautiful child with unique strengths, they are reminded that he or she is a deficient child who is lowering the teacher’s VAM score and causing their school to earn a low grade.

I could go on but I am getting a little agitated. I think I will just leave you with an insightful quote written by education writer, Alfie Kohn, in 2002 about the value of raising test scores:

Of course, we can succeed in raising average test scores. You deprive kids of recess, eliminate music and the arts, cut back the class meetings and discussions of current events, offer less time to read books for pleasure, squeeze out the field trips and interdisciplinary projects and high-quality electives, spend enough time teaching test-taking tricks, and, you bet, it’s possible to raise the scores. But that result is meaningless at best. When a school or district reports better test results this year than last, knowledgeable parents and other observers respond by saying, “So what?” (because higher test scores do not necessarily reflect higher quality teaching and learning) – or even, “Uh oh” (because higher test scores may indicate lower quality teaching and learning).

So, the next time someone brags about turning around a school, ask yourself if that’s really a good cause to celebrate.

Who Put the VAM in the Vama Lama Ding Dong?

Way back on August 7, 1961 (when I was the ripe old age of 12 weeks), Barry Mann’s hit song, “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) debuted on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the song, Mann sings about the frequent use of nonsense lyrics in Doo-Wop music, and how his girl fell in love with him after listening to several such songs.

For those of us prone to criticize the quality of some of today’s hit songs, it may be instructive to review the stuff coming out of AM radios (or 45 records) a few generations ago.

WHO PUT THE BOMP (IN THE BOMP, BOMP, BOMP)
(Barry Mann / Gerry Goffin)
Barry Mann – 1961
I’d like to thank the guy
Who wrote the song
That made my baby
Fall in love with me

Who put the bomp
In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
Who put the ram
In the rama lama ding dong?
Who put the bop
In the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
Who put the dip
In the dip da dip da dip?
Who was that man?
I’d like to shake his hand
He made my baby
Fall in love with me (yeah!!)

When my baby heard
“Bomp bah bah bomp ”
“Bah bomp bah bomp bah bomp bomp”
Every word went right into her heart
And when she heard them singin’
“Rama lama lama lama”
“Rama ding dong”
She said we’d never have to part
So…

Makes you want to get up and dance a jig, doesn’t it? If you would enjoy hearing the song (HERE) performed by Barry via YouTube, it is kinda fun!

It is interesting to note that President Obama was but three DAYS old when this song came out and his future Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, was still a glimmer in his parents’ eyes and would not come around until 1964.

I wonder if Arne’s mother was similarly affected by all this bop shoo bop shooing and rama lama ding donging? One thing is for certain: Her son would go on to become largely responsible for putting the VAM in the vama lama ding dong of education reform.

VAM (value added models) are clearly Arne’s baby, and he loves them dearly.

These types of quantitative measures were adopted by over 30 states in 2010 as cash-starved state legislatures vied for extra federal dollars by way of Arne’s Race to the Top (RTTT) competition.

Those states who failed to win a grant were then coerced into keeping these new teacher evaluation measures through Arne’s ESEA Flexibility Waivers, which provided a reprieve from the ridiculous mandate of NCLB of having 100% of students proficient in math and reading by this year.

If you have read some of my recent posts about the use of value added models, you will know that these models have been found rife with statistical error and unreliability. The April study released by the American Statistics Association (ASA) made it very clear that VAM should not be used for high stakes decisions about teachers.

Again, here is just part of what the ASA said:

  • VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.
  • VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

Since Arne is the man who put the VAM in the vama lama ding dong, you might think he would be interested in the current research about its effectiveness in improving teaching and learning. You would be wrong.

VAM is Arne’s baby. It is the bomp in his bomp bah bomp bah bomp. You can call his baby “ugly” all you want, and even provide empirical evidence, and he will insist VAM is a beautiful thing that just needs a little refinement.

Shortly after the ASA released their study, Washington Post writer, Valerie Strauss, was actually bold enough to question Duncan about his seemingly blind allegiance to these VAM instruments, despite mounting evidence of their unreliability. Here is the response she received from his press secretary, Dorie Nolt:

“Including measures of how well students are learning as part of multiple indicators of educator effectiveness is part of a set of long-needed changes that will improve classroom learning for kids. Growth measures are a significant improvement over the system that existed before, which failed to produce useful distinctions in teacher performance. Growth measures — including value-added measures — focus attention on student learning and show progress. While these measures are better than what existed before, educators will continue to improve them, and sharp, critical attention from the research community can help.”

When Strauss asked Nolt if Duncan is aware of the latest research, she said: “We keep track of all major research on this topic.”

In other words: “Bomp bah bah bomp. Bah bomp bah bomp bah bomp bomp”

So if anyone is wondering whether Duncan and his team have been affected by the new research (or even the old VAM research), the answer seems to be a resounding “no.” Not just no, VAM NO!

And that is just the Bop Shoo Bop Shoo Bop of the whole matter. Arne and his team will just keep talking nonsense, put it to a catchy beat, and hope for a hit.

Sorry, Arne. While Barry Mann’s song made it into the top ten, there is not a VAM chance your rhetoric will cause anybody in the classroom to fall in love with your baby. VAM is junk science and will never gain acceptance in schools as a meaningful measure of teacher performance.

We are all looking forward to seeing you and your silly ideas VAMoose and bop shoo bop all the way back to Illinois.

Joy the Plumber?

Buried somewhere deep in the genetic code of adolescent human males is an apparent aversion to flushing a toilet, especially when depositing…oh, let’s just say…”Lincoln logs,” particularly in public restrooms.

If you doubt this claim, you are welcome to stop by my middle school any day and we can walk into some random bathrooms to gather some quick empirical evidence. You will leave with all the data you need.

Why boys are more inclined to leave a brown trout floating in the porcelain pond is a mystery to many frustrated parents across the nation. Maybe boys are just overly proud of their intestinal sculptures or perhaps there is some evolutionary origin due to men living in caves for thousands of years. Maybe this tendency kept the bears and other predators at bay. I’m not sure, but there has to be some explanation.

Having shared many a bathroom with ostensibly mature men in the Marine Corps years ago, I can tell you this pattern seems to continue well into adulthood. I have walked into quite a few “heads” (Marine word for bathrooms) where toilets were serving as sanctuaries for Stanley steamers, Yulelogs, “exports from Uranus,” sphincter snakes, stinky scuba divers, and toilet orphans.

Some guys would even announce their creations by bragging and saying things like, “Hey, I left you a present” or “Watch out for the brown snake in there. He’s a big ‘un!”

Okay men, it is the 21st century. For the love of all things Holy, can we not just flush the toilet!?

By this point, you’re likely thinking to yourself, “I wonder where Rob is going with this train of thought?” That’s a fair question.

It all started the other day when a colleague asked me if I thought that our outgoing state superintendent had ONE MORE outrageous or controversial action to take in her last few weeks in office.

To be honest, the real words he used were: “Do you think Janet will leave one last turd in the toilet?” I recognize this is an unpleasant visual, but it makes the point.

If you have been a regular follower of this blog, you might recall that I have previously written on the topic of poop. In that post, I described many of the reformers’ past and current initiatives as [poop]. This list of excrement included such things as test-centered accountability measures, A-F, ACE, third grade retention, TLE, common core standards, for-profit charters, and lots of other smelly stuff.

This is why this somewhat unusual metaphor seems to work.  The reality is that Dr. Barresi has left a lot of unflushed manure in our educational chamber pots.  This [Poop] is now clogging the pipes and making it difficult for any positive movement to occur in Oklahoma’s schools.

Whether or not Dr. Barresi decides to drop another turd or two before she leaves, her successor Joy Hofmeister already has a lot of flushing, plunging and purging to do. She may need to stock up on Drano.

I am certain Joy will choose NOT to embrace this particular metaphor to describe the work ahead of her, yet she is undeniably aware there are a lot of things to clean up.

To her credit, Joy has been very active around the state in the weeks since her election. She seems intent on restoring relationships with Oklahoma educators and building trust that will be necessary to initiate her agenda. She has met with the Governor, groups of legislators, parents and community groups, the State School Board Association, State Department employees, members of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA).

On behalf of our students, I am sure we all hope that Joy can be an effective plumber, flush away some of the [poop] blocking the lines of communication, and get things moving again. Things have festered for long enough!

Finally, to my fellow members of the male gender:

flush

An Open Letter to Oklahoma Dentists

A couple of days ago I started work on my second annual “Oklahoma Education Year in Review” post. As with last year’s submission, I look forward to the process of trying to assimilate the year’s crazy events in a fun, absurd, “Dave Barry-esque” style.

As I have been researching and gathering my thoughts for this post, I came to the stark realization that I might owe a small apology to a profession that has taken quite a beating in my blog this year—the dentists of Oklahoma.

Let’s face it, my blog has been rough on our hard-working and highly skilled dentistry profession.

Out of the 276 posts I have published in the previous eighteen months, 35 have included the words “dentist” or “superindentist” somewhere in the title or text. Our outgoing state superintendent, Janet Barresi, has been mentioned in an incredible 136 of my posts! It is likely these totals will grow by the end of the year.

As you know, many of my caricatures of Dr. Barresi have been less than positive! I have criticized and lampooned her through the extensive use of parodies, satire, political cartoons, movie references, songs, rants and even an irreverent video or two. Remember this fun dentist clip from April?

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I also mocked the dental community by insinuating that I would be qualified to serve on the State Dentistry Board in my blog post from last year: “Vote For Rob.”

image

However, I am not typically critical of dentists. Most are fine people. My own dentist, Dr. Forrest Arnould, is a skilled practitioner who, along with his wife (also a dentist) and terrific staff operate an excellent practice in South Tulsa. I am also hopeful that Dr. Arnould remembers this positive endorsement when he is working on a particularly sensitive molar in my mouth in a few weeks:-)

I LOVE dentists…okay, that’s a little strong…I have great respect for the skill and training of our dental profession. They play an important role in the health of our citizens and help people maintain bright and beautiful smiles. For this, we are very thankful!

So, In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, I am NOT an anti-dentite!

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For the dentists reading this, you have to be honest though–For as good as Dr. Barresi may have been as a member of your dental community, she was an absolute train wreck as a State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The people of Oklahoma have learned our lesson. I think it is safe to say that Janet will leave office next month as the first AND last dentist to ever serve in the capacity of state superintendent of our state.

While we appreciate the many contributions of dentists in our state, in all candor we really don’t want any more dentists leading the state department of education. Having gone to school oneself does not necessarily translate into valuable or particularly relevant experience to lead a large state agency focused on improving education for over 680,000 young people.

Just like the Oklahoma Dental Board prefers to have actual dentists representing their membership, we in education also believe that folks with actual experience as educators will likely do a better job supporting the work of teachers and administrators in providing quality instruction and services to the children of Oklahoma.

Anyhow, to the many exceptional dental professionals working across our state–I am sorry! You were caught in the crossfire. My intent was not to disparage the wonderful work that you do…as dentists!

I am hopeful your community will accept Dr. Barresi back with open arms. If she resumes her dental practice, maybe she can bring back a few smiles and make a positive difference in the lives of children, something I do not believe she has done effectively in the past four years.

One thing is for certain. Many of us who work in education in our state will be smiling broadly when Dr. Barresi ends her term next month. We are ready for a change.

At that point, I am hope that I will never have to speak unkindly of any dentist in the future, because you guys are #1!

dentist number 1

Diane Speaks the Truth!

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Like many of you, I am a big fan of national blogger and author, Diane Ravitch. In a post last September promoting her book, “Reign of Error,” I referred to Diane as a “lioness of truth” who serves as an articulate and courageous advocate for American public schools. I am simply one of thousands of readers who follows her blog daily. Not only does Diane provide a forum for many other bloggers across the nation, she also freely shares her tremendous insight and wisdom gained from decades of service to schools and the broader education community.

Yesterday, Diane published a post that resonated very strongly with me. I rarely do this, but in this case I feel compelled to copy her entire post below. I encourage you to read it and share with others in your schools and communities. I would also suggest visiting her website to read the many comments that have been posted in response to her message.

And if you have yet to read her books, put them on your Christmas list! I have learned much from reading them myself. Unlike the reformers, Diane actually uses data to support her arguments, not just hollow rhetoric and well-worn anecdotes. Diane speaks the truth and does so loudly and convincingly.

How to Survive and Prevail in This Era of Greed and Privatization, by Diane Ravitch

I recently posted a letter from a teacher whose message was “this too shall pass.”

Some readers took this as an expression of complacency. Just wait it out, and the billionaires will get so frustrated by their repeated failures that they will move on to disrupt something else or go back to playing polo.

The bottom line is that you never win in a confrontation by digging your head into the sand. Complacency is self-defeating. While you close your eyes to what is happening, the high-stakes testing will get worse, your community public schools will be closed, experienced teachers will be fired, and schooling will become a consumer choice, like buying milk at the grocery store (the analogy that Jeb Bush suggested at the Republican convention in 2012, that picking a school should be as easy as choosing between 1% milk, 2% milk, whole milk, chocolate milk, whatever).

And meanwhile, if we do nothing, we will find that one of the institutions considered essential to our democracy will have been destroyed by free-market ideology and greed. Instead of community public schools, where children learn to work and play together, we will have “choice” schools that increase segregation and that are free to kick out the students they don’t want. Of course, some “public” schools will be retained, as the school of last resort for the children unwanted by the choice schools.

Do any of the billionaires pushing this market-based ideology ever stop to wonder why none of the top-performing school systems in the world have the kind of school choice that they are promoting for the U.S.? Has it occurred to them that the nations they admire–those with the highest test scores–have strong public school systems with well-prepared teachers, but no vouchers and no charters?

The current corporate assault on public education will not pass unless those who oppose it take action. On one level, this means that we must organize for the next elections to support only candidates who support public education. The last election–at the gubernatorial level–was frankly a disaster, with the re-election of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Scott in Florida, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Paul LePage in Maine, and others who support privatization. The low turnout across the nation showed that not enough people were informed of what was at stake. We must do better next time and elect candidates who will strengthen families, communities, and public schools.

But there is more we can do now. As parents and teachers, we can encourage students not to take the tests. That’s called “opting out.” The tests are created by two or three major corporations that get to decide what our children should know. The results are used to rank and rate children and identify those who are failures and those who are successes. This is ridiculous. Why should the testing corporations be the arbiters of success and failure? Why should they be given the power to label our children?

The standardized tests have no diagnostic value; the results come in too late to inform instruction or to provide insight into what children need more or less of in the classroom. In fact, they are utterly worthless. Tests should be written by classroom teachers, who know what they have taught.

There is no particular value in knowing how your child compares to children his age in Maine and Arizona. What you really want from a test is an indication, useful to the teacher, of his strengths and weaknesses, a guide to helping him improve where improvement is needed. That is not what you get from standardized testing. What you as a parent or teacher really want is to know that children are engaged in learning, that they learn how to ask good questions and to pursue the answers, that they learn to love the pursuit of knowledge. A standardized test won’t help you reach those goals, indeed it will undermine them by teaching the importance of finding the right answer to someone else’s question.

So here is my advice: Opt out. Stop the machine that produces the data that are used to label your children, to fire his teachers, to close his school. Take away the data and insist that teachers deal with the needs of every child. Do not feed the machine built in D.C. or at Pearson. Be strategic. Do the one thing that only you have the power to do: deny them the data. Use the power you have.

Save the children. Save your schools. Save your community.