Can We Please Stop Pretending …?

pretendingAbout two years ago, fellow blogger Scott McLeod posted a list of five things we have to stop pretending when it comes to education. He also encouraged others to add our ideas and suggestions. As of today, he has documented 127 responses from other bloggers and educators on his website, including my own.

For no other reason than I’ve grown weary of thinking and writing about the Oklahoma budget crisis, I decided to dust off my original list and add about 65 more items that literally poured forth from my brain. Sorry, but I get a little snarky towards the end.

I’d love to read your ideas as well. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

We need to stop pretending:

  1. That all 5-year-olds arrive at the schoolhouse ready to learn.
  2. That policy-makers who have never taught or earned an education degree know more than the practitioners who work with kids every day.
  3. That charter schools that accept the same students as public schools achieve better results.
  4. That class size doesn’t matter.
  5. That higher academic standards will automatically result in more kids being college and career ready.
  6. That reading magazine articles or online content is the same as reading a book.
  7. That all students need to take Algebra II to be successful in life.
  8. That any one test score can tell us how smart a child is.
  9. That students value their core classes more than their electives.
  10. That all teachers do a good job.
  11. That learning and knowing are the same thing.
  12. That a traditional classroom is the best place for teaching and learning.
  13. That a student with special needs being served with a modified curriculum all year should be able to magically pass a test on grade level in April.
  14. That an A-F school report card gives us meaningful information about the overall climate and quality of a school.
  15. That students should be grouped by chronological age.
  16. That students are still paying attention after 10 or 15 minutes of a lecture.
  17. That children learn from people they don’t like.
  18. That ALL students don’t need recess.
  19. That you can measure the value of a teacher by how well their students do on standardized tests.
  20. That children will continue to read books if the adults around them do not.
  21. That there is a “best practice” for ANYTHING. Context always matters!
  22. That school, for the most part, isn’t incredibly boring.
  23. That every student should go to college.
  24. That most high school classrooms are vastly different than they were thirty years ago.
  25. That we treat academic or artistic achievement equal to athletic achievement.
  26. That school mission statements are worth much more than the paper they’re written on.
  27. That most school administrators are well-qualified to evaluate teaching effectiveness.
  28. That grades are an accurate reflection of what a student has learned and is able to do in a class.
  29. That a curriculum developed in the 1890’s is still applicable for children born in the year 2000.
  30. That it is impossible to get rid of a mediocre teacher.
  31. That the best schools have the best test scores.
  32. That the best way to structure the school day is with 50 minutes subjects taught separately from each other.
  33. That many rich white people who promote vouchers do so because they care about poor minority children.
  34. That short-term memorization equals long-term learning.
  35. That all students know how to use technology.
  36. That most parents care less about their children’s grades than if they are learning anything of long-term value.
  37. That young children inherently know how to behave themselves in school.
  38. That retaining children because they cannot pass a reading test benefits the child.
  39. That kids who are tired, hungry, scared, traumatized, or abused give a damn about learning much of anything.
  40. That every child has someone at home to help them with their homework.
  41. That international test scores and comparisons to other countries tell us much about the quality of the American education system.
  42. That teachers only work seven hour day, 180 days a year.
  43. That most of the knowledge we teach kids cannot be easily accessed in less than 30 seconds on a device.
  44. That most superintendents don’t earn their money they are paid.
  45. That schools can be run like a business and students can be handled like products.
  46. That social media is not a HUGE part of most young people’s lives.
  47. That test-based accountability has improved the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
  48. That music and arts are not as important and core subjects.
  49. That all kids are motivated by the same things.
  50. That one-shot professional learning for teachers actually makes a difference.
  51. That we can continue to teach kids today the way we were taught yesterday.
  52. That poverty doesn’t matter.
  53. That all children come from loving and supportive families.
  54. That most anti-bullying campaigns do much to actually reduce bullying in schools.
  55. That cursive is more important to teach young children than coding.
  56. That only two years learning a world language other than English has much value to 99% of students.
  57. That practices that work well in Finland would work equally well in an urban US school district.
  58. That most citizens care very much about the quality of the schools outside of their neighborhood.
  59. That anything much is going to improve some people’s negative perceptions of public schools.
  60. That teaching is not the most important profession in the world.
  61. That teaching is easy and almost anyone can do it.
  62. That money doesn’t matter because teachers are intrinsically motivated by a sense of purpose and love for kids.
  63. That teachers don’t have any other options for careers.
  64. That Oklahoma will ever move out of the bottom in the nation in terms of teacher pay and funding for common education.
  65. That having over 1,000 emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma this year is okay.
  66. That teacher morale in Oklahoma isn’t at an all-time low.
  67. That the Oklahoma legislature will actually pass a meaningful teacher pay raise this year.
  68. That most of our teachers will suck it up and keep teaching anyway.
  69. That young teaching prospects from Oklahoma will stay home rather than earn $20K more in a neighboring state.
  70. That the vast majority of our legislators won’t be reelected anyway.

A Letter to Peter Jr.

Dear Peter Jr., 

On behalf of millions of Oklahomans, I just want to tell you, “We’re really sorry, kid.”

Seriously, we are.

You are only a child and should not have to worry about stuff like state budgets, taxes, and education funding. But there are things happening in our state this year that will, unfortunately, impact you now and in the future. You have a right to know.

Adults in charge of our government are making decisions about our state’s priorities and what we value most.

Sadly, the truth is we do not value education as much as many other states in America. While some states are greatly increasing funding for their schools to better prepare their children to compete in a fast-changing global economy, Oklahoma is trying to get by on the cheap. Our schools have cut funding for you and your fellow students by more than 27% in nine years and your teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation.

Our state budget is a disaster and we’re not doing much to change that. It’s kinda like being really sick and not having anybody working to help you get better.

Despite our state’s problems, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to get things fixed. To use a common expression, people in power seem to be kicking the can down the road. One day soon, you and your friends may be stubbing your toe on that same can.

The bottom line is we are having to steal from your future to pay for the mistakes adults are making today.

How bad is it? Here’s a big number for you: $868,000,000. That’s 868 MILLION dollars.

This is how much LESS money Oklahoma will have next year to run our state than we did this year.

LESS money to fund your schools and teachers. LESS money to invest in our colleges and universities to enable more Oklahomans to pursue degrees and increase their earning potential. LESS money to build and maintain safe roads and bridges. LESS money to provide health care for our citizens. LESS money to hire police and firemen to keep you and your families safe. LESS money for social services to help your friends and their families who need a helping hand. LESS money to provide a safety net for your elderly grandparents, individuals with severe disabilities, and others who need our compassion. LESS money to invest in state parks, museums, and recreational activities for you and other children to explore and learn.

LESS money to build the kind of state you will want to stay and raise your future family.

It wasn’t always this way. It just kinda happened.

Our state constitution says our government can only spend what it has and cannot go into debt. That is a good thing. It is important to be responsible with our money.

To balance previous budgets, our lawmakers have used a variety of budget tricks to make it appear we’re doing okay. But, this year, most of those tricks aren’t going to work anymore. Our state’s savings account has run dry and we have very few options available besides cutting services to Oklahomans, including you and other children in our state.

Our schools have worked hard to shield you from the impacts of funding cuts over the past few years. We’re not sure we can do that anymore.

As Oklahomans, we pride ourselves on being able to do more with less. That is becoming very difficult. As a result, we will simply be doing less.

We have robbed your dad, Peter, to pay Paul. Then we robbed Paul to pay more to corporations and wealthy Oklahomans.

Now it’s time to rob from you, Peter Jr. 

When it comes to picking winners and losers, our state has decided you will lose.

Instead of investing in state-of-the-art schools with modern technology, we have protected tax breaks for the people who build those big wind turbines you see from the highway when you travel out west.

Instead of increasing pay to help recruit the best teachers for OUR schools and motivate them to not leave our state, we gave wealthy Oklahomans an income tax reduction.

Instead of lowering class sizes so you and your fellow students can receive more individual attention and experience higher quality learning, we gave oil companies huge tax incentives.

Instead of expanding our academic and extracurricular programs in our schools, we have spent money on creating more standardized tests to be used to rank you and your friends, judge your teachers, and punish your schools.

Instead of developing a vision for a safe, healthy, vibrant, productive and happy future for the children of Oklahoma, we have sought to please the adults with power and money.

We have turned our back on you when you needed us the most.

My hope is that by the time it is your generation’s turn to lead this great state, things will be in better shape. I hope that our leaders will learn from our mistakes and begin to prioritize funding of education and other important services over excessive tax breaks for companies and wealthy Oklahomans. Instead of pushing our problems down the road, I hope we have the courage and conviction to fix things now.

Most Oklahomans love our state. Many of us were born and raised here, some of us left for various reasons but then we came home. Because Oklahoma is OUR home. 

For that reason, we yearn for a Oklahoma that is both fiscally sound and compassionate. We desire a state that honors its heritage and shared values but is also forward-thinking and progressive. We strive to foster a community of people which respects our individual differences and fights to help those less fortunate. We pray for peace and prosperity for all. We dream of a place where people of varied faiths and beliefs can come together to cherish the American dream and work to create a better future for you and the children of our state.

Above all else, we pray for children like you, that you are valued and loved and well cared for. And that you will be blessed with the Oklahoma spirit and a character that values hard work, charity, honor, resilience, integrity, optimism, and service to others. That’s what being a Oklahoman is all about.

We’re sorry we are not doing a better job, Peter Jr. We hope you will forgive us.

All the best,

Concerned Oklahomans for Children.

let's fix this

 

Do We Really Need More Evidence?

gettyimages-mulvaneyRemember a few weeks ago when White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told America we need to cut funding for Meals on Wheels for senior citizens and after-school nutrition programs for poor children because those programs, well … “aren’t showing any results.”

“They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no evidence they’re helping results, helping kids do better in school, which is what — when we took your money from you to say, we’re going to spend them on after-school program, we justified it by saying these kids will do better in school and get jobs. We have no proof that’s helping.”

I read somewhere that sarcasm is the body’s natural defense for stupidity.

So, here it comes. I can’t help it.

Dammit kids! Get out there and do better in school so you can get jobs and we can know that feeding you is worth our money. We not going to continue to waste taxpayers’ dollars just so you kids can go home and not focus on how hungry you are all night. If you want OUR food, we expect better than C’s on that report card. Maybe missing a few meals might motivate you little slackers to work a little harder. Find you some grit and quit your bitchin’.

Seriously folks. Do we really need a reason to feed hungry children?

The unfortunate truth is that Mr. Mulvaney is simply articulating a mindset shared by a large number of policy makers across the nation.

This is particularly true when it comes to funding of public education.

How many times have we been told by Oklahoma lawmakers over the past few years that Oklahoma schools are better funded than ever; that our schools are bloated with wasteful spending; that Oklahoma superintendents make way too much money; and that we will never be satisfied with ANY amount of money, so why try?

Supporting each of these narratives is the unstated premise, “Why should we give you more money if we’re not seeing results?” (by results, they mean higher test scores, of course)

The converse of this proposition is equally damaging: “We’ve cut education funding yet schools are still getting fairly similar results.” In short, the sky has not fallen.

Regardless of which argument you choose, the bottom line for many policy makers in Oklahoma is that there really isn’t an education funding crisis.

Therefore, all of the tales of gloom and doom have just been concocted by greedy school superintendents, teacher unions, and the education monopoly to milk the taxpayer, with no added accountability and little return on investment.

For some, the fact that we manage to put warm bodies in most classrooms means we don’t have a teacher shortage. If there are still teachers to hire, we must be paying enough.

If we can sustain a 27% cut in per pupil funding over 10 years and still keep our schools open, we had too much money to begin with.

And, if you follow this logic all the way down the rabbit hole, we really don’t have a problem after all.

There’s no emergency, no need for panic.

Those of us who work in schools know the reality all too well.

While many states have continued to increase their investment in public education since 2008, in Oklahoma, we’ve been cut nearly 27 percent in per-pupil funding, adjusted for inflation.

That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.

It’s hard to believe that publicity like this enhances our reputation as a good place to live and do business.

state funding

For three consecutive years, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to general school funding, but state lawmakers have still not made any meaningful efforts to reverse the cuts.

Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, Oklahoma cut per pupil aid another 2.9 percent after inflation, the fourth deepest cut in the nation.

These sharp cuts in funding have been felt in the classroom. Average teacher salaries have dropped more than $7,700 after inflation since 2009 as Oklahoma loses experienced teachers to other professions and other states with more competitive teacher pay.

Numerous Oklahoma districts have gone to a 4-day school week, which can especially harm the thousands of Oklahoma children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to have enough nutritious food. (Oh, I know. There is no evidence that any of these children have starved to death so maybe we were wasting money anyway – right, Mr. Mulvaney?)

Since 2010, the Legislature has suspended and never restored standards to keep class sizes low and to update textbooks and library materials.

The failure to bring back school support to 2008 levels means that schools have spent nine years trying to cut our way to health. That means new programs have not been launched, and when new mandates come from the state capital, there is zero chance of whipping up enthusiastic local support for them because everyone knows that a new program means an old program must bite the dust.

Some schools, in trying to avoid the pain, have prolonged it. Maybe we can just squeak by this year and next year things will be better, they think. But then next year comes, and funding doesn’t, and so every year means more cuts, more unfilled positions, more necessary spending unaddressed.

Unfilled positions also translates to larger classes and heavier workloads for teachers, even as more demands are made to increase tests scores and school A-F grades.

Do more with less. After almost a decade, many schools in Oklahoma are accepting this as the new normal.

And that is corrosive for morale. Oklahoma schools are learning to live with a scarcity mindset. Why even think of new ideas? There won’t be money for them.

To make things worse, we are already bracing for additional cuts for FY-2018.

Oklahoma City Public Schools recently announced the proposed closing of five schools. Tulsa Public Schools are asking for community input to address a potential budget shortfall of $12 million next year. In most districts, pay for almost all school employees has been stagnant for eight years while family health care costs continue to explode.

And if you are a teacher starting to feel stress about how you’ll support your family on a paycheck that is shrinking in real dollars, there’s no end in sight for that.

If Oklahoma lawmakers need evidence of the negative impact that inadequate funding of education and low teacher salaries have on our state, maybe they should ask some of our recent university graduates why they’re moving to Texas.

The answer is rather obvious.

Do we really need more evidence to know we have a funding crisis?

garland

Photo credit: Dr. Rick Cobb (from a recent job fair at Oklahoma State University)

The New Adventures of Captain Oblivious

445x557_OBLIVIOUSAt this same point during last year’s Oklahoma legislative session, I brought you the first installment of the “Adventures of Captain Oblivious.”

My previous post was a recounting of a fictional conversation between an unnamed legislator (“Captain Oblivious“) and an educator from his district during the middle of another “highly productive” legislative session.

Captain Oblivious is that legislator who knows way too little about way too many subjects. No one is really sure how he was elected other than the fact that he ran unopposed in a strongly Republican district.

His superpower is his keen attention to detail about obscure and insignificant issues. Yet, like kryptonite to Superman, Captain Oblivious is paralyzed by things which move fast or are complex, so he has developed a well-honed capacity for complete inattention to almost all things going on around him.

Fast-forward one year and Captain Oblivious has reappeared at the State Capitol.

This time he is joined by his two trusty sidekicks: Sergeant Hellifino and Standoffish Girl.

hellifino 2

standoffish girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sergeant Hellifino is impeccably groomed, pleasant, and well-intentioned. He is also rather clueless about most things. His superpower is his capacity to obscure his ignorance of key issues using rhetorical smokescreens, purposeful redirection, and bombastic obfuscation.

Hellifino hears things that please him and repeats them, like a mockingbird tending its nest. He is highly skilled with the use of irrelevant phrases like “If it was good enough for our founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” “It’s a complex issue worthy of further study,” “This is what my constituents tell me they want,” “Taxes and big government are BAD,” “We need to make Oklahoma great again,” “OIL!” and his trusty standby, “Because God says so.”

He also knows his way around the Capitol and is famous for signing on as a co-author of other people’s legislation after passage is guaranteed. Despite all that, people like him.

On the other hand, Standoffish Girl emits a negative vibe which effectively keeps pests at bay, including fellow members of the human species. At first, you might think Standoffish Girl lacks confidence or is possibly a little shy. Nope, she’s just genuinely aloof and unfriendly.

Unless you’re a fellow legislator she probably won’t give you the time of day. Her superpower is her ability to process literally hundreds of emails from constituents in only seconds using the Ctrl-A and Delete functions on her keyboard. She also uses her special cloak of invisibility when citizens stop by to talk with her. If you happen to go to Standoffish Girl’s office, you’ll be informed by her administrative assistant that she “just left for another meeting and will get back with you, someday.”

Don’t count on it.

We pick up the action early Thursday morning. Captain Oblivious, Hellifino, and Standoffish Girl are having a private meeting in a custodian’s storage room in the basement of the Capitol Building.

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Captain Oblivious: Thank you both for agreeing to meet in my office on such short notice. 

Standoffish Girl: Umm, this is NOT your office, idiot. Does the fact that I’m sitting on a mop bucket give you any clues?

Sergeant Hellifino: Hey, easy there, Standoffish Girl. It’s better than sitting in the dirt like our founding fathers and Jesus had to do. 

Standoffish Girl: (Glaring at Hellifino) I was not talking to you, Dipstick.

Captain Oblivious: C’mon, both of you straighten out. I chose this space so we could meet without interruption. I need to strategize with you on how we can deal with this teacher pay raise issue. My phone is ringing off the hook. These teachers are such pests. I keep telling them if they don’t like being poor they should just go get higher paying jobs. I think they are insulted by that for some reason. I’m not sure. They just keep blabbing about their life’s purpose, helping kids, lack of respect, blah, blah, blah.

Standoffish Girl: You should do what I do and change the topic to something I want to talk about. Also, keep your arms crossed and keep checking your cell phone or watch. Be careful not to ask any questions, make eye contact, or nod your head in approval. Otherwise, they might get the impression you’re actually listening to them. If all else fails, do like I do and train your secretary to pop her head in after three minutes and say you’re late for an important meeting. That seems to work well. 

Sergeant Hellifino: That’s good advice, Standoffish Girl. I also like to remind them that we have a huge budget shortfall because our citizens pay too many taxes. I ask if they want to go back to the days of high gas prices and runaway inflation we experienced under President Carter. I also like to throw our some random numbers and percentages to make it sound like I understand how the budget works. Finally, I tell them that I need to study the issue further before making any promises. They also seem to like when I offer them a cookie, pat them on their shoulder, and give them a concerned look.

Captain Oblivious: Hey, I don’t need any lessons from either of you on being oblivious – that’s my damn superpower. What I need to figure out is how to make it seem like we’re giving teachers a pay raise without actually doing anything.

Sergeant Hellifino: Well, I don’t know what I don’t know. But, I do know that I don’t know what most people know about the state budget. There are just so many numbers. I know that more taxes would be bad and won’t help Oklahoma be great again. Just thinking aloud here, can’t we do like we did with the lottery and give them more money with one hand while taking it out with the other? I also liked the idea from Representative Whathisname about capping teacher insurance and using that money to give them a raise. That’s clever. Most teachers wouldn’t realize they got hosed until we’re long gone.

Standoffish Girl: (looking up while texting on her phone) This is a boring conversation. Can we talk about my trip to Cancun last week?

Captain Oblivious: Yeah, how was the weather? Wait, no – nice try. Let’s stay on topic, Standoffish Girl! These teachers need to realize we have other big issues to deal with than just their stupid pay raise. We have the tanning booth bill, the Ten Commandments, liquor on Sunday, drone protection –  lots of important stuff. Plus, we’re trying to do all this during March Madness. It’s HARD!

Sergeant Hellifino: Don’t forget OIL tax breaks, too!  Our founding fathers didn’t have tanning booths and drones and they did just fine. Plus, God says we shouldn’t drink on Sunday because we should be resting. I do have another idea. How about we pass a pay raise bill to show our concern but don’t attach any funding to it? That way we can blame someone else when it fails. Or, we can say the other house has to approve budgets because, you know, the Constitution. 

Captain Oblivious: That’s genius, Hellifino. I will submit a bill immediately to propose a 10% increase on taxes for things Oklahomans love – cigarettes, gasoline, license tags, donuts, dresses with spaghetti straps, trailer homes, deer stands, Bud Light, cheese enchiladas, white pickup trucks, moon pies, BBQ, casino parking, taxidermy, and handguns. We can say that 63.8% of the new revenues will go to the teacher raises while the rest goes to the general fund. That’s a real-sounding number, right?

Of course, it will never pass the other house, but we can say, “We really, really tried but those OTHER guys hate you!” We can go at it again next year if oil goes to $200/barrel and we eliminate the state income tax for people with jobs.

Standoffish Girl: Thank goodness! Are we done here? I just got a text from my secretary. I have another important meeting to get to. Or, a nail appointment. Or, a root canal. All of those are infinitely better than sitting in this closet with you dolts. 

Sergeant Hellifino: It’s good for me, too. I have a lunch meeting to get to. It’s with some oil executives to discuss their idea of the state actually PAYING them money to drill for oil. I think it’s an issue worthy of further study. 

Captain Oblivious: Terrific, we’ll probably bump into each other again soon, unless I see you coming first.

oblivious

 

Listening to the Eyes

The eyes are windows to the soul. What could be more obvious? We look through our eyes onto the world, and we look through the eyes of others into their minds.

The ability to read the messages that young people communicate with their eyes can often be as important as deciphering their words. That is – if we take the time to listen.

The following is a gentle reworking of a post I originally published in April 2016. Something inside told me it was time to publish it again.

It happened to me again last week.

As I walked the halls of one of my district schools, I caught that unmistakable look in the eye of a child. As a middle school principal for more than a dozen years, I had seen it many times before, in the glancing looks and pained expressions of far too many young people.

There was a time ten or twenty years ago I might have missed it or just chalked it up to some kid going through normal adolescent angst. Even if I had noticed it, I may have just referred him to the counselor and went on with my daily routine.

That was before my brother died after having his life truncated by the scourge of drugs and alcohol. Before I realized it was getting too late to intervene or even tell him how much I loved him.

That was before I took the time to remember the contributions of a special teacher from my high school years. Before he tragically took his own life a decade later. Before I had the chance to share with him just how much his extra efforts had meant to me and how he had changed my life.

That was before a seemingly happy, carefree eighth-grade student at my middle school went home one day, ate dinner with his family, cleaned his room, put on his “Sunday best,” lay down in bed, and pulled the trigger of a gun. Before an inconsolable mother asked me a few weeks later, “Did you see or notice anything at school that might help us understand why our beautiful boy would want to die?”

I didn’t have an answer.

I have no answers for why people choose to engage in destructive behaviors or make the fateful decision to end their lives prematurely. I have no special training or expertise in this area. I do know we are fortunate to have highly skilled counselors and social workers to help our children navigate the trials of life in a fast-moving, often disorienting society.

At the same time, I hope each of the experiences described above have made me more observant, more discerning, more compassionate, more reflective, and more, well .  .  .  human.

Anyhow, back to the child I saw in the hall last week. He wore that look on his face.

It was a mixture of sadness, anger, and despair.

It was obviously not this child, but his expression was eerily similar.

angry boy

Do you see it?

I asked him if he was okay. He walked on without a response.

I turned and caught up with him. I introduced myself and said, “I know you don’t know me, but you look upset and I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help.”

His response was a curt, “I’m fine.”

Yet what I heard was more like, “I’m sad, hurt, anxious, depressed, lonely, misunderstood, insignificant, ugly, unlovable, broken, dying insi.., Fine!

Can you see it in the look of this young lady? She would likely say she was fine, too.

sad girl

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that every child who is sad or angry or somehow disjointed is suicidal or dangerous. It is perfectly fine and normal to experience the emotions of sadness and frustration, as they are part of life.

The vast majority of children (and adults) we encounter in our schools would never think of harming another person or themselves.

At the same time, it is a painful symptom of too many dysfunctional young lives.

The statistics on youth suicide are alarming. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.

Seven out of every 100. That number is absolutely staggering to me.

So, when people say our primary job in schools is to increase student achievement, I respectfully disagree. The act of creating learners only occurs in an atmosphere of respect, trust, compassion, and love.

Thus, our biggest job is to keep kids safe, while instilling in them a profound belief that we genuinely care about who they are and what they dream to be.

So, when I walk anywhere in a school, I look for the look–that look of despair, the look of sadness, the look of capitulation.

Most of the time, the look doesn’t reflect anything but an occasional bout of sadness. Maybe a bullying situation, an argument with a friend, a poor grade on a test, or a challenge at home.

After the boy I stopped shared with me how he had just failed a test and might have to take summer school, I suggested he speak with his teacher and see if he could come in after school and study what he had missed and possibly retake the test. He said his teacher would let him do that and that he was just mad at himself for not doing better.

I told him a story of my failing a major exam in college and how I could understand how he felt. I told him to not be so hard on himself and just continue to do his best.

He smiled, shook my hand, and thanked me for talking with him.

The look was gone from his face.

That was the most important thing I did the entire week. And thousands of educators in schools across America do the same thing every day.

Sometimes you just need to tell someone things aren’t as terrible as they think they are.

Sometimes you just need to be there to listen.

We often tell kids, “Don’t give me that look.”

But, maybe we need to see the look, and take the time to understand the look … to listen to the eyes.

You may just change a life. It might be yours.

The Sour Sixteen of Education Buzzwords

Best practice tells us that schools should be run like businesses. To develop students with grit and growth mindsets who are college- and career-ready, teachers should collaborate in data-driven Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to unpack academic standards and create rigorous yet authentic learning experiences which will foster student engagement. Yet, instead of teaching to the test and treating children as data points, teachers should differentiate their instruction and use flipped classrooms to add value to their instruction.

kirsten-wiig-snlThere you have it, ladies and gentlemen. According to your votes, the above paragraph includes the 16 educational words and phrases which represent the most obnoxious, dreadful, and overused buzzwords of the 2017 education season.

While our profession is rife with atrocious and meaningless vocabulary, these 16 terms rose through the stench to take their position as the “worst of the worst” – the SOUR Sixteen, so to speak.

If you missed the opportunity to participate in round one, you still have a chance to help us narrow the field into our FOUL FOUR and award the champion of the “Worst Education Buzzword of 2017.”

From your selections, I have taken the top four from each of the original categories (student-centered, classroom-based, reform-based, educational phrases) and placed them in a 16-word bracket, similar to the approach taken by the NCAA for selecting and ranking the March Madness teams.

The term “Rigor/Rigorous” enters the Sour 16 as the number 1 seed, receiving votes from nearly 60% of respondents. The number 2 seed is “Unpacking the Standards” with 53.1%.

Will one of these two terms win the prize as worst buzzword or will one of the other terms or phrases pull the upset?  That depends on you! Every buzzword that made the SOUR 16 is certainly worthy of the honor.

For this next round, your vote is important in selecting the “FOUL FOUR.” You’ll do this by voting for the worst buzzword from each the following pools. The term which garners the most votes of the FOUL FOUR will be named the 2017 champion.

Here’s are the final brackets:

Pool A:

  • Rigor
  • Student Engagement
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Data points

Pool B:

  • College and Career Ready
  • Value-Added
  • Teaching to the Test
  • Best practice/Research says …

Pool C:

  • Unpacking the Standards
  • Flipped Classroom
  • Schools should be run like businesses
  • Growth Mindset

Pool D:

  • Data Driven
  • Grit
  • Professional Learning Communities
  • Authentic Learning / Assessment

Voting ends at 6:00 p.m., Monday, March 20.

Click HERE to cast your vote.

Thank you for playing Education Buzzword Bracketology!

buzzwords 2

Thank You For Noticing

The Legislature shall present measures that provide full funding for the support of common education to the Governor pursuant to Section 11 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution for the Governor’s consideration at least twenty-five (25) days prior to the date established by subsection E of Section 6-101 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes, but not later than April 1, in order for the boards of education of the school districts of this state to make decisions on teacher contracts.

The source of the aforementioned statute is House Bill 1247, championed by Republican leaders and signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.

This legislation was the topic of an opinion piece in today’s Tulsa World by Amber England, executive director for Stand for Children Oklahoma. As England writes, Oklahoma educators and advocacy groups would simply like the legislature to follow its own law and pass an education budget in the next 16 days.

As far as statutes go, the requirement for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a common education budget by April 1st each year is about as straightforward as they come. The one-page bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously in 2003.

As England explains in her article, Republican leaders aggressively pushed the legislation that year and, upon its passage, celebrated that “Oklahoma schoolchildren would no longer be used as a ‘political football’ in the budget process.”

Like THAT would ever happen in our great state!

football

Yet, since its passage, lawmakers have met the deadline only once. I’m going to jump out on a limb and predict it’s not going to happen this year either.

So, why does our legislature continue to simply ignore the law they wrote.

Simple. Because they can.

Legislative leaders 14 years ago were careful to ensure there were no teeth in the law they unanimously passed. There is no “… or else” clause in the legislation, thus no stipulations are in place to incentivize compliance or discourage noncompliance.

If they fail to follow the law, no legislator will ever lose his or her job, leadership position or committee assignment. There will be no fines or jail time in the Oklahoma City County Jail. There will be no censures or articles of impeachment filed on any legislative leaders.

More than anything else, it’s likely not a solitary vote in the next general election will change as a result of legislators failing to follow this statute.

Think about it – would you drive the speed limit if you knew that there was zero chance of you ever getting a ticket or having an accident? What keeps many people from stealing, lying, cheating on their taxes, punching other people in the nose, or even showing up to work on time other than the very real understanding that negative consequences will follow.

Likewise, many of us choose to work out, watch what we eat, get adequate sleep, endure an annual physical, take care of our homes, cars, and other stuff, work hard, treat others with kindness, and generally live our lives honorably because of the intrinsic value we place on these qualities.

It is normal human behavior. Most of our lives revolve around a constant balance of morality, ethics, and justice with the ever-present counter force of potential rewards and punishments. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic in nature, we are motivated to action (or inaction) by our understanding of the possible implications.

People who make civil laws and rules know this. Many students wouldn’t do their homework if there weren’t consequences applied for failure to do it. We would have more people driving drunk if the penalty was less severe than it is. More people would steal from banks if the sentence for armed robbery was only $100 and a weekend in jail. Punishments for murder and other violent crimes are necessarily harsh in order to provide adequate deterrence to people otherwise prone to violent, antisocial behavior.

Let’s be real. If not for clear consequences, we’d all still be chilling in the Garden of Eden. The push by some lawmakers to place the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds and in public schools is to remind us all that we should follow God’s law or else.

On the other hand, Oklahoma’s legislative leaders view missing the April 1 deadline for passing an education budget as an innocuous, meaningless lapse, kind of like forgetting to floss. They don’t really care about missing it and understand the vast majority of Oklahomans don’t either.

The truth is the legislature has no intention of following the law just because Amber England, or 500 school superintendents, me, or anyone else calls them out on their deception. Common education would have a budget by April 1st IF there was a worthwhile incentive for the legislature to provide us with one.

With no negative consequences or rewards in place, it’s never going to happen just because it’s a so-called law.

What these lawmakers do is what politicians have done for hundreds of years. They pass legislation to satisfy what they believe to be the “will of their constituents” to secure their future votes, while carefully crafting the language of the laws to avoid accountability.

It’s what they do.

Maybe we could get a budget passed if we said something like:

Failure to pass an education budget by April 1st will cause the wrath of the God to fall upon your head. You’ll have to work Fridays. Your shoelaces will not stay tied. You will gain weight for no reason. The hair from your head will move to your back. You’ll develop a painful rash in a delicate area of your body. Rabid squirrels will invade your home and procreate with your Shih Tzu. You will be stuck for eight hours in an elevator with a large man with horrible body odor and severe flatulence. Food in your refrigerator will mysteriously spoil. Your bank accounts will be hacked by a Nigerian Prince. Your mother-in-law will move into the guest room permanently. Your car will start making that expensive knocking sound again and no one will talk to you at parties.

Anything short of that kind of consequence and we will have an education budget when the legislature damn well feels like giving us an education budget. Not a day sooner.

At best, we will simply hear from legislators that they noticed that we noticed.  Business as usual in the Oklahoma legislature.

Thank you for noticing