Hungry and Foolish?

At the conclusion of his famous commencement speech to the Stanford University Class of 2005, Steve Jobs shared this simple yet deeply profound philosophy for life:

At first glance, this quote is odd – nobody wants to be hungry and foolish, right? Yet, what I believe Jobs was saying is we should be always eager and willing to push ourselves (staying hungry), while also staying foolish by trying new things, taking risks, and stepping out of our comfort zone. From Jobs’ perspective, staying foolish means being willing to do the things other people say cannot be done.

(If you have not read Job’s inspirational speech, I recommend you take three to five minutes of your life to do so. It’s well worth your time. You can read the speech or watch the video HERE.)

I am introducing Steve Job’s words today as a call to action. Unless I am mistaken, there are thousands of educators and parents across our state that are extremely fed up and eager to make something happen (hungry). If this is true, and you are one of these people, are you willing to “be a little foolish” and move outside of your comfort zone? I know that I am. And NOW is precisely the time for us to get started.

Here is the reality about our current situation: no one else is coming to rescue our public schools. It is us or no one.

We should be confident in the belief that we know better about what works for our children than politicians who see children as nothing more than test scores to manipulate and private corporations which see students as nothing more than dollars.

These are our children, our schools, and our communities. If our elected representatives are unwilling or unable to enact the policies we support and eliminate those that are harming our schools, we need to let them know with our voices and our votes.

The Oklahoma State Legislature convenes for the 2014 Legislative Session in 26 short days (Feb. 3). With this being an election year, we can be certain there will be a significant focus on budget and tax issues. The Governor will also be strongly inclined to flex her conservative muscles on a variety of issues.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to vacate the income tax reduction approved last year, combined with the recent announcement that the State Equalization Board has reduced the FY2015 budget authorization by $170 million from the current fiscal year likely means that this session will be one of the most contentious in recent history.

We have to make sure that the educational issues that are critically important to us are not swept aside by partisan politics.

With this in mind, here is my simple five-step primer for what I would like to see accomplished during the upcoming session. Some of these items require legislative action; others are things that can be accomplished by school districts, professional organizations and parent advocacy groups working together. You may have additional items you would add to my list based on your unique perspective and interests. I invite your comments and suggestions.

Step one: Establish contact.

In the next few weeks, send a brief note or email to your state representative and/or senator. Introduce yourself, share your story, and let them know which issues are important to you.  Advise them that you will be paying attention and will be communicating with them again. You can also share this sentiment from a parent with the Central OK Parent Group: “We are committed. We are organized. We are not going away.”

If you do not know the names of your legislator(s), click the following link: Find your legislators.

Linda Nye, the wonderful coordinator of the Sand Springs Parent Action and Advocacy Team (PAAT), also posted this helpful link to key legislators on the various House and Senate education committees:

Link to contact the Governor

Link to contact Superintendent Janet Barresi

Step two:  Follow the legislation and key education issues.

Get involved and take the time to research, ask questions, and formulate opinions and talking points on important educational trends and issues. Attend your local PTA and Parent Legislative Action Groups meetings.

Some helpful links are:
Tulsa Area PLAC- Melissa Abdo
Central OK PLAC – Meredith Exline
Sand Springs PAAT – Linda Nye
Tri-County Parent Action Committee
Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) website
Oklahoma Education Association website
Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPES) website
Oklahoma Education Truths BLOG
Jason James’s (Asst. Superintendent of Clinton PS) BLOG
Claudia Swisher’s BLOG

Send me additional links and I will be happy to post them here.

Step three: Recruit friends and family. Share this information and ask them to help.

Step four: Let your voice be heard, again and again. Continue to send emails and letters to key decision-makers throughout the spring. It is vital that we keep the pressure on for all four months. Save a personal day or two to visit the Capital to meet with legislators.

Step five: Know your agenda.

If we are frustrated with the agenda set forth by our State Department, Governor’s office, and Legislature, we should be able to provide an alternative plan.

Here is mine.  Feel free to steal or adapt to meet your needs. As you will see, my primary focus is on rolling back the amount and influence of testing in our state and developing a more useful accountability system.

A. Reduce Student Testing

Rationale: The Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires states to test students in reading and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12. States must test students in science once in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 10-12.

For perspective, both the ACT and SAT College Admissions Tests are administered in less than four hours and assess all subjects. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is three hours. The current Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is about 4 ½ hours.


High School (Grades 9-12)

A1a. Eliminate EOI tests, replace with requirement that all high school students take the ACT during their junior year, OR

A1b. Reduce EOI requirements to those required by federal law. This could be achieved by requiring students to take the Algebra I, English II, and Biology EOI and eliminate the rest. Students have already reported having little to no incentive to do well on these extra EOIs after already passing the four out of seven EOIs required by the ACE legislation. These tests have little to do with college readiness and are not used by college admission offices in selecting potential students.

Elementary/Middle School (Grades 3-8)

A2. Reduce requirements to those required by federal law. This would mean eliminating tests for 5th grade social studies, 7th grade geography, and 8th grade US History; as well as writing assessments. These assessments can be best developed and administered at the local or district level and would provide more timely and actionable information for educators.

A3. Limit testing time for students. The new revisions to the Oklahoma State Testing Program (OCCRA Tests to begin in 2015) call for 6 ½ hours of testing for all students in grades 3-8 (3.5 hours ELA and 3.0 Math). This does not include an additional two to four hours of testing for science and social studies in grades 5, 7, and 8 AND the extra time allowed for students to complete testing.

This amount of testing is unnecessary, excessive, and EXPENSIVE. Again, remember that candidates for medical school are subjected to less testing than we will be expecting 8-year-olds to endure.

I would propose the following plan (shown in the chart below) to reduce the emphasis on high stakes tests and the associated disruption of learning in schools.

Finally, I believe that we need legislation mandating that FINAL results for all state testing be communicated to districts by June 15th of each year. This is absolutely doable! This will give schools needed time to determine remediation needs, review curriculum, and develop plans to improve performance.

B. Develop a meaningful and transparent accountability system.

Rationale:  We have tried to work with the OSDE and legislature to improve the state A-F system.  It has become a political issue rather than a useful tool for administrators and parents to evaluate their schools and inform their improvement efforts.  The State Superintendent and Senator Jolley have made no effort to speak with the OU Research group to develop a more accurate system.They seem to be perfectly content with the statistical errors and structural problems with the A-F system as written.

As with Florida and several other state who have has A-F systems in place for many years, they will continue to tweak and refine the formulas, update rules, and manipulate the data for years to come. I don’t think we can trust them to ever get it right.

For that reason, we must work together to create a better system – separate and distinct from the current system. I propose a district-led effort—working with researchers, parents, administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders to identify meaningful measures for the internal assessment of our schools. We should make a commitment to complete transparency and open communication. The system should incorporate data other than student test scores and provide an accurate, comprehensive picture of school and district performance. As with student letter grades, the current system does little to inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of their schools. To narrow a school’s performance to a single letter grade is simplistic and not useful.

If done correctly and adopted by a plurality of districts, a new, locally developed accountability system could render the OSDE’s A-F report card even more meaningless and irrelevant than it already is. Moreover, it would underscore the fact that we embrace accountability and openness to our patrons.

C. Eliminate quantitative measures of TLE.

Even though the legislature has pushed back implementation until 2016, this component of the TLE legislation simply needs to go away. Numerous research studies across the nation are showing that Value Added Models for evaluating teachers and administrators are rife with errors and inaccuracies. Quite literally, VAM is a sham!  Let’s put an end to the foolishness, stop wasting people’s time,  and simply trust our local school boards and building administrators to properly manage and evaluate their staff.

D. Repeal Third Grade Retention Law

This legislation is simply another one of Jeb’s  failed policies from Florida, rewarmed for Oklahoma. This law will have a disparate impact on students who already come to school with incredible challenges and disadvantages. A majority of those students retained will be students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs), English Language Learners, minority students, and students from poverty.  Nearly every credible research study on the topic of primary school retention indicates that long-term consequences far outweight the short-term benefits. These students need extra support, counseling, summer enrichment programs, and other wraparound services, and should NOT be punished for circumstances beyond their control. This legislation is harmful to kids and must be repealed.

E. Protect Funding for Public Schools

I support CCOSA’s position which seeks a commitment from the Oklahoma Legislature to restore per pupil funding to pre-recession level. CCOSA also asks for a commitment to address the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers by ensuring educators have a defined benefit at retirement and increasing teacher pay to outpace states in our region.

In these austere times, we must watch to ensure that the Legislature does not pass any additional requirements on schools and districts without adequate funding. In short, we cannot absorb any more unfunded or underfunded mandates.

The Legislature should fulfill their pledge to adequately fund the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and the 2006 ACE Remediation requirements. This year, schools received approximately 27% of the needed amount for these important programs, and not until late November. This is unfair to teachers and to the students who need these supports.

Do not consider any performance pay initiatives or merit pay schemes (especially those tied to student test scores) until overall education funding is restored to 2009 levels.  These type of decisions are best left to local districts and their employees, not the folks in OKC.

Note that I did make any mention of the battle over implementation of Common Core State Standards. While I have some significant concerns about CCSS, I do believe the discussion can be a distraction.  As a building principal, the standards are not the biggest concern to me and my teachers; rather it is the use of CCSS to support the implementation of even more testing, evaluations tied to student results, along with the loss of funding that could be used for better purposes.

That is my call for action. We need every voice to be able to push back the tide of the reformers. It’s time to get hungry and foolish!

I started by referencing a motivating speech by Steve Jobs. If that didn’t adequately pump you up, take a quick look at YouTube video at the bottom. It is titled, “40 Motivating Speeches in Two Minutes!” If it doesn’t open on your device, click HERE for the direct link. It is a fun clip!  Oh, I almost forgot to add this: if you are a Republican, make sure you cast a joyous vote on June 24!

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