By May 10, 2014 Uncategorized 18 Comments

This is a long post but I really encourage you to read it in its entirety. Please also share it with others in Oklahoma, especially those who believe that shaming schools, teachers, and students is the right path to school improvement. We must continue to educate them.

I received an email at 1:15 a.m. this morning from Teresa McAfee, the Superintendent of Crutcho Public Schools near Oklahoma City. She wanted to share with me the absolutely awful terrible day she had—one that had kept her awake long past midnight.

It all started around 11:00 a.m. yesterday when the State Department released the results of the third grade reading tests. For a variety of reasons, many districts were not able to gain access to their scores until later in the day. Ms. McAfee received the link to her test scores from the OSDE at 12:46 p.m., two hours AFTER the local media had received them. However, due to a technical issue on the CTB-McGraw Hill website (imagine that), the district was not able to download their scores until 3:15 PM. The district had to e-mail and call CTB several times before they fixed the problem.

While waiting on the phone with CTB, Teresa received a call from a reporter with the local news station KFOR wanting to interview her. She spoke to the reporter while she was still on hold with CTB. Teresa explained to the reporter that she did not have all of her district’s data and did not want to interview until she had all of the information necessary to give an informed statement.

The reporter advised her the story would run at 10:00 p.m. with or without her statement because “they had the worst scores in Oklahoma and none of their students had passed.”

Teresa tried to explain to the reporter that this information was not accurate. The real data was poor but not as bad as the reporter had stated. Out of 38 Crutcho third graders tested, four did score proficient, 12 had scored limited knowledge, and 22 scored unsatisfactory.

The reporter from KFOR agreed to come and interview Ms. McAfee at 4:00 p.m. However, before speaking with the principal or superintendent, the reporter spoke with several parents picking up students in the parking lot after school. She then spoke with Ms. McAfee and her principal for about an hour and a half.

Unbeknownst to Ms. McAfee, the station had already aired a story on their 4:30 afternoon broadcast. In the rush to get the story out, they published false information. The report stated that Crutcho was the lowest scoring school in the state and that NO students passed the test. Here is the graphic that accompanied the story.

Remember that this information was being broadcast on the nightly news just a little over an hour after Teresa was able to see the real scores herself. Imagine all of Crutcho’s third grade students and their parents learning from the news that every single student was going to be retained! Teresa or her staff had not even had the opportunity to share the results with her teachers much less her parents. She immediately called the parents of her four proficient students so they would know the truth and not stress all weekend.

While Ms McAfee was rightfully upset with the conduct of the news station, she was also justifiably angered at the manner in which the OSDE released the scores to the media before the school had a chance to see their scores, talk to their teachers, or prepare a statement for their parents and students. The producers at KFOR and leadership at the OSDE both behaved shamefully in this incident and owe this district an apology.

To their credit, KFOR did run a different story at 10:00 after taking the time to do some actual journalism. You can view the video HERE.

Ms. McAfee provided me with this short description of her district.

Crutcho was once the lowest performing district in the state of Oklahoma. They are located at NE 23 and Air Depot between Oklahoma City and Midwest City. Their students live in what is known by law enforcement as Panic Zone: an area ridden with gangs, violence, drugs and poverty. The district was awarded a School Improvement Grant (SIG) grant in 2010 for 2.3 million dollars. With that funding they implemented a 1:1 laptop initiative, added an extra hour of instruction to each day, a 5.5 hour summer school program during the months of June and July, Saturday school, countless hours of professional development for our teachers and more.

The state repeatedly praised the district while continually evaluating them. They were called the “golden child”, a “model school”, the district that implemented the SIG grant with the most fidelity in the state, “the little school that could” and more. Dr. Barresi has made positive comments about the district and Ms. McAfee at State Board meetings.

It is important to note that the OSDE spent considerable time “mentoring” Crutcho over the past four years. The OSDE asked Ms. McAfee to provide technical assistance to a Tulsa school; sent numerous administrators to them for help; and asked the district to present repeatedly at conferences. Their first A-F report card grade was a C. However, just like Howe Public Schools in southeast Oklahoma, after Senator Jolley changed the rules, the district dropped to an F.

With Teresa’s approval and consent, another one of her employees, Donna Rupert, sent me the following, very well-written and powerful letter describing Crutcho’s challenges and amazing successes. Please take note of the graph showing 8th grade reading scores on page three of her letter. This level of improvement over such a short period is nothing short of miraculous. Incidentally, the 87% pass rate in 2012 was higher than Jenks Middle School and most suburban districts across Oklahoma.

We hear it all of the time–we need to find ways to support ‘failing schools.’ And yet, there is little questioning of the assumptions underlying this phrase. In Crutcho’s case, our own state department has worked hand-in-hand to provide support for the district’s improvement efforts. Money has been invested, students and teachers have open access to technology, and professional development has been provided to all staff. They have adopted an extended school day and provided summer school opportunities. They also provide services for families and supply children with clothing and food on a weekly basis.

And yet, 22 out of 38 third grade students may be retained. The school will likely earn another F on this year’s report card. Just as KFOR News mishandled the story yesterday, many in the public will also mishandle this narrative.

The public wants to believe that there are great schools, average schools, and lousy schools. And lousy schools can be made better simply by firing the teachers and principals, enacting strict accountability for all, and offering competition in the form of charters and vouchers.

As a result, schools in Crutcho, Howe, Tulsa, OKC and other areas with high poverty are labeled “low performing” due to student performance on state tests alone. As we have all said many times before, the most accurate predictor of school success is socio-economic status.

The reality is that schools in each of these districts are saving kids’ lives. In many cases, the public schools in these communities and neighborhoods are the one institution that are “working” amidst a sea of dysfunction, both in the homes and on the streets.

Yesterday’s reading results clearly indicate that Oklahoma has some significant challenges. Yet, these test scores are more than a reflection of student ability, they also tell us about the class status and geography of those schools.

So what do these test scores really measure? By and large they measure the health of the communities the schools serve—not the schools themselves. While there are obviously exceptions, the term “failing schools” is a misnomer. As national blogger, Bill Boyle, has written, “Failing schools do not exist. What do exist are communities that we have failed.”

However, what the reformer’s narrative of failing schools does most is allow us to continue to avoid meaningfully addressing those issues that have the largest impact on student achievement: English language proficiency, learning disabilities, dysfunctional homes, crime, drugs, racial prejudice and poverty.

Teresa McAfee, Donna Rupert, and the dozens of dedicated teachers and staff at Crutcho Public Schools do not need to be constantly reminded that they have a lot of work to do. They are painfully aware of that fact and that is why they have dedicated their lives to work there.

Their students do not need to be told repeatedly that they are failures. The school does not need to be shamed publicly by news stories done by reporters who fail to do their research before airing inaccurate details. They need a state superintendent who actually “gets it.” They need a governor and legislature who realize what schools need is additional support, a fair and comprehensive accountability system, increased local autonomy, and more funding.

More difficult tests, A-F grading schemes, TLE, value-added models, third grade retention, EOI graduation requirements, charter schools and Common Core standards are not the answer. All they do is place blame onto schools for the failures of society.

Until and unless we are willing to honestly address the root causes of poverty and inequality in Crutcho Public Schools, in Oklahoma, and throughout our nation, these reforms simply waste time and effort. The evidence is clear: the reformers’ status quo has failed, and failed badly.

But don’t expect any change of direction on their part. The failure of public schools is exactly what they are after. They have invested too much money to allow their “cause” to be derailed anytime soon.

As former OKC Superintendent Karl Springer tweeted earlier tonight: “The urban reformers don’t want to hit poverty and help poor families. (They’re) Interested only in making sure their kids don’t attend w ours.”

They truly have no shame.

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