25 April 2016

You & Your Students Matter

After reading the article shown above (during my lunch hour), I find it readily apparent that the issues affecting education are much broader and far-reaching than the current situation we are facing in Oklahoma. (I'm sure this is not a surprise to anyone). This article does an excellent job to highlight the myriad issues facing educators today. Even when we have an educator (Arne Duncan) running the show from the Top, it seems that the situation continues to get worse.

So what are educators and education advocates to do? How do we change the system? What recourse do classroom teachers have? How can administrators encourage teachers to stay and keep up the good fight?

I certainly don't have the answers, but I want to send a note of encouragement to my educator friends:
  • Keep working to build deep relationships with your students. That matters. That's counts. 
  • You may be the only stable person in your students' lives. 
  • Your classroom may be the only safe place students have right now.
  • Your students are people. They are more than a number. More than a score. More than a statistic. 
  • You are more than a formula
  • You matter. 
  • You have influence. 
  • You can make a difference, even on the days when you feel like you aren't.
Often attributed to Albert Einstein, others credit noted psychologist William Bruce Cameron with the following quote:
Not everything that can be counted counts.Not everything that counts can be counted.
The love you show toward your students is literally immeasurable.

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…”

23 April 2016

There's only one solution to fixing education in Oklahoma - VOTE!

As I read this article, I see a strong case against what our legislators here in Oklahoma are doing to education. If you look beyond the rhetoric and look into these issues on your own, you may find that there is some truth to what this article is trying to say. 

Our Oklahoma legislators are being led in the crusade by Sen. Clark Jolley (he's introduced more bills than any other sponsor in the Oklahoma legislature), Rep. Jason Nelson, & Rep. Jeffrey Hickman who are trying their best to change the face of education in OK. From where I sit, that new face of education looks like a system which can hire teachers with no certification, with no limit on how little teachers are paid, and containing no requirement on paying into teachers retirement. How does that draw highly-qualified teachers to (stay in) our state? How does education de-regulation benefit our students? This sounds a lot like a charter school. These are the same exact "benefits" which apply to charter schools.

The real question here is "Why are our legislators NOT considering what is best for students?" While I can't answer that, I do know that something must be done. It seems to me that the easiest way to fix the problem is to remove the factor(s) causing that problem. So we need some new leadership (this also applies to our national legislators. (**Don't even get me started the US Congress! The fact that the vast majority of senators and representatives have been able to make a career out of doing their job so ineffectively it borders on criminal, is absolutely baffling to me.) 

I hope that all of you will look into your candidates and consider their position on education. This is the single most important factor facing our state (and country) today. Without an education, voters are unable to critically think about how his/her vote affects who is elected and how who is elected affects him/her (the voter). Without an understanding of how one's vote affects society, why even vote? A lack of education leads to voter apathy and voter apathy leads to a lack of education, at least at least it seems to here in Oklahoma. 

The fact that many educators in Oklahoma have decided to run for office has been widely reported. Teachers in Oklahoma are tired of negligence on the part of our legislators to properly equip educators to do their job and are taking steps to make a change. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that some people run unopposed in elections. That makes my case for an apathetic electorate even stronger! 

Teachers, remind your high school juniors and seniors that they need to register to vote. Encourage them to look for resources containing candidates' information. Connect the kind of analysis you do in class to real life by applying it to issues. Give them a means to affect change AND practice the skills you teach in class. I know their children will thank you.

Imagine what could happen if everyone who has ever said, "Meh, my vote doesn't matter. I'm just one person; I'm just one vote!" took that civil responsibility seriously? People died for the right to vote; yet here we sit preferring to [insert ridiculous, mindless action verb here] rather than exercising our rights.

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting." - FDR

15 March 2016

I think #Trump is GREAT, but great at what?

The man has no concrete plans for anything. It is the absolute MOST empty rhetoric that has ever existed (how's that for hyperbole?). Make America great. Knock out ISIS. We are gonna win. I can fix (insert every broken piece of government) here. Do you even SPECIFIC bro?

I suspect that my normal silence in the area of national politics may cause some of my friends some surprise at this rant. It was a comment to a discussion on FB and I started and couldn't stop myself. Sometimes things clear up and I've gotta get a few things written down. This was one of those times. All of the time periods listed are from memory, so please be gentle if I am off by a decade or three. 

I think Trump is great. Yep. He's great. Great at being vague and talking, while not really saying anything at all.

I will agree that change begins with Congress. I find that very few career politicians, who talk about a "restoration" of the (insert constitutional republic component here) is pretty much the opposite of what the slave-owning, bigoted, adulterer "Christians" aka the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution and began what we they, and every generation since, have failed at creating - a constitutional republic. Rather, we have an oligarchy, run by the people with the most money. NOT the ones who can do the best job or even the once who say the can do the best job. Congress should be servant-leaders. They are not. Our system is broken and the only way to fix it is to do the one thing Oklahoma has done right: TERM LIMITS.

But back to the issue at hand: Trump is great at bringing a group of people together. He is full of a lot of language which makes people more afraid of the "others" whom they already think are "the problem". He's good at playing one side against another. Playing one class against another. Playing one viewpoint against another. Pandering to the extreme right who think he will Make America Great Again! The real question though is this: Just how far back does he want to take us in history? Pre-civil rights? Pre-civil war? Post-civil war aka anti-immigration? The 10s and 20s when we hated the Hun? The 40s when we hated the Japanese and the Germans? Any time in history when we hated the Jews? Between the World Wars when we hated Mexico? (Wait, isn't that now??)

I'm sensing a pattern here. A pattern of fear and hate. It's the same song every politician has been singing at one time or another post-9/11 (when we just hate anyone with brown-skin, no matter their religious views). There's a HUGE difference between Patriotism and Nationalism and I'm afraid too many in politics are pressing for the wrong one.

23 February 2016

The case for the elimination of high-stakes testing

Our legislature in Oklahoma is considering eliminating the EOI Tests. To be clear, this would not get rid of ALL tests, just the end-of-instruction exams (EOI). Currently, there is SO MUCH legislation, i.e. Big Government, that teachers are not allowed to be professionals. By that I mean the government is telling teachers (like me) that the 4 years of educator preparation we did in college, does not qualify us to assess whether or not our students have learned the standards adequately. What if I have a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction? Nope. “We still don’t trust you to judge whether or not your students learned what they should in your class.” Okay. How about a doctorate? Nope. We, as legislators (NOT EDUCATORS) feel as though our system will be a better judge of your students’ learning. High-stakes testing is simply another way for the government to dictate what I can and can’t do (as a teacher). It always makes me laugh when the very people who are against big government are the same ones who want to legislate students and teachers to death with unfunded mandates for any number of issues in education.

Additionally, these tests effectively cease all instruction in Oklahoma schools by the first week of April. So we are using the last 8 weeks of school just for testing. While this may sound absurd (it is) and incomprehensible, when you have half of your class pulled out for 3 days in a row to test on an EOI for one subject (remember there are 7 of these exams for each student) and then they need to use your computers to administer those tests during the next week, and then the other half of your class is pulled out the following week, you have lost 3 weeks of instruction and that only accounts for 2 tests out of 7. Fortunately, I was able to work around that because I taught a non-testable subject, but the strategies I employed to continue instruction would not work for everyone, so what ends up happening is no instruction.

If we are testing for about 8 weeks, out of 180 instructional days in the school year, we are taking 40 of them (5 days x 8 weeks) - which accounts for almost 25 PERCENT of all the instructional days we have - to administer high stakes tests.

In Oklahoma, the mandate is that students must pass 4 of the 7 EOI tests to get a diploma, meaning if they only pass 3 tests, instead of a diploma, those students get a certificate of completion. This dooms that student to a minimum wage job. To be able to live and pay your bills in Oklahoma City, you must make approximately $13.00/hr. So these students will be making about ½ of what they need to make to just to live minimally. Where is that other ½, needed to augment their earned wage, going to come from? It comes from government assistance, e.g. food stamps, welfare, etc. If our education system fails these students - students who may already be predisposed to failure in education because of the low socio-economic level they have grown up in - what then is the choice for them to make a living? Get that minimum wage job and take government assistance, thereby placing their children in the same cycle of poverty? It is possible that could be the only option they have.

We are better than this. As someone who trains teachers, I remind teachers (and myself) that teaching practice can ALWAYS be improved. If we don't improve our schools (and I'm saying that ONE way to do that is to eliminate high-stakes testing), we are condemning ourselves to a continuation of generational poverty - meaning we spend more and more of our taxes to augment the income of people who live below the poverty line.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.” That’s pretty much sums up my feeling about my state’s leaders.