Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Possoms and NCLB Waivers...

I received this from a friend in the Tulsa area week before last.

Melissa Abdo is a very hard working wife and mom in the Jenks school district. She and other parents in the district have an organization called, PLAC (Parent Legislative Action Committee - ((I hope that's right!)).

This group actually goes and lobbies the legislature during session and keeps in touch with the administration and teachers in their district as a way to stay educated and involved in their children's education.

This piece was sent to Melissa by the site Principal at Jenks Middle School. He has given me permission to repost his comments below.

I learned a lesson from a backyard possum a few weeks ago.

This possum had been rooting around in our back yard for several weeks and making a mess of things. He had to go. So, I borrowed a large (non-lethal) metal trap to catch the varmint so I could release him in someone’s else back yard a few miles away! I set the trap on our back patio and placed a delectable piece of raw chicken in the holding area. How could the possum possibly resist? I waited only a few hours until I watched him come onto the patio and began examining the trap that would soon change the course of his life. He seemed to know something was wrong. He walked around the trap very cautiously as if he was thinking to himself, “it just has to be a trap---no one would just leave a piece of delicious chicken sitting around!” He should have listened to his instincts.

It took about five minutes for his hunger to get the best of him and to finally succumb to the aroma of the chicken. The lure of something that I assume tastes infinitely better than road kill and insects (no firsthand experience here) was too much for him to resist and he walked with trepidation into the cage. The door snapped down behind him. He was trapped. When I went out to examine the cage, he looked up at me as if to say, “I feel so dumb, I just knew it was too good to be true.” Then he rolled over and played dead! For the animal lovers reading this, I did release Mr. Possum in a beautiful open area about two miles away from my house and he lived to fight another day – this time anyway!

Here’s the lesson I learned: I think we need to be very careful to follow our instincts when it comes to the NCLB waiver that is moving with alacrity through our SDE. NCLB is road kill. It is rancid and sure doesn’t taste very good. At the same time, it is the law of the land. There has been no action on the part of the US Congress to repeal or reauthorize this legislation. Who gave the executive branch the absolute power to circumvent established federal law? What happened to balance of powers? Are not Arne Duncan and the President overreaching on this point? Are we (the states) all just so tired of eating road kill that we ignore the trap into which we are about to walk?

We have to be careful that our hunger for something “different” doesn’t cause us to accept a result which we may find more repugnant. In other words, the chicken in the cage may be laced with poison. There may be things that are toxic to the effective and efficient management of public schools. I urge all of us to look closely at what is being put into this waiver request: TLE, letter grades for schools, more carrots and sticks, and the coup-de-grace for me--- more testing. The middle school alone already gives 6500 OCCTs and EOIs a year. To test students three times a year would bring us to 19,500 tests and up to 12-15 weeks of disrupted instruction. This would be a death knell for teaching and learning and we would simply turn to testing factories focused on achieving a new set of goals. Teacher morale will suffer as they will be forced to follow a rigid and narrow instructional path designed solely to have students perform well on tests, while losing a emphasis on student engagement and love of learning.

Is this a situation when the medicine (and its many side effects) may be worse than living with the disease of NCLB? Why is there such a big push for states to take this medicine in the first place when the people with the cure (the US House and Senate) are failing to make the cure available to those who need it? Maybe the pressure needs to be placed on our legislators to stop playing partisan politics (both sides) and do what is right which is to fix or repeal NCLB.

What is the worst case scenario of not making AYP? More sanctions? A state takeover? Not likely. What is likely is that as every school in the state and country gets placed on the improvement list, people in those communities will finally stand up and say “enough is enough.” They will see that the NCLB law as written is ridiculous and unattainable. They will demand action (ok, I’m being a little hopeful here).

I will admit I have not had the time to read through the entire draft of the state’s waiver request. Like the possum, I’m not sure I should come up on the porch at all. The smell of the chicken might be too strong to resist! Maybe I should just accept the fact that road kill and insects are the only items on the menu right now, hold my nose, and keep on going!

Wow. First of all, the guy can write! What a great piece! Secondly, it follows eerily a post I made on the Oklahoman website to the article, "Oklahoma request for NCLB waiver should benefit students". Here it is:

Editorialist, could you please tell me what would happen should our schools go on the Needs Improvement List?

I wonder
wonder, have you read for yourself what would happen? Various things would in fact happen should a school go on the NIL from getting federal funding yanked to getting MORE federal funding.

So, what is the NIL all about? Money. Money from where? The Federal government. According to studies, a very large percentage (sometimes as high as 40%) of the money we get from the federal government for public eduction goes to hire staff to manage the money, or to filling out paperwork, or other some such mindnumbing activity that has nothing to do with children in classrooms.

There is such a gasp at the thought of the NIL, but the fact of the matter is, we've had an NCLB in one form or another since LBJ! It's called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Every president since LBJ has amped it up, put their name on it and forwarded it on like it was a Christmas re-gift!

It is an absolute fact that public education simply will not improve until we get all the government MONEY out of the system. So, you can parrot what the 'education establishment' is saying, or you can research the idea for yourself. A waiver from NCLB mandates will do nothing but remove more liberty from Oklahoma legislators and educators and put more power into the hands of Washington bureaucrats.

Oklahomans know better how to educate Oklahoma children...but then, if you abdicate responsibility for Oklahoma children to someone else (the feds), then I guess it's not Oklahoma's (Governor, Superintendent, etc.) fault should we 'fail'. Interesting concept, just not one from which Oklahoma's children will benefit.
So, as I start out my day readying the kids to go to the Port of Catoosa to see faithful 'copies' of Christopher Columbus' ships the Nena and Pinta, I go with the knowledge that not all those in the public school system are supportive of the tact taken by our Superintendent and Governor.

I just hope we can find more of them out there before it's too late.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today's Great Idea: Let's Borrow Money from A Bankrupt Federal Government to Create and Administer Tests for Pre-Kindergartners

Our State Department of Education (OSDE) through Governor Mary Fallin sold the public on applying for the Race to The Top Early Learning Challenge (to pay for pre-k programming) by saying they would be applying for this grant to "...invest in upgrades to our teacher training, our data tracking and improved testing." She also goes on to tell Megan Rolland, "We're not establishing new programs ..."

Who is advising our governor? Clearly, from Rolland’s new article today, “Entry exam for kindergartners is part of Oklahoma’s grant application” they had every intent of establishing a new program – that of TESTING INCOMING KINDERGARTNERS. In fact, after reviewing the RTT grant’s FAQ’s, it became readily apparent that this NEW program was added so Oklahoma could be more competitive for the grant:

Competitive Preference Priority 3, is Understanding the Status of Children’s Early Learning and Development at Kindergarten Entry through the implementation of a Kindergarten Entry Assessment. Applicants that successfully meet Competitive Preference Priority 2 can receive up to 10 additional points, and applicants that successfully meet Competitive Preference Priority 3 can earn 10 additional points on an “all or nothing” basis.

So, as I have asked before, is this RTT grant about pre-K programming, or money? It isn’t about telling Oklahomans the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” apparently. I have had four kids graduate kindergarten in Oklahoma – one 24 years ago, one just last year. None of them was given a test before entry.

Governor Fallin originally told Rolland that part of the money from this grant would be used to develop the OSDE data system, however, there was no mention in that article of linking up data from kindergarten testing to this statewide database. How much information do they have to have on our kids and is there any apparent moratorium on the age of the child on which they are willing to collect data? After all, pre-K programming is defined as any program from birth to kindergarten.

ROPE has done quite a bit of research on the P20 (pre-K through 20 years) Longitudinal Data System the Obama administration is ‘helping’ states (using ARRA funds) set up in order to ‘make data-driven decisions to improve student learning, as well as facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps’. This data is far reaching and because of proposed changes in FERPA regulations, may result in schools collecting information from children WITHOUT parent permission (page 17).

Barresi also says in Rolland’s previous article that, "It's (RTT grant) not a federal mandate or a state mandate that children have to go to early learning; it's totally voluntary."

How voluntary will state-funded pre-K programming become when, upon assessing incoming kindergartners with yet ANOTHER test, a child is deemed NOT ready for Kindergarten?

"We're so sorry Mrs. Smith, your child flunked the Kindergarten Test and you will need to put him into state funded public pre-school until he exhibits greater kindergarten readiness."

Though parents in OKC Public Schools have had access to full day kindergarten only in the last five years, there are already PASS Skills for Kindergarten and the Common Core State Standards will make those even tougher.


Reading: The CCSS emphasize increasing complexity of text and reading for information in all curricular disciplines. A paradigm shift will occur from kindergarten through seventh grade. In kindergarten classrooms, student will read 50% literary texts and 50% informational materials.

So, instead of a parent enrolling a child in kindergarten for reasons such as socialization and developing skills to help increase readiness for first grade, now we’ll be giving kindergartners a test to make sure they can ‘hack’ the rigorous ‘college-ready’ standards of PASS and the Common Core?

Many discussions have been had in the literature about testing kindergartners and not all elicit confidence in such a procedure. Interestingly, a paper uploaded onto the OSDE website called, “Prepared For Kindergarten: What Does ‘Readiness’ Mean?” provides the following quote:


Discontinue the use of invalid readiness tests to determine readiness for kindergarten. This results in bad decisions and wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Apparently the authors of the article above understand more about the profligate costs of testing than do either our State Superintendent or Governor. The article says that Oklahoma will pay 16.75 MILLION dollars (the LARGEST allocation of money in the entire grant!) for “developing and administering a new test for students before they enter kindergarten”, yet it doesn’t draw attention to other articles addressing the fact that Oklahoma has had so many problems with testing companies in the last decade (Pearson in particular), that we have employed no less than five to do the job of creating and delivering assessments to Oklahoma students.

I suppose that if the nearly 17 million dollars we get to develop and implement these tests are just those crazy ‘free’ dollars from the feds, what does it matter the cost? As with so many other state and federal government employees, our governor and superintendent clearly need us to install the DEBT CLOCK widget on the home page of their taxpayer provided computers.

Just a question Superintendent Barresi and Governor Fallin – when the ‘free’ money runs out (and mark my words, it will) what are you going to do then? Who’s going to pay for these wildly important pre-K-programs then? My guess is the Oklahoma tax payer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

While OWS Occupy The Parks Who Occupies Their Brains?

I have heard some frankly hysterical commentary about the OWS crowd lately - hysterical to me because outside the three years I embraced liberalism in college (I need to develop a vaccine for incoming college freshman against the academic small pox that is the liberal professor) I've worked harder than most women I've known and identified with a family tree sprouting oak-sized Republican branches.

Some of the more spot-on hilarity came from Former NY Mayor Rudy Guliani, who provided the OWS'ers a bit of advise "...occupy a job!". Two brothers, finally sick to death of being thwarted by the OWS crowds in their attempt to get to work on Wall Street, found a way to occupy some neon green poster board with the words, "Occupy A DESK!" and return with gusto the heckles showered on them by the unshowered protestors. Even Jon Stewart found it in him to jab the feckless campers in the eye with their own stick.

I fear, however, that while many of us watch the various exchanges between the Occupy crowds and the media in a running hot and cold mixture of disgust, contempt, pity and/or amusement, the more sinister pillars of the effort will be missed.

Apparently, the OWS movement has an agenda:
  • elimination of all private property,
  • forced unionization of all workers
  • 6 hour work days with 6 weeks paid vacation,
  • universal health care,
  • a ban on gun ownership,
  • fierce separation of church and state AND
  • “Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda.”

"Who cares if OWS'ers have a list of demands? These people are only as strong as their weakest link and have you looked at any of them in the bright sunlight or smelled them up close?", you might say.

This is a point, however, the whole OWS movement really should be viewed through the lens of our current president. Here are the impressions of ABC's Jake Tapper after an interview with the current Oval Office resident:

Obama said the most important thing he can do as president is express solidarity with the protesters and redouble his commitment to achieving what he described as a more egalitarian society.

Feckless, smelly, over-mollified campers become a bit less feckless when backed by a sitting president with a Marxist background and a penchant for all things communal.

But wait, what about the education establishment itself? What thoughts exist in this arena? Try the post from this new blog (The International Occupy Movement and Public Education) on the prominent EdWeek website on for size;

After my mother graduated from high school in the mid 1940s, she went to Queens College in New York City, which was practically free back then. Tuition was without charge. All she paid for was her books. She left college with no debt and was able to build a successful self-sustaining life. The Occupy Movement -- from Wall Street to Oakland, CA to the growing political youth movement in Chile -- is demanding the same opportunity that my mother and many in the US once took for granted.

Here, Occupy Wall Street is raising critical issues and exposing how our education system reflects larger economic inequalities. Looking internationally, we have great lessons to be learned from students around the world who are similarly mad at how some of the 1 percent of super wealthy exert excessive control over politics, university fees and the economy that all 100 percent live in. From students in Chile we can learn both policy reforms and action strategies.

In this first series of blogs, I will begin by developing a conversation about how education problems mirror the money-making system. I will highlight those who are working to change this economic arrangement and opportunities for education and movement leadership. I will point to past successes and discuss ideas that have emerged about where we can go from here.

Comforting. Quite apparently, the Dewey chickens have come home to fully roost in the public education system of America today. We are now full circle. John Dewey trains under Marxists, trains up Marxists at the Teachers' College he created at Columbia University and Marxists descend upon public educational institutions where they train up little Marxists who find it hard to live in the real world of capitalism, morality and responsibility and move into Zucotti parks all over the nation.

Sadly, I expect this to be a fight that will need to be fought in the near future. I don't expect this movement to tuck tail and run like Zucotti Park residents forced to actually work for their rent. I see their manifesto as a credible threat to our American way of life just as does Bill Whittle at Pajamas TV. I hope you will too. After all, the only good defense is a good offense.