Thursday, November 20, 2014

Students As Trained Seals



I am to be on vacation right now, but I had to post about the very exciting goings on in Tulsa Public Schools. 

Nikki Jones, and her colleague  Karen Hendron - both elementary teachers in Tulsa Public Schools - recently attempted to have their class answer a survey for the TPS' Value Added teacher grading model as required by the district. It turned out to be a nightmare for them, but most of all for their students. Because the exercise was such a phenomenal strain, they wrote a letter to TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard explaining why they would never do such a thing again and why.

The letter was EXTREMELY well-written, clear and concise in their examples, complaints and desires. There was nothing unprofessional in the demeanor of the letter at all, and was, frankly, an excellent example of how to communicate issues of consequence with one's boss.

In great detail the letter describes some of the reactions of their kids to taking the survey. This was one instance reported by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World and it would have to be one of the saddest:
Hendren said the personal questions included a detailed checklist of all of the people residing in the student’s home and how many computers are in the home.
She said one of the first-graders was devastated after they went through the family member checklist and he revealed in front of his peers that his parents had left him and moved out of state and that he was being raised by one grandparent because the other had died.
“He got really upset and put his head down. He was really sad because there were other students he had to answer that in front of,” Hendren said. “One of the most difficult things for everyone was that our kids have never filled in a bubble sheet before. In our training, we were told children had to fill in the bubble sheets.”
What do you suppose happened after the letter was sent out to the Superintendent, social media and through - not only the Tulsa World, but the Washington Post as well!?

Dr. Ballard sent someone to talk with the 'girls'. No, he didn't have time to meet with them personally, but he did send someone to speak with them about the fact that they were too young to understand the research that says how important this kind of evaluation is, so they had better research it for themselves and do what is asked of them. 

Following that 'action', Dr. Ballard sent out an email that again, condescended to the two women - this time publicly.  According to Eger:
He vowed that TPS will continue to employ “developmentally appropriate assessments in Kindergarten through 3rd grade” and seemed to question the experience level of Jones and Hendren.
“While I understand the frustration of these beginning teachers, it takes a person experienced at using data to know how to use it to guide instruction. We need this data to monitor growth and improve results for all of our students,” Ballard said.
This is offensive - not only to Hendron and Jones - but to taxpayers supporting Tulsa Public Schools and the parents who use the district to educate their children.

Did he not even read the letter? Did he not even choose to begin to understand the time out of class it took these women to administer a survey (2.5 hours!) that is not needed for these teachers to continue to keep their jobs - no matter what Ballard says - if the principal in the building is doing his/her job and observing them and overseeing their work.

Just recently, the Daily Oklahoman published an article about the fact that kids in Oklahoma City Public Schools aren't learning to read because teachers are not taking the time to teach them. So what are teachers doing instead? Hmmm....testing? Giving surveys? Filling out their infinite teacher evaluations? Performing any of the myriad 'reform' measures brought down upon them by the legislature as they continue to genuflect and kiss the ring of the federal government for a pittance?

Nikki has only been teaching in TPS three years, but has been singled out on at least three occasions for her excellence in teaching. In fact, her Facebook friends (including me) watched in awe as she spent most of her summer creating items such as shelves and curtains, to put in her classroom - out of her own pocket - on her own time. I don't see that there could be ANY argument here over whether or not Mrs. Jones is a good teacher. A crummy teacher is not going to spend her summertime hours engaged in the kind of blood, sweat and tears activities Mrs. Jones did to be ready to excite her little students come start of school - I guarantee it.

To think this kind of teacher is treated this way by a Superintendent is simply unbelievable. So, Dr. Ballard, you would much rather have young children crying and feeling like garbage about themselves so you can rate a teacher on a scale to determine whether or not they should have a job in your system? After they have a teaching degree? After they have been certified to teach? I wonder how much of your Bill Gates money goes for this? 


TPS has been one of the districts most vehement also about teaching Common Core - law against it or not. Apparently, Dr. Ballard has very little regard for not only his teachers, but the law as well. How much does he make again? Almost three times (nearly 300 THOUSAND dollars in salary and incentives) more than my electrical engineer husband with a Masters in EE who works Monday through Friday (and more) throughout the year. Really? But then again, the TPS school board GRANTS him this kind of salary - for a D. Why?

Don't get me wrong...I'm not a 1%'er. Professional athletes, actresses/actors, get paid millions of dollars for their vocations because the market will bear that kind of salary via their box office or ticket sales. I'm not sure how the 'market' bears the kind of salary Dr. Ballard brings down for a school that takes 500 million to run only to produce a 'D' on their grade card

Gosh, for that, you'd think Dr. Ballard would WANT to work to keep such great teachers - clearly caring teachers interested more in what their students learn than teaching them how to become trained seals, darkening in bubbles on answer sheet after answer sheet after answer sheet.

I'm frankly glad this has happened. I think it's done a number of very positive things:

  • Hopefully parents are seeing that schools are not the places for their children they thought.
  • Maybe parents will question whether administrators really care about their teachers or their students like they may have thought and really take to asking their school board members the hard questions about the salaries they assign their Superintendents.
  • These two women have emboldened and empowered other teachers to stand up and do what's right for their students, themselves and their professions.

I saw the following quote on Lynn's Facebook page the other day. It is very, very, true. I am hopeful that legislators, teachers, parents and taxpayers have had a camel's nose peak under the tent and can extrapolate from there. WAKE UP PARENTS AND TEACHERS! This system is in your hands and its failing from micromanagement!

"But, even at their best, bureaucracies tend to force their definitions of ‘reality’ on people, in and out of the system; and this is pernicious in large districts where the philistine values of central administrators are allowed to defeat the educational commitments of teachers and principals. At their worst, educational bureaucracies become endlessly expanding financial sinkholes that eat up resources and create only mischief and red tape."— David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, “The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools