Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Response to Jason Nelson

Mr. Nelson,
This was going to be too long of a response to put in a comment box.  First let me address your deregulation bill.  You asked how many teachers supported this bill.  I would venture to guess you got minimal to no support for this bill from teachers.  Now, given that teachers are always vocal about unfunded mandates, this should give you pause.  I know that when I assess my students after I teach a lesson and more than half of them don’t pass, there is a problem.  If that many are struggling, then the first place I look is to my teaching.  What did I do that I shouldn’t have or what didn’t I do that I needed to.  Perhaps you might consider this in the same way.  We should want deregulation, but we don’t support your bill.  Why not?

I can give you a couple of answers.  First of all, teachers have been bashed by so much legislation lately that some of them are just wanting you to leave us alone for a while until we can work through the mess we have right now.  However, that isn’t the real cause.  The real problem is that not one – no, not a single one – of the legislators we have asked (including you) have been able to tell us exactly what you are deregulating.  I first met you last year after the Visions 2020 Conference when I asked you to specifically list what you wanted deregulated.  You could not answer.  You said you needed to do some research.  I followed up with an e-mail.  You told me you were looking into it.  I followed up again.  You stopped responding.  I give you credit for responding the first time, as most of your colleagues don’t bother.  However, until you can tell us what you are deregulating, you aren’t going to get the support of the teachers.  We’ve had too much experience with education legislation to buy a pig in a poke.  Have you thought about getting a committee of educators together and actually asking them which regulations are the problem?  Better yet, have you looked at all of the regulations to see which ones you haven’t funded?  Maybe the problem isn’t in the mandate but in the lack of funding.

You also asked if we should stop testing kids.  Of course not.  However, the current regime of high stakes testing has not worked.  Ever.  Anywhere.  It will never work.  You can (and apparently will) spend millions of dollars on this system, and it isn’t going to work.  Everybody says we need to break out of the status quo.  However, high stakes testing has been around for over a decade.  All these new laws are just the status quo on steroids.  Failing 3rd graders because they didn’t pass one test, one day is ridiculous.  Especially given the complete unreliability of the tests.  Now you are implementing this retention law at the same time our State Department has changed all of our standards.  We have no material to teach common core.  There isn’t even curriculum written for common core.  Yet we (meaning you and your colleagues) are going to retain these kids if they don’t pass common core tests.  Anyone knows that with any new system there is a period of adjustment.  We don’t get one with this combination.  I’m trying to teach common core math with a textbook that is a decade old.  (One of those things that wasn’t funded for the last few years was textbook purchases.) Elementary schools aren’t scheduled to get new reading curriculum until 2017 – three years after they are supposed to be passing common core tests.

There are better ways to assess kids.  There are certainly better ways to evaluate schools and teachers than using those tests.  However, no one is willing to work with actual teachers in developing these things.  We are just told we are “trying to avoid accountability” or “just being lazy” or “making excuses.”  Could it possibly be that we have more experience in this area and can work with you to make your ideas better?  Could it possibly be that we might actually agree on some things, but those things get lumped in with a bunch of junk so that we can’t even support what we like? 

I am not just criticizing here.  I am (again) trying to let you know that you have a resource that you have not used.  Instead of trying to fight us, why don’t you work with us?  My guess is that neither of us would get everything we want, but whatever we came up with would have to be better than what we have now.  The A to F grading scale is useless.  An A on one report card doesn’t mean the same thing as an A on another.  It is about as clear and transparent as a mud pit.  Tying teacher evaluations to test scores is also useless.  You won’t get rid of bad teachers that way.  You will get rid of teachers who work in high poverty areas.  The only proven correlation about test scores is that between scores and socio-economic level.  There are less expensive ways to determine which schools have poor kids.  Incidentally, if you really want to help those kids, read up on the effects of poverty on education.  Try Ruby Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  It might give you a better idea of what we need to help these kids.

If you want better teachers, let’s work together to make that happen.  You have an excellent opportunity to make a stand on this.  Support the National Board Certification Program.  Don’t just fund it (although that is of course important).  Use it.  There are over 3,000 teachers in Oklahoma who are NBCTs.  If you want to mandate something, require those teachers who receive the stipend to mentor other teachers.  Ask them to work on committees with you.  Sit down with them and find out what is really needed (besides funding).  We can help you.  Work with the State Department and the Districts to find ways to use NBCTs.  Use the framework for National Boards to help you come up with a truly effective evaluation process.  For a start, you might look at what is required of a teacher to receive their certification.  Also take a look at what is required for renewal.  I can tell you that those things are a better reflection of my teaching than any test score.

Aside from the NBCT program, look at the professional development requirements for teachers.  Are there any?  I honestly don’t know.  When I started, we were required to have 15 hours a year.  I have so many more than that each year I haven’t worried about it.  However, someone told me that requirement was done away with.  If that is so, why?  We need quality professional development.  Why don’t we work on making that a priority?  Not only for our teachers to participate in but for our state to provide.  I have been to some amazing workshops over the years, but most of them were out of state.  Why is that?

Let’s take a look at the training our universities are providing in teacher education programs.  Is it sufficient?  Does it need to be adjusted?  Can we work on funding an internship program for new teachers?  Have them partner teach with a highly qualified teacher for a year before being thrown in to their own classroom?

Once again, I’ll say we are willing to work with you.  We are willing to be held accountable.  We are willing to do what we need to that is best for the kids.  However, as long as legislation is being passed that is not in the best interest of our students, you will not get our support.  As long as you are sponsoring ALEC legislation (like the special education scholarship bill), you are not going to get our support. 

If you want to get some first hand experience, come visit.  Come for a day, come for a week, come for an hour.  Teach the class, read to the class, talk to the kids, talk to the teachers.  Prepare a lesson plan, go over our standards.  Whatever you want, we will support you.  You are welcome here.  You are wanted here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Some thoughts on the release of A to F Grades

First, stop and read this article:

Okay.  Now you can go on, and this will make much more sense.

I have to wonder if these people ever listen to themselves.  There are so many things wrong with this situation, it's hard to know where to start.  However, here are a few.

“When we get to the position to where we're being attacked because we're somehow pawns in the political system, that's offensive to me — maybe insulting,” said retired Gen. Lee Baxter, a board member. “We ain't (ranked) 47th (nationally) because of me. We're not 47th because of this board. You were 47th when I got here.” 

If you are offended at being called a pawn, don't be a pawn.  We aren't (because ain't isn't a word, no matter that they added it to the dictionary) ranked 47th.  We are only 47th in the amount of money we spend on education.  Our schools consistently achieve at higher levels than that.  If you want to complain about that ranking, talk to the legislators.

“Part of any plan is recognizing what the problem is and recognizing there is a problem,” Price said.

Yes.  So why is it exactly that we are required to recognize the flaws in our plan, but you aren't required to recognize the flaws in yours?  We know what the problems are in our system.   Therefore your system to identify said problems is redundant.  Since you won't listen to what we have to say when we give you ideas for solving our problems, I'd say the people who have the issues are not the same people being "graded" by this system.

“All these flunking schools under (the previous system), nobody seemed to recognize.”

Let's think about this for a second.  Just a second - really - that's all it will take.  Point 1 - you say this is a more rigorous system because the old one was too easy.  Point 2 - under this new, more rigorous system only 9 schools out of 1,750 failed.  (.5%)  So which of these 1,750 schools were "all these flunking schools" under the previous system?  Incidentally, I only count 8 of them as failing (if that).  Any alternative education school is an alternative education school for a reason.  I'd like to see what happens if we look at how those kids are actually helped.

So, now that we have all of this data, how does this help me as a teacher "fix" my school.  It doesn't.  Not one little bit.  I could already tell you how attendance effects my kids - not that I can do anything about it.  I could already tell you what academic areas need help.  I could already tell you that some of my kids need extra support.  Now if you'd quit wasting school money on this ridiculousness, maybe they could get it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Letter to Senator Jolley

Dear Senator Jolley, 

I read about your adventure teaching class at Northern Hills Elementary School.  First of all, I want to offer a sincere “thank you.”  If more of our legislators would get out into the classrooms (and be willing to learn something), we would have far fewer divisions between the politics of education and the reality of education.  To that end, I’ll be sending copies of this letter to some of them.  I hope they appreciate the step you have taken.  Having had all day to think about what you said, I have some comments.

I am sorry you do not feel you have been invited to come teach or participate in classrooms before.  Thinking back on some of the things I have written, I suppose I could have been more clear.  To clarify my offer, you (and any other member of the Senate or House) are welcome to come into my classroom for any reason at any time.  If you would like to observe, great.  If you would like to read to children, great.  If you would like to teach for an hour or a day, wonderful.  If you prefer, I will happily meet with you and/or your colleagues and let you help create these lessons.  I will help make sure anyone who isn’t used to being in front of a group of kids is comfortable with what they would teach.  We can use technology (SmartBoards, iPod Touches, laptops), or we can go old school.  I will prepare lessons for any subject.  I will create short lessons or longer projects.  My students and I will blog with you, Skype with you or e-mail with you if you would like to participate in a unit instead of a lesson.  If you or your colleagues would like to visit/observe/teach/read to a class other than 3rd grade (which is what I teach), I will be happy to arrange that, too.  You are welcome and wanted at my school.

That said, please don’t feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything when you come and read to a classroom.  Research shows that children who are read to become better readers.  Very often, our students have no one at home to do so.  Because of all the content we need to cover in the classroom, it is often one of the things that doesn’t happen as frequently as it needs to at school.  If I could find someone to come in and read to small groups of my students daily, I would do it in a second.  Taking on that kind of assignment is worthwhile for those kids.  In addition, any time you spend time in the schools you are getting a picture of what is really going on.  It is the only way to know what needs to be done.

Thank you for recognizing that what comes from home affects what happens in the classroom.  Despite the rhetoric I have heard from many, many, many people in the last year, home life makes a huge difference.  It is not an excuse.  Nor is poverty.  Both are realities that need to be addressed.  There is a reason why it doesn’t matter what kind of tests we give, low income areas come out on the bottom.  When we start to work together to make sure these kids’ basic needs are taken care of, then I guaranty that the success rate of those same kids will skyrocket.

The problem of ability levels in classrooms is a tough one.  How does one teacher handle 6 levels of ability in one classroom?  Not only that, consider that some of those kids are high ability in one area (say reading) and low ability in another (like math).  Many of them need special services, but since Oklahoma only recognizes them as special needs if they are performing 22 points below their ability level (IQ), they don’t get that assistance until they are several grades behind.  Low IQ students will often never qualify because they are truly working to the best of their ability – even though that ability is below their actual grade level. 

So, how do we handle it?  I don’t know.  I work harder.  I try to work with the kids one on one so that I can address some of their struggles.  However, we need more support for those kids.  Very often the support we do have is stuck doing piles and piles of paperwork and testing kids for days on end.  That is not helpful.  I know what my kids are struggling with every day.  I don’t need 4 different reading tests to tell me that.  What I need is someone who can work with those kids to pick up what they missed somewhere along the way while I teach them the grade level content.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some diagnostic testing is necessary, and with some kids extensive testing is necessary.  However, because of the laws we currently have, all of the kids are tested and tested and tested and tested, not just the ones who need it.  There is too much testing, too little help, and too much time taken away from the classroom.

As for class sizes, I am certainly not going to argue with you about class sizes mattering in lower grades!  However, even though I am not an upper grade teacher, I am going to throw my support their way.  Class size matters in upper grades, too.  At least it does if you want them doing more meaningful, hands on, active lessons and fewer worksheets and seat work.  Even if individual instruction time weren’t an issue (which it is), and even if classroom management of that many students weren’t an issue (which it is), and even if trying to manage grading assignments for that many kids weren’t an issue (which it is) – even without any of those things, our classrooms are just not built for large class sizes.  If you want kids out of their seats, you need to make sure we have enough room for them to do so safely.  (I’m assuming you believe, rightly so, that active learning is better for the older kids as well.)  So, either we are going to have to have bigger classrooms or fewer students.  I would prefer both, but I do have to be realistic.

Finally, I want to repeat – thank you.  You made an effort, you learned some things, you experienced the classroom for a while.  That is all we can ask.  You referred to us as classroom professionals.  The wording and the sentiment are very much appreciated.

Christine Paradise

Monday, October 8, 2012

To the Members of the House Education Committee

To the members of the House Education Committee;

I have to admit, this letter was almost left unwritten.  Not because I did not want to write it, but because it just fell to the bottom of the list of things I had to get done tonight.  I left school at 4:30 this afternoon, and before I even got home, I had a call from a parent wanting to discuss some problems her child had with an assignment tonight and some struggles he had in class.  I stopped for almost an hour in a parking lot to talk to her because I know they have football practice at 6, and they wouldn’t have time to talk later.  I finally got home at almost 6:00 and since that time I have been working on the new spelling program I am implementing for my kids so that I can help them with some of their reading and writing struggles.  If I hadn’t had an e-mail pop up on my computer from my friend, colleague and mentor, Claudia Swisher, about her own letter, I wouldn’t have remembered to stop.  It is now 10 minutes to 10 o’clock at night, but for you to hear stories is important.  For you to see the impact of the ELO and NBCT program is important.  So, I’ll get a little less sleep tonight.  That’s the life of a teacher.

I am alternatively certified.  I do not have an education degree.  I have a business degree and a law degree.  My entire teaching career (8 years strong now) has been guided by the National Board program.  My first year teaching I worked with Don Coleman.  He was going through the National Board process at that time, and, despite that very time consuming process, he took hours and hours out of his time to talk to me about what National Board Certification meant, how it helped the kids and how to teach up to National Board standards.  The most important thing, he told me, was to make sure that everything you do impacts your students in a positive way.  Make sure you take an honest look at what you are teaching and how you are teaching it so that your kids get the best  you have to offer, not just the bare minimum of what the textbooks have to say.  I set a goal then to earn my NBC.  I had a plan.  I was going to teach the minimum 3 years and then apply to assess NBCT applications.  After that, I’d apply for the scholarship, and if I received one, I’d apply that 5th year.  If not, I’d apply again the next year and the next, until I did qualify.  It was never an option not to earn this certification.  To me, those teachers were the best of the best, and that’s what I wanted to be.  I studied and worked with Don.  I attended hundreds of hours of professional development, and yes, I did qualify for that scholarship, and yes, I am a very proud NBCT.  Little did I expect that I would be the last group to receive an ELO scholarship – without which I could not have afforded to go through the process.

So what does all that mean for the kids?  They are the important ones.  Let me give you just a few examples:

                1.  I had a student come into my classroom with a Kindergarten/1st grade reading level.  I teach 3rd grade.  Because of the books I read to prepare for the Reading Assessment and the teaching methods I learned while doing my Writing Portfolio, I was able to sit down with her and analyze what her problems were and work with her to solve them.  I knew how important her confidence was in the process and how much she needed to work for it.  Work she did.  We did before school tutoring, lunch time meetings and after school meetings.  She read and discussed and worked on our online computer programs at home.  At the end of the year, she had increased her reading level to beginning 4th grade.  This little girl who would barely speak the 1st day of class asked me the last day of class if she could address the class.  I let her.  She crouched low to the ground, with her hands down and said “When I came to 3rd Grade, I was a failure.”  Then she stood, raised her hands high above her head, and said “I am leaving a success.”  Although that was enough for me, you’ll be pleased to know she has passed her state reading tests every year since – with flying colors.  I know because she comes to me every year to share her successes.

                2.            Last  year I was one of the finalists for District Teacher of the Year.  As part of that process, I needed to have some of my  students write letters to the district about what kind of teacher I am.  One of my students from the year I did my National Board application wrote for me.  Without a single bit of guidance from me, he wrote about how much he learned during the science lesson I did for my portfolio.  He outlined what we did, how we did it and why we did it.  It had been over a year since we did that lesson.  He remembered every goal we had, what the processes were that we used to investigate the issues, why we used those processes and what the results were from every part of a 9 week series of lessons.

               3.            One of the books I studied to prepare for the Math Assessment portion of the NBC process was about how to recognize what kids were doing wrong with math problems.  I had always been able to see that the answers were wrong, but I could very often not figure out why the kids were doing what they were doing.  Since they can’t explain it most of the time, it left me just to teach the same thing again and again and hope I addressed the problem.  After reading this book, I was able to recognize what they were doing in these problems and more directly re-teach the students.  My state math test scores this last year were better than they were before I did this study.

I could go on and on, but I don’t have the time to write a novel, and you don’t have time to read it.  I know that some of this evidence involves studying I did which could have been done outside the NBC process.  However, I wouldn’t have even known those books existed without the meetings and training offered by ELO and my mentors.  I am a better teacher because of the relationships I built through this process.  I am a better teacher because of the reflection I do on every lesson now.  I am a better teacher because the NBC process taught me it’s okay to scrap something that isn’t working and start all over again.

That takes me back to the beginning of this letter.  I will end now because it is now 10:30, and I have 7 different sets of spelling lists to create for my kids.  Differentiation of instruction is another area that I am better at now than I was before I went through the National Board process.

Christine Paradise, NBCT

Monday, February 20, 2012

To all Oklahoma Senators and Representatives

Here is the letter I sent this morning to all of our legislators regarding the National Board and ELO programs:

I know that you have a busy session ahead of you, and I appreciate the time you will take to read this - especially those of you on the Education Committee.  I am sorry that none of you could make it to the NBCT support and training meeting you were invited to on Saturday, February 14th.  I hope you will be able to visit the next one.  Your invitation will be arriving soon.  In the mean time, I wanted to provide something for you to think about as you consider all of the bills that will affect the National Board process here in Oklahoma.  This isn't brief, so please have a few minutes before you read it.  I could make it brief or accurate.  I chose accurate.

First, let me say I am not going to keep mentioning the broken promise to current NBCTs.  I believe the funding was there, and our Superintendent chose not to give it to the people it belonged to.  I sincerely hope you will fix that, and take that power away from her.  In that light, you need to know why you should do so.

1.  Oklahoma's National Board program is recognized as one of the best in the country.  According to the last numbers I received, 75% of National Board candidates certify nationwide.  In Oklahoma, that number is 93%.  That says something, not only about the quality of our teachers, but about the program we have to support them - the ELO program.

2.  There are just over 97,000 National Board Certified teachers in this country.  Oklahoma has almost 3,000 of those.

3.  At the end of this letter, I have attached a copy of a letter to the editor of the Oklahoman written by the President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  He provides data regarding the test scores of students taught by National Board Certified Teachers.  Evidence shows that they are higher than those of students taught by non-NBCTs.

4.  Ask the National Board Certified Teachers, and they will tell you they are a better teacher for going through the process.  To that end, I will tell you my personal story.

I am an alternatively certified elementary school teacher.  Prior to becoming a teacher, I was an attorney and had never taken an education class.  I have been teaching for the past 7 years.  I was hired two weeks before school started that first year, and when I asked what I was supposed to teach I was told, "Teach the PASS skills."  I had no idea at that time what a PASS skill was.  I was on my own as far as figuring out how to teach.  I knew the material - no question.  What I didn't know was how to plan a lesson, how to evaluate a student or how to evaluate myself.  I had a mentor teacher who would help me through that first year.  She taught me where to find the PASS objectives, how to use them and where to find the district calendar showing me when to teach what.  She helped me find all of my teacher's editions, and she showed me how to handle the administrative side of teaching.  She was a great woman, and I was blessed to have her as a mentor. 

However, I also had another mentor.  This one was an unofficial mentor.  He was a 6th grade teacher going through the National Board process.  I had not heard of it, nor - at that time - did I know the sheer amount of work and time it took to finish.  During this very intense year for him, he took the time to introduce me to the National Board process, and more importantly to the National Board Standards.  They are as follows:

        1.  Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
        2.  Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
        3.  Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
        4.  Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
        5.  Teachers are members of learning communities.

My mentor not only talked me through all of these standards, but he showed me what they meant.  I'd like you to notice that the first standard is about commitment to students.  That is because first and foremost, NBCTs are dedicated to their students and to helping them learn.  Regardless of whatever is going on in their lives our ours.  Regardless of politics.  Regardless of the increasing amount of paperwork & other things that take away from our time.  No matter what, we WILL teach our students because those are the people we are accountable to.  That is what I was taught that first year.  It is all about the students.  That year, I made a plan.  I was going to be an NBCT.  After my third year (the first year I would be eligible), I was going to assess for National Boards so that I could get a good idea about what was expected.  After my fourth year, I was going to apply for a scholarship.  If I got it, I was going to apply after my fifth year.  If not, I was going to keep applying until I did.  Face it, on a teacher's salary, there was no way I was going to be able to afford the $2500 application fee without years to save up.

In the meantime, I had work to do.  Evenings, weekends and summers were spent doing professional development.  All of it was geared toward learning how to create lessons that covered the PASS objectives, integrated multiple subjects and engaged students and learning more about the subjects I was weak in.  Because I was alternatively certified, I had 3 years to take 190 hours of professional development in order to get my permanent teaching certificate.  I earned over the required number of hours in my first year.  I have continued that process every year, and along the way I started speaking at conferences and teaching professional development sessions of my own - sharing what I learned and developing that professional learning community of Standard 5.

After my third year, I did assess for National Boards.  After my 4th year, I did apply for and receive a scholarship.  During my 5th year, I did apply for National Board Certification.  I was told that I was crazy, that I hadn't been teaching long enough, but I wanted to try anyway.  It is a three year process.  If I made it in one, great.  If it took me three, that was fine too.  If I didn't certify after that, I'd start all over again.  I know what makes a good teacher, and I was going to demonstrate that I could do it. 

As much as I thought I knew going into the process, there was so much more I didn't know.  Up until that point I had been reflecting on other people's work.  Now it was time to analyze my own.  Fortunately for me, all of that professional development helped.  Throughout all four of the portfolios for the National Board application, the common strand is student impact.  How is my teaching impacting my students?  How am I learning from my previous lessons and experiences and changing so that the impact is greater?  How does the professional development I take impact my students?  How do I share it with my colleagues and help them impact their students?  How does my interaction with the community impact my students?  All of this had to be demonstrated in my writing and submitted with evidence backing it up - including 2 video taped lessons.  Then I had to demonstrate my knowledge of the material I teach (and even some I don't) with six assessments.  Because we have no knowledge of what we are going to be asked about each subject, we must prepare for anything and everything.  I was applying for a Middle Childhood Generalist certification.  That meant I would be tested on Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Arts Integration and Health (focusing on recognizing health issues of my students, not teaching of).  The age range was from 2nd grade to 6th, and my questions on those subjects could come from any of those grade levels.

In each of the 4 portfolios and 6 assessments there is a reflective portion.  This means that I was required to demonstrate that I could look at what I taught, explain why I taught it to these particular kids at this particular time, how it worked, what were the problems, what would I do if I did it again, how did it impact what I taught next and more.  This process taught me how to make sure what I teach is relevant to the kids I have right now, and it made sure that I will never do a lesson without evaluating both the lesson and my teaching afterward. 

Throughout this entire process, I received support from the Education Leadership program.  Mentor meetings, professional development, and yes, the scholarship.  I had people to help me proofread my entries, people to help me study for the assessments, people to clarify the almost 400 pages of instructions for the process, people to help me keep my focus and people help me see things in my teaching that I didn't before.  They gave me resources to enhance my lessons, helped me understand what some of the problems were that I was running into and helped me figure out how to fix them.  All of this was (and is) invaluable.

You want to reward excellent teachers. The 5 Standards NBCTs demonstrate are exactly what make an excellent teacher.  There are other teachers out there who demonstrate those qualities and are not NBCTs.  However, those who have certified have already demonstrated that excellence.  Why would you end a program of such high quality that shows proven results?  That $5,000 a year stipend is well earned by the teachers who have gone through the process.  It is a demonstration of Oklahoma's commitment to excellence, and it lets those teachers see that their hard work is recognized and rewarded.  If  you want to fund and create additional ways to recognize good teachers, fine.  However, to destroy this program and all it stands for would be a huge step backwards and a good way to insure that excellent teachers not only do not move to Oklahoma, but that they start leaving in increasing numbers.  Evidence shows that the NBCT program works.  It also shows that "merit pay" does not.  How you choose to act now tells us a lot about what our value is to you.

I have taken you through part of my journey as a teacher in this letter.  It is certainly not all of it, nor is it the end of it.  However, you want to see the results of this program that taught me how to be a teacher.  In my 5th year of teaching, I was nominated for Teacher of the Year.  In my 6th year, I was nominated for Teacher of the Year.  In this, my 7th year, I was chosen as Teacher of the Year for my school, and I am in the top 5 finalists for District Teacher of the Year.  We won't find out for a while yet who the winner of that award is.  However, even if I stay in the top 5, out of 1400 teachers in my district, I'd say that's a good start.  A teacher from my school hasn't been chosen as a finalist in about 25 years.  I am one of two recipients of the 2011 S.K.I.E. award from the K20 Center at OU.  This award recognizes outstanding teachers who have demonstrated innovation in technology integration in their classrooms and schools.  The 2nd award winner for 2011 was my colleague, friend and an NBCT herself, Regina Hartley.  And yes, I am now a National Board Certified Teacher. 

I realize this was long, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.  I also encourage you to come and talk to us at any of our meetings.  We meet in Norman twice a month to support candidates going through the NBCT process even though the program is under attack by our leaders.  Other meetings occur around the state at least monthly.

The only thing that needs to change about the ELO program and the National Board stipends is the removal of the language "subject to availability of funds" and the ending of the moratorium.  Unless of course, you would like to increase the amount of scholarships available.  That would be an amazing step forward in Oklahoma education.


Christine Paradise, NBCT

Here is the letter I mentioned above:

Dear Editor:

On February 11, 2012, the Oklahoman published a letter to the editor by Robert Holland, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute in Chicago, with the headline, "Teacher Bonuses Don't Result in Improved Student Achievement." He asks, "whether this heavily subsidized system initiated largely by national teachers union leaders 20 years ago produces a reasonable return in improved student achievement." I question Mr. Holland both on the facts and his interpretation of the report which he sites for his conclusion.

The 2008 report, Assessing Accomplished Teaching: Advanced-Level Certification Programs, was produced by the National Research Council (NRC) following a request by Congress to develop a framework for evaluating programs that offer advanced-level certification to teachers.

The report found that students taught by National Board Certified Teachers make higher gains on achievement tests than those taught by teachers who are not Board Certified. The findings are based on an analysis of the studies that the NRC says meet standards of sound scientific research, including new analyses commissioned by the NRC. According to the report, the "evidence is clear that National Board Certification distinguishes more effective teachers from less effective teachers with respect to student achievement." The NRC acknowledged research showing that National Board Certification has a positive impact on teacher retention and, based on its analyses, noted that National Board Certified Teachers are likely to stay in teaching longer than other teachers. It further found that the National Board Certification process is an effective professional development experience that positively affects teaching practices and that the NBPTS Standards and National Board Certification have taken the culture of teaching to a higher level.

Additional research further confirms the NRC finding that NBCTs increase student learning and achievement. Just released teacher evaluation data from Hillsborough County, Florida, one of the selected sites for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, show that National Board Certified Teachers rank nearly one full standard deviation (0.9) higher than non-Board Certified Teachers when trained evaluators combine scores from written evaluations and valued added measures. National Board Certified Teachers make up only 5% of all Hillsborough teachers, and yet half of them scored in the top 20% of the evaluations. This is powerful affirmation of the National Board process.

First recognized in 1996 by the Education Leadership Act passed with the support of former Republican Governor Frank Keating, the National Board's program in Oklahoma continues to be robust. The 2,994 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) in Oklahoma represent the ninth highest number in the nation. Regarded as some of the most accomplished teachers in the nation, National Board Certified Teachers are routinely in the ranks of State Teachers of the Year and four of the last eight National Teachers of the Year have been National Board Certified, including Kristen Shelby, Oklahoma's 2012 State Teacher of the Year, a fourth grade teacher from Hollis Public Schools.

These are facts. But as we all know, despite the importance of data, stories are what move people whether it is the local rancher, the cop on the street, or a state legislator. In the last two weeks alone I have been with National Board Certified Teachers in Illinois, Maine, North Carolina, New Mexico and Arizona. The stories are the same everywhere: when teachers - especially teachers concentrated in a single school - go through the National Board Certification process, they are transformed as individuals, and as individuals they are transforming their classrooms and schools.

I invite the readers to contact anyone associated with Loma Linda School in rural New Mexico, very close to the Mexican border and serving some of our nation's poorest and at risk children. With the vision of an assistant principal - who is a National Board Certified Teacher - the entire school faculty participated in the National Board Certification process in the 2010-11 school year. Student scores increased by 9% in math and 5% in English language arts and the school achieved Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for the first time in its history.

I invite readers to contact anyone associated with the Mitchell Elementary School in Chicago, IL where more than 90% of children are on free and lunch reduced status and are Black or Latino. There a principal - who is also a National Board Certified Teacher - who has built up his team so that 70% of his teachers are National Board Certified. Anyone can go on line and look at how student test scores have risen, especially on 3rd grade reading, as he has strengthened the capacity of his teachers.

But why should that be a surprise. In the end, whatever business or enterprise we are engaged in, it is always the quality of the people who matter. Education is no different: the quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. National Board Certification both identifies those who are accomplished teaching and the process itself leads to higher quality practice. Ask the teachers. Ask their students. Their stories speak for themselves.

After three years in which no state funding was provided due to severe budget shortfalls, the Oklahoma state legislature is now poised to consider restoring funding for the National Board program. Rep. Mike Brown's bill to fund the stipends out of the state's general revenue fund could be voted on in the upcoming session, which starts this month. Last spring, House unanimously passed Resolution 1035 which recognized the value of National Board Certified Teachers; expressing intent that scholarships and bonuses for new applicants be funded as soon as budget restraints allow. By enacting legislation that would restore state funding, NBCTs would again receive salary stipends which had been promised to them.

Our willingness as a society to invest in human capital is ultimately the only sustainable way to build our communities, our states, and our country. The National Board is dedicated to that proposition. I believe the people of Oklahoma are, too.

Ronald Thorpe
President and CEO
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards