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

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Game That Shall Not be Named

Okay, I would name it if I could.  Really.  However, I cannot for the life of me remember what they called it!  This blog post is for Whitney, as there is no way I could explain the game in 140 characters or less.  The game is from Everyday Math, as taught to me in my last session at OTA/Encyclomedia on Wednesday.

The only materials required are a deck of cards, a pencil and a piece of paper.  The pencil and paper are both to keep score and to work out problems.  Students are divided into teams.  They recommended teams of 3.  I had teams of 2, 3 and 4.  None of them had issues, and in fact they worked quite well together.

First, have the team draw a card.  This card is the target.  It is what each player is going to want their cards to equal when they are done.  In this example, the answer will be 8.

Next, each player receives 5 cards.  The student can use as few as 2 or as many as 5 cards in their answer.  They may add, subtract, multiply or divide in any order using these numbers in order to reach the target number.

For example, this student could use the Jack (11), 5 and 2 to create the answer 11 + 5 = 16, 16/2 = 8.  For older kids, they should write or say the problem using order of operations and parenthesis.  It should look like this:  (11 + 5) / 2 = 8.  This particular answer uses 3 cards.

Another answer is to use the Queen (12), Jack (11), 5 and 2 in this manner:  12 - 11 = 1; 1 + 5 = 6; 6 + 2 = 8.  This method uses 4 cards, of course. 

The student who uses the most of their cards in the answer gets a point.  If they both use the same number of cards, they both get a point.  You might also choose to award points based on the number of combinations the students come up with instead of the number of cards used.  I also offered a bribe to get them to stretch their minds a bit.  Every time a student used all 5 cards in their answer, they received a piece of candy.  I just bought a box of Mike & Ikes.  1 Mike & Ike for a 5 card answer.

As a side note, I made an accidental enrichment extension when I forgot to take the Jokers out of the decks.  We all know that Jokers are wild, right?  Can't change the rules now, so that is just what they were in our game.  That meant that every time they had a Joker they could win a Mike & Ike.  For example, exchanging the 2 for a Joker in the above set of cards gives you this:

Queen (12) x 5 = 60; 60 / 4 = 15; 15 - Jack (11) = 4; 4 x Joker = 8.  Solve for the Joker.  Joker = 2.  Or 4 + Joker = 8.  Solve for the Joker.  Joker = 4.  Oh, wait.  Doesn't that last part look an awful lot like 4x = 8 or 4 + x = 8? WHAT?  You mean they did Algebra?!!  Yes, that's right.  My 3rd graders spent the morning doing Algebra quite happily.  All it cost me was a few extra Mike & Ikes.  A small price to pay.