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.


  1. Most Excellent, Christi. I sent a link to your page to my legislator:
    Ruth Rose


These comments are moderated and will not show up until they are approved.