Tag Archives: teachers

It Takes Practice to Become This Kind of a Rainbow

My students are from lots of places: Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Taiwan this year. The mix is always changing. My two classes are adult-ed, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

I am lucky to have such a good part-time job working for an awesome community college. This is only my second semester to teach in this program.

Continue reading It Takes Practice to Become This Kind of a Rainbow

Barresi as Fallin’s Education Secretary — That OK With You?


Some people just won’t go away when they should.

Barresi has revealed a lot in her recent self-righteous comments that I included in the post Barresi Misses the Fact that She Is the “Power”.  Those comments show us that she believes she and her allies are the righteous few – misunderstood geniuses – fighting against a stupid, corrupt rabble of teachers unions and administrators who are just trying to defend their turf at all costs.

Of course, she never seems to believe that her opponents may be the ones who are right.

Certainly too many education “reformers” fall into this category. While talking a “disruptive innovation” game, they bring only disruption and not for the sake of innovation.

Instead, it’s about the money.

Continue reading Barresi as Fallin’s Education Secretary — That OK With You?

Don’t Believe Right-Wing Rhetoric About “Teachers Unions” in Oklahoma

The ads for Janet Barresi in the Oklahoma City TV market are almost surreal. Are they even talking about Oklahoma? Yes, they are. But I don’t recognize what they are describing.

Now to get the effect, use that deep, male, monster-truck-tractor-pull scary voice to say the words “teachers unionzzzzzzzzzz“. What? You mean there are for-real teachers unions in Oklahoma?

Continue reading Don’t Believe Right-Wing Rhetoric About “Teachers Unions” in Oklahoma

June 24th Matters – So Does the Plan for the Next Day and Following!

The election of Janet Barresi was the culmination of many years of planning and working by the Far Right in Oklahoma to reduce and eliminate the power of a large group of intelligent people who just ask too many pesky questions: teachers.

Contempt for teachers, administrators, and inexplicably the students, has been at the bottom of most of her administration’s missteps. It was the main reason she was elected in the first place. Now it’s time to remove her because of that contempt.

Continue reading June 24th Matters – So Does the Plan for the Next Day and Following!

Teachers: Oklahoma Children Deserve Political Protection, Too

Our children deserve our political protection as much as our face-to-face protection in the classroom.

It is time for Oklahoma teachers in even larger numbers to claim what we know from what we see every day in the classroom. That view is very different from that of lawyer legislators or corporate chieftains.

Continue reading Teachers: Oklahoma Children Deserve Political Protection, Too

We Repealed the Common Core – Problem Solved?

Does eliminating the Common Core really solve our biggest problems here in Oklahoma? Far from it.

I’ve been acquainted with Governor Mary Fallin since she was my District 85 rep way back at the end of the 1980s. She only accepts temporary defeat.

Count on her to be back with the same commitments to standards, charter schools, and testing as a vector of attack on public schools.

She has signed this bill promising, “Superintendents, educators, parent, public policy officials, Superintendent of Education, employers, citizens.” But there’s one more thing that she did not mention.

Power Shift from the SDE to the Legislature

The bill that was signed provides for the legislature itself to have the power to make changes to the standards as they see fit without any recourse for the SDE or those who wrote them. This means that any number of wacky ideas can make it into the those standards once  all of those other folks work hard to develop them. Not a good scenario, is it?

Remember that the language that is being used is not just “repeal”, but “repeal and replace. That’s right, the commitment to a centralized laundry list of standards that will be used to develop new tests is right there and being implemented today.

And it is a mistake to believe that getting rid of the Common Core standards will get rid of tests and the current administration’s commitment to using tests to measure “quality”.  At the same news conference where Fallin gave reasons for signing the bill, SDE spokesperson Tricia Pemberton said, “We’re going to have to cobble a new test together.”

Will Change of Supt. Change Anything? Maybe. Maybe not.

I have criticized Supt. Janet Barresi in earlier posts here, here and here. And so I look forward to seeing what will happen on June 24th when primaries decide which candidates each party will run for state offices.

But will removing Barresi really change anything if the new superintendent taking office next year is just as committed to arbitrary standards, high-stakes testing, and school-shaming from those tests? It won’t.

And if that person is from the Republican Party and gets their money and support, will there be a commitment to make decisions and have a process that starts with educators first, or will organizations like ALEC have a large influence because that’s what the party wants?

Let’s move away from the partying about the repeal of the Common Core and start working toward what replace means.

Questions for the Candidates

Here are some ideas for questions that should be asked at any candidate forum for State Superintendent of Schools:

1. Do you support using standards that are established by other organizations outside of Oklahoma?

2. Do you support using standardized tests graded out-of-state that measure a student’s performance only on one day of a school year?

3. Do you support expansion of charter schools from their current number and status?

4. What would you do to promote the increase of funding for education in Oklahoma?

5 Reasons Why Education Can Never be a “Business”


The current dysfunction with so many charter schools and testing efforts is tied to investors who are trying to make education into a profitable business venture.

In a very well documented story published just a few weeks ago in the Huffington Post, “Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools”, Hofstra University professor Alan Singer shows the many benefits that are lining up for investors in companies that develop private charter schools, especially for depressed neighborhoods inhabited by the poor.

And so to investors who have not dealt with the mysteries of the real education process, this looks like a tremendous new market that just has yet to be tapped.

There  is the same urge to raid public education much in the same way that corporate raiders like Mitt Romney/Bain Capital, T. Boone Pickens and others did to solvent corporations in the 1980s-90s.

What Investors are Missing

But, really, can hedge funds game education-related institutions like corporate raiders did to corporations in those years turning huge profits for the raiders? They have tried over the last decade; but, it hasn’t worked so far. That’s why charter schools are failing at such alarming rates. That’s why testing schemes are failing and losing the confidence of educators and the public at such a fast and large rate.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, This is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools, charters are going belly up with regularity, in one case just 30 days away from the end of their school year.

What investors don’t realize about education is that effective education has many more human mysteries than most regular business ventures. It involves a critical mass of trust and effort being formed between the host community, school administrators, teachers and the students. It is a unique and delicate circle that cannot be achieved by a company that is seeking short-term gains by taking over public institutions and hiring nominally committed teachers hired on the cheap.

A sign of the extreme hubris of investors who have never spent one night planning a lesson is that they believe that they can just import the usual corporate methods into education and turn it from a public good into a market of competing private entities.

I Have Witnessed How Hard It Is

I have seen the public, non-profit part of education up close, and I have seen the for-profit part of education up close, too.

In my teaching career I have spent 16 years as a public school teacher. Four summers out of those were spent grading essays for the for-profit Educational Testing Service for the AP U.S. History exam. Another 2 years have been spent as an online teacher for a for-profit online service that contracted to public schools and charters.  Currently, I am an ESL teacher for a community college in Oklahoma City.

So I have seen many aspects of the education process. And what I have seen is an attempt to turn education into a commodity that is sold using cost-saving measures and debt leverage.

In the case of the ETS, they make a profit by huge volume and having developed a reputation for delivering a reliable service to a narrow slice of the whole education effort. Even then, they come precariously close to failing in certain years.

In the case of the online service that I worked for, they worked hard and made a lot of good moves. However, eventually they had to write off a huge uncollected lump of fees that were not paid by bankrupt charters that had been loosely regulated, if at all. Their parent corporation took the write-off, and then sold them to another similar company. Time will tell if that venture will work.

Five Big Reasons

From a business standpoint, corporations simply cannot replace public schools without depending on the same or even higher levels of tax dollars, the same methods being used in public schools, and a reduction/elimination of accountability.  Corporate market efforts just won’t deliver ethical, reliable, consistent, quality education for less as they promise. Why not?  Let’s look at five big, systemic reasons:

1. Education cannot be stored in a warehouse until the market works in the favor of the vendor.

Children grow every minute of every day and they must have continuity of delivery right now. There is no holding and then releasing of money and inventory when the time is right. In education, the right time for delivery is now.

2. Education is not a product, it is a process that uses products. 

Yet, it doesn’t even have to have those products to work. Books can be borrowed and shared. Many schools in the poorest parts of the US and other countries just use information imparted by the teacher. As long as the human capital of the teacher is there, that is the key.

3. Education cannot be controlled to quality standards in the ways that a manufactured product or simple service can be.

Engineers can determine if an auto part meets engineering standards. Education cannot be measured successfully in the same way. That’s why we are seeing fundamental failures in testing schemes at present.

4. Machines will never be able to do what teachers do, not completely.

Effective teaching involves the teacher’s discernment and their relationship with the student. It is more likely to program a machine to take the place of an engineer than a teacher.

5. Not just anyone can teach, and so labor becomes a bigger issue than market-driven efforts can conquer.

A consistent, trained, monitored teacher corps whose prime loyalties are to the public, have proven to be critical to effective education in the U.S. and other countries over the long haul.

Teach for America is jokingly called “Teach for a Year” for good reasons. No matter how bright the person who goes through that program, it still takes years of experience to develop that critical ability to discern what each unique student needs and then deliver it effectively.  And so, those clearly smart young people see and understand that, and quickly leave for other professions or go into charter school administration.

Public Schools Are Public for a Reason

To hear hedge fund managers and investors talk, one would believe that the only reason why we don’t have a thriving education market made up of private corporations right now is either because people in the past were just stupid or the Communists among us have secretly sabotaged those efforts.

Neither is true.

What leaders over the years found was that public education is a public good like effective policing and fire protection. In U.S. history all three have been tried as private efforts and they didn’t work. Why? When profit motives drive private efforts in those three public goods, they become inconsistent, corrupt, and ineffective. Private efforts allow society itself to suffer.

That suffering is both unnecessary and unacceptable.

Why Writing Test Results for Oklahoma Kids Must be Questioned

In spite of assurances, the testing company hired for testing Oklahoma elementary students is using highly suspect methods.

Currently, writing tests still must be hand graded by real people sitting in a room somewhere. There is little known about who they are and how well they have been trained, especially since book companies have jumped into the testing business only in the past several years.

After having seen first-hand just how much effort it takes to produce a consistent grading process on a massive numbers scale, I cannot believe that these test scores are valid.

My Experience as a Grading Hired Gun
Only 1/4 of the total of teachers at an AP US History Reading
Only 1/4 of the total of teachers at the AP US History Reading, 2009

I have four years of personal experience at grading essays for a large service, the Educational Testing Service, which has scored the SAT and the now large array of Advanced Placement course exams each year. Unlike the service that is grading the elementary essays, they put a remarkable amount of effort into grading essays.

Let’s, look at just how much effort and expense goes into a good, credible essay-grading process:

For the grading of essays for AP exams, thousands of teachers fly in ahead of time and engage in rigorous training for several days on the specific questions that they will be scoring.

Readers are organized into a table of 10 readers. Those readers are made up of half high school AP teachers who have graded their students’ essays all year, the other half are college profs who teach the college course that the high school AP course mirrors.

The ETS has a very good quality control system in place that they have perfected over the decades, using table leaders who back-grade some of their readers’ scoring and huge servers to check for grading consistency of those essays at the end of each day.

Actual grading trends of each reader, each table of readers, and each table leader, is checked against the larger numbers of the reading of that same exam question. It is impressive how they can detect when a reader, table, or table leader are drifting in their scores

But, that is the elite process of essay-grading that is not matched by any other company. The money made from fees that students and school districts pay for that testing is lucrative business; but, cannot be done on the cheap. If their reputation ever starts to suffer, the money will go away like a puff of smoke.

Even with all that impressive effort, it is still a human effort that has its quirks. No college slices a test score so thinly that the student is judged as pass/fail.

Which leads us back to Oklahoma and the complete mess of the 5th and 8th grade writing tests. There is not credibility in the process of testing Oklahoma’s 5th and 8th grade writing.

Undeserved Bad Reputation of Oklahoma Elementary Kids and Schools

Because of my experiences at seeing just how delicate the essay test grading process really is, I have not been able to believe that an old text book hustler company like CTB/McGraw-Hill could develop a testing process with integrity over just a few years like they have.

Earlier this weekend, two education blogs, Oklahoma Education Truths, and Rob Miller’s A View From the Edge raised serious questions about the test results from the standpoint of statistics and reviews of the scored exams.

For some impressive specific details about why the tests are suspect, see yesterdays post in Miller’s blog showing how the tests are going wrong.

Today The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World ran a story about how more and more elementary and middle school teachers, principals, and their superintendents are raising serious questions about the quality controls of CTB/McGraw-Hill who have the contract with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to grade writing tests of our 5th and 8th graders.

A host of schools across the state say their fifth- and eighth-grade writing test scores are deeply flawed, but state education officials are standing by the scores issued by controversial vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill.

After discovering abnormally high rates of students receiving the same scores, school officials all over the state are questioning whether the company’s readers properly scored the tests. They also question widespread reductions in scores for “plagiarism” for students they say simply followed instructions to cite directly from reading passages.

Local school officials raised concerns with the vendor and the Oklahoma Education Department in a meeting May 28 but were shocked by the responses they received.

“We have been told all we can do is request a re-score, but if the testing vendor decides not to change the score, we have to pay $125,” said Rick Cobb, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Moore Public Schools.

“At $125 a pop, 80 tests alone would be $10,000. No district in Oklahoma has $10,000 to throw around right now, but we want the kids to get the scores they deserve.”

Clearly there are problems, yet the SDE doubles down on the process, not because it holds water, but because among Republican political consultants who are advising Supt. Janet Barresi, doubling down works when Republicans are wrong.

It’s time for a change.