Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Southwest A Zone Meeting at Quartz Mountain

As I drove to Quartz Mountain to meet with members from Southwest A, I was able to witness another magnificent Oklahoma sunset.

I'm never surprised by the beauty of those sunsets, and witnessing many of them has been a pleasure for me as I travel throughout the state.

The sunsets remind me of Oklahoma teachers. They are of such quality that they are so often taken for granted.

That's one of the concerns that people like Kay Plummer from Burns Flat, Glenda Ivins of Elk City, Cordell's Billie Rodrigez, Liz Picone of NEA Member Benefits, and Linda & Larry Long express to staff members Bonnie Hammock, Doug Folks and me when the discussion of pay for test scores/merit pay comes up.

The members of Southwest A have done a good job of letting their representatives know the pit falls of these plans and what will work best when it comes to enhancing teacher salaries in Oklahoma. They are representative of Oklahoma's quality teachers all across our state.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Southwest A Zone Meeting

Last night, teachers and support professionals from Chickasha, Ninnekah, Anadarko, Burns Flat, Elk City and Cyril meet at Cottonwood Creek's Yesteryear's Diner to discuss the current issues facing education.

Our members are against the "pay for test scores" plan being talked about by some members of the state legislature and want them to "Keep the Promise" and get Oklahoma teachers to the regional average.

There was also a good deal of discussion about the extended day/school year. Time is one of the most critical issue for educators. Quality time for instruction should be addressed before quantity of time is increased. Proposals of extending the calendar will cost millions of dollars and will not make up for the fact that Oklahoma needs to invest an additional $800 million dollars just to meet the standards and accountability measures of our state and federal government.

I had a very enjoyable evening with our members in Southwest A and I look forward to coming back. They are doing a great job in their schools and districts.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Research on Test Scores:Communication has Strong Influence

This is an interesting study that validates the concerns of teachers, administrators and legislators who participated in the OEA Summit on Staffing High Needs Schools. One of the recommendations dealt with having the time to collaborate with other teachers and administrators for the best success in staffing schools.This research not only supports the concept, but shows that the practice has a direct impact on student test scores.

Teachers will tell you that time is one of the greatest issues facing the profession. Having time to collaborate with your colleagues is an important factor in the success of schools. Too often, a majority of our teachers aren't given the time at school to discuss issues and strategies.

Study: Teacher communication has strong influence on test scores.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (11/26, Roth) reports, "In an award-winning study of the Pittsburgh Public Schools," researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, "found that in the schools where teachers talked to each other the most about their jobs, and where the principals did the best job of staying in touch with the community, students had noticeably higher reading and math test scores." The study, which won the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation national prize for the best research paper published last year, found that "these communication networks had a much bigger impact on test scores than the experience or credentials of the staff did." Though researchers determined that "a student's family background and poverty level will have the biggest single impact on his test scores," they found that the most significant factor that schools could control was interaction between teachers, principals, parents and other members of the school community. According to the study's lead author, "If teachers from the same grades could get together for a half hour to an hour each week just to talk about classroom challenges together, it would probably have more benefit than all the special in-service days wrapped together."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bullying Reaches New Low with Tragic Results

This column, by Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a summary/reaction about the bullying done to a 13 year- old girl. The bullying wasn't done by local teens, but by the parents of one of her former friends. It is a sad and shocking account of how low some people will go to hurt people.

It is also a wake-up call for teachers and parents to pay attention to kids and what goes on in their lives. How often do we hear about a tragic event at school perpetrated by a child only to find out that the student(s) who committed the act were bullied and harassed at school. Bullying needs to end now.

This will kill you.

Have you heard about the practical joke that was played on a girl in Dardenne Prairie, near St. Louis? You’re going to slap your knee at this one. You’re going to bust a gut.

See, this girl – Megan Meier was her name – was 13. You remember 13, that gawky, uncertain age when you’re growing into a new body, hormones firing off like howitzers. They say Megan was a heavyset child, emotionally vulnerable as only an adolescent girl can be. They say she had ADD and struggled with depression.

Are you laughing yet?

It seems Megan had this friend, a girl who lived a few doors down. Through seventh grade, they had gone round and round: best friends one day, feuding the next, the way kids do. Finally, Megan broke off the friendship for good. She was done with the other girl. But the girl was not done with her.

This all happened last year, by the way, but we are indebted to reporter Steve Pokin of the Suburban Journals newspaper for bringing it to our attention just days ago. Since then, the story has made national headlines. Because everybody loves a good joke.

So anyway, sometime after Megan and the other girl ended their relationship, this guy named Josh Evans shows up on Megan’s MySpace page saying he wants to be added as a friend. And this Josh, he’s like a gift from the god of cute boys. He’s new in town, home-schooled, fatherless, a musician, a major hottie. And he wants to be friends. He thinks Megan is pretty. Chunky, socially awkward Megan.

She describes herself to him with an acrostic. M, for modern. E, for enthusiastic. G, for goofy. A, for alluring. N, for neglected.

For a time, everything was good. Oh, it was strange that Josh never gave her a phone number and never asked for hers, but Megan overlooked that. Then Josh sent that strange message: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.”

Megan was shocked. Where was this coming from?

It was a Sunday night. As it turned out, the last Sunday of Megan’s life. Are you laughing yet?

The next day after school, Megan asked her mother – Tina Meier restricted Megan’s online access – to log on the computer so Megan could check for new messages. What she found horrified her. Josh was still sending mean notes. And he had apparently been sharing her messages with others.

Now the online community was abuzz with invective. Megan was fat. Megan was a slut.
Megan was destroyed. Especially after one last hateful message from Josh. You’re a bad person, he said. Everybody hates you. The world would be better without you.

He got his wish just hours later. Megan Meier hanged herself that night.

Weeks later, her family got the punch line. There never was a Josh. He was a fiction, created by the parents, Curt and Lori Drew, of the girl who had once been Megan’s friend.

People have threatened and harassed the Drews, and there are fears for their safety. No fears of prosecution, though; what they did broke no laws. But me, I don’t want to hurt or jail them. I just want them to know how funny that joke was. How hee-fricking-larious.

No one wants acceptance quite as desperately as an adolescent girl who has never been the most popular, never been the prettiest. What brilliance, what comic genius, to take that vulnerability and use it against her.

So no, I don’t want these folks hurt. I want them healthy. I want them long-lived. And I want them to be reminded, every day of their long, healthy lives, what a great joke they pulled.

They really paid Megan back. They really got her good.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. Mr. Pitts can be reached through e-mail at

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. As we count our blessings with family and friends, let us all remember the United States service men and women who are stationed across the world.

Unfortunately, there are many people who aren't enjoying the holiday season. Not only do we have opportunities to help people, I also feel it's our responsibility. Find a way to get involved to help a friend in need or volunteer in an organization that helps people. As Thanksgiving draws to a close, make a commitment to be make a difference from know on.

Many of us know of kids who are in need. We can help make a difference in their lives. In doing so, we will create a circle of good will that will travel throughout our schools and communities.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On Reading: No joy in Reading for America's Kids??

We live in a world where our kids are being bombarded by technology and pleasure reading is taking a backseat to all the hand-held computer games as well as tv and movies. It is very important the practice be modeled for both children and young adults.

Go to the library together. Stop in at a book store and buy a book if you can. Designate time in the evening for pleasure reading for the whole family. There are a number of great activities you can do connected to reading, but the most important aspect is to model the behavior and enjoy good books.

The following article recently appeared in Education Week.

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

American youths are reading less in their free time than a generation ago, a statistic that bodes poorly for their academic performance, job prospects, civic participation, and even social well-being, a report by the National Endowment for the Arts says.

Increasing use of electronic media is largely to blame for a decline in pleasure reading among young people, says the report, released today. But the failure of schools to instill a love of reading is also a contributing factor, according to endowment Chairman Dana Gioia.

“The study shows that reading is endangered at the moment in the United States, especially among younger Americans … and not merely the frequency of reading, but the ability to read as well,” Mr. Gioia said in a telephone conference call with reporters before the report’s release. The emphasis in many schools on bolstering reading skills and preparing students for tests, he added, is insufficient for nurturing an appreciation of reading.
“This functional approach to reading,” he said, “is not adequate to instill a lifelong love of the subject.”

The report, “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” analyzes data from surveys—including the endowment’s 2004 survey on literary reading—as well as national assessments, independent reports, and other federal statistics. It synthesizes information on the nation’s teenagers and adults ages 18 to 24.

The report draws “three unsettling conclusions,” stating: “Americans are spending less time reading”; “reading-comprehension skills are eroding”; and the “declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications.”

A Successful Habit
Fewer than one-fourth of 17-year-olds, for example, read almost every day for fun, and young people 15 to 24 read 10 minutes or less a day, on average, according to various federal statistics. During their voluntary reading time—time spent reading texts not required for school or work—middle and high school students regularly watch television, listen to music, or use other media.
The report notes that those shifts in voluntary reading have occurred at a time when scores on national assessments have remained flat and large proportions of secondary students have failed to demonstrate proficiency in the subject.

Reading appears to have a significant correlation with success in school and the workplace, the report says.

“People who read outside of school or work volunteer at twice the rate of those who don’t, they are three times more likely to participate in the arts, they earn higher wages, they are twice as likely to exercise, they vote at one and a half times the level of people who don’t read,” Mr. Gioia said. “Among people who read, there is not merely a cultural transformation going on,” he said, “the habit of reading does seem to awaken something in the individual.”

The findings repeat those found in the earlier survey by the endowment, which looked primarily at how frequently young people read literature, but the new report adds data on other genres.
Even so, some observers say the study leaves an incomplete picture, because it does not consider the kind of reading young people are asked to do in high school and college.

Will Fitzhugh, the founder and president of the Concord Review, a scholarly journal that publishes exemplary history-research papers by high school students, has been promoting the need to assign more nonfiction reading to middle and high school students, particularly history texts. He has found little support among foundations or government agencies for launching a study of nonfiction reading among high school students. Such reading is an indicator, he believes, of how well they are prepared to do college-level work.

The endowment’s report “still leaves open the big question of what kind of reading is assigned in school and college,” and whether it is adequate for challenging kids intellectually, Mr. Fitzhugh said. “The consequences for employment and adult reading habits are at least as much the result of the [required] reading done in high school and college as pleasure reading, but that’s what’s left out.”

Pay for Test Scores/Merit Pay: Test Scores Dropped

Error forces test scores to be tossed
By The Associated PressWASHINGTON — The reading scores of U.S. students on an international test are being tossed out due to a problem with how the test was printed, federal officials said Monday.
Scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, are due out next month. Fifteen-year-olds in more than 50 countries took the test. It focused on science this time but also included math and reading questions.
Only the reading portion is being set aside, and only for U.S. students, said Mark Schneider, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.
The problem has to do with a printing error made by North Carolina-based RTI International, the federal contractor hired to administer the U.S. version of the test.
The printing mistake made the test confusing by telling students to view the "opposite” page, though the information was not found there.
Schneider said the test was taken in the fall of last year, but the problem was not discovered until this past summer when the test results were being analyzed.
"There's a lot of shared culpability,” Schneider said, calling the incident "an embarrassment.”
Schneider said the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs the test, decided last month that the U.S. scores should be tossed out because they were invalid.
"We deeply regret that this happened,” said RTI spokesman Patrick Gibbons. RTI project manager Patricia Green said the company has subsequently stepped-up its review of tests.
In addition, the company has reimbursed the government $500,000, Schneider said.
He added that this was the first time an error like this had resulted in invalid U.S. scores on the assessment exam or on similar international tests.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Former Student Profile:Dan Rooney

At the OSU/Texas football game, I had the thrill of reconnecting with one of my former students and golfers, Dan Rooney. Dan is currently serving in the Oklahoma Air National Guard as an F-16 fighter Pilot. Dan has served two missions in Iraq.

During the OSU game, Dan performed a fly-over with 3 other pilots. I had no idea it was Dan until the pilots were introduced at half-time. Despite the crowd, we were able to re-connect and I got to introduce Dan to my wife Katherine, my in-laws, Dwaine and Dorothy Phillips, and my brother Jon.

Dan is the brain-child of the Patriot Golf Day--an event to help raise money for wounded and fallen soldiers. For more information check the link at Great job Dan.

As I've said before, I'm proud of all of my former students and it's great when I'm able to see or hear from them again.

Friday, November 09, 2007

SW A Zone Meeting

Representatives from Ardmore, Plainview, Healdton, Fox, Durant, Elmore City, Maysville, Lone Grove, and Pauls Valley all attended the SW A Zone meeting on Wednesday. We discussed their concerns about the current status of merit pay/pay for test scores, and the extended day/school year proposals.

Our members are supportive of the way OEA is trying to enhance the salary schedule and they firmly believe that the legislature should get the base pay right and get Oklahoma teachers to the regional average. As for merit pay, one of the best comments directed at the proponents was, "Come spend a week in my classroom". I venture that there would be very few who would do that and if they did, they wouldn't make it for the week.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Visiting Bixby

While this picture may be a little blurry, the commitment and hard work by President Sue Ward and Bobbie Brummett are clearly in focus as they make sure their
members are informed of the latest educational issues.

I joined members of the OEA staff as we spent time talking about the extended day/year and pay for test scores/merit pay proposals being discussed by our legislature. Teachers didn't hesitate to sign the OEA petition to address the extended day/year petition.

Their thoughts on merit pay/pay for test scores were equally as strong. Many thought it ironic that people with no connection to our children and schools could even think about making such a recommendation.

I met a number of teachers and support professionals who are working long hours for the success of their school. I would encourage Bixby's state senator and state representative to meet those fine individuals and truly spend a day in their shoes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Vouchers Crushed in Utah

The citizens of Utah defeated a voucher proposal in a state-wide referendum vote. The Utah Education Association was the leader and partner in a group that led the fight against vouchers.
For more on the vote go to

Monday, November 05, 2007

Merit Pay/Pay for Test Scores-The Business Model

One of the programs constantly cited by legislators supporting pay for test scores is the business model. It is not uncommon to hear that "lawyers and doctors" are paid on merit. I'm continually amused by the doctor/ lawyer argument. These are people in private practice who pick their own clients. School teachers teach everyone who walks through the door-rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, special needs...everyone. Plus, have you ever heard of these professionals not getting paid on whether they cure someone or lose a case? This comparison is laughable and equates to nothing more than a sound-bite.

Now more on the business model. The business model of pay is being used by politicians, the business community, and other so-called teacher organizations to justify paying only a few teachers and ignoring the underfunding of our schools--which in Oklahoma equates to $844M. (I'll be writing about that in a future post.)

According to the Department of Labor, only 7% of employees are in some type of merit pay program. I don't know for sure, but I would venture a guess that many are commissioned salespeople.

That means that 93% of the American workforce is not in a merit pay system. If this is such a great plan, why hasn't it been more widely accepted by our economic system?

In research done by Jeffery Pfeffer and printed in the Harvard Business Review entitled "Six Dangerous Myths about Pay, advocates need to pay attention to myth 5 and 6. Myth 5 is "Individual incentive pay improves performance." However, "Individual incentive pay, in reality, undermines performance--of both the individual and the organization. Many studies strongly suggest that this form of reward undermines teamwork, encourages a short-term-focus, and leads people to believe that pay is not related to performance at all but to having the "right" relationships and an ingratiating personality."

Undermines teamwork. Short term focus? It sounds like claims made by the OEA.

Myth 6 is that "People work for money". While the reality is, "People do work for money--but they work even more for meaning in their lives. In fact, they work to have fun. Companies that ignore this fact are essentially bribing their employees and will pay the price in a lack of loyalty and commitment."

This is just what our schools need. A business model that will produce teachers with only loyalty to money instead of kids, schools and communities.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Former Students

My brother and I played in an OKC golf scramble last Sunday, and to my surprise and delight, we were partnered with one of my former students and his dad. I spent some time catching up with Russell and his life and former classmates. Plus, we both agreed how much we enjoyed watching Stillwater High's Matt Holliday playing major league baseball with the Colorado Rockies.

The former students I've run into over the years are involved in a variety of occupations---they're teachers, coaches, pilots, service providers, engineers, journalists, insurance agents, and a professional athlete. Some are in the military in Iraq. They pursued a variety of different occupations and are productive members of Oklahoma communities. Many are parents with kids in our schools. They are teacher's and Stillwater's legacy to a quality Oklahoma.

It is always great to get reacquainted with former students. Some I may never get the chance to catch up with, but I'm proud of all my students and that I had the privilege to be one of their teachers.