Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

New Oklahoma Leaders Mistakenly Think Testing Focus Key to Educational Improvement

According to a news article in today’s Daily Oklahoman, “new Oklahoma Governor-elect Mary Fallin has appointed Phyllis Hudecki [to] serve as Oklahoma’s secretary of education.” Fallin will be sworn in as the first female governor in Oklahoma history on January 10th. Hudecki’s title may be a little confusing to state outsiders, since she will not head up the state’s department of education. That task falls to Janet Barresi, who was elected as the Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools in recent elections this month. The Oklahoma Secretary of Education is an appointed position on the governor’s cabinet, and:

…advises the governor on issues related to the Oklahoma Public School system, the state’s libraries, and vocational education, and informs citizens on careers in education, responsible for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Like many of our current state and national leaders, Hudecki publicly professes a desire to improve our schools through an increased focus on testing and accountability. She is quoted in today’s article saying:

Hudecki said improving the education of children in the state is an economic imperative. “We must get to that immediately,” she said. “Attracting jobs and business to this state means cultivating a highly skilled, highly educated work force. And that will require reform in all parts of our system. “We will be doing everything we can to improve our testing system so that it gives a more accurate reflection of where our kids are performing,” she said.

Improving our schools in Oklahoma and elsewhere in our nation requires a reform agenda far beyond a focus on testing. Comments like this from our leaders in the context of education, which support more “rigor and accountability in student testing,” are analogous to comments by leaders discussing terrorism who say, ” We need to keep our country safe from dangerous enemies.” Readers and listeners may nod their heads in agreement, but exactly what has the leader said and endorsed in terms of an action agenda? We have had almost a decade of NCLB and high stakes testing in our country, and the results have been extremely negative. Last week at the Creativity World Forum, speakers highlighted the critical need to change our schools into spaces where creative expression and individualized learning is celebrated rather than oppressed. It would have been great if Fallin, Barresi, and Hudecki could have been there. I’m not sure about Hudecki, but I’m positive Fallin and Barresi weren’t there.

Writing Exams

Fundamentally, I don’t think our educational leaders have a vision for educational transformation, or the vocabulary which goes with that vision. We do not need to focus more on test scores to improve our schools. As we have historically, we need to continue using test scores as benchmarks for student performance, but we need to stop acting and talking like testing is the purpose of school. We need to emphasize the importance of relationships in our schools, especially in our schools which serve students from families most challenged by poverty. It is ridiculous and counterproductive to fire all experienced staff at a low performing high school, and tell the principal he has 18 months to completely turn the school around or he will be fired too. We need to end the madness and counter-productive policies in our schools which are serving to only increase fear as well as stress in the hearts of teachers as well as students. We must end the “war on teachers” which was promulgated by George W Bush and continues today through the efforts of many government leaders as well as private individuals.

Teachers are a big part of the solution to our educational challenges, not the enemy. Certainly we need to support effective ways to remove “dead wood” teachers from the classroom who don’t like children, don’t want to find new ways to improve learning for their students, and oppose efforts to differentiate learning to better meet the unique needs of each child. There are some teachers like that in our midst. The vast majority of teachers, however, are hard working and dedicated professionals. We must take seriously the importance of not only treating Oklahoma teachers as professionals, rather than “the enemy which must be overcome,” but also PAYING teachers as professionals. The failure of state question 744 to pass in this month’s elections revealed the deep misunderstanding which exists in our Oklahoma business community about the value and importance of public education. Money is a big part of the problem in Oklahoma schools, but only part. We do not need to simply fund an educational system which perseveres in its historic traditions and roles. We need to better fund transformative schools in our state, led by teachers who understand effective ways to improve student achievement begins with strong student-teacher relationships and strong relationships with parents.

Dr Tim Tyson’s presentation for the 2010 K-12 Online Conference, “The Classroom Teacher As a 21st Century Instructional Leader‘” lights the way for education change agents. As we count our blessings in the United States on this Thanksgiving day, I encourage everyone to consider the responsibilities as well as obligations which accompany great blessings. Tim offers insightful advice on these themes. As teachers, we must LEAD!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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