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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

AFT-Oklahoma The President's Report: 4 Myths of Education Reform

Today, I attended the annual convention of the convention of the American Federation of Teachers-Oklahoma, Local #8034. This is the state organization for Oklahoma's AFT members.  I serve as an executive officer for AFT-OKC, Local #2309. (I might add that I, as are the rest of the officers in the AFT do this unpaid lest anyone throw the charge that we are "fat cats" living off the dues of our members.)

State AFT President Clifton "Skip" Ogle
During the convention our state president,  Clifton "Skip" Ogle, a retired teacher, most recently from US Grant HS in OKC, have his annual "State of the State" address.  His report, while acknowledging that there had been many challenges to our profession was basically optimistic.  We have found that if we present our concerns in a reasonable manner, there are members of the Oklahoma legislature who are willing to work with us.  He did, however, note that there are many "school reform" myths legislator's have about public education in generation and educators' unions in particular. He analyzed 4 of these myths:

  1. Teachers, unlike other professionals, are not held accountable for the results of their teaching. Ogle noted that teachers are evaluated for their classroom performance, but this myth oversimplifies the complex process of education. Teaching involves creating changes in complex human beings, our students, and that the responsibility for the success of those changes relies on a variety of individual and social actions. He compared this to a doctor who has a patient who smokes.  We would not hold the doctor accountable for the patient's inability or outright refusal to quit smoking, nor would we hold a minister accountable if one of his parishioner's was caught in an embezzlement scandal.   
  2. Taxpayers have not gotten their money's worth because large amounts of money have been spent on education with no improvement. Ogle noted that we have seen gradual improvement in education, but not nearly as dramatic as our critics seem to feel is called for. He noted that politicians and teachers seem to operate in two different time.  Politicians operate in media time where results must be achieved quickly or they do not happen at all.  Teachers operate in practitioner time where results are achieved after a long and complex process. It has been said by many that a teacher never truly knows what her influence is nor where it will lead her students. I know that many of my teachers' lessons did not reach their full effect until years after I was in their classrooms. I may not be aware of some of the ways I was influenced by them.
  3. Teachers' unions do not want to fix the staus quo. We only care about protecting our members' jobs. A personal observation about the "status quo". Any teacher in the profession for any time knows that the "status quo" for teachers is constant change. Our teaching curriculum and methods are often the victims of the "latest, greatest" educational fad. Those of us teaching in the 90's remember the hurrah that was made over "Outcomes Based Education" and how quickly that "sure cure" for education ills faded away. Why don't we ask teachers what does and does not work in their classrooms?  Why do we spend millions of dollars in consultancy fees or paying for the hottest educational programs in search of a quick fix when we could just as well invest the money in hiring more teachers and more reading coaches who could give our students the attention they need to overcome the cruel handicaps with which so many come into our classes?
  4. Teachers broke education. Ogle pointed out that military failures are not blamed on "lazy soldiers" nor do we create "merit pay" to pay one soldier in a unit more than others. Instead, we seek to correct these failures by looking at our procedures and strategies.  He noted that while he was teaching at US Grant, the school board decided to change the attendance boundaries which resulted in two rival gangs going to the same school.  His students became more concerned about staying alive than they did about their education.  Grant soon feel under a federal mandate that required half of the teachers in the school to lose their jobs. That's blaming the soldiers for a failure of strategy.
Our union is deeply involved in education reform that believes that teachers are the answer not the problem. To that end, we have developed the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program where teachers who have been successful in the classroom come out for a short period of time and are tasked with helping "probationary teachers", those with 3 years experience or less, with their teaching.  PAR teachers are in my school at Centennial, and they have assisted several of our new teachers. The PARs also can and have recommended that some of these teachers not have their contract renewed.

The American Federation of Teachers feels that teacher based education reform is the most effective of all.

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