SDE Dismisses Concerns By Mid-Del Superintendent

I just read a letter to the editor published in Eastword News by the executive director of communication at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and I am rather miffed.

A-F School Report Cards
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The director, Phil Bacharach, attempts to dismiss all the concerns expressed by teachers across our state, the concerns of a superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the state, and of all the parents who have expressed doubts about the changes being wrought in our educational system.

Bacharach’s letter is written in response to Dr. Pam Deering, the superintendent of my school district, who originally published a letter in Eastword to express our district’s and many Oklahoma educators’ concerns about the A-F grading system released by the SDE. She denounces the grading system on the basis that the SDE itself struggled to apply the formula accurately, research has proven the system is flawed,and that the grades lack instructional value for multiple reasons. Educational leaders from school districts across the state have decried this system.

After taking some time to organize my thoughts, I started writing a response to Bacharach. But as I looked for sources of information, I found this letter written to the Norman Transcript by Bill Huntington. It pretty much says exactly what I was thinking, and I’m not one to reinvent the wheel.

Mr. Huntington handily dismisses Bacharach’s attempts to defend the SDE. And then he points out two reasons our schools struggle, neither of which have anything to do with the the grades our schools receive:

First, public education has suffered from years of level funding in an inflationary economy. Second, state officials and legislators withhold basic assistance needed by the poor to improve their level of living in the name of “reform.”

Here it is important to note that schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty tend to receive the lowest scores. Wouldn’t it make sense to shore up the family structure and economics of those families, instead of assignment punitive grades to those students’ schools?

According to the Children’s Health Watch study referenced above, while poverty does not have a direct impact on student performance, it does directly impact five “latent factors: of a student’s life that do directly correlate with student performance:

  • Physical Environment
  • Parenting Style
  • Cognitive Stimulation
  • Health at Birth
  • Childhood Health
  • Child Care Quality

Study authors drew some conclusions regarding these latent factors:

First, the influence of family poverty on children’s intellectual development is mediated completely by the intervening mechanisms measured by our latent factors. Poverty has no direct effect on children’s intellectual development; this absense suggests that focusing directly on the intervening mechanisms that affect children’s educational achievement may prove to be an effective alternative to income transfer.

Second, our analysis indicates specific components in the home environment that are affected by lack of income and that influence children’s intellectual development. Our various model specifications indicate that cognitive stimulation in the home is by far the most important influence mediating the effect of poverty on such development…Second in importance is parenting style.

The conclusions of this study leads me to Mr. Huntinton’s last point:

Third, Oklahoma citizens have not lost faith in their schools, but they have lost faith that the state education and political leadership that should be representing their basic educational needs.

Perhaps if our SDE and state government spent more time and money on policies and programs that would support our districts as we work to educate our most vulnerable populations, and provide early in-home cognitive stimulation for children and parent education for low-income families — and less time creating and defending useless assessments and punitive grading systems, we might actually believe that they had our children’s best interests at heart.

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

  1. As a special education teacher and personal friend to parents/caregivers of children with special needs, particularly emotional disabilities, I find that comprehensive mental health and real counseling services are our greatest needs to assist families and educators.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Renee! While I do not have your expertise, I have some experience teaching special education students, and have co-taught with special education teachers. I completely agree with your statement. While schools have counselors, their primary focus seems to be making sure students are assigned to classes and that everyone is taking the state tests. It would be wonderful if we could have counselors and child psychologists on staff who could provide child-centered and family-centered counseling services on a full-time basis. I don’t mean to discredit our existing counselors. I know they work hard to meet student needs. But their plates are already full. Par for the course…

  2. I totally agree with the previous two comments. I am an elementary special education teacher. An additional concern is additional services (Occupational Therapy& Physical Therapy). These services are such a benefit to the children, but the school district often pays an addition amount for each service per child.
    Mrs. Norton

  3. As a former ( now retired) counselor, I fully agree with the special education teachers and their comments. If a counselor is lucky they may be able to do some guidance classes, touching on much needed social skills and age appropriate topics….but testing has become our primary assignment. Testing is overwhelming at best — not only to counselors coordinating it but to teachers trying to meet needs for all students. I speak from experience when I say if a child hasn’t eaten regularly and is worried about food, testing is NOT going to trump their hunger.
    The teachers, counselors and administrators who live it should be respected and heard. Not brushed aside as an inconvience.

  4. Thank you so much for your wisdom, Rita. We need to focus on solving our society’s problems. Then the schools will take care of themselves.

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