Education Week - May 16, 2018 - 22
By Amy Curran and Elizabeth Sidler
here are myriad ways to read the recent redstate teacher walkouts: a shift toward the
left, a redefinition of the right, a resurgence of
the pro-labor spirit of the early 20th century.
But from the eye of Oklahoma's storm, it was
not a philosophical shift as much as a philosophical expansion-we learned to hold our
populist history in tension with the collective
investment that good democracy requires.
In a deeply red state where parents have even been known to
shield their children from the history of the Murrah Building
bombing in our state's capital, the Oklahoma teacher walkout
was a tipping point in the public's consciousness.
In April, teachers aired the state's dirty laundry and received
overwhelming public support for their efforts. Civic engagement can be suspect in Oklahoma. We don't question our elders. We hold back thoughtful questions in fear of seeming
indecorous. And we certainly never use the word "organize."
The loudest political discourse in Oklahoma often balances
vitriol on the precipice of "family values"-a complicated dance
that shrouds practical considerations, like budgets, in poorly
articulated ideological smog and leaves the state's most vulnerable populations actively neglected.
Over the last 10 years, the state legislature has consistently
cut funding for education and other core services. More than
half of appropriated agencies in Oklahoma are now funded at
just 80 percent of their 2009 levels, even before accounting for
inflation. During that same period, the state has led the nation
in making the deepest cuts to per-pupil funding for education.
Oklahoma's public school students are among the most vulnerable members of our community. In 2016, 33 percent of
Oklahomans under 18 had experienced at least two adverse
childhood experiences-the highest rate in
the nation according to an analysis by the
United Health Foundation.
But even the systematic removal of
rights from young Oklahomans-such as
recent legislation to allow juvenile offenders to
receive life without parole-has never engendered
the public outcry and support that fueled the teacher
walkout. Such realities have historically been hidden from
public view and conversation.
But teachers and students refused to allow their experiences
to be hidden. By speaking the truth of their classrooms, they
have refuted the narrative created by party politics and local
media coverage that public education has become a partisan
issue. Many Oklahoma teachers belong to the state's Republican majority, but while at the Capitol they experienced firsthand the deficit between their opinion of education and the
policy lawmakers have created.
They shared stories of their common experiences and painted
a bigger picture of the state of public education. Across districts
and counties, it quickly became apparent that the struggles
were the same and were monumental.
Oklahoma Education Association was late to the teachers'
party; a telling mark of the state of civic engagement in Oklahoma. But they helped share teachers' stories and build public
awareness of the state's education crisis, driving up the number of protesters at the Capitol for two weeks last month.
It is harder to hoodwink people standing in your office.
Teachers, students, parents, staff, and allies arrived at the
Capitol, spoke with legislators, and knew firsthand when
their legislator voted differently than they said they would.
The standard gap between rhetoric and the ramification of
votes became clear. Every day brought new opportunities to
learn how the state's government functioned. When advocates
Oklahoma Teachers (and Students)
learned that a particular state representative was holding up
a vote, we saw them start walking the picket line to find constituents from his district who could lobby him directly. People
were developing the honest tools of civic participation.
Many teachers carried signs that read: "I was here in 1990.
Why am I still marching?!" But for others who did not live
through the teacher walkout of 1990, which successfully
spurred increased teacher pay and limited class sizes, that
consciousness had not spread. After the victories of the 1990
walkout, there was little concerted effort to track legislation
and ensure that no similar budget crisis was reached again.
This walkout was different, because students were at the
heart of it. Students built advocacy coalitions preparing for future action while their adult counterparts parsed the failures
of recent past.
Gabrielle Davis, a high school senior in Edmond, Okla.,
Race to the Top Is Over. Why Haven't We Moved On?
By Rachael E. Gabriel
& Sarah L. Woulfin
hen President Barack
Obama announced his
Race to the Top competition in the summer
of 2009, states across
the country submitted
plans for reforming
standards, data use, and teacher quality to
turn around their lowest-performing schools.
Most states, competing for about $4 billion
in federal funding in the first year, elected to
significantly revise and ramp up their teacherevaluation policies.
Nearly a decade later, with the launch of
ESSA, it might be easy to assume that the
pressures of RTT-era teacher evaluation have
lifted. However, these evaluation systems and
procedures persist after nearly a decade of implementation, influencing the work of teachers,
principals, and district administrators.
It's important to ask whether such policies
are working for those they most affect-teachers and students. States must consider: Is their
teacher evaluation improving teaching and
learning or getting in the way of the very work
it was designed to support?
We would argue it is too often the latter.
Under RTT, teacher-evaluation policies were
policy would create
and social conditions
teachers need to
22 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 16, 2018 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
designed using economic theories of motivation and compensation and statistical growth
tools such as value-added measurement.
Evaluation policies based on principles of
economics and corporate management have
failed to take into account the complex and
personalized work of educating students.
While evaluation aims to address teacher
performance and quality, what we don't see is
acknowledgement of teacher voice and choice
in how policies affect their work. We need to
create learning-focused evaluation policies
for teachers that enable both students' and
teachers' growth and align with the needs of
schools, students, and communities.
It's clear to most educators that the current
crop of teacher-evaluation systems is flawed,
overwrought, and sometimes just plain broken. Detailed case studies demonstrate that
some states now spend millions of dollars on
contracts with data-management companies
and statistical consulting firms. Many states
and districts make similar investments despite the fact that researchers and policymakers question the wisdom of value-added
measurement within high-stakes teacher
There is now an entire industry devoted
to the evaluation of teaching and the management of student data. There are online
professional-development video databases
and classroom-walkthrough apps for school
leaders-which have not demonstrated a
positive effect on instruction. But all of them
have inflated the edu-business marketplace.
When leaders are stuck in the slog of implementation, it's easy to forget about the organizational structures that tug educators in
different directions. Researchers and reformers end up ignoring important differences
between states and districts when explaining
whether a policy was or was not successful in
a given context. Yet, real policy is something
teachers create every day by engaging with
tools, routines, and ideas in their classrooms.
If educators were given opportunities to
have real conversations about instruction and
fuel data-driven decisions and collaboration,
teacher evaluation might be more successful
for everyone. Researchers and policymakers
must ask educators directly how they have
worked within the confines of evaluation
rubrics and classroom observations to create instructional improvement for students.
Only then will policymakers understand how
to marry evaluation standards with the real
work taking place in classrooms.
A learning-focused teacher-evaluation
policy would create the organizational and
social conditions teachers need to thrive.
During goal-setting with administrators,
teachers would work together to write challenging, yet attainable, goals for themselves
and their students. They would also have