My first letter to my representative

Until last year, I had never written to an elected official.  While I worked at the SDE, I had the opportunity to speak with many, although I was “on the clock” and had to be careful to support the work of the department (then under Sup. Garrett) and not my own personal opinions.

I write both my representative and my state senator once each last year, expressing my support for Common Core. (yes, I am one of those…more about that in another post)  I was disappointed when I received no response from my senator and one sentence from my representative:  “I am against Common Core.”  (okay then.)  The bills to repeal Common Core faded away and I complained to my husband and my co-workers about my elected officials.  🙂

I am dedicated to being more active in my letter writing this year.  I have PLAC Day at the Capital and the March 31st Rally on my calendar.  And quite possibly a growing desire to run for public office myself in the future (only half joking.. someone talk me out of it please.  😉 )

I am not  sure what format to use when writing legislators.   I tried to stay respectful and not snarky.  (thats hard sometimes).  Many thanks to Claudia Swisher for a great post laying out the top educational bills in the house and senate.  This came in handy.  I did not mention every bill in this first letter.  I know many will change.  And many still don’t quite make sense….

I thought I would share my letter to my rep.  I know many parents want to get involved, but may not know what to say.  Maybe this will help someone pull together their thoughts.   We are all in this together.   We have to get our voices out there.   (A letter to my senator is coming next).

*********

Dear Representative Cleveland,

As you enter the 54th session of the Oklahoma Legislature,  I would like to introduce myself and let you know some of my concerns, concerns that are shared by many parents in your district and the schools represented in your district.

My name is Nicole Shobert.  I have taught in Norman and worked as the state’s Mathematics Curriculum Director at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.  I am currently working at pursuing my doctorate.

Although I have many years experience in education, both at a local level and a state level, I am first and most importantly, a mom.  I have one daughter in public school.  She is currently in PreK.   I vote as a parent.  I strive and seek to inform other parents.  I am working with fellow parents in Cleveland County to make sure all of our families understand the education bills that have been filed and how they can get involved.

Before mentioning any specific topics, I urge you, above all, to look closely at  funding for common education.   The over all common education budget is at it lowest since 2008 despite steady increases in the number of students.  In addition, our state board of education and the state legislature have added more reforms and requirements over the last several year without adequate funding.   For example, the ACE legislation, which became law over 6 years ago, has YET to be fully funded despite the fact the students are being denied diplomas based on this legislation.  RSA, better know recently as the Third Grade Retention Bill, is also never fully funded, even before the high stakes retention requirements were added over 3 years ago. 

 I, along with many parents in your district, will be specifically watching to see how you vote for funding of our schools. 

In addition to budget issues, I know that in the upcoming session, you will be looking at hundreds of bills that focus on education, dealing with everything from Common Core and high stakes testing to Pop Tart Weapons.   I know many bills will change, be consolidated, or “die” in committee over the next few weeks.

As a voter in your district, I respectfully ask that you look closely at bills that deal with standards and high stakes testing.  I am not against common core.  With a master’s degree in curriculum and years of experience, I can honestly say that the standards are not the problem.  High stakes testing, however, is another story.  Research shows that high stakes testing does not raise achievement.  Using high stakes testing to label and retain students, especially in third grade, is detrimental to the students and the schools.   Using test scores to grade schools and programs like the Value Added Model is dangerous and will do little but drive good teachers out of the profession.   There is peer reviewed research by experts in the field of education I would be happy to share with you concerning high stakes testing.

Without a doubt, most of the current Superintendents reforms (TLE, RSA and third grade retention, EOIs and OCCRA testing, VAM Evaluations, and A/F Grades) are doing more harm than good in our schools and I hope that you take the time to research the issues, which are represented in many different bills and talk to parents and teachers before casting you vote.

I, along with many fellow parents, will be actively involved in watching how the bills proceed over the next few weeks.   I will be contacting you often over the next weeks and months with thoughts, concerns, and questions about specific bills, starting with these.   (I also promise that before I bring you a thought, concern, or question, I will have done my own research, I hope you do the same.)

HB 2545 – Introduced by Cannaday, seeks to remove student test scores as part of teacher evaluations under TLE. Requires that the total evaluation be qualitative.  As I stated above, long-term data and research shows that this is completely ineffective at raising student achievement.  It eventually leads to good teachers leaving the profession or at the very least leaving high need, high poverty schools where circumstances out of their control have more effect on test scores than in suburban areas.   In a time of unprecedented teacher shortages in OK, we cannot afford to lose the AMAZING teachers we have.

HB 2636 – Introduced by Proctor, seeks to increases salaries for career teachers in poverty schools.  OU has a new Urban Teacher Program that supports student teachers in a year long internship in an OKC school, in the hopes of developing teachers who understand the unique needs of urban schools and who want to be there.   It is also a proven fact that OCK and Tulsa start the year with certified teacher openings that never get filled.   Teaching kids in poverty is fulfilling, but it is also unique and emotional.   I have tons of articles and research on this topic if you are interested.

HB 2734 – Introduced by McDaniel, seeks to change the requirements that students MUST pass third grade reading tests and EOIs in order to be promoted, or to graduate.  I am sure this bill will take on many edits and revisions in committee, but this is VITAL for Oklahoma.   My daughter is currently in PreK.  I am worried what Oklahoma public education will look like when she enters the “tested” grades.  She attends an amazing school with amazing teachers, but I KNOW that they are stressed beyond measure and eventually, they will either leave, or succumb to testing mania in order to keep their jobs.

HB 2771 – Introduced by Nolan seeks to delay A-F accountability for a minimum of three years as well as holding public hearings on the topic.  Schools are not against accountability, but the current A/F grade is flawed.  As a parent, it means nothing.  It is simple a way to deem public schools and teachers.  I also hope that you take the time to read the reports by the research team from OU and OSU on the topic before casting any votes as well as a well-written OKPolicy Brief.  http://www.ccosa.org/vimages/shared/vnews/stories/526ec30663e2b/OK.A-F.Hiding.Poor.Achievement.pdf

http://okpolicy.org/oklahomas-f-grading-system-discriminates-high-poverty-schools

HB 3398 – Introduced by Nelson, on behalf of ALEC, is the “Educational Saving Account” bill. In other words, Vouchers.  As a parent who would actually qualify for the 30% voucher, I am FIRMLY and 100% against it.  Vouchers are not proven to increase achievement and do not help the students that it claims.   Supporting urban (and rural) schools that have high poverty is key.  Not offering families a “magic ticket” out when they most likely cannot afford to make up the difference or drive their children to a private school every day.  I would rather see FUNDING restored and education officials look into and support programs like community schools, urban teacher academies, and community partnerships to strengthen neighborhood schools.

There are other bills that I am watching and curious about.   I am also a foster parent and have a few bills that are of interest in that area as well.  You will be hearing from me again.

If you have any questions you would like to ask me, I would love to hear from you.

My email is tandnshobert@gmail.com and my cell phone number is 405-*******.

Thank you for your time and your service to the people of Oklahoma.

Nicole Shobert

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