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.

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 and my cell phone number is 405-*******.

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

Nicole Shobert


Quality Counts, but it also depends on what you are counting

For those of you who know me, you know that I am a math nerd.  I will admit it. My mom tells a great story about how I used to cut my toast into fractional pieces when I was little and practiced adding halves and fourths at the table, and she knew then I was destined to be a math teacher. I think she may be exaggerating, but it makes an impressive dinner party story.

My love of mathematics has drawn me to statistics.  I am fascinated by the work psychometricians and data analysis people do with numbers.  A big part of that fascination is knowing how much running one type of test over another or asking certain types of questions can change the outcome of the results. In addition to fascination. It also tends to make me angry with those who take advantage of and twist data for their own purpose.  A favorite quote of mine is from Mark Twain: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I will admit, every time I see an educational statistic, I think of Twain.  Especially when they are out of context and being used to serve a political agenda. NAEP, PISA, A/F Report Cards, Value Added Evaluations… the list of data and statistics being collected and twisted in the name of educational reform is, unfortunately, growing.   

The latest “shocking” grade for OK was the 2014 Quality Counts Reports, which puts Oklahoma in the bottom 10 states in the Country in Education.  This report was published by Education Week’s Research Center. By the way, you can buy copies of Oklahoma’s report and even recalculate OK’s grade based on what you think is important.  

Social Media came alive with people sharing the news about how bad Oklahoma did.  News outlets jumped all over it.  Some of the headlines were:

“‘Quality Counts’ report shows need for Vigorous Education Reform in Oklahoma” (NewsOK Editorial) The author of this editorial obviously didn’t even read the report.

Oklahoma Schools get C+ grade in Quality Counts report.” (Tulsa World)

Oklahoma Ranks 10th Nationally in K-12 Achievement” (Channel 9) This one is extra frustrating becuase the headline makes it look like we are doing OK.  10th out of 50 isn’t bad right. But the first sentence of the article points out that we are ” number 10 on the list of states with the worst school systems.”  Not 10th best…10th worst.

We’re Number 44!  Let’s Give our Policy Makers an F.” (Tulsa Kids Magazine).  This one actually talks about what the report actually means.

“Education report: Oklahoma ranks well below national average for academic achievement, school spending” (NewsOK).

In the last one, SDE officals report that “the results of the report were not a surprise given the number of recent education reforms implemented to better prepare students for the national tests” and Superintendent Barresi  says “The grade confirms what we already knew, that we must change our approach to education.”

Let’s take a look at what Ed Week’s Report, titled “District Disruption and Revival: School Systems Reshape to Compete and Improve” took into account.  

“This year’s report focuses on school district governance and operations as its special theme, examining the impact of the increasingly complex fiscal, political, and technological forces that are challenging school districts and prompting efforts to cope with new pressures. Education Week journalists take an in-depth look at the prominent developments—including school choice initiatives, district mergers, and federal policy shifts—transforming the traditional environment for education governance.”

So we were the 10th worst state in the US based on ” fiscal, political, and technological forces that are challenging school districts.”  Barresi might be right.  We must change the approach, because obviously the fiscal, political and technological forces are not working in Oklahoma.

Here is the breakdown for Oklahoma.


Let’s break it down some more.    Our highest score was in Standards, Assessment, and Accountability.  Ed Week’s score card looks like this:


That is not very informational data. It is simply a bunch of yes or no questions based on values and characteristics deemed important by the researchers at Ed Week. Let me point out some of my favorites in there list:

Rewards for good schools…why, yes we provide rewards to high performing school.  Good thing this doesn’t take into account how many of the 229 Reward Schools took advantage of the schools last year  “reward” last year, which was fourteen of them or 6%.

Assistance and Sanctions, sure we’ve got them. We have all kinds of categories and rules for schools that don’t make the grade.  But it’s a good thing Ed Week didn’t take into account how long it takes the state to actually let schools know if they are a Focus, Targeted, or Priority School, which as of December of the 2013-2014 school year was still not released.  So that’s 50% of the school year wasted for the schools that need the most “intervention.”  

But, we have standards for ELA, math, science, and social studies.  They have been around a long time.  I am not sure what the supplementary material is that EdWeek gave us a YES grade for.  But I guess it is out there somewhere.

We received a bunch of NOs in the assessment section, including a NO for not having “vertically equated” scores in 3rd through 8th grade math or English.  That means the score on the 4th grade test means nothing compared to the 3rd.  And the 5th grade score has not relation to the 4th.

Wait…Isn’t that what the Value Added Models rely on?   Apparently, the SDE hasn’t looked at this breakdown yet. More lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Every thing in this report is a YES or NO score. I do not see how this is valuable or useful.

Here is some of the breakdown for teacher quality:(pages 13-14 in Oklahoma’s Highlights) I strongly believe that the vast majority of teachers in Oklahoma are doing their best and are passionate about kids and learning. They are trying to instill a love of learning while providing a safe place for kids.

Requirements for Licensure: (not including alt cert or TFA)

Substantial coursework in subject area(s) taught: Yes 
Test of subject-specific knowledge Yes 
Test of subject-specific pedagogy No
Student-teaching during teacher training Yes*
Other clinical experiences during teacher training Yes* (I can’t find what the asterisk means on the last two, but I would guess it means Universities vary or not for alt

Evaluating teacher performance (2011-12) – Thank goodness for TLE. We got 4 YESes! (sarcasm intended)
Formal evaluations of all teachers’ performance required Yes 
Student achievement is tied to teacher evaluations Yes
Annual basis for teacher evaluations Yes
All evaluators of teachers receive formal training Yes

Data systems to monitor quality (2011) – Don’t worry.. we are working on it.  Next time they check this, we will get the YES.  

State links teachers to student-growth data No
State links teachers and their performance data back to teacher education programs No

Salaries and incentives
Teacher-pay parity – Teacher salaries at least equal to comparable occupations (2010) No (OUCH)
Districts report school-level salaries for teachers (2011-12) No
Pay-for-performance program or pilot rewards teachers for raising student achievement (2011-12) Yes
Differentiated roles for teachers formally recognized by state (2011-12) No (this could happen with programs like the Elementary Math Specialist or Reading Coaches) 
Incentives for teachers taking on differentiated roles (2011-12) No
Financial incentives for teachers to earn national-board certification (2011-12) No (If the State like National Board more, we could have gotten a YES)

*notice the years next to everything.  I don’t think they even use current data.  The 2014 Quality Report used data from 2011-2012. 

The Building Capacity section was pretty pitiful.


The items that would support and build capacity, our state leaders either don’t fund or don’t protect.

I could go on.  But let me end it with this:

Next time someone asks you “Did you see that Oklahoma ranked the 10th worst education state in the Nation?  Our teachers unions, greedy educational establishment , and liberal teachers are ruining everything.”  Ask them if the read the report.  And rest assured that the low grades (and even the high grades) we received in this report have little to nothing to do with the amazing teachers and the job they are doing.  It has little to do with what is actually going on in our schools.

It strongly laundry list of political talking points and reforms agenda items.  

I agree with Barresi.  “The grade confirms what we already knew, that we must change our approach to education.”  Starting with the Office of the State Superintendent and the reforms that are taking Oklahoma schools hostage.  

Poverty and Vouchers

The “Oklahoma Education Savings Account” AKA House Bill 3398 seems to have struck a chord with educators in Oklahoma.  For those who haven’t been following the numerous twitter conversations, this “Savings Account” is another word for “voucher” which is pretty much a cuss word to public school educators.

Rep Nelson, the “author” of this bill is very proud of it and rightfully so.  It is his bill or at the very least, one he got from ALEC.  Rob Miller does a great job of describing what ALEC is and is not on his blog.  I won’t say that everything ALEC supplies to state legislators is bad.  But, as voters and tax payers, I think we deserve to know when a bill is introduced if it is actually born and raised out of the needs and opinions of Oklahoma voters or if it is mass produced in a secret room somewhere.  Maybe it’s that pesky idea of local control.Okeducationtruth has two blogs detailed what is in the bill.  You can find those here and here.  It is fairly straight forward and confusing at the same time.  If a family has an income below the official “free and reduced lunch (FRL)” limit, you will be eligible to receive 90% of your child’s per pupil funding (which was approximately 3,000$ in 2013) on a debit card that can be used for a variety of approved expenses which are all detailed in the text of the bill.  If your family is between the FRL and 1.5 x FRL, you get 60% of that $3,000.  And if  you are between 1.5 x FRL and 2 x FRL, you get 30%.

But, here is the problem.  The supports of vouchers always couch their arguments under the guise of school choice for our most needy and high poverty students.   Of course, the students in the highest poverty areas end up in the worst schools.  Right?  They need a way out?  Right?

I was one of those trying to carry on a twitter conversation with Rep. Nelson.  For those of you who are non-tweeters, this is not as easy as it looks.  I asked questions.  He asked me questions back.  I tried to answer.  He asked more questions.

Two of those questions he posed to me gave me reason to pause.  They were both incredibly loaded question in which there was no good way to answer.  He knew that.  That is why he asked them.  

The questions were:  Do I believe that education is the path out of poverty? and What does it take for a school to be “fully funded?”  

I could never have answered either question via twitter.  So, I turned to my seldom used blog.

1) Do I believe that education is the path out of poverty?   If I answer yes… then why wouldn’t I be in favor of voucher to give choice to our most venerable students.  If I answer no… what kind of heartless creature am I?   So, my short answer is:  No…and yes.  Education is but one piece of the puzzle.  I firmly believe and have witnessed first hand, that the true path out of poverty for students involves: relationship with mentors, being exposed to opportunities that are not a typical part of their “world”, support for family and sometime a paradigm shift in their ideas of what education means.  All of these can be accomplished in the public school setting when schools look outside of the box and are able to address the needs of the whole child instead of just the child who will take a test in April.   Of course, private schools, home schools, and vitural schools can all provide an education.  Can they provide the other factors that are vital for the success of any student?  Sure.  But is it fair to say that a child will succeed or not simply because of the address of their school?     

2) What does it take for a school to be “fully funded?”  Again, no easy answer, except maybe “More than we have now.”   I would also posit that a fully funded school means that schools can hire enough teachers to keep class size below the research based recommendations.  I would posit that a fully funded school doesn’t have to choose between repairing a building or hiring additional teachers assistants for special needs classrooms.  I posit that a fully funded school can engage students in authentic experiences including field trips to local colleges, field trips to museums and science centers, guest speakers, and technology integrated lessons with real world connections.

I can not give a number, but I would respectfully suggest that increasing funding to the level we were at 5 years ago would be a start.  And fully funding (or removing) the myriad of reforms and meaningless mandates, like the Reading Sufficiency Act, TLE, and. ACE remediation; ALL that have yet to be funded at an adequate level.  Okeducationtruth’s does a great job at providing charts, tables, graphs, and non-education explanations of funding.  Follow it and read it.

I strongly believe that education is vital for all students and all students deserve the best education possible.  Are all public schools perfect?  Heavens no.  But,  I believe public schools and public school teachers can provide that meaningful education for children, given the right support from the State Department of Education and the state Legislature.  

Voucher programs are based on the flawed logic that public schools are one size fits all, that they are broken, and that private schools are fundamentally better in some way.  Public school does not have to be “one size fits all”  For some schools, supporting students means providing community outreach program to make sure children and families in their community have access to basic needs.   In other schools, it could mean a partnership with the local hospital to create a clinic for families. Support for students means access to concurrent enrollment for high school and opportunities for students to visit college campuses and shadow adults in a variety of fields. Support for students also means proving teachers ongoing professional development targeting best practice of teaching, focusing on what works for all types of learners and the unique needs of the specific community.  I guarantee that high poverty students in the Tulsa and OKC metro have different needs that high poverty students in the rural communities of Smithville or Laverne.  And $2,700 for a student to go to a private school is not what we need.  

In fact, I think  for our most vulnerable students and their families, $2700 (90% of the per pupil funding) is like a movie teaser.  True some private schools will waive the remainder of their tuition, which could range anywhere from $5,000 a year to $20,000 a year.  But, what if the only private school a child can afford, even with the voucher, is 30 minutes across town?  What if they have uniforms?  What if they don’t serve students with IEPs?  What if they are full?  What if the closest private school to Smithville is two hours away?  The bill does say that the voucher can be used at virtual schools, but that is already free for all Oklahoma Schools according to state statues.  I guess Rep. Nelson is suggesting that we go ahead and pay them double for their voucher students, since they already get a huge chuck of the common ed funding.    

Research shows that many of the neediest students who take advantage of a voucher end of returning to their home school within a year because of those “Extras” that the voucher doesn’t cover.   This bill is setting up the same situation.  It will not help our neediest students.  It will help the middle class families who are on the edge of being able to afford private school pay that bill a little easier.  Heck, my own daughter would qualify for the 30% savings account voucher.  I wonder how far that 1,200$ would go?

Rep. Nelson makes the claim that if even one child takes advantage of this bill, it is worth it.  But I would ask if those students have tried to apply directly to those private schools for a needs based scholarship?  They are available.  Virtual school is already a FREE option.  Students can already qualify for free tutoring (which is also an allowable expense for this saving voucher)  Positive Tomorrows, one of the schools Nelson gives praise to in his press release, is already tuition free.  Its students go there for free.  (It serves strictly homeless students, but that is apparently not the point).  It is also a full service community outreach school, providing more than just education to its students and families.  

Why can’t we look at what makes Positive Tomorrow work and try to replicate that within our high poverty communities?

On a side note:  SDE recently moved the FAY cut to OCT 1, claiming if a student is enrolled in a school and receiving money, they should be held accountable for that student.  But as of yet, private schools are except from accountability of the A/F report cards and ACE graduation requirements, as well as the third grade retention mess.  Our Superintendent has often stated that if it is important to learning, it can be measured. Yet, we do not measure the learning taking place at private schools.  If this type of education is the key for students to break out of poverty, shouldn’t we be measuring how they are doing… so we can use it a model of what works?  Because that is the whole reason we need the A/F reports cards in Oklahoma, according to our SDE.

 It is late and I feel like I have rambled enough.  Be sure this is a bill I will be following, among others.

And I hope to blog more.  Maybe not as much or as well as Okeducationtruth or Rob Miller (my blogger role models), but I am all about getting information out there.

Until next time…

Lifehack Tech Resources for Kids

<a href=””>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

This is a great site with lists of “ideas” and things on everything from organizing your desktop to ways to save $ on food.

This list is a full of digital resources for kids.  I know we need to limit screen time, but there is a way to use technology wisely.  🙂

Check it out and let me know what you think!
What would you add?  Or take away?

Stop Motion Movies in the Math Class

I recently attended a breakout session at the Innovative Learning Institute that highlighted the app iMotion and how it can be used in the classroom.   In this 50 minute session, three elementary teachers briefly showed some examples of how they use iMotion with their students.  After 15 minutes, they said “Here is a table full of stuff (playdoh, legos, mcdonalds toys, ect..).  Your task is to create a video that shows change using iMotion.  For the majority of the session, a room full of 40 educators played and created a variety of short Claymation/stop motion videos.

It was amazing!  I kept thinking: “if a room full of grown-ups with varing levels of technology comfort can download a free app and create a stop motion video in less than 30 minutes, imagine what students can accomplish!?”

And I was intrigued.  And determined to discover ways to make this work with math concepts.  I found this blog post that gives a step by step how to for anyone who wants to step into this new movie magic.

Things I love about stopmotion vidoes and apps like iMotion:

1) You have to plan ahead.  In order to make your video the best it can be, there has to be some intentionality and planning.  If a student has a great idea, but dives into it before thinking about the final product, it will be choppy. BUT, iMotion is so easy, a failed or sloppy attempt is easy to recreate.  Practice makes perfect.

2) Its FREE! (iMotion is free.  The videos can be uploaded to a computer and edited or combined with MovieMaker (free for windows) or iMovie (not free for Macs or iPads).  I am sure there are programs online and other apps that can be used as well.

3) Its easy.  I am pretty tech savy, but I can say with confidence that anyone can do this.  My first attempt, although really ugly, took me less than 10 minutes.   Even my four year old helped me make a little video.  Her goal was to create a video and a story book.  I could have edited this and added her talking over…but we were just messing around.

I made this one in about 15 minutes.  It is pretty simple, but one idea for using stop motion to talk about fractions.

4) The ideas really are limit less.  Give the students a topic and see what they create.

Try it!  Let me know what you think!


EDMA 4253 – Flipped Classroom

Look through each of the six websites below.  In the comments for the blog post, complete the following 3-2-1 Activity

Share: 3 things you learned about flipping from these websites that you didn’t know, 2 ideas from these websites that you can use, an 1 pressing question or concern you still have about flipped classrooms.


Extra Resources:

Hidden Tower

In class today, our problem was to decide if we wanted a disguised cell phone tower instead of a regular one and then explain and justify our choice to the city council.  

We were given the angle of depression for both types of towers.  

We used the angles and the tangent formula to find the radius of the coverage circle for each type of tower.   The concealed tower would have a cover radius of 3579.53 feet and the unconcealed tower’s coverage radius would be 14,323.58 feet.  

Although it might improve the look of the tower and be less ugly, we are urging the city council to approve the regular tower for better coverage.  



Thank you.