Looking Back, Looking Forward: 24th Legislative District NBCTs Advocate!

National Board Lobby Day

All right!  The legislative session is over!  One huge bright spot?  The maintenance in full of National Board stipends!  It was a hard fought battle, and here in the 24th Legislative District, we did our part.

Some of you joined us recently, and some of you have been with us since the beginning of our National Board Local Action Network last year.  In any case, our advocacy took on many forms this school year and legislative session.  Collectively, our efforts were impressive–thanks to each of you for your work!

We started the year by building relationships with our local lawmakers through inviting legislators to our classrooms.  Representative Kevin Van De Wege, Representative Steve Tharinger, and Senator Jim Hargrove all visited with NBCTs and their students in schools.  As the Peninsula Daily News commented after a visit to NBCT Shannon Lowrie’s class, this “scored a trifecta of legislative visits.”

Then we had some fun at a local screening of the movie Mitchell 20, accompanied by a discussion and writing postcards to legislators.  Community members, a superintendent, a school board member, and teachers from four different school districts all attended this screening!  Special thanks to NBCT Patti Smith, Chimacum EA Vice President, and Todd Miller, Chimacum EA President, on this.

Mitchell 20 Screening and Legislative Post Card Writing

The legislative session was tough. We faced dark times with a thousand dollar reduction from the House, followed by an unbelievable 75% reduction from the Senate Republican budget.

How did 24th District NBCTs respond?

  • Spoke with Rep. Tharinger at a town hall meeting in Quilcene, and with Sen. Hargrove at a Jefferson County Democrats meeting in Chimacum
  • Met with legislators in their offices and on the house and senate floors.  NBCTs Denise Williamson, Quilcene EA; Brian Berg, Sequim EA; John Henry, Port Angeles EA; and Patti Smith and I from the Chimacum EA all traveled to Olympia for this.
  • Testified before the House and Senate Education committees,  and even if it was on other education issues, made sure to put in a good word for National Board Certification!
  • Invited legislators to our classrooms
  • Built community through watching Mitchell 20
  • Wrote a group letter to Senator Hargrove signed by 38 NBCTs from the 24th Legislative District opposing the Senate Republican Budget

We also participated in our outstanding statewide efforts coordinated by Dr. Jim Meadows and Local Action Networks in each legislative district.  What did we do?

  • Sent emails.  Across the state, THOUSANDS of emails, literally, were sent by NBCTs.
  • Made phone calls!  Our statewide effort pretty much shut the legislative switchboard down for a bit on the evening of March 8!
  • Statewide, over 3,100 people signed a petition started by NBCT Krista Calvin, Richland EA.

What response did we get from our actions?  Well, the end result of full support for the National Board program speaks to our advocacy efforts and to the value legislators place on the positive impact of National Board Certification on student learning.

Locally we were heard as well.  Our very own Senator Jim Hargrove proposed an amendment to fully support the National Board program.  When introducing his amendment on the senate floor, he said, “The teachers in my district say that this has made a huge difference in their classrooms.”  Yes, that’s right. Who did he listen to on this issue? Us! You know what that means? We’ve got to stay out there and make our voice heard, because people are paying attention!

Senator Christine Rolfes was another senator that some of us from the 24th district visited.  Her response to Hargove’s National Board amendment?  In the debate, she said, “When will this war on teachers stop?  This is a year when we don’t have to cut their National Board salaries. We don’t have to cut funding to the schools. Our teachers have lost their income; we’ve crowded their classrooms.  We’ve taken away funding for resources for extra stuff like construction paper and staples.  And we don’t have to do it.  So when does the war on teachers stop, and when does the war on public schools stop if we don’t stop it this year?”

Not content to lobby only for National Board Certification, 24th Legislative District NBCTs got involved in advocacy for health insurance, high stakes assessment, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.  38 of us signed a group letter to Senator Jim Hargrove asking him to oppose the Senate Republican Budget, which was so harmful to education in so many ways.  NBCT Al Gonzalez even posted about this group letter on his blog.

It’s not over!  We have some next steps!

  • You know what National Board Certification has meant to you and your students.  Now is a great time to share that with potential new candidates!  The second and last round this year of the Washington State Conditional Loan opens April 23, 2012 and closes May 18.   More National Board Information.

    WEA Olympic Lobby Team

  • In terms of political advocacy, what’s coming up?  Well, it’s an election year! When it comes to the education issues we care about, who are we going to be trying to lobby next year?  The candidates we elect now.  One of the gubernatorial candidates, Jay Inslee, even mentioned National Board Certification in his education platform, saying he wanted to “Build upon the successful efforts of the Washington Education Association and others to increase the number of teachers who achieve National Board Certification.”  You’ve honed some political skills and become familiar with some issues through LAN involvement.  Maybe this is the year to get involved in a campaign!

Keep in touch!  Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @WEAnbcts, send an email.

(This post was written as an email to members of the National Board Local Action Network in the 24th Legislative District, which covers the Olympic Peninsula.)

Graduation Requirements, Unfunded Mandates, and the Spectre of All biology All the time

The State Board of Education recently increased the number of academic credits required for graduation.  This is an unfunded mandate: no additional money is being provided to schools to meet this requirement.  At the same time, the number of elective requirements was reduced.  Increasing the number of academic requirements while reducing the number of elective credits takes students out of classes they are passionate about and could have a huge detrimental effect on music and art!

This narrowing of the curriculum from flexible elective choice to more specific required courses is mirrored in the state’s move from a broad area science exam to a single test in biology.   These  issues are not yet resolved, and they could be acted on as necessary to implement the budget (NTIB) as they are changes that would both improve student learning AND save money.   I recently testified to the House Education and Senate K-12 Committees in Olympia.

Here’s what I had to say:

At Chimacum, we have an outstanding science department. We as teachers hold our students and ourselves to high standards.  We have a new class this year, Materials Science: students investigate questions like, “Why are airplanes now made of carbon fiber composites instead of the traditional aluminum?”  Students work on projects such as exploring various methods of heat treating to make steel stronger.  In our Middle School, students test the water quality of our local creek and then blog about the results.  In my class, chemistry students used column chromatography to separate green fluorescent protein from bacteria.  The most difficult, but also the most rewarding part of the experience is trying to integrate the biology, chemistry, and the technology involved.

These classes are successful because they integrate science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM. However, our current state graduation requirements are not conducive to such experiences. Instead of providing for an integrated STEM experience, what our state requires is a number of discrete credits and an end-of-course exam that is limited to biology. 

Increasing the number of academic requirements while reducing the number of elective credits takes students out of classes they are passionate about, such as music, art, materials science, or Career and Technical Education and puts them into yet another required class.  Each additional credit required reduces student choice and school flexibility to provide creative course offerings.  Requiring more credits without providing the commensurate funding makes it extraordinarily difficult to give students a quality education.

In addition, the increasing and ever changing complexity of the graduation requirements themselves detracts from the schools’ mission to improve student learning.  At my school, each teacher also has an advisory consisting of a mixed group of students from freshmen to seniors.  To help us track the progress of our advisory students, our principal regularly sends out a spreadsheet showing which students have met which requirements.  With culminating projects, credits, high school proficiency exams, and end-of-course exams, the number of columns in that graduation requirement spreadsheet grows and grows each year.   The complexity of the task of tracking all of this is as daunting as the length of the line of students outside the counselors’ office seeking assistance.  Instead of spending our time working on improving student learning, we are spending time checking boxes and counting credits!

The most powerful STEM teaching and learning experiences at my school have been integrated and creative. This year, I have an ambitious plan for my students to try to determine how closely related two local salmon species are using protein electrophoresis—the biotechnology equipment is borrowed from a local research institution.

So do we put all this hoping and dreaming for our classes aside so we can focus on counting credits and preparing students for a standardized test solely in biology?

By offering an end-of-course exam only in biology, our state is forcing an emphasis on biology to the detriment of other disciplines in science.  This problem is exacerbated by making this exam high stakes, as it will be for this year’s freshmen.  Making the new biology end-of-course exam a graduation requirement is expensive, as the high stakes nature will incur costs for retakes, remediation, and rescoring.

The biology end-of-course exam is the only high school science exam that has been developed for the current state science standards.  With the severe budget cuts that are being made, our state simply does not have the money to develop end-of-course exams in physical, earth, and space science or to create a new integrated science exam.   It also does not make sense to put resources into developing new state exams when the national Next Generation Science Standards, based on the Science Frameworks, are going to be released for adoption consideration this fall.  We should not invest in a brand new state science assessment graduation requirement now when we will have a completely different new national science test in just a few years.

A high stakes biology EOC is harmful to earth, space, and physical science education in the state of Washington because it forces schools to emphasize biology to the detriment of other science disciplines.  Some schools offer integrated science only–a one size fits all biology end-of-course exam is not fair to these students.  This spring, as schools make plans for next year, they may divert staff and resources away from the critical disciplines of physical, earth, and space science because biology is the only requirement. It is therefore urgent to alleviate this problem by delinking the biology EOC from graduation requirements.

The biology end-of-course exam should not be a high stakes graduation requirement. We want students to enjoy learning; we want to light that fire and instill that student drive and motivation.  Eliminating the graduation requirement condition of the Biology End-of-Course exam is a change that would not hurt student learning.  Instead, it would support teachers and allow more funding to provide our students with a high quality, integrated STEM learning experience.


Key bills to support related to these issues:

Senate Bill 6314: Delink end-of-course biology exam from graduation requirements
House Bill 2231: Reducing costs by reducing student assessments
House Bill 2492, House Bill 2543, Senate Bill 6320: Fiscal Impact of State Board of Education requirements

It never ends, of course. (Nor should it.) The End-of-Course exam and two new sets of science standards

What am I doing this year in 10th grade biology?  Besides trying to plan great labs and engaging lessons, I am adjusting my instruction for a brand new set of science standards.  Yep, the “new” 2009 state science standards are finally operational for 10th grade—this is the first year we are using them.  Is this a good change?  Why yes, I think so—there is more depth and less breadth, and an increased emphasis on systems, inquiry, and application.

What else did I do this week?  Provided feedback on a completely different set of new science standards.  These new standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, are based on the National Research Council’s Framework for Science Education.  Have a look at the framework.  The content of this very early draft of the standards that we reviewed is still confidential, but a public draft should be available early next year.  Here’s a timeline–props to all individuals and organizations involved for seeking educator input at so many points along the way.

The irony of simultaneously thinking about two completely different sets of new science standards is not lost on me.  Hey, talk about a dizzying pace of change! Yes, one is in a final version and is now operational in my classroom, and the other is still in early draft form, but I literally went from Monday in my classroom, looking at the new state standards and thinking about how a specific standard should look that day for that lesson; to Tuesday in a conference room, looking at the new Next Generation Standard on a similar topic, trying to provide feedback from the perspective of how that would look in the classroom.  Any long term standards document like the Next Generation standards should be a living document, and of course state standards like the ones we have had should change with time, but in planning standards changes, care should be taken to allow teachers time to adjust instruction!

So why are we just starting to use the “new” 2009 state science standards now, in the year 2011?  Well, last year, tenth grade science teachers were busy with the “old” 2005 standards, because the legislature’s plan until the very end of last school year was to require students to pass an exam based on these old standards in order to graduate. The plan changed, but not in time for us to devote any class or professional development time to learning to use the new standards.  This year, not only do we have the brand new 2009 standards, we also have a brand new assessment: the biology End-of-Course exam.

So how about assessment?  Federal law currently mandates a state science test in high school.  Here’s how that is playing out in Washington state:

  1. We currently have the biology end-of-course exam, which is slated to be required for graduation for this year’s ninth graders.  Clearly, by limiting the test to biology, and then especially by making this test high stakes, Washington state is forcing a focus on biology.  State law itself recognizes this problem.  Section 1 of House Bill 1410, passed this year, reads, “The legislature does not wish to narrow the high school science curriculum to a singular focus on biology.  However, the legislature finds that the financial resources for developing additional end-of-course assessments for high school science are not available in the 2011-2013 biennium.”
  2. The Science Frameworks themselves provide advice for designing science assessments, and read, “Science assessments must target the full range of knowledge and practices described in this report.”  Clearly a singular focus on biology doesn’t do this.
  3. The earliest possible that a science assessment based on the Next Generation Science Standards may be ready is 2016, and this is an ambitious estimate.

What do we do here in Washington state in the meantime?

  1. We simply don’t have the money as a state to develop new integrated state science tests or tests in multiple science disciplines.  When we are considering raising class sizes and cutting the school year, we can not put further resources into the development of new standardized tests.  That simply can not be a priority.
  2. High stakes testing is expensive.  The new biology end-of-course exam graduation requirement will cost the state and local districts money for remediation, retesting, and developing and scoring a new Collection of Evidence in biology.
  3. Since a high stakes test on biology could limit statewide instruction to focus on biology, and since we don’t have the money to develop new tests, I think that we must eliminate the high stakes nature of the biology end-of-course exam.  The biology EOC should not be required for graduation.

What should we as teachers do in the classroom amidst all of this?  Just do our best to employ solid science instruction, and let those around us know about the issues we and our students face.

The Personal is Political, and My Feet Didn’t Even Reach the Floor

This year’s legislative session is over, and all around the state, local schools are now dealing with the effects of the state budget.  Looking back at decisions the legislators made, teachers have had a range of reactions.  Many teachers, thinking about the immediate local repercussions, and also thinking ahead to next year’s legislative session, have vowed, “We’ll make our voice heard.” Even in the past week, I have heard this more and more as teachers have brainstormed a number of ways to get our messages out.

How do we make our voices heard?  Through communication with our communities. When thinking of community, we should think both big and small, both local and state.  Our local communities need to understand the impact decisions are having, and our decision makers need input from teachers in order to make well informed choices.  

In communicating, our personal stories can make our political points clear.  The personal is political: it is our personal stories from the classroom that can inform and sway decisions affecting education. What’s my point here?  Let’s get out there and send our messages.  How am I going to make that point? By telling a personal story.

Earlier this spring, I drove down to Olympia.  This was to be a two day mission.  The first day, a team effort: another teacher from my district and I would meet personally with each of our three legislators to discuss full funding of teaching and learning.   The second day, I would testify before a legislative committee about changing the science assessment graduation requirement.

I had been to Olympia previously, of course—I have lived in Washington my entire life.  My previous legislative building experience, however, was somewhat limited.  My most vivid memory from under the dome was as a fourth grader, standing around George Washington’s shiny bronze face on the floor with a tour group, my brother daring me to put a foot under the velvet rope and plant it straight on George’s nose.  I don’t think I listened to my brother then, but I was certainly more respectful this time under the rotunda!  We were there on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the other teacher had actually watched his “I have a dream” speech in person as a child.  It seemed fitting to celebrate MLK day by advocating for education.

I have to admit that I was somewhat nervous about coming with my own message to meet face to face with lawmakers.  However, the issues were important, and I was excited to go!  I met the other teacher from my district in the Dome Deli—the legislative building cafeteria.  We went over our message, and then it was time for our first meeting.  Up a stairs and through a door, we found ourselves in a much fancier cafeteria than the Dome Deli.  It was full of serious looking people in dark suits.  Oops!  The sign above read, “House Locker Room.”  It certainly bore no resemblance to my high school’s locker room—we were in the private quarters of the House.  Yes, it could have been the ideal lobbying opportunity given the number of representatives present, but we figured we better find the fastest way out.  We tried the door—some sort of automatic locking mechanism prevented our exit.  One of the representatives pointed to a discrete button off to the right, and we were out.

Up the other stairs, across the senate floor, and through a rabbit warren maze of grey marble we made our way to our first meeting.   As soon as we were in the senator’s office, all anxiety eased and we were ready to talk.  The other teacher and I shared our positions on K-12 funding, National Board Certification, and science assessment.  The senator was definitely not in full agreement and asked a very pointed question.  The other teacher and I related some classroom anecdotes.  Guess what?  He really liked the point our stories made.  He related them to an issue in his own children’s education, and said it gave him something to think about. 

Next, we rushed down the stairs and out to a portable in the parking lot to meet a representative.  Yes, the legislature has portables, and they are no different from the portables at any school.  We chatted with the representative about a mutual acquaintance and shared our stories and issues.  Finally, back up to the fourth floor of the legislative building to meet the final representative.  He had an intern shadowing him for the day.  There was lots of friendly chatting with both the intern and the representative—this legislator seemed to be in almost complete agreement with everything we said. 

My plan for the next day, to testify before a legislative committee, was more formal and came with a slightly higher level of anxiety.  The day of individual meetings with legislators, however, without a doubt helped me feel more at ease.  I had also attended a committee meeting the day before to get a feel for the situation. 

The committee room was long and thin, and several hundred people gathered in it—a major budget hearing was also on the room’s agenda for the day.  The front of the room was dominated by the tall stair step dais and the seated legislators.  At the top level of the dais sat the chairperson.  With a rap of the gavel, the Chair brought the meeting to order, and this Chair ran a tight meeting. 

My turn came.  I was seated in front of the room at a table at the base of the dais, looking up at the committee.  Instead of the old fashioned large hook on a long pole to get people off the stage, a three way light was off to the side—green meant go ahead and talk, yellow meant hurry up, and red meant it’s over.  The TVW cameras and microphones were going. 

There was one issue—I am rather short.  The chair was too big for me, and my feet did not reach the floor!  Sitting there with my feet swinging below me, looking up to the top of the dais, I felt just like a little kid.  I thought about trying to adjust it, but we have a similar chair at home, and every time I try to adjust that one, the seat swings up and pushes me forward.  I did not want to launch myself out of my chair in front of the gathered crowd, so I just let it be.  I tried not to fidget too much in the oversize chair during my testimony—but next time I think I’ll just take the time to adjust it! 

Overall, the testimony went well.  At one point, I said I supported a certain elected official’s position on science assessment.  The stern chairperson interrupted me, looking rather severe, “Excuse me, Ms. Johnson…” and explained that this meeting was not the time to support or oppose specific bills—it was rather for more general positions.  Well, OK then—clearly it was time to convey my message through classroom stories.  I regained my composure and went on.  The legislators asked me a number of questions at the end, and I came back the following week to testify at a similar hearing.

My impression of the two days?  It was fun.  Definitely a new experience and I learned a lot.  I also felt as though what we were doing was making a positive difference for education in Washington state.  Legislators seemed very interested in hearing from classroom teachers.  I think our local communities are as well.  I believe our voice can be heard—we just need to speak out!