Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why I Choose To School My Children At Home And Why I Think You Should Too

by Jenni White

"Mom, are you going to check my paper?"  Sam, my youngest, is sitting next to me doing math right now, but because I'm attempting to write a blog, I ask him to hold on a minute.  Don't worry, he'll ask again in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

"Ok...let's look..." I answer, swinging away from my keyboard.

Obviously, I did not choose to homeschool my children so that I could get more done for ROPE.  I'm sure homeschooling and peace and quiet can be synonymous, but I don't find that often in the White house anymore.

It's not always been this way.  My kids haven't always been homeschooled.

In fact, when my husband David and I had our first son, Coleman (we also have a married daughter, Bryna, 31) he and I left our little self-remodeled 50's bungalow for a bigger house in the neighborhood where I grew up - so he could attend a 'Blue Ribbon' public school - we never even considered anything else.

Coleman - and our adopted daughter Betty - started half-day kindergarten at that little school in 2007 and I was irritated they were only going a half day.  It made no sense to me that other schools had full day kindergarten and mine had only half.  I joined PTA, went to every Kindergarten presentation, helped them with their reading every evening and enjoyed both kids' teachers tremendously.

In 2008, the school offered full year kindergarten and by 2009, I was standing in line so Sam, could be in half-day pre-k.

During the end of 2008, something began to change in me.  Until this time, I was a pretty typical stay-at-home mom; cleaning house, making meals, doing laundry and very involved in my church.  I did have a home business I began in 2003 named for the son we lost between Coleman and Sam (MarshallsMemories), and I scrap-booked and made jewelry in my 'off' hours, selling my wares mainly on, but other than that, nothing remarkable.

Though I had voted in nearly every election since I was 18, I had never really been involved in 'politics'.

I registered Republican at 18 (I adored Ronald Reagan) and, excepting a fall from the wagon with Clinton's first term, I found Republican ideals more suited to my own.  Voting was one thing; researching a candidate's voting record or background, another.  That had never been on my radar screen, yet toward the middle of '08, I began researching then-presidential candidate Barrack Obama and became concerned about what I found. Never before much interested in America's form of government, civics or history, I suddenly wanted to know as much as I could about as much as I could.  The more I found out about Communism, Marxism and America's Republican form of government, the more I became convinced public schools had, by and large, simply quit teaching the fundamentals of American history and government.

One thing led to another with my research and by 2010, a friend (Julie McKenzie) and I had started ROPE as a way to shed light on the fact that American students were graduating high school with little to no education in the founding of our country and the science of civics. In fact, ROPE's first stab at legislation was to make sure kids were reading American foundational documents.  From there, we began studying public school funding and many, many other topics relating to the education of our youth across Oklahoma and America.

Interestingly, I spent the first several years of my career as ROPE president, researching and writing about public school issues after dutifully seeing my kids off to school.  In fact, I remember complaining bitterly when school was canceled for snow or cold, or there was an assembly.  My property taxes were going to pay for this school to be open, why wasn't it?  My kids needed to be in school, not sitting around home watching TV.

I knew there were parents out there who schooled their kids at home yet I thought them only slightly sane.  Why would anyone bring their kids home for school?  How were they going to get a good education?  Parents weren't teachers for Pete's sake, what parent thought they could adequately educate a child for college by keeping him home?  Even having been a teacher - even with a Master's Degree in Biology - this thought was anathema.  I was fairly certain homeschooled kids did little but run around their neighborhoods during regular school hours, driving their scooters in front of cars like a homeschool family that moved (briefly) into our neighborhood.  How in the world did these kids make friends?  Who was around to hang out with during the day?  None of this made any sense to me.

As a Christian, I had also come to believe that my Christian children could be salt and light to nonbelievers at their school.  Why would I even think of removing my kids from public school when they could be leading others to Jesus within the confines of the school room walls?*

Throughout the years, I was active in PTA at the school.  I tried to attend every meeting I could and did what I could to help out with PTA functions.  One day at a PTA meeting, I spoke up and asked why we were raising so much money for the school (we had 10's of thousands in the school PTA account).  I was told it was for the school's computer lab and to pay for a new gymnasium that we could use during the week and rent out for basketball games/practice on the weekends.  Once, when I opined that elementary kids didn't really need to learn how to operate computers, I had the immediate and distinct notion I had broached the unbroachable.  It was clear these kids MUST have computer time or they would fall behind their peers at other schools - did I want our kids to be computer illiterate?  I had just read research indicating that electronics for elementary-aged kids can prevent them from focusing by shortening their attention span, so I shared this.  Clearly, no one in the room was interested.

After studying traditional math (in comparison to the Common Core) I shared - at another meeting - that our school should NOT be using Everyday math, but instead adopt Saxon or Singapore texts.  This revelation was met with disinterest in the least and consternation at worst.  For a number of months I tried to get other parents/teachers on board with the idea, but our Principal finally put the hex on the idea by reporting that the school couldn't afford the textbooks.  PTA, of course, needed their money for a computer lab and gymnasium.  It was then I realized that even math illiterate kids can get on the computer and play roundball, and maybe my ideals about education weren't those of my fellow parents or school.

No matter how many children you have, no two will be alike.  I have four, and while none of them are carbon copies of one another, I managed to get a more introverted boy and a girl and a boy and a girl who love going and doing and being right in the middle of everything.  Coleman is one of my introverts.  From a young age that kid would sit by himself, perfectly content building Lego's or drawing, so I shouldn't have been surprised when during the middle of a VERY TOUGH 3rd grade year (lots of bullying and an overbearing teacher who didn't like my son much), he came to me crying and begging me to homeschool him.

What?  He was just having a reaction to the year, I was sure, yet even after he was moved to another class to try and make it easier for him to learn, he would regularly beg me to keep him home for fourth grade.  Two things happened fairly quickly near the end of that year; a homeschooling mom joined the ROPE board and she began sharing personal experiences about her homeschooling, and Coleman fell face first off the swings, and was made to sit in the office with his face so swollen he could barely open his eyes until they finally got around to calling me. That was it.  Though I wasn't sure how the whole schooling the kid at home would work, I decided to take on the challenge and my husband reluctantly agreed.

If I hadn't been seen as the bizarre white-haired White lady at that school before, I was by the first day of school 2010-2011.  I enrolled Sam and Betty in 1st and 4th grades respectively, while submitting a letter to the office that I would be schooling Coleman at home and signing up for another year of PTA - this time with the intention of running for President.**

I began Coleman in Classical Conversations that year.  One day a week I went to an Edmond church 'campus' where kids of all ages and stages came together to learn all sorts of facts about all sorts of things.  In the morning, Coleman had Foundations (the facts portion of the curriculum) and in the afternoon he had Essentials of the English Language where he learned to diagram sentences and write essays.  At home during the week while his siblings were in school, Coleman would study his facts, practice his English assignments and write a paper on a different topic each week.  I added Saxon math and had him read and outline a junior classic book every couple of weeks.  Though I suspect both David and I thought he would soon tire of the self-paced work and lack of friendship, he blossomed, and I learned more about traditional (classical) education vs the progressive education taught in most public schools today.

ROPE had just taken on Common Core and I was speaking and writing and lobbying frequently at this point.  Disinterested with the idea of hanging with Mimi or Grandmama during many of my outings, he chose to come along to the Capitol, to meetings - wherever I was headed - and he had a blast (most times!).

Meanwhile, I was still following what the other two were doing in public school, but by now my eyes had fully opened and I was beginning to see the light.  The assignments Betty brought home from school made my new blog (begun in July of 2011) several times, as did school newsletters and other items.  Her fourth grade teacher and I did not see eye-to-eye and her deeply progressive, rude, student teacher nearly caused my husband apoplexy after a meeting scheduled to discuss some of her more interesting worksheets on Global Warming and Native Americans.

First grade wasn't treating Sam any better.  His teacher should never have been responsible for an elementary classroom.  She was, if anything, more equipped to muscle around teen children - she had absolutely no empathy and seemed to have cared less for little ones in general.  Certainly a Common Core apologist, she was proud to tell me that our school was an early adopter of the standards, knowing the state would force the issue the following school year.  During his tenure in her first grade class, he learned to spell words like Kapok Tree (thanks to the chapter on rain forest deforestation) while learning nearly zero English grammar mechanics for spelling (i before e except after c, etc.).  Even today, that kid can spell very, very little no matter how hard I have tried to teach him by phonemes.  Then there was the math.  Oh my word.  Though my child could easily be classified ADD, I have no doubt in my mind that his math experiences in first grade are what set him back at least two grades and made him absolutely detest the subject.  The fact that he can't sit still and concentrate doesn't make him hate math, it just makes him hate sitting down for any length of time.

By the end of 4th and 1st grades in public school while homeschooling one simultaneously, I had simply gotten to the point where I had zero compunction about removing the other two kids lock stock and barrel from public school and pulling them onto the CC campus with Coleman.  I'm sure the school was absolutely ecstatic to see me go, and we were just as pleased to leave.

And there you have it.  The genesis of the White family homeschool experience.

Today, we're still with Classical, but we're now at a campus well outside the city, near the little town where we've moved to start a farm.  Apparently, once you jump off one conveyor belt, it's becomes easier to jump off the rest (packaged food vs fresh food, internet news vs Big Media news, classic shows on Netflix vs commercial television - we've jumped off them all).  Sadly, as I look back, I see how brainwashed Americans - especially mothers - have become.  We women bought into that 'bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan' mentality back in the '70's and now we have no qualms dropping off even our youngest children to be raised by someone other than ourselves during the day while we are at work.

I did the math one day.  Did you know that each year your child/children are in school, you are allowing someone other than yourself to influence your children 1,190 hours = 50 days = 14% of a year?  Did you know that every year our state/federal government want your children to be in school MORE hours and MORE days?  How many can you lose and expect your child to graduate high school (let alone college) comfortable with your set of values?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that homeschooling is the panacea for producing 'perfect' people (how about that for alliteration!?) - there is no formula for perfection and there is only One that was - I'm simply saying that the more you influence your child, the less someone else is influencing your child.

Neither am I saying that all homeschools produce excellent results, or are done for the right reasons or should be held up as education models for all to see.  I am saying, however, that more parents are equipped to homeschool than are.  I'm saying that more parents can homeschool than think they can.  I'm saying many parents don't even entertain the option because they think themselves ill-equipped.

Over twenty years ago when people like my friends, former state representative George Faught and his wife Becky, began homeschooling their children - in the days when people in IGA would call the truant officer because Becky had her kids in the store while she shopped - there were very few resources for parents that wanted to homeschool.  This isn't the case today.  Today there are wonderful online resources (not K12 or other online schools associated with state public schools) such as Freedom Project Education, and others such as Sonlight and A Beka that can provide excellent road maps to an excellent education for ANY parent, regardless of educational background.

As I've said many times in many different venues, God blessed you with your children.  He gave them to you to raise, not to a school or a teacher.  We are admonished to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6), and that admonition is for parents directly, not through teachers or schools indirectly.  Though I in no way mean to embarrass or anger parents who choose to send their children to public schools, or the many teachers who bring their wonderful values with them into the classroom to provide the best education they can for each child, I think it is important to think on these things and listen to our hearts.  Could God be calling you to homeschool?  If He is, step out and follow His lead - He will bless you in your efforts.  If God is not calling you to homeschool, make sure to take time with your children when they are at home - indoctrinate them in your worldview - watch carefully the items that come home - stay in contact with your child/children's teacher/s - make public education work for your family.

No matter what, be sensitive to your kids and keep them under your wing as long as possible.  They are only little a short while and after that, your influence wanes.  Although I will continue to fight for public education (and so should we all), until parents can return to the position of authority in their child's education within the system, as many of us as can, should be out of it.  The system won't change on its own, and a wheel deprived of cogs won't work and must be re-built, or demolished back to step one.  Let's stay engaged and committed to restoring public education, but let's not throw our kids in the deep end of the pool to dog paddle as we do.

*I learned subsequently (through an experience with my daughter), that few young children can withstand the pressure of their peers or put aside their desire to please their teacher with enough force or consistency to keep the worldview imparted to them by their parents.  As strong as we like to think our children are in the Lord, until they've been able to understand and articulate their Christian worldview well enough to attain apologist status, kids will more than likely adapt to the worldview espoused by their peers/teachers.  Children should never be sacrificed on the altar of evangelism and sadly, this is often the case when Christian children are left to defend their faiths inside secular schools.

** I was told I would not be allowed to run for PTA president because I was "too political".  Yes, it's true.  There you have it.  If PTA weren't an arm of NEA and the ultimate in everything political, I wouldn't have laughed so hard I nearly wet my pants, yet that's exactly what I did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Steve Russell And The Holy Grail Of CD 5 - Common Core

Every election season without fail, candidates work to find that ‘Holy Grail’ of political issues designed to drop their political opponent in the polls while elevating themselves as the sensible alternative on that issue.  Taxation, The Affordable Health Care Act, Social Security - all have been used to position various candidates at the front of the pack with voters over countless election cycles.

This years’ political Holy Grail appears to be Common Core. 

As an early Common Core Paul Revere, I’ve watched concerns about this issue go from largely ignored in 2010 to a death knell for elective office in 2014.  Throughout the intervening years, as I’ve attempted to educate Oklahomans and lawmakers on this topic, I have been loath to hold legislators - other than the authors - responsible for their vote on Common Core in 2010 for several reasons.

Nothing less than an education omnibus bill intended to line up Oklahoma’s educational system with the edicts prescribed by the federal Race to the Top grant for which Oklahoma applied under then-Governor Brad Henry, SB2033 foisted Common Core onto the landscape of Oklahoma public education via one paragraph on page 30 of this 34 page bill actually entitled, “Teacher Incentive Pay”. 

Though not ordinarily one to give legislators a pass for voting on legislation without becoming educated on that issue, SB2033 was not an ordinary bill.

Authored by then-Senate Pro-Temp (Glenn Coffee) and then-Speaker of the House (Chris Benge), legislators unwilling to cast an ‘aye’ vote for SB2033 could find themselves crosswise with leadership – not a pleasant proposition. Not only that, but Republican messaging declared the bill a panacea for public education in Oklahoma, painting any Republican legislator voting against it into a corner as anti-public education. 

That Republican leadership oversold this bill seems evident in its troubled history in the House, where membership voted down the Conference Committee Report and forced several more votes resulting in passage of the bill at the 11th hour of session, 2010.

Recently, former Edmond Mayor, Patrice Douglas has come out against challenger for Congressional District 5, former State Senator, Lt. Col. Steve Russell using his ‘yea’ vote on SB2033 as ‘proof’ that Russell is a Common Core proponent.

This charge is so silly, frankly, I’ve taken a week to address it in deference to other, more pressing business.  I feel the need to address it now, however, as we close in on the run-off election August 26th.

Though I’ve previously stated my reasons for allowing legislators a pass on their SB2033 votes, it’s important for people to know that Steve was actually anti-Common Core when anti-Common Core wasn’t cool (thanks Barbara Mandrell). 

Back in the dark ages of 2011, when legislators had very little interest in discussing the Common Core other than to parrot the popular talking points, Steve signed on as co-author to HB1714 authored by Sally Kern.  As that bill was denied a hearing in the Common Education Committee that year, the bill was reintroduced in 2012.  To the best of my recollection, Russell signed on again as co-author, though the bill was again prevented a hearing by Common Ed Committee Chair Ann Coody.

Obviously, I’m a proponent of any Common Core opponent.  Hatred of Common Core, however, is not the only reason to vote for a candidate.  I can say this with conviction because, though I have spent a chunk of my life fighting a single issue, I’m not a single-issue voter.  Steve’s objection to Common Core arises from his belief in individual liberty and personal responsibility over state control and tyranny.  I believe Steve will enter Congress standing on that ideal and from that ideal he will govern.  Certainly, adoption of this ideal is the surest way to restore our Republic and once and for all rid ourselves of Common Core and other federal end arounds state sovereignty and individual liberty.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

EDUCATION: You VS The State - Are You Taking Responsibility For Your Child's Education?

After reading a recent opinion piece by a ‘conservative’, Oklahoma law professor (Right Thinking: Grumpy suburbanites and the populist conservative base, by Andrew SpiropoulosI had to laugh.  While I agreed with 9/10ths of his very excellent treatise on populism vs conservatism, I had to part company altogether when this man began discussing education – particularly relating to Superintendent Barresi’s election loss and Governor Fallin’s recent drop in the polls.

To him, Barresi lost and Fallin has dropped in the polls – not because their education reform initiatives were too heavy handed, but because they were not heavy handed enough.

This makes me laugh because elitists tend to recognize elitism in everyone but themselves.  Hilariously, this law professor outs himself as elitist by saying, "… our (Oklahoma) business elite does not have a strong intellectual grasp of the tenets or policy successes of conservatism", after which he calls dissenters of big government education reform, such as I, 'grumpy suburbanites' (wasn’t it Arne Duncan (a Democrat) who blamed the failure of education ‘reform’ on “white suburban moms”?).

This professor appears to understand conservatism in every area but public education.  To him, conservatism in this venue should be state-control under the virtuous flag of 'accountability for taxpayer funds'. 

Conservatism is a political philosophy most in line with the majority of American Founders.  To them, conservatism, “conserves” power to the individual OVER the state – in point of fact, conservatism imbues the notion of individual rights.  Conservatism doesn’t parse itself across each segment of our lives.  It doesn’t break down into fiscal ‘conservatism’ versus individual rights, or political ‘conservatism’ versus individual rights.   To the elitist, however, "fiscal conservatism" relates to ‘conserving’ assets, therefore if local school boards overspend, the state must force ‘conservatism’ by subjecting individuals on school boards all across the state to laws addressing overspending in public education.  This notion is fallacious as it necessarily embargoes individual rights.  It also usurps the ability of individuals to learn by removing negative consequences – but that’s another topic for another day.

Either individuals or government have the power - it can't be both.  In some circumstances, the people delegate their power to government (ie; traffic laws), but government cannot usurp the right of individuals because it doesn't like the way the right is utilized.  Certainly, government cannot usurp a parent’s right to direct the education of their own children (child endangerment issues notwithstanding), yet that is exactly what happened with Oklahoma’s 3rd grade reading retention law, (as one of many examples - Common Core being another).

It is a parent's duty to hold their children accountable for whether or not they are reading by the end of third grade.  When Governor Fallin vetoed the MINOR change to the third grade reading retention law (simply adding a PARENT to the group of school personnel deciding whether their child should graduate), parents felt cut out of the process of educating their children.  Since parents maintain the right and responsibility to care for their children as they see fit, parents recognized this as a usurpation of their individual rights.  I believe one of the reasons for the downturn in our Governor's poll numbers resulted from a parental awakening to this kind of elitism rampant in our currently Republican-controlled government.   

The elitist thought process eschews personal responsibility and individual rights when they are exercised in a way seen as inappropriate by the elitist – particularly in education.  “Many parents are _______ (‘poor’, ‘ill-educated’, ‘drug addicts’, ‘grumpy suburbanites’) and cannot be trusted to educate their children appropriately.”  This leads elitists to gravitate toward state controlled education – not education of the public provided by churches and communities with local/parent control as the Founders advocated.

I personally believe a majority of today’s parents remiss in their duties regarding their children’s education.  Far too many times as a teacher I sent items home in backpacks that were never opened, or I sat in a quiet classroom of an evening because parents couldn’t be bothered to attend parent/teacher meetings.  I am, however, a staunch believer in individual rights – even if it means the right to have a child living in your basement until age 30 because you couldn’t be bothered to assume the responsibility necessary to appropriately direct their education, or I as a taxpayer have to cough up money to the criminal justice system to ‘rehabilitate’ the child you refused to rear or educate when you were tasked with that responsibility. 

For hundreds of years, the state was an actor prevented from even reading for the part of parent.  Actually, it wasn't until the early 1960’s, when tax exemptions provided the excuse for many to abandon their missions, churches stopped assuming the role of responsible party for the uneducated/undereducated, teaching them their rights and responsibilities and setting them on the path to fruitful citizenship. 

Though to invoke the words of American Founders today seems to be to invite derision in many circles, John Adams well illustrated the current breakdown in understanding between elitists and conservatives, parents and parental responsibility, 
“…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
I believe In today’s vernacular we would say; “Know your rights and responsibilities – govern yourself – or men will do it for you in your name.”  Look around.  Isn't that just what we're seeing today?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rudderless Teachers?

I read an article recently in EdWeek by an Oklahoma teacher, "Without The Common Core in Oklahoma". Obviously, as someone who fought to repeal the standards, I feel sad that without Common Core, this teacher feels "rudderless". 

The teacher explains:
The thought of moving backward to PASS (or worse) fills me and thousands of other Oklahoma teachers and administrators with mind-numbing angst. The state has invested countless hours and a great deal of professional-development money so that educators, curriculum specialists, and districts would be in a strong position to put the standards in place. To this end, my own district implemented new standards-aligned academic vocabulary, which mandates a grade-level list of words for K-5 students. We purchased many standards-aligned professional materials for teachers to help them in the implementation of instructional units. While those materials and new word lists can be tweaked to reflect whatever might replace the common core, many of my colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at the complete waste of time and resources that has resulted from this turn in state politics.

Mind-numbing angst?  I find this peculiar, I really do.  I truly cannot understand why any teacher would be filled with “mind-numbing angst” by the removal of a set of standards – especially when the testing portion of the standards will be more general knowledge in nature and not truly ‘high stakes’ for this next two years (and hopefully long term).

In my opinion, really great teachers are those that simply need to know the developmental age of their children.  Once they are very familiar with that, they can pull information from across the World Wide Web, the library, older text books – it matters not.  Information to impart to children of all ages is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week anymore. 

When I taught - and it’s not much different today, according to my discussions with teacher friends - Professional Development was/is something you did/do to keep your teacher’s certification.  In the 6 years I taught public school, never one time did I learn something I felt I would feel comfortable using, or desire to use, in my classroom from teacher ‘training’.  One teacher friend I have known for years, just told me about a teacher training event she went to that so upset her conservative views she felt robbed of the time she had to travel to and from and stay.  That simply isn’t right in my view.

Maybe I’m just way too independent (and conservative) for my own good – I’m happy to acknowledge that – but I’m concerned that this ‘angst’ has to do with the way teachers are taught today, from the classroom through teacher training.

I achieved a Master’s Degree in Biology and became Alternatively Certified.  I must say, the three classes I had to take in order to become certified to teach in Oklahoma made me shake my head.  The course on testing frustrated me so badly I felt it necessary to argue (respectfully) with my instructor frequently about her very liberal philosophy which she would insert into class discussions dealing with everything from teaching to breathing. 

While studying for both my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees, everyone in the College of Math and Science receiving science degrees knew the students who were getting teaching degrees.  They took a very small fraction of the coursework we took, but yet, were expected to teach others science.  That frustrated me.  Why would those teaching others about science need to have so many fewer hours LEARNING science than I as a scientist?  It’s still a conundrum to me.

I have many wonderful teacher friends and I know many wonderful teachers.  I KNOW these teachers can succeed teaching anything to anyone no matter what their administrations – or the state – throws at them.  It’s more than just a job – it’s a VOCATION – a way of life.

Is it possible that teachers who find themselves ‘rudderless’ following this last in a long line of changes created by the state meddling in local education*, might want to find a profession less frustrating?  I wonder.

In closing, here is a thought I added to our ROPE Facebook page a few days ago about teaching.  You may not agree, and I can appreciate that, but I would hope it’s always good to see another’s perspective:

Once upon a time, when I was a teacher, in the days before high stakes testing, I managed my own classroom. That meant, I looked at the PASS standards, aligned my lesson plans to what the kids were expected to know, and I taught them the best way I knew how. I had a ton of animals in my classroom, I did as many labs as I could with limited resources, used videos, computer programs and simple note taking to impart the information I felt it was important for them to know as individuals living in the world. I didn't teach because it would be on the test, I taught because I thought it was important for them to know - the information would help them make sense of the world around them. Why we've turned the process of educating children into a game of who's spending money more accountably, instead of who's teaching kids what they need to know to be well rounded individuals who can be anything they want, I don't know, but it's frustrating to both students and teachers and is leading to education that is anything but educating. We must make high stakes testing stop. We have no choice.

*Does anyone realize that if the money for public education was provided locally for schools and not by the state, local control would take on a greater meaning and schools would finally be accountable to the community they serve – not the larger entity of the state?  Think about it; schools managed by the communities they serve under the guidelines of rules provided by parents via the school board, executed by the administration (not the state).  It sounds like a 'charter' school - with the accountability to taxpayers they don't have. THAT sounds like real school choice. Don't you think that sound like the way it was supposed to be in the first place?  I do!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Student Privacy? WHAT PRIVACY?

I'm warning you, this will be a LONG post, but EVERY PARENT should go through it with a fine tooth comb.

First, I want you to see this VERY SHORT video of Louisiana parent, Brooke Falgout, describing objectionable content in her parish school.

Brooke has apparently received some fallout from this video - parents intimating that what she's describing isn't true because they've never seen anything like this, or their children (who live in the same Parish) haven't told them anything like this, for example.  Fine, everyone is entitled to their thoughts on the topic, but I want to ask a few questions:

  • How much do you know as a parent/guardian about what actually happens in the classroom?
  • Have your kids ever neglected to disclose information to you because a) they were uncomfortable telling you or b) (this is my favorite) they didn't think it was a big deal?  I have.
  • Do you feel yourself educated enough as a parent to know exactly what you're looking at if you were to see something like Brooke is describing staring you in the face?  Translation; do you know what words like "Cyberbullying" really mean in school terms?
  • Do you feel yourself educated enough about the change in FERPA laws that allow data to be collected from all across the web - so long as it can be considered a function of 'learning' - that you know exactly where your child's data is going the minute they log on to any computer in the school?
As a researcher, the minute Brooke began to speak, I got her on camera for one reason - I've seen exactly what she talked about first hand and through my associations with other parents - worse, if you want to know the truth.  Also, as a researcher, after getting Brooke on video, I went out to the websites Brooke reported, poked around and found just what she talked about - and more.

In order to understand what I will say next, you must - sadly - suspend the notion that schools have the best interest of your child at heart.  I know that statement is harsh, but, again - sadly - it is reality today - not out of any desire to harm children - but more as a result of several ongoing conditions:
  • MANY state and federal mandates put teachers and schools in the unenviable position of intermediary.  Many times teachers/administrators are forced to use computer programs or data collection materials in order to get continued funding, or avoid censure of some kind.  Many times neither the teachers nor administrators know exactly what the program does or where the input data goes after it's entered.  Data collection for the Safe and Healthy Schools Program - and 16 other data collection programs - are mandated by the federal government.
  • MANY administrators have developed the idea that buying new and 'better' programs - ironically marketed to them by companies who have developed the programs utilizing student data collection - help run their schools more efficiently while simultaneously creating excitement among parents for the supposed result of the program - school safety for example (do you have to get in your school via a fingerprint/badge?)
  • MANY teachers today are entering the classroom having been indoctrinated in the notion that 'data drives learning' (a pile of drivel immediately disproven by the knowledge that America put men on the moon with rudimentary computers programmed by men just decades out of the one room schoolhouse) and therefore have no compunction about sitting a kid down at a computer for hours in a day in the name of 'learning'.  These teachers may know the amount of data being collected on that student - or know exactly what's in a video - but believe this data will help her better teach that student, and/or the child needs instruction in cyberbullying or alcoholism or fill-in-the-blank, because he/she's sure the child is not going to get that super important instruction at home.
Brooke reported the names of three websites used by her daughters' school:
1.  Gaggle
Brook alleges her daughter had to take a survey that covered:
1.  Cyberbullying
2.  Pornography
3.  Personal questions her family life including details such as whether or not they were given snacks after school
CYBERBULLYING:  Here is a screenshot I took from the EverFi website at the URL

You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it, but please notice that third down it says "Cyberbullying".  Under "Rich Assessment Data" it says, "Data on student knowledge gain and BEHAVIOR (emphasis mine) change can be shared with key stakeholders.  Ignition helps K-12 districts meet the FCC requirements to educate about Internet safety in order to comply with federal e-Rate..." then it stops.  Consequently, I went out the internet to look this up (good thing my computer doesn't have all these exciting internet filters!).

Apparently, in 2000, the FCC implemented the Children's Internet Protection Act.  Schools and libraries who want to receive e-Rate grants (a fund created by Al Gore's cell phone tax to help schools/libraries get funds to install internet or to increase broadband width - handily available for schools needing to update to take the new and exciting Common Core tests) must provide filters to protect students from materials on computers that are (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors.  The federal government upped the ante, however, with the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act Amendment, that directs schools to provide certification of programming that will monitor student online behavior and
"provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response"
before the school/library can receive e-Rate funds.  You can find more information on these Acts here.

So?  What's the problem here?  I don't want my kid able to look at porn on the computer at school.  I don't want my kid to be cyberbullied.  Here are just some of the problems associated with these 'Acts":
  1. What is "appropriate" online behavior?  There is no definition.  It's arbitrary.  So, if your kid isn't liked at school, how easily do you think THIS could get he/she in trouble, ESPECIALLY since schools must monitor student internet use and RESPOND (discipline) to these incidents.
  2. If kids don't know what 'porn' is, the federal government makes sure the school will have to tell kids what pornography is so they know not to get on to pornographic sites.
  3. Read these Acts - they are FULL of loopholes that keep the laws from being followed by the schools and libraries anyway, yet internet software developers like EverFi are going to create the need for the software ("Look, you have to have this program if you want your government money") and sell it while unsuspecting administrators (or those with an agenda) will buy them to use on your kids.
  4. Do you think teachers go through all this stuff and know the ins and outs?  I'd be mad if they did because they should be teaching my kid actual subjects and not made up subjects to mire his mind in garbage.  How much time is this stuff stealing from actual classroom learning?  
  5. There is another federal program called Safe & Drug Free Schools that collects a great deal of data on students in public schools regarding disciplines, behaviors, etc.  These kinds of programs are perfect for populating that database.  Once your child is 'identified' as a cyberbully, they will carry that on their permanent record.
Just so you know I don't have an over-active imagination, I captured the following screenshots from the EverFi website as well.  If you go to their main page, click on the 'solutions' tab at the top of the page and then click on 'health and wellness' you'll find programs for alcohol prevention and sexual assault prevention.  I clicked on sexual assault prevention  and then 'learn more'.  This is what I found.

This program, called Haven, is supposed to be for college students, yet it's on the same website as the Ignition program for middle school kids.  If you choose to teach your children that homosexuality is not a 'healthy relationship' I guess you're in trouble.  Oh, and by the way, students are taught to intervene (tattle on) in any 'unhealthy' discussion relating to 'healthy relationships'.  What is a "healthy relationship"?  On what grounds do students 'get to' intervene?

Here's a screen capture from Gaggle at 

Yes, please tell me what is the HUMAN MONITORING SERVICE!?  It sounds despotic to me.  Then again, the FCC mandates it.  Wait, doesn't it make you uncomfortable, that phrase - Human Monitoring Service?  It does me.  What happens when you take your car in for a check-up?  Invariably, the technician finds something wrong.  It's the way the world works, if you're looking for something 'wrong', you'll find it every time.  Yes, it seems like a great thing that your child is being monitored, but it's not by you.  Do you trust everyone around your child when you're out of the picture?  I don't.  Surveillance such as this on children seems as rife to me with possibilities for finding 'behavioral' and 'discipline' problems as it does protection and if it doesn't to you, history proves your instincts wrong.  This kind of power is only as good as the entity that holds it - ever.

Another very concerning thing about Gaggle, is that it is Microsoft integrated.  Microsoft is responsible for the creation of something called SIF - Schools Interoperative Framework.  SIF is the road upon which all data travels to and from state and federal education offices.  If computers are the buildings, SIF is the road that connects them.  Data companies like EdFi who create 'dashboards' in order to pull in lots and lots of disparate data and conglomerate them in one place, use SIF to send out integrated student files anywhere - across any platform.  Here's a comment by a Colorado administrator, 
"Now, all of our data is in a map, schema, and organization that cross over our entire system for easy integration - today and in the future."  
As I mentioned before, any data that comes into these programs can be easily collected and shared across any platform and/or program - legally.

PORNOGRAPHY:  This is another screenshot from Gaggle I took at this URL  Please notice the built-in 'Anti Pornography Scanner' which scans everything your student could do on a computer...

It takes no real imagination to believe that because the program contains an anti-pornography scanner there would be a survey somewhere to capture whether or not students have had access to, or seen, porn.  Many of these programs can't be seen from the website.  Students must sign on to their accounts at school and that sign on brings with it entirely new access screens.  How will you know what your child is seeing under his sign on?

Blackboard has a unique program.  I took a screenshot of this as well.

See it, text it, document one else sees anything to be concerned about there?  Oh, I know, I heard the same thing with the Patriot Act.  "I don't do anything wrong, so I don't have anything to be worried about."  WRONG.  Personal privacy is just that - PERSONAL.  Collection of this kind of information is not simply an invasion of your child's privacy, it's a direct attack on a student's First Amendment rights because anyone can consider anything 'hate speech'.  Your child may mean nothing by something they have said, but because someone else took offense, your child is now labeled a bully.  

I noticed a website in the lower left hand side of the page to the right of the orange bar - Make Beats, Not Beatdowns.  This website provides ways you can stop bullying while also outlining statistics - especially those regarding gay and lesbian bullying.  As a Christian, I can imagine one of my children going to school and, if asked, saying he/she believes homosexuality a sin.  Voila!  Expressing his/her religious views at school now makes them a bully and subject to clandestine texts to administrators who will then dole out sanctions deemed appropriate for such behavior.

Tiptxt also allows you to report "suspicious" behavior and "mental health" issues.  Please tell me what these are - they certainly aren't outlined on the website. That's the other problem with this stuff - it's completely nebulous and up to the person in charge to decipher and/or define.  School is now a place where your student's behavior must be absolutely consistent with the next student in order to prevent an incident report from creating a digital footprint they will never get rid of.  Erasing digital records is a tremendous feat not easily accomplished.

SCHOOL SURVEYS:  I linked to this article earlier, but I'm going to do so again.  Back in 2012 we published a short paper called, "Secretive and Unwarranted Psychological Testing of Children Does Occur With 21st Century Skills Programming".  I urge you to read it when you have a chance, but this is one kind of survey given to middle school students in conjunction with a federal grant program called the "21st Century Skills".  It is an open-ended survey that allows children to fill-in-the-blank with their thoughts and feelings which are then turned over to psychologists for review.

The most likely culprit for the survey Brooke describes in her video is the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey (YRBS), given to public school students by the CDC in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12th grades.  The Survey contains questions related to

Here are the problems with these kinds of surveys:
  • Parents MUST be notified that minor children will be exposed to this survey as part of the PPRA - Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.  If you are not notified, you have legal recourse.
  • This information is simply no one's business but the parent.
  • Who's to say teenagers don't get more ideas from this kind of detailed survey than they had before they took the survey - education on sensitive issues should be done AT HOME BY A PARENT, not at school by relative strangers.
  • Brooke points out in her video that 'they' (the school) is trying to separate children from their parents.  The questions asked on these surveys are probing to say the least.  Many would be considered embarrassing by many students.  Once the child is exposed to this information it can become hard for them to tell their parents about it.  This creates a division between parent and child which is real and unconscionable.
  • The data for the YRBS is provided to the CDC which provides it to numerous other agencies such as the National Center for Education Statistics, and who knows whether individual students can be tracked through this survey.
I think I've proved Brooke's video statements true on all counts.  I hope, in the process, I've awakened any parents who are reading this to the eminent privacy dangers your child is exposed to in public schools.

  • Homeschool (without using a K-12 - or other - online program which are public in nature and therefore responsible for the same types of data collection and policies), or privately educate your children if possible.  Removing customers from the system is the only way to change the system.
  • Accept the evidence and realize your child's privacy is in jeopardy in public schools and work to change that.
  • Realize YOU THE PARENT have ALL the control.  If you don't want your child taking these surveys, inform the school - IN WRITING - you want your child opted out of the activities you desire and tell your child not to participate if the situation arises.
  • When you find misuses of your child's privacy, inform your school board in writing and then show up at the meeting to address the board with your grievances (FYI: you should attend your child's school board meeting every month anyway as one of your parental duties).  Also inform your state representative and senator because they can help with legislation to help stop data collection.
  • Do not sign a computer release for your child to use the internet at school unless you know EXACTLY what programs will be used and what data will be collected during their 'on' hours.
  • Enforce your parental right to direct the education of your child/children.  No matter what school officials say, they cannot induce a child to do something that is against the wishes of the parent (for the most part - your child cannot be truant for example).  Parental rights are universal and not granted by governments.  Know your rights and be prepared to stand for the privacy of your student when necessary.
Jenni White - 7/30/14

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Oklahoma Standards Writing Process Must Not Be Tabled Again

Yet another state school board meeting has passed and yet again the process for creating the state's new education standards has been tabled.

Honestly, I do not know what to think.  Yes, I can call up a number of contacts and get what could be considered a "run down" of the behind-the-scenes drama (if you will) - and I have - yet none of the background noise matters.  Oklahoma is still left wanting for the start of a meaningful process.

HB3399 tells us the standards re-write process began the day the Governor signed the bill.  The Governor signed the bill the first week of June.  The State Department of Education has produced a standards re-write mechanism and the state is becoming aware of this process as I write.

Let's re-cap the events since the passage of the bill:
  • NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) writes Governor Fallin a letter urging her not to sign HB3399 because it will take away power from the State Board of Education
  • PTA, COSSA, OSSBA, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce (who now no longer have 'education' mentioned on their website in favor of WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT - lovely) and other take out two full page ads in the Daily Oklahoman and Tulsa World urging Governor Fallin not to sign the bill (ostensibly for various reasons)
  • Governor Fallin signs HB3399
  • Four state school board members, parents and teachers (including the OEA teacher of the year) sign on to a lawsuit to be heard in the Oklahoma Supreme Court alleging NASBE's argument
  • The same day the lawsuit is heard, it is struck down in a 8-1 ruling
  • June State Board meeting - adoption of PASS and standards re-write tabled
  • July State Board meeting - PASS adopted, standards re-write tabled
Reminds me a bit of Sir Walter Scott from Marmion - "Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."

I'm not of the mind to rush into a process to create new Oklahoma educational standards, frankly.  I think the faster we go, the less thoughtful the process.  However, we can't continue to table the process indefinitely. Yes, I realize we will have a new superintendent come November, but he or she will not be installed until January.  Yes, I realize the process could be started and diverted into a new process with the incoming super, however, how long do you stall before you simply run out of time to do what HB3399 tasked in the first place - the creation of new EXCELLENT Oklahoma standards within two years' time?

To be frank, I'm not a fan of the proposed standards writing process.  I think when you get too many cooks in the kitchen your dish more than likely comes out unidentifiable and inedible.  I realize that - unlike the adoption of the Common Core - everyone wants this process to be unimpeachably transparent, but I don't think it takes over 500 people to make that happen.

I have had the pleasure of coming to know Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the premier knower of all things English in the United States - widely credited with having written the best set of educational standards in the country.  What if the Governor showed up to the party and suggested that Oklahoma bring in Stotsky and listen to her describe how she created standards of educational excellence?  What if the Governor suggested we move forward, while discussing different, possibly less cumbersome, methods of creating a standards writing/review plan?

Neither the Governor nor the Board want to be accused of stalling, or rushing, because neither situation will engender positive public sentiment, further frustrating the process.  Because of the leadership vacuum created by the loss of our current superintendent in the primary, strong leadership MUST emerge in order to keep this process moving until January 2015.  It seems perfectly reasonable then, to have the leader of our state chime in and publicly nudge the process forward.  With the people of Oklahoma waiting with bated breath for Common Core to rear its ugly head as it has in Indiana - and with the process already having been stymied three separate times since the passage of HB3399 - gubernatorial suggestion may not only decrease the unease of Oklahomans but increase her sagging poll numbers as well.  No matter what, and like it or not, the law stipulates we move forward, and that we must do in some sort of productive way beginning with the August 28th State Board meeting.  Yes, let's take our time and do this right, but let's at least move forward in a productive way, now.