What’s Going On?

When it comes to music, Berry Gordy has proven to be wrong about very few things. He personally started the careers of several of the best R&B performers of all time: Wilson Picket, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, the Commodores, and the Jackson 5, to name a few.

Whats going on

I’ve said before that Stevie Wonder probably is the most talented musician I can name, all around. That said, I also believe nobody from that era had a better voice than Marvin Gaye.

Gordy not only has an ear for music; he also has incredible business sense. The artists he kept on the Motown label had company-approved sounds and looks. Throughout the 1960s, he made sure of this. In 1971, however, Gaye recorded a protest song titled What’s Going On? It didn’t fit the Motown image, and Gordy called it “the worst thing I have ever heard in my life.”

The lyrics are simple. They are a beautiful summation of the social tumult of the late 60s.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

The song is a plea for understanding. It is a cry for solution. It is a song of war and a song of peace, all at the same time. Marvin Gaye (and the other musicians who contributed to the song) looked at all the people they loved that they were losing to senseless violence, from Watts to Vietnam. And they asked, What’s Going On?

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on brother
Right on babe

The 70s weren’t as kind to Gaye as the 60s had been. Less success. Problems in his personal life. Then in 1982, he finally had another huge hit, Sexual Healing, which led to a Grammy win for him in 1983. It was his first. Then, in 1984, Marvin Gaye was a victim of gun violence – murdered by his own father. He had tried to separate his parents during a domestic dispute. In the wake of his death, the world had to ask the question: What’s Going On?

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
C’mon talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on, ooh ooo ooo ooo
Right on baby
Right on baby

Now we watch, 45 years after Gordy relented and finally released What’s Going On to a surprising success. People got it. They still didn’t know what was going on, but they understood the song, and they connected with the idea that we’re not alone out there. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine named What’s Going On the fourth-greatest song of all time. It captures our confusion with its cacophonies and still brings us hope with its powerful beauty.

In 2016, the world still bewilders us. Social media helps us see that we’re not alone in that feeling, but it also helps us see that our hopes and fears are perhaps limited compared to those of others around us. I’ve seen some atrocious statements in the last few days. I’ve read eloquent posts from friends such as Emily Virgin, Dallas Koehn, Shawn Sheehan, and Meagan Bryant.

Meagan, in particular, floored me with her statement. She’s a co-worker and somebody who embodies the culture I hope our district can create. It’s there, in disconnected pieces, but it needs to be something we establish with purpose. Find your calling and pursue it fiercely or something like that.

We have strong and talented young men & women walking the halls of our schools struggling with how people will treat them based on the color of their skin. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who have a calling to go in to public service and struggling with how people will treat them based on the badge they put on. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who are battling with their own identities and struggling with how people will treat them based on their lifestyle. Scared for how they will be treated.

We have strong and talented young men and women walking the halls of our schools who struggle with professing their faith. Scared for how they will be treated.

I hate seeing on the news or reading that another unarmed black person has been shot by police. I don’t blame all police, though. I hated what I saw last night, death and despair in Dallas, but I don’t blame peaceful protestors who had the right to assemble.

There’s something good to be said for vigils such as this. It’s a sort of fellowship among the grieving. You can do that – grieve by proxy.

What you can’t do is seek justice by proxy. I can hate those who kill innocents. I can’t seek revenge on them, though, by finding someone who looks like them and/or wears the same uniforms.

I also can’t watch, as I had to this morning in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, white men on Fox News talking amongst themselves about what black communities need. Nor can I read another diatribe by nationally syndicated columnists who type for a living and feel qualified to explain how police training needs to improve.

The police last night wanted peace. So did the protestors. One sniper, who fits into neither group, wanted something different. On the Today Show this morning, Queen Latifah summed up how most Americans feel better than I can:

I’m Queen Latifah, but I’m black wherever I go. I deal with the same experiences that other people deal with. I’m also the daughter of a cop, I’m also the sister of a cop, the cousin of a cop and the niece of cops. I don’t want the guns turned on police any more than I want the guns turned on us.

Most Americans want peace, but every day, every week, we see more violence. And we feel powerless to stop it.

What’s going on?

Who’s Still Here?

I love basketball. I don’t think I should have to prove that statement, but in case you want some evidence, let me introduce you to my children Jordan, Stockton, and Duncan.

IMG_4766

Pictured: No actual basketball players

Yes, my very tolerant wife and I named our children after professional basketball players. Two of their namesakes – Michael Jordan and John Stockton – are already in the Hall of Fame. In the mid-90s, when we chose the names, this was a foregone conclusion. When we named our youngest after Tim Duncan, he was in his third year in the league. I guess there were no guarantees he’d be a Hall of Famer, but it looked pretty certain. Besides, we threw out the name Barkley because it was the dog’s name on Sesame Street.

Not that you asked.

I say all of this today, though, because Twitter and Facebook and everything else under the power of social media have been losing their minds with the announcement that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has signed with the Golden State Warriors. Here are some of my favorite reactions:

There’s uncontrollable grief…

There’s ridding yourself of reminders…

There’s pragmatism…

There’s the bright side of life…

And then there’s the musings of a politician with a who thinks he has a mandate

There’s also this – a tweet for which I refuse to transcribe the responses in my head…

There’s also this, from a friend who has held season tickets since … well, pretty much since the franchise moved here from Seattle:

JPeezy voice of reason.png

The way I look at it is that Durant weighed all the things that matter in his life – most of which we don’t have any way of knowing – and when he placed them on a scale, leaving made more sense than staying.

KD isn’t dumb. He knows that he’s now a supervillain here. He’s also not a jerk. What he says about how much the city and state mean to him is probably true. Still, this is the path he chose. I can’t know all the reasons why (probably the state’s shriveling support for public education), and I wish he had chosen differently, but life will go on.

I still love basketball, but I only make it to a couple of games a year. That will still be true. The Thunder probably won’t be as good as they were with Durant, but things change. I’ll still root for the team. And I still wish Durant well. He brought a lot of pleasure to the city, and that memory sticks around.

Leaving is a part of life. We can say our words and  move on, but moving on means that we embrace and try to thrive with the people who are still here. The Thunder still have (for the time being) Russell Westbrook, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams – not to mention Josh Huestis.


On the other hand, if Durant had stayed, he could have spent more of his free time schmoozing with the Governor:

“If Kevin Durant thinks about leaving, which I hope he doesn’t — Oklahoma loves Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant loves Oklahoma. But if he’ll stay, I’ll make him a Cabinet person for health and fitness on my Cabinet,” Fallin said.

The announcement drew applause from the room, before Fallin noted that a place among her advisers “might not be as attractive as a couple of million dollars.”

It also might not be as attractive as a vice-presidential nomination. Even though the offer was (probably) tongue-in-cheek, the fact remains that Fallin knows she may have options in a potential Trump presidency. A couple of days after the Durant-to-Cabinet comment, she and other governors met with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Fallin’s name has been mentioned in speculation about the vice presidential selection process, but Trump has not contacted her to talk about being his running mate, said Michael McNutt, a spokesman for the governor.

McNutt said one of the other governors arranged the meeting. He didn’t have the names of the other governors in attendance. Fallin has been active in the Republican Governors Association.

If this comes to pass, should we expect the same response in tears? Rending of clothing? Outrage on Twitter?

psych group hug.gif

No, if the governor were to leave Oklahoma to go back to Washington, we would simply swear in the next guy – Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb – and expect him to handle the job with the same aplomb as his predecessor. That’s all you can do. You work with the people who stay, no matter how you feel about the people who leave.


This has been a mindset in public education in our state for a while. We have people leaving for higher-paying jobs in Texas. We also have the ones who stay in the state but move on for what they perceive as greener pastures.

One of the hardest jobs in education is “turning around” a high-poverty school that fails to live up to state and federal testing metrics. Whether it’s the lame duck A-F Report Cards, the extinct API scores, the Annual Measurable Objectives or other acronyms that we use to rank our schools, there’s no question that high-poverty schools have it tougher. Simply put, there are schools with poverty so low that they’re going to appear at the top of the scale – no matter which scale you lose.

This isn’t an excuse, and it isn’t a reason to quit trying. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that should drive us. I’ve seen principals proud of getting a B or C on the report card because of the growth it showed. I’ve seen teachers driven to help the school reach that perfect API score (prior to 2012) in order for the whole staff to get a bonus (if funds were available – which they usually weren’t).

I’ve also seen the principals who worked three, four, five years to create the climate leading to this change pulled out to open new schools, promoted to central office positions, or recruited to other districts. If they stay, they’re always playing defense to keep their best teachers from other principals who would recruit them.

miss you so much it hurts.jpg

I’ve seen bitter battles over a fifth grade math teacher that centered on the ideas of loyalty and timing. How could you leave this group of kids? They need you so much! Or, how can you wait until July to make a move like this? I’ve seen teachers lose friends among their colleagues, anger their principals, and start wars between personnel departments. Usually, these personal conflicts settle calmly, out of the eye of the public.

The critical question here, though, is why do they leave in the first place? Why would you leave a faculty that you joined when things were bad and with a new principal, when you believed in her and helped her turn the school around? Maybe your family situation changed. Maybe the principal left. Maybe you were tired because of all the extra work that went into that school’s success. Sometimes, you’re just spent.

Should we resent teachers who leave under these circumstances? I don’t think so, but then again, I can find friends who disagree. Instead, we hire the people we need to hire, and we try to give them what they need to help the kids who come to them.


Maybe Durant looked at Oklahoma City and he didn’t see a long-term contender. The Utah Jazz were great – near the top every year – when John Stockton and Karl Malone were on the roster. Then they weren’t, and the team collapsed. The San Antonio Spurs have been a playoff team for about 20 years straight now. Having Tim Duncan will do that for you. They also prove that a small-market team can be a winner. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been irrelevant for several years.


Schools are hard places to work. Some of our teachers leave the profession altogether. Lately, we’ve been seeing this with our support people too. We conduct exit interviews, and we pay particular attention to the staff who take lateral positions in schools that seem just as challenging as the ones they’re leaving. Why? What can we do differently? Is it the leadership? Is it the kids?

By the way, if it’s the kids you’re abandoning, then good riddance. We’re proud of our kids, so good luck wherever you go next.

We look at the information we can observe. We try to make sense of it. In the end, though, we just move on. We’re trying to improve. We have kids to teach. If you’d rather be somewhere else – for whatever reason – that doesn’t change our mission. The Thunder want to win, no matter who is on their team next year. Schools want to teach, no matter who is on the faculty.

For those who choose to show up, I say thank you. If you’ve left, I don’t have time to think about you anymore. I’m just too busy.

And now, #1: It’s for the children.

June 27, 2016 Comments off

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have one day left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.
2. We can’t have nice things.

1. It’s for the children.

Think of the children.jpeg

This has always been the number one reason. It’s why we go to work. It’s why we read books about our profession when nobody is paying or watching us. It’s why we advocate for better funding and policy.

For the children: it’s why more than 30 educators are running for seats in the Legislature this time around. It’s why so many more candidates in all the races have been vetted by pro-public education groups than ever before. It’s why we have Facebook and Twitter arguments about incumbents and challengers, and whether the ones with apples are really that good and the ones with triangles are really that bad.

For the children: It’s why we’ve emailed and called. It’s why we’ve blogged. It’s why we’ve stormed the castle, time after time.

View from Above

For the children: It’s why, no matter how tired and disrespected we feel, we just won’t go away. Some would say that kind of dependability is our fatal flaw. That it’s why things never change.

For a decade, the landscape has declined for us. Less money. More students. More mandates. Finally, something changed. Maybe it was Cyndi Munson and JJ Dossett winning seats that nobody expected them to win. Maybe that’s when so many among us looked around and asked, Why not me?

Maybe that’s when those of us watching comfortably from the sidelines looked around and asked, What can we do to help? We’ve organized and raised money – not much, but enough to help a few campaigns keep going. We’ve used social media as well as we know how. We’ve all chipped in.

Still, the candidates who have put their names forward are the ones who deserve our praise. So many are doing this for the children. Mike Mason. Brian Jackson. Lisa Kramer. Adam Pugh. And many, many more. In some races, I like multiple candidates. What a problem to have, right?

We have more contested primaries than we’ve had in 12 years, and this fall, we’ll have more contested races in the general election than we’ve had in that same span of time. This is as it should be. Races shouldn’t be decided by the fact that one person signed up to run.

The real breadth of the “education caucus” stretches more than 30 people. Those of us supporting them are well-aware that we will win some races and lose some.That’s just politics. Voting means accepting that you don’t always get your way.

To those running: you have my gratitude. For me. For my retired teacher mom. Most importantly, for the children.

 

 

 

Reason #2 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: We can’t have nice things.

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have two days left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.
2. We can’t have nice things.

I was reading Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States recently, and one section in particular really reminded me of the political issues we face in Oklahoma. In the excerpt below, she writes about how the Continental Congress refused to pay for basic supplies for Washington’s troops, leading to a miserable winter at Valley Forge:

Sarah Vowell.jpg

In 1777, the Continental Army was two years old. The officers and politicians suplying the soldiery were no more experienced at getting blankets to the troops than the troops were at standing in a line and fending off Cornwallis and his veteran regulars, fighters well clothed and well fed through an efficient supply system whose kinks had been worked out over generations.

I would like to see the calamity at Valley Forge as just the growing pains of a new nation. It has been a long time since the men and women serving in the armed forces of the world’s only superpower went naked because some crooked towines in upstate New York filched thier uniforms. But there’s still this combination of governmental ineptitute, shortsightedness, stinginess, corruption, and neglect that affected the Continentals before, during, and after Valley Forge that twenty-first-century Americans are not entirely unfamiliar with.

I’m thinking of how the noun “infrastructure” never appears in an American newspaper anymore without being preceded by the adjective “crumbling.” Or how my friend Katherine, a public high school English teacher, has had to pay out of her own pocket for her classroom’s pens, paper, paper clips, thumbtacks.

Is it just me or does this foible hark back to the root of the revolution itself? Which is to say, a hypersensitivity about taxes – and honest disagreements over how they’re levied, how they’re calculated, how that money is spent, and by whom. The fact that the Continental Congress was not empowered to levy taxes was the literal reason for the ever-empty patriot coffers.

 

In other words, we want to complain that we can’t have nice things, but we don’t want to pay to have nice things. It’s something of a sticky wicket.

In Oklahoma, this is why our roads crumble. It’s why our hospitals and nursing homes close. It’s why our schools can’t afford textbooks. We love hearing tax cut and taking our $30. We just don’t think about what that does to the state’s ability to provide for basic services.

None of us supporting those who would buck the system think that the state’s priorities will magically reverse because a few legislative seats change hands. We know that we will always face those who want to send middle class kids to private schools with voucher dollars. They’ve been around for decades. We know we will always face those who want to blame schools for society’s problems. And we know that we will always face outside influences who are funded by the business elite for the very purpose of acting as their mouthpiece.

We also know that we’re in their head. The more and more they focus on thwarting The Blob (as Rob Miller wrote about today), the more emboldened we are. In April, many in power seemed offended, frankly, that teachers would run for office. They’re teachers, after all. They should be at home sowing the patches on the elbows of their tweed and corduroy jackets.

Their opponents don’t think teachers are well-suited to make laws. At the same time, our current senators and representatives feel they are qualified to make policies for teaching and learning. As I’ve said before, I can’t think of another professional board that doesn’t require expertise in the profession for membership. Every member of the state dentistry board is a dentist, right?

They’ve launched third-party attack ads on our candidates.

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And the incumbents claim to have nothing to do with these.

Notice, by the way, that this is another piece of work by the Carter/Barresi group, Oklahoma Federation for Children.

Finally, there have been several editorials in the Oklahoman that mention the “teacher caucus,” including one this morning:

Many of the challengers have been loosely identified as “teacher caucus” candidates who want to increase state spending on schools, often via tax increases. The group Oklahomans for Public Education has released a list of such candidates. The group has endorsed Democrats and Republicans, but clearly prefers the former to the latter.

In fact, if Democrats endorsed by Oklahomans for Public Education were to consistently win, it’s mathematically conceivable Democrats could regain control of the House of Representatives.

I’m on the board for this group. Our membership mirrors the political makeup of the state: more Republicans than Democrats. Yes, we do want to see more spending for schools. Mostly, we want the cuts of the last 10 years to be restored. It’s so unreasonable.

We have no illusion about flipping the House or Senate to the control of the Democrats. I expect Republicans to have control of the Legislature for a long time. Hopefully, to borrow a phrase from the Tulsa World this morning, the leading faction of the caucus will be rational conservatives, rather than the ones who use phrases such as Republicans in Name Only. 

I still don’t really care what party you pick. I care about who you are and the positions you hold. When it comes to public schools, I want full funding. I want local control. I want teachers to have your respect. It’s pretty simple. Oh, and when state revenues are declining, quit giving away tax credits. Just because things are bad doesn’t mean you can’t make things worse. I believe in you.

Our students and our teachers deserve nice things. All Oklahomans do. They come with a price, though.

 

Reason #3 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Janet and Friends

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have two days left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.

In August 2014, the Oklahoma Federation for Children supported six candidates in run-off elections for legislative seats. They won all six. From their press release:

Washington, D.C. (August 26, 2014) – The Oklahoma Federation for Children celebrated the results of tonight’s run-off election, as parents responded overwhelmingly in support of educational choice candidates. All six of the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund supported candidates were successful and strongly believe in empowering parents through educational choice. The most closely watched race was between Melissa Abdo and Chuck Strohm. Abdo, the front runner and an unapologetic opponent of educational choice, was upset by pro-educational choice candidate Chuck Strohm.

The group is still involved in our legislative races. Here is a letter they sent to candidates in April:

Jennifer Carter action fund.jpg

The name at the bottom should sound familiar to you. Maybe this will help:

Barresi and Carter.jpg

The one on the left is Jennifer Carter. The one on the right, of course, is Janet Barresi. Carter was Barresi’s campaign manager in 2010. She was Barresi’s first chief of staff. She has referred to a group of superintendents as “dirtbags,” and her husband writes editorials for the Oklahoman.

Here are a couple of attack ads by their group aimed at candidates in this year’s races:

taxes taxes taxes Kramer attack ad

The people out there who just hate public education because they think we’re indoctrinating the kids have always been there. They always will be. Then you have the Barresi crowd. They love to perpetuate the belief that schools are failing. They more they say it, the more their corporate partners can swoop in and take something.

They want vouchers. They want for-profit charter schools (which, for the most part, are different than the ones we have now). They want to label as many things as they can and create a system of winners and losers.

And they’re not the only ones. According to Oklahoma Watch, dark money is rampant in this year’s primaries:

Independent groups that seek to influence elections have spent more than $300,000 over the past five weeks on Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional primary contests.

Since May 19, $300,716 in independent expenditures have been made to influence results in Tuesday’s election, Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission filings show.

Of the four groups that have made independent expenditures on legislative primary races, an obscure nonprofit called Catalyst Oklahoma spent the most.

The organization, formed in October 2013, has spent $89,120 on advertisements, videos and phone calls in support of three Republican legislative candidates. This includes $17,500 in support of Bob Jack in Senate District 25, $32,500 in support of Julie Daniels in Senate District 29, $10,000 in support of Miguel Najera in the Senate District 21 and $29,120 in support of Tim Downing in House District 42.

The group is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) social-welfare nonprofit and it identifies in its federal filings as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of pro-growth public polices based on the free market principles that are the foundation of a long-term vibrant economy for Oklahoma.”

Charles Sublett of Tulsa, a member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ board of trustees, is listed as the president of the group. The organization’s 2014 tax return also names OCPA, a conservative think tank, as a “related tax-exempt organization.”

The tax form lists four contributors who have given $1.35 million, including one who gave $1.15 million, but the names have been redacted.

Well that’s lovely. Apparently OCPA has yet another tentacle (they might want to get that thing checked out). And they get to launder donations from millionaires, while the rest of us have to observe campaign donation limits. Different income strata, different rules I guess.

Politics has long been about money and about paying no attention to the person behind the curtain.I think we’re all used to it. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to educate ourselves.

For the record, one candidate opposed by both of these groups is Lisa Kramer in Senate District 25. The Tulsa World just endorsed her today:

Kramer is a rational conservative. She isn’t an ideologue determined to fight a social war in Oklahoma City. Rather, she’s a CPA and a mother who has been on the front line of trying to save public education and understands the state isn’t pulling its share of the load.

She favors prison reform, opposes vouchers, understands the role of charter schools and is willing to look at a variety of ideas — from reforming the way tax credits are distributed to how we fund health care — on the basis of what would be best of the state.

I love those words: rational conservative. Those are people I can get along with beautifully. Those are the candidates who put their constituents above their party. I guess that’s why Barresi and the OCPA oppose them.

 

Click here to see why Paul Blair is Reason #4 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16!

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With three days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.

My friend Dallas suggested I spruce up this countdown with clickbait. You know what I’m talking about, right? Headlines like these:

You won’t believe what this candidate did when he thought he was alone!

What he said will knock your bobby socks into the next room!

Click here for proof that Obama is from …..

Ok, you get the point. Generally, people don’t click on articles just for the words. They want to be entertained. They want gifs and images. They want YouTube clips and songs. I try to provide those things reliably, but ultimately, I hope you’re here for the words.

As an English major, I fell in love with words. Or maybe, because I was in love with words, I majored in English. Either way, one of my favorite words, with respect to literary analysis, has always been synecdoche, a rhetorical device in which a part is made to represent the whole of something, or vice-versa.

I’m taking the term and extending it to the mass of candidates running for seats in the Legislature this year. With regards to our focus, pro-education candidates, there are really two groups. One is the group that has the vision for how to help schools have the resources, human and physical, necessary to teach all students. The second is the group that just gives lip service to supporting public education. To know the difference, you just have to look away from their campaign materials.

The synecdoche I have chosen to represent this whole group of candidates is Paul Blair. He’s a life-long Edmond resident, a pastor, a former professional football player, and a businessman. Those are all high-quality check marks. Here’s the video on his campaign website:

It’s a perfectly nice video, focusing on his love for Edmond. Unfortunately, neither this nor his website list anything resembling a policy position on anything, really. Above the video are boxes to donate. Below it are names of individuals who have endorsed him.

Similarly, his flyers offer little in the way of substance. On the issue of education, endorsements come from a Congressman and two men affiliated with private universities.

 

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Here’s another flyer that mentions education:

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He kind of has a position here. He believes that federal and state mandates are “crippling the process and hijacking our financial resources.” Well, most people in Oklahoma believe that. It’s a great talking point. There’s just no substance to it.

Below are some of the more substantive things Blair has said about public schools. Remember, these are his words:

The New American (2009)

For years now we have been taught wrong. Our schools teach atheism and call it science. We are taught a revisionist view of American history, erasing our rich Christian heritage. We’re told that Christians don’t belong in the culture.

Where will truth be taught? The liberal news media? The secular humanism of today’s government schools?

If you think that sounds a little like Rep. Dan Fisher, that’s really no surprise. They’re linked by several organizations, and both have made multiple appearances on the Glenn Beck program. What strikes me about this comment is that he has very little idea of what we do in schools. We don’t teach atheism. We also don’t teach Christianity. That’s not our jobs. Instilling faith in children is the job of their parents. Not even all Christians worship the same way.

As far as the role of faith in shaping American History, I would say that we do cover that. It’s not the main emphasis, but if we’re discussing the First Amendment, the different viewpoints of our Founding Fathers is quite relevant. So is the application and interpretation of this statement throughout the last 229 years:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

This is the opening of the Bill of Rights. It’s placement is not accidental. The Constitution’s framers wanted individuals to be able to practice faith freely. They just didn’t want the government establishing (or establishing ties to) religion. Remember, the men who wrote and signed the Constitution were not of a singular mind on faith.

So when we teach about the War of 1812, the Great Depression, or even Watergate, our discussion should not be framed by the faith of the principal figures. One exception I would give is the Civil Rights Movement. The peaceful resistance to tyranny and oppression by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. The faith of the movement’s leaders and adherents kept their protests peaceful. It preserved their message. It drove the change.

In public schools, we may not begin or end class with organized prayer, and we don’t discuss God’s hand in shaping human history. We also teach science that has science in it. I suppose that bothers him too.

 

But wait, there’s more:

Letter to state leaders (2013)

The Founder’s design was for local control of education. Unfortunately, the school busses in my town still say “Edmond Public Schools”, but they really aren’t. They are the Edmond branch of an educational system controlled by Washington D.C. We voluntarily have sold our freedom for the sake of funds that come from a bankrupt government, that forces conservative, God fearing Oklahoma children to abide by the government mandated curriculum which is birthed by UNESCO with the intent on creating a sustainable earth
without borders.

We have kicked God out of school and replaced Him with Darwin and Marx. If there is no God, then government is the grantor of all rights including my Obamaphone and Obamacare. That is why American Exceptionalism is no longer taught, but evil American Imperialism is.

Rather than teaching our kids to be thrifty, hardworking and self-reliant, we are taught government dependency. Since God doesn’t exist, there is no absolute truth and consequently right and wrong has been replaced with tolerance and intolerance. We are taught that Islam is good and Christianity is bad. We are not taught to be good citizens (as our founders demanded) we are taught to be global citizens. We are taught about “rights”, but we aren’t taught responsibility. We aren’t taught that no one has a right to do wrong.

 

I’ve never been in a school that taught children Islam is bad and Christianity is good. I’ve never been in a classroom in which the teacher taught children there is no god. I’ve seen teachers pray with children. I know many who have with tornadoes approaching. These are the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist who hates things like tolerance and globalism. The converse of these would be intolerance and isolationism.

 

In addition to his thoughts on how we’re all trying to indoctrinate the children, Blair has stood beside Sally Kern when she faced criticism for saying that homosexuality is a worse threat to the nation than terrorism. He hosted a speaker at his church who still claims that the president is a secret Muslim. Even worse, he feeds the people’s hate and fear from the pulpit.

Paul Blair and his followers may not like this, but our country doesn’t always resemble him. Nor does it resemble me. We are diverse. Our schools have people of different faiths. Our schools have students who are gay.

I want them all to feel welcome and safe. And I want everybody else to know that having students who aren’t exactly like them is ok. It doesn’t make anybody unsafe. It doesn’t deny them their rights to freely exercise what they believe.

I believe Paul Blair when he says he loves his hometown. I also believe him when he says nasty things about public schools, and by default, the people in them.

Edmond voters have alternatives. Clark Jolley had a mixed record of supporting public schools.He’s unabashedly pro-voucher, but he also said this year that the Legislature needed to get out of the way when it came to academic standards. Replacing him with a guy who is a cross between Kern and Fisher would be a disaster.

SD 41.png

You have several choices. Some of then are even true supporters of educating children.

 

 

 

Reason #5 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: The Blob and the Penny

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With four days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.

With reason #5, I mentioned the haters. Yesterday, one group of haters in particular filed a new obstructionist challenge with the Oklahoma Supreme Court in an attempt to block voters from deciding whether or not to pass a penny sales tax increase this fall. That group is OCPA Impact, one of the many tentacles of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Their press release spends five paragraphs arguing why voters should reject the initiative. Here’s a sample:

“Oklahomans want a teacher pay raise, not a tax increase, but President Boren’s proposal would impose a major tax increase on families, individuals and small businesses at a time when tens of thousands of Oklahomans have lost work because of the ripple effects of falling oil prices,” said Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact, a nonpartisan advocacy organization in Oklahoma City.

That’s fine. Make your legal case, though. Otherwise we might think that’s only your secondary purpose here.

The gist of Initiative Petition 403 fails to describe key aspects of the proposal, is inaccurate in its description of other elements of the proposal, and contains wording that could potentially be misleading or confusing to voters about the proposal’s effects, according to the challenge filed today.

In January, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of Initiative Petition 403, following a separate challenge also filed by Bond and OCPA Impact.

The majority opinion of the court specifically did not reach the question of whether the gist complied with state law. However, the minority opinion stated that the gist was “dead on arrival.” The minority opinion also stated that, “The gist or proposed ballot title deceives potential signatories and potential voters.”

So their objection this time rests on the minority opinion from January?

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There’s a little more to it than that. They also claim:

  • The gist fails to explain that the sales and use taxes imposed by the proposal will be in addition to sales and use taxes already levied.
  • It suggests funds raised by the new tax will be used to improve college affordability, but the proposal in no way requires this.
  • It inaccurately states that funds cannot be used by school districts for administrative salaries, when the measure only prohibits funds from being used to increase superintendent salaries or add new superintendent positions.
  • It fails to notify voters how the new monies will be allocated, though over 40% of funds would go toward areas other than teacher salaries, with nearly 20% to higher education.
  • It does not mention how the proposal would alter the balance of appropriations authority between the state Board of Equalization and the Legislature.
  • It does not notify voters of when salary restrictions and audit requirements related to use of the new monies would and would not apply, including that the proposal contains no audit requirements for funds directed to the State Department of Education, the Department of Career and Technology Education, or the State Regents for Higher Education.

To prove to us that OCPA Impact is for raises for teachers, they remind us of their bonafides:

During Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session, which ended in May, OCPA Impact was the only group advocating at the state Capitol for a pay raise for classroom teachers in Oklahoma public schools.

To provide a $5,000 pay raise for every classroom teacher statewide would cost about $245 million. OCPA Impact has previously presented over $750 million in options for funding the teacher pay raise without increasing taxes or reducing core services.

Their “plan,” if you will, includes selling off state properties and eliminating tax exemptions on services such as Thunder tickets. These are one-time revenues that can’t sustain raises and tax increases by another name. They have some small cuts to state government, but nothing terribly consequential. They have huge cuts to the state higher education budget.

All this tells me is that  OCPA still has no serious solutions (and that they really can’t stand David Boren). If you need more proof of this, how about this missive from OCPA’s main page this week?

We are the Blob.png

Oklahoma’s education blob—school unions, education schools, and their allies—is becoming unusually shameless in its determination to vote itself another taxpayer bailout. Of course the blob is always on the lookout for another hustle. But in Oklahoma this year, things are getting to a point that might make even Donald Trump blush.

…First it was a ballot initiative, championed by University of Oklahoma President David Boren. If approved, it will hike the state sales tax to fund a slate of goodies for educators, with the bulk of the proceeds going to an across-the-board $5,000 raise for all teachers. That doesn’t make sense for anyone but the blob—even if we think raising salaries is the best way to spend money on education, why do it indiscriminately? Teachers should be treated like professionals, and paid based on performance.

An indiscriminate raise only makes sense if this is a naked grab for money. And what do you know? Boren’s boondoggle would throw $125 million at higher education—i.e., at Boren—“to keep down tuition and fees.” Throwing cash at colleges will help raise tuition and fees, of course, but it will be too late to do anything about that once Boren has his boodle.

Next, in early April, around 30 educators announced they were filing together to run for state offices in the fall. Their platform? To fight for more money for educators. I wonder how I would be greeted if I announced I was running for office to fight for more money for columnists.

 

We’ve been called many things in the time that I’ve been an educator. Governor Keating called teachers slugs. Janet Barresi always complained about being opposed by the education establishment. Now we’re the blob.*

the-blob-1958.jpg

*After I posted this earlier today, Brandon Dutcher with the OCPA pointed out to me that former US Secretary of Education William Bennett actually used the term blob to refer to administrator groups in 1987 and that it is widely used in education reform circles. I was unaware. I guess I learned something today.

Normally, people who don’t like an idea presented in a ballot initiative, they vote against it. Sometimes we don’t get our way. That’s the system of government under which we live. In 2012, the November ballot was lousy with state questions. I voted against most. I still wish others had too.

And how are candidates running for office because they want to do something about the state of public education a threat to the author’s sense of decency? Is that worse than the recipients of ALEC money voting for tax credits to energy companies that pay no (or few) taxes in the first place?

That’s the true purpose of the OCPA legal filing. When they say they want to give teachers raises, it’s a diversionary tactic. They truly want to damage public education. They’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. Therefore, the penny sales tax is antithetical to their agenda. The legal challenge is a delay tactic. That’s it.

Today, a coalition of education supporters had a brief press conference at the Capitol to push back against OCPA:

 

Supporters wore red shirts reading “Yes for 779.”

Anna King, an Oklahoma City parent, called the proposal a comprehensive solution to low teacher pay and funding woes in common education.

She said she was tired of OCPA fighting public education.

“You know, this group has fought against public education every step of the way,” King said. “We’ve had enough. It’s time to let the people vote to invest more in our schools and our teachers. Obstructing direct democracy, especially at such a critical time for our schools, is shameful.”

“For years, I’ve listened to this OCPA group espouse ways to dismantle our public schools, saying there is no such thing as a teacher shortage and they’ve referred to us as the ‘education blob,’” said Tulsa Public Schools teacher Shawna Mott Wright. “To have them now profess they believe teachers need a pay raise, but only in another manner is so disingenuous. They couldn’t care less about seeing schools funded.”

Oh, and my old boss was there too:

This is why it’s important to vote for real pro-public education candidates. It will frustrate the stuff and nonsense out of the OCPA and their ilk. They influence some conservatives at the Capitol, but not all. More and more of our elected leaders would rather listen to their constituents than think tanks and lobbyists. At least I’d like to think that.


In reason number four, I’ll show an example of a candidate who says he is pro-education but really isn’t. Til then!

 

 

Reason #6 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: The Veep Thing

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine six days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?

Last night in Bixby, I ran into two friends who told me they’re really enjoying my countdown to the primaries. They had one complaint. It’s not funny enough. Well if the premise of the #6 Reason doesn’t make you laugh, at least uncomfortably, then you just don’t get my sense of humor. Besides, I’m not The Lost Ogle, but you should read their thoughts on State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger from earlier today. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

I know what I said in yesterday’s post. The presidential race doesn’t matter. Well, it does, but that’s no reason to check out mentally when it comes to our local races. Who we send to the Capitol really does matter more in our daily lives.

T and F 4 ever

A fellow #oklaed blogger recently went campaigning for a state senate candidate. He estimated that only about one of every four people he met knew who their state senator was. That’s bad. That’s really bad.

I wonder, then, what percentage would know who our lieutenant governor is.

Let yourself imagine, for a minute, that Donald Trump actually picks Mary Fallin to be his running mate. And let’s imagine they win. Who is Oklahoma’s governor now?

todd lamb.jpg

This guy  Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb

I don’t know much about Todd Lamb. His campaign website doesn’t provide too many specific policy positions. It’s mainly just the vague things you need to say to get elected in a state with a preponderance of straight party voting:

Todd knows that state government must limit itself and allow Oklahoma job-creators to do what they do best: provide Oklahomans the chance to work hard and raise a family.

While government cannot legislate morality, it can create a framework that promotes the values we hold dear. Government should encourage work and the self-worth that comes with it. We must show compassion and recognize needs among us, but do so without creating dependency.

As a special agent, I traveled the world and regularly worked with hundreds of local and state law enforcement groups. None compare to the Oklahoma State Troopers. They are underpaid, and I remain fully committed to ensuring the men and women putting their lives on the line to protect Oklahoma families are fairly compensated.

See? He’s just saying nice things, that he certainly means. They just aren’t specific policy proposals. It’s what politicians do when they’re just biding their time, sort of like the Bull Durham mindset on speaking to the media. Don’t say anything that could hurt the team.

And so it’s gone for most of the last six years. You can’t find too much out there that Todd Lamb has said about public education.

It’s one thing to make a campaign statement. It’s much more to actually govern, to do something and to have a vision. It’s time to act and give parents more choices.

Hmm…we should probably talk about that.

What we do know about Todd Lamb is that he’s pro-voucher. That’s one of the big ones. Our current governor is also pro-voucher. Not all Republicans are, however. That’s why the House voucher bill needed the speaker and speaker pro tem to cast their vote to save it in committee this year. That’s why a handful of Republicans erupted furiously when neither legislative chamber would take a bill to the floor for a vote. Vouchers are a public education litmus test on both sides.

Vouchers were a policy priority of Janet Barresi. They remain a priority of Governor Fallin. A theoretical Governor Lamb would continue pursuing them. What we don’t know, however, is whether he’d be more effective at enacting his ideas (and by ideas, I mean bills written by ALEC and supported by the Friedman Foundation).

That’s why we need legislators who understand the harm in such policies. That’s why some of my friends in advocacy have been working on their lists and profiles.

Oklahomans For Public Education

Blue Cereal Education

Fourth Generation Teacher

There are gaps and oversights. There are warnings that we can’t spell out in big enough flashing lights for people who neither support our kids nor our institutions.

The main thing is to be informed. Know who represents you. Vote. Whether your choice wins or not, get to know the person going to the Capitol from your area. Build the relationship and do something with it. We need to elect people who will push back against whoever drives bad education policy from the Governor’s Mansion.

Reason #7 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine six days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.

We pay a lot of attention in this country to our presidential candidates. We should; the winner gets the title of leader of the free world for four years. The president gets to pick Supreme Court justices, insuring his or her legacy for years after leaving office. Globally, the president is the face of the nation.

In Oklahoma, Republicans picked Ted Cruz and Democrats picked Bernie Sanders to lead their parties forward. Instead, we will choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as well as some off-brand candidates. Think of them as the RC Cola of politics.

5-stages-of-grief

Nobody I’ve talked to is excited about either candidate, but it seems most of my friends seem to have made it through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. Now they’re interested in the short list of vice-presidential picks for both parties.

Unless what we’re hearing is true, and Governor Fallin could be plucked from our very midst, the presidential race has exactly zero impact on public education in Oklahoma.

Neither party has a good track record recently with public school policy. No Child Left Behind was a bi-partisan law. The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gave more control to the states to enact policy, but I still feel like I’m 15 again, taking Driver’s Education, knowing that my instructor could slam the brakes from the passenger side at any time. They loosened a few strings, but the strings are still attached. Again, ESSA was a bi-partisan effort.

The president (and Congress for that matter) aren’t going to fix the state’s economy. They aren’t going to decide if our tax rates increase, decrease, or stay where they are. They aren’t going to vote on the Penny Sales Tax initiative. They aren’t going to challenge the fact that Oklahoma eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families (because we’re basically giving them breaks on taxes they didn’t pay anyway) while doing nothing about tax credits for companies that essentially aren’t paying taxes either.

Groundhog_Day_Puddle

Nor will the next president weigh in on Oklahoma’s next round of voucher bills, which are as certain to come as Groundhog Day. In February, when we have a newly seated Legislature, they will passionately discuss school district consolidation, deregulation, textbook money, testing, revenue streams, the funding formula, ways to call taxes anything besides what they really are, how to count to 100 working days, academic standards, or charter schools. And when they discuss these things, the new president will still be selecting his or her new cabinet.

I’m not saying the presidential election isn’t important. Of course it is. We want to be proud of our next leader, but I think most of us can agree that we’re all past that feeling. So what’s on the undercard?

I’m an education voter. That doesn’t mean that the other issues don’t matter to me. I have opinions on a number of issues, but some are fringe social causes over which Oklahoma has no authority to move the needle. I care about the well-being of the people in this state, first and foremost. I want leaders who aren’t beholden to ALEC, OCPA, or the Wallyworld Foundation.* I want leaders who represent their constituents, not their parties.

I want a Legislature full of rational, critical, and respectful representatives and senators who can discuss this state’s most important issues without resulting to demagoguery and fear-mongering. Again, leave that to the presidential candidates.

And yes, I want candidates who truly support a strong public education system. We know that public schools serve nearly 700,000 students in this state. The system has to be healthy to serve those children well. The people working in the system deserve to feel respected by the state. They should also be able to support their families with what they make.

What I’m trying to say is that the people we elect to the Legislature impact our day-to-day lives much more than the people we elect to the White House do. We should be more invested in these races than we are in the big one.

 

*name changed to protect the over-sensitive

 

 

 

 

Reason #8 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Tired of saying “only”

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine seven days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”

This article by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World last night highlights the reversal of some cuts by the Tulsa Public Schools:

The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.

In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.

“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”

Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.

Instead of reducing the number of teaching positions by 142, TPS will only have to cut 100. They’re only cutting $6.75 million out of the budget for the 2016-17 school year. Aren’t these ridiculous statements? The truth is that this is the position most Oklahoma districts find themselves in right now.

Public education funding is still lower than it was in 2010. Teachers still haven’t had raises in 10 years. Then again, it’s only ten years, right. And the funding is flat, right? That’s another word I’m tired of saying – flat. It’s lost all meaning.

larson

We’ve all been cutting for months. Three percent here. Four percent here. A change in motor vehicle collections everywhere. The Doerflinger Kerfuffle. A cushion from the Rainy Day Fund, which was nice. Then the loss of textbook money – another hit. One last late revenue failure, just for good measure.

And now, the state finds 100 million that it forgot to allocate. Hmm. What to do?

 

If trends hold and Oklahoma ends the fiscal year with a $100 million budget surplus, two main scenarios have emerged for how the money would be allocated.

“If funds are available to return, Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services can return funds equally to all agencies, or the Legislature and governor can allocate funds at their discretion via a special legislative session,” OMES Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday.

Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said the general revenue fund surplus stands at $166.6 million through 11 months and that even assuming revenue declines in June, a surplus topping $100 million is likely.

State officials made across-the-board spending cuts of 3 percent in December and 4 percent in March because revenues weren’t keeping up with expenditures amid the oil industry decline. The surplus occurred because the March cut was apparently larger than needed.

Maybe they should hold it. After all, it’s only $100 million or so. Seriously, though, I don’t know which of these two choices is preferable. I also don’t know how either option would work.

In Scenario A – restoring funding by percentage to agencies that received a cut – the funds would just go back according to the level of the cuts. This would hit each state agency pretty equally. Still, I wonder if this would be FY 16 funding or if it would be an early supplemental allocation for FY 17.  It’s FY 16 state revenue, so that kind of clouds the issue.

In Scenario B – a special session to distribute those funds – our Legislature reconvenes (after the primaries, of course) to determine which state functions have the greatest needs. This is probably what they should do. Then again, the timing of the funding is a little wonky. Let’s pretend that doesn’t matter though. It’s only a month into the new fiscal year, right? Looking at percentages, higher education had much worse cuts than just about anybody else. Would they restore funding for the agencies that took the hardest hits first?

Special sessions are pricey. In 2013 – the last time the governor called for one – taxpayers spent only $30,000 per day. As then Representative Joe Dorman said then:

Because we did not do our job the first time, we’re wasting taxpayer money, and we’re back here.

I know it’s frustrating to those making the budget that we are seeing such volatility in the factors that impact state revenue. I’m not critical about the $100 million or so that suddenly needs to be disbursed. They’re throwing darts at a moving dartboard. Besides, it’s only about 1.4% of the funds available to the Legislature to appropriate.

None of that is really the point, though. The jobs that hang in the balance, the programs that face elimination, the uncertainty that shadows all of us right now – all of it is because we love our tax cuts more than we love our students, our communities, and our infrastructure. We love the companies that receive tax credits more than the people who work for them. And that’s disgraceful.

One more thing: if you think that showing up to vote next week doesn’t matter because you’re only one vote, think again. Plenty of people will be showing up to vote against public education, and they’ll be coming one at a time, just like you. We just need our ones to outnumber theirs.

Reason #9 to vote #oklaed: The Haters

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.

This one time, at EdCamp, my friend Dallas used a word that really shocked me. No, it wasn’t one of those words. It was January 30 of this year – the first time I had ever met the person behind the social media powerhouse that is Blue Cereal Education. We had attended some breakout sessions in the morning, and as we settled in for a nice lunch among friends, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took the microphone to speak to us.

She gave her preview of the upcoming (now completed) legislative session – her goals, priorities, and hopes. She talked about her first year in office. She was relaxed and comfortable. Then she asked if we had questions. Immediately, Dallas shot his hand into the air, and Joy – oh, Joy – called on him. “Yes, Dallas?”

“Why do they hate us?” he exclaimed, plaintively, and loudly.

I can’t say that I saw Joy’s face in that moment. I was too busy facepalming. When I finally made eye contact with Dallas, and then Scott Haselwood, and finally Joy, and after the laughter in the room had stopped, she responded. “They don’t hate us, Dallas.” At that moment, she made a teacher face. That may have been when I really believed she was one of us. It was that look with the eyes and forehead pointed down, and the mouth pursed as if to hold back certain other words. It was a look with a message. Certainly, it was amusement.

Joy went on to explain the nuances of working within the framework of our system of government and how what the legislature is sometimes willing to do doesn’t align with what the governor is willing to do and that there are these outside entities who influence policy. It was a good answer. It was a necessary answer. And I believe it was sincere.

I also believe Dallas is onto something. There are people and groups out there who hate us. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, let me take you back to 1993. I hadn’t even started teaching yet.

mr-peabody-sherman-1960sI lived in south Tulsa during the year I spent teaching in Muskogee. It meant a fairly long and scenic commute, but I really didn’t mind. I even signed on with a temp agency so I could do odd jobs before the year started and on some breaks. I had a few short stints in factories, and I worked security (all 5’ 8” of me) during the NAIA basketball tournament at Oral Roberts University. On one very random night, I also worked as a busboy at a banquet, also at ORU.

I don’t remember the name of the organization, but I can tell you their purpose. These were people gathered to talk about why public school was bad. I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought I was among private school patrons. I’ve never really had a problem with private schools. It just wasn’t my background or experience. I felt then, as I do now, that public school dollars should not be spent in private schools. I was 22 and very naïve, but I knew with certainty was that public and private schools had very different purposes. We exist to teach all the children we get. They exist to teach the kids who apply and gain acceptance.

I’m clumsy at times. You might say I’m a spiller. Overall, I did pretty well though, moving from table to table, filling waters and iced teas. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I remember what she said, more or less. Public schools will teach your children to be gay, and they’re mired in the social experiment of multi-culturalism. The first part was absurd. I grew up in Norman, for goodness’ sake, and I don’t remember anybody teaching us to be gay. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for electives. Rigor, and all.

The other part – the attack on multi-culturalism – reeked of Pat Buchannan’s failed primary challenge of President Bush the previous year. I’ve never understood this. Our country is proudly an amalgam of multiple cultures. We are not all the same.

Resistance is Futile

The speaker suggested that those who could should pull their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. The rest should choose homeschooling. And we should spread the message about all the awful things public schools were going to teach the children. Most importantly, we should become more active politically and try to pass a voucher law. This was the first time I had heard the term voucher in relationship to public schools.

This was great blog material, but I still hadn’t taught my first day of middle school or high school English. If I had only known then that decades into the future I would share a modicum of renown with Dallas and Rob Miller and all of my other rebel friends, I would have taken good notes. Maybe I wouldn’t even have apologized to the lady on whom I spilled the water I was pouring.

Knowing who they were – which groups and individuals – really doesn’t matter. They’re still there. They write editorials. They post maniacal rants about the books we teach and the curriculum they don’t understand. They publish tripe from the comfy confines of their think tanks. They even follow dentists into offices for which they completely lack qualification. Rarely are they a united front, but they exist, and they do hate us.

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They have a much bigger foothold with obstructionist legislators than they did in 1993. Some of them even hold those offices, for now. They want to lower taxes and starve the beast. They even engage in bizarre conversations on Twitter about lowering taxes to reduce the size of government when all they’ve really done is reduced taxes and let the size of government shrink on its own.

The ones who hold office refuse to make conscious decisions about these reductions. They just let it happen, sometimes as a percentage cut across the board, sometimes as direct hits. You might even say that some get their jollies from it.

Let me be clear, though. I don’t believe that the legislature as a whole hates public education. I just know that some do. Some feel it’s their moral obligation to oppose it. As Kevin Calvey said two years ago:

Let’s face it, public education is a big, black, empty hole and it’s not going to get any better. The rest of the world is hungry and smart and they’re capable. We are the only Western power that doesn’t allow parental choice for schools. The best thing for public education in Oklahoma is more private schools with monies allocated by the Legislature.

On the other hand, Calvey has also threatened to set himself on fire. So there’s that.

This is why we must vote. We can’t let another election cycle pass in which we let those who hate us strengthen their position. I’ve heard that public education is the strongest lobby at the Capitol – from someone who ostensibly likes us but in all honesty doesn’t. It’s time to be the strongest voting bloc in the state, too.

If that’s not enough to motivate you, I’ll give you this in closing. Representative Richard Morrissette, one of 30 Democrats in the House, claims that the state superintendent with whom we parted ways in 2014 is behind some of the dark money supporting selected candidates.

It’s at the 5:30 point of the video clip in the link above.

I can’t tell you whether or not his claim is true. You know if I had proof, I’d be throwing it in your face. I’m a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.

It’s not a single party that hates us. It’s not even the majority of a single party. It’s a significant enough group though, that when the stars align just right, we see more bad policy and less education funding. I’m not naïve anymore. Nor am I jaded. I just have my eyes open, as we all should.

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on this.

  1. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.

It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.

In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.

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When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.

Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.

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We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.

Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.

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Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.

Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.

And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.

This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.

What the $250,000!?!

I struggle to understand some of life’s bigger mysteries. Is Area 51 real? Where do crop circles come from? Why does anyone care what the Kardashians (or any other of the pseudo-celebrities on television do?

Yesterday, the Oklahoman presented us with another:

A state agency that manages tobacco settlement money has created a $250,000-a-year job and offered it to someone whose name was not disclosed.

By comparison, the governor of Oklahoma makes $147,000 per year.

Some have questioned the high salary for the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s new chief executive officer, a position created at a time when many state departments are facing severe budget cuts.

Tracey Strader, 57, who now leads the trust as executive director, earns $120,000 a year and will stay on with the agency, which has 22 employees.

David Blatt, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said it’s unusual to create a $250,000 position for an agency with so few employees, while other, much larger parts of state government, affecting millions of Oklahomans, are run by executives earning much less.

The trust has more than $1 billion in its endowment, funded by settlement money from big tobacco companies. Interest from the settlement is spent by the trust to discourage smoking and boost public health.

“Certainly by the standards of state government a salary this big is almost unprecedented,” Blatt said. “It seems hard to know why they would be willing to double the salary of the existing director and why the name hasn’t been revealed.”

Hey, it’s good work, if you can get it! Please understand that this position will not cost the state anything. As TSET is self-funding at this point, none of this money could have been used to offset other deficits in our budget. Its purposes are very specific. According to their website, they can do five things:

Oklahoma’s Constitution was amended by a vote of the people, to place a portion of each year’s tobacco settlement payments into an endowment trust fund, to create a five-member Board of Investors to oversee the investment of the trust funds, and to create a seven-member Board of Directors to direct the earnings from the trust to fund programs in the following five areas:

1. Clinical and basic research and treatment efforts in Oklahoma for the purpose of enhancing efforts to prevent and combat cancer and other tobacco-related diseases,

2.Cost-effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs,

3.Programs designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans or to enhance the provision of health care services to Oklahomans, with particular emphasis on such programs for children,

4. Programs and services for the benefit of the children of Oklahoma, with particular emphasis on common and higher education, before- and after-school programs, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and services designed to improve the health and quality of life of children,

5. Programs designed to enhance the health and well-being of senior adults.

Yes, the salary is high and unprecedented. Yes, selecting someone for the post and not announcing the name is intriguing. On its face, this is just the kind of government waste and overreach that the right-wing watchdogs at a particular organization would find outrageous. However, as the Oklahoman article continues, we see this isn’t the case:

Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said his organization has been encouraging the trust to use some of its resources directly to help people access health care.

“We believe they should be more proactive in shoring up rural primary care needs, critical access needs, as opposed to advertising and funding grants,” he said.

Small said that if the new chief executive officer is successful in steering the agency in the direction of helping the state pay for public health care, he or she could be worth a big salary.

I did some research. Small typically doesn’t like seeing big government salaries. Nor does he generally think the government is effective at providing education. As he wrote last week in the Journal Record:

Well, the data suggests some Oklahoma public schools are not very efficiently operated. The sheer number of individual school districts, more than 500, means that we’re spending a lot on superintendents who in some cases preside over districts with fewer than 100 students.

That’s not surpising. The OCPA and their strongest adherents in the legislature often complain about the cost of school administration. This is just what we expect.

What Small wrote about cigarette use back in March, however, seems to really contradict his new-found hope:

Government at its core is force, often by burdensome taxation. Our failed criminal justice policy demonstrates that using the force of government to change non-violent moral behavior leads to hurting Oklahomans. Over and over states have demonstrated that cigarette tax increases marginally affect smoking, but significantly decrease the purchasing power for other necessities, including for the most vulnerable smokers and their families.

Our economy is struggling. We can’t afford tax policy that artificially deters Oklahoma consumers from Oklahoma businesses.

If we truly care about Oklahomans who smoke and their families, particularly the most vulnerable, we will help them make wise choices, not use the force of government to hammer them and their families for non-violent moral behavior.

His points are about proposals to increase the cigarette tax. The last sentence, though, shows his true feelings on the force of government. Do you know who else has this force? TSET. And now we know who will be leading them forward:

The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust announced Tuesday Patrice Douglas has accepted a newly created $250,000-a-year job heading up the state agency.

Douglas is a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, a former Edmond mayor and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. House.

The announcement came a week after the trust stirred public concern with word that it was starting a lucrative new position and had offered it to an undisclosed person at a time when most state agencies are facing severe budget cutbacks.

lloyd bridges

I don’t know enough about Douglas to say whether she was a good choice or not. Let’s say she is. And let’s say that under a couple of years of her leadership, smoking decreases significantly and the state saves money in direct and indirect health-care costs.

That still doesn’t justify the salary. Saving money is the expectation for leaders of public agencies. It doesn’t merit this high of a salary for this small of an agency. It’s a slap in the face to everybody else who is dealing with brutal budget cuts in Oklahoma. And yes, I know I’m a superintendent and part of what some would consider to be the problem. That’s an altogether separate conversation.

Oklahoma keeps demoralizing its citizens. This won’t help.

 

Sixteen Days to Something Different

I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.

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If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.

If you want to see more written about the Activities Budget, you can do one of two things. You can read the Oklahoman and Tulsa World coverage, or you can get your own blog. It’s really easy.

What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.

We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.

We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.

We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.

I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.

If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.

I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?

Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.

In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.

Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:

Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.

Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.

Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.

“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.

We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:

On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.

“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.

I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.

dear lord brian jackson is friends with a democrat we are all going to die

Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.when lloyd met brian

For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.

I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and  we can do it soon.

Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:

The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.

“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.

I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.

If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:

What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.

I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.

I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.

Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.

His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.

His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.

Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.

Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.

This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.

So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.

We mean different things by flat, right?

In case you missed the memo, our state’s legislative leaders are selling the idea that they’ve given us flat funding. I’ll try to make the case, again, that they haven’t, when I have more time over the weekend. In the meantime, enjoy this memo we all just received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education:

Elimination of textbook funds has districts scrambling, delays textbook adoption

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 8, 2016) — The state Legislature’s elimination of all funds designated for school textbooks has forced the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to recommend a one-year delay of textbook selection. Although $33 million was appropriated for textbooks in Fiscal Year 2016, legislators zeroed out the line item for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“The lack of appropriated dollars for textbooks is posing serious challenges for districts across Oklahoma,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “At a time when educators are implementing new, stronger standards for English language arts and mathematics, districts will be scrambling to raise funds to replace workbooks and other consumable materials for early reading students. In the meantime, children will continue to be saddled with outdated and tattered school books held together by duct tape.”

Hofmeister noted that school districts have little recourse but to delay the purchase of textbooks for reading and math, a restriction that can be particularly challenging for elementary school students.

“As a result of the funds being cut this year, we are seeing a number of textbook publishers pulling out of Oklahoma,” she said.

Under Oklahoma statute, the State Textbook Committee may delay by two years the textbook-adoption process. Every six years, the committee adopts textbooks for specific class subjects.

The 13-member committee, which is appointed by the governor, is expected to consider the recommendation at a special meeting later this month.

I spoke with two textbook representatives today, and they told me they are not pulling out of the state. However, that’s just two. There are others.

This is just the beginning of the ramifications we will see from this “flat” budget.SDE - Textbook Funds.png

Time: Summary of 6/5/16 #oklaed chat

June 5, 2016 Comments off

Tonight we had a lively discussion about time.

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You might even say it was timely. There were 900 responses in all. If you want to read the full chat wrap, Michelle Waters has put that together for you. Here are some of my favorite responses to the chat questions, along with very little commentary from me…

Q1  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend more time doing in the classroom?

There were a number of good responses here. Generally, we (and by no means do I think I speak for all who participated) want to focus on active learning, rather than memorization and test prep.

Q2  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend less time doing in the classroom?

Again, we want to spend less time teaching kids how to test. And we want to quit teaching electives as if they’re minor league classes for math and English. Plus, busywork is a real drag.

Q3  What does it mean “to value a student’s time?”

Spend time doing what matters. Over the next several questions, we start to see a theme developing. Whether it’s adult or children, bored people speak volumes.

Q4  How important should “seat time” be for how we credit students with what they’ve learned?

I could have been more specific to what I meant. Yes, children don’t learn best when they’re forced to sit all day. Neither do adults. I should have asked about our strict adherence to the amount of time to take a class and earn a credit. Oh well, maybe next time (get it?).

Q5  How much unstructured time (recess, lunch, etc.) should students get during the school day?

We think kids of all ages need more breaks. Still, somebody has to supervise the kids. There are definitely logistics to consider, especially with all the budget cuts and staff reductions.

Q6  How much time outside of the school day should students have to spend doing schoolwork?

Every time we discuss homework on a chat, people get testy. I don’t like it for elementary, and I think it should be used sparingly for middle and high school. If you take AP classes, you should know what the workload is.

Q7  What does it mean “to value a teacher’s time?”

We don’t like meetings, in general, and we’d like a say in the professional development to which we’re subjected. Tegan is right. We need balance in our lives. At some point, we shouldn’t be accessible.

Q8  How can we reconceive professional development to better use the time of adult learners?

In general, collaboration is our preference. That’s something we should keep in mind for our own instruction. The way we prefer to learn is probably the way most of our students would prefer to learn as well.

Q8b  You pick a breakout session at a conference. It’s lousy. Your time is valuable. Do you stay or go? Why?

I try to be an optimist at conferences, but sometimes, I’ve chosen between two things that really appealed to me. If I’ve chosen poorly, and I can tell pretty quickly, I’m on the move.

Q8c  Would your students make the same decision if they could?

The key phrase here is if they could. Obviously, they can’t, but we should know if we have a captive or a willing audience.

Q9  How much time outside of the contract should teachers spend grading and planning?

I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing of teachers who roll in right at their reporting time and rolling out right behind the buses. I also don’t like hearing of schools in which a handful of teachers work 70-80 hour weeks to meet every last physical and emotional need of the students. You’re a professional. You should be willing to go above and beyond the most basic job requirements from time to time. You’re also a human being. You have limits. You need balance. Your own family should come first. If your current boss disagrees, well, we’re hiring. We don’t have as much open as we did a year ago at this time, but we have some positions.

I respect teachers who are consummately dedicated to the kids. I just hate seeing them work themselves to the point that their health suffers.

Bonus Q: How much downtime do you take during the summer? No, really?

Yeah, we live on the edge. I have a stack of Hemingway to read. I’m teaching a grad school class. Many educators are going to conferences, participating in book studies, and driving around listening to podcasts relevant to their jobs.

And because I’m me, here are two classic songs from movies with the word time in the title. Why two? Why not. My blog, my rules.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaAqze81y4Y https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkplPbd2f60

 

#oklaed Chat Questions for 6/5/16

June 5, 2016 Comments off

We often say that all we need in education is more money and more respect. One resource that goes along with both of those is time. I’ll be moderating tonight’s #oklaed chat, and if you want to preview the questions, here you go. At the end of the night, I’ll post again with some of my favorite responses included.

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See you at 8:00. Bring a friend.

Q1  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend more time doing in the classroom?

Q2  Instructionally, what do you wish we could spend less time doing in the classroom?

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Q3  What does it mean “to value a student’s time?”

Q4  How important should “seat time” be for how we credit students with what they’ve learned?

Q5  How much unstructured time (recess, lunch, etc.) should students get during the school day?

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Q6  How much time outside of the school day should students have to spend doing schoolwork?

Q7  What does it mean “to value a teacher’s time?”

Q8  How can we reconceive professional development to better use the time of adult learners?

Q8b  You pick a breakout session at a conference. It’s lousy. Your time is valuable. Do you stay or go? Why?

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Q8c  Would your students make the same decision if they could?

Q9  How much time outside of the contract should teachers spend grading and planning?

Bonus Q: How much downtime do you take during the summer? No, really?

Two Things: Not a Flat Budget; Please Vote

1. I’ve been stumbling around, writing and scratching my thoughts on the state budget agreement for several days now. I have a draft that I’ll probably scrap centered around the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s full of fun parallels between the show’s central premise and the sources of revenue around which the budget is framed.

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In this case, though, we should say that the sources of revenue are made up and the numbers don’t matter. Maybe, if the marginal well tax generates $120 million, as we have budgeted for it to do, we won’t have a revenue failure next year. Sure, it’s never generated more than $20 million, but that doesn’t mean we can’t believe. Maybe if we wish hard enough…

I just don’t want to do that right now. At the expense of my civility, I was working together quite the hilarious post. Instead, just let me be direct.

Speaking as a superintendent, here’s what I know:

  • Due to three state revenue failures (wait for it – there will be one in June), we spent considerably more money in the fiscal year that ends June 30 than we generated. Thus, we have eaten through much of our fund balance (carryover).
  • The systems that typically equalize funding differences among school districts also failed this year. In our case, this amounted to an additional loss of $1.5 million.
  • Next year’s “flat” budget starts at this year’s end point. In other words, the losses endured by districts this school year will be felt again next year. If districts don’t cut spending, they will again spend more than they receive. That can’t go on forever.
  • The budget was made flat, in part, as I referenced above, by counting on revenue sources that will never generate the funds that are in the official state budget. It was also aided by emptying the State Department of Education’s Activities Budget. This includes money for textbooks, alternative education, and the Reading Sufficiency Act, among other things. For Mid-Del, this is an additional loss of more than a million dollars.
  • I know I’m not the only superintendent who believes that the budget will hold until after elections. Then, and only then, will we face another revenue failure and more mid-year cuts.
  • Nothing about the forecast for our state’s economy tells me we’ll be dealing with anything better next year.

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2. The points may not matter, but your vote does. So does that of your representatives and senators. SB 1616 passed the Senate by a vote of 30-16. It passed the House by a vote of 52-45. All the Democrats voted no. Many Republicans joined them. For some, it was because the budget contained elements that resembled tax increases. For others, it failed to address the reasons our budget has collapsed in the first place.

Sen. Mike Mazzei was blunt about his disappointment:

I argued against the budget on the Senate floor and voted against it for the following reasons:

1. The budget is once again propped up by one time money sources and borrowed dollars totaling $620 million.
2. Borrowing $200 million to prop up state’s expenditures could lead to a credit rating downgrade.
3. We did not restore funding from the FY16 automatic cuts to k-12 education and education funding as a percentage of overall revenues since I have been a State Senator has now fallen from 36% to 27%.
4. In spite of numerous promises after last year’s budget, we did not give teachers a pay raise. Legislator pay ranks in the top 20 nationally while Oklahoma teacher pay has sunk to 49th.
5. Although we did pass several tax reform bills which I wrote to save $262.8 million, our finance reform efforts did not address the super expensive wind power tax credit which will cost the state nearly $100 million this next fiscal year.
6. Without a teacher pay raise, insufficient funding for k-12 schools and a whopping $90 million cut to higher education we provided no alternative to the tax payers for the November ballot question to increase the Oklahoma sales tax by 20%.
7. In spite of a lot of talk at the beginning of session, no $1 million plus state agencies were consolidated or eliminated.
8. Also discussed significantly at the beginning of session were necessary changes to the so called “off the top” money that is diverted to special projects. Much of this is state tax payer money that funnels back to the counties. We did a big $0 of this much needed reform.
9. When the budget agreement was announced on Tuesday, Senators were assured that the mega expensive wind tax credit cost would be reduced, but the Oklahoma House failed to fulfill that end of the negotiated bargain.
10. The very successful ROADS program which has grown over 200% since 2008 will still receive its automatic $60 million increase even though revenues are down approximately 12%.
11. To avoid another financial crisis next year, General Revenues will have to increase over 10% next year. There is simply not enough growth in our national or state economy at this point for even 3% revenue growth.
12. The Oklahoma House increased their expenditure amount by $1.8 million. Shocking!

An extraordinary financial mess requires extraordinary financial fixes. Half measures and borrowing money just doesn’t cut it. The Senate did not push hard enough for major financial reforms and fiscal prudence. Sadly, that which matters most, producing an ever increasing number of college and career ready graduates was short shrifted once again.

To his credit, Mazzei tried all session to get his fellow Republicans to roll back the most recent round of tax cuts. The benefit to the working class Oklahoman is negligible. The cost to state agencies is tremendous. As I keep saying, there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you.

Senator David Holt, in comments to the Oklahoman was more succinct: 

“The thing that is disappointing to me the most this session is Oklahomans were paying attention to the priorities of this legislature more than in the six years I have been here,” Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said. “But as that attention increased our focus on the budget seemed to actually get worse. We didn’t respond to that attention in the way that I think we should have.”

I can’t argue with that. We are definitely paying attention more than ever. And as a body, the Legislature failed to meet that challenge. The government as a whole did, in fact. The governor presented ideas. So did individuals in the House and the Senate. Whether it was a three-cent increase to the gas tax or a buck-fifty per pack of cigarettes, or – God forbid – accepting $900 million in federal funds to expand Medicare and stabilize one of the safety nets in place for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, we couldn’t come to any agreement. We didn’t make progress.

We rolled back tax credits for the poor, but we didn’t touch the hundreds of millions that we give to corporations that pay back nothing:

Some state lawmakers justified their decision to curtail a tax credit for the working poor by declaring that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing people who owe no income taxes in the first place.

But the state has several tax breaks on the books that do essentially the same thing for businesses. Through a combination of direct refunds, rebates and tax credit “transfers,” companies with no income tax liability are receiving cash subsidies.

In some cases, the state pays the money to them directly. In some cases, they get the cash by selling credits they can’t use to taxpayers who can use them.

You should read the entire Oklahoma Watch article. It’s infuriating.

Meanwhile, our schools, our prisons, our roads, our nursing homes, and our hospitals are in serious trouble. Our governor may be the co-chair of the Republican National Party’s platform committee, but our government is broken. Argue that point with me. I’m waiting.

All of this is a direct result of the people we elect. Register to vote (by June 3rd). Know your representatives and senators. Many of them face viable primary opponents, as well as November challengers.

Call them. Email them. They still want to hear from you. Let them know that no matter their intentions, the results are unacceptable.

Cut after cut, year after year, our children pay the price. Our whole state does.

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Everything is made up, and the numbers do matter. The budget numbers matter. The voter registration numbers matter. The votes in four weeks matter…but only if you do something about it.

Two messages: one on testing, one on purpose

1. Yesterday, HB 3218 passed the House by a vote of 95-1:

Oklahoma students currently are required to pass four of seven tests in specific subject areas in order to graduate.

The bill would remove the requirement for the end-of-instruction tests, which would no longer be required for high school graduation.

The state Board of Education would be authorized to create new graduation requirements. The board, in cooperation with other entities, also would be asked to develop a statewide system of student assessment, which would be subject to approval from the Oklahoma Legislature.

The bill would make the 2016-17 school year a transition year and would require students to take the new assessment or assessments beginning in school year 2017-18.

If the Senate passes this bill and the governor signs it, we would have a slow transition away from End-of-Instruction exams, and the ACE graduation requirements would be a thing of the past. Graduation should not be linked to testing, and for that alone, I am grateful. With four days to go in the legislative session, I hope this bill keeps moving forward and becomes law.

As Rob Miller wrote last night:

With today’s action in Oklahoma, along with similar movements across our nation, I hope we are starting to recognize that education and success in life is more than doing well on a bubble test. And how a young child performs on any standardized assessment given on any one day of their life will NEVER be an accurate measure of their potential value to our world.

Human beings are not standardized and no set of standards, no curriculum, and no assessment will ever capture the true essence of what it means to be an educated person, or a person of efficacy.

The message HB 3218 sends is that our Legislature is beginning to understand this. They’re listening to educators, parents, and students more than ever before.

2. I’ll avoid discussing the budget today. By the end of the week there will be one. Of that I’m certain. Whether it will protect education, trample on the state’s poorest citizens, or resemble something Lewis Carroll would have written – that all remains to be seen.

Instead, I’ll stay positive. Below is a video from one of our middle school students to our teachers.

This is one of the videos we took of students at the end of the school year. After seeing her speak, I wanted to meet her, so I did. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent.

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I don’t know how many thank you messages we recorded in all from our students to their teachers, but I know the whole video made the end of the year even more special.

Even if your year has already ended, think about the students we serve and what they mean to us. If you’re fortunate, they’ve shared their gratitude with you too.

 

 

 

Your life is not a gif

I’ve had a couple of days away from budgets and politics. In case you too need the respite, here is my commencement address to our three graduating classes of 2016:

Graduates, congratulations! Parents, congratulations! Teachers and principals, congratulations! Today we’re celebrating hundreds of individual accomplishments, but we’re also celebrating the collective contribution of each of you here. These students enter the world from high school – whether it be college, work, or anything else – on the heels of the caring adults who have taught them. They enter the world with the friendships They’ve  developed during this time as well.

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Students, you come here today with memories and hopes and dreams. You have goals and ambitions. You have certainty, and yet you face the unknown. I’ve talked with many of you. I know you have plans for the next four years, and then the 10 years after that. Well hold on for the ride. Some of what you have planned will unfold exactly as you expect it to. And then some won’t.

There’s no perfect blueprint for adulting – that’s a word I’ve learned from my own children who have entered post-high school life. Well, it’s not really a word, but a short time ago, many of the things we say now weren’t officially words either. When I was in high school, there was no Internet. One of my favorite words – blog – is only a little more than a decade old. The words photobomb and re-tweet were just added to the dictionary last year.

Another of my favorite words, though, is gif – G-I-F. You may think it’s a recent addition to the language but it actually dates all the way back to 1987, when I really was in high school. It’s an acronym that we use as a word. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Those of us who are on social media much at all think of gifs as short intervals of video that are cut to form a continuous loop. Basically, they’re the same five or ten seconds repeating again and again and again.

They’re funny. They’re sometimes effective tools for illustrating a point. And sometimes, they’re just obnoxious ways for cat owners to express themselves.cat continuous loop.gif

What they are not, however, is a blueprint for adulting. You don’t want to repeat the same 10 seconds of your life over and over, and you certainly don’t want to repeat someone else’s life over and over again. It’s your future out there. They’re your decisions to make – your triumphs, your mistakes, your struggles, your accomplishments.

When the good things you’re bound to experience happen, treasure them. Take pictures and videos. Tweet them to friends and family. Throw them out on Instagram and Snapchat. Add captions. Relive them through the magic of Timehop, or whatever comes next in the way of social media. Getting caught up in a moment is a great thing sometimes. Just don’t be stuck in an endless, repeating loop.

skills.gifAs you exit high school, you have a certain number of choices before you. What you’ve done to this point has helped determine whether that’s a high number or low number. As you get older, you’ll still have choices to make. You can choose a career path now, and you can change your mind in a couple of years. It’s easier to do that at 20 or 22 than it is at 33 or 44 or 55. The older you get, more people will be impacted by the choices you make.

I can just think of two critical things you don’t want, though. One is to let other people determine who you should be. As hard as it is for your family to hear sometimes, you are the person who has to figure that out. Nobody else gets to choose where you live, how you make money, or even what you want to name your children. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have an endless stream of unsolicited advice. Sometimes it will even feel like pressure. Just remember, though, sometimes the best path is the one nobody saw coming.Dobler

The other thing is not to let your life unfold so that you look back on high school and say, Those really WERE the best years of my life. Don’t peak at 18 or 19. Even if you loved every minute of high school – and I know you did – make the next four years even better. Then, make the next four years even better than that. You can always climb higher than where you are right now.

And when you hit a rough patch along the way – whether it’s because you made certain choices, or it’s because sometimes, bad luck just lands on us – figure out what went wrong and change your path. Don’t spend another year, or four years, or 10 or 20 years, beating yourself up, wondering what went wrong.

Your life is not a gif. As much as you don’t want to keep a highlight reel on in the background at all times, recycling the same moments again and again, you definitely don’t want to relive the unfortunate times more than you have to.

It’s a great world out there. It’s huge. It’s great to be a (Bomber/Eagle/Titan), but you can be even more than that. Some of you are going to be Raiders, or Sooners, or Cowboys, or Bronchos, or any number of other things. You’re going to become mothers and fathers, and someday, in the very distant future, even grandparents. You’re going to go to work, and some of you will even become somebody’s boss.

using that wordAnd when you do all of this, when you’re smack-dab in the middle of adulting, I hope you’ll look back at your time in high school – really, at all ages of schooling – as something better than a gif. I hope you’ll see it as a gift – that’s with a T on the end. Wherever you go in the world, I hope you’ll see the value in educating our youth, and building this country’s future.

Leave home. Come back and visit. Email your principals, counselors, and teachers and let them know how you’re doing. Call your parents often. Never forget your roots. They’re what give you the strength to pick the path that’s ahead of you – the path you choose, whether it’s the one less-traveled, or the one with all the tread.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’16!

 

A Teacher’s Open Letter to Legislators

I’ve written enough this week, but I still have more blogging to do. Maybe it’s time for another voice, though. For that, I’ll turn to long time blog follower and Bixby Public Schools educator, Jessica Jernegan.

From Facebook:

In light of my less than productive capitol visit on Tuesday, and today’s legislative foolery, I just can’t keep this saved on my desktop any longer. Take or leave it, just my (frustration induced) two cents.

An Open Letter to Our Oklahoma State Legislature:

First and foremost, these suggestions do not apply to all of you, so let me say, just as I do in my classroom, you know who you are.

Below you’ll find just a few humble suggestions from a disheartened teacher who’s had enough.

1. STOP WASTING TIME on legislation that is both pointless and fiscally irresponsible. When we can define bills as, “an emotional distraction,” you’re not doing your job.

2. When teachers, parents, and administrators from your districts make the drive, week after week, to the capitol to meet with you, SHOW UP. There is never, and will never, be a situation at our schools in which we tell kids/parents “she’s gone for the day.” You are, by definition, a representative, act like it.

3. It is absolutely despicable that it is currently May 19th and we don’t have a BUDGET. I can guarantee you one thing, if your jobs depended upon it, as ours do, it would be done. Do your part to retain teachers in our state. Don’t leave them in limbo, wondering about their employment, or lack there of, while you waste time on issues that are irrelevant in the face of our current crisis.

4. RESPECT us as professionals. When we talk with you about state mandated testing, student impact, teacher evaluations, school funding, and teacher salaries, LISTEN TO US. We know what we are talking about. Give us the same professional courtesy you give your doctor. We care about the health of our public schools and the future of the students they serve. Treat us as if our opinion matters and is valid, because it does, and it is!

Thank you to those to which these suggestions do not apply, keep fighting the good fight. You know who you are.

Respectfully,
Jessica Jernegan
Proud Oklahoma Teacher

To that, I’ll just add that Oklahomans are watching. Get a budget passed. Make sure it’s grounded in reality this time. We’ll be voting accordingly.

 

One Shell of a Shell Game

 

Yesterday during lunch, I wrote about a re-emerging threat to Oklahoma teachers: the plan to cap insurance expenses and pretend to give teachers raises. So far, that hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s one of many last ditch plans to “fix” the Oklahoma budget and its $1.3 billion hole.The problem with a lot of these plans is that they pop up at the last minute, often leaving us with dire, unintended consequences.

Speaking of unintended consequences, apparently, that wasn’t supposed to be public information yet:

Hickman said even he was confused when committee substitutes to House Bills 3213 and 3214 began appearing in representatives’ email inboxes shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, with the notation that they had been added to the agenda of a 1 p.m. Appropriations and Budget Committee meeting.

Currently, I count 12 bills in the House alone that aim to “help” with the budget in general, and in theory, with teacher pay too. I may have missed something, though. Let me quickly run through them, providing very little commentary for most.

HB 3205 This measure would shorten the window for recollecting overpayment of sales tax from three to two years. The fiscal impact statement attached to it estimates the state would keep an extra $10 million per year. This bill has passed the House. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, if you’ve overpaid, you should get your money back. On the other hand, I don’t expect the OTC to keep files open indefinitely.

HB 3206 – The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) will analyze reserve funds available and compare them with cash flow needs of the state. This bill has been sent to the Governor for signature, but there is no fiscal impact statement.

HB 3207 – This bill simply orders the Grand River Dam Authority to transfer $9.5 million to the state’s General Fund. It hasn’t been heard on the floor yet.

oklaed tagHB 3208 – This is a funky one. Every Oklahoman who owns a car would be required to get a new car tag – ostensibly a shinier one – you know, for safety, and for the kids. This increases our costs, and for no good reason. Besides, I already have a tag I really like.

The bill has passed the House, even though none of the $18.5 million generated by this action would hit the General Fund.

HB 3209 – This bill would require OMES to make cuts to apportioned allocations in the case of a state revenue failure – you know, like the ones we’ve experienced this year. The interesting part is that some funds can be cut by less:

When the certification by the State Board of Equalization for the forthcoming fiscal year General Revenue Fund is less than that of the current fiscal year certification, all revenue apportionments made by the Tax Commission shall be reduced by the same percentage, except for the following:

1. Education Reform Revolving Fund;

2. Apportionments of revenue to any of the following: a. Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, b. Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, c. Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges, d. Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System, e. Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma, and f. Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System;

3. The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program;

4. Any apportionments provided for by law in order to fulfill commitments made by the State of Oklahoma pursuant to any compact with a federally recognized Indian Tribe;

5. The Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund;

6. Any apportionment of revenue to a county or other political subdivision for the purpose of road, bridge or other transportationrelated funding;

7. The General Revenue Fund;

8. The Building Bonds Sinking Fund;

9. Any apportionment required for payment of incentives pursuant to the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program Act; and

10. Any apportionment required for an internal fund of the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

You know, the bill doesn’t say that any of these ten funds will be cut less. It just says they won’t necessarily receive the same percentage cuts. In theory, that means they could get cut worse. That’d never happen, right?

HB 3210 – This bill would raise cigarette taxes in hopes of generating about $190 million in new funding per year. Or it will make smokers buy their habit at a duty free shop instead of a convenience store. Or they’ll quit. That’s probably a smart decision too.

HB 3211 –  Once you’ve given up smoking, you’ll want to give up drinking low-point beer too. This bill nearly quadruples the state tax on watered-down suds. The fiscal impact statement estimates an increase of $46 million/year to the state.

HB 3212 – Again, we’re raising taxes through legislative action. Grover Norquist won’t be happy! This time, it’s a three-cent tax on each gallon of gas, and it goes away if the average price of a gallon in Oklahoma hits $3.00. Honestly, this is probably feasible. A lot of gas is bought here by people just passing through. To me, it’s similar to cities with a robust tourism industry taxing hotels. This could be another $41.5 million. That being said, the committee vote was 9-14. It’s dead. Or dead-ish.

Nothing is really ever dead at the Capitol. That’s why some of my friends and I are still watching for a phantom voucher bill.

HB 3213 – This is a really interesting one. When you click on the text of the measure, all you see is static language of a shell bill. Nothing happens. When you look at the bill summary for the committee substitute, it’s funkadelic:

Research Analysis

The committee substitute for HB3213 refers to a vote of the people numerous changes to the Oklahoma sale and use tax code. If approved, the measure would increase the state sales and use tax rate from 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent and expands the list of services and property subject to sales or use tax.

The list includes: water, sewage and refuse from a utility or public service company; computer programming, design and analysis services; repair, installation, delivery and maintenance services when provided in conjunction with the sale of tangible personal property; pet grooming services; landscaping services; storage of furs; marina services; carpet and upholstery cleaning services; laundry, diaper and dry cleaning services; swimming pool cleaning and maintenance services; exterminating and pest control services; tire recapping and retreading services; computer software that is electronically delivered; digital products; auto repair services; video programming services; leases and rental of aircraft; overnight trailer park rental; telephone answering services and welding services.

Revenue from the increased rate would be used to fund a teacher pay raise, which is authorized by a companion measure, HB3214. In the event that HB3214 is enacted into law and voters do not approve the changes proposed in HB3213, then the teacher pay raise would not be authorized.

The measure would also modify the apportionment of sales and use tax to various funds effective January 1, 2017 and each year thereafter.

Changes in Apportionment by Percentage:

-General Revenue Fund would decrease from 83.16 percent to 71.74 percent;

-Education Reform Revolving Fund would increase from 10.46 percent to 23.17 percent;

-Teachers’ Retirement System Dedicated Revenue Revolving Fund would decrease from 5.0 percent to 4.29 percent,

-Oklahoma Tourism Promotion Revolving Fund and Oklahoma Tourism Capitol Improvement Revolving Fund would decrease from .87 percent to .7475 percent.

-Oklahoma Historical Society Capital Improvement and Operations Revolving Fund wou;d decrease from .06 percent to .0525 percent.

Fiscal Analysis The measure is currently under review and impact information will be completed.

So the House is proposing a state question to compete with David Boren’s penny sales tax. How diabolical!

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We’re going to raise the state sales tax by four-tenths of a percent, and we’re going to tax your lawn guy and pool boy. Need new brakes? That’s a tax. Interesting move. I’m sure we’ll enjoy reading the actual bill when it appears too.

HB 3214 – As I wrote yesterday, this bill has no text online other than the static shell bill language. There are also no amendments, committee substitutes, or fiscal impact statements posted.

Supposedly, this bill will turn into the vehicle by which the House tries to fake giving us a raise by taking our Obamacare away from us. We can’t see that from here, but I trust people who know.

I also trust math. Supposedly, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has driven up the rates of teacher health insurance. Below are the monthly premium costs for HealthChoice High since 2008. The first year that premiums would’ve been affected by ACA would be 2011.

Calendar Year  Monthly Premium  (FBA)  Dollar Increase Annual Percent Increase
2008 $364.24
2009 $409.12 $44.88 12.32%
2010 $442.80 $33.68 8.23%
2011 $449.48 $6.68 1.51%
2012 $449.48   – 0.00%
2013 $463.99 $14.51 3.23%
2014 $484.87 $20.88 4.50%
2015 $499.42 $14.55 3.00%
2016 $526.88 $27.46 5.50%

The truth is that insurance costs have been rising for decades. Obamacare doesn’t seem to have stopped it, but it doesn’t seem to have accelerated it either. If you love saying it and riling people up, that’s great. It’s also a distraction. It’s completely irrelevant to a discussion about teacher pay.

HB 3215 – This one really confuses me. The posted bill is a shell. No amendments, bill summaries, or committee substitutes have been posted. Yet Monday, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted it down by a 16-18 vote. I don’t even know how that works.

HB 3216 – All shell. No amendments, summaries, fiscal impacts, or votes. Anything could happen here.


In summary, it’s not fair to say our Legislature hasn’t been doing anything. They’re sliding shells around the table and courting Constitutional challenge. They’re doing anything but admitting that their policies – their tax cuts – have had anything to do with the budget shortfall our state faces. It’s not all of them, but it seems to be a lot.

Somewhere in these bills, there’s a solution. It’s probably just hiding in plain sight.

Just so you know…

The House of Representatives plans to discuss HB 3214 this afternoon. All we can find on line is a one page shell bill:

STATE OF OKLAHOMA

2nd Session of the 55th Legislature (2016)

HOUSE BILL 3214

By: Sears and Casey of the House

and Jolley and Treat of the Senate

AS INTRODUCED

An Act relating to revenue and taxation; enacting the Oklahoma Revenue and Taxation Act of 2016; providing for noncodification; and providing an effective date.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:

SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law not to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes reads as follows: This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Oklahoma Revenue and Taxation Act of 2016”.

SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2016.

55-2-9980 MAH 05/12/16

That’s it. That’s the whole bill. According to House Minority Leader Scott Inman, though, there’s more:

Inman 3214

This simply is not ok. Any attempt to cap teacher health benefits in the name of a raise is a farce. Please contact your representative (or four or five) and let them know you’re watching. Even though we can’t see what the bill they’ll be discussing, that doesn’t mean we have to be in the dark.

Legislator Name Phone         Email
Bennett, John R. (405)557-7315 john.bennett@okhouse.gov
Billy, Lisa J. (405)557-7365 lisajbilly@okhouse.gov
Brown, Mike (405)557-7408 mikebrown@okhouse.gov
Casey, Dennis Ray (VC) (405)557-7344 dennis.casey@okhouse.gov
Coody, Ann (405)557-7398 anncoody@okhouse.gov
Cox, Doug (405)557-7415 dougcox@okhouse.gov
Hoskin, Chuck (405)557-7319 chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov
Inman, Scott (405)557-7370 scott.inman@okhouse.gov
Johnson, Dennis (405)557-7327 dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov
Martin, Scott (405)557-7329 scott.martin@okhouse.gov
McCall, Charles (405)557-7412 charles.mccall@okhouse.gov
McCullough, Mark (405)557-7414 mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov
McDaniel, Jeannie (405)557-7334 jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov
McDaniel, Randy (405)557-7409 randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov
McPeak, Jerry (405)557-7302 jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov
Morrissette, Richard (405)557-7404 richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov
Nelson, Jason (405)557-7335 jason.nelson@okhouse.gov
Ortega, Charles (405)557-7369 charles.ortega@okhouse.gov
Osborn, Leslie (405)557-7333 leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov
Ownbey, Pat (405)557-7326 pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov
Peterson, Pam (405)557-7341 pampeterson@okhouse.gov
Rousselot, Wade (405)557-7388 waderousselot@okhouse.gov
Russ, Todd (405)557-7312 todd.russ@okhouse.gov
Sanders, Mike (405)557-7407 mike.sanders@okhouse.gov
Sears, Earl (C) (405)557-7358 earl.sears@okhouse.gov
Sherrer, Ben (405)557-7364 bensherrer@okhouse.gov
Wesselhoft, Paul (405)557-7343 paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov
Wright, Harold (405)557-7325 harold.wright@okhouse.gov

Two Things: Remember the One Thing

May 17, 2016 Comments off

Quickly this morning, I want to tell you what I told my Leadership Team this week. I know we’re crazy busy. We’re stressed over budgets. Ending the year and planning the next one amid uncertainty is driving us mad.

For my district, though, this is our last week with this group of kids. Find moments to put the stress aside. Enjoy the senior breakfasts, awards dinners, super kids days, and graduations. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we stress in the first place.

Instead of a song or a meme today, I’ll just give you two quotes:

  1. After all, life hasn’t much to offer except youth, and I suppose for older people, the love of youth in others. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. – Zora Neale Hurston

One week: remember the one thing that matters.

And fine, here’s one song:

A-F: Flawed Now and Forever

This morning’s Oklahoman had a real surprise: an article by Ben Felder linking the state’s A-F Report Cards to the poverty level of schools. The connection between the two isn’t a surprise. It’s the placement of such a story.

A-F Oklahoman.jpg

Yep, that’s the front page of the Oklahoman. When I awoke this morning, I had messages and tweets telling me all about it. One tweet in particular pointed out that I had in fact made a similar connection on this blog – in 2012.

Yes, when Oklahoma issued the first A-F Report Cards in 2012 – using a formula that was even worse than the one we have now – I pointed out that the scores favored schools serving more affluent populations. Nonetheless, the Oklahoman supported the report cards on its editorial page.

Those who attribute good school grades to socio-economic factors are off the mark. Several A schools were in rural communities that aren’t concentrations of wealth and privilege. The poverty rate in Canton is higher than the statewide rate. Average household income is 14 percent lower than the statewide average. Yet Canton High School got an A.

Yes, you can always cherry pick the exceptions. Overall, though, poverty was a strong indicator of a school’s grade.

statterplot.png

For that post, I also looked at the specific distribution by site, for the schools with the highest and lowest poverty rates.

Here is the grade distribution of the high-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of High-Poverty Schools
A B C D F
2 8 32 46 2

Here is the grade distribution of the low-poverty schools:

Letter Grade Distribution of Low-Poverty Schools 
A B C D F
46 48 3 2 2

The truth is that this was also the case for the previous accountability system, API scores, as my very first blog post pointed out. It was still true the next year when the formula changed (and when the SDE had to recalculate scores a dozen or so times). Still, there was the Oklahoman criticizing the critics.

With the release of Oklahoma school sites’ A through F grades looming, opponents of accountability are predictably ramping up attacks. School officials should think twice before embracing one such tirade issued by a small group of college academics. To discredit A-F school grades, those researchers effectively argue that there is little correlation between a public school education and actual student learning.

The year doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s preemptive. Sometimes it’s reactionary. The stance of the Oklahoman has been consistent. They don’t like it when superintendents, researchers, or anyone else points out the obvious truth that an A school isn’t necessarily better than a C school.

That’s why today’s article, along with its prominence, isso surprising. Felder is a good researcher and writer, as today’s piece illustrates:

The average poverty rate for an A school in the state is 45 percent, based on analysis of the 2015 letter grade report from the Oklahoma state Department of Education.

As you move down the grading list, the poverty rate grows bigger — B: 58 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 76 percent, and F: 84 percent.

In Oklahoma County, which is home to school districts in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City, the income gap between A and F schools is even starker. The average in Oklahoma County is A: 29 percent, B: 56 percent, C: 67 percent, D: 77 percent, and F: 83 percent.

The disparity highlights the challenges students living in poverty face when it comes to performance in school, at least performance on end of the year exams, which account for the majority of the state letter grade. It also highlights the potential challenge for low-income families to access many of the state’s highest performing schools.

Moving from a neighborhood with an F school to one with an A school could mean finding a residence where the income level is nearly three times higher.

Again, we know this pretty well. In November 2013, I made a list of factors that correlate to a school’s A-F grade:

Another reader pointed me to this spreadsheet showing all school districts in Oklahoma, their student counts, and the percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The table also has bilingual student counts, which is information I previously didn’t have. Last week, I ran correlations between school grades (and district grades) and poverty. Yet another reader suggested to me that I run correlations between the grades and poverty, this time only using districts with more than 1,000 students.

Comparison Correlation
All District Grades to Poverty -.52
Large District Grades to Poverty -.80
Large District Grades to Bilingual -.32
Large District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.76
Small District Grades to Poverty -.51
Small District Grades to Bilingual -.10
Small District Grades to Poverty + Bilingual -.45

Both factors – poverty and bilingual education – seem to impact large districts to a greater extent. Statistically speaking, there are a couple of factors here. One is that the data for bilingual counts include a lot of schools with none reported. Zeros in statistics skew results (as they do with student grades). Another factor is that there were 131 of the large districts (still a statistically significant sample) and 386 small ones.

My takeaway from this is that while the report cards tell the story of schools’ accomplishments only to a limited extent, and while my analysis from before built on that, there is always more to learn, if you’re willing to unpack the data and find out what is happening. Among our largest schools, we see more variance in socio-economic levels. We also know that urban poverty and rural poverty are not identical.

As always, I should point out that correlation does not equal causation. Nor does it equal forecast. Schools with high poverty rates do sometimes perform well on tests. They just don’t do it with the frequency of schools with low poverty rates. The explanations for this are myriad. Low-poverty schools get more applicants for open teaching positions. They are more likely (based on US Census data) to have parents who are college-educated. They get more parental involvement. The list of reasons goes on and on.

Nor is this simply an Oklahoma phenomenon. As Paul Thomas writes on his national blog, The Becoming Radical, today:

“Bad” and “good” contribute to our coded political and public discourse that reflects our collective unwillingness to do what is required: reform directly education so that all students have the sorts of opportunities that we do guarantee to the most fortunate children among us.

That’s all an A-F Report Card system does. It codes our schools. It labels enough of them as failures to extend the narrative that public education as a whole is failing. And I’ll go ahead and say what you’re thinking: it contributes to white flight.

Asked for his thoughts, Rep. Jason Nelson acknowledged the poverty linkage to the grades, but also advocated for more school choice:

Nelson views this income disparity as a reason to allow a student’s state appointed funding to be used for enrolling in a higher performing school.

“A lot of parents can’t really move from the inner city of Oklahoma City to Deer Creek, and even if they could afford to do it … their support system can’t all move with them to Deer Creek,” Nelson said. “The key is to give them options where they exist today so they aren’t forced to move if they can’t.”

That’s all true. People can’t just buy a house that’s 300 percent more expensive and move. What he doesn’t mention – what education reformers never mention – is that the school with a low grade may still be a good school. It’s also myopic to assume that families from the inner city even want to move to Deer Creek. Some people actually value their neighborhoods, and as an extension, their neighborhood schools. Maybe some would move, given the option. Some wouldn’t though.

Let’s frame it another way. If your kids are in a school with a low poverty rate, something like 20 percent free/reduced lunch participation, and the school gets a B, aren’t you going to wonder why? It rarely happens. Does that mean that every school with low poverty and an A has great teachers? Absolutely not. It’s easy to be shiny when you have resources. That doesn’t mean the teachers don’t work hard, though.

That’s been another one of my great concerns during this age of accountability. We don’t want to make any assumptions based on the letter grades. Some schools with an A are great. Some aren’t. The same is true for schools with lower grades. In most of them, you’re going to find teacher working really hard to help students succeed.

The Oklahoman recognizing that poverty impacts student achievement is like Mary Fallin acknowledging that fracking causes earthquakes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, but it was obvious to the rest of us for years.

I’m happy for Felder’s coverage, but I now wonder what will follow on the editorial page. There’s long been a disconnect between the paper’s reporters (who tend to treat public school stories fairly) and its opinion writers.

For 2016, we’re still using the A-F Report Cards that hundreds of superintendents, as well as the state superintendent, have completely disavowed. Testing is over for the spring, and report cards won’t come out until this fall. If you want a preview, however, click this link showing current percentages of students served by free and reduced lunches in our schools. This will be pretty close to the final outcome.

Two Things: More Misery

May 10, 2016 Comments off

At the beginning of this year, the intent of the Two Things series was to make a couple of quick points on Tuesday mornings before heading off to work. It’s evolved into something different. For one thing, it doesn’t always happen before work. Also, it’s often more than just two things.

Well, it’s too late to type a before-work post. I can still find two quick things to discuss, though.

1. $10 million in additional cuts for Oklahoma City Public Schools

From News OK:

Acting Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora on Tuesday announced $10 million in additional budget cuts to counter the state’s projected revenue shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

The latest cost reductions will include the elimination of funding for student testing, delaying new textbook purchases, and reducing elementary school supply budgets, adjunct coaching positions and contracts with outside vendors, the district announced in a news release.

The article goes on to describe other possible cost savings, such as school closures and the elimination of popular programs for schools. This is on top of $13 million in previously announced cuts, most of which are teaching and administrative positions.

2. Cuts in Tulsa County

From the Tulsa World:

School boards in the Broken Arrow, Union and Bixby school districts slashed a total of $14.09 million out of their budgets and nearly 150 jobs out of their employee rosters in separate meetings around the metro area on Monday evening.

Broken Arrow school board members prefaced their vote to reduce their Fiscal Year 2017 budget by $7.39 million with stinging comments for state lawmakers.

“It is maddening and saddening,” said Theresa Williamson, a board member who said she hopes legislators get news cameras trained on them so they have to answer to the public about the state of Oklahoma’s budget.

“For the specific individuals affected, I apologize. It didn’t happen overnight. They (legislators) didn’t do what needed to be done,” she said.

The three suburban districts are just the latest among local schools grappling with the consequences of the state’s budget crisis.

In recent weeks, Tulsa Public Schools eliminated 270 jobs as part of its plan to reduce its Fiscal Year 2017 budget by $8 million. The cuts included 142 teaching positions.

Again, class sizes are increasing and programs are lost. Meanwhile, Rome burns, and nothing happens.

Oklahoma Flag Out of Focus


For additional reading:

This will warm your heart.

To the first year teacher, you made it. Congratulations! I promise you that the tears you have shed have been worth it.

To the teacher that is retiring, you made it. Congratulations! Thank you for your years of service and for your dedication to your students and schools. Thank you for leaving a legacy.

To the teacher that is leaving the profession, I get it. Times are hard and being a teacher is hard. Thank you for all that you did while you taught in your classroom. And always remember that you can come back. Good luck in your future endeavors!

To the teacher lost their job because of budget cuts, I’m sorry. It isn’t fair. I don’t know what to say to make it better. Don’t lose hope and don’t lose your passion.

To the graduating college student, Oklahoma kids need good teachers. I hope that you choose to stay.

This won’t.

I admit I don’t quite understand how institutions like the House of Representatives are supposed to work, but I cannot imagine trying to lead a group of adults who lack the self-control and respect to simply be on time, sit down, close their mouth, and pay attention. This was far worse than any staff meeting I have attended .  .  .  or middle school classroom for that matter.

State in Dire Distress

Flag-of-Oklahoma-XL.jpg

Oklahoma has one of the most beautiful state flags. According to Wikipedia:

The Osage shield is covered by two symbols of peace: the Plains-style ceremonial pipe representing Native Americans, and the olive branch representing European Americans. Six golden brown crosses, Native American symbols for stars, are spaced on the shield. The blue field is inspired by the Choctaw flag adopted by the tribe in 1860 and carried though the American Civil War. The blue field also represents devotion. The shield surmounted by the calumet and olive branch represents defensive or protective warfare, showing a love of peace by a united people.

In our schools each day, after students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they recite the Oklahoma flag salute:

I salute the Flag of the State of Oklahoma: Its symbols of peace unite all people.

Well, I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think our people are terribly united right now, unless it’s when the governor is featured on the Kiss Cam at a Thunder game.

mary-fallin-kiss-cam

This is the sixth legislative session since Mary Fallin became governor in 2011. According to the state’s own Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity:

We know that Oklahoma experienced 907 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2015, 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014 and 109 in 2013.

While we understand that Oklahoma has historically experienced some level of seismicity, we know that the recent rise in earthquakes cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes. Seismologists have documented the relationship between wastewater disposal and triggered seismic activity. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.

While the state literally crumbles beneath us, the state’s finances have metaphorically turned to dust during the same time-span. School districts in north Texas are actively recruiting our teachers from a panel van just this side of Gainesville and a promise of candy, or a $15,000 raise – your choice. Rural nursing homes are in danger of closing. Have no fear, though. There’s cake for you on the fourth floor at the Capitol.

mmm cake

Today is May 8. Our elected leaders have three weeks to implement a budget. We have promises to fill the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. The governor has offered ideas. The House Speaker has defensively discussed the math involved with running a state. So far, though, nothing has happened. Last Thursday, the House adjourned for the weekend before noon.

House Republicans can find the time to choose a new House Speaker (for 2017), but we don’t have a budget. By the way, what happens if the Republicans elected to open seats this fall want someone else? Why don’t they get a say in this? That just seems strange to me.

Two elected statewide officials who seem to understand our predicament are State Treasurer Ken Miller and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. Last week, Miller posted the following message.

Ken Miller FTWYou can expand the image to read Miller’s screed in its entirety, but here’s one of the middle paragraphs that resonates with me:

The long and short of it is Oklahoma needs more recurring revenue. This is a common sense conclusion evidenced by years of general appropriations bills that included hundreds of millions in nonrecurring revenue, in good times and bad, that falsely propped up budgets and exacerbated the current problem.

He mentions also his doubt that state leaders have the political resolve to roll back tax cuts. That’s why we’re going nowhere fast. There’s a complete lack of will to do something. It’s my idea or nothing. As one of my colleagues keeps saying with regard to the current situation for school districts, we’re dealing with a menu of misery.

Jones, on the other hand, isn’t as kind to his fellow leaders:

While much of our funding problems have been caused by the downturn in the price of oil and natural gas, the bigger problems have been caused by politicians looking out for their own political futures and not the future of our kids and grand kids.

When you say tax cut, people’s eyes get huge. They don’t care if you’re cutting someone else’s taxes and not yours. They just love the concept. They don’t think about the fact that a cut in taxes also means a cut in services. I’ve said over and over this year that there’s nothing conservative or wise about letting core state services crumble all around us. That would be education, health care, corrections, and transportation. I don’t even care about how you rank them. They’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, one idea to generate revenue is to end those pesky tax credits for low-income Oklahomans. After all, they’re the ones who caused this mess, right?

Oklahoma offers three modest tax credits that primarily support working families. These are the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to encourage work; the Sales Tax Relief Credit, which supports basic nutrition and helps alleviate Oklahoma’s sales tax on groceries; and the Child Tax Credit, which strengthens families caring for children. These credits help more than 400,000 households — over 40 percent of Oklahoma families. For many, they provide just enough breathing room in the family budget to meet basic needs and avoid other forms of assistance. They help reduce some of the imbalance in a state and local tax system that already calls on those who make the least to pay the biggest share of their income in taxes.

A plan being discussed by Legislative leaders would eliminate the Child Tax Credit and reduce by one-fourth the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Sales Tax Relief Credit. This would shift taxes onto those families who were largely left out of Oklahoma’s income tax cuts, and it would have the worst impact on families raising children. For example, the proposal would mean a $180 tax increase for a couple with two children making $35,000. The same family got just $9 from this year’s income tax cut. A middle-income family earning $49,800 a year with four kids would see a tax increase of $270, more than the $228 they have gotten back from every income tax cut in Oklahoma over the past 12 years.

There’s a reason Jones speaks so frankly. We’re attacking huge problems with small solutions that would have unthinkable consequences. But there’s cake.

Another way to look at the problem is the broader economic impact of job cuts in the school systems. A group of 15 Tulsa area districts met this week and looked at the potential loss of 667 jobs due to the state’s budget problems, and the impact it would have on the area. Jobs mean homes and shopping. There are secondary consequences to all of this. As Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett said:

It will take a significant amount of political courage for them to do what’s necessary. It will be our responsibility to provide them with political cover when they do undertake the responsibility of making some very, very serious decisions.

Our state is in dire distress.

One of my favorite shows is House of Cards. In the show’s opening, the American Flag is shown upside down, which is a universal symbol of distress.

House_of_Cards_title_card.png

By now, we should probably consider doing the same with our own flag. As Rob Miller pointed out last week, our own choices have brought us to this point:

Yet, when oil was selling for $100 a barrel a few years ago, legislators chose to spend the extra proceeds on tax breaks and incentives for billion dollar corporations and passing a gratuitous income tax reduction.

It is important to remember that the annual cost of cuts to the top personal income tax rate enacted since 2005 is $1.022 billionaccording to an analysis conducted for Oklahoma Policy Institute by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan national research organization. This amount includes the reduction of the top income tax rate to 5.0 percent from 5.25 percent that took effect in January 2016.

That extra one billion dollars would sure come in handy about now, wouldn’t it?

The clock is ticking. By law, the Legislative session has to end by 5:00 on May 27. As this clock shows, that’s about 18 days and 23 hours. Do something.

If you have to raise taxes to avoid being known as the Legislature that put senior citizens out on the streets, so be it. If you have to cut corporate incentives to avoid being the Legislature that decimated public schools, then do it. This isn’t a year to shake out the couch cushions and see what you can find. You did that last year. It hasn’t worked out too well.

Do something. Time is short.

 

Flag-of-Oklahoma-XL

Two Things: As You Like It (and a hey, nonino)

May 3, 2016 Comments off

One of the mysteries of our profession has always been why we insist upon teaching Romeo and Juliet to freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, as an English teacher, I know I’m not supposed to say anything bad about Shakespeare. And even though I’ve been out of the classroom for a while doesn’t mean that I want the elders to find me and drum me out of the club.

Still, it’s a play in which two teenagers fall in love at first sight, even though their families hate each other, and then lead their community through a series of misadventures that end with multiple murders and suicides. It’s the best of times, and it’s…oh wait, that’s Charles Dickens, another author to whom we subject our freshmen (and then wonder why they don’t love reading).

In any case, there’s just something about Shakespeare that intrigues me. That is why, when I had the chance to teach sophomores, and I had some grant money with which to buy literature, I purchased cheap copies of As You Like It and Merchant of Venice. The language was just as rich in his comedies; they were also less stabby (work with me here). Plus, occasionally, students will recognize lines they’ve heard in their own times.

This happened for my students in Act V, Scene iii of As You Like It:

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.
Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino
These pretty country folks would lie,
In spring time, & c.
This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In spring time, & c.
And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino;
For love is crowned with the prime
In spring time, & c.

First of all, in case you’re wondering, I did in fact add the word nonino to my computer’s dictionary. Also, I’m pretty sure that & c. was the yada, yada, yada of the early 17th century. You can trust me on this; I’m pretty sure I passed History of the English Language at OU.

Where I am certain is that part of that song appears in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Yes, Gene Wilder for the win.

As I raced home in the rain Friday, for some reason, Wilder singing that song was all I could hear. It is in fact spring time, and the birds are singing. Maybe not during heavy storms, but the rest of the time, they definitely are. These things are just markers of the season, much like the fact that it’s May, and our Legislature still has no semblance of a budget.

Yes, my friends, that was the most tortured segue in the history of this blog. Maybe I should just get to today’s two things:

1. Before we have a budget, we probably need to know how much a barrel of oil is going to cost, right? Sequoyah Public Schools Superintendent Terry Saul tweeted today that the price point has been set at $42/barrel.

Looking at the last 10 years, this is actually pretty conservative. According to Macrotrends, the price today is $44.75. In January, it had dipped below $30. Compare that with June 2008 ($139.96), and you can see why we’re struggling as a state. You can also see what caused the last downfall, as the barrel dipped to $42.

oil 5.2.16.png

While I don’t understand the funding cuts public schools endured from 2010 through 2015, when the barrel was reliably above $70/barrel, even above $90 most of that time, I don’t have high hopes when we’re building a budget on $42/barrel oil. Still, it’s better than building one on smoke and mirrors, I guess & c. 

2. While I don’t know what the budget outlook means for me as a superintendent budgeting for the upcoming school year, at this point, I do know that one zombie bill has enjoyed renewed life this spring time. A press release from House Democrats sounds the warning:

OKLAHOMA CITY (2 May 2016) – House Democrats on Monday condemned a proposal by Republican legislative leaders to give Oklahoma’s 42,400 public school teachers a pay raise by reducing their health insurance benefits.

Health insurance “is one of the few fringe benefits teachers in this state receive,” said Rep. Donnie Condit, a retired school teacher/administrator. “It’s one of the tools we use to recruit teachers,” the McAlester Democrat said. “Now the Republicans want to take away one of the few incentives we have to attract and retain quality teachers.”

“Teachers aren’t stupid,” said Rep. Brian Renegar. “They will not blindly accept a pay increase – which would include the withholding of income taxes – while simultaneously having their health insurance capped,” the McAlester Democrat said. Legislative Republicans “want to give teachers a pay raise with one hand by removing money from their wallets with the other hand,” he added. “This is a regressive idea.”

To be fair, there are plenty of House Republicans who think this is a bad idea too. At least there should be, given the number who have primary and general election challengers this year.

Let’s be clear: taking our insurance and calling it a raise isn’t a raise. Over time, it becomes a pay cut, with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino. 

Our legislators know this. The problem is that the House, the Senate, and the Governor can’t agree on any other way to either hold education funding flat or give teacher raises. If you wonder why we’re all forecasting a range in our 2016-17 budgets, and then planning for the worst case scenario, it’s because we have low expectations. Nothing we’ve seen convinces us that state leaders will figure this out.

Oh, I hear good ideas from some, but I have yet to see those come to fruition. Maybe they’ll surprise us.

In the meantime, all I see is a scary tunnel with no end in sight.

 

 

VAM: Better Never than Late

April 27, 2016 Comments off

Let’s talk about teachers for a moment. Some are great, some are decent, and some are better suited for another career. We knew this when we were students. We see it as parents. It’s even obvious to us sometimes as colleagues down the hall. The vast majority of teachers fit into the first two categories. Of that, we should be quite proud. Just the same, nearly all schools have someone who brings us all down.

If there were an instrument – a valid, reliable one that I believed could tell me numerically who my best teachers are – I’d use it in a heartbeat.

There’s not.

When I was teaching Honors English II classes in Mustang, most of my students could have passed their end-of-instruction exams before they even had one day with me. There was no standardized instrument suited either to measure their learning or my effectiveness. They were already hitting their heads on the ceiling of every test they had ever taken. Another test showing the same thing meant nothing to them.

As a teacher, I received great evaluations. Those also may or may not have meant anything. I can only remember two negative comments, both from my first year of teaching, when I was in Muskogee.

The first (from an assistant principal) was a question about whether or not I noticed a certain student chewing gum while I was teaching. Yes, I had noticed it. No, I didn’t want to interrupt the momentum of instruction to draw attention to it. By the end of the hour, I had forgotten about it. Yes, he got away with breaking a rule, but it wasn’t worth stopping and starting again.

The second (from the university professor on my entry-year committee) was a comment about finding something instructional for students to do when they finish an assignment because – wait for itall they’re doing is reading.  Claudia Swisher, I should have told you to turn away. Oh, the horror! Eighth graders reading, without anyone telling them to! I think his point was that I should have been teaching bell-to-bell. If it was something else, it was lost on me.Simpsons Scream.jpg

I think as a first year teacher, I had some very good moments. By the time I left the classroom, I think I was a very good teacher. I was never great, though. I didn’t have the years of experience (nine) or consistency to claim that. I loved it, but we’re not automatically good at the things we love. I love to sing in the car. I love basketball.

If you looked at my evaluations when I was in the classroom, though, you would have thought I was the very model of a modern master teacher. All of the check marks were in the far right column (the good side). Occasionally, I’d have a few encouraging comments like “try beginning class with an activity to engage prior knowledge.” Casually (not in writing), I would receive suggestions about classroom management or working with parents and colleagues – normal things that young teachers need to learn. Still, my evaluations would have all the check marks lined up in the right boxes.

That was the old teacher evaluation system. In 2011, the Legislature – acting in conjunction with then State Superintendent Janet Barresi – passed legislation creating the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System, or TLE. Even with later legislation amending it, the TLE law includes both qualitative and quantitative pieces. Since not all teachers give a state test, and since not all state tests are paired in ways that can show growth, two different quantitative measurements were created: Value Added Measures (VAM) and Other Academic Measures (OAM). The OAMs are no longer a thing. They have ceased to be. They are now ex-quantitative components.

Let me come back to VAM a few paragraphs from now. On the qualitative side, I have seen two of the evaluation models in action. When I was in Moore, we used the Tulsa Model. In Mid-Del, we use Marzano. I honestly have no preference. The language describing the different ranges of teachers is about the same.

With the way we used to do teacher evaluations, as with TLE, what really matters is how committed principals are to improving instruction. Do they have the resolve to have difficult conversations with teachers? Do they use the evaluation model with fidelity? Or, to borrow from Garrison Keillor, is the school the kind of place where “all the [teachers] are above average”?

We can have a well-researched qualitative teacher evaluation system, and we can make districts pay for training in the summer so that principals learn to calibrate their scores for teachers. It’s like shooting free throws in practice. When you have the pressure of giving a teacher a low score, even though you personally like that person, or even though his last 10 principals gave him a good evaluation, what will you do?

I’ve jumped in with both feet, and I know many other principals who have too. It’s not an easy thing to do, but at least you’re doing what seems right based on what you actually see. Then there’s VAM.

To date, no teacher in Oklahoma (that I know of) has had a VAM score added to his/her evaluation. No principal or superintendent I talk to has faith in them. It also sets up a two-track system for evaluating teachers – one for those with a VAM score, and one for those without. It’s inequitable on its face.

That is why I was less than enthused to see this in my email yesterday:

Value-Added Results Now Available

Value-added results demonstrating student academic growth during the 2014-15 school year are now available for teachers and administrators through the SSO2 portal. Guidance documents about how to access and distribute these reports can be found on the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) page on the OSDE website.

If, by chance, I cared about VAM scores, I would probably want them sooner. Why would I attach scores that ostensibly show a teacher’s effectiveness last year to this year’s evaluation? Since I don’t care and I wouldn’t use them, we need them to go away. In Mid-Del, I don’t even know how many certified and support employees in my district spend how many hours preparing for the Roster Verification process. It’s all a waste of their time. Furthermore, the SDE spends over $600,000 on contracts with out-of-state vendors so we can verify who had this kid for what part of that month and how to calculate VAMs that nobody uses. Every penny of that is a waste of resources that continue to melt away.

One bill that we can still support to end this madness is HB 2957. In its current form:

  • Districts would have the option to use quantitative measures in their evaluation process; but it would no longer be required;
  • Teachers and administrators would develop a yearly individualized program of professional development;
  • This would be a collaborative effort between the evaluator and the teacher/principal.
  • The focus would be on components from the qualitative framework, but not necessarily on low areas;
  • This is not intended to increase the amount of required PD hours, but rather to focus professional learning on areas that lead to higher student achievement;
  • VAM would no longer be required by the state (and hopefully no longer purchased by it either); and
  • Career teachers receiving a district rating of “highly effective” or “superior” would only need to be formally evaluated once every three years.

It passed the House by a vote of 94-0. It passed the Senate with amendments 46-0. Now the House needs to approve the changes and send it on to Governor Fallin. Easy, right?

Not this year. Nothing is easy this year. Nor is it logical.

Here’s hoping…

 

 

 

 

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4 Things for 4 Years

April 26, 2016 3 comments

Yesterday marked the four year anniversary of my first blog post.

imageToday, I’ll give you a double dose of Two Things for Tuesday to celebrate four years. First, here are some cool stats:

  • This is my 633rd post.
  • This blog has been viewed over 683,000 times.
  • In June 2014, the blog had 68,688 page views, mostly fueled by the ouster of Janet Barresi.
  • The last two months have had the most traffic since then. I guess #oklaed is a little worked up.
  • I didn’t even write the most popular post on the blog.

Without further ado, here are four thoughts on blogging, and social media activism in general:

1. I have met some incredible people who’ve left indelible marks on my life. Some, still, I only know through their words and our online interactions. Many though, I’ve had the pleasure to meet in real life. We laugh. We riff. We pontificate. We commiserate. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

2. I still find it strange when people know who I am. I’m just a guy – a really opinionated guy.


3. There are more data nerds in Oklahoma than I ever would have suspected. My first post was heavy on data. Many others have been too. People seem to like that. How do I know? Numbers – of course.

4. There’s still so much work to do. We still have End-of-Instruction tests tied to graduation. We still have a 3rd grade reading test tied to promotion. We still have colossally under-funded schools. Our state government is broken. And it’s broke. Activism by educators is at one of its highest levels ever. We can’t be complacent.

There’s a reason we have 400 people running for public office in Oklahoma this year. We basically have a choice: people who favor oligarchy or people who favor public education, for the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

More than anything, thanks for reading my blog.

 

 

Ten Things: OCPA Math

April 19, 2016 5 comments

It’s Tuesday, and today, I have an oversized Two Things post. Somehow over the weekend, I missed a real nugget in the Tulsa World. Brandon Dutcher, senior vice-president with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), opined about how the state’s budget crisis could be a billion dollars worse. Here’s a dollop:

“Oklahoma has about 692,000 students in public schools,” says Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “According to the U.S. Census and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 100,000 students are educated outside of the public school system.”

Imagine if 100,000 new students showed up at their local public school tomorrow morning (“I’m here for my free education, please!”). If our elected officials wanted to keep per-pupil spending at its current level, they would have to come up with another billion dollars annually, based on numbers from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.

One of our policymakers’ chief priorities is public education, i.e., making sure we have an educated public. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter where that education takes place.

Some of it takes place in public schools, for which our political leaders are spending some $10,000 per student (according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s own numbers).

Let’s start there. I see several things floating in the pond already.

1. I looked in the SDE’s system. According to this file, which shows expenditures from all sources of revenue for the 2014-15 school year, Oklahoma school districts spent a grand total of $6.59 billion. This includes General Fund spending, as well as other sources such as the Building Fund, Child Nutrition, and Activity Accounts. That’s actually about $9,600 per pupil. Since Child Nutrition is a self-sustaining fund in most districts, that really doesn’t count. Nor should Activity Funds. Perhaps there are better figures to use.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Oklahoma school districts spent $8,526 per pupil in 2013-14. For the same year, according to Oklahoma’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, districts spent $7,875 per pupil. If you want to count debt service in addition to that amount, the average goes up another $813 per pupil.

So somewhere between $8,500 and $9,000 per this and per that is probably accurate.

2. State support for public education is on the decline. As of 2013-14, about 48% of school funding was from state tax dollars. Even if we used Dutcher’s $10,000 per pupil figure, half of it would come from somewhere else. In his thought experiment, the increased billion dollar burden is only half a billion.

3. I can’t tell you the percentage of those 100,000 students who would be served by programs such as free/reduced lunch and special education, but since we’re manipulating statistics, let’s assume both would be lower than what public schools currently serve. Still, the number would be greater than zero. That changes the funding streams as well. Both of those would trigger adjustments in federal aid, generating more tax dollars for schools.

Let me drop a few more chunks here:

Some of it takes place outside of the public school system — in home schools, for example, or in accredited private schools, where the median tuition is $5,310, according to the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission. Cash-squeezed appropriators should be grateful for these thousands of parents who are picking up the tab themselves.

Indeed, politicians should try to save even more money (and reduce school overcrowding) by redirecting some of those 692,000 students into the nonpublic sector.

Many parents would jump at the chance. In the last two years, three different scientific surveys have asked Oklahomans what type of school they would prefer for their children. Each time, many respondents (48 percent, 50 percent, and 30 percent) said they would choose a nonpublic alternative.

Policymakers should try to bridge the gap between actual enrollment and what parents want. A $5,000 voucher, tax credit, or education savings account, for example — even if it didn’t cover the full tuition amount — would spur some of those 692,000 to choose alternatives outside of the public school system. (As for the 100,000 already outside the system? Sorry, I’m afraid in this budget climate that would be too tall an order.)

4. Another fun thing about math is knowing the difference between median and average. The median tuition may be $5,310. What we don’t know is whether that statistic is skewed or not. If so, which direction? It could be that many private schools with low enrollment and low cost drive those numbers downward. The reverse could be true. It’s a number without context, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a representative amount. Is tuition the only revenue source for private schools? Do faith based academies receive appropriations from their congregation or diocese? What level of donor support do they have? Hell, can we count lunches and activity funds too? Apples to apples, right?

5. I can’t speak for all my public school friends, but if any of those 100,000 students were to show up in Mid-Del tomorrow, we’d gladly take them in and find space for them. On the contrary, private schools would only selectively accept the students we serve. As I’ve written before – both on this blog, and in an email exchange with Dutcher last fall– I don’t want private schools to have to change their mission in order to accept all students. I just don’t think tax dollars should go to schools that have missions which would lead them to exclude people.

6. Oklahoma’s budget has been built around OCPA math for more than a decade. It’s probably fair to say, even, that many who serve in leadership roles in the current Legislature are some of the think tank’s strongest disciples. Rather than imagining a budget crisis that’s a billion dollars worse, try imagining one that doesn’t exist at all. That’s an altogether different thought experiment.

7. In January, David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, detailed how tax cuts have decreased state revenue by more than a billion dollars in the last 12 years.

top-rate-2004-2018-1

Cuts to PK-12 education alone, due to these tax cuts, total $356 million.

revenue-lost-to-tax-cuts-by-agency-1

8. It’s not just schools. It’s colleges also. It’s health care, human services, roads and bridges, and corrections too. I’ve said many times that there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you. This is the legacy of the term-limited members of what had been the largest freshman legislative class in decades.

9. This is also why the 2016 crop of candidates who have filed for office is even larger than the 2004 class that replaced the first group of term-limited legislators – and why so many of those who have filed are teachers (or teacher-adjacent).

Baby Ruth

10. Lastly, Dutcher’s column in the World is a cold reminder that many of those whose public service is ending next month are still desperate to pass vouchers. Watch for them in the budget bill.

Or your swimming pool.

On asterisks, per this and per that

April 17, 2016 6 comments

“You can do asterisks and per student and per this and per that and make the statistics say what you want to say,” Hickman said, “But when you look at the actual dollars that are leaving the state going to school districts across the state the argument that there have been cuts prior to the revenue failure simply isn’t true.”

On Friday, House Speaker Jeff Hickman spoke to KWTV about how hurt he is that Oklahomans continue to think that the legislature has cut funding for public schools. It was a bizarre interview, and it included the above treatise on statistics. His statements included these selective nuggets as well:

And Hickman said the appropriations numbers prove it.

State appropriations are up $17.5 million since 2007. And overall funding, Hickman said, is at all-time highs.

“This year we’ll fund at $8.2 billion, the most ever in state history when you look at federal funds, local property tax dollars and all the ways the state funds schools.”

So speaker Hickman wants to take credit for what the federal government does and the money generated by local tax collections? I’m not sure if he realizes this, but much of the increase in local revenue is due to the fact that the state has failed to meet its obligations. Local districts with significant bonding capacity have used it to offset losses in state aid.

As for his claim that state appropriations are up $17.5 million since 2007, this is a fairly small amount, and he very selectively chose a year. To provide a clearer picture, here are some numbers to know.

Table 1: Department of Education Funding Since 2004

School Year Funding Amount
2015-16 $2,438,093,833
2014-15 $2,484,873,132
2013-14 $2,407,604,082
2012-13 $2,349,104,082
2011-12 $2,278,158,382
2010-11 $2,236,034,551
2009-10 $2,231,731,157
2008-09 $2,531,702,553
2007-08 $2,480,155,207
2006-07 $2,348,041,255
2005-06 $2,164,263,450
2004-05 $2,045,851,175

I don’t see where he’s getting $17.5 million. I actually see $90 million increase from FY 07 to this year. Then again, the number I put in for FY 16 has changed a few times due to  various revenue failures and the use of Rainy Day Funds. In any case, Hickman picked a low year. Funding is up compared with 2006-07. It’s down compared with 2007-08 or 2008-09. In any case, it’s less than a one percent increase.

I don’t even know what to say. Congratulations? Thank you? No, neither of those seem to fit.

Other numbers tell more of the story. Hickman includes all funding sources when touting the extent to which public schools receive financial support. If you look at those separate sources as a percentage of overall public school revenue, you can see that the state’s share has been in steady decline for years.

Table 2: Funding for schools by source since FY 1999

School Year Percent of Revenue from Local Sources Percent of Revenue from State Aid Percent of Revenue from Federal Funds
2013-14 40.3% 48.0% 11.7%
2008-09 34.5% 52.0% 13.6%
2003-04 33.9% 53.4% 12.7%
1998-99 33.5% 57.1% 9.4%

Last week, Speaker Hickman wrote in the Oklahoman that when he and his party first took control of the Legislature in 2005, they had decades of problems to try to correct. He, and many of the legislators with whom he entered the House 12 years ago, are finishing their last session at the Capitol. All I see is a continual decline in public support for public education.

Beginning in 2001 with the passage of No Child Left Behind, federal aid to public schools increased. Local support for schools remained pretty constant. State aid, as a percentage of overall school funding, began falling. During Hickman’s time in the Legislature, the state has further abdicated its responsibility to Oklahoma’s children.

I’m sure if I had figures for 2014-15, we’d see this trend continue. At what point will the majority of school funding come from local sources? Meanwhile, enrollment during the same period of time has steadily increased.

Table 3: Enrollment in Public Schools in Oklahoma by Year

School Year Oct 1 Enrollment
2015-16 692,670
2014-15 688,300
2013-14 681,578
2012-13 673,190
2011-12 666,150
2010-11 659,615
2009-10 654,542
2008-09 644,777
2007-08 641,671
2006-07 639,022
2005-06 634,468
2004-05 629,145

What Speaker Hickman can’t deny is that we keep getting more students. Going back to the beginning of his time in office, public school enrollment is up by more than 63,000 students. This is why we keep talking in terms of per this and per that. That’s how we look at school finance. It’s how everybody looks at it.

Here’s a reminder of how state aid works, for anyone (inside the Legislature or outside of it) who needs it. Every student enrolled counts as 1. Different grades provide additional weights in the formula. Other designations also add to the formula weights. Here’s a description of the process from the Oklahoma Policy Institute:

State Aid represents the funds that are appropriated by the State Legislature for school districts, and distributed by the State Department of Education through the “State Aid Formula.”

State Aid is based primarily on student counts, with allowances made for various student characteristics represented as grade and categorical weights.

State Aid uses the higher of the current or two previous years’ student counts. Thus, if a district’s student count increases, the State Aid is adjusted in the current year. If a district’s student count decreases, the State Aid does not decrease for two years.

image

The result is a Weighted Average Daily Membership (WADM). Schools receive state aid based on their WADM. This is the figure that really matters to superintendents and their finance directors.

Table 4: State Aid per WADM

School Year Funding Factor
2015-16 $3,049.80
2014-15 $3,075.80
2013-14 $3,032,00
2012-13 $3,035.00
2011-12 $3,038.60
2010-11 $3,113.40
2009-10 $3,210.05
2008-09 $3,275.60
2007-08 $3,189.00
2006-07 $2,919.60
2005-06 $2,864.20
2004-05 $2,639.20

If Speaker Hickman wants to say that State Aid per WADM is up since 2007, I can’t argue with him. Again, I don’t know if he wants congratulations or gratitude, but I’ll pass. The main reason is that superintendents have repeatedly been told to budget for the upcoming school year as if the funding factor will be between $2,850 and $2,875 per WADM. This would set us back to funding levels not seen in ten years.

In the same KWTV story, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister offered her own analysis:

“We’ve grown by 50-thousand students, but we’re operating on the same dollars as 2008.” Hofmeister said, adding many of those students have special needs that require special assistance. “That’s actually grown by 26% since 2010. We also know that we have students that are facing trauma at home. The incidence of maltreatment has increased in Oklahoma by 95% since 2010.”

The thing about data is that some are objective and some are open to interpretation. Based on his use of data, Speaker Hickman looks at the last nine years as a success in terms of funding public schools. Superintendent Hofmeister sees a different picture. I see what matters most to me as I try to serve the 14,600 students in Mid-Del.

To put these tables together (and basically prove to myself that I’m not imagining things), I looked at several data sources. Among them:

I don’t make this stuff up. Neither should our elected leaders.

Reason to Believe

April 15, 2016 1 comment

Back in the 80s, I had the good fortune to take Competitive Speech at Norman High School with Dr. Betsy Ballard. During my senior year, our adaptation of Marsha Norman’s Getting Out placed third in the One Act Play competition at state. I had the illustrious role of assistant stage manager. I can’t remember everything about the play, but I remember who played Bennie, the prison guard. I even remember who played the main character, Arlene and her younger self, Arlie.

I vaguely remember the storyline too. Arlene is a paroled convict. She, and several of the other characters, had monologues in which they subtly tried to distance themselves from their past, especially from their own choices. More than anything, though, I remember the song that Dr. Ballard paired with the play – Bruce Springsteen’s Reason to Believe, from the Nebraska album.

This song has stuck with me for nearly 30 years now. It’s on several playlists on my iPhone. I think I’ve even used it on another blog post before. The first verse is kind of Kerouac-ian:

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe

The last line repeats at the end of each verse.

At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe.

I know I come off as rather skeptical at times. Whether it’s because I coached a team that we thought was going to magically come to life or maybe because we taught a student who had shown no engagement throughout a school year, I always wanted to believe that anything was possible. As a principal, when I suspended a student, I didn’t stand watch when he returned to school so that I could catch him in another act of defiance. I hoped for the best. I looked for the reason to believe.

Sometimes, in the face of despair and overwhelmingly contrary evidence, I still expect something good to happen. That is why, when Speaker Hickman says that the House will not accept a budget that cuts education more than five percent (on top of our already debilitating cuts), I’m hopeful that there is a reason to believe it. There’s this $1.3 billion shortfall, after all.

It’s also why, when Governor Fallin looks us in the eyes and tells us that she has a plan to fill the hole and keep PK-12 funding at the level initially allocated last summer, I want to believe. You could say that I’m a cynical optimist. Just give me a reason to hope, and I’ll try to stick with you. Even if the five concepts of her plan either violate the state constitution thanks to SQ 640 or will struggle to find support among legislators, I want to believe.

Mainly, I want to believe because I’m tired of education funding cuts. I’m tired of what this is doing to our schools. I want to believe that the people we’ve elected are tired of it too.

One more thing gives me reason to believe. This week, 382 Oklahomans filed for 126 seats in the Legislature. Several seats are vacant due to term limits, and several legislators decided for one reason or another not to file to run again. Many of them will be missed. All of them make sacrifices to do this job, and for that alone, should be appreciated.

As I wrote in December, during the 2014 elections seats pretty much were handed back to incumbents.

2014 Legislature Elections Up for Election Unopposed Primary Only Elected in November
House 101 50 15 36
Senate 25 8 4 13
Total Seats 126 58 19 49

This year, the difference is incredible.

2016 Legislature Elections Up for Election Unopposed Primary Only Elected in November
House 101 16 6 79
Senate 25 0 1 24
Total Seats 126 16 7 103

We are down from 58 to 16 unopposed seats. Only seven more will be decided in primary races over the summer. The other 103 races will come down to November. In some of those, Independents appear to be viable candidates too. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but neither Democrats nor Republicans are exactly thrilled with how the presidential race is shaping up. We probably won’t see the steady stream of straight party voting this time around.

It’s a reason to believe. It’s not, however, a reason to kick back and relax. We need to know more about these 382 people. Sure, most will say they support public education, but what does that really mean. And yes, many of them are teachers or teacher-adjacent.

candidates.jpg

As we’ve seen, though, that doesn’t mean they’ll support the teaching profession or students. Still, I believe. And today, I see many reasons.

 

FY 17 Executive Budget 2.0

April 13, 2016 2 comments

I was at the Oklahoma State Department of Education this afternoon when I found out that Governor Fallin was going to announce a revised budget plan at 3:30. By the time my meeting finished at 3:00, I figured, “Why not? It’s basically next door.”

The press conference began about 30 minutes late (which made it start at the same time pro-education candidates were gathering in the hall just outside), and it lasted for about 30 minutes. The governor highlighted the work of legislative leaders in both chambers and her office’s five-point plan to work around the state’s current $1.3 billion shortfall.

image

The plan:

Five concepts – none requiring supermajority votes – can produce a FY 2017 appropriated budget that responsibly funds government and puts the state on better financial footing in future years.

I don’t have time to get into the details tonight, so I’ve taken the liberty of scanning the handouts from today. Overall, I think there are some ideas here with merit. And if the state can hold education and health flat, I’ll be astounded. More importantly, if we’re not having a discussion six months later about revenue failures and making cuts mid-year again, I’ll be even happier.

MF Budget 1MF Budget 2

That’s the five-part plan. Below is the detailed budget by agency.

 

If I see a good article discussing why these ideas will or won’t work, I’ll link to it later. In the meantime, if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Change the World; Make a Difference

April 12, 2016 5 comments

Do you remember as a child how weird it was when you saw your teacher in the grocery store?

Mom! Look! It’s Mrs. B! Look! She buys canned corn too! Mom! Mom! She even buys dog food! Mom!

This person who had helped you find a book in the library, who had silenced you in the hallway with nothing more than a look, and who sprayed Bactine on your knee after you scraped it during recess (stick with me here; it was the 70s) – she was more than a teacher. She existed outside of the school building. She had physiological needs, like nutrition. She probably even had a family, and maybe even free will. It was mind blowing.

Remember that moment and multiply it by a billion. As KWTV reported last week, dozens of educators plan to run for the state Legislature:

Between 30 and 40 Oklahoma educators are running for a spot at the Capitol and they’re filing at the same time next week.

Judy Mullen Hopper is one of them, running for senate. She is frustrated with budget cuts on education. Mullen Hopper retired last year after 35 years.

“I retired with mixed emotions. I knew I had to, just because emotionally I was drained, but I also knew that those kiddos and those parents still needed a voice for them, so here I am,” Mullen Hopper said.

“I’m very excited to see it. I think it’s monumental,” said Kelly Dodd, an Oklahoma parent.

Dodd is a mother of three and actively involved in her kids’ education.

“That’s where a lot of the disconnect occurs. When you don’t have that communication, and then you have people at the Capitol making decisions based about what they think without actually consulting our educators, who are in the classroom,” Dodd said.

Boy-That-Escalated-Quickly-Anchorman.gif

Your teachers have gone from buying corn and dog food at the Humpty Dumpty (another 70s reference) to standing up for themselves and their profession. It’s simply radical. Predictably, not everybody is impressed. Our friends at ROPE 2.0 are shocked – SHOCKED! – that teachers would cast off their genteel personas and storm into a different kind of public service. Under the KWTV story, they posted this long-winded rant to their FB page Sunday:

This was rather shocking. Throughout the years, educators have been considered models of society and society has placed ‘public education’ on a pedestal as though those with the title of ‘educator’ somehow automatically knew/know better than parents or legislators – or the man on the street even – how to educate children. Yes, educators have themselves undertaken an education in order to provide that for others, yet every year, society becomes rougher and less educated, forcing one to wonder at the voracity of the product provided by public education. Today, individuals (parents, educators and administrators) linked to the group in this article (for whom KWTV actually provides a link to their PAC fundraising site) have lied about and mischaracterized our organization all across social media, have written blogs defaming legislators, individuals and other groups that disagree with their positions, using vulgar language and personal attacks to drive their message home. They will tell you that their blogs are covered by free speech and don’t necessarily reflect the work they do – for which they are paid by the taxpayers of this state – yet, really, who wants to send their child to a school where an administrator or teacher can and will, lie about others while using incendiary and vulgar language? I don’t, and I’m very much hoping that other parents (and teachers) are getting the idea that public education – to these people – isn’t about children, it’s about money, it’s about ideology, not education. If it were, there wouldn’t be ugly rhetoric about a system of education, there would be conciliatory and kind language combined with a sense of partnership with parents to determine what’s best for their child. It would behoove any taxpayer to determine who these candidates are, what they stand for (besides publicly provided education) and their backgrounds before any vote is cast (hopefully, just as you would for any issue).
We’re not the only ones that are noticing this trend. This was another post attached to this article from elsewhere on Facebook:

“I hope you’re paying attention:
What’s scary is the progressive educators that will run to advance their own twisted ideals. Education needs to get back to strictly academics and leave social mentoring to parents and families. We have several educators in OK that very openly and proudly admit to being change agents (they ignorantly don’t understand what all that implies, but they’ve been indoctrinated to believe it’s a good thing so they forge forward with the harm and destruction they perpetrate).
Progressive educators who are:
1. pro-centralization
2. pro- top-down control
3. pro-identity politics
4. pro-collectivization & labeling
5. pro-children as human capital to be used and exploited to benefit someone else
6. pro-socialism (socialism controlled by the government, so literally pro-communism).
7. pro-moral relativism
8. pro-force to impose compliance
9. anti-traditional
10. anti-God in favor of man (government) being the absolute power and authority)
11. anti-American- foreign cultures, beliefs, views, etc. are equal or better than American cultures, beliefs, views in America (the U.S.)
12. anti-individual
13. anti-free will
14. anti-freedom
The more force that is imposed to control society, the less freedom society has.
Progressive educators are promoting thoughts and behaviors that reduce an individual’s ability to control themselves. When you can’t control yourself, you open the door for others to control you.
How are people controlled into compliance by force?
Fines
Fees
Taxes
Rules
Regulations
Mandates
Laws
Incarceration
Etc. etc. etc.
The more force, the less freedom.
Responsibility, accountability, and self-control of oneself (the individual) is the only social concept that should be promoted in education.
Kindness towards others (the collective) is the only social concept that should be promoted in education. Right now we have educators deciding who is worthy of kindness and who is not and who deserves more kindness than someone else. That mentality must be eliminated.
If you can’t control yourself (your own behavior, your own free will), it is a GUARANTEE that someone else will step in & intervene to control you.
Those who promote civil unrest, community organizing, violent societal agitators, and change agents who view terms like “social justice warrior’s” (a collective form of bullying to control others) as progress, enlightenment, and/or advancing liberty are ONLY encouraging lack of self-control and the insertion of outward control.
You, as the individual, have the power and the right to control yourself. Don’t let someone else take that away from you for any reason ever.”

Yes, this is what they think of us. They think that educators – especially those of us who dare to speak our minds – are about money, rather than children. They think we’re pushing a subversive agenda because we care about all students, even the ones with problems, even the ones who sometimes make us uncomfortable. Apparently, they think we’re “violent societal agitators” too. And for some strange reason, they think that when #oklaed bloggers cut-and-paste their words into our posts, we’re making stuff up. Weird.

They want teachers to be quiet and passive. They don’t want to see us in the grocery stores. They want us to teach memorization and computation. Cursive and grammar. Nothing else.

Obviously, this is an extremist viewpoint. Most Oklahomans still respect teachers and still value public education. I would argue that somewhere between many and most of our current legislators do too. During the next three days, many Oklahoma educators will be taking the courageous leap to ensure their collective voices are heard. As the Tulsa World reported Wednesday:

At least 30 public school educators, spouses of public school educators, local school board members and other supporters with school ties from across the state are planning to file en masse for legislative races on Wednesday afternoon.

They include Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year and national Teacher of the Year finalist Shawn Sheehan, Blanchard Public Schools’ superintendent and two Tulsa Public Schools teachers.

Of the profiles I’ve read of these candidates so far, they come from all walks. They are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. They are veterans, and they are relatively new in their careers. They are from all over the state. There is no monochrome setting you can apply to this group. They are vibrant and diverse. Sorry, ROPE. You can’t just label them. All that anti-American hogwash above doesn’t apply here.

The new phone books are here.gif

On the spectrum of non-education issues, I would suspect that this group is all over the political map. On education issues, I would hope they’re pretty aligned. I wouldn’t guarantee it, though.

Some will win, and some will lose. Some have well-organized campaigns with months of planning behind them. Some have sprung up within the last week. Some face tough, entrenched incumbents. Some vie for seats that are opened. Some may not even be the reliable pro-education votes we hope they are. I can think of a former teacher or two who I wouldn’t consider friends to the cause.

Nevertheless, this is an exciting time. Officially, filing for public office starts tomorrow and lasts through Friday. Teachers are everywhere, and that can’t be a bad thing. They’re some of my favorite people.

Two things from the OSDE’s Fast Facts page

April 12, 2016 Comments off

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I like some facts in my morning coffee education discussions. That’s why I was happy to get the following press release from the Oklahoma State Department of Education yesterday:

OSDE releases Fast Facts e-resource

April 11, 2016 (Oklahoma City) – In an effort to simplify and contextualize education data and statistics, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has published an online e-resource of facts and figures.

“Oklahoma Public Schools: Fast Facts, 2015-2016” contains 32 pages of graphs and information on education topics including enrollment, student demographics, academic achievement and more. In most cases, comparative data is included.

“The State Department of Education is committed to transparency, but the sheer volume of information we gather and report can make translating it to the public a challenge,” said Steffie Corcoran, executive director of communications. “We’re excited to share Fast Facts with anyone interested in receiving essential public education information in a convenient format.”

One section, “By the Numbers,” spotlights agency-specific figures. For example, during the 2014-2015 school year, Regional Accreditation Officers (RAOs) drove 204,908 miles visiting Oklahoma schools, and in a three-month period in late 2015, the agency’s Customer Service department handled 9,234 telephone calls.

To download Fast Facts, click here. Fast Facts and other valuable public education reports are available on the OSDE website’s Reporting Index under the School/District/State Performance link.

I downloaded the resource and quickly found things even more interesting than the number of RAO miles and customer service phone calls. You should too.

With all the numbers and figures and trends, though, two things are still true:

ADM and Money Trends.png

  1. Oklahoma’s public schools are still serving more students.
  2. We’re getting less funding per pupil to do so.

Oh, and one bonus thing for today:

FRL trends.png

  1. More of our students need us for things other than academics than ever before.

If you need a good read to illustrate that this morning, check out Rob Miller’s latest. And bring a Kleenex.

Have a great Tuesday…only one more day until candidate filing season officially opens!

Despair and Disparity

April 10, 2016 3 comments

Every day, it seems that another school district announces either specific cuts or at least vague plans to reduce spending for the upcoming school year. Big districts. Small districts, Rural, suburban, and urban districts too. With the Legislature trying to mend a $1.3 billion shortfall and giving vague promises to hold common education cuts to five percent (on top of what we’ve already lost this year, as well as during the last several years), we’re all planning tenuously for the future.

One question I’ve seen a few times on various Facebook pages is about why some districts seem to have deeper cuts than others. After all, doesn’t the state funding formula pretty much level off per pupil funding to make up for inherent differences in the property values in our communities?

Yes and no. For the most part, Oklahoma’s very complex funding formula equalizes per pupil allocations to districts. This is why, for years, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA) has cautioned the Legislature against tweaking the funding formula. Even small adjustments would make winners and losers.

That is why last May, when the Legislature was working to fill a $611 million shortfall and try to hold funding flat, CCOSA sent out an alert to its members, asking them to contact their legislators and stop House Bill 2244.

The text of their alert is no longer online, but fortunately, I have an assistant superintendent who keeps every email ever. Here’s what the alert warned:

We are tracking HB 2244 which is a bill that would cap motor vehicle dedicated revenues for county roads and bridges, cities and towns, and schools at various levels.  For schools, the motor vehicle apportionment would be capped at the FY 2015 level – which is an all-time high for this revenue stream.

This bill may be heard in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget TODAY. If it passes the committee, it could move very quickly to a vote of the full House and Senate.

HB 2244 by Rep. Earl SearsRep. Dennis Casey and Sen. Clark JolleySen. Greg Treat would CAP the apportionment of motor vehicle tax paid to school districts and municipalities at the FY2015 LEVEL, and move revenues received in excess of the FY 2015 level to the state’s general revenue fund for appropriation.

HB 2244 also caps motor vehicle apportionment to the County Roads and Bridges Fund at $120,000,000.00 with excess revenues going to the state general revenue fund.  Some estimates project that capping county road and bridge revenues at $120 million could immediately produce approximately $24 million for appropriation in FY 2016.

While we appreciate the legislature’s willingness to review off the top apportionments, we are extremely concerned with any plan that disrupts dedicated apportionments to schools as these dollars are a key source of revenue at a time when state appropriated revenues struggle to reach pre-recession levels.

Again, this was from May 18, 2015. HB 2244 was introduced May 15th and signed by the governor May 22nd. It popped up out of nowhere during the last week of session and quickly became law. We have watched bills that would create vouchers for months, only to see them fizzle into the ether. We waited as the House and Senate argued over what constituted the 30th day of the legislative session so that we could enact the new Oklahoma Academic Standards.

We watch agendas and call our elected leaders for the bills we want and the bills we want to kill – as long as we know they exist. When someone introduces new legislation during the last week of the session, however, we need to mobilize more quickly.

HB 2244 was a piece of the funding pie last year that helped the Legislature hold education funding flat – well, as flat as the paper on which it was written. It was flat-ish, other than the two revenue failures and the need for Rainy Day Funds. What the bill’s supporters wanted to do was take a growing revenue stream, Motor Vehicle Registrations, and cap the percentage that came off the top to schools, roads, and bridges. They wanted to hold at that level and take the rest to make the General Revenue Fund healthier so they’d have more to give to agencies.

As I mentioned, CCOSA has warned that there would be winners and losers when you tinker with the formula, and they were right. The Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) prepared a Fiscal Impact statement showing that the apportionment from this fund to schools would remain constant, at about $260 million. Overall, they estimated the excess revenue that would go to the General Fund at just over $23 million.

2244 fiscal impact.png

 

Again, the Legislature was trying to make up a $611 million shortfall. This gave them a small percentage with which they could exercise some discretion. At the time, I also cautioned against the bill:

Maybe one day last week, our legislative leaders were sitting around trying to figure out how to plug the hole in the state budget. They looked at all available revenue sources and noticed that one in particular – the motor vehicle tax – was actually growing. They decided to cap the revenue source at current levels and divert the remaining money in future years to the general fund. Whatever this tax produces for education funding in the current fiscal year is the maximum it will ever produce. Never mind that enrollment and expenses are rising. This fund could yield as much as $20 million next year above the cap and start to chip away at the $611 million deficit in the budget that they created.

In other words, they can’t fund education because of the budget hole, so they’re going to divert money away from education to try to very partially fill the hole. In case you’re wondering, HB 2244 passed through A & B on a 13-4 vote after minutes of debate. With that kind of transparency and consideration, I just have to ask why we keep electing these people.

When legislation appears and passes quickly, it often carries unintended consequences. HB 2244 has done just that. I don’t agree with the strategy to cap Motor Vehicle Revenue apportionments, but I understand it. The bigger problem lies deeper in the bill, however, on page 11 of 12.

N. In no event shall the monies apportioned pursuant to subsections B, E, F, G, H, I and L of this section be less than the monies apportioned in the previous fiscal year.

The strikethrough indicates that this subsection of existing statute is being removed. This particular subsection is known as the hold harmless provision. With this one sentence removed, the OTC can distribute less than the previous year, should revenues decline. What has happened – and I still can’t figure out how – is that the OTC has changed how those funds are distributed to school districts.

Early in the fall, many of us began to notice wild swings in the amount of motor vehicle revenues we were receiving. Some were actually receiving considerably more than in previous years. Others – the district I lead included – were receiving considerably less.

Another district’s Chief Financial Officer has been pursuing this OTC interpretation of HB 2244 vigorously. Along the way, he compiled a spreadsheet showing each district’s motor vehicle gains or losses through the first five months of the fiscal year (July through November). He used those figures to estimate 12 months of gains and losses. Then I put those figures in a spreadsheet alongside our state aid losses.

The image below shows what happens when I limit that comparison to the 30 largest districts in the state. The first column with dollar amounts shows each district’s state aid amount prior to Christmas. This is the last notification before the State Department of Education started making adjustments due to the revenue failures. The next column shows each district’s state aid amount as of March 29th. This is the adjusted amount after the two revenue failures and the application of Rainy Day funds.

The following column shows that the percentage lost by each of these districts varies, but not too much. Mid-Del’s loss of $613,485 (1.49%) is painful, but not debilitating. My previous employer, Moore, lost $973,410 (1.57%). Again, the percentages are comparable, but these are hard losses to absorb halfway through the school year, no matter the district.

The next two columns show each district’s five month motor vehicle gain or loss and then the 12 month estimate. This is where it becomes evident that going into the 16-17 school year, some districts will have to make much deeper cuts than others.

Motor Vehicle Disparities.png

Through the first five months of the fiscal year, Mid-Del received $802,301 less than the previous year. That alone is worse than our state aid cuts. Extrapolate that out over a full year, and we’re dealing with revenue losses from motor vehicle collections that are three times as bad as what we are suffering through from state aid.

Meanwhile – and I only point this out to illustrate the disparity – other districts have benefitted from the OTC interpretation of HB 2244 to the extent that they aren’t down at all this school year. While we are all bracing for cuts next year, some districts are in vastly better financial shape than others. Indeed, tweaking the formula has produced an unintended consequence.

While the Legislature has failed to fund public education adequately for years, they typically have been able to do so in an equitably disappointing manner. For the current school year, if the 12 month motor vehicle estimate holds, Mid-Del will lose the most ($174.21) on this list, when figured on a per-pupil basis. If we go just a couple of school districts beyond the top 30, we could see that Ardmore will lose an estimated $402 per student.

(If you want to see the full spreadsheet, click here.)

A little over a month ago, Christy Watson with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association wrote about the difference in per pupil funding in Oklahoma compared with neighboring states. It’s a great blog post, but one part in particular resonates with me right now.

I’m not OK with the idea that students in surrounding states have $30,000 or more invested in their education throughout the course of their school years. I don’t think most parents or business leaders think that’s OK, either.

Taken a step further, as the Mid-Del superintendent, I’m not OK with the idea that other large districts around us would get more than $300 per pupil above what we’re getting. Our kids are worth as much as anyone’s and we deserve legislators who pay enough attention to detail to keep disparities such as this from happening again. We also deserve a remedy to this problem now. Otherwise, The districts at the top of this spreadsheet – many of which serve a high poverty population – will have to make deeper cuts to their workforce next year than the districts at the bottom of it.

If you were one of the people asking about the different approaches and the different levels of cuts among districts, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a quicker answer than that. School finance is never easy to understand, unfortunately.

You are not a Test

I have many reasons to be proud to be part of the Mid-Del Public Schools family. We have amazing students and families. We have dedicated teachers and principals. We have a supportive community that includes Tinker Air Force Base and Rose State College. Most of all, we have our priorities in order.

You may have already seen this on Facebook, but in case you haven’t, here’s a letter that a parent of a Ridgecrest Roadrunner posted last night.

Ridgecrest Roadrunners.jpg

We all get hung up on our accomplishments, and to an extent, that’s ok. We should be proud when we do well. When a school raises test scores, I have no problem with the celebrations that follow. As little stock as I place in the A-F report cards, if I were a principal, and my school received an A, I’d hang up a big old banner too.

Still, the second paragraph of this letter to students captures what the best educators among us know to be true:

[The tests] do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for dancing. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your smile lightens a room….

What I know about the teachers and principal at this school is that they do care about student achievement. They care about getting their students ready for not just the state test, but also for the next grade or the next school. I know that they have a veteran staff and that they rally around students and families in need.

Because tests have high-stakes attached to them, we must take them seriously. One thing we know to be part of our job is to protect children from harm. Artificial consequences attached to assessments that are poor descriptors of learning and ability and worse descriptors of future success fall into this category. We should not gear instruction solely around them, nor should we act as if they don’t exist.

We also should not, as Rob Miller writes, ignore the fact that some most of our students have other priorities.

The folks making six-figure salaries for testing vendors like Pearson, ETS, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and Measured Progress believe that  children OWE them their loyalty by giving their best effort to this annual exercise: “By God, we’ve worked hard to craft these beautiful measures of student learning, the very least you could do is show your appreciation by doing your best.”

This presumption is so strong in their mind that because this is such self-evidently important work, that they cannot imagine anybody not seeing its value.

These folks live in a magical land where every child is loved, comes to school eager to learn, and loves to sit quietly for hours taking multiple choice tests on a laptop, while unicorns frolic with elves in rainbow-laden fields.

Children are smarter than this. They understand the reality that these tests are simply a means to sort, rank, humiliate and punish kids through various forms of public shaming, things like grade retention, denial of a high school diploma, and forced placement in “remediation” classes.

The testing companies say kids should love these swell assessments because they were crafted with their best interests in mind.

Of course, parents and students have to be made to believe this because otherwise, what’s the purpose of it all?

If a student is bored or tired or hungry or distracted or scared or neglected or angry or sad or just doesn’t care or doesn’t see any point or just feels like playing video games or listening to loud music or playing basketball or singing songs or painting a picture or checking out the hot girl two rows over or thinks that high-stakes testing is stupid or prefers to write open-ended answers in the form of rap lyrics or long rambling run-on sentences like this   .   .   .   if that happens, every single piece of precious data derived from these test results, ranging  from A-F report cards, to teacher VAM evaluations, to student growth calculations, to all of it is craptacular crap.

It could just be that our students love to sing and dance or run and play more than they want to test. It could be that they love to read more than they want to suffer through the reading passages selected for them on the tests. Whatever the variable, we just have to understand that when the test scores come back, they may or may not tell us anything useful.

And for that, we pay millions.

Try hard, kids. Do your best. Then go outside and play.

Two Things on SB 1187

Tomorrow, the House Appropriations and Budget (A & B) Committee will hear one of the bills I’ve been watching for month. Sort of.

  1. SB 1187 passed the Senate by one vote. It essentially would have given high-performing* districts the flexibility to do all kinds of things – such as removing the minimum salary schedule, insurance, and retirement benefits for the teachers. In other words, if you are a good teacher, and our kids are successful, I, as your administrator, can take away decades of progress – but only if you vote to allow me to do it. Oh, we also wouldn’t have had to serve all students in our district. It was bizarre. Apparently, that bill is now a memory.
  2. Tomorrow, a substitute bill will be heard in its place. This bill takes all of the original language out and lets high schools substitute concurrent enrollment credit for certain End-of-Instruction exams. It’s now a totally different bill. Even if it passes the House, it would have to go back to the Senate. Then if they change it, there will be a conference committee. And so it goes.

What does that mean? Probably that we have more important things to worry about. I’ll keep worrying about money. That’s the big one.


*As determined by standardized tests or a troll under a foot-bridge…it wasn’t really clear.

Two Bills to Support

March 29, 2016 3 comments

Yesterday was pretty anti-climactic. The morning was loud and at times, contentious. The afternoon was like a balloon with a small pin prick. Slowly, and noticeably, the air went out of the Senate first, and then the House.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time on that. Before I discuss two bills that warrant your support, I want to share with you the experiences of Oklahoma teacher and English/language arts standards writing team member, Kelli Anglley.

I had the unique opportunity to go to the state capitol today and speak with our legislators about the Oklahoma ELA standards that I helped author.

As I teacher, I often wonder why our legislators make the decisions they do. Today I gained some insight. Teachers obviously cannot go and lobby because we are teaching. However, other groups seem to have more time on their hands.

ROPE Hallway

This group (ROPE – Reclaiming Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, formerly Restoring Oklahoma Public Education) was there in force. They were holding red signs that read “FIX AND VERIFY” in reference to our new standards. Some members of this group had no clue why they were there. I heard a lady say to another, “Why are we here again?” All she had done was answer a robocall plea to be at the capitol. It took all I had not to walk up with my copy of the standards and say, “Which one would you like me to fix and verify” because I am almost positive most have never even read them.

As legislators would walk past them, they would chant and and grab some for conversations about the bills they were interested in.

As members of the writing team walked by to enter the House Republican Caucus, where we were invited as guests, this group was chanting “STOP COMMON CORE” the whole time we walked down the long hallway.
1. Our standards are NOT Common Core.
2. I’ve never been on either side of a protest before, so that
was very odd.

My opinion is that this is why we get some of the crazy legislation we get – because there are crazy people up at the capitol bending our legislator’s ears. I feel that my presence there today, shaking hands, putting a face to the standards, and answering questions helped. However, I am very happy to be going back to my classroom tomorrow.

As parents and teachers, we need to get more involved. I’ll post a group in the comments that you can join if interested in current educational legislation.

I was there for a little while in the morning too, but I missed that scene. That’s probably a good thing.

1. Senate Bill 1170 – This bill would repeal End-of-Instruction testing and give districts control over testing and graduation requirements for high school students. This bill does nothing for grades 3-8 testing, which is fine with me. That’s more complicated, and I’m still not sold on anything we’ve seen to replace those tests. It’s a good start and would save the state money (and high schools valuable time).

2. House Bill 2957 – This bill would end the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System and place the job of teacher evaluation back into the hands of districts. As with SB 1170, it’s a bill that provides flexibility and local control.

(By the way, this is a stark contrast to SB 1187 which rolls back years of progress on teacher protections – get this…as a REWARD for being successful! That’s not the local control we’re looking for.)

HB 2957 also would save districts money. Time, flexibility, and cost-savings. These are always upgrades.

As hard as we’ve worked these last few weeks fighting madness, let’s keep that energy focused, and fight for things we want. These bills passed their chamber of origin unanimously this month. As I found talking to people at the Capitol today, there are more elected leaders trying to help us than hurt us. Let’s thank them and let them know we support good legislation.

They’re #OklahomaStandards

March 26, 2016 5 comments

As we speak, our legislators are receiving phone calls and emails from individuals who oppose them approving the standards. Do all of these sudden activists live in Oklahoma? I seriously doubt it – not after Representative Dan Fisher (R-Black Robed Regiment) made blatantly false statements on the Glenn Beck radio program Friday. In calling the standards a back door for Common Core, he riled up Beck’s national base. To these people, facts don’t matter.

Below is a copy of an actual email that one nameless legislator says have come in by the hundreds.

Dear Sir or Madam,

The legislature has the responsibility as our fiduciaries to know what the final standards are before voting to approve them. As written, the current bills, HRJ1070 and SJR75, do NOT correct the problem – theyMUST BE AMENDED. Do not approve an unfinished product with the “hope” that “changes” will be made. Trust is broken and we know that board members have promised that they will NOT accept additional changes to the standards, so it is up to you as our elected representative, to DIRECT that Changes will be made – so that you keep your word to the parents, students and educators of Oklahoma that you would ensure high quality standards that are not common core compliant when you passed HB3399 into law.Insist that the suggested corrections made by subject matter experts in the SCCC Report be implemented. AFTER you have seen that the external reviewers changes have been made, THENapprove the standards. HJR 1070 and SJR75, as currently drafted and before you DO NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. YOU MUST AMEND THEM. If you choose to do nothing on Monday, then you will be acting through your silence.

That’s a lot of typos from people who think they need to chime in on our academic standards. In its place, I have written my own email that I suggest sending (by the thousands).

Dear Sir or Madam,

Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education presented the Legislature with the revised Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts on the first day of the legislative session (February 1st). For weeks, you have had the opportunity to ask questions. Many of you have. Last Monday (March 21st), the Senate voted 30-16 to approve the standards. The House voted 60-30 to do the same. Since neither chamber has acted on the other’s resolution, we are now down to the last day to act.

The standards writing teams have met every provision of HB 3399. The OSDE has presented you with more than 60 letters of support for the standards. They come from school districts, expert curriculum groups, Career Tech, and Higher Education.

On Monday, you will continue receiving calls and emails – both for and against approving the standards. You will also have several members of the standards writing teams in the building to help you accurately understand the process they followed during the last year. They can answer your questions about alignment, coherence, and rigor. They can answer your questions about how the standards differ from the Common Core or PASS. All of these other people flooding your office with misinformation cannot. They say they’ll be watching. So will we. Please don’t pull the rug out from under our teachers yet again.

The time to move forward is now.

Sincerely,

A life-long Oklahoman and a 23 year educator

Level Crowd Shot

As far as I’m concerned, if you say “public schools aren’t worth restoring” and work tirelessly to convince parents that public schools are evil and to withdraw their kids from them, you forfeit your right to an opinion on how and what we teach. If you’d rather talk to Glenn Beck about the standards than to the teachers who developed them, you’re not even trying to be constructive. You still have your First Amendment right to speak, but discerning people should ignore you.

Call your senator.

Call your representative.

Show up Monday if you can.

Senate Emails

allen@oksenate.gov, anderson@oksenate.gov, barrington@oksenate.gov, bass@oksenate.gov, bice@oksenate.gov, bingman@oksenate.gov, boggs@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, brooks@oksenate.gov, brownb@oksenate.gov, crain@oksenate.gov, dahm@oksenate.gov, david@oksenate.gov, dossett@oksenate.gov,efields@oksenate.gov, floyd@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, fry@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, griffin@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, holt@oksenate.gov, jech@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov,

justice@oksenate.gov, loveless@oksenate.gov, marlatt@oksenate.gov, mazzei@oksenate.gov, newberry@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, pittman@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, schulz@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, shortey@oksenate.gov, shumate@oksenate.gov, silk@oksenate.gov, simpson@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, lewis@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov, treat@oksenate.gov, wyrick@oksenate.gov, yen@oksenate.gov

House Emails

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov, casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

Call to Action: Stop the Madness

March 26, 2016 2 comments

Superintendent Hofmeister delivered the new math and English/language arts standards to the Legislature on February 1. Unless other directions were given by the both houses and signed by the governor, the standards would take effect as of the 30th day of session.

Apparently Monday – the day after Easter – is that 30th day. Let’s see…session started February 1st. There are 29 days in February. Monday will be the 28th day of March. That means…

Wait, you’re telling me that in 57 calendar days, the Legislature has only been in session for 30? I get the whole “want to spend the weekend with my family” thing. Believe me. I get it. They take Fridays off to meet with constituents back in their districts. Well, many of them do. I suppose I can’t paint with a broad brush.

Still, if they had worked eight four-day weeks since the start of February, there would have been 32 days of session so far. So what happened?

They took an extra day off during Spring Break, and they took an extra day off last week. The timing was fascinating.

This Monday, the House and Senate passed joint resolutions (HJR 1070 and SJR 75, respectively) to approve the standards. The House version calls for additional review by the groups that had already provided comments, but it still would allow Hofmeister and the State Department of Education to move forward. The Senate version – which I love – would approve the standards and permanently remove the Legislature from the business of approving standards at all.

Then it all turned into a [choose your own colorful term] contest. The Senate wouldn’t hear the House resolution, and the House wouldn’t hear the Senate resolution. Then the House called it a week a day early, but the Senate didn’t. Now it depends on who you ask as to whether or not we’ve reached the 30th day.

Side note: this is the government we’ve chosen to have. I’m just going to leave that there.

Everything seemed to be over. However, as former Faber College student John Blutarsky once said, nothing is over until WE decide it is!

germans pearl harbor.gif

On Friday, somebody said (and repeated, and repeated) the phrase that makes rational conversation suddenly disappear.

COMMON CORE!

COMMON CORE!

COMMON CORE!

lydia gif.gif

Last week it was Jenni White over at ROPE. This week, it’s Representative Dan Fisher, who appeared yesterday on the Glenn Beck radio program.

In this 12 minute clip, he flat out lies about the new math and ELA standards. He says that we’re bringing Common Core back.

We’re not. We’ve covered that extensively. Nobody has distanced themselves from our new standards more than Achieve, Inc. – the architects of the Common Core. As I mentioned last week, they reviewed our standards and hated them. They pointed out over 200 times how our standards are not like Common Core. We even had a Twitter battle over the fact that I pointed this out.

It was the best of times.

Thank you, Achieve, Inc., for making my point for me. These standards were made by Oklahomans for Oklahomans. They received over 60 letters of support from fellow Oklahomans. One of them was from me – a life-long and fourth-generation Oklahoman. Are they as good as Common Core? It depends on whom you ask. Curriculum has been my professional area of emphasis since I started graduate school in 1999. I think they are. I would stake my professional reputation on it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have voiced my support in the first place.

Glenn Beck is not an Oklahoman. Dan Fisher is, but he’s an extremist.

Unfortunately, this stunt has activated the people who listen to Glenn Beck – nationally – and who are now calling our legislators’ offices. We need to do the same.

If you want to know about the math standards, read what Nicole Styers wrote yesterday:

One striking difference between 2009 and today: during previous revisions of standards, state leadership specifically asked us not to open the standards up to public comment.  For our new standards, we actively sought out as much feedback as possible, above and beyond what was even “required” of us by HB 3399.

For me, this was the most amazing and rewarding part of the process.  To be able to collaborate with teachers and others in education across the state was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  It truly was a team effort, one that I am honored to have been a part of.

Over the last 10 months, The writing team meet face to face, as a whole team and as grade band groups, at least half a dozen times. We also meet via web conferencing and conference calls. Although we had a compressed timeline, the SDE hosted three official rounds of public comment and several unofficial rounds (when groups of educators came together as groups and looked over them together). I was blown away by the amount of input and the number of people who took the time to share. I loved Rob Miller’s blog about Ordering the Perfect Pizza you might link it here. It is perfect metaphor of the process. It was a collaborative effort. Often, we made changes based on comments that I didn’t personally agree with, like the grade integers are introduced, but that was the nature of the process.  We never compromised the content or the conviction to have the best standards possible for Oklahoma Students.  For my students.  For my daughter.

Now is the time. They are ready. They are strong. We need stability. We need to move forward.

Or read what Brook Meiller – who was on the ELA team – wrote on Facebook yesterday:

I am on the standards writing team along with other Oklahoma educators. We worked hard to make these standards right for Oklahoma students. Groups outside of Oklahoma and outside the interest of Oklahoma public schools students are slandering the standards and those who wrote them. When you read or hear something about the Oklahoma ELA standards not having anything about Oklahoma in them, or are simply Common Core, remember that ELA concerns such as foundational reading, parts of speech, paragraph writing, theme, similes, etc….none of these are unique to Oklahoma. Our standards are good and need to be in the hands of Oklahoma teachers. ROPE and Glenn Beck have no business in public school in Oklahoma. They do not care about our kids. Call and email your legislators and ask them to pass these standards and move on to other important issues in our state. Please share.

That’s what we need to do. For now, I’m through with trying to engage the people listening to the likes of Beck and Fisher. They’re not even trying to understand public education or standards. Call your senator. Call your representative. Mention that you’re an actual Oklahoman. Mention where you work, where your kids go to school, what the standards mean to you. Let them know you’re fed up with the delay. Let them know you want the standards enacted now.

Senate Emails

allen@oksenate.gov, anderson@oksenate.gov, barrington@oksenate.gov, bass@oksenate.gov, bice@oksenate.gov, bingman@oksenate.gov, boggs@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, brooks@oksenate.gov, brownb@oksenate.gov, crain@oksenate.gov, dahm@oksenate.gov, david@oksenate.gov, dossett@oksenate.gov,efields@oksenate.gov, floyd@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, fry@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, griffin@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, holt@oksenate.gov, jech@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov,

justice@oksenate.gov, loveless@oksenate.gov, marlatt@oksenate.gov, mazzei@oksenate.gov, newberry@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, pittman@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, schulz@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, shortey@oksenate.gov, shumate@oksenate.gov, silk@oksenate.gov, simpson@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, lewis@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov, treat@oksenate.gov, wyrick@oksenate.gov, yen@oksenate.gov

House Emails

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov, casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

Two Things: Diligently Moving Forward

March 22, 2016 1 comment

Yesterday, the Senate and House both advanced joint resolutions on the new standards for math and English/language arts.

1. SJR 75 came out of committee on an 8-4 vote, and is vastly changed. Now it is a resolution to approve the standards with instructions to the SDE and State Board:

SECTION 2. The Legislature requests that the State Board of Education and State Department of Education staff address the following as it develops curriculum frameworks to implement the standards:

A. The State Department of Education shall provide implementation support, including but not limited to examples to assist educators in developing their curriculum;

B. The State Department of Education shall ensure that the standards and accompanying curriculum frameworks provide a foundation for assessments to be implemented on or before the 2017- 2018 school year.

This resolution now would give the SDE the green light to start working with teachers around the state to implement the standards. As it is currently written, this is a great step in the right direction. Kudos should be given to Senator Clark Jolley for proposing the changes to the resolution.

To be fair, not everybody agreed with Jolley’s changes.

Just the same, it passed committee, and Senator Brecheen voted for it. Later in the day, it cleared the full Senate on a 30-16 vote.

2.Then yesterday afternoon, the full House debated and passed an amended HJR 1070. The key change is this language:

New Language.jpg

In other words, this can’t take forever. The resolution now reads to approve the standards, with the State Department of Education still having to receive input from the fifteen outside entities, some of which are not exactly friends of public education.

List of outside reviewers

Now that the SDE would control their own timeline, there’s nothing to delay implementation of the standards. Still, it does add an intermediate task.

HJR passed with a vote of 60-30.

This leaves three options for implementing the standards:

A. Do nothing. The standards will go into effect automatically Thursday even if neither of these bills hits the Governor’s desk.

B. Advance SJR 75 through the House and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two.

C. Advance HJR 1070 through the Senate and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two and require the SDE to spend additional time listening to people it has already listened to while trying to work with teachers on turning standards into curriculum.

As Representative Cyndi Munson said yesterday on Twitter, many in the House voted no on HJR 1070 (even as amended) because we need to just let the SDE do their jobs at this point.

If you have a picture in your mind of who usually supports public education and who usually doesn’t, looking at any of these vote counts will only make you scratch your head. It’s never that cut and dry, which is why there was a decent amount of frustration at the end of the day. Many who voted  no (in both the House and Senate) were doing so in response to their constituents, who had contacted them in waves during the past week.

Today is a new day. There will be new things to discuss. Hopefully, moving past the standards brings us one step closer to focusing on the biggest issue our Legislature faces: the budget.

 

 

No on the Joint Resolutions

March 20, 2016 Comments off

Last Tuesday, while several hundred of my closest friends were merrily walking through the Capitol, and most legislators had taken the day off, most of us thought we’d be busy fighting SB 1187 (and its House counterpart, HB 3156) once everybody came back from Spring Break next week. We were wrong.

A few legislators were still around. Some were quite accessible. Some even had new legislation to push. Unknown to those of us speaking to our legislators, we should have been fighting a very targeted nuisance.

Snow and Nelson

On Monday, legislators had filed three joint resolutions that would delay approval of the new math and English/language arts standards, cost the state money it doesn’t have, and prevent implementation for the upcoming school year. One appears harmless to some, calling for approval but with instructions. The devil is in the instructions, though.

Below, I will discuss each resolution briefly and then once again recap some of the criticism of the standards. Then I will add email addresses and phone numbers of key legislators that you should call if you want to make your own thoughts known. If you already know what you want to say, feel free to skip to the end and start calling and emailing.

SJR 75 (by Brecheen and Sykes)

Senators Brecheen and Sykes authored SJR 75, which calls for the following, along with rejecting the standards:

The State Board of Education shall submit to members of the Legislature an unbiased report comparing the standards resubmitted to the Legislature pursuant to this section with the standards that were in place prior to the revisions adopted by the State Board of Education in June 2010. No member of the standards writing team shall participate in or contribute to the comparison report. The report shall include a list of all contributors to the report with accompanying evidence proving their unbiased status.

The section disapproving the ELA standards also includes the prohibition of including people the SDE had write the standards, along with these instructions:

The revised standards require students to become familiar with historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts that contributed to the development of the English language and its fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with significant texts, people, movements and events in Oklahoma’s political, intellectual and literary history;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with America’s founding and seminal political documents;

This bill is assigned to the Senate Education Committee. This resolution can die here, and if it does, that bodes well for the standards approval. Brecheen and Sykes are adamant about excluding the people who wrote the standards from influencing this process any further. That’s too bad. Writing team member Jason Stephenson wrote an eloquent post on his blog today explaining the level to which these politicians are further insulting teachers. His qualifications?

Let me be up front and say that I served on the committee that wrote the English standards. I have taught for eleven years in seventh through twelfth grades. I have my master’s degree in English, and I’m a past president of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. As an Oklahoma Writing Project teacher consultant, I’ve presented numerous workshops to teachers around the state.

I’d listen to that guy before I’d listen to a fringe group that wants nothing to do with public schools. There’s also the matter of the specific reading lists mandated by this resolution. English teachers don’t need legislation to tell us to use historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts. That’s like telling fish to swim. This is what we do.

They want a list of required reading, ostensibly so we don’t stray too far from their comfort zone. They want to go beyond standards and determine curriculum. That’s not their place.

HJR 1070 (Speaker Hickman)

This resolution goes straight to the floor. Section 1 states that both sets of standards “are hereby approved in whole with instructions as set forth in Section 2 of this resolution.” That’s where it gets tricky. Section 2 begins saying:

Prior to the State Board of Education implementing the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts and the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics as approved in Section 1 of this resolution, the Board shall take the following action which shall be completed no later than the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year:

  1. Review and compile a list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested in the “Oklahoma Academic Standards/Common Core State Standards Comparison Analysis Reports” prepared by the South Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma and submitted to the Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister on January 25, 2016, and any other clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested by individuals and groups previously identified by the State Department of Education as the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts” and the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics”;

  2. Submit the compiled list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions as described in paragraph 1 of this section to the Outside Reviewers as described in paragraph 1 of this section which shall make comments regarding each clarification, revision, improvement and addition;

Let me pause there. This bill approves the standards but delays their implementation another year, and then only if the SDE makes changes and submits them to outside reviewers. Below is the list of outside reviewers that would have to approve the changes:

List of outside reviewers

This is an exercise in futility. This disparate group of reviewers includes ROPE, whose loathing of public education cannot possibly be overstated. It also includes the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English, of which many members of the standards writing team are members. The groups on this list will never be in full agreement about anything. If this resolution passes, we could be back in the same place in a few months. If the teams make changes to please one group, another group will voice concerns. There is no middle ground on which all of these voices will find enough agreement to give their approval.

And that gets me back to what I’ve been saying for the last five days. Trust the teachers who wrote the standards. Trust the teachers who will teach our children.

Here’s more from this resolution:

A. All subject matter standards and revisions to the standards adopted by the State Board of Education pursuant to Section 11-103.6a of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes shall be subject to legislative review as set forth in this section. The standards shall not be implemented by the State Board of Education until the legislative review process is completed as provided for in this section.

B. Upon adoption of any subject matter standards, the State Board of Education shall submit the adopted standards to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a designee and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate or a designee prior to the last thirty (30) days of the legislative session.

That’s a pretty quick turnaround – 30 days from the end of the legislative session. Are those working days? Total days? At most, the SDE would have a month complete all of this work. Actually, scratch that. It can’t be done. They have to get SBE approval first. It can’t be done.

This bill delays implementation of the standards for a year. Each ensuing step of the process will cost the state more time too. It impacts future testing contracts. It impacts textbook adoption. It insults teachers, yet again – which is something legislators up for re-election probably can’t afford to do right now.

Representative Jason Nelson, who at least engages #oklaed in lively debate on Twitter, doesn’t seem to get this.

Nelson twitter

No matter what you hear this week, HJR 1070 does not help.

HJR 1071 (Speaker Hickman)

This one is kind of a hybrid of the first two. Here’s the key language:

If the Legislature fails to adopt a joint resolution within thirty (30) legislative days following submission of the standards or fifteen (15) legislative days following resubmission of the revised standards as provided for in Section 2 of this resolution during the 2nd Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature, the standards shall be deemed approved.

There would be another chance to go through this mess, but again, the timeline is crazy tight. There’s little hope the standards would be approved and in place for the upcoming school year.

As Claudia Swisher wrote on Facebook this morning:

Senate Ed Committee meets tomorrow 9am to consider the Brecheen Joint Resolution to reject the new Standards in part or in full. Emails below to contact them today. Vote no on SJR75

House GOP meets in Caucus tomorrow am to decide what to do with the two Joint Resolutions to reject the standards in part or in full. The emails of the entire House are in the comments also. Vote no on HJR1070 and 1071.

The opposition to the Standards is coming from a group who identifies public education as the enemy, from the newspaper who was in love with the Superindentist, and the non-profit Achieve, who lost big when OK repealed CCSS. Oh, and from legislators who are miffed that the OSDE published a fiscal impact statement about how vouchers would devastate our schools.

That pretty much covers the groups with whom a few in our legislature have aligned themselves. Another way of looking at this, as General Baxter said yesterday, is this:

A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State. Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

Baxter also said that much of this 11th hour opposition has the fingerprints of the former state superintendent all over them. He would know, famously having been the subject of her obscenity and vitriol.

My advice to the legislators still trying to replay the elections of 2014: maybe you should focus on the upcoming elections instead.

Quit being obstructionists. Quit insulting the work and professionalism of educators. On this one, just get out of the way.

Call to the Capitol 3.21.15

Senate Education Committee e-mails

dossett@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov

Emails for the House

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov,
casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

 

 

 

 

 

General Baxter Says it Even Better

March 19, 2016 6 comments

Retired general and State Board of Education member Lee Baxter posted his thoughts on the standards debate on Facebook tonight. baxter.jpg

I am a member of the State Board of Education. I am not known to be reluctant to express my opinion. So I shall.

1. The legislature rejected Common Core in 2014 and directed that we needed OKLAHOMA standards written by OKLAHOMANS for OKLAHOMA children and their parents, and that the OKLAHOMA State Regents for Higher Education certify those standards as preparing our children for college and career.

2. A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State.Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

3. Now we have 2 Senators, Brecheen and Sykes, who declare these OKLAHOMA educators are not smart enough, not capable enough nor talented enough to do the job. Instead they want the inputs of a Massachussets/ Arkansas arrogant miscreant who admires only her own standards, and the radicalized splinter group called ROPE who have just declared “public education is not worth restroring.” Every teacher in the state should be completely insulted by the actions of these two. Like me, they are Republicans. I am not proud of them. None participated in public comment forums…..

4. If I need a plumber, I do not hire an electrician. I hire a plumber. And when I want standards written, I would hire a teacher, an educator…..NOT a lawyer or a horse trainer (with apologies to Sykes and Brecheen.). What do they know about math and English standards????? Nothing

5. I am sure I know the agenda here. These two Senators simply do not want these standards. And why not? Because they both drink from the trough of the former State Superintendent, whose fingerprints are all over their actions.

6. Rep Jason Nelson also wants these delayed, yet seems much more reasonable and is asking for “tweaks and edits” Well, Jason, pass these now and I promise the SDE and the Board will take up your concerns PROMPTLY.

7.OKLAHOMA School adminstrators and teachers and parents want these standards NOW. NO more delays. We have produced what we were asked for . “Standards for Oklahmans by Oklahomans.” Does not the legislature have real problems to solve???????

All….please contact your leaders and members in the legislature. MUST BE NOW. This will all be done as early as Monday…..

I’ll just leave that there, but General Baxter, next time you see me, ask if I have a spare microphone. If I do, it’s yours to drop.

 

 

Definitely Not Common Core

March 19, 2016 1 comment

If we needed proof that the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts are not just a rebrand of the jettisoned Common Core State Standards, it arrived Friday night with a resounding plop. At about 8:30, Achieve, Inc. released a 68 page document highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’ve never heard of Achieve, here are a few graphics to help you get an idea of who they are.

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Achieve was one of the drivers behind the development and implementation of the Common Core. Here’s a blurb from their website:

At the direction of 48 states, and partnering with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve helped develop the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-six states and the National Research Council asked Achieve to manage the process to write the Next Generation Science Standards. In the past Achieve also served as the project manager for states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. And since 2005, Achieve has worked with state teams, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of the real world so that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to fully reach their promise in college, careers and life.

Throughout their website, you can find resources to support Common Core implementation. This is who they are. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of their harshest criticisms of our standards are tied to things that they feel Common Core does better. For example:

sample criticism

Most of the review follows a simple format:

  • Make a declarative statement about the Oklahoma standards.
  • Identify any strengths in this part of the standards.
  • Explain how Common Core is superior.
  • Forecast the fall of western civilization.

That last part is implied, rather than explicitly stated (which I find to be a weakness).

Here’s one of the Common Core standards that the document’s author(s) hold up as critical:

Tracing the reasons and evidence an author gives so students are able to break down arguments and understand the structure of claims, warrants, and evidence (for examples, see CCSS RI #8 across grade levels).

This is a wonderful thing to teach. We can do this with historical documents and speeches. We can use editorials and blogs. We could even break down the cable news folderol or statements from candidate debates for this. What I don’t need, as an English teacher, is a specific standard telling me to do it. I would’ve gotten there on my own.

This gets back to the gist of all the criticisms I’ve read in the last week (yes, the last week). The standards don’t explicitly spell out every task we want teachers to have students do. I’m fine with that. That’s not the purpose of standards.

We shouldn’t be bothered that Achieve doesn’t approve of our standards. The timing, on the other hand, seems suspicious, however. Why drop the report on a Friday night? Why now, with less than a week to go before the standards are approved? Wondering these things, I took to Twitter and started asking questions. Friends chimed in too. Below are some of our questions, as well as some responses from Achieve and their people:

Achieve claims that the review was completely independent and neither funded nor requested by anyone. They evaluate and review standards. It’s just a thing that they do. After all, they’re a non-profit and all of their activities are simply a service to the public.

If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime at all, you’ve probably detected that non-profit is one of my trigger words. So I looked at their 990 tax form from 2013 (the most recent one online). They have about a 14 million dollar budget. They list 10 employees (all that the form requires) making in excess of $100,000. They’re a non-profit entity, for sure, but they’re not a bunch of starving artists, either. Their funding comes from such sources as the Gates Foundation and the Batelle Foundation. Yes, the people who brought us value-added measurement and roster verification are among their primary supporters.

Reviews like this take time. They take money. I have no evidence or reason to believe that the Achieve’s report was anything but independent. Unless something to the contrary surfaces, I’ll accept that. For the record, one other pair of their tweets made me snicker a little:

I get it. Nobody understands how it feels to have your standards attacked better than the architects of the Common Core. As for not believing that this is an attack, well maybe they lack context for what it’s like to be an educator in Oklahoma. Within the last week, our standards have been criticized by a group that wants nothing to do with public education (yet somehow still gets a seat at the table).

Jenni doesn't care

This comes on top of relentless attacks, whether it is voucher schemes that would further deplete school funding, charter school bills sugar-coated as empowerment legislation, and ongoing political coercion from out-of-state. The timing of the report is also frustrating – three days after resolutions were filed in the House and Senate to disapprove the standards, and days before they automatically go into effect.

Again, if we take people’s words at face value, then we should accept the fact that legislators like Jason Nelson, Jeff Hickman, Anthony Sykes, and Josh Brecheen have been reviewing feedback of the standards all along. Still, they can’t point to a single conversation with a single member of the standards writing teams. Furthermore, they respond to the critics of the standards, but not at all to the 60+ letters of support the SDE has received.

I’ve also read the letters of support, and the most compelling was written by Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math. He writes:

My background is as follows: I am a mathematician by training with a bachelor’s degree in math from Princeton University (1986) and a PhD in pure math from MIT (1991). While pursuing my PhD I taught students at MIT and at the University of California at San Diego….

Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task of examining the Oklahoma Standards with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well-prepared for college and be capable of pursuing STEM majors, if they chose to do so.

As for me, I’m just tired of waiting. When I was in Moore, we spent nearly four years transitioning from PASS to Common Core. When the state pulled the plug, our teachers were frustrated – even the ones who didn’t like the Common Core. So we transitioned back to PASS. Now, we’ve been writing and developing these standards, and we’re on the precipice of implementing them. Will the state pull the plug again? Our teachers deserve more certainty than that.

If what had been developed during the past year was lousy, I could see delaying or even dumping it. That’s not the case at all. What we have is something between ROPE’s happy place and Achieve’s. That’s what I call a sweet spot.

One more thing: below is an excerpt from Brecheen’s argument in 2014 for Oklahoma to toss the Common Core.

This is his screed against books, particularly against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which he called pornographic. Now he, and a handful of others in the Legislature, want to delay the standards, citing the lack of reading exemplars as one of their reasons. The truth is that they were going to be against the standards because they don’t like the name at the top of the letterhead. They don’t need another reason.

Along with the editors at the Oklahoman – who ran an opinion piece on the standards by someone who hasn’t read them – and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – whose Andrew Spiropoulos once warned conservatives not to get rid of Common Core – we have to deal with people in elected positions intent on disrupting public education, above all else.This is about politics and egos.

Some in the House will claim that one of the proposed standards resolutions – HJR 1070 – would not delay implementation of the standards at all. That is false.

1070  Nelson twitter

Apparently, Nelson doesn’t understand the delay (and cost) that this supposedly harmless resolution would cause. Nor does he seem to remember that ROPE – which has no interest in helping public education – would be involved in the review process.

review committees

The standards are ready. They’re not perfect; they never will be. We should take constructive feedback into consideration, but we shouldn’t stop what we’re doing because of it.

The Standards are Ready

March 18, 2016 1 comment

Next week, three separate joint resolutions over the new math and English/language arts standards – two in the House, one in the Senate – may be heard and advanced. If any of the three make it all the way to Governor Fallin’s desk – and she signs by the 24th – then we have another delay in implementing them.

This morning, as I was leaving the grocery store, I noticed that this drama was placed above-the-fold for all the world to see on the front page of the Oklahoman.

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Since we know newspaper subscriptions are down, we can assume that many people will only read the headline in passing. Here are some quotes from inside the story:

“Overall, the people who spent an enormous amount of time on this did a great job…none of us are trying to play standards experts. But there is room for improvement in an otherwise good product.” – Rep. Jason Nelson

Honestly, I can’t find of fault with Nelson’s statement. These people did work hard. It is a good product. There is room for improvement. There always will be. You won’t find a single member of the standards writing teams – math or ELA – who wouldn’t like to tweak a thing or two. It was committee work. They received thousands of pieces of feedback. This is the shaped work of their experiences, effort, and input.

Where we differ is what should be done with that feeling. I’m ready to move forward. So are the standards writing teams. So are our teachers.

“This is not an indictment of teachers…the process and editing and how these things were assembled broke down at the state Department of Education.” – Sen. Josh Brecheen

Maybe it’s worth noting that Brecheen’s mother worked for the previous state superintendent and was set to lead the standards revision in 2014 when Janet Barresi lost her re-election and the State Board of Education decided to wait. It should also be noted that Brecheen was probably the loudest critic of the suggested titles that came as an Appendix with the Common Core. He’s not going to compliment the SDE – ever.

“Now these are being criticized for being too vague…we want to give flexibility to teachers.” – Sen. Ron Sharp

Sharp is a former teacher, so he gets it. First the standards were too specific (although the Common Core reading list only suggested titles, not dictated them). Now the standards are too vague.

“You would never know these standards were written by Oklahomans for Oklahoma. They could have been written by people on Mars for Martians. There is absolutely nothing in these standards that has an Oklahoma touch, and you want students to end high school knowing something about the state in which they have lived and where they may go to college or do something else as citizens.” – Dr. Sandra Stotsky, University of Arkansas

Dr. Stotsky has never lived in Oklahoma. She has, however, helped author standards in Massachusetts. With that in mind, she should know the difference between standards and curriculum. While I would see nothing wrong with the state suggesting authors and titles to match the standards at each grade level, I wouldn’t want them to dictate those choices to my teachers in my schools.

By the way, I find it interesting that our legislators can’t seem to find any bills written by Oklahomans. For that, as Rob Miller pointed out last night, they turn to ALEC.

Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Kyle Reynolds, another Oklahoman from Oklahoma, also weighed in on the standards battle this morning on Facebook.

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His point is that whatever we do, there are some legislators who are just going to fight us. There are detractors in the public who are just going to fight us. Some people, for whatever reason, just want public education to suffer and fail.

This did get me thinking, however, about some famous Oklahomans and their words that we could introduce to our students:

“America would be a better place if leaders would do more long-term thinking.” – Wilma Mankiller

“America is woven of many strands. I would recognise them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many. This is not prophecy, but description.” – Ralph Ellison

“I knew I was right, because somewhere I read in the 14th Amendment, that I was a citizen and I had rights, and I had the right to eat. Within that hamburger was the whole essence of democracy. If you could deny me the right to eat, you could deny me the right to live or work where I want.” – Clara Luper

“Any writer who gives a reader a pleasurable experience is doing every other writer a favor because it will make the reader want to read other books.” – S.E. Hinton

“History is full of really good stories. That’s the main reason I got into this racket: I want to make the argument that history is interesting.” – Sarah Vowell

“The characters I’ve played, especially Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, almost never use a gun, and they always try to use their wits instead of their fists.” – James Garner

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” – Will Rogers

I think that’s a pretty representative cross-section. I could turn any one (or several) of those quotes into a lesson plan. Having taught middle and high school English, I could take any one of those and adapt it for multiple grades. I don’t need Dr. Stotsky, the Legislature, the SDE, or some fringe group telling me how, either.

Trust our teachers. Trust Oklahomans. Pass the standards now. On that note, I’ll leave you with the words of Oklahoman Hoyt Axton and a song to go with it.

hoyt.jpg

That Awkward Moment

March 16, 2016 5 comments

This one time at EdCamp a friend asked me how I come up with an idea and start writing. I don’t have a precise formula. Generally, my ideas fall in that sweet spot in the Venn Diagram between something I know and something that needs to be said. If either of those things is lacking, I simply don’t write. If I’m not passionate, why bother? If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that will be pretty obvious. Unfortunately, not everybody follows this rule.

Today, the Oklahoman ran an op/ed piece by Jenni White, the director of the grassroots organization Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE). Unlike many other groups that have recently emerged, this really is a grassroots group. White has long been involved in education policy discussions, even though the majority of recent content on her group’s blog touts reasons why parents should not send their children to public schools.

White’s column focused on reasons why the Legislature should reject the recently written math and English/language arts standards. Here’s an excerpt:

Unfortunately, though the standards development process was begun immediately, it was quickly waylaid by Oklahoma’s 2014 elections, which saw the selection of a new state superintendent of instruction.

Under newly elected Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Department of Education scrapped the work of the previous administration and rebooted the OAS process in February 2015 with presentations from three nationally known standards writing experts made to the Oklahoma Standards Steering Committee.

In June, the first OAS draft and reviews were released to the public, followed by a second draft in July and a third in September. Final OAS drafts were released to the public in November 2015, adopted by the state Board of Education in December and presented to the Legislature in February.

A study of the standards review documents found on the Department of
Education’s Oklahoma Academic Standards web page (and those submitted by teachers directly to ROPE) across the months from June to December 2015 produced a list of the most articulated concerns over the course of the process.

It became apparent that several issues causing the OAS writing teams trouble from the beginning had not been resolved prior to the release of the final draft.

She then lists several of the concerns from the reviewers.

My concern is this: White herself admits on Facebook that she has not read the standards. She has only read the negative reviews.

Jenni did not read.jpg

As I wrote last night, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has collected over 60 letters of support for the standards. If you want, you can even read the one I wrote. Here’s part of what I said:

I have reviewed the standards as they are to be presented, and I have had opportunities to review drafts throughout the development process. I have colleagues, including several people who have worked for me, who have participated in the process as well.

Two things strike me as most exceptional about these standards. First is that every standard includes strands for reading and writing. That means that at all grade levels, we will expect students not only to consume language, but to create it as well. They will be using the vocabulary that they are learning. They will be applying critical thinking skills throughout the grade spans. Even better, they will be learning with the purpose of becoming independent readers and writers.

The second selling point to me is the care taken in vertical alignment between grades. Once adopted, these standards will give us a skills progression that will help teachers develop their own instructional units and prepare students for each successive grade. Ultimately, the assessments that will be in place to test students will be more representative of what they know and can do than what we have seen during recent years.

Yes, I actually read the standards. I read each draft. More importantly, I limit my comments to the English/language arts standards. Why? Before becoming an administrator, I taught middle and high school English for nine years. Academically, this is what I know.

Having been a central office administrator over all curriculum in Moore for seven years, I wouldn’t say my knowledge of math standards or pedagogy is nil, but it’s not as strong.

It’s more than reading the standards and having a grasp of what it takes to teach students, though. When I look at the members of the standards writing teams, I have five from the math list in my phone contacts and five from the English/language arts list in my phone contacts. Two worked for me in Moore. Two work for me now in Mid-Del. One used to share a cubicle wall with me at the State Regents. Two have guest-lectured in my graduate classes. Two were graduate school classmates of my own. Several of the people who aren’t close contacts are still people I know from various consortia and conferences.

I have faith in these people and their work. Maybe the fact that many of them are my friends speaks poorly for them, but I’m honored to know them.

Senator Anthony Sykes, one of the authors of the Senate resolution to reject the standards, hasn’t talked to the two people who work in the district he represents (Moore) who worked on these standards. I only know this because I had lunch with one of them today. Why would our legislators listen to the people who wrote the standards when they can have the Heartland Institute of Chicago drive a wedge among all the Oklahomans in the room?

By the way, who is the Heartland Institute of Chicago, and why are they driving this train right now? They’re a right-wing think tank with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. They are not a grassroots organization. They are not Oklahomans. They don’t belong in this conversation at all.

On the other hand, if Jenni White, or any other member of ROPE, wants to read the standards and point out a specific one that is inappropriate and explain why, I’d be more willing to listen.

Two Things from the Ides of March

March 15, 2016 3 comments

Who spends their Spring Break walking the halls of the Capitol and talking with their legislators? Today, it was a few hundred of my closest friends.

View from Above Sign

While there weren’t many legislators around, we had plenty to discuss with those we found. We were thankful of their bill to provide Rainy Day Funds to schools (and prisons), and we let them know that we supported several bills they’ve advanced so far this session. Overall, I felt proud that so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up on a beautiful day to talk to elected leaders about education. Why shouldn’t that make us feel good? We didn’t all hear the things we wanted to hear, but most of the legislators we met with were happy to see us. Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman even saved his last donut for me.

Last Donut

As great as today was, two things have me feeling uneasy.

1. The fight over the standards has just begun.

This should be settled. Oklahoma educators (PK-12 and Higher Ed) have worked for over a year on these. They’ve been critiqued. They’ve been vetted. Superintendent Hofmeister presented to the Legislature on the first day of session. Now, just a few days after voucher bills died in both chambers, Speaker Hickman and Senator Brecheen have introduced a total of three joint resolutions to disapprove of or continue amending the standards. Today, they even brought in two out-of-state experts to tell us why what Oklahomans have written isn’t good enough.

To me, the timing is suspicious. Why wait until now? With no action at all, the standards would have automatically been enacted next week. For months, fringe groups (people who do nothing but complain about public schools and encourage parents to pull their children out of them) have been calling the new math and English/language arts standards simply derivative of the Common Core that our state rejected two years ago. Nothing in the standards would have made them say anything different.

On KFOR this afternoon, I saw a clip from the meeting. One of the experts, Dr. Larry Gray, advised against approving the math standards. In the clip of his testimony, he expressed concern that a substitute teacher would not know what to teach just from reading the standards. While I’m sure this wasn’t representative of his entire testimony, this really isn’t how substitute lesson plans work. Teachers don’t leave a list of standards for a substitute; they leave assignments, preferably with detailed instructions. If they are minute-by-minute plans, even better.

Last summer, Oklahoma responded to a list of Gray’s concerns, and did so very transparently. The SDE’s record of changes made based on his suggestions is on their website .

On the English/Language Arts side, Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky also is recommending changes. For one, she wants the state to list works of literature that are appropriate for each grade level. She has also called the standards “empty.” It’s worth noting that in 2014, when the legislature passed HB 3399, one of the stipulations was that there not be a literature list. This is better left to local control. It’s also worth noting that Stotsky’s most recent book is titled, An Empty Curriculum.

empty curriculumThe Legislature asked for Oklahoma standards to be written by Oklahomans based on Oklahoma values. Dozens of Oklahomans have worked diligently to make that happen. Now, a few disgruntled legislators want to throw that work out and leave it to professors from out-of-state.

This process has been thorough and public. The SDE has published the name of the math and ELA standards writing teams. The presentation of the standards to the State Board of Education is available online. They have been approved by the SBE and the State Regents. Dr. Frank Wang, President of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math has given the standards his approval. If you want out-of-state validation, they have also been approved by the Southern Regional Education Board. The SDE has more than 60 letters of support for the standards in all.

If you want to read the texts of the three resolutions, feel free:

HJR 1070

HJR 1071

SJR 75

Six weeks have come and gone. There’s nothing like the last minute to decide you want to ask a few questions. What we don’t need is to turn the remainder of the process over to out-of-state experts (and I don’t question their credentials at all, by the way). That would be a waste of precious time and an unconscionable use of Oklahoma money that we simply don’t have.

Nobody will like everything that went into the final draft. If you put 20 third-grade teachers in a room and asked them to agree on essential math skills for their students, you’d find some common ground, but a considerable amount of disagreement. And that’s just the standards. Now try to get them to agree on how these skills should be taught or assessed, and you have a bigger battle on hand.

2. The voucher fight isn’t over.

I know, we partied like it was 1989 (when we were fighting for HB 1017) last week when neither the House nor the Senate advanced their voucher bills. That was probably a bit premature. How else do you explain this video, released today by The Daily Signal, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation?

Yes, that’s our governor explaining why Education Savings Accounts are so good – on camera with a conservative think tank. The big money rolling into Oklahoma to fight for vouchers won’t stop now, just because we’ve become the “strongest lobby at the state Capitol” (unconfirmed). There’s still time for a May surprise. Just don’t be surprised.

Conversations at the Capitol

March 14, 2016 1 comment

If you don’t have anything going on tomorrow morning, maybe you’ll consider joining a few hundred of my friends and me at the State Capitol.

Capitol Day.jpg

You should shape and share your own message. Mine will have several parts:

  • Thank you for authorizing the release of Rainy Day Funds.
  • Thank you for listening to your constituents who opposed ESAs.
  • Thank you, Senators, for unanimously advancing SB 1190 (eliminating End of Instruction exams). Representatives, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • Thank you, Representatives, for unanimously advancing HB 2957 (granting districts flexibility for teacher evaluation). Senators, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • The newly written standards are solid. You should listen to the Oklahoma educators who wrote them, not one outspoken professor from Arkansas, and definitely not some fringe group that claims to want nothing to do with public education. The SDE presented them to you on day one of this legislative session. What are you waiting for?
  • Representatives, I’d like to explain to you why I oppose SB 1187 (a bad school flexibility bill).

I haven’t written about SB 1187 in detail. I will in time. In short, and with all due respect to my fellow superintendents who have asked for this bill, it’s not the flexibility we are looking for. Claudia Swisher had a strong blog post on it last week. Claudia lists the things school districts could choose to do:

  • Kids who live in the district may not be entitled to go to those schools
  • Minimum salary schedules for teachers
  • Contributions to teacher retirement
  • Mandated health insurance for teachers
  • Criminal background checks…and no, there are not safeguards in place in other statutes.
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Any payroll deductions
  • Due process in dismissal
  • Certification for all teachers and administration
  • Negotiations between teachers and school district
  • Adherence to state-approved curriculum
  • Students show mastery of state Standards
  • School Board members’ continuing education and professional development

In other words, if a district has 75% of students passing state tests, and if 60% of teachers vote for these degregulations, then a school board could choose any or all of these changes. That’s a whole lot of conditions. In all likelihood, this isn’t going to get a lot of traction in the state.

The bill’s sole remaining senate author, Clark Jolley, claims he’s trying to give public schools the flexibility we’ve been asking for. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember asking for permission to roll back the minimum salary schedule or deny health and retirement benefits to my employees. In fact, those things are in law to protect teachers from those of us who would balance a district’s budget on their backs.

As for some of the other requirements, haven’t we spent the last five years fighting over standards?  Now we’re just going to let public schools ignore them? And teacher certification requirements? And teacher evaluation? Haven’t Jolley and his cohorts spent the last 12 years telling us that they know how to do these things better than we do?

Anyway, I digress. We’ll meet at the Capitol in the morning, spend a couple of hours thanking people for their support and asking for their continued help. It should be a great day. After that, let’s do lunch and really treat ourselves. It’s Spring Break; maybe we can take a solid 15 minutes to eat.

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