Like Weiners at the Bar-S Plant

November 27, 2016 2 comments

As November comes to a close, and our newly-elected Legislature begins its charge of finding a way to close yet another budget hole, some among their ranks want to focus on a task that misses the mark entirely.

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Yes, instead of finding funds for public schools, Sen. Kyle Loveless is busy trying to find funds for private schools. He’s spent his entire first senate term on this task, and it looks as if his second will be no different.

I’ll give Loveless credit for one thing: he puts himself out there. You don’t really wonder where he stands. He loves to bait people, and for some of us, responding is a compulsion.

Judge if you want; I know I should walk away.

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I hate the term school choice, mainly because it’s inaccurate. It’s a euphemism. It’s a voucher that people can apply towards private school tuition if either (a) they can afford the remainder of the tuition, or (b) the school chooses to waive the remainder of the tuition. It’s not choice because the school doesn’t have to accept the bedraggled child that Loveless and his ilk choose they want to save from the failing public education system they turn around and claim to want to help.

As to my friend Kenny Ward’s point on Loveless’s post that the poll has some bias because the pollster hates public education, well there’s some truth to that.

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That was me trolling his Twitter feed yesterday. Then Bill Shapard, Jr. lashed out at the lot of us.

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Look, guys! We’re number one! We even published an article about it one time!

Yeah, well #oklaed is number one too. In budget cuts, that is. It must be true. It was in the Oklahoman.

Oklahoma’s cuts to general education funding since 2008 continue to lead the nation, according to the latest report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nearly 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut since 2008. That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.

Shapard feels the compulsion as well, I guess. He keeps attacking Tyler Bridges, Ward, and me.

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Yes, he says he wants to open 12 Corn Bible Academy type schools in Clinton, and he compares public education to a wiener factory. That’s the guy running Sooner Poll. That’s the guy who claims his work is not reflective of his bias.

Maybe looking at the polling language would be instructive, then.

“Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?”

FAVOR — parents have the moral right to choose … 51.5%

OPPOSE — it drains money from public schools … 37.3%

UNDECIDED … 11.2%

First of all, the question compares two things. It should read, “Which viewpoint comes closer to your own.” As long as it’s an education question, a basic grasp of middle school grammar would be nice.

More importantly, the question is poorly worded. Whether that indicates bias or not is another question, but look at the two choices. Parents have the moral right to choose, and it drains money from public schools. Are those options mutually exclusive? Can’t a voucher be a moral right that also hurts the public schools?

It’s also incomplete information. I oppose vouchers for a number of reasons. As I said above, the number one reason is that the private school doesn’t have to accept any kid who shows up with a state aid check in hand. Yes, vouchers will deplete school funding. Yes, vouchers will go to schools that don’t face the same accountability measures as public schools. Yes…actually, if you want a great top ten list of reasons why vouchers are a bad idea, Steven Singer has a great one put together already.

I also question the phrase public or private school which best serves their needs. As Tyler Bridges stated in his response to Shapard this morning on Facebook:

Out of respect for many that I know at CBA I will not speak to their school, as they have great things going on and have great people out there. That being said, using their 1:7 ratio of staff to students, their very small student body, as well as their student makeup, is hardly a quality comparison Bill. My question would be this: if CBA took a representative sample of 100 students (which would more than double their enrollment) from Clinton PS (83% free/reduced, 15% poverty, 35% bilingual, 23% ELL) do you feel they are so much better at providing a quality education that they would continue to turn out the same product as they do now?

Private schools don’t face the number of variables that public schools do. Our students’ situations are often unpredictable. Shapard may be convinced that 12 schools like Corn Bible Academy in Clinton could do a better job than Clinton Public Schools do. According to CBA’s website, they serve about 80 students. Clinton has over 2,300 students. I’m not a statistician, like Bill Shapard, but I think it would take more than 12 CBAs to meet the need of Clinton’s students.

But I digress.

Shapard’s poll question puts the two options on unequal footing. He gives one moral standing. He gives the other a fiscal outcome. Wording matters, and he knows it. Just because a few hundred people who still answer their land lines pick (a) over (b) doesn’t mean it’s good public policy.

One positive thing about Loveless feeling he must constantly twist the fork in the back of public education is that we also see a clear illustration from those who hate public education about the toxic narrative they love to spew. Here are some examples of comments (with names removed) from Loveless’s post yesterday:

  • if everyone gets there 7-9 grand per year, the market will fill the need. Catholic schools have been doing it for 70% less for decades in the inner cities. And outperforming public schools substantially.
  • We’re not talking Heritage Hall and Casady. Go to any large city in the US and compare inner city Catholic schools with the public schools- they take anyone.
  • Let’s just cowboy up and admit that it is about the folks who work in education not wanting to admit that the system is failing but nobody wants to lose their job. For once, let’s just stop saying it’s about the kids…heard that for decades- it ain’t.
  • Believing that tax paying parents should have a choice in how their money is spent on their child’s education is not “hell-bent on destroying public education”. It’s actually the exact opposite.

I don’t know the cost of Oklahoma’s Catholic schools, but I do know the cost of attending any private school is two-fold: tuition and donations. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that tuition alone doesn’t fully fund private schools. They rely heavily on donations. If they start filling up with students attending on vouchers, their donations will decrease. The families using a voucher aren’t going to have the deep pockets their traditional students have.

And yes, I’m certain that we’re probably not talking about Casady and Heritage Hall. That helps prove my point though. No amount of politics and wordsmithing truly grants parents the choice of where to enroll their children.

I challenged the commenter who wants us to cowboy up to come into any of the Mid-Del Schools (after passing a mandatory background check) and tell all the staff that why they come to work is not about the kids. Crickets.

As for the last comment, we don’t all contribute the same amount. Whether it’s income tax, property tax, motor vehicle tax, or any other state revenue source, all of our contributions look different. Thus what we pay into the tax base that funds public education is different. We don’t get rebates for the services we don’t use. I haven’t needed the assistance of a highway patrolman for years (no matter what the one I met a couple of weeks ago thought). Still, I don’t get a rebate for not using their services. I also don’t get to re-allocate those funds elsewhere. That’s not how any state function works.

I’ve said for as long as I’ve thought about such things that I don’t care if you homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. That’s your choice. It may be the best thing for your kid. It’s not for me to decide. I just don’t think the money should follow the child. My business is managing the district’s resources for the kids we have now and the kids we’ll have in the future. Since about 90% of our budget goes to payroll, the vast majority of the investment is in the kids we have right now.

Loveless posted another article from Choice Remarks on his Facebook page last night. This one was titled “Nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma teachers would choose private or home education for their own children.” One of my good friends, Pam Huston (a principal in Moore) posted the same article on Facebook, but with some major shade.

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Above the article, she wrote:

This article could also be titled, ‘Over 65% of teachers surveyed agree that public charter schools are the least, or second to the least, favorable option for their own children.” It’s all in how the results are spun……results are posted in the comments below.

Below are the results:

poll-question

These are teachers responding. Of the four choices, teachers have public schools ranked one or two nearly 80% of the time. I think these results are basically a Rorschach Test. You see what you want to see. Yes, some teachers would love to put their kids in another school setting. Some teachers wish they could be home educating their children. I see no problem with that.

Choice Remarks is one of the many offshoots of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). On a post-election blog, school choice kingpin Brandon Dutcher further discusses the argument for vouchers.

As we approach 2017, the taxpaying parents of 100,000 Oklahoma students, despite being compelled to pay for public education, have in effect said to public school officials: “Your product is sufficiently unattractive to us that you can’t even give it away.” Moreover, Oklahoma has enacted a private-school voucher program and a tax-credit scholarship program. And as we move ever closer to Rod Paige’s vision of universal school choice—by expanding our current programs, enacting ESAs, providing for individual tax credits, and more—I suspect the vindictive resentment will grow.

Dutcher fails to note, then, that 700,000 students remain in public schools. If the 100,000 are dissatisfied, then the 700,000 must be content, right? Of course not. Neither of those assumptions are necessarily valid.

As for the vindictive resentment, yeah, it’ll grow. Keep characterizing public schools as failures, and we’ll resent you. Keep scheming ways to further deplete school funding, and we’ll resent you. Keep using poor measures of school effectiveness and ignoring the effects of poverty on learning, and we’ll resent you. This is no surprise. I won’t shy away from it. I doubt my blogging peers will either. I’ll keep saying, I’m sorry you’re upset, and you’ll probably keep saying the same thing. Neither of us will mean it.

The charge of the choice brigade approaches. Soon, it will have a new standard bearer: future Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking her up, but Rob Miller has:

For the past 15 years, DeVo$ has used her family money and influence to push an agenda to transfer public tax dollars over to unaccountable for-profit corporations. We know she will promote education savings accounts (ESAs) and other vouchers schemes and that she will work to funnel public money to church-sponsored schools.

To steal from the latest Geico commercials, “it’s what she does.”

If you recall, Bet$y DeVo$ has spent the past few years serving as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), an organization which has as its vision “the transformation of public education by breaking down barriers to educational choice.”

Among other political activities, AFC has worked in the shadows to fund the legislative campaigns of hundreds of school-choice proponents across the nation. In recent years, they were the ones who contributed to the successful Oklahoma mudslinging campaigns against Melissa Abdo in 2014 and Lisa Kramer this year, just to name a few.

With the head of the Amway empire running education, we won’t just be getting school choice; we’ll be getting a voucher pyramid scheme extraordinaire!

pyramid

People like Loveless will sidle up to everything ALEC, OCPA, Choice Remarks, Sooner Poll, and the like throw out there. Because he won re-election in June and didn’t have to run a general election race, he has had a five month head start on trolling public education.

Meanwhile, others in the Legislature are busy trying to craft a budget to help all state agencies. Some even want to fund public schools, rather than finding ways to fund private ones.

November 8th was a disappointment for many of us in the #oklaed community. I get that. Nonetheless, we must keep fighting. If we don’t, the future is easy to predict.

One

November 9, 2016 12 comments

Mid-Del Family and Friends:

Over the last 24 hours, I have heard a wide range of people discuss what Tuesday night’s results mean to them. Specifically, I’ve heard several theories of how to interpret the overwhelming vote of Oklahomans against State Question 779 – the penny sales tax initiative.

It reminds me of the novelty paintings you used to see everywhere – the ones where you’re supposed to blur your eyes until an image comes into focus. Usually it’s a unicorn or a waterfall or a ninja or something. Well, that’s what people tell me. I never can see it.

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Almost every theory I’ve heard includes some version of the idea that the people of this state and that our Legislature want to help us. They want to give teachers raises. They want to more fully fund public schools, but not this way. In some versions, the portion of the tax that would fund higher education gets people riled up. Sometimes, the criticism centers on school districts themselves. More often, I hear people frustrated that we’re letting our elected officials off the hook.

I did have a vision before the election results started coming in. It included using whatever proceeds we received from the penny sales tax to fund teacher raises beyond the minimum of $5,000, adding back positions that we’ve cut, and increasing support salaries. Now that’s all gone blurry, and when I try to focus on what to think of Tuesday night, I see nothing with clarity.

I started writing this as a pep talk. I really meant to send you an encouraging message. I hoped to tell you with clarity what this all means. Right now, I just don’t see it. Before the election, I guess I was seeing what I wanted to see in the blur of our political landscape. I was hopeful.

No, I never thought hard-coding a tax increase into the state constitution was the best solution. It’s just the only one that had come to the table. It was all we had. Now I hear renewed support for teacher raises from policy makers across the state. I can’t tell you to look at the picture, though, and see something that I don’t see myself. Maybe it’s there. I just don’t know. If it is, we’ll know within the next six months. If it’s not, well, we’ll know that too.

What I do know is that the day after the election, we had school. We picked up students at the bus stops and got them home. We taught them. We fed them. We cared for their social and emotional needs. Maybe that’s not the image our Legislature and voters see when they look at us. It’s what I see, though.

The same state that voted against the penny sales tax wants to remind us that they appreciate teachers. On some level, I believe them. Maybe that just means I’m looking at the picture, trying to see the unicorn, and listening to the voice over my shoulder insisting that it’s there.

Or maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that sometimes. Maybe there is no state consensus. There’s you, and there’s me, and there’s the people around us. If you teach my child, and I believe you care about my child, then I value you. I appreciate you. If you teach in my building and you help carry me through tough times, then I value you. I appreciate you.

We have over 14,000 students in this district who need us. If you’re disappointed right now, please just remember that it’s not at them. And if you can’t grasp the 14,000, then look at the next student you see. That one student needs at least one of us to make a difference in his/her life. You may be what keeps one student coming back to us just one more day.

I’ll keep fighting for them. I’ll keep fighting for you. Maybe you can’t see the big picture any more clearly than I can, but I hope you can see that.

Those of you who frequently read my blogs know that I often add a song at the end to wrap up my thoughts. For tonight, I thought I’d combine two of my musical loves: U2 and Johnny Cash. We started the school year singing “Sweet Caroline,” and it was #sogood. Tonight, I’ll leave you with “One.”

 

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Last Call

November 5, 2016 1 comment

This election season started a long time ago. Can you believe the first Republican debate in the presidential race was August 6, 2015? The first debate for the Democrats was two months later. We’ve been listening to the vitriol and obscenity of these people for well over a year now.

You would think that having longer to vet our presidential candidates would be a good thing. Yet here we are. These two. I won’t say their names or add their pictures here, but they are the major source of our collective politics fatigue right now. I know a few people who enthusiastically support one or the other of them. Most, however, seem to be voting against one of them.

I hope that we feel better about our local and state races. In the last month, several have turned ugly – maybe not to the extent of the presidential election, but then again, the stakes aren’t as high.

Candidates like Paul Sullivan (HD 69) and Lloyd Snow (SD 37) deserve #oklaed support, not just because of what they’ve done and who they are, but because of what their opponents have done and who they are. The same can be said for so many others. Here are a few:

There are even some incumbents I want to see keep their seats, even though they have opponents I also could support. Two that come to mind are Scott Martin and Katie Henke.

By the way, if any of these people feel any sense of accomplishment with me supporting them, they should know that candidates I’ve endorsed in the past have a pretty lousy winning percentage.

There are some races in which I don’t know enough to offer an opinion. And there are others I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Then there are the state questions. I’m not a farmer, but 777 seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have this strange feeling it would tie our Legislature’s hands unnecessarily, like SQ 640 did a generation ago. Lawmakers would have to have a “compelling state interest” to pass any regulations about farming/ranching. Shouldn’t “compelling state interest” be the threshold for passing all laws? Maybe if you can’t show that, you should just sit on your hands in general.

State question 790 feels the same way to me. It plays into the myth of the war on Christianity. Framers of the initiative want you to believe this is the vehicle for placing the Ten Commandments statute back on the lawn of the Capitol building. The Oklahoma Policy Institute sees 790 differently.

Even if voters approve SQ 790, there is some possibility that the United States Supreme Court will rule that the Ten Commandment monument’s display on public grounds violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have prohibited some Ten Commandment monument displays while allowing others. The Court’s reasoning has depended on the history and context of each monument.

That’s actually the best case scenario for the backers of 790. The longer they can keep alive the narrative that rogue courts hate our values, the longer they can keep their base inflamed. It’s all a distraction.

It’s a distraction. The real push is for a way to divert public school dollars to private religious schools (more than they are already doing). Truthfully, if our leaders want to abide by the Ten Commandments, they shouldn’t need a statue on the lawn to remind them.

Then there’s SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I’ve seen some bizarre ads recently that include supposed teachers who don’t trust that the money will be used for raises. I’ve seen accusations that the revenue estimates are too high. Or they’re too low. Or that it will really just create an administrative slush fund.

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I’m a superintendent, so you know why I want it to pass. I want it for the 14,500 students I serve and for the people who work daily with them. If the tax generates more than we need for $5,000 raises, we will be deliberate in showing where that money goes. I’d like to add back some of the positions we’ve cut. I’d like to increase support salaries. I’d like to get to some of that deferred maintenance our teachers keep showing me in their buildings. Wherever it goes, though, I’m going to show it to you as clearly as I can.

What I will also be able to show you is where our teachers will go if it fails. Some will leave on I-35. Some on I-40. Heck, some may even use I-44 or one of the many state and US highways that dot Oklahoma’s perimeter. SQ 779 is a referendum on the failure of our Legislature and governor to improve public school funding. One way or another, we’re turning a corner. We’re either starting to fix our problems, or we’re committing to deepening them. Just because it’s closing time, doesn’t mean we have to make bad decisions…

…which reminds me that I haven’t discussed SQ 792. Modernizing the state’s liquor laws is probably about 50 years past due. I know there will be an adjustment period for retailers, but I look at this as a potential win for teachers too. God knows they deserve it.

They came, they saw, they puked

October 30, 2016 Comments off

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Oklahoma has faced budget shortfalls each of the last three years, and they just keep getting bigger. This has created tension at our Capitol – you know the one getting the $245 million in repairs.

That’s not what this post is about. I’m glad the Capitol is being restored. Here’s what Governor Fallin said in her state of the state address back in 2014:

In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.

The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.

The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.

The electrical system is dangerously outdated.

And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.

Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.

Based on a Fox 25 story from last week, some of those same terms could be appropriate in describing the state’s budget negotiations process. As Phil Cross explains:

Documents obtained by FOX 25 shed new light on the difficulties of filling the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. They reveal the governor’s office began talking about the budget long before the session kicked off. Doerflinger said while formal negotiations did not start until 2016, the talks started shortly after the 2015 legislative session closed.

Emails from the governor’s staff showed the session began with optimism. Even when House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) told the Tulsa World there was no chance for a teacher pay raise during the session, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup wrote “challenge accepted…gov remember this for the meeting with Inman soon.”

Ultimately though, no teacher pay raise happened in the session. By May, a staff member for the governor’s office wrote, “Not very grateful,” in an email to Northrup containing the statement of Oklahoma State School Board Association on the end of the session saying schools would continue to struggle under the budget agreement. Northrup replied, “jerks.”

I don’t find much of this surprising. The governor’s staff didn’t like the push back they received to their budget ideas. And maybe they were upset that Inman didn’t think their ideas would produce a teacher raise, but show me where he was wrong.

Remember, the Republican party can pass any piece of legislation they wanted to without a single Democrat voting for it. If the governor vetoed it, they could override her, again, without a single Democrat supporting them. That’s called a supermajority. Governor Fallin has had that luxury for the six years she’s held the office. It’s a luxury Fallin expects to retain for her last two years as governor as well.

There’s more:

“In this budget, there are things that you don’t like,” Doerflinger said, “and in this case that was one that made my stomach church but at the end of the day the governor has to make a decision as to whether all the other things that were accomplished in this budget.”

The stomach churning was not confined to Doerflinger’s office. Upstairs, in the governor’s office Northrup looked at the final agreement which included an addition that was never part of any negotiation. She simply wrote, “puke.”

I love this kind of insight. Knowing that there would be no budget deal otherwise, the governor’s office accepted something they didn’t want. It made them want to puke.

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I couldn’t bring myself to use a Linda Blair gif.

Yet when the OSSBA feels the same way, they’re jerks, right? Right.

During the last six years, I can’t even count the number of financial decisions our state has made that have made me feel that way. Just for fun, though, here are a few:

In 2012, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 766, which now costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually in property tax collections. This impacts our cities and our schools, and it deepens the budget deficits we face in this state. It benefits large corporations, most notably AT&T. The measure passed 65% to 35%, because all we heard was “tax cut.” Never mind that it doesn’t help most of us.

In 2014, the Legislature passed an income tax cut that continued to cut into state revenue. It is likely that the legislation responsible for dropping the tax rate in Oklahoma to 5 percent this year will cause it to fall even further in 2018.

In 2015, the Legislature passed HB 2244, which threw motor vehicle tax collections into a spin that created huge imbalances in state aid to school districts. On top of that, the Oklahoma Tax Commission misinterpreted the Legislature’s intent for how those collections should be distributed. A judge’s decision against the OTC now means that some corrective action will be taken, which will impact districts’ budget planning.

In 2016, school districts throughout the state faced cut after cut after cut, but only once half the year had already passed. Then during the summer, the same people who wanted to puke because of all the jerks announced that they had accidentally cut $141 million too much from state agencies. They even tried re-branding it a surplus and attempted to talk legislators into having a special session (like the one they worked to avoid in May by holding their nose and accepting an imperfect product).

Meanwhile, the governor’s biggest cheerleaders (besides Oklahoma’s energy industry) – the editorialists at the Oklahoman and the think tank double-speakers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – spent the year alternating between trying to convince teachers that they were actually making good money and contriving strategies to use one-time funds (such as the surplus that wasn’t) to fund raises that wouldn’t be sustainable. One of the OCPA guys even suggested that we should illegally spend bond money to pay salaries. If he thinks that idea will float, then he’s probably going to buy OU’s Tuscan monastery.

Making the burn of bad decisions worse, North Dakota has managed the spoils of their energy industry and created a real budget surplus. That could have been Oklahoma.

Yeah, I still want to puke.

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We vote in nine days. Maybe you’re still on the fence about SQ 779 – the penny sales tax that would generate raises of at least $5,000 for teachers. Or maybe you’ve been reading propaganda that says more than half the money will go to higher education. That’s a lie. No matter how many times you read it on the Internet, it’s still a lie. If you want to read the legal language and get back to me, feel free.

If the people who are running things at the Capitol make you want to puke, you still have a chance to support pro-education candidates. A few changes here and there, and our collective stomachs might rest a little better.

That’s about it for things that make me want to puke – well, as long as I don’t get started on the Halloween overtime that is our presidential election.

The ballot’s majority (and the enduring Republic)

October 26, 2016 Comments off

The Republic Will Endure.

Over the weekend, I read that the public’s dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates for President may lead to low voter turnout. That’s disappointing. Even if you have a seething dislike for both Trump and Clinton – and it’s fine that you do – there is so much else to consider. I’ll let the Oklahoman’s Ben Felder sum it up:

I’m not in Oklahoma County, but that sounds about right. I went to the Oklahoma State Election Board website and searched for the actual ballot I’ll see on Election Day. Here it is:

ballot-1  ballot-2

 

I have a total of 13 human choices and seven ballot questions. That means I could, in theory, skip the presidential choice at the top, and still vote for 19 other people and things.

The people we send to Washington matter. The people we send to Oklahoma City matter. For me, the presidential ticket is five percent of the ballot. It’s also the part that’s unlikely to make a huge difference in my day-to-day life.

If you want to skip the hassle of voting, you can still get online and order an absentee ballot. Or if you’re just curious about the races in your area, you can go have Google search for you.

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If you click on their names, Google will give you their campaign websites and any social media accounts associated with them. Sure, the election is 13 days away, but if you’re not informed by now, take a crash course, brought to you by the World Wide Web.

I know we’re all weary of the campaigning and the side shows that accompany it. It’ll all be over soon, and the Republic will endure.

 

 

 

 

A Great Hire

October 24, 2016 1 comment

November 8 can’t get here soon enough.

I know that none of us can wait for Election Day and an end to the shenanigans of the candidates and their surrogates. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

This:

Dr. Janet Dunlop named OSDE deputy superintendent of assessment, accountability

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 24, 2016) – Dr. Janet Dunlop has been named deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). In her cabinet-level position, she will oversee Oklahoma’s state testing program and school accountability measures. Dunlop will also supervise the transition of school assessments and accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law, and House Bill 3218, which eliminated end-of-instruction (EOI) exams and marks the end of a culture of excessive testing in Oklahoma public schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised Dunlop’s expertise and her commitment to Oklahoma’s public schools.

“I am excited to welcome Janet Dunlop to our department. Dr. Dunlop is a tireless advocate for the academic success of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren and brings an impressive record of experience to the position,” said Hofmeister. “I am confident that her breadth of knowledge and commitment to excellence will prove invaluable.”

Since 2010, Dunlop has served as associate superintendent of instructional services at Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS). During her tenure, she facilitated the district’s successful literacy initiative, aligned curriculum for grades PK-12 and oversaw the administration of school site and district-level assessments. Dunlop was also instrumental in crafting the new Oklahoma Academic Standards and was recently named the Oklahoma Assistant Superintendent of the Year by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) and the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.

Broken Arrow Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall commended Dunlop for her service to the district.

“Dr. Dunlop played an important role in helping the district develop a revamped vision that focuses on literacy, engagement and graduation for every student,” said Mendenhall. “Her knowledge about curriculum and education is unmatched, but it’s her love for students and people that really makes her special. Although the district is losing an incredible educator, the state is fortunate for gaining such a passionate advocate for public education.”

Dunlop holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in school administration and curriculum leadership, a master’s in educational leadership and bachelor’s degrees in English education and English from Oklahoma State University (OSU). In addition, she has held the positions of principal and assistant principal at Union Public Schools in Tulsa and adjunct professor of education at OSU. She began her career teaching English and language arts in Sand Springs, Jenks and Berryhill Public Schools.

Dunlop said she is excited to serve Oklahoma public schools in her new position.

“I am honored by the opportunity to serve our State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and public schools in Oklahoma. With the passage of ESSA, Oklahoma is in a unique position to make choices that will improve the way our schools measure and report student learning,” said Dunlop. “In addition, with hard work, we can provide our students, parents and communities with an accountability system that provides rich and detailed information about school successes and opportunities to support our schools.”

Dunlop is replacing Dr. Kathryn Dunlap, who is retiring.

Dunlop’s first day at OSDE will be November 8.

The feds have given us flexibility to reduce the amount of state testing. So has the Legislature. Having someone well-respected with school district leadership experience helping guide the process will be refreshing.

I’ve known Janet for years. She’s one of the strongest curriculum and instruction leaders I know.

The fact that she starts in her new position on November 8 means we will have at least one good outcome on Election Day.

Less testing. More focused accountability. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Time to get woke (as the kids are saying)

October 16, 2016 1 comment

Here we are, 23 days away from Election Day, and two things are still true.

cub-fan-bud-man

Ok, well, not those two things. I am rooting for the Cubs in the playoffs right now, but as for the other, I prefer something that isn’t so mass produced – maybe even something made in Oklahoma.

No, the two things that are still true are (1) that we still have a massive teacher shortage, and (2) that many teachers in Oklahoma qualify for government assistance programs, such as WIC and Sooner Care.

This election will be critical, but at the top of the ballot, we have two figures whose personalities turn people off in droves. I won’t get into that. We must look past that and vote anyway. We have several state questions that are important, and dozens of competitive legislative races. Unfortunately, there are no statewide office holders on the ballot this time around.

One thing that really hit home for me this week was when a friend asked me to guest lecture in his class for pre-service teacher candidates at Oklahoma State University. I also had the chance to speak to a broader group before the class discussion.

osu-speaker-announcement

I really didn’t know what to expect when I met with America’s Brightest Orange ™. We had some great comments and conversations about the state of public schools in our state. In both talks, though, I had to answer a question, somewhere along the lines of, “After I graduate, why should I stay in Oklahoma?”

My answer, as I was mindful of the fact that this during work hours, was that if SQ 779 passed, or if the our elected leaders could find a meaningful way to give raises to teachers, that there are a bunch of reasons to stay. (I also told them that if they choose to stay in Oklahoma, they should choose Mid-Del. Don’t judge. You’d have promoted your own district as well.)

I also told them that if the state can’t find a way to raise teacher salaries before they graduate, then I can’t in good conscience market the state of Oklahoma to them. I love it here. I’m a fourth generation Oklahoman and I’ve lived here my whole life. My own children are looking elsewhere, though.

We also talked about the lack of students entering the profession in the traditional way, through the teacher prep programs at our colleges and universities.

I know some great teachers who started their careers with alternative certification. I even know some teachers with emergency certification who work out just fine. Over the years, though, it’s the teachers who went to college with the intent to become teachers who tend to work out most reliably and stay with us the longest.

I’ve written it many times, but once you sign to come to work for me, I don’t care what pathway you took into the profession. Our job is to support you and help you become a rock star teacher. With the people I have around me in Mid-Del who are geared to support just that, it’s much easier to make the case of why you should come work for us than why you should stay in Oklahoma.

I didn’t say it directly on Thursday, but I support  SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I tire of the argument that we’re letting the Legislature (and governor) off the hook for failing to do their jobs. The truth is that the bigger the margin of victory, the more it will be seen as a reprimand. We’re calling out our elected leaders.

They’ve spent the last six years with one party control of the government, yet per pupil state aid for schools has steadily declined. The first four of those years, they missed an opportunity to help all core state services while oil prices were at historically high levels.

historical-oil-prices

The last two years, they’ve built flimsy budgets on faulty estimates. This led to a massive revenue shortfall last year, and the state miscalculated that too. This fiscal year, the state continues to fail to meet revenue collection estimates. That means we’ll likely see another revenue failure declaration and more budget cuts – after the election, of course.

Voting for SQ 779 is important because our various branches of government can’t agree on (a) how to fund public education adequately, or (b) just how much money they’re working with in the first place. These are also reasons why we must send some different people to the Capitol.

As much as I want to, I won’t specifically endorse any candidates for November’s election. Yes, it’s my personal blog, and I’m on my own time. I have every right to do what I want, but I’m increasingly aware of the fact that I need to have good working relationships with whoever voters send to 23rd and Lincoln.

That said, if you want to educate yourself about many of the races, my friend at Blue Cereal Education has some great candidate comparison. Whenever possible, he lets candidates’ own words do the talking. In particular, I find his information on House Districts 69 and 93, and Senate Districts 33 and 37 particularly compelling.

Educating yourself about candidates is a moral imperative. According to a Sooner Poll survey cited in the Oklahoman today, teachers feel quite underappreciated.

A vast majority of public school teachers across the state have an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature — 81 percent, according to SoonerPoll — which has some teachers seeing similarities between this year and 2014.

In unrelated news, puppies are cute.

puppy

If we’re all really that frustrated, then we need to get off of our butts on Election Day and do something about it. The people who still want to wreck public education keep finding new angles.

ocpa-environment-for-the-win

I’m not making this up. Yes, the OCPA, which refutes that climate change is even a thing, now wants us all to support school choice in order to help the environment.

That reminds me, as long as you’re voting on November 8th, you should probably take a good hard look at SQ 790. Supporters claim that the intent is to allow us to move the 10 Commandments statue back to the Capitol. The fact that it currently sits in front of the OCPA building speaks volumes though. It’s really a back door for spending state money on religious education. I’ll be voting no on that one.

Again, if you’re a parent, educator, or future teacher, you need to vote. You need to vote in numbers that exceed the averages for other groups of people.

Public schools educate 90 percent of Oklahoma’s children. If we have any chance of continuing to serve them effectively, we can’t sit this one out.

Ignore the presidential election if you must. Just be informed and make smart choices.

Halfway Nowhere

October 9, 2016 3 comments

In case you missed it while following the non-stop coverage of Donald Trump’s obscenities and vitriol, our governor issued an official proclamation this week for the state’s oil and gas industry.

Oilfield Prayer Day.jpg

I get it. She finally realizes that handing the energy producers an endless stream of tax cuts and credits has not helped the state’s economy, and she has one hope left. Pray.

I’m all for prayer. Residents from our state celebrate many faiths and worship in a variety of ways. Sure, her proclamation ignores many of these people and most of the faiths, but that’s ok. We’re Oklahoma. We don’t need diversity, right?

Fine, the exclusivity of her proclamation bothers me. So does the fact that under her leadership for the last six years, our state’s economy has continually worsened. Prayer and faith are great things, but they’re no substitute for a functioning government. Without a plan for how our state can diversify the economy or properly fund core state services, no amount of prayer is going to change the direction we are going.

I’m going to assume that our state leaders – along with the majority of Oklahomans – have been praying for all sorts of prosperity prior to now. That’s not what’s we’re missing. If our governor and Legislature had been doing their jobs during the last six years, maybe we wouldn’t be in a cycle of budget holes that worsen each year.

Prayer doesn’t change the fact that our leaders are patching problems with one-time money and taxes disguised as fees. Faith in God does not excuse us from the need to understand math. If you lower taxes, you have less money to fund schools, health care, roads, bridges, foster care, and corrections.

After six years with one party leading everything in the state – you’d think they could work together to make Oklahoma great again more prosperous. They haven’t. That’s why SQ 779 – the penny sales tax – had to happen. Nothing else was. Oh, those of us who support public education have been praying aplenty – for anything that would stem the tide of teachers leaving the state and the profession.

Right now there aren’t enough monestaries in Tuscany to make some of our teachers stick around. Maybe the governor’s next proclamation will be to ask for a day of prayer for the future of our schools. I’m not holding my breath.

Instead, I’m planning. I’ll be voting in less than a month for SQ 779 and for some new faces at the Capitol. November 8 can’t come soon enough.

Vote Yes, or Else #SQ779

October 2, 2016 1 comment

I’m not sure that I’ve come out and said it, but will be voting yes on State Question 779. Right now, this is the best solution on the table to help public education. It has an upside, and it has limitations. It also has context.

As David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute wrote back in January, we have spent a decade digging this hole:

Repeated cuts to the state income tax made since the mid-2000s are one of the most significant reasons for an ongoing financial crisis that is eroding important public services and threatening Oklahoma’s economic well-being.

Acute teacher shortages, college tuition and fee hikes, critically understaffed correctional facilities, longer waiting lists for services, and lower reimbursement rates for medical and social service providers are among the harmful consequences of chronic budget shortfalls.

Prior to 2004, the top income tax rate in Oklahoma was 6.65 percent. That’s not what the average household paid. It was the top rate.

Various state revenue triggers have since lowered the rate to 5.00 percent. Additional triggers will continue lowering the rate to 4.85 percent by 2018. Again, those are the top rates. Most Oklahoma households were unaffected by these cuts. The later cuts have barely affected the majority of Oklahomans.

What’s the big deal? It will have taken 14 years to complete this slide.

Again, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Hemingway quotes:

gradually-then-suddenly

He was either describing the Oklahoma economy or exponential curves. Maybe both.

The political premise for cutting taxes is that doing so will stimulate the economy. I’m still looking for the evidence of that. Meanwhile, the median household in Oklahoma, making about $50,000, has seen a tax cut of about $230 annually. It’s something – not a game changer, but it’s something.

In addition to cutting income taxes, our state has also in recent years cut taxes on new oil and gas production. This is why Oklahoma has seen continued declines in public education funding. Prior to the industry downturn of the last few years, other energy-producing states, such as Texas and North Dakota, were increasing their investment in public education.

Not Oklahoma. Not even when oil was booming a few years ago. We missed our opportunity. Missed badly.

Last Wednesday, I attended a town hall meeting moderated by Fox 25 in Oklahoma City. The topic was SQ 779.

Panelists for the state question were Amber England of Oklahoma Stand for Children and Shawn Hime of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. Panelists against it were Steve Agee, Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University and Dave Bond with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

England and Hime reiterated the fact that our state leaders have had the chance to raise teachers’ salaries and have failed miserably. Agee made the point that the tax is regressive because it hits poor families harder than it impacts the wealthy. Bond made the point that passing the state question may falsely tell the Legislature that the job is done, sort of like establishing the lottery has. These are all good points. I don’t disagree with any of them.

I won’t repeat all talking points from the town hall, but I do want to respond to one thing said by Agee and one thing said by Bond.

What I will never understand is how Fallin has failed to make this a legacy issue for the first six years of her administration. The governor is Republican. The Senate has a Republican super majority. The House has a Republican super majority. Every single elected statewide office is held by Republicans. When I hear any of our state leaders talk, they say teachers deserve raises. Yet nothing happens.

By the way, I’m not blaming the Republican Party. Teachers were underpaid when Democrats controlled the various branches of government, however you want to enumerate them. Maybe they didn’t go 10 years without seeing raises, but they were still among the lowest-paid educators in the country.

I don’t doubt that Governor Fallin wants to raise teacher salaries. I would also agree that if she could do so, it would punctuate her time in public office. Unfortunately, that punctuation mark would be a question mark, rather than an exclamation mark.

Regardless of what she accomplishes in the next two years, our state, and more specifically, our education system, will take years to recover from the hole we’ve dug. How many teachers have quit the profession or left the state? Do you think they’ll all come storming back because of a raise? Many are settled into the next phase of their lives and won’t look back.

According to the OSSBA, school districts in Oklahoma eliminated over 1,500 teaching positions in 2016 because of the state budget collapse. In spite of this fact, 53% of the superintendents who responded to their survey said the teacher shortage is now worse than it was a year ago. Last year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education approved over 1,000 emergency teaching certificates. This year, the state is on pace to fly past that number.

Not to be overly-dramatic, but if SQ 779 fails, we’re going to see the problem get exponentially worse. I know too many people who see this as their last hope for staying in education to believe otherwise.

While I see Agee’s point and don’t entirely fault him for wanting the governor to find an alternate solution, that’s no reason for me to have hope. Going into the 2016 legislative session, we all knew that momentum for the penny sales tax was building. If Fallin and the Legislature weren’t motivated enough by this knowledge to find an answer in February or May, I have my doubts about whether they can agree to one now. Hope is a good thing. It’s not a blind thing, though.

Bond, on the other hand, kept making the case for how the state already has plenty of revenue to raise teachers’ salaries. He predictably blamed administrative bloat. He said we have too many non-classroom positions. He even threw out the fact that the University of Oklahoma owns property in Tuscany. Twice. When Hime mentioned to him that it was a gift, he went on some strange rant about a Corvette.

None of that really shocked me. This did:

Yes, he really said that. He also said that nobody is going to sue a school district for using bond money to pay teachers just because it’s unconstitutional.

Side note: this is why I never approached the moderator. I pictured myself going off on a rant rather than forming a question. Nobody was there to hear me.

My guess is that one of the OCPA’s many tentacles would be the first to sue a school district misusing money. I also can imagine the headlines in the Oklahoman. No doubt they’d be full of compassion and understanding for our plight.

Along with hosting the town hall, Fox 25 also ran a Twitter poll asking how followers planned to vote on SQ 779. Only 145 people responded, but 59% of those said yes.

Hopefully we’ll see a similar result on November 8th. Whatever Oklahoma decides will send a strong message to our leaders about what this state values. It’ll send one to our teachers too.


If you missed the town hall and would like to watch it in its entirety, Fox 25 has it online.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

Change the Times

September 25, 2016 2 comments

In my rare downtime, I have been rediscovering some of the music of my youth. I guess I should point out, though, that some of it is actually the music of my parents’ youth.

A few weeks ago, my wife and daughter bought me a record player for my birthday. I immediately went to the garage, pulled out the crate of records so that the teenager could mock us.

It’s one red milk-style crate, and it’s packed very tightly with our vinyl. It’s also a musical catalog frozen in time at about 1990, which was the last time either of us bought a record. It has everything from Led Zeppelin to Grandmaster Flash to Rush and the Thompson Twins. It may or may not even have Urban Chipmunk.

born-in-the-usanot-val-kilmercarlinseriously-this-one-was-hers-not-mineSurprisingly, everything I’ve played out of the crate has still sounded good. Even better, most of what my 16-going-on-17 daughter has pulled out to sample, she has loved. Billy Joel. The Doors. The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac. These aren’t entirely new friends for her; she’s been subjected to my tastes in
the car for years now.

I know that she likes some of my old music. I just didn’t know how much. For example, she thought the double album soundtrack from the movie Amadeus was pretty cool. (So did my high school students back in the day when I would play it for them. Or so they told me.)rock-me-amadeus

I also didn’t know she’d like Bob Dylan. That was a happy surprise.

I found myself home alone today for a while cleaning and doing laundry while watching football. I decided that rather than listen to the announcers, I would listen to Bob Dylan. I’ve had this greatest hits album since I was in high school, but the songs are from when my parents were teenagers. I love every song on the record, and I even went to see Dylan play at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City back in college. He mostly played new stuff, which isn’t what any of us were there to hear. He closed with a 15 minute version of Like a Rolling Stone, though, and it was fabulous.

dylanI don’t know why I haven’t upgraded most of what I own on record to my iTunes library. I guess it’s just one of those things that slips your mind. Because of that, and because I haven’t had a working record player for a while, I haven’t really thought about the words to some of my favorite songs for a while, either.

The words to The Times They Are a Changin’ really stuck with me today. We’re dealing with so much pain in this country, for so many reasons. I see people posting simplistic solutions to those problems on social media or explaining away injustice. It’s something that Dylan discussed more than 50 years ago:

Come gather ’round people where ever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a’ changin’!

One thing the song made me remember is the faux documentary Bob Roberts, which also came out when I was in college. It starred Tim Robbins as a conservative folk-singing politician who was also something of a demagogue. Something about life imitating art comes to mind. He actually had a song in the movie called Times are Changin’ Back. It’s a brilliant movie, if you haven’t seen it.

bob roberts.jpg

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a’ changin’!

The song is a warning to us. During the 60s, Dylan was mostly writing about Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. Yes, so much has changed. Still, we’ve clearly not solved all those problems.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I was born in 1970, so I missed all of the window rattling. All I have now are man-made earthquakes. My knowledge of the era is historical; surely it contains major gaps. Dylan is imploring those of us in positions of power either to lead the social changes that are coming or get out of the way.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a’ changin’!

I used to use the second line of the verse above as a writing prompt for my students. They came up with great examples of how their parents and teachers (including me) didn’t grasp how the world had changed. And no, I never asked them to write about the third line. I wasn’t trying to create rebellion at home.

What I was really going for was that students would have an understanding that teen frustration at adults is timeless and universal. Surely they got that, right?

The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a’ changin’!

It’s a great song. It’s a fascinating era, and one in which I sometimes imagine I would have been a better fit. We really have come a long way since the 60s in terms of how we deal with race and poverty as a country. We just haven’t come far enough. Nor can we stop.

Another Dylan song on the album made me stop in my tracks at one point. I won’t post the whole song here, but the second verse of Blowin’ in the Wind contains several lines we need to remember:

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

When I see #blacklivesmatter protests, I just wonder how many times some of us can turn our heads and pretend that we just don’t see. I’m a white guy who grew up in a suburban household that had two adults with advanced degrees. All four of the children who grew up there graduated from college, three with doctorate degrees.

I have a bad habit of driving with a sense of urgency. I frequently get to visit with members of the law enforcement community. I’m always treated well.

The truth is that most police officers treat all people well. Those who work in diverse communities understand that having good relationships with all people is one of the best ways to help them do their jobs effectively.

I can acknowledge that and still sympathize with those among us who don’t feel that their lives and voices are as important. I know my background. I also know my limitations. Just because it’s not my pain doesn’t mean I don’t feel the hurt. Nor am I in any position to tell any member of any group how to feel.

I just can’t turn my head and pretend I don’t see anything.

Another Education Finance Tool

September 20, 2016 Comments off

Yesterday, I wrote about a short video made by Shannon Meeks from Putnam City. Today I want to point you towards a data tool created by the Oklahoma Policy Institute:

It’s well known that state aid funding in Oklahoma has struggled in recent years — since 2008 we’ve cut per student state aid by 24.2 percent after inflation, the largest drop in the U.S. Cuts to state aid affect all school districts in the state, but not all districts are affected equally. Because state aid to local districts is based on a formula that takes into account the needs of students and the local resources of districts to fund themselves, the amount per student that’s funded by the state varies widely between districts. In the 2015-2016 school year, aid went from a low of $16 to a high of $7,740 per student.

The map below is from their website. Before discussing the nuances of school finance, I want to make a couple of generalizations first.

district-state-aid-per-student.png

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

One is that southeast Oklahoma tends to get more state aid per pupil than northwest Oklahoma. Poverty and property values are the main reasons why. The other observation is that school districts in northwest Oklahoma tend to cover more land. This part of the state is more sparsely populated, but it’s also flatter. There are some long bus routes, but they tend to be pretty straight.

I point these two things out because we must always understand that there is not one singular picture of a school district in Oklahoma. For that matter, there’s not one singular picture of a school in my district.

If you want to look at the figures more closely, or if you want to see how certain school districts compare to one another, you should visit the interactive map. You may even want to download the data file.

These are real numbers. Any discussion of issues such as vouchers, consolidation, and charter schools should include these figures.

Oh, that reminds me. Here’s the OPI caveat about charters:

[Note: The map does not include charter schools, which tend to receive higher state aid because they have no local revenues. Charter school state aid can be found in the full data set.]

Knowledge is power, people.

State Aid for Schools (ft. Charters)

September 19, 2016 1 comment

Sometimes, I get random questions from the long-time listener, first-time caller kind of person who wants to know why I’m so down on charter schools.

I’m not. I have probably written fewer than 10 posts (out of nearly 700) that even address charters. When I do, I don’t focus on their funding. I don’t call out their effectiveness. I merely point out that charter schools are no more effective, according to accountability models that I reject anyway, than traditional public schools.

My position has always been that if you teach kids, I hope you do a good job. When it comes to funding and accountability, you didn’t set up the rules, and neither did I. I have friends who work in charter schools, and I have had graduate students who teach in them.

state-aid-happy-face-big-bucksCharters can have narrow purposes. They can have parental involvement agreements that scare off some families. Still, they are public-ish schools serving public school kids.

They way they receive funding, however, has always been hard for me to explain. That’s why I’m glad I’m not the only person in this state who can explain things.

The video below, which is 11 minutes long and worth every second, provides a better, and more user friendly, explanation of state aid than I have ever seen. It also touches upon how state per pupil funding allocations give charter schools an advantage.

I’ll limit my remarks and let you watch and enjoy the video.

Not Pictured

September 14, 2016 1 comment

Being a superintendent is essentially a three-part job: supporting students and teachers; community engagement; and managing the district’s resources and people. My time isn’t spent equally among these three priorities. Neither is my interest.

I don’t spend nearly enough time in schools and at activities. I try, but I don’t make it to all of the events on my schedule. Meetings and decision-making get in the way. Still, the time I get to be around kids is what feeds my soul and informs my work.

During the first few weeks of the school year, we’ve had ball games, fun activities at schools, and countless memories made. Several of those have come this week, both in the schools, and at community events.

At one event that received a decent amount of publicity, I had the privilege of watching a group of very young children listening to celebrities read them a book. Two students, both five years old, sat at the back of the room with one of our staff members. Those with cameras knew that we couldn’t photograph these children.

They laughed and smiled. They listened intently. Well, when they weren’t clinging to the staff member’s neck, they listened intently.

not-picturedSome students come to us with with labels that say, “Handle with Care.” They may have health problems or family issues that impact their time at school. Some come to us with instructions that say, “Do not Photograph.” Some of these are students who just have protective parents, which is fine. Others, sadly, have DHS case numbers, including many in foster care.

Whether they’re tiny, as these two were, or they’re teens, as are many I’ve known through the years, the stories are often just tragic. I remember once as a principal reading the permanent record of a foster child new to our school and having to shut the door to my office and compose myself. I don’t remember how many schools this student had attended (or not attended). I just wanted to make our school the best school for her.

Back to this week: I’ve seen so many pictures from this event. The organizers even asked me to be in some of them, which was nice. Not pictured, though were these two little girls.

While the other students were asking the celebrities questions and trying to get their attention, the two girls at the back of the room just wanted anyone’s attention. One in particular was clinging to an adult who was standing towards the end of the event when I walked over to say hi.

She reached out quickly and grabbed the front of my hair, and she laughed.

“Does that feel funny to you?” I asked.

“No, it’s fancy. And haaayaandsome.”

And you know what, most days, that’s way better than what people say to me. I’ll take fancy and handsome any day.

She laughed again and moved on to the next adult. I’d show you a picture of how happy she looked, but again, I can’t.

I don’t know her back story, and I didn’t ask. Some days, I’m happy not to know that much detail about some of our kids.

I’ll also probably never know her STAR reading level. If she stays with us throughout her school-age years, I probably won’t know her grade point average.

Come to think of it, if she stays with us for 13 years, she’d be a major outlier. That’s just not what happens to the majority of students in the foster care system. To verify what I perceive to be true, I looked up some data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

From July 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016, DHS opened 939 new foster care homes and 89 new therapeutic foster care homes. That’s a lot of child displacement.

Just under half of these were new foster care homes. I guess that doesn’t mean that the children all move around frequently. The truth is that I don’t really have a way of knowing what is typical for children in foster care. Maybe there is no typical.

All I know is what we see at school. Some are just looking for a place to feel safe and loved. Between school and home – whether it’s a temporary or permanent placement – we just hope they find two such places.

This is why, with all the budget cuts in all the agencies that serve this state, none of us who advocate for public schools have wanted to take all the available money. We want to restore the services that help our kids. We also want the other agencies that serve our kids to have the resources they need too.

During the times when my leadership team and I have to decide whether we’re going to cut A, B, and C or X, Y, and Z, these are the moments that guide us. We think about the kids who need us, the ones who cling to our necks. They’re fragile and confident and amazing and full of all the potential in the world.

I’d show you if I could.

On Ditch Diggers and Dreamers

September 5, 2016 2 comments

As I prepare the feast of meats (featuring some vegetables) for today’s over-indulgence in grilling, I briefly ponder the significance of today’s holiday. It’s Labor Day – a day for celebrating…yeah, a lot of people don’t really get that either.

All the Meats All the Veggies

Truthfully, most American holidays – especially the ones that give us the bounty of a three-day weekend – are occasions that barely resemble the reason they exist. We grill. We swim. We boat. We work around the house. We take short trips with the family.

I still see patriotism surrounding Memorial Day. There are flags set out by the American Legion and other civic groups. There are parades. Independence Day is another great holiday (albeit a noisy one) for celebrating all that we love about our country. Still, with each of these, most of our planning centers around food, family, and recreation.

According to the US Department of Labor, today’s holiday is one we began celebrating as a nation over 120 years ago.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Our country and our way of life were built on hard work. Our founders were a combination of farmers, tradesmen, and intellectuals. Even the college boys of the group got their hands dirty, though – something that we all need to do from time to time.

As a society, and even within the education community, we perpetuate this strange dichotomy that places intellect at one end and labor at the other. I ask every group of graduate students I teach to explain what the phrase college and career ready means to them. Invariably, the conversation drifts to someone saying that not all kids need to go to college.

This is true, but then I remind them that all of us in the room did go to college. Someone then reminds me that plumbers make more than teachers. Then I remind them that some do and some don’t, eventually admitting that it’s an important point to understand.

I don’t know which students should and shouldn’t go to college. You would think the kid with a high grade point average and high ACT score would want to go, and usually, you’d be right. You also might not expect much of the student who barely made it through high school, underachieving all the way. I always conclude with the reminder that it’s not our job to choose our students’ path after high school. Our job is to prepare them for the path they choose.

Some students decide on a career early. By ninth grade, they know they want to be doctors, architects, or teachers engineers. If these are their goals, then our job is to prepare them for college. On the other hand, some students decide late that they want to pursue a career that will require a college degree. That doesn’t excuse us from preparing them to be successful there.

Along the way, most students in Oklahoma will have the option of taking classes at a career tech center. If this is what our students choose to do, we should encourage them. Nothing there will keep them from also going to college if they decide to do both. Again, our job as educators is to give them every opportunity to make all the choices they can – and then to change directions if they want or need to.

One thing on which Governor Fallin and I agree is that the end goal of our labor is to produce an educated workforce. I sometimes see those on the tin foil fringe call this the very definition of communism. It’s not. It’s the very definition of investing in the future. We want our children to grow up and be productive adults. Students entering college, completing a career tech certification, or joining the military right out of high school meet this definition. We don’t want students waking up the day after high school graduation wondering what’s next?

All of us who work perform labor. Some of it is manual labor. Two of my favorite comedies – Caddyshack and Real Genius have quotes by the villains of the film that show contempt for people who labor in the traditional sense. In Caddyshack, a caddy tries to curry favor for a scholarship with the president of the country club:

[Danny Noonan] I planned to go to college after I graduated, but it looks like my folks won’t have enough money to put me through college.

[Judge Elihu Smails] Well, the world needs ditch diggers too!

In Real Genius, a snooty professor scoffs at construction workers after being threatened by a defense contractor:

[Professor Jerry Hathaway] What are you looking at? You’re laborers. You’re supposed to be laboring. That’s what you get for not having an education.

Again, we have the false dichotomy. Get an education or you’ll be working with your hands out in the heat of the sun all your life. Never mind the level of technical skill required to perform these tasks. The mindset is, I have a college degree so I must be superior. And that’s simply not true. Having a college degree means you finished college. It doesn’t make you smarter than those without, and it certainly doesn’t make you superior.

In the end, we all (well, most of us) go to work. Some get paid to type for a living, and then they offer up thoughts on public policy regarding worker’s compensation laws. Still, technically, it’s labor.labor omnia vincit

Our state motto, Labor omnia vincit, translates to Labor conquers all things. In other words, if you work hard, then I guess you’ll conquer all things.

It’s a nice thought, but some people work and work and work and never get ahead. Education is what keeps you from simply running in place on a hamster wheel.

Not only are we all laborers, we are almost all employees too. Nearly everyone who works, works for somebody. Occasionally, that means that even though you know a better way to do your job, you have someone telling you to do it differently.

This takes me to another one of my favorite comedies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this scene, a lost King Arthur approaches a peasant (Dennis).

[Dennis] What I object to is you automatically treating me like an inferior.

[Arthur] Well I am king.

[Dennis] Oh, king, ay, very nice. How’d you get that, ay? By exploiting the workers, by hanging onto outdated emperiest dogma, we perpetuate the economic and social differences in our society.

[Wife] Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here. [surprised] Oh, how do you do?

[Arthur] How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

[Wife] King of the who?

[Arthur] The Britons.

[Wife] Who are the Britons?

[Arthur] Well, we all are. We are all Britons. And I am your king.

[Wife] I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

[Dennis] You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship – a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class is –

[Wife] Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.”

[Dennis] That’s what it’s all about. If only people would –

[Arthur] Please, please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

[Wife] No one lives there.

[Arthur] Then who is your lord?

[Wife] We don’t have a lord.

[Arthur] What?

[Dennis] I told you. We are an anarcho-syndicalist commune.

[Arthur] I order you to be quiet.

[Wife] Order, eh? Who does he think he is?

[Arthur] I am your king!

[Wife] Well, I didn’t vote for you!

[Arthur] You don’t vote for kings.

[Wife] Well how’d you become king then?

Hold on. I just got distracted and now want to watch all the Monty Python clips on YouTube.

Unless you too are in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, you probably work for somebody – probably not a king, although some bosses do prance around as if they were. If you’re fortunate, when you labor, you love your work. Even then, you probably look forward to being away from work sometimes.

My thoughts today – my Labor Day-specific thoughts – are for all who work. You drive the nation’s (and state’s) economy. You build a better future. You support your families. You innovate. You do the fun jobs and the thankless ones. Yes, the world truly needs ditch diggers and laborers. It also needs dreamers.

[Veruca Salt] Snozzberries? Who ever heard of snozzberries?

[Willy Wonka] We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams.

Working and dreaming are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Our nation was not built by those who are content with the world they saw around them. Innovation has never been left to the conformists.

We work so we can play. And so we can dream. But first, we work.

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A Short Note from Okeducationmom

August 24, 2016 Comments off

Those of you who know me well understand that there has been one person who has been there for me my whole life – my mom. She was a teacher, for 29 years, in Chickasha and Norman. I can’t think of anyone who has influenced me more. She’s probably the biggest reason I chose to be an educator. Tonight, she has authored a guest post that I hope you’ll enjoy.


 

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Mother’s Day 2012

Hi, Friends,

My name is Ellen Kanak.  I’d like to offer my two cents about public education.  I am a product of public common and higher education.  I am a mom and a grandmother of children who have been well-served by public education.  I am a retired teacher who is old enough to have seen education policy change in many ways.  I am closely following legislation, legislators, and policy decisions that have the potential to help or harm public education.   I am an unapologetic, fierce advocate for public education.  I know that other retired educators are as well.  The time is now to act to elect Oklahoma legislators who will advance legislation that supports all of our children, their parents, teachers, and staff.

I began teaching in the dark ages.  In 1971, there was no free and appropriate education for all.  Students with special needs and their families had to really scramble to find ways to have a quality education.  This was when I was first introduced to advocacy.  Later, I became a building representative for my school district’s teachers’ organization before I even knew what a building rep does.  I learned pretty quickly though, and in time I learned just how important that advocacy is.  I helped storm the Capitol in 1990 and the result was HB 1017.  This bill helped public education in really significant ways.  It was a bipartisan effort that helped better fund our schools and put in place appropriate policies that addressed class size and other issues that impact our students in positive ways.  I’ve also seen setbacks—many have occurred over the last ten years or so.  Some occurred soon after HB 1017 was enacted, because we didn’t stay focused on maintaining the progress and work to further advance education policy.  It was thrilling to see a new Superintendent of Public Instruction elected a couple of years ago, but again we quit paying attention and ended up with some legislators who are not friendly to our purpose.

The primaries are settled.  As we prepare for the November general election, candidates have been clearly identified as pro-public education—or not!  We have choices in both parties; we have independent candidates as well.  Individuals and groups have worked tirelessly to give us good choices.  Two of my favorite sources are Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education and Okeducationtruths.  For the purpose of full disclosure, I am Rick Cobb’s mother, so he is my “most favorite.”  Other favorite advocates are Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, Dallas Koehn, and Angela Clark Little.  It is especially gratifying to me to see parents, students, teachers, support staff, school boards, superintendents, and many other community members working together for the common good.

Will you join me in a willingness to cross party lines to elect the best candidate for each legislative position?  Those of us who are retired have seen political parties evolve and sometimes devolve.  Social issues are mostly sorted out at the federal level while issues of public education and other core services are developed more at the state level.  We have great candidates in both parties and in no party, and we need to support them with financial contributions as well as giving time to get them elected.  They have been clearly identified–as have the candidates who will work against the greater good in order to divert public money to private schools (vouchers, ESAs and such).

Our children need and deserve our support.  Their futures depend on quality public education.  Many of our children also desperately need other core services that have been drastically cut.  Let’s send a message to our leaders and candidates.  We don’t want excuses.  We want you to care about all of our citizens.  We expect you to do your job for all of us.

Let’s do this, friends!  Let’s reboot and move forward for a great outcome this November.  Be sure to register to vote if you haven’t already.  Know where your precinct is.  Mark your calendar.  Show up November 8 and help send the right people to the legislature!

Just Vote

August 22, 2016 1 comment

Joseph de Maistre.jpg

Oklahoma is in desperate need of some people who know the difference between good public policy and a kick in the head. That’s why we have so many active races for the Legislature, including 13 run-off elections in which many of you can vote tomorrow.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen different friends go back and forth about a person’s civic obligation to vote. I feel strongly that everybody should be as well-informed as possible and show up on election day. That means, of course, that many of you are going to show up and cancel out my selections. That’s fine too. I can live with not getting my way all the time.

It’s also fair to say that I’m more passionate about some races than others. In 2014, I put a lot of effort into writing about why we needed a new State Superintendent. I didn’t pay attention to the Legislature that much. I didn’t even chime in on the governor’s race until late, not that I think my thoughts there made much difference.

I believe one reason many people stay away from the polls is because there are just so many races. In how many have you really researched the history and positions of the candidates? You can look at party registration, but if you’re like me, sometimes it doesn’t matter. I regularly vote for Democrats and Republicans, and I often wish for more choices than that. Few people I know are straight-party voters, or so they say.

In general, I’m looking for people who support public schools. I want to know that the candidates I choose understand that there’s nothing conservative about gutting state services to the point that roads and bridges crumble and schools have to lay off thousands of teachers.

And to be clear, there’s a good chance that if you say things like this…

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.

SD 41 candidate Paul Blair

…then I won’t vote for you. Come to think of it, I hope most Oklahomans – especially public school teachers – wouldn’t vote for somebody with that mindset. It shows ignorance and  a complete disrespect for what we do in our schools.

Other than the Blair race, the one that really interests me is one in Tulsa County, SD 25, featuring Lisa Kramer and Joe Newhouse. I can’t find anything damning about Newhouse, and Kramer as said she’d be willing to listen to a voucher proposal if public schools were fully funded (and the vouchers included some real accountability). It’s become one of the nastiest contests in the state, though.

In the end, it’s a sitting school board member who also happens to be an accountant and who hasn’t taken dark money from shady pro-voucher groups. As my friend at Blue Cereal Education put it:

Consider the value of having at least one person in state government who knows how math works, or who may just be old-school enough to think her job is to fix problems and serve constituents rather than cater to entrenched power – even if that power currently resides in the darkest recesses of her own party.

Her party, by the way, controls the House, the Senate, and all statewide elected positions in Oklahoma. In spite of what they insist, they can’t put their heads together and raise teacher salaries. No, the best they can do is pass a bill that makes all of us get lovely new license plates based on a drawing that somebody left on the butcher paper at a mall Garfield’s back in the mid 1990s.

oklahoam-license-plate.jpg

This was a way for the state to raise revenue without raising taxes, since – and again, in spite of one party controlling every major office of the government – they don’t have the votes to do it any other way.

This is what I’m talking about. We get the government we deserve because we don’t get more involved when these people are running.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a reporter from Education Week who came to Oklahoma to talk about the teachers running for the legislature. He met with a few candidates, as well as some of my fellow activists. What I noticed is how our little movement here is not the only one nationally. The reporter summed up our collective influence, though:

When legislators earlier this year tried to pass through a bill that would expand the use of taxpayer funded vouchers, the group flooded their inboxes and lobbied them on Twitter under the hashtag #oklaed. Despite a robo call from Gov. Fallin to voters in support of the bill, it failed.

“What we’ve seen is a strong bipartisan movement in favor in public education. And the voices have been heard by legislators,” said David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based bipartisan think tank.

No matter what happens tomorrow and in November, #oklaed has made a difference already this year. The magnitude of our impact is still to be determined. The number of educators and concerned parents who get to the polls will determine how strong it is.

 

Mock Outrage and Real Impact

August 16, 2016 Comments off

Facts matter. So do details. So does context – well, to most of us at least.

By now, many of you have probably seen the blog post by Steve Anderson at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressing mock outrage at school districts and the funds we’re allegedly hoarding. If you haven’t, it’s worth your time to read. Here’s his opening:

Oklahomans who have been told repeatedly that Oklahoma’s schools are underfunded may be very surprised to learn that the schools in fact have “savings accounts” that are full of cash sitting idle.

Idle is a pretty strong word. We do end each fiscal year with funds in various accounts. That much is true. Most of those funds are in accounts that have limited purposes. I’ll get to that in a minute.

What really caught my attention is that of all the districts in the state, Anderson chose to highlight 11 in a table on his blog.

2015 School Year Revenues

School District

Cash Forward

Largest Balance Item?

Bartlesville $20,577,066 Yes
Bixby $25,774,424 Yes
Clinton $4,562,120 No
Jenks $57,381,683 Yes
Midwest City-Del City $45,491,461 Yes
Moore $33,185,915 No
Norman $42,912,359 No
Sand Springs $21,590,762 Yes
Stillwater $14,005,455 No
Tahlequah $8,611,547 No
Tulsa Union $87,812,848 Yes

It’s strange for a number of reasons. Many of these districts have outspoken leaders who have pushed back against OCPA’s propaganda. Mid-Del, which is mine, is an obvious target. Still, if the point was to shock their readers, why did Anderson not highlight the two districts with more than $100,000,000 in cash forward balances

Last week, KFOR in Oklahoma City asked us for a statement about the OCPA post. We sent one, which they didn’t use in their report (and that was perfectly fine with me):

The OCPA blog post showing that Mid-Del Public Schools carried forward a balance in excess of $45 million is misleading. Among funds included in their calculation are several that cannot be used for every day operational costs. Examples include:

  • $12.4 million in the Sinking Fund
  • $11.4 million in the Building Fund
  • $2.4 million in the Child Nutrition Fund
  • $1.2 million in various Activity Accounts
  • $939 thousand in the Workers Comp Fund

Mid-Del Public Schools began Fiscal Year 2015 (14-15 school year) with about $7.6 million in the General Fund. Mid-Del received $89.6 million in General Fund revenues for that school year. The cash forward amount represented about 8.5% of that figure. As a district, we strive to achieve a cash forward (or carryover) balance in the General Fund of 6% to 8%, so that we can continue operating fluidly before receiving our first state aid payment of the school year in late August.

As a point of reference, Mid-Del ended FY16 with a 5.9% cash forward balance. Even with the mid-year reductions in spending we were able to make after last year’s statewide budget collapse, we were not able to achieve our target fund balance.

The danger with blog posts such as this is that they only serve to confuse the public. On the other hand, they also open a door for conversations to educate the public at-large about the intricacies of public school finance.

Mid-Del Public Schools remains committed and prepared  to providing a quality public school education to the more than 14,000 students who will arrive to meet their teachers in 11 short days. No level of budget cuts will change that.

Yes, I wrote that over a week ago. It’s just taken me a while to finish this post.

And for the record, I was happy with the comments KFOR used in their report. First was Steve Lindley from Putnam City. Well, actually, OCPA President Jonathan Small spoke first:

I do think, when you look at the way our funding is spent in K-12 education in Oklahoma, that it’s clear that the priority is not first the most important person, which is the teacher in the classroom.

It’s clear? Really? We spend money on salary and benefits. We spend money on facilities and utilities. We spend money on instructional materials and technology. Unfortunately, as the districts have had to count on the state less for funding, most of the costs after salary and benefits have been left to districts’ bond projects and building funds.

As data from the Office of Educational Quality and Assurance (OEQA) show, for the 2014-15 school year, state funding generated 47.7% of what school districts had available to spend. (This doesn’t include bond costs, which vary widely among the school districts.) For the 1999-2000 school year, state funding accounted for 57.3% of what school districts had available to spend. State support for public schools has been on a steady decline for a long time now.

Some districts are growing. They need to add to the size of their facilities. Other districts are aging. They need to replace or upgrade their facilities. There just aren’t funds available through the funding formula to meet these needs, so the districts pass bonds through local elections.Many districts also use bond funds to buy buses, which also have an optimal span of usage. As we drive more and more operational costs into our bond projects, meeting these needs becomes more challenging.

Back to the KFOR piece:

Putnam City Spokesman Steve Lindley showed NewsChannel 4 the district’s finances and the “$83 million surplus” the OCPA reported.

About $14 million (which has since shrunk to about $10 million) is available for use in the general fund, he said, though much of it is being saved to pay bills that will be due before property taxes are collected at the end of the year.

Other money is saved in reserves to deal with emergency situations.

“In the financial situation we’re in now, we don’t know what’s coming or when it’s coming,” Lindley said. “We manage our resources very carefully and make the best use of them that we can. And, why would we do anything else?”

Another $11 million was raised with a specific purpose like MAPS or child nutrition or by a specific group like an activity fund or a gift.

That money can not be used for general operations.

And, the lions share of the Putnam City “surplus,” $57 million, are dedicated to paying off voter-approved bond issues.

In other words, just as the Mid-Del figures I provided at the top show, school districts have multiple funds that have very specific purposes. We’re not hiding money from our teachers, and they know it. Either that, or they just don’t understand how school funding works. This statement by Small further illustrates this:

“A lot of our money ends up going more toward bonds and buildings than it does toward teacher salaries,” he said. “Often, school districts are going to voters asking for increased property tax levies for the purpose of bonding instead of for the purpose of teacher salaries.”

The guy in charge at the OCPA should know better. Maybe he does, and this is just his way of sowing the seeds of discord. That seems to be their specialty anyway. If they truly are a public policy research organization, as their website proclaims, I expect better from their research. Maybe that’s why, when a friend sent me the link to Anderson’s post, my browser was reluctant to let me visit the site.

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I’m not the only one who has written about this post. My friend Gary Watts, the recently retired chief financial officer for Sand Springs Public Schools, has started a blog that targets the OCPA for misleading the public.

He also dismisses the real concern districts have with managing cash flow in their general funds:  “They don’t seem to understand that the accrual of those expenses incurred but not paid should already have been made.”  I managed a $40+ million budget for an Oklahoma school district for ten years and I don’t know what he means, probably because he doesn’t.  I think his “accrual of those expenses” is referring to encumbrances under Oklahoma law–and yes those expenses, like salaries, are encumbered fully before they are paid.  The problem that Mr. Anderson chooses not to understand is that revenues are also “accrued”, in our language budgeted, before they are received.

Gary, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I can only wonder why Sand Springs was one of the districts in the spreadsheet at the top!

Even The Lost Ogle called out the OCPA. And they did it more beautifully than any of my blogger friends and I could have:

Before we continue, I should probably inform you that the guy who published the article for OCPA is Koch brothers shill Steve Anderson. From 2011 to 2013, he served as a key advisor and state budget director for Kansas governor Sam Brownback…. Under Brownback and Anderson’s regime, the state slashed income taxes for the rich in an attempt to spur economic growth. Sound familiar? As you probably know, the plan backfired. Kansas faced a revenue shortage, made drastic budget cuts to education and transportation, and eventually landed in a recession. Once again, sound familiar?

Same game plan, different latitude.

In reality, the OCPA has one job: to feed the public a narrative that all government spending is bad. They are a non-profit funded by donors, who can write off the donations the same as they would write off donations to St. Jude’s. They exploit any piece of data, no matter how far they have to reach, just to make public education look bad. Their agenda is one in the same with the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

What we see now is just a trickle. It’s that nuisance of a drip leaking from your bathroom faucet. You don’t think much about it, because it really doesn’t cost you much. We just have to get ready for the fire hose now. As state elections approach(run-off elections for now), they will only seek to strengthen their base’s loathing of all things public – especially education. By November, when the penny sales tax is on the ballot, their effort will be relentless.

Cheap Budget Trick

July 31, 2016 Comments off

While the school year and legislative session were both coming to an end in May, one story of budget cuts – and not a public education story – really stuck with me. From KFOR:

The Department of Human Services is freezing a program which helps low-income Oklahoma families pay for child care.

New applications within the child care subsidy program will soon be denied in an effort to save money.

Those who are currently enrolled in the system will not be impacted.

It’s those moms who are currently pregnant or those families who will soon need the financial help who are about to have to figure out a way to do without.

Baylea Brown is a single mom in the Oklahoma City area.

She relies on the state subsidy to help pay for child care for her 9-year-old son, Gavin, who has special needs.

“Because of the subsidy, I can pay my rent. I can pay for food,” she said.

It’s a subsidy that helps low-income Oklahoma families.

But, starting June 1, 2016, the program will be frozen.

“The agency has run out of money this year,” said Sheree Powell, spokesperson for DHS.

NewsChannel 4 obtained an internal memo from DHS.

The memo was sent out earlier this week, alerting employees to the changes that are coming.

The memo states “Due to the ongoing state budget shortfall, DHS will freeze enrollment for the child care subsidy program effective June 1, 2016.”

It goes on to say “Although new applications will not be approved, applicants still have the right to apply for the program and should not be prevented from doing so. However, applicants should be informed that all new applications will be denied. Notice of denial will be mailed to all who apply after the deadline. This decision cannot be appealed. However, if a client requests a hearing on this decision the request should be accepted and forwarded to the DHS Appeals Unit. The Appeals Unit will notify the applicant that the decision cannot be appealed.”

DHS also has concerns.

“Some of the things we’re concerned about is that families won’t be able to find quality child care, or they’ll start leaving their children in unsafe situations, maybe with relatives or friends who really aren’t qualified to care for their children,” Powell said.

Brown’s glad her subsidy is safe, but she knows just how hard life will potentially be for the families who will soon be denied the help.

“That just sounds kind of impossible – to work and to pay bills and to have daycare,” she said.

This is reality for families below the poverty line. Society at-large (me included) wants parents to be able to work. Often the cost of child care is an obstacle. Freezing the subsidy will keep thousands of parents out of the workforce. Remember that the next time you stumble across a conversation in which your friends and neighbors are talking about poor people just wanting handouts. The state has just frozen a program that would help people who are trying to find a place in the workforce.

Another non-education cut from April also has stayed with me. From the Tulsa World:

A state association of health-care providers claims up to 93 percent of Oklahoma nursing homes will cease operating if a 25 percent cut in the Medicaid rate goes into effect, creating a crisis for Oklahoma families and jeopardizing 16,900 jobs.

This could place about 16,800 elderly and disabled patients at risk of being displaced from their nursing homes.

The decision by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to slash the rate came last week as the state slips into a deepening revenue failure, estimated to reach at least $1.3 billion by next fiscal year.

In the past five years, almost $500 million has been cut from the Medicaid program, mostly by reducing rates to health-care providers and restricting services available to SoonerCare members. The past decade has seen about $1 billion in cuts.

The recent rate decrease comes from agency officials anticipating cuts of $64 million in the program needed by the end of June.

This reduces federal matching funds, which will total a loss of $164 million in total state and federal funding for Oklahoma Medicaid. The reduced rate goes into effect June 1.

It may get worse. Agency officials have stated another $100 million reduction may be in store for next fiscal year’s budget.

This story alarmed me mostly because I had no idea how reliant our nursing homes were on state funding. I knew they weren’t get rich schemes for their operators, but I didn’t realize they were functioning that close to the margin between making a small profit and having to close.

I also didn’t realize that SoonerCare had scaled back services so much. My own kids were on SoonerCare when I was a classroom teacher. We also qualified for WIC. Even though this cut is not directly an educational issue, it is probably worth noting that state programs subsidize a number of public employees – education and otherwise.

I mention all of this now because of Governor Fallin’s announcement that she’s interested in having the Legislature return to the Capitol for a special session to discuss teacher raises.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she is considering calling a special session to ask lawmakers to use excess state funds on teacher raises.

The state recently closed out the fiscal year and had $140.8 million left. The action comes after a revenue failure that resulted in two cuts to state-appropriated agencies.

The cuts were deeper than were needed, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“I’ve begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises,” Fallin said. “I continue to support a pay raise for teachers, having called on lawmakers at the beginning of this year’s session to approve a teacher pay raise.”

In other words, state agencies received cuts that were bigger than what they needed to be. The timing of the announcement, with run-off elections around the corner, and with momentum building for State Question 779 (penny sales tax), is one thing that concerns me. That’s just one thing, though.

The Tulsa World included a graphic with their story showing the amount that would be returned to different state agencies, if the Legislature does nothing.

Agency Rebates.png

Look at that list. Yes, public education would receive $40 million back. Fallin is proposing that our legislators return to the Capitol to make that happen. She’s also asking them to give us the $23 million from health care, $20 million from higher education, $16 million from DHS, and every other penny.. I have a problem with that. Each of those entities serves our students too. Everything on this list is a core function of state government.

There is nothing prudent or conservative about trying to give teacher raises on the backs of these other agencies. Unfortunately, some of our state leaders are pathologically committed to trying to convince us that teacher salaries can increase significantly without generating new revenue.

That brings me to a third objection: this isn’t recurring revenue. In that sense, this idea is nothing more serious than Janet Barresi’s ill-fated 2K4T scheme three years ago. I’m pretty sure we can’t guarantee that the state will more or less forget to allocate $140 million next year too, can we?

Again, this isn’t new money. It’s money that OMES cut in excess of what they had to. According to CCOSA, the cuts were in fact illegal.

“We believe the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services did not have the legal authority to reduce allotments to state agencies based on estimates that the state general revenue fund might fail,” wrote Owens, an attorney. “We respectfully request that the allocations that were unlawfully reduced from the state general revenue fund be immediately returned to the agencies from which they were cut.”

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, who oversees the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said the allegation that the cut was illegal is “as laughable as it is totally wrong.”

“These reductions were made using the same statutory authority and procedures as all other revenue failure reductions in prior years, many of which also wound up being deeper than necessary and also resulted in excess funds being allocated either administratively by this agency or at the discretion of the Legislature,” Doerflinger said. “When this year’s midyear cuts were made, OMES pursued the only lawful avenue given that revenues and oil prices were in a freefall.”

I don’t know about you, but Doerflinger’s defense seems to be that the state budget was in a freefall and they made a guess at how much to cut. I can live with that explanation. Seriously, as someone whose leadership team made a menu of misery not knowing how deeply we needed to cut, I get it.

What I don’t get is the idea that we can somehow get a teacher raise out of this. Governor Fallin has been calling for one since her State of the State address in February, but there has been no movement on any of her revenue-generating ideas (that she somehow doesn’t think are the same thing as tax increases. Her logic pretty much boils down to:

“The Legislature is still being paid and is still on the state payroll now, even those who are term limited out,” Fallin said. “I think they should come back and do their job.”

Based on the quotes I’ve seen in articles and on social media from various legislators, most aren’t thrilled at the idea of returning to the Capitol. Even if they were, they’d have to get that bus off of them first.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoman thinks Fallin’s plan is adequate, and the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs think teachers in Oklahoma are doing pretty well already. I’m not quoting either of them, but the links are there. Look if you want.

My gut tells me there won’t be a special session. The people running for re-election this fall probably don’t want to take money from all the other state agencies and give it to public schools right now. Meanwhile, this will be a small speed bump for the SQ 779 supporters. Unless a genuine and sustainable plan appears from the people who’ve had years to write one, the penny sales tax is still the best option available.

In Defense of the Advocates of the Teacher Caucus

July 30, 2016 Comments off

We’ve spent countless years and dollars in this state trying to measure educator and school effectiveness. It usually comes down to a menu of test scores. If we have more kids passing than those other guys, then we must be better at our jobs than they are.

If only it were that clean.

Unfortunately, variables such as socio-economic status, student mobility, and a district’s ability to generate funding intervene from time-to-time. The fact that our state hasn’t demonstrably shown support for public education in about 10 years doesn’t help either.

Because of these facts, and the reality that tests don’t even come close to measuring all of the things that matter in a school, Oklahoma issues horribly misleading A-F Report Cards to the public. Some who ascribe to the measure it if it matters mindset are content with this. We’re not. We see schools making an impact that their grade doesn’t showcase. We see it frequently.

Some things are easier to measure, however, like the impact of public education advocacy. We can look at the number of legislative races contested and won, bills filed and passed (or defeated), or the percentage of votes it takes for an incumbent to finish third in her own primary. Those are quantifiable.

We’re about at the point now that we can also start counting the number of editorials written by the Oklahoman attempting to discredit those of us pushing for more candidates who will promote a pro-public education agenda. (We would also count blogs opposing us, but we’ve yet to find one that is coherent.)

The Oklahoman has close ties to the former state superintendent. Their editorial board promotes candidates who favor all forms of school choice. They favor the concept of sending tax dollars to private schools and asking for no accountability in return. They favor more state testing and jeer legislative measures aimed at curbing unnecessary tests. They deride calls for adequate public school funding. They think the school report cards mean something.

To be fair, though, when I reached out to them and asked them to publish opposing thoughts on A-F Report Cards (along with another superintendent), they did.

That said, on more than one occasion, they’ve questioned the honesty and ethics of our group – A Facebook group – Oklahomans for Public Education. Yes, the Oklahoman is now writing editorials about Facebook groups.

Our group is led by a board that includes superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents. We picked candidates to support based on the information available to us. In some cases, we have disagreed. Over 2,000 people like the page, but even among the board members we have differences. Politically, we are all over the place. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all part of the group.

We are not single-issue voters, which is one reason that we’ve identified multiple candidates in several races to support. If five people run for a seat, and they all support public education, we have to count ourselves fortunate. At that point, we definitely have different preferences that probably fall back in part to our individual political leanings.

Nor do we have a singular litmus test. If you’re on social media every day pushing for vouchers and school consolidation, we probably didn’t give you an apple. If you’re currently a classroom teacher, you didn’t automatically get one. I can think of several former or retiring teachers with poor voting records on public education issues.

The term Teacher Caucus, isn’t really accurate. I prefer to think of us and the candidates who have put themselves forward as a Rebel Alliance.

crazy flier

Either way, the grouping consists of candidates we believe to hold the same view of public school students and teachers that we do. In short, we believe that the state has failed to meet its obligation to Oklahoma students, the vast majority of whom are in public schools. Funding and respect are nowhere near the levels that our students and teachers, respectively, deserve. Candidates we believe will change that get apples. Period.

As for me personally, I’ll throw in the kicker that if you come across as a demagogue or a bigot, I’m out. I don’t care how you voted on voucher or testing bills.

And when those candidates and their supporters desperately take to the streets to smear, in particular, parents who support their opponents, we’ll comment on the cowardice this reveals.

Our work isn’t perfect. It also isn’t finished. I guess that means the attacks will just get uglier and uglier. Nevertheless, we will continue trying to raise public awareness about the candidates who face run-off elections. We will continue communicating with and about candidates who are on the ballot in November.

Then when that’s finished, we’ll keep working, individually and in groups, with the newly seated Legislature. We’re all grown ups here. I can accept that some of the candidates I prefer will win and that some will lose.

Full Circle Conversation

Without getting into the details, I’ve seen some blog and Facebook posts questioning the group of legislative candidates loosely called the Teacher Caucus. Maybe we can have this conversation in the light of day.

Full Circle

Tomorrow, I’ll be at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City along with State Representative David Perryman. Among the things we’ll be discussing will be the emphasis on pro-education candidates. Surely we can have a civil, constructive conversation, right?

 

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.

Loveless really knew nothing about this.jpg

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.

 

Blair Witch 1.JPG

Here’s another flyer that mentions education:

Blair Witch 2.JPG

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?

church lady.gif

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.

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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.

Remember When 6.24.14.png

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.

Baxter - support your candidates.png

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?

RG Popcorn.gif

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.

Carleton

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!

snidely whiplash.gif

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…

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

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.

 

 

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