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

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

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

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

There’s not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value-Added Results Now Available

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping…

 

 

 

 

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4 Things for 4 Years

April 26, 2016 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

More than anything, thanks for reading my blog.

 

 

Ten Things: OCPA Math

April 19, 2016 5 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me drop a few more chunks here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

top-rate-2004-2018-1

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

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

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

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

Baby Ruth

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

Or your swimming pool.

On asterisks, per this and per that

April 17, 2016 6 comments

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

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

And Hickman said the appropriations numbers prove it.

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Department of Education Funding Since 2004

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

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

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

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

Table 2: Funding for schools by source since FY 1999

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

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

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

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

Table 3: Enrollment in Public Schools in Oklahoma by Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

Table 4: State Aid per WADM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason to Believe

April 15, 2016 1 comment

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

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

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

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

The last line repeats at the end of each verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This year, the difference is incredible.

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

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

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

candidates.jpg

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

 

FY 17 Executive Budget 2.0

April 13, 2016 2 comments

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

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

image

The plan:

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

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

MF Budget 1MF Budget 2

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

 

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

Change the World; Make a Difference

April 12, 2016 5 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy-That-Escalated-Quickly-Anchorman.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new phone books are here.gif

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

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

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

Two things from the OSDE’s Fast Facts page

April 12, 2016 Comments off

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

OSDE releases Fast Facts e-resource

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADM and Money Trends.png

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

Oh, and one bonus thing for today:

FRL trends.png

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

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

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

Despair and Disparity

April 10, 2016 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2244 fiscal impact.png

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motor Vehicle Disparities.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are not a Test

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

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

Ridgecrest Roadrunners.jpg

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

Still, the second paragraph of this letter to students captures what the best educators among us know to be true:

[The tests] do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for dancing. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your smile lightens a room….

What I know about the teachers and principal at this school is that they do care about student achievement. They care about getting their students ready for not just the state test, but also for the next grade or the next school. I know that they have a veteran staff and that they rally around students and families in need.

Because tests have high-stakes attached to them, we must take them seriously. One thing we know to be part of our job is to protect children from harm. Artificial consequences attached to assessments that are poor descriptors of learning and ability and worse descriptors of future success fall into this category. We should not gear instruction solely around them, nor should we act as if they don’t exist.

We also should not, as Rob Miller writes, ignore the fact that some most of our students have other priorities.

The folks making six-figure salaries for testing vendors like Pearson, ETS, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and Measured Progress believe that  children OWE them their loyalty by giving their best effort to this annual exercise: “By God, we’ve worked hard to craft these beautiful measures of student learning, the very least you could do is show your appreciation by doing your best.”

This presumption is so strong in their mind that because this is such self-evidently important work, that they cannot imagine anybody not seeing its value.

These folks live in a magical land where every child is loved, comes to school eager to learn, and loves to sit quietly for hours taking multiple choice tests on a laptop, while unicorns frolic with elves in rainbow-laden fields.

Children are smarter than this. They understand the reality that these tests are simply a means to sort, rank, humiliate and punish kids through various forms of public shaming, things like grade retention, denial of a high school diploma, and forced placement in “remediation” classes.

The testing companies say kids should love these swell assessments because they were crafted with their best interests in mind.

Of course, parents and students have to be made to believe this because otherwise, what’s the purpose of it all?

If a student is bored or tired or hungry or distracted or scared or neglected or angry or sad or just doesn’t care or doesn’t see any point or just feels like playing video games or listening to loud music or playing basketball or singing songs or painting a picture or checking out the hot girl two rows over or thinks that high-stakes testing is stupid or prefers to write open-ended answers in the form of rap lyrics or long rambling run-on sentences like this   .   .   .   if that happens, every single piece of precious data derived from these test results, ranging  from A-F report cards, to teacher VAM evaluations, to student growth calculations, to all of it is craptacular crap.

It could just be that our students love to sing and dance or run and play more than they want to test. It could be that they love to read more than they want to suffer through the reading passages selected for them on the tests. Whatever the variable, we just have to understand that when the test scores come back, they may or may not tell us anything useful.

And for that, we pay millions.

Try hard, kids. Do your best. Then go outside and play.

Two Things on SB 1187

Tomorrow, the House Appropriations and Budget (A & B) Committee will hear one of the bills I’ve been watching for month. Sort of.

  1. SB 1187 passed the Senate by one vote. It essentially would have given high-performing* districts the flexibility to do all kinds of things – such as removing the minimum salary schedule, insurance, and retirement benefits for the teachers. In other words, if you are a good teacher, and our kids are successful, I, as your administrator, can take away decades of progress – but only if you vote to allow me to do it. Oh, we also wouldn’t have had to serve all students in our district. It was bizarre. Apparently, that bill is now a memory.
  2. Tomorrow, a substitute bill will be heard in its place. This bill takes all of the original language out and lets high schools substitute concurrent enrollment credit for certain End-of-Instruction exams. It’s now a totally different bill. Even if it passes the House, it would have to go back to the Senate. Then if they change it, there will be a conference committee. And so it goes.

What does that mean? Probably that we have more important things to worry about. I’ll keep worrying about money. That’s the big one.


*As determined by standardized tests or a troll under a foot-bridge…it wasn’t really clear.

Two Bills to Support

March 29, 2016 3 comments

Yesterday was pretty anti-climactic. The morning was loud and at times, contentious. The afternoon was like a balloon with a small pin prick. Slowly, and noticeably, the air went out of the Senate first, and then the House.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time on that. Before I discuss two bills that warrant your support, I want to share with you the experiences of Oklahoma teacher and English/language arts standards writing team member, Kelli Anglley.

I had the unique opportunity to go to the state capitol today and speak with our legislators about the Oklahoma ELA standards that I helped author.

As I teacher, I often wonder why our legislators make the decisions they do. Today I gained some insight. Teachers obviously cannot go and lobby because we are teaching. However, other groups seem to have more time on their hands.

ROPE Hallway

This group (ROPE – Reclaiming Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, formerly Restoring Oklahoma Public Education) was there in force. They were holding red signs that read “FIX AND VERIFY” in reference to our new standards. Some members of this group had no clue why they were there. I heard a lady say to another, “Why are we here again?” All she had done was answer a robocall plea to be at the capitol. It took all I had not to walk up with my copy of the standards and say, “Which one would you like me to fix and verify” because I am almost positive most have never even read them.

As legislators would walk past them, they would chant and and grab some for conversations about the bills they were interested in.

As members of the writing team walked by to enter the House Republican Caucus, where we were invited as guests, this group was chanting “STOP COMMON CORE” the whole time we walked down the long hallway.
1. Our standards are NOT Common Core.
2. I’ve never been on either side of a protest before, so that
was very odd.

My opinion is that this is why we get some of the crazy legislation we get – because there are crazy people up at the capitol bending our legislator’s ears. I feel that my presence there today, shaking hands, putting a face to the standards, and answering questions helped. However, I am very happy to be going back to my classroom tomorrow.

As parents and teachers, we need to get more involved. I’ll post a group in the comments that you can join if interested in current educational legislation.

I was there for a little while in the morning too, but I missed that scene. That’s probably a good thing.

1. Senate Bill 1170 – This bill would repeal End-of-Instruction testing and give districts control over testing and graduation requirements for high school students. This bill does nothing for grades 3-8 testing, which is fine with me. That’s more complicated, and I’m still not sold on anything we’ve seen to replace those tests. It’s a good start and would save the state money (and high schools valuable time).

2. House Bill 2957 – This bill would end the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System and place the job of teacher evaluation back into the hands of districts. As with SB 1170, it’s a bill that provides flexibility and local control.

(By the way, this is a stark contrast to SB 1187 which rolls back years of progress on teacher protections – get this…as a REWARD for being successful! That’s not the local control we’re looking for.)

HB 2957 also would save districts money. Time, flexibility, and cost-savings. These are always upgrades.

As hard as we’ve worked these last few weeks fighting madness, let’s keep that energy focused, and fight for things we want. These bills passed their chamber of origin unanimously this month. As I found talking to people at the Capitol today, there are more elected leaders trying to help us than hurt us. Let’s thank them and let them know we support good legislation.

They’re #OklahomaStandards

March 26, 2016 5 comments

As we speak, our legislators are receiving phone calls and emails from individuals who oppose them approving the standards. Do all of these sudden activists live in Oklahoma? I seriously doubt it – not after Representative Dan Fisher (R-Black Robed Regiment) made blatantly false statements on the Glenn Beck radio program Friday. In calling the standards a back door for Common Core, he riled up Beck’s national base. To these people, facts don’t matter.

Below is a copy of an actual email that one nameless legislator says have come in by the hundreds.

Dear Sir or Madam,

The legislature has the responsibility as our fiduciaries to know what the final standards are before voting to approve them. As written, the current bills, HRJ1070 and SJR75, do NOT correct the problem – theyMUST BE AMENDED. Do not approve an unfinished product with the “hope” that “changes” will be made. Trust is broken and we know that board members have promised that they will NOT accept additional changes to the standards, so it is up to you as our elected representative, to DIRECT that Changes will be made – so that you keep your word to the parents, students and educators of Oklahoma that you would ensure high quality standards that are not common core compliant when you passed HB3399 into law.Insist that the suggested corrections made by subject matter experts in the SCCC Report be implemented. AFTER you have seen that the external reviewers changes have been made, THENapprove the standards. HJR 1070 and SJR75, as currently drafted and before you DO NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. YOU MUST AMEND THEM. If you choose to do nothing on Monday, then you will be acting through your silence.

That’s a lot of typos from people who think they need to chime in on our academic standards. In its place, I have written my own email that I suggest sending (by the thousands).

Dear Sir or Madam,

Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education presented the Legislature with the revised Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts on the first day of the legislative session (February 1st). For weeks, you have had the opportunity to ask questions. Many of you have. Last Monday (March 21st), the Senate voted 30-16 to approve the standards. The House voted 60-30 to do the same. Since neither chamber has acted on the other’s resolution, we are now down to the last day to act.

The standards writing teams have met every provision of HB 3399. The OSDE has presented you with more than 60 letters of support for the standards. They come from school districts, expert curriculum groups, Career Tech, and Higher Education.

On Monday, you will continue receiving calls and emails – both for and against approving the standards. You will also have several members of the standards writing teams in the building to help you accurately understand the process they followed during the last year. They can answer your questions about alignment, coherence, and rigor. They can answer your questions about how the standards differ from the Common Core or PASS. All of these other people flooding your office with misinformation cannot. They say they’ll be watching. So will we. Please don’t pull the rug out from under our teachers yet again.

The time to move forward is now.

Sincerely,

A life-long Oklahoman and a 23 year educator

Level Crowd Shot

As far as I’m concerned, if you say “public schools aren’t worth restoring” and work tirelessly to convince parents that public schools are evil and to withdraw their kids from them, you forfeit your right to an opinion on how and what we teach. If you’d rather talk to Glenn Beck about the standards than to the teachers who developed them, you’re not even trying to be constructive. You still have your First Amendment right to speak, but discerning people should ignore you.

Call your senator.

Call your representative.

Show up Monday if you can.

Senate Emails

allen@oksenate.gov, anderson@oksenate.gov, barrington@oksenate.gov, bass@oksenate.gov, bice@oksenate.gov, bingman@oksenate.gov, boggs@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, brooks@oksenate.gov, brownb@oksenate.gov, crain@oksenate.gov, dahm@oksenate.gov, david@oksenate.gov, dossett@oksenate.gov,efields@oksenate.gov, floyd@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, fry@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, griffin@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, holt@oksenate.gov, jech@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov,

justice@oksenate.gov, loveless@oksenate.gov, marlatt@oksenate.gov, mazzei@oksenate.gov, newberry@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, pittman@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, schulz@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, shortey@oksenate.gov, shumate@oksenate.gov, silk@oksenate.gov, simpson@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, lewis@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov, treat@oksenate.gov, wyrick@oksenate.gov, yen@oksenate.gov

House Emails

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov, casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

Call to Action: Stop the Madness

March 26, 2016 2 comments

Superintendent Hofmeister delivered the new math and English/language arts standards to the Legislature on February 1. Unless other directions were given by the both houses and signed by the governor, the standards would take effect as of the 30th day of session.

Apparently Monday – the day after Easter – is that 30th day. Let’s see…session started February 1st. There are 29 days in February. Monday will be the 28th day of March. That means…

Wait, you’re telling me that in 57 calendar days, the Legislature has only been in session for 30? I get the whole “want to spend the weekend with my family” thing. Believe me. I get it. They take Fridays off to meet with constituents back in their districts. Well, many of them do. I suppose I can’t paint with a broad brush.

Still, if they had worked eight four-day weeks since the start of February, there would have been 32 days of session so far. So what happened?

They took an extra day off during Spring Break, and they took an extra day off last week. The timing was fascinating.

This Monday, the House and Senate passed joint resolutions (HJR 1070 and SJR 75, respectively) to approve the standards. The House version calls for additional review by the groups that had already provided comments, but it still would allow Hofmeister and the State Department of Education to move forward. The Senate version – which I love – would approve the standards and permanently remove the Legislature from the business of approving standards at all.

Then it all turned into a [choose your own colorful term] contest. The Senate wouldn’t hear the House resolution, and the House wouldn’t hear the Senate resolution. Then the House called it a week a day early, but the Senate didn’t. Now it depends on who you ask as to whether or not we’ve reached the 30th day.

Side note: this is the government we’ve chosen to have. I’m just going to leave that there.

Everything seemed to be over. However, as former Faber College student John Blutarsky once said, nothing is over until WE decide it is!

germans pearl harbor.gif

On Friday, somebody said (and repeated, and repeated) the phrase that makes rational conversation suddenly disappear.

COMMON CORE!

COMMON CORE!

COMMON CORE!

lydia gif.gif

Last week it was Jenni White over at ROPE. This week, it’s Representative Dan Fisher, who appeared yesterday on the Glenn Beck radio program.

In this 12 minute clip, he flat out lies about the new math and ELA standards. He says that we’re bringing Common Core back.

We’re not. We’ve covered that extensively. Nobody has distanced themselves from our new standards more than Achieve, Inc. – the architects of the Common Core. As I mentioned last week, they reviewed our standards and hated them. They pointed out over 200 times how our standards are not like Common Core. We even had a Twitter battle over the fact that I pointed this out.

It was the best of times.

Thank you, Achieve, Inc., for making my point for me. These standards were made by Oklahomans for Oklahomans. They received over 60 letters of support from fellow Oklahomans. One of them was from me – a life-long and fourth-generation Oklahoman. Are they as good as Common Core? It depends on whom you ask. Curriculum has been my professional area of emphasis since I started graduate school in 1999. I think they are. I would stake my professional reputation on it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have voiced my support in the first place.

Glenn Beck is not an Oklahoman. Dan Fisher is, but he’s an extremist.

Unfortunately, this stunt has activated the people who listen to Glenn Beck – nationally – and who are now calling our legislators’ offices. We need to do the same.

If you want to know about the math standards, read what Nicole Styers wrote yesterday:

One striking difference between 2009 and today: during previous revisions of standards, state leadership specifically asked us not to open the standards up to public comment.  For our new standards, we actively sought out as much feedback as possible, above and beyond what was even “required” of us by HB 3399.

For me, this was the most amazing and rewarding part of the process.  To be able to collaborate with teachers and others in education across the state was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  It truly was a team effort, one that I am honored to have been a part of.

Over the last 10 months, The writing team meet face to face, as a whole team and as grade band groups, at least half a dozen times. We also meet via web conferencing and conference calls. Although we had a compressed timeline, the SDE hosted three official rounds of public comment and several unofficial rounds (when groups of educators came together as groups and looked over them together). I was blown away by the amount of input and the number of people who took the time to share. I loved Rob Miller’s blog about Ordering the Perfect Pizza you might link it here. It is perfect metaphor of the process. It was a collaborative effort. Often, we made changes based on comments that I didn’t personally agree with, like the grade integers are introduced, but that was the nature of the process.  We never compromised the content or the conviction to have the best standards possible for Oklahoma Students.  For my students.  For my daughter.

Now is the time. They are ready. They are strong. We need stability. We need to move forward.

Or read what Brook Meiller – who was on the ELA team – wrote on Facebook yesterday:

I am on the standards writing team along with other Oklahoma educators. We worked hard to make these standards right for Oklahoma students. Groups outside of Oklahoma and outside the interest of Oklahoma public schools students are slandering the standards and those who wrote them. When you read or hear something about the Oklahoma ELA standards not having anything about Oklahoma in them, or are simply Common Core, remember that ELA concerns such as foundational reading, parts of speech, paragraph writing, theme, similes, etc….none of these are unique to Oklahoma. Our standards are good and need to be in the hands of Oklahoma teachers. ROPE and Glenn Beck have no business in public school in Oklahoma. They do not care about our kids. Call and email your legislators and ask them to pass these standards and move on to other important issues in our state. Please share.

That’s what we need to do. For now, I’m through with trying to engage the people listening to the likes of Beck and Fisher. They’re not even trying to understand public education or standards. Call your senator. Call your representative. Mention that you’re an actual Oklahoman. Mention where you work, where your kids go to school, what the standards mean to you. Let them know you’re fed up with the delay. Let them know you want the standards enacted now.

Senate Emails

allen@oksenate.gov, anderson@oksenate.gov, barrington@oksenate.gov, bass@oksenate.gov, bice@oksenate.gov, bingman@oksenate.gov, boggs@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, brooks@oksenate.gov, brownb@oksenate.gov, crain@oksenate.gov, dahm@oksenate.gov, david@oksenate.gov, dossett@oksenate.gov,efields@oksenate.gov, floyd@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, fry@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, griffin@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, holt@oksenate.gov, jech@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov,

justice@oksenate.gov, loveless@oksenate.gov, marlatt@oksenate.gov, mazzei@oksenate.gov, newberry@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, pittman@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, schulz@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, shortey@oksenate.gov, shumate@oksenate.gov, silk@oksenate.gov, simpson@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, lewis@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov, treat@oksenate.gov, wyrick@oksenate.gov, yen@oksenate.gov

House Emails

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov, casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

Two Things: Diligently Moving Forward

March 22, 2016 1 comment

Yesterday, the Senate and House both advanced joint resolutions on the new standards for math and English/language arts.

1. SJR 75 came out of committee on an 8-4 vote, and is vastly changed. Now it is a resolution to approve the standards with instructions to the SDE and State Board:

SECTION 2. The Legislature requests that the State Board of Education and State Department of Education staff address the following as it develops curriculum frameworks to implement the standards:

A. The State Department of Education shall provide implementation support, including but not limited to examples to assist educators in developing their curriculum;

B. The State Department of Education shall ensure that the standards and accompanying curriculum frameworks provide a foundation for assessments to be implemented on or before the 2017- 2018 school year.

This resolution now would give the SDE the green light to start working with teachers around the state to implement the standards. As it is currently written, this is a great step in the right direction. Kudos should be given to Senator Clark Jolley for proposing the changes to the resolution.

To be fair, not everybody agreed with Jolley’s changes.

Just the same, it passed committee, and Senator Brecheen voted for it. Later in the day, it cleared the full Senate on a 30-16 vote.

2.Then yesterday afternoon, the full House debated and passed an amended HJR 1070. The key change is this language:

New Language.jpg

In other words, this can’t take forever. The resolution now reads to approve the standards, with the State Department of Education still having to receive input from the fifteen outside entities, some of which are not exactly friends of public education.

List of outside reviewers

Now that the SDE would control their own timeline, there’s nothing to delay implementation of the standards. Still, it does add an intermediate task.

HJR passed with a vote of 60-30.

This leaves three options for implementing the standards:

A. Do nothing. The standards will go into effect automatically Thursday even if neither of these bills hits the Governor’s desk.

B. Advance SJR 75 through the House and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two.

C. Advance HJR 1070 through the Senate and send it to the Governor. This would speed up adoption of the standards by a day or two and require the SDE to spend additional time listening to people it has already listened to while trying to work with teachers on turning standards into curriculum.

As Representative Cyndi Munson said yesterday on Twitter, many in the House voted no on HJR 1070 (even as amended) because we need to just let the SDE do their jobs at this point.

If you have a picture in your mind of who usually supports public education and who usually doesn’t, looking at any of these vote counts will only make you scratch your head. It’s never that cut and dry, which is why there was a decent amount of frustration at the end of the day. Many who voted  no (in both the House and Senate) were doing so in response to their constituents, who had contacted them in waves during the past week.

Today is a new day. There will be new things to discuss. Hopefully, moving past the standards brings us one step closer to focusing on the biggest issue our Legislature faces: the budget.

 

 

No on the Joint Resolutions

March 20, 2016 Comments off

Last Tuesday, while several hundred of my closest friends were merrily walking through the Capitol, and most legislators had taken the day off, most of us thought we’d be busy fighting SB 1187 (and its House counterpart, HB 3156) once everybody came back from Spring Break next week. We were wrong.

A few legislators were still around. Some were quite accessible. Some even had new legislation to push. Unknown to those of us speaking to our legislators, we should have been fighting a very targeted nuisance.

Snow and Nelson

On Monday, legislators had filed three joint resolutions that would delay approval of the new math and English/language arts standards, cost the state money it doesn’t have, and prevent implementation for the upcoming school year. One appears harmless to some, calling for approval but with instructions. The devil is in the instructions, though.

Below, I will discuss each resolution briefly and then once again recap some of the criticism of the standards. Then I will add email addresses and phone numbers of key legislators that you should call if you want to make your own thoughts known. If you already know what you want to say, feel free to skip to the end and start calling and emailing.

SJR 75 (by Brecheen and Sykes)

Senators Brecheen and Sykes authored SJR 75, which calls for the following, along with rejecting the standards:

The State Board of Education shall submit to members of the Legislature an unbiased report comparing the standards resubmitted to the Legislature pursuant to this section with the standards that were in place prior to the revisions adopted by the State Board of Education in June 2010. No member of the standards writing team shall participate in or contribute to the comparison report. The report shall include a list of all contributors to the report with accompanying evidence proving their unbiased status.

The section disapproving the ELA standards also includes the prohibition of including people the SDE had write the standards, along with these instructions:

The revised standards require students to become familiar with historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts that contributed to the development of the English language and its fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with significant texts, people, movements and events in Oklahoma’s political, intellectual and literary history;

The revised standards require students to become familiar with America’s founding and seminal political documents;

This bill is assigned to the Senate Education Committee. This resolution can die here, and if it does, that bodes well for the standards approval. Brecheen and Sykes are adamant about excluding the people who wrote the standards from influencing this process any further. That’s too bad. Writing team member Jason Stephenson wrote an eloquent post on his blog today explaining the level to which these politicians are further insulting teachers. His qualifications?

Let me be up front and say that I served on the committee that wrote the English standards. I have taught for eleven years in seventh through twelfth grades. I have my master’s degree in English, and I’m a past president of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. As an Oklahoma Writing Project teacher consultant, I’ve presented numerous workshops to teachers around the state.

I’d listen to that guy before I’d listen to a fringe group that wants nothing to do with public schools. There’s also the matter of the specific reading lists mandated by this resolution. English teachers don’t need legislation to tell us to use historically significant classical, British and American authors or texts. That’s like telling fish to swim. This is what we do.

They want a list of required reading, ostensibly so we don’t stray too far from their comfort zone. They want to go beyond standards and determine curriculum. That’s not their place.

HJR 1070 (Speaker Hickman)

This resolution goes straight to the floor. Section 1 states that both sets of standards “are hereby approved in whole with instructions as set forth in Section 2 of this resolution.” That’s where it gets tricky. Section 2 begins saying:

Prior to the State Board of Education implementing the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts and the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics as approved in Section 1 of this resolution, the Board shall take the following action which shall be completed no later than the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year:

  1. Review and compile a list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested in the “Oklahoma Academic Standards/Common Core State Standards Comparison Analysis Reports” prepared by the South Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma and submitted to the Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister on January 25, 2016, and any other clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions suggested by individuals and groups previously identified by the State Department of Education as the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts” and the “Outside Reviewers of the Drafts of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Mathematics”;

  2. Submit the compiled list of clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions as described in paragraph 1 of this section to the Outside Reviewers as described in paragraph 1 of this section which shall make comments regarding each clarification, revision, improvement and addition;

Let me pause there. This bill approves the standards but delays their implementation another year, and then only if the SDE makes changes and submits them to outside reviewers. Below is the list of outside reviewers that would have to approve the changes:

List of outside reviewers

This is an exercise in futility. This disparate group of reviewers includes ROPE, whose loathing of public education cannot possibly be overstated. It also includes the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English, of which many members of the standards writing team are members. The groups on this list will never be in full agreement about anything. If this resolution passes, we could be back in the same place in a few months. If the teams make changes to please one group, another group will voice concerns. There is no middle ground on which all of these voices will find enough agreement to give their approval.

And that gets me back to what I’ve been saying for the last five days. Trust the teachers who wrote the standards. Trust the teachers who will teach our children.

Here’s more from this resolution:

A. All subject matter standards and revisions to the standards adopted by the State Board of Education pursuant to Section 11-103.6a of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes shall be subject to legislative review as set forth in this section. The standards shall not be implemented by the State Board of Education until the legislative review process is completed as provided for in this section.

B. Upon adoption of any subject matter standards, the State Board of Education shall submit the adopted standards to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a designee and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate or a designee prior to the last thirty (30) days of the legislative session.

That’s a pretty quick turnaround – 30 days from the end of the legislative session. Are those working days? Total days? At most, the SDE would have a month complete all of this work. Actually, scratch that. It can’t be done. They have to get SBE approval first. It can’t be done.

This bill delays implementation of the standards for a year. Each ensuing step of the process will cost the state more time too. It impacts future testing contracts. It impacts textbook adoption. It insults teachers, yet again – which is something legislators up for re-election probably can’t afford to do right now.

Representative Jason Nelson, who at least engages #oklaed in lively debate on Twitter, doesn’t seem to get this.

Nelson twitter

No matter what you hear this week, HJR 1070 does not help.

HJR 1071 (Speaker Hickman)

This one is kind of a hybrid of the first two. Here’s the key language:

If the Legislature fails to adopt a joint resolution within thirty (30) legislative days following submission of the standards or fifteen (15) legislative days following resubmission of the revised standards as provided for in Section 2 of this resolution during the 2nd Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature, the standards shall be deemed approved.

There would be another chance to go through this mess, but again, the timeline is crazy tight. There’s little hope the standards would be approved and in place for the upcoming school year.

As Claudia Swisher wrote on Facebook this morning:

Senate Ed Committee meets tomorrow 9am to consider the Brecheen Joint Resolution to reject the new Standards in part or in full. Emails below to contact them today. Vote no on SJR75

House GOP meets in Caucus tomorrow am to decide what to do with the two Joint Resolutions to reject the standards in part or in full. The emails of the entire House are in the comments also. Vote no on HJR1070 and 1071.

The opposition to the Standards is coming from a group who identifies public education as the enemy, from the newspaper who was in love with the Superindentist, and the non-profit Achieve, who lost big when OK repealed CCSS. Oh, and from legislators who are miffed that the OSDE published a fiscal impact statement about how vouchers would devastate our schools.

That pretty much covers the groups with whom a few in our legislature have aligned themselves. Another way of looking at this, as General Baxter said yesterday, is this:

A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State. Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

Baxter also said that much of this 11th hour opposition has the fingerprints of the former state superintendent all over them. He would know, famously having been the subject of her obscenity and vitriol.

My advice to the legislators still trying to replay the elections of 2014: maybe you should focus on the upcoming elections instead.

Quit being obstructionists. Quit insulting the work and professionalism of educators. On this one, just get out of the way.

Call to the Capitol 3.21.15

Senate Education Committee e-mails

dossett@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov

Emails for the House

john.bennett@okhouse.gov, scott.biggs@okhouse.gov, lisajbilly@okhouse.gov, mikebrown@okhouse.gov, david.brumbaugh@okhouse.gov, chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov, kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, dennis.casey@okhouse.gov, mike.christian@okhouse.gov, bob.cleveland@okhouse.gov, josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov, donnie.condit@okhouse.gov, anncoody@okhouse.gov, jeff.coody@okhouse.gov, mariancooksey@okhouse.gov, dougcox@okhouse.gov, leedenney@okhouse.gov, david.derby@okhouse.gov, travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov, jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov, jon.echols@okhouse.gov, john.enns@okhouse.gov,

george.faught@okhouse.gov, dan.fisher@okhouse.gov, will.fourkiller@okhouse.gov, randy.grau@okhouse.gov, claudia.griffith@okhouse.gov, elise.hall@okhouse.gov, tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov, katie.henke@okhouse.gov, jwhickman@okhouse.gov, chuck.hoskin@okhouse.gov, scott.inman@okhouse.gov, dennis.johnson@okhouse.gov, jp.jordan@okhouse.gov, charlie.joyner@okhouse.gov, chris.kannady@okhouse.gov, sallykern@okhouse.gov, dan.kirby@okhouse.gov, steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov, james.leewright@okhouse.gov, mark.lepak@okhouse.gov, james.lockhart@okhouse.gov, ben.loring@okhouse.gov, scott.martin@okhouse.gov, mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov, charles.mccall@okhouse.gov, mark.mccullough@okhouse.gov, jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov, randy.mcdaniel@okhouse.gov, jerrymcpeak@okhouse.gov, john.montgomery@okhouse.gov, lewis.moore@okhouse.gov, richardmorrissette@okhouse.gov, glen.mulready@okhouse.gov,
cyndi.munson@okhouse.gov,
casey.murdock@okhouse.gov, jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, jason.nelson@okhouse.gov, tom.newell@okhouse.gov, jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov, terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov, charles.ortega@okhouse.gov, leslie.osborn@okhouse.gov, pat.ownbey@okhouse.gov, scooter.park@okhouse.gov, david.perryman@okhouse.gov, pampeterson@okhouse.gov, john.pfeiffer@okhouse.gov,

eric.proctor@okhouse.gov, rcpruett@okhouse.gov, brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, mike.ritze@okhouse.gov, dustin.roberts@okhouse.gov, sean.roberts@okhouse.gov, michael.rogers@okhouse.gov, waderousselot@okhouse.gov, todd.russ@okhouse.gov, mike.sanders@okhouse.gov, seneca.scott@okhouse.gov, earl.sears@okhouse.gov, mikeshelton@okhouse.gov, bensherrer@okhouse.gov, jerryshoemake@okhouse.gov, shane.stone@okhouse.gov, chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov, johnny.tadlock@okhouse.gov, todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, steve.vaughan@okhouse.gov, emily.virgin@okhouse.gov, ken.walker@okhouse.gov, kevin.wallace@okhouse.gov, weldon.watson@okhouse.gov,

paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov, cory.williams@okhouse.gov, justin.wood@okhouse.gov, harold.wright@okhouse.gov, george.young@okhouse.gov

 

 

 

 

 

General Baxter Says it Even Better

March 19, 2016 6 comments

Retired general and State Board of Education member Lee Baxter posted his thoughts on the standards debate on Facebook tonight. baxter.jpg

I am a member of the State Board of Education. I am not known to be reluctant to express my opinion. So I shall.

1. The legislature rejected Common Core in 2014 and directed that we needed OKLAHOMA standards written by OKLAHOMANS for OKLAHOMA children and their parents, and that the OKLAHOMA State Regents for Higher Education certify those standards as preparing our children for college and career.

2. A standards committee was formed naming the very best OKLAHOMA mathematicians and English teachers, the best OKLAHOMA professors, the best OKLAHOMA parents we could find (among scads of applicants). They were rural and urban, from around the entire State.Over a years period of time these OKLAHOMANS wrote the standards in a totally transparent way, with tons of opportunity for public comment. The standards were approved and the OKLAHOMA Regents for Higher Education certified them.

3. Now we have 2 Senators, Brecheen and Sykes, who declare these OKLAHOMA educators are not smart enough, not capable enough nor talented enough to do the job. Instead they want the inputs of a Massachussets/ Arkansas arrogant miscreant who admires only her own standards, and the radicalized splinter group called ROPE who have just declared “public education is not worth restroring.” Every teacher in the state should be completely insulted by the actions of these two. Like me, they are Republicans. I am not proud of them. None participated in public comment forums…..

4. If I need a plumber, I do not hire an electrician. I hire a plumber. And when I want standards written, I would hire a teacher, an educator…..NOT a lawyer or a horse trainer (with apologies to Sykes and Brecheen.). What do they know about math and English standards????? Nothing

5. I am sure I know the agenda here. These two Senators simply do not want these standards. And why not? Because they both drink from the trough of the former State Superintendent, whose fingerprints are all over their actions.

6. Rep Jason Nelson also wants these delayed, yet seems much more reasonable and is asking for “tweaks and edits” Well, Jason, pass these now and I promise the SDE and the Board will take up your concerns PROMPTLY.

7.OKLAHOMA School adminstrators and teachers and parents want these standards NOW. NO more delays. We have produced what we were asked for . “Standards for Oklahmans by Oklahomans.” Does not the legislature have real problems to solve???????

All….please contact your leaders and members in the legislature. MUST BE NOW. This will all be done as early as Monday…..

I’ll just leave that there, but General Baxter, next time you see me, ask if I have a spare microphone. If I do, it’s yours to drop.

 

 

Definitely Not Common Core

March 19, 2016 1 comment

If we needed proof that the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts are not just a rebrand of the jettisoned Common Core State Standards, it arrived Friday night with a resounding plop. At about 8:30, Achieve, Inc. released a 68 page document highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’ve never heard of Achieve, here are a few graphics to help you get an idea of who they are.

12874463_10209054464982397_1065128931_o 12476801_10209054441541811_2061290219_o 12516881_10209054441301805_996470653_o

Achieve was one of the drivers behind the development and implementation of the Common Core. Here’s a blurb from their website:

At the direction of 48 states, and partnering with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve helped develop the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-six states and the National Research Council asked Achieve to manage the process to write the Next Generation Science Standards. In the past Achieve also served as the project manager for states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. And since 2005, Achieve has worked with state teams, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of the real world so that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to fully reach their promise in college, careers and life.

Throughout their website, you can find resources to support Common Core implementation. This is who they are. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of their harshest criticisms of our standards are tied to things that they feel Common Core does better. For example:

sample criticism

Most of the review follows a simple format:

  • Make a declarative statement about the Oklahoma standards.
  • Identify any strengths in this part of the standards.
  • Explain how Common Core is superior.
  • Forecast the fall of western civilization.

That last part is implied, rather than explicitly stated (which I find to be a weakness).

Here’s one of the Common Core standards that the document’s author(s) hold up as critical:

Tracing the reasons and evidence an author gives so students are able to break down arguments and understand the structure of claims, warrants, and evidence (for examples, see CCSS RI #8 across grade levels).

This is a wonderful thing to teach. We can do this with historical documents and speeches. We can use editorials and blogs. We could even break down the cable news folderol or statements from candidate debates for this. What I don’t need, as an English teacher, is a specific standard telling me to do it. I would’ve gotten there on my own.

This gets back to the gist of all the criticisms I’ve read in the last week (yes, the last week). The standards don’t explicitly spell out every task we want teachers to have students do. I’m fine with that. That’s not the purpose of standards.

We shouldn’t be bothered that Achieve doesn’t approve of our standards. The timing, on the other hand, seems suspicious, however. Why drop the report on a Friday night? Why now, with less than a week to go before the standards are approved? Wondering these things, I took to Twitter and started asking questions. Friends chimed in too. Below are some of our questions, as well as some responses from Achieve and their people:

Achieve claims that the review was completely independent and neither funded nor requested by anyone. They evaluate and review standards. It’s just a thing that they do. After all, they’re a non-profit and all of their activities are simply a service to the public.

If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime at all, you’ve probably detected that non-profit is one of my trigger words. So I looked at their 990 tax form from 2013 (the most recent one online). They have about a 14 million dollar budget. They list 10 employees (all that the form requires) making in excess of $100,000. They’re a non-profit entity, for sure, but they’re not a bunch of starving artists, either. Their funding comes from such sources as the Gates Foundation and the Batelle Foundation. Yes, the people who brought us value-added measurement and roster verification are among their primary supporters.

Reviews like this take time. They take money. I have no evidence or reason to believe that the Achieve’s report was anything but independent. Unless something to the contrary surfaces, I’ll accept that. For the record, one other pair of their tweets made me snicker a little:

I get it. Nobody understands how it feels to have your standards attacked better than the architects of the Common Core. As for not believing that this is an attack, well maybe they lack context for what it’s like to be an educator in Oklahoma. Within the last week, our standards have been criticized by a group that wants nothing to do with public education (yet somehow still gets a seat at the table).

Jenni doesn't care

This comes on top of relentless attacks, whether it is voucher schemes that would further deplete school funding, charter school bills sugar-coated as empowerment legislation, and ongoing political coercion from out-of-state. The timing of the report is also frustrating – three days after resolutions were filed in the House and Senate to disapprove the standards, and days before they automatically go into effect.

Again, if we take people’s words at face value, then we should accept the fact that legislators like Jason Nelson, Jeff Hickman, Anthony Sykes, and Josh Brecheen have been reviewing feedback of the standards all along. Still, they can’t point to a single conversation with a single member of the standards writing teams. Furthermore, they respond to the critics of the standards, but not at all to the 60+ letters of support the SDE has received.

I’ve also read the letters of support, and the most compelling was written by Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math. He writes:

My background is as follows: I am a mathematician by training with a bachelor’s degree in math from Princeton University (1986) and a PhD in pure math from MIT (1991). While pursuing my PhD I taught students at MIT and at the University of California at San Diego….

Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task of examining the Oklahoma Standards with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well-prepared for college and be capable of pursuing STEM majors, if they chose to do so.

As for me, I’m just tired of waiting. When I was in Moore, we spent nearly four years transitioning from PASS to Common Core. When the state pulled the plug, our teachers were frustrated – even the ones who didn’t like the Common Core. So we transitioned back to PASS. Now, we’ve been writing and developing these standards, and we’re on the precipice of implementing them. Will the state pull the plug again? Our teachers deserve more certainty than that.

If what had been developed during the past year was lousy, I could see delaying or even dumping it. That’s not the case at all. What we have is something between ROPE’s happy place and Achieve’s. That’s what I call a sweet spot.

One more thing: below is an excerpt from Brecheen’s argument in 2014 for Oklahoma to toss the Common Core.

This is his screed against books, particularly against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which he called pornographic. Now he, and a handful of others in the Legislature, want to delay the standards, citing the lack of reading exemplars as one of their reasons. The truth is that they were going to be against the standards because they don’t like the name at the top of the letterhead. They don’t need another reason.

Along with the editors at the Oklahoman – who ran an opinion piece on the standards by someone who hasn’t read them – and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – whose Andrew Spiropoulos once warned conservatives not to get rid of Common Core – we have to deal with people in elected positions intent on disrupting public education, above all else.This is about politics and egos.

Some in the House will claim that one of the proposed standards resolutions – HJR 1070 – would not delay implementation of the standards at all. That is false.

1070  Nelson twitter

Apparently, Nelson doesn’t understand the delay (and cost) that this supposedly harmless resolution would cause. Nor does he seem to remember that ROPE – which has no interest in helping public education – would be involved in the review process.

review committees

The standards are ready. They’re not perfect; they never will be. We should take constructive feedback into consideration, but we shouldn’t stop what we’re doing because of it.

The Standards are Ready

March 18, 2016 1 comment

Next week, three separate joint resolutions over the new math and English/language arts standards – two in the House, one in the Senate – may be heard and advanced. If any of the three make it all the way to Governor Fallin’s desk – and she signs by the 24th – then we have another delay in implementing them.

This morning, as I was leaving the grocery store, I noticed that this drama was placed above-the-fold for all the world to see on the front page of the Oklahoman.

above the fold.jpg

Since we know newspaper subscriptions are down, we can assume that many people will only read the headline in passing. Here are some quotes from inside the story:

“Overall, the people who spent an enormous amount of time on this did a great job…none of us are trying to play standards experts. But there is room for improvement in an otherwise good product.” – Rep. Jason Nelson

Honestly, I can’t find of fault with Nelson’s statement. These people did work hard. It is a good product. There is room for improvement. There always will be. You won’t find a single member of the standards writing teams – math or ELA – who wouldn’t like to tweak a thing or two. It was committee work. They received thousands of pieces of feedback. This is the shaped work of their experiences, effort, and input.

Where we differ is what should be done with that feeling. I’m ready to move forward. So are the standards writing teams. So are our teachers.

“This is not an indictment of teachers…the process and editing and how these things were assembled broke down at the state Department of Education.” – Sen. Josh Brecheen

Maybe it’s worth noting that Brecheen’s mother worked for the previous state superintendent and was set to lead the standards revision in 2014 when Janet Barresi lost her re-election and the State Board of Education decided to wait. It should also be noted that Brecheen was probably the loudest critic of the suggested titles that came as an Appendix with the Common Core. He’s not going to compliment the SDE – ever.

“Now these are being criticized for being too vague…we want to give flexibility to teachers.” – Sen. Ron Sharp

Sharp is a former teacher, so he gets it. First the standards were too specific (although the Common Core reading list only suggested titles, not dictated them). Now the standards are too vague.

“You would never know these standards were written by Oklahomans for Oklahoma. They could have been written by people on Mars for Martians. There is absolutely nothing in these standards that has an Oklahoma touch, and you want students to end high school knowing something about the state in which they have lived and where they may go to college or do something else as citizens.” – Dr. Sandra Stotsky, University of Arkansas

Dr. Stotsky has never lived in Oklahoma. She has, however, helped author standards in Massachusetts. With that in mind, she should know the difference between standards and curriculum. While I would see nothing wrong with the state suggesting authors and titles to match the standards at each grade level, I wouldn’t want them to dictate those choices to my teachers in my schools.

By the way, I find it interesting that our legislators can’t seem to find any bills written by Oklahomans. For that, as Rob Miller pointed out last night, they turn to ALEC.

Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Kyle Reynolds, another Oklahoman from Oklahoma, also weighed in on the standards battle this morning on Facebook.

IMG_5468.PNG

His point is that whatever we do, there are some legislators who are just going to fight us. There are detractors in the public who are just going to fight us. Some people, for whatever reason, just want public education to suffer and fail.

This did get me thinking, however, about some famous Oklahomans and their words that we could introduce to our students:

“America would be a better place if leaders would do more long-term thinking.” – Wilma Mankiller

“America is woven of many strands. I would recognise them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many. This is not prophecy, but description.” – Ralph Ellison

“I knew I was right, because somewhere I read in the 14th Amendment, that I was a citizen and I had rights, and I had the right to eat. Within that hamburger was the whole essence of democracy. If you could deny me the right to eat, you could deny me the right to live or work where I want.” – Clara Luper

“Any writer who gives a reader a pleasurable experience is doing every other writer a favor because it will make the reader want to read other books.” – S.E. Hinton

“History is full of really good stories. That’s the main reason I got into this racket: I want to make the argument that history is interesting.” – Sarah Vowell

“The characters I’ve played, especially Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, almost never use a gun, and they always try to use their wits instead of their fists.” – James Garner

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” – Will Rogers

I think that’s a pretty representative cross-section. I could turn any one (or several) of those quotes into a lesson plan. Having taught middle and high school English, I could take any one of those and adapt it for multiple grades. I don’t need Dr. Stotsky, the Legislature, the SDE, or some fringe group telling me how, either.

Trust our teachers. Trust Oklahomans. Pass the standards now. On that note, I’ll leave you with the words of Oklahoman Hoyt Axton and a song to go with it.

hoyt.jpg

That Awkward Moment

March 16, 2016 5 comments

This one time at EdCamp a friend asked me how I come up with an idea and start writing. I don’t have a precise formula. Generally, my ideas fall in that sweet spot in the Venn Diagram between something I know and something that needs to be said. If either of those things is lacking, I simply don’t write. If I’m not passionate, why bother? If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that will be pretty obvious. Unfortunately, not everybody follows this rule.

Today, the Oklahoman ran an op/ed piece by Jenni White, the director of the grassroots organization Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE). Unlike many other groups that have recently emerged, this really is a grassroots group. White has long been involved in education policy discussions, even though the majority of recent content on her group’s blog touts reasons why parents should not send their children to public schools.

White’s column focused on reasons why the Legislature should reject the recently written math and English/language arts standards. Here’s an excerpt:

Unfortunately, though the standards development process was begun immediately, it was quickly waylaid by Oklahoma’s 2014 elections, which saw the selection of a new state superintendent of instruction.

Under newly elected Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Department of Education scrapped the work of the previous administration and rebooted the OAS process in February 2015 with presentations from three nationally known standards writing experts made to the Oklahoma Standards Steering Committee.

In June, the first OAS draft and reviews were released to the public, followed by a second draft in July and a third in September. Final OAS drafts were released to the public in November 2015, adopted by the state Board of Education in December and presented to the Legislature in February.

A study of the standards review documents found on the Department of
Education’s Oklahoma Academic Standards web page (and those submitted by teachers directly to ROPE) across the months from June to December 2015 produced a list of the most articulated concerns over the course of the process.

It became apparent that several issues causing the OAS writing teams trouble from the beginning had not been resolved prior to the release of the final draft.

She then lists several of the concerns from the reviewers.

My concern is this: White herself admits on Facebook that she has not read the standards. She has only read the negative reviews.

Jenni did not read.jpg

As I wrote last night, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has collected over 60 letters of support for the standards. If you want, you can even read the one I wrote. Here’s part of what I said:

I have reviewed the standards as they are to be presented, and I have had opportunities to review drafts throughout the development process. I have colleagues, including several people who have worked for me, who have participated in the process as well.

Two things strike me as most exceptional about these standards. First is that every standard includes strands for reading and writing. That means that at all grade levels, we will expect students not only to consume language, but to create it as well. They will be using the vocabulary that they are learning. They will be applying critical thinking skills throughout the grade spans. Even better, they will be learning with the purpose of becoming independent readers and writers.

The second selling point to me is the care taken in vertical alignment between grades. Once adopted, these standards will give us a skills progression that will help teachers develop their own instructional units and prepare students for each successive grade. Ultimately, the assessments that will be in place to test students will be more representative of what they know and can do than what we have seen during recent years.

Yes, I actually read the standards. I read each draft. More importantly, I limit my comments to the English/language arts standards. Why? Before becoming an administrator, I taught middle and high school English for nine years. Academically, this is what I know.

Having been a central office administrator over all curriculum in Moore for seven years, I wouldn’t say my knowledge of math standards or pedagogy is nil, but it’s not as strong.

It’s more than reading the standards and having a grasp of what it takes to teach students, though. When I look at the members of the standards writing teams, I have five from the math list in my phone contacts and five from the English/language arts list in my phone contacts. Two worked for me in Moore. Two work for me now in Mid-Del. One used to share a cubicle wall with me at the State Regents. Two have guest-lectured in my graduate classes. Two were graduate school classmates of my own. Several of the people who aren’t close contacts are still people I know from various consortia and conferences.

I have faith in these people and their work. Maybe the fact that many of them are my friends speaks poorly for them, but I’m honored to know them.

Senator Anthony Sykes, one of the authors of the Senate resolution to reject the standards, hasn’t talked to the two people who work in the district he represents (Moore) who worked on these standards. I only know this because I had lunch with one of them today. Why would our legislators listen to the people who wrote the standards when they can have the Heartland Institute of Chicago drive a wedge among all the Oklahomans in the room?

By the way, who is the Heartland Institute of Chicago, and why are they driving this train right now? They’re a right-wing think tank with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. They are not a grassroots organization. They are not Oklahomans. They don’t belong in this conversation at all.

On the other hand, if Jenni White, or any other member of ROPE, wants to read the standards and point out a specific one that is inappropriate and explain why, I’d be more willing to listen.

Two Things from the Ides of March

March 15, 2016 3 comments

Who spends their Spring Break walking the halls of the Capitol and talking with their legislators? Today, it was a few hundred of my closest friends.

View from Above Sign

While there weren’t many legislators around, we had plenty to discuss with those we found. We were thankful of their bill to provide Rainy Day Funds to schools (and prisons), and we let them know that we supported several bills they’ve advanced so far this session. Overall, I felt proud that so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up on a beautiful day to talk to elected leaders about education. Why shouldn’t that make us feel good? We didn’t all hear the things we wanted to hear, but most of the legislators we met with were happy to see us. Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman even saved his last donut for me.

Last Donut

As great as today was, two things have me feeling uneasy.

1. The fight over the standards has just begun.

This should be settled. Oklahoma educators (PK-12 and Higher Ed) have worked for over a year on these. They’ve been critiqued. They’ve been vetted. Superintendent Hofmeister presented to the Legislature on the first day of session. Now, just a few days after voucher bills died in both chambers, Speaker Hickman and Senator Brecheen have introduced a total of three joint resolutions to disapprove of or continue amending the standards. Today, they even brought in two out-of-state experts to tell us why what Oklahomans have written isn’t good enough.

To me, the timing is suspicious. Why wait until now? With no action at all, the standards would have automatically been enacted next week. For months, fringe groups (people who do nothing but complain about public schools and encourage parents to pull their children out of them) have been calling the new math and English/language arts standards simply derivative of the Common Core that our state rejected two years ago. Nothing in the standards would have made them say anything different.

On KFOR this afternoon, I saw a clip from the meeting. One of the experts, Dr. Larry Gray, advised against approving the math standards. In the clip of his testimony, he expressed concern that a substitute teacher would not know what to teach just from reading the standards. While I’m sure this wasn’t representative of his entire testimony, this really isn’t how substitute lesson plans work. Teachers don’t leave a list of standards for a substitute; they leave assignments, preferably with detailed instructions. If they are minute-by-minute plans, even better.

Last summer, Oklahoma responded to a list of Gray’s concerns, and did so very transparently. The SDE’s record of changes made based on his suggestions is on their website .

On the English/Language Arts side, Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky also is recommending changes. For one, she wants the state to list works of literature that are appropriate for each grade level. She has also called the standards “empty.” It’s worth noting that in 2014, when the legislature passed HB 3399, one of the stipulations was that there not be a literature list. This is better left to local control. It’s also worth noting that Stotsky’s most recent book is titled, An Empty Curriculum.

empty curriculumThe Legislature asked for Oklahoma standards to be written by Oklahomans based on Oklahoma values. Dozens of Oklahomans have worked diligently to make that happen. Now, a few disgruntled legislators want to throw that work out and leave it to professors from out-of-state.

This process has been thorough and public. The SDE has published the name of the math and ELA standards writing teams. The presentation of the standards to the State Board of Education is available online. They have been approved by the SBE and the State Regents. Dr. Frank Wang, President of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math has given the standards his approval. If you want out-of-state validation, they have also been approved by the Southern Regional Education Board. The SDE has more than 60 letters of support for the standards in all.

If you want to read the texts of the three resolutions, feel free:

HJR 1070

HJR 1071

SJR 75

Six weeks have come and gone. There’s nothing like the last minute to decide you want to ask a few questions. What we don’t need is to turn the remainder of the process over to out-of-state experts (and I don’t question their credentials at all, by the way). That would be a waste of precious time and an unconscionable use of Oklahoma money that we simply don’t have.

Nobody will like everything that went into the final draft. If you put 20 third-grade teachers in a room and asked them to agree on essential math skills for their students, you’d find some common ground, but a considerable amount of disagreement. And that’s just the standards. Now try to get them to agree on how these skills should be taught or assessed, and you have a bigger battle on hand.

2. The voucher fight isn’t over.

I know, we partied like it was 1989 (when we were fighting for HB 1017) last week when neither the House nor the Senate advanced their voucher bills. That was probably a bit premature. How else do you explain this video, released today by The Daily Signal, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation?

Yes, that’s our governor explaining why Education Savings Accounts are so good – on camera with a conservative think tank. The big money rolling into Oklahoma to fight for vouchers won’t stop now, just because we’ve become the “strongest lobby at the state Capitol” (unconfirmed). There’s still time for a May surprise. Just don’t be surprised.

Conversations at the Capitol

March 14, 2016 1 comment

If you don’t have anything going on tomorrow morning, maybe you’ll consider joining a few hundred of my friends and me at the State Capitol.

Capitol Day.jpg

You should shape and share your own message. Mine will have several parts:

  • Thank you for authorizing the release of Rainy Day Funds.
  • Thank you for listening to your constituents who opposed ESAs.
  • Thank you, Senators, for unanimously advancing SB 1190 (eliminating End of Instruction exams). Representatives, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • Thank you, Representatives, for unanimously advancing HB 2957 (granting districts flexibility for teacher evaluation). Senators, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • The newly written standards are solid. You should listen to the Oklahoma educators who wrote them, not one outspoken professor from Arkansas, and definitely not some fringe group that claims to want nothing to do with public education. The SDE presented them to you on day one of this legislative session. What are you waiting for?
  • Representatives, I’d like to explain to you why I oppose SB 1187 (a bad school flexibility bill).

I haven’t written about SB 1187 in detail. I will in time. In short, and with all due respect to my fellow superintendents who have asked for this bill, it’s not the flexibility we are looking for. Claudia Swisher had a strong blog post on it last week. Claudia lists the things school districts could choose to do:

  • Kids who live in the district may not be entitled to go to those schools
  • Minimum salary schedules for teachers
  • Contributions to teacher retirement
  • Mandated health insurance for teachers
  • Criminal background checks…and no, there are not safeguards in place in other statutes.
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Any payroll deductions
  • Due process in dismissal
  • Certification for all teachers and administration
  • Negotiations between teachers and school district
  • Adherence to state-approved curriculum
  • Students show mastery of state Standards
  • School Board members’ continuing education and professional development

In other words, if a district has 75% of students passing state tests, and if 60% of teachers vote for these degregulations, then a school board could choose any or all of these changes. That’s a whole lot of conditions. In all likelihood, this isn’t going to get a lot of traction in the state.

The bill’s sole remaining senate author, Clark Jolley, claims he’s trying to give public schools the flexibility we’ve been asking for. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember asking for permission to roll back the minimum salary schedule or deny health and retirement benefits to my employees. In fact, those things are in law to protect teachers from those of us who would balance a district’s budget on their backs.

As for some of the other requirements, haven’t we spent the last five years fighting over standards?  Now we’re just going to let public schools ignore them? And teacher certification requirements? And teacher evaluation? Haven’t Jolley and his cohorts spent the last 12 years telling us that they know how to do these things better than we do?

Anyway, I digress. We’ll meet at the Capitol in the morning, spend a couple of hours thanking people for their support and asking for their continued help. It should be a great day. After that, let’s do lunch and really treat ourselves. It’s Spring Break; maybe we can take a solid 15 minutes to eat.

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The Doerflinger Kerfuffle

March 13, 2016 7 comments

In case you missed it – and I don’t know how you could have – both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature failed to advance voucher bills last week. Since they did, those specific bills are dead. Well, they’re dead-ish. Language can jump from bill to bill. One piece of legislation that passes in committee can be replaced with a floor substitute. It happens all the time. Still, the fact that our state’s Republican leadership couldn’t get SB 609 and HB 2949 to go anywhere is a huge development.

Pro-voucher and anti-voucher groups were at the Capitol in full force the last couple of weeks. Both sides tracked vote counts by the day, then by the hour, and finally by the minute. As of Thursday morning, I heard that SB 609 was dead. By lunch, I heard that Senator Jolley was fervently whipping his caucus behind closed doors for the votes he needed to get his measure over the top. I heard lots of things. I assume people following the legislation on both sides did as well.

With the issue being as heated as it was, disappointment was inevitable. Several responses caught my attention, but one in particular has taken on its own life force – a radio interview between Chad Alexander and State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger. As reported on the McCarville Report, Doerflinger’s angst was flung far and wide:

Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger says he is “blown away” and “embarrassed” to be a Republican, that many in the Republican Legislature “should put Ds after their names” and that Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “is a D in Republican clothes.”

I didn’t really have the time or inclination to blog Friday when this happened, so I wrote a note on my Facebook page:

If anyone knows fiscal impact statements that are “less than accurate,” it’s Doerflinger, the architect of this year’s “flat” budget.

As for the D/R thing, nobody should have to check every box to belong to a political party. I want to elect people who think for themselves and listen to their constituents. I don’t want to elect people who are beholden to either party. That’s why I vote for people from each.

Nobody is a perfect match for my political views. Nor is there a perfect match for yours.

We vote for people. None of us get our way all the time. Some of us just don’t have tantrums on the air in front of an audience of dozens of listeners afterward, though.

That post went viral on its own, and spurred some great comments. Then, while I was watching two Mid-Del basketball teams win state championships yesterday, something amazing happened on Twitter. I don’t know who started it, but Republicans from around the state began tweeting messages at both Governor Fallin and Doerflinger. Here are a few examples.

Some were fairly creative, even.

And of course, Blue Cereal went Blue Cereal with it.

Dallas, this is why we love you. And maybe why –as you put it at EdCamp –they “hate” us.

Another tweet sums up the problem with Doerflinger’s logic quite well.

That pretty much sums it up.

In the last 22 hours, I count well over 150 tweets tagged as #PrestonDoerflinger. Surprisingly, he’s not an active user of Twitter, and that’s just a shame.

One elected leader who is active on social media and usually engages with #oklaed in lively debate is State Senator Kyle Loveless. Friday, he seemed to defend Doerflinger, using logic that escapes me.

Oh, so it’s in the platform. Does that mean that every Republican has to support everything that’s in the platform? This leads to an interesting sidebar conversation.

I’ve never been elected to anything, but I imagine for legislators, voting on a particular issue involves some complex thinking. On one hand, you believe what you believe. So what do you do when you are slammed with phone calls from your constituents who want you to do something else? That’s who you represent. Unless changing your position is in direct conflict with your moral compass, you should have some flexibility, right?

Ok, well what if you agree with your constituents, but not with the party? Since this state has an overwhelming Republican majority, should we just let national GOP chairman Reince Priebus write our laws for us? Should every vote in the House and Senate fall along party lines? Of course not. It’s a ridiculous notion.

When I vote, nothing matters less to me than party affiliation. In state elections, #oklaed is my priority. When I think about who we send to Washington, I think a little differently. Neither party has impressed me over the last 16 years when it comes to education policy on a national scale.

What if, as Doerflinger suggests, the voucher vote (or non-vote, in this case) is the litmus test for our elected leaders? If all who kept these bills from coming to the floor last week changed parties, we’d have Democrats in control of both chambers again. I think Speaker Inman (theoretically, of course) would love that opportunity.

Most of us don’t believe in –isms.

We vote based on how we think.As I said above, I’ve never been a good fit for either party. I just can’t check all the boxes.

For the record, Doerflinger wasn’t the only voucher supporter to express frustration last week. Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, not only showed his disappointment, but actually gave #oklaed a huge back-handed compliment.

These two bills were not heard today because the strongest lobby at the state Capitol is now the public education lobby. Too often, this group has emphasized the dollar value associated with keeping children in seats in public schools, rather than allowing the children’s parents to have greater options for meeting their children’s unique needs.

That’s funny. I was at the Capitol for an hour on Tuesday, but I saw Small and other OCPA staff camped out waiting for legislators to pressure. Besides, if you look at the preponderance of education policy in this state, it’s hard to argue that the public education lobby has consistently moved the needle. In 2011 alone, at the request of Governor Fallin and the previous state superintendent, the legislature gave us A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurements among a host of Florida-styled education reforms.

Since then, #oklaed has had our moments.

In May 2014, we kept the pressure on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of HB 2625, which added parents to the promotion committee for third graders. The combined vote was 124-19. Both the House and Senate voted without any debate.

The next month, as you well know, we helped fire Janet Barresi, who finished third in her primary.

We raised awareness about misguided legislation that would have ended AP US History.

We helped keep vouchers from passing: last year and this year.

When we are focused and on message, we really do have influence. Most of us have jobs, though. Unlike voucher supporters, we can’t just camp out at the Capitol all day. We can stop in briefly, before or after meetings. We can energize parents and teachers to call. And yes, we do have lobbyists. But I doubt anyone really thinks we have the consistent money and influence at the Capitol that OCPA and their corporate overlords do.

I can tell you that the two people who represent me personally in Norman and the nine people who represent the Mid-Del school district in the Legislature listen to their voters. I can’t tell you how these ten men and women (Senator Rob Standridge represents me at home and my district) would have voted if the bills had been heard on the floor. I think for some who philosophically support vouchers, the feedback from constituents was a game changer.

If there are any legislators who truly want to harm public education, their numbers are small. That is evident by the agreement by Fallin and the Legislature to help public schools deal with some of this year’s budget shortfall. It’s evident by the good legislation that has moved forward so far.

On the other hand, there will always be some who want to find a way to thumb their noses at public education. Whether they think we’re all a bunch of heathens corrupting children, or they just think we’re too powerful, they are always looking to fight.

That’s fine. I’m willing to fight, but I’d rather just teach the kids.

I’m a parent. I’m an educator. I’m a life-long Oklahoman, and I oppose ESAs. Most importantly, I vote.

No Vouchers for Now

March 10, 2016 1 comment

Huzzah!

Late this afternoon, Senate President Bingman and House Speaker Hickman announced jointly that the two voucher bills would not be heard today. In effect, this kills both bills for the remainder of this legislative session.

The Education Savings Account bills in the Senate and House of Representatives would have allowed parents to use a portion of the state dollars used for their child’s public school education to pay for private school tuition or home schooling. But the bills apparently didn’t have enough backing to even bother bringing it up for a vote.

“Honestly I don’t think they had the votes to pass it,” said Sen. Brian Bingman (R) President Pro Tempore.

On the Senate side, sources told News 9 that 29 of 50 senators planned to vote against the bill.

“I think a lot of the concern would be the economy,” said Bingham, “with education and everyone taking cuts. A lot of people that might be in favor of it philosophically, just the environment probably not conducive to, in their opinion, passing that bill.”

In the House of Representatives sources said there were more than 60 lawmakers that opposed the bill including every democrat.

“Thousands of families, parents and teachers have e-mailed and called their representatives and senators for the last several weeks telling them they did not want vouchers to pull money away from public schools at a time when they desperately need it,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader, “And their voices were heard.”

This doesn’t mean that legislators don’t have tricks at their disposal to make vouchers magically reappear at a later date. I think it’s unlikely for now, though – at least until after the candidate filing period in April.

Not only are vouchers bad public policy; they are also a distraction from the serious work to which our Legislature needs to attend. When I visited the Capitol Tuesday, I talked to a few legislators and several assistants in their offices. Most are more worried about helping school districts with funding than with fringe issues such as this.

Well, maybe not this guy.

IMG_5316.JPG

Yes, Paul Wesselhoft, a term-limited legislator from the Moore area called the lack of a vote on vouchers “a disgusting development” and quickly chalked it up to the “educational establishment.” Quick – where’s my score pad?

Actually, this isn’t the time to keep score. Funding needs to be the focus. Sure, there are still education bills moving forward. Some are good, such as HB 2957 and SB 1170. And some are lousy, like SB 1187. We’ll get to that later. For now, we need to focus on keeping good teachers in the classroom.

The people who want to lambast public education – people like Wesselhoft – will never see the good in our schools. That’s fine. We can find better people to represent us.

For now, just know that the voices of #oklaed have made a difference.

One Day More – No on Vouchers

March 10, 2016 1 comment

By rule, bills must pass their chamber of origin today to move forward. That means today is the last chance for the Senate to vote on SB 609 and the last chance for the House to vote on HB 2949 – the two bills that would take depleted public school funding and pass it to parents to spend on private schools.

When you call and email your senator or representative, here are some facts to remember:

  • State aid to public schools has been cut by more than $64 million since January.
  • Insurance benefits have been cut by several million more.
  • Many districts have also lost significant revenue due to the recalculation of motor vehicle tax distributions.
  • Superintendents have been told to brace for another revenue failure declaration – in June.
  • The $51 million in Rainy Day Funds announced yesterday will help districts, but not completely.
  • The state faces a shortfall of at least $1.3 billion next year.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education has estimated that the fiscal impact of SB 609 to districts would be as high as $45 million and the fiscal impact of HB 2949 would be as high as $68 million.
  • Districts face increased class sizes and reductions to extra-curricular programs if cuts continue.
  • If voucher supporters had enough votes, these bills would have already been on the floor.
  • Candidate filing for those interested in being a part of the 2017 Legislature is quickly approaching – April 13-15.

Candidate Declaration Forms

Filing Packet

When you call, remind them that their vote will determine yours.

One more day, #oklaed. Voucher supporters will be at the Capitol in full force. Their lobbyists and parents can camp out. We’ll have parents and other public school supporters there too.

Whether you can be there or not, persist. Call in the morning and ask for their position on vouchers. Call in the afternoon and ask if anything has changed. Hold them accountable for this watershed vote.

Much Rain, Many Vouchers

March 9, 2016 Comments off

Much rain wears the marble. – William Shakespeare

In case you haven’t noticed, the bottom has fallen out of the state budget. As other state agencies are, education is taking a beating. It’s so bad that on Monday, a number of senators called for the state to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. Then the governor declared that she was on board. Yesterday, House Speaker Jeff Hickman announced that he wasn’t sure now is the best time.

Those of us who lead districts have been candid about what these budget cuts could mean. If it rains any harder, any longer, we’re going to be able to carry the marble out with our bare hands.

Meanwhile, we still must wait and watch for votes in both chambers of the Legislature to see if we’re going to have vouchers. Believe me, if the House and Senate leadership had the votes, they would have already heard Senate Bill 609 and House Bill 2949 on the floor. One or both would have already been passed.

I hope the two items aren’t related. I hope this isn’t a Faustian bargain tying the Rainy Day Fund to floor votes for vouchers. That would just be crass.

I’ve said all that I probably can this week about the voucher bills, so let me point you to the words of my friend and colleague, Owasso Assistant Superintendent Amy Fichtner. On Facebook this morning, she wrote the following:

Friends, those that know me well know that I honor each parent’s right to choose the education plans that best meet the needs of their family. You also know that I have never posted what could be referred to as a political item. However, I am passionate about public education as a way to serve all the children of our nation. A strong public education system benefits our communities, our economy, and most of all our children.

This week SB609 & HB2949 have both been placed on their respective floor agendas. These bills create a voucher system for the state of Oklahoma that we can’t afford. If you have a child in public school, you can anticipate about $360, less per child, invested in their education even if no children leave your child’s school district on a voucher. Someone has to bear the burden of this program – that’s a financial principle, not rhetoric.

Additionally, a voucher will not begin to cover the cost of private education which has been misleading to parents in struggling schools. Those families who can’t afford to make up the difference between their voucher and the cost of a private education will remain in a public school and actually receive less for their child’s education. As a woman of faith, I struggle knowing that children who the voucher system claims to help most will actually be hurt first in the process.

If you choose, please respectfully call your legislators and ask them to honor the majority of Oklahomans and vote NO on vouchers. If you need more data or information you can visit www.okedcoalition.org. Thank you.

Call and email your senators here.

Call and email your representatives here.

Two-ish Things For the Rain

March 8, 2016 Comments off

I have a new saying. Every million helps. It sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released figures to go along with the budget cuts that had been announced the day before. You can check this spreadsheet to see how a district near you has fared.

Since superintendents received their mid-term adjustments in December, more than $64 million has been cut from the funding formula. That doesn’t even count what districts are losing in Flex Benefit Allowance (health insurance) money that the state has also cut.

Finally, our state leaders acknowledge the rain.

1. Yesterday, Governor Fallin, at the urging of Superintendent Hofmeister and members of both parties in the Legislature, has requested some relief:

Governor Mary Fallin Proposes Rainy Day Fund Withdrawal for Schools and Prisons

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today proposed using the state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to partially offset last week’s deepened budget cuts to common education and prisons.

The governor suggested using $51 million for public schools and $21 million for the Department of Corrections. The Rainy Day Fund contains $385 million, of which $144.4 million is available to address the 2016 fiscal year revenue failure.

“Four-day school weeks and draconian cuts at prisons are not acceptable and are not going to happen. The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons,” said Fallin. “This is the most responsible option available today to keep vital state services at acceptable levels until the Legislature and I reach agreement on the recurring revenues necessary to fund these services in the long run.

“We must put recurring revenues on the table this session, like I proposed in my executive budget, or we will be having this same problem next year, the year after that and years after that. The Rainy Day Fund option is a one-time fix, but we need to do the tough work to establish a permanent fix in the budget we pass this session.”

This will help. It won’t entirely fill the hole that we have this year, but it will help.

2. A bill passed last year has changed the way motor vehicle tax revenues are collected and distributed. This has caused huge swings in this particular funding stream for some districts. As the Tulsa World reports, Sand Springs is considering litigation over the way the Oklahoma Tax Commission has interpreted the law.

Gary Watts, chief financial officer and general counsel for Sand Springs Public Schools, said his district has lost $184,000 in motor vehicle taxes so far and could lose more depending on collections during the final months of this fiscal year.

“You have some districts being big gainers and others being big losers,” Watts said.

Because of the way the Tax Commission has distributed the money this year — basing it completely on a school district’s student population during some months rather than on previous years’ allocations — more than $9 million to date has “changed hands,” he said.

Tulsa Public Schools has lost nearly $1.4 million in motor vehicle taxes so far this year — the most of any district in the state — according to Watts’ calculations based on data provided to him from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Watts shared the calculations with his colleagues across the state.

So while some relief is coming in the form of the Rainy Day Fund, certain districts (including the one I lead), are dealing with huge losses on top of the state’s revenue failure. Hopefully, it won’t take litigation to fix this.

3. Bonus thing: there’s something horribly distasteful about sending robo-calls for vouchers (funded by an offshoot of Americans for Prosperity, posing as a grassroots organization) right after developing conscience and trying to placate us with Rainy Day Funds.

Please call your senator and ask him/her to vote no on SB 609. It will come up for a vote this week.

Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote no on HB 2949. It will also come up for a vote this week.

Remind them that we’ll be keeping score of those who truly support public schools.

Oh, and read Rob Miller’s blog from last night. He swings for the fences. There’s more rain headed our way. Keep watching for it.

 

Hofmeister’s supplemental request

Thursday, the state declared another revenue failure. It’s huge. Friday, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister asked the governor for supplemental funding.

Hofmeister asks Gov. Fallin, lawmakers for supplemental funds amid education funding cuts

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 4, 2016) – In the wake of yesterday’s declaration of a second General Revenue failure since December 2015, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) have requested $56.2 million in emergency supplemental funding.

The request is an effort to, in part, alleviate a mandated $62.3 million funding cut in the second revenue failure for Fiscal Year 2016. That 4-percent reduction is part of across-the-board cuts announced Thursday by Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger.

To date, pre-12 public education has been hit by more than $109 million in funding cuts.

Hofmeister’s request today would offset cuts in three of five affected preK-12 funding streams: the funding formula (also known as Financial Support of Public Schools) and two funds that cover health insurance — otherwise known as Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) — for teachers and support personnel.

“We do not make this request lightly,” said Hofmeister. “Amid this dire budget crisis, every state dollar is precious. But we must do everything in our power to shield children in the classroom from the negative impact of nearly $40 million in cuts to the funding formula this late in the school year.”

The request includes $16 million for FBA costs that the State of Oklahoma has a statutory obligation to cover.

Hofmeister made the supplemental funding request in a letter delivered today to Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma House and Senate leadership.

Already this year, state public schools have weathered $46.7 million – a 3 percent cut – in reduced funding from a Dec. 23 revenue failure. Shortly thereafter, the State Board of Education approved flexibility measures in some common education line items in order to cushion the impact on the funding formula.

Additional revenue reductions to the state’s General Revenue fund, officials say, are possible in the final months of this fiscal year, and a shortfall of $1.3 billion is expected for the next, which begins July 1.

Administrators will know the specific impacts of cuts on their districts in the coming days. The OSDE today posted adjusted State Aid formula allocations. The remainder of the adjusted allocation line items is expected to be released early next week.

It’s not the full amount of our cuts, but every little bit helps. Something would be better than nothing. In any case, I appreciate her asking and hope the governor will help make this happen.

More Huge Cuts

My morning started with an email explaining that due to last year’s House Bill 2244, changing the way motor vehicle tax revenue was to be collected and distributed, some districts were being severely shorted from last year to this year. In other words, my district didn’t fare well. That was the first huge cut of the day.

Then after we had a retirement luncheon here, we received notice from the state that the anticipated additional 3% cut in state aid would actually be 4%. With the Oklahoma State Department having used every possible strategy to limit the impact of this January’s 3% cut, this one will be much harder to absorb.

I don’t have a lot of professional words right now. I’ll just let a few items from my inbox fill tonight’s post.

First is the press release from Superintendent Hofmeister.

Superintendent Hofmeister calls further education funding cuts ‘brutal, heartbreaking’

Posted by SDEmedia on Thu, 03/03/2016 – 2:44pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 3, 2016) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister made the following comments today regarding the state of Oklahoma’s deepening budget cuts.

“This is a brutal time for schools. A second General Revenue failure means schools will have lost nearly $110 million since the start of the spring semester alone, and that does not take into account next fiscal year, which looks equally bleak. Efforts that districts are making to cope with these cuts today will further impact the next school year, as they are forced to significantly deplete their cash-fund balances.

“The Oklahoma State Department of Education has worked hard to minimize the cuts’ impact on instruction, but we are no longer able to soften the blow. Many rural districts indicate they will immediately initiate a four-day school week for the remainder of the school year. Educators are facing heartbreaking decisions that ultimately will affect students in the classroom. Our schoolchildren are the ones who will pay the steepest price.”

Brutal and heartbreaking are good ways to describe this. I’d add that it’s infuriating as well. Week by week, those of us leading districts are trying to keep our districts solvent based on budgets that were written after the Legislature gave us a “flat budget” last May that was based on numbers that have failed to meet expectations.

Meanwhile, the Legislature shows no interest in tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

If this isn’t a fiscal emergency, what is?

Meanwhile, the governor continues encouraging legislators to maintain the most recent tax cuts. She also continues pushing for vouchers.

choice matters

 

 

If the state continues to suck funding from public schools while its leader continues pushing for tax dollars to go to private schools with no accountability, how can we find a middle ground? I’d like to believe she cares about this crisis. I know many legislators who do, and my heart goes out to them for what they’re trying to do to help us. I just wish the person who signs bills into law would give me one reason to believe that she’ll sign anything that could stem the tide of this disaster.

Shortly after Hofmeister’s announcement, OSSBA sent out their own statement:

“Today’s budget announcement means schools will lose another $93 per student – a total of $158 less per student than schools budgeted for at the beginning of the year.

Now is the time to get serious about a long-term funding plan for public education that will ensure a high-quality education for the nearly 700,000 public school students.

Oklahoma’s students and their families deserve a commitment from state policy leaders to halt conversation around new mandates, vouchers and any other policies that will add costs or divert resources away from public schools.

Our per-student funding in Oklahoma is dead last in the region and one of the worst in the country. We have a historic teacher shortage, class sizes are increasing and schools are cutting courses. Simply put, our classrooms are in crisis.

Education isn’t a partisan issue.  The budget decisions looming over the next few months will affect our children, our communities and our state for years to come.  There’s no margin for error. We must work together to protect our students and their education.”

We need short-term and long-term solutions. If state leaders want to bleed schools dry, then they’re on their way. If they don’t, they need to prove it.

Finally, I received this from CCOSA:

Today, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance, Preston Doerflinger, declared a second revenue failure for our state’s general revenue (GR) fund.  As part of that declaration, Secretary Doerflinger initiated additional automatic general revenue funding cuts to all agencies of 4% for the remainder of FY 2016.  These reductions are on top of the current 3% reductions to GR which began in January of 2016.

How much funding has been cut as a result of today’s announcement?

The total of the 4% GR reduction for Common Education announced today is $ 62,372,399.04.

What could this reduction look like in your school?

Assuming that the State Department of Education takes the total funding reduction announced today out of the school funding formula rather than making cuts to health insurance (FBA) and/or any remaining SDE Activity Funds – it would appear that today’s cut could result in per weighted average daily membership (WADM) funding being reduced by approximately $55.00 per WADM.

If, however, the FBA reductions are not included / reduced through the school funding formula – today’s cut could result in a formula reduction of roughly $ 40.00 per WADM.

Next Steps

We hope this information helps you to better understand and plan for the coming automatic funding reductions.  Please know that these numbers are only estimates.

Actual cuts to schools may vary based on final action by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

Once a final determination is made on the process for the implementation of revenue reductions, we will provide additional information.

What this means is that we’ll find out shortly the exact dollar amount of our next cut. We may only have estimates at this point, but we know it’s real, and it’s spectacular. Pick an adjective. Pick any member of the legislature and call. Hell, call the governor. Tell her public schools matter too.

Two things: ESAs are not a Grassroots Movement

March 1, 2016 Comments off

Happy Super Tuesday, y’all!

Many of my friends in the state have received a flyer that boasts of the great things that Education Savings Accounts can do for all of us – well, at least those of us who can make up the difference between the amount of the voucher and the private school tuition. Somehow I missed one. Maybe the group sponsoring the mailouts – Americans For Prosperity – knew not to bother.

ESA flyer image

Well, it’s Tuesday, and I don’t have a lot of time today, so let me tell you two things about this educational non-profit group.

1. The best thing I can tell you is they have a lot of money coming in and a lot going out. In 2012, their tax return shows more than $122 million in revenue. The form also shows that they are a 501 (c)(4) non-profit organization. In other words, they’re a Super PAC – a soft money group that can get around individual contribution limits for candidates. Stephen Colbert explains this better than anyone.

In fact, if you look at the list of groups funding the ESA voucher campaign, there really aren’t any grassroots groups. They are national and statewide special interest groups. The list below includes several right wing groups that have been trying to destroy public education for decades.

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They may have anecdotes that tug at your heartstrings, but they have no coherent answers to why students or private schools receiving vouchers should lack for all the accountability that public schools and their students have. We have stories too. We also have thousands of teachers who come to work and take care of the state’s children every day. If you want to help children, I know about 690,000 who have been shorted continuously by the state legislature and governor for six years and counting.

2. To be fair, the same group operates a separate organization that is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, the Americans For Prosperity Foundation. Their 2012 tax return shows a mere $24 million in revenue. It also shows that many of the top executives are the same in both organizations.

More important is the name listed as the chairman is David Koch. His $40 billion net worth partially bankrolls AFP, AFP Foundation, ALEC, and who knows which other groups. In other words, there is nothing pure about the motives of this shadow group or their flyer. Even if David Koch was the sole supplier of funds for AFP, to him, that would be comparable to me going to 7/11 for a Big Gulp.

This is similar to complaints made last week by local billionaire Bob Funk.

Having all the money doesn’t mean you always get your way. I have some friends who will be reminding our legislators of that fact today. Hopefully, we’ll remember that at the polls too.

Children of the Civil Rights

February 29, 2016 3 comments

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone for this post. No vouchers. No education policy or funding calculations. Nothing on the teacher shortage, even. Instead, I’m going to discuss a presentation that I had the privilege to enjoy with several co-workers and several hundred freshmen from our three Mid-Del high schools this morning.

This started for me in January when I heard Julia Clifford present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in Midwest City. She spoke about the children who orchestrated the first lunch counter sit-in at Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City in 1958. She showed the trailer for the documentary that she had produced, Children of the Civil Rights. With her were some of the children who sat at those lunch counters and participated in countless peaceful marches throughout Oklahoma City. Here’s the trailer for her film:

After seeing it, I turned to my assistant superintendent, Kathy Dunn, and said, we have to have this. Kathy and her staff coordinated with Rose State College to get us the Hudiburg Chevrolet Center and bring the film in today. Rose State kept the costs as low as possible. Our foundation picked up the bill. Other than saying we have to have this, I really did nothing, which highlights the great people I have around me.

I was born in 1970 – six years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. I grew up with, from a legal perspective, all of the basics of equality already being settled. My mom could tell me stories of watching the march from Selma to Birmingham on the news during dinner, or the March on Washington, or even of hearing about the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. King. These were current events for her. By the time I knew much of anything about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King had been gone 15 years.

I’ve always been saddened and fascinated by this piece of our nation’s history. How could people treat each other this way? It just seems unnatural. My step-father was a psychology professor at the University of Oklahoma. His main body of research was on this very thing. We all have biases. We learned them as we developed. The trick is unlearning them. I don’t know what his key research findings were, but growing up I knew I wanted to know as much about the history of the fight for equality as I could.

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For me, seeing this film is part of my own ongoing education. For our participating students – most of whom are at least 30 years younger than I am – this might have been an introduction to the movement. For all of us, it was an opportunity to see our larger community in a different light.

The hour-long film includes archival footage of Clara Luper and interviews with several of the participants from the sit-in. It also includes interviews with local and national journalists from the time, and former Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King to Birmingham. At the conclusion of the film, we had another hour for questions with four people on the stage.

On the left (in the picture below) is Bill Clifford, the filmmaker’s father. He was one of the first white people to participate in the Oklahoma City protests. In between him and his daughter were Joyce Jackson and Joyce Henderson – two of the original 13 protesters from Katz.

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There was no shortage of student questions. I know their teachers prepped them before they came over, but most of their curiosity was of the in-the-moment variety. Were you scared? What was jail like? My favorite student question of the morning was simple, and I wish I weren’t paraphrasing. It was essentially, How did you carry on when the whole world was against you? Regardless of time, location, and prejudice, haven’t all of us had that feeling at some point? Haven’t all of us had that existential moment when we simply ask, How? Especially when we were teens?

The truth is, for most of us, we’ve only felt as if the whole world was against us. For these protestors, it really was. Maybe it wasn’t the whole world, but it was more of a critical mass than I’ve ever faced.

We all have different upbringings and experiences. We’re raised with different values. We all have different triggers for our various emotions. We all have different thresholds for losing our cool. Poise and grace are qualities that have to be practiced. For some, they seem to come naturally, but don’t we all have breaking points?

Today’s presentation and panel discussion was a great reminder that we as a nation have moved forward. To those of us in my generation and later, these stories are history. To the people on the stage today, however, it was life. In either case, these are memories we need to collectively preserve.

It was also a reminder that sometimes adults overthink things. To the 13 original protesters, what they needed to do was obvious. Their actions spoke volumes. So do their words now. As educators, when we listen to our students, we can see the world (and even ourselves) through their eyes. We don’t always like what they see, but it is what they see.

After the questions, before we sent our students back to school, I had the honor of joining our guests on stage. I looked at them and called them heroes. That’s not a word I toss around lightly, either. Sure, my three children are all named after basketball stars, but these two ladies did more to move this city forward – as children – than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ever will. (I say that firmly believing that this is the best place for them to spend their entire careers and hoping they win five championships.)

What I take away from today, more than anything else, is that we can either keep moving forward or we can go back in time. Congressman Lewis was beaten in Alabama because he wanted to register young African Americans to vote. How many of us now take our right to vote for granted? How much do we really know about the candidates we choose? How far are we willing to walk to let our voices be heard? What are our limits? How do we know what we really value?DSC_9143

I never thought I’d have the chance to stand on stage and sing We Shall Overcome with actual legends of the Civil Rights Movement. Today I did. And I thanked them – for what they did as children, and what they continue doing today.

Keep moving forward.

Two Things: The Voucher Opportunity

February 23, 2016 1 comment

In case I’ve been vague, I don’t think Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) Vouchers are good public policy for Oklahoma. My reasons have been pretty consistent:

  • It’s not school choice when the private school doesn’t have to choose you back.
  • Neither SB 609 (Jolley) nor HB 2949 (Nelson) includes meaningful fiscal or academic accountability for the students using the vouchers or the schools that would receive the money.
  • The major voucher pushers in Oklahoma have long track records of sucking money out of public education over the last decade.
  • The Oklahoma Legislature has over-regulated public schools while blaming the federal government. The feds have given states flexibility now. If these bills’ authors really care about what is best for children, they’ll follow through with sensible legislation like SB 1170, which sailed through committee yesterday. Senator Ford’s bill would eliminate the End of Instruction exams for high school courses and save the state millions of dollars. This would be a good place for our elected leaders to start showing support for public schools.

On the other hand, we still have those two voucher bills. Today, here are a couple of things to remember about that:

1. Last night, Rob Miller effectively connected the dots with the dark money influencing legislative races and education policy in Oklahoma. For these out-of-state interests, vouchers are the top priority. I can’t tell you why they care. I also can’t tell you why rural representatives and senators in Oklahoma want this to pass. I can tell you that I agree with Rob’s overarching assessment of the issue, though:

Maybe it’s just me, but I find this whole process rather unseemly. There is little doubt that a group of wealthy Americans is seeking to profit from the establishment of for-profit schools with selective enrollment policies and limited accountability in Oklahoma. And, they are using their money and connections to influence Oklahoma elections and, by extension, the making of laws.

Please read Rob’s post from last night if you want to know about the money and influence infiltrating the Oklahoma Legislature.

2. As everyone knows, I love an opportunity as much as the next person. Within the next month or so, every member of the House and every member of the Senate will have the opportunity to go on record as either favoring or opposing vouchers. This will give their constituents the opportunity, well in advance of the mid-April filing period, of deciding if they need new representation in the Legislature.

I won’t usually say that a single issue, much less a single bill, should decide an election. However, anyone who supports either of these voucher bills will have shown a clear lack of support for public education in this state.

With the filing packet for candidates conveniently located online, we may get a real life lesson in representative governance this year.Then maybe we can show the ruling elite what grass roots movements really look like and tell them what they can do with their dark money.

 

Haiku You Doin?

February 21, 2016 3 comments

I really haven’t had a lot of time to write this week. I attended a conference in Tulsa. We’re budgeting for a massive shortfall next year. And, well, my personal life gets in the way sometime.

Still, some crazy things have happened in the last few days. To acknowledge them, I’m simply going to address each with a single haiku.

House Committee Passes Voucher Bill

Two votes short, no prob –

Bring in Denney and Hickman.

Just so convenient!

Thank the Eight who Voted No

You made the right choice.

No accountability?

Vouchers are a sham.

Blue Cereal Education: End #oklaed

Why fight anymore,

Especially this rigged game?

Like Elsa, let it go.

Rob Miller Opts in to Testing?

Tongue firmly in cheek,

Rob finally wants to test!

It was just a joke.

Senate Education Committee will not hear Consolidation Bills

Senator Ford listens;

His constituents are clear.

Even his bill dies.

A Church Speaks out against Vouchers

Clear and forward thought:

Vouchers threaten liberty.

Thankful they get it.

So we didn’t lose $43 million?

What a huge SNAFU!

Forgot to update spreadsheet!

Inconceivable!

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Oklahoma Education Coalition Releases Verified Figures

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Enough false narrative!

Trying to distract, divide?

This page gives the facts.

Apparently, Rob, Dallas, and I are still Offending People.

Middle Ground News whines.

Do I intimidate you?

Seriously, dude.

Rob Miller Drops the Mic

He just doesn’t care

What Jay Chilton thinks of him.

We keep striking nerves.

That’s all for tonight. Have a great week, #oklaed!

 

Two things: remember the base

February 16, 2016 7 comments

Still fuming over yesterday’s rigged committee vote to move Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill to the house floor, I didn’t get my Two Things for Tuesday posted this morning. That’s probably a good thing. The delay gave me time to read from the top education news source in Oklahoma, the Tulsa World.

House Bill 2949, by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, advanced on a 9-8 vote. Votes from Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney, R-Cushing, were necessary to get the measure through the committee, where a similar bill had failed on a 9-9 tie a year ago.

The speaker and speaker pro tem can vote on any bill in committee but generally do so only when needed for a majority.

The difference from a year ago was that Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, a former educator who voted against the measure in 2015, has been removed from the committee and not replaced. All other votes were exactly the same as a year ago.

This merely continues a pattern that frustrates me. With every other issue that is important to our state leaders, they ask the experts. When it comes to education, they want us on the sidelines. Actually, they don’t even want us that close. See thing one and thing two below.

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1. State Senate President Brian Bingman told the Oklahoman editorial board last week that the state needs to proceed with caution when it comes to rolling back any tax credits to try to fix the state’s budget problems.

Tax incentives are being reviewed as well. Yet many companies’ financial plans are based in part on promised tax breaks. Abrupt elimination of incentives could have serious, negative impact in the private sector.

Bingman said business leaders will be heavily consulted, and predicted most changes to tax incentive programs will not take effect until future years. Yet within a few days, Bingman appeared to send a different message after Gov. Mary Fallin urged caution over changing incentives. Fallin said The Boeing Company bowed out of two Oklahoma projects after a moratorium on some tax incentives passed out of committee.

Bingman has also proposed school consolidation (as has the governor). Were any school leaders heavily consulted? What about students or parents? It’s this double standard that infuriates all of us who work in public education. It’s not the only example, though.

2. A year ago at this time, the governor imposed a hiring freeze and a moratorium on raises. To say that exceptions have been granted is sort of like saying there are currently a few sharks off the coast of Florida.

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Not only were there more than 13,000 exceptions, but the reasoning is another slap in the face to teachers. State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger didn’t want to lose good people to the private sector.

“I’m never going to be shortsighted in potentially losing a high-quality employee over not a lot of money to the private sector,” Doerflinger said.

Does anybody we’ve elected care that schools are losing high-quality employees to the private sector (or to other states)? Do you people not hear the irony?


 

I know that politicians have to constantly work their base. That’s why they call the groups like the State Chamber, OCPA, and OCPA Impact “grassroots” organizations. These are the base supporters for the voucher wolves and elected leaders who are determined to take even more money away from schools. The nine representatives who voted for HB 2949 yesterday listen to these groups – not to public school parents, educators, or the majority of their voters.

grass roots my ass

Well, I’m no politician, but I know my base. It starts with students and parents. It extends to teachers and principals. It includes strong support for public schools from the business community. All of us who serve the education community would do well to remember this.

Somebody has to.

HB 2949 Passes* Committee 9-8

February 15, 2016 14 comments

This afternoon, Representative Jason Nelson’s voucher bill passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 9-8. If you just count the 15 committee members, it lost by a vote of 8-7, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney came in to tip the scales. This is all fair within the rules of the House.

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When I posted last night that we need to call and email and visit and tweet to the committee members, thousands made the effort. It wasn’t in vain. I’m glad it took the leadership sweeping in to make the final vote. That puts more people on record.

Before I get much farther, I want us to remember to reach out to the eight committee members who voted to support public schools:

Representative Phone Email Address
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375 ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov
Condit, Donnie 405.557.7376 donnie.condit@okhouse.gov
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336 todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398 anncoody@okhouse.gov
Nollan, Jadine 405.557.7390 jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov
Henke, Katie 405.557.7361 katie.henke@okhouse.gov
McDaniel, Jeannie 405.557.7334 jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov
Stone, Shane 405.557.7397 shane.stone@okhouse.gov

Prior to the vote, Nelson faced the usual questions and had the usual responses. Two things in particular fascinated me, though.

First, he said that parents receiving vouchers would actually have more fiscal accountability because they’ll be making their purchases in real time and that someone would be monitoring those – someone at the SDE, he said. I’m sorry, but that’s nowhere close to the fiscal accountability public schools face. Saying otherwise shows just how little he knows.

Second, he said that private schools taking voucher students wouldn’t be required to face the same academic accountability measures because they go through a rigorous private school accreditation process. Besides, he said, the state will have an agreement with the parents, not the schools. It’s a convenient side-step of accountability, and a slap in the face of the public school educators he wants to micromanage.

The best part of the meeting, to me, was when Dan Vincent spoke. Dan, you’ll remember, is a UCO professor and the parent who authored my most popular blog post of all time. Dan was kind enough to share his prepared remarks with me.

Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me speak to you as a parent with 2 kids in public schools; one in 5th grade and one in 3rd. I value the work you do and hope this session will be productive in supporting the myriad of issues facing our public schools and teachers.

Over the past several years, I feel I have had a good pulse on schools in our state; I keep up with legislation and volunteer regularly in schools around the metro. For the life of me, I cannot figure out WHY this bill and WHY NOW. About 2 weeks ago, I emailed most of you about my opposition to ESAs, or Vouchers. From my view, most parents and citizens OPPOSE this.

Since that email, I have read over this bill again and have become even more convinced that this might be the most harmful bill to impact education this year. To be clear, I am not opposed to home school or to private schools. Two of my best friends have chosen those options. What I am opposed to, however, is using taxpayer money…my money…to support those who make that choice.

I have many reasons, but for time sake, let me explain the 5 biggest reasons. And for the record, I am not using the talking points from the OSSBA or the CCOSA; these are my own thoughts:

  1. Over the past several years our state has been feverishly mandating more accountability on public schools. Yet ESAs or Vouchers, as this bill currently outlines, contains little to no accountability for HOW our tax dollars are used. The RSA, ACE, A-F and others have hit schools hard and have hit kids hard but will not apply to ESA schools. If these are vital for schools receiving tax-payer money, how can we not mandate these on private schools? If you say they are not important for private schools, then the same should be said for my kids in public schools.
  2. We have passed then repealed Common Core; we are currently awaiting your vote on the new standards for Math and Language Arts. You are the gatekeeper for the content we teach kids in publicly funded schools; with ESAs, there is NO public oversight on WHAT is taught to kids. As a taxpayer, I cannot imagine WHY we would not want oversight and input into what kids are learning in schools at taxpayer expense. Again, I am not opposed to religious education or home schooling. I am, however, greatly opposed to using tax money to fund it. There is a reason you vote on standards for schools; what we teach matters to society. ESAs would completely neglect this responsibility.
  3. Although it is not a blank check to private schools or parents, when compared to the transparency and oversight required of public schools, it might as well be a blank check. The bill includes ‘audits’ but the amount of reporting, disaggregating and categorizing of funds is non-existent. This is not how I want my tax dollars used, and I think most of you can see these reasons.
  4. The details in this bill describing the responsibilities of those accepting ESA money is highly suspect. Private schools can accept, reject or kick-out kids seemingly at will. Public schools cannot. One can see the type of system this potentially creates. Let’s not kid ourselves; it is not the families who have the choice; it is the ESA school.
  5. Currently, there is legislation, actually several bills, that would consolidate smaller districts into larger ones, to supposedly save on administrative overhead; with ESAs you are de facto creating MORE small schools…again without public oversight and transparency. In addition, the bill actually mandates the creation of two NEW “Administrative Funds.” If you feel administrative costs are the problem, ESAs are not a solution.

At a time when our state is carefully scrutinizing the subsidies and tax breaks we give, I would suggest that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT create Private School Tuition Subsidies…what this bill calls Educational Savings Accounts. At a time when we are placing more and more mandates on public schools, I would suggest we think rationally about how ESAs are set up to include virtually NO mandates and NO public accountability. Our tax money should support PUBLIC education, and as a parent I am 100% opposed to my tax dollars being used as ESAs.

Again, thank you for your service, and I hope your committee will do good for ALL kids.

Dan was cut off before the last point, which I think is the most critical. Our legislators keep targeting public schools. With the state continuing to face huge budget problems, pulling more and more money away from us with precious little accountability is irresponsible. There’s nothing conservative about this.

The committee had quite an audience too. There were two packed overflow rooms. There were supporters of vouchers and public school supporters as well. And yes, at this point, I’m drawing that line.

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Of the seven committee members who voted for HB 2949, four are in their first terms. Only Sally Kern is in her last term. Hickman and Denney are in their last terms too.

Representative District Term Limited
Caldwell, Chad 40 2026
Jordan, John Paul 43 2026
Fisher, Dan 60 2024
Strohm, Chuck 69 2026
Kern, Sally 84 2016
Nelson, Jason 87 2020
Rogers, Michael 98 2026

These are districts in which the incumbents desperately need challengers. Put another way, voters need options. Choice matters, after all.

This is why we can’t wait until the end of the session to figure out who is trying to help public schools. We already know, and what we know now is enough. When HB 2949 goes to the floor, we’ll know even more. And then there’s the Senate, which is a whole different mess.

The legislative candidate filing period is April 13-15 this year. The filing packet is online. If you’d like to run for any of these seats – or any other seat – by all means, you should. If you have friends you’d like to encourage to run, pass the information on to them.We need people who support public education, not just people who say they do.

And keep calling. We won’t win all the battles. But we won’t lose them all either.

Time to make those voucher calls

February 14, 2016 5 comments

Last week, when a House subcommittee was set to hear a bill that would have diverted our health insurance costs to salary, the #oklaed community called. We made thousands of calls. The bill, as of right now, will not be heard. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be resurrected as a committee substitute later this session, of course, but for now, it’s off the radar.

It was an idea that really didn’t make sense. Right now, we get a flex benefit allowance, pre-tax, with which to pay our HealthChoice costs. This plan would have given us, in time, the same amount, but fixed at a point in time. As insurance rates increased, our benefit would fail to cover it. We’d have more taxable salary, but even at the beginning, it would amount to a pay cut.

I don’t think we’ll see that bill again this year, but I’ve been watching politics long enough to know you can never say never. I believe this Legislature is bound and determined to find some way to pretend they’ve given teachers raises. (How about another tax cut? The last several have worked out marvelously!)

A proposal that does have more than a snowball’s chance, however, is House Bill 2949, authored by Representative Jason Nelson. This would create Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers as they’re more commonly known, that families could use to pay private school expenses. Before you ask, they could not be used for homeschooling expenses.

One of the frustrations I’ve always had with voucher proposals is that they typically lack the fiscal and academic accountability for the recipients that we face in public schools. Nelson’s bill is no different.

HB 2949 would require that recipients report to the state how the funds are used. In most cases, the entire voucher will go for private school tuition. That’s a one-line entry. The school will not have to account for the percentage of the cost that finds its way into the classroom, as we do in public schools.

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School districts have to code all expenditure under the guidelines established by the state using the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. It’s tedious, but that’s the price of transparency. All things considered, it’s a good thing. The public deserves to know where their money goes.

We won’t see that kind of detail from voucher recipeints and the schools that serve them.

HB 2949 would also require private schools to test their voucher students – but they wouldn’t be given the same criterion-referenced tests that Oklahoma’s public school students take. Instead, they would get to choose their own tests. The following paragraph is from page nine of the 22 page bill:

A parent shall renew the account of an eligible student on an annual basis by submitting a renewal request to the Department. The renewal request shall also include documentation showing the results of the student on a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test taken during that school year.

Voucher students will have to take a test – any test – well, any test that’s not part of the battery of exams Oklahoma public school students have to take. They don’t have to perform at any certain level. They don’t have to show growth. They just have to test. I suppose they would actually be able to choose the ACT and its suite of tests, or the SAT and its suite of tests if they wanted to. That’s something many of us have been pushing for public schools for years. Something about saving money and relevance comes to mind.

Private schools shouldn’t have to change who they are and what their core mission is to serve their students. They also shouldn’t be entitled to public school funds when they don’t have to accept all students or follow the same accountability measures.

One last feature of Nelson’s bill is that family income factors into who can qualify to receive a voucher. Although there are different levels of funding, eligibility begins at two times the threshold for qualifying for free/reduced lunch. For a family of four, that would be a household income of about $89,000. For a family of six, it would be about $120,000. Although families at the top end of this scale wouldn’t be entitled to the whole per-pupil amount that public schools receive, it’s fair to say that we would be providing private school subsidies to upper-middle class families.

Again, I have nothing against private schools. It’s just important to note that they don’t have to do the things we do. They don’t have to provide special education services. They don’t have to provide transportation to students. They don’t have to keep students who fail to live up to all the school’s expecatations. They don’t have to form reading sufficiency committees and complete mountains of paperwork on students who fail a test that isn’t really a reading test. They don’t have to over-explain why the A-F report card system is horriffically flawed.

Meanwhile, funding for public schools continues its free fall.

As Kevin Hime pointed out on Twitter today, all of the outrage we’re sharing amongst ourselves is fine. We need more than that. We need the kind of action we saw a few days ago with the health insurance bill.

The House Common Education Committee has plans to hear HB 2949 tomorrow. The committee meeting starts at 2:30. If your school district is out tomorrow for President’s Day, maybe you can make your way to Room 412 C at the Capitol. If you have time earlier in the day, maybe you can visit the committee members. You can also call them, email them, and tweet at them.

Before you start, though, please keep in mind that six of the committee members are listed as authors on the bill now. Their names are in red.

Representative Phone Email Address Twitter
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375 ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov
Condit, Donnie 405.557.7376 donnie.condit@okhouse.gov @ConditDonnie
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336 todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov @ToddThomsen
Caldwell, Chad 405.557.7317 chad.caldwell@okhouse.gov @chad4ok
Jordan, John Paul 405.557.7352 jp.jordan@okhouse.gov
Fisher, Dan 405.557.7311 dan.fisher@okhouse.gov @ElectDanFisher
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398 anncoody@okhouse.gov
Nollan, Jadine 405.557.7390 jadine.nollan@okhouse.gov
Strohm, Chuck 405.557.7331 chuck.strohm@okhouse.gov
Henke, Katie 405.557.7361 katie.henke@okhouse.gov @KatieHenke
McDaniel, Jeannie 405.557.7334 jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov @JeannieMcDani14
Kern, Sally 405.557.7348 sallykern@okhouse.gov @SallyKern
Nelson, Jason 405.557.7335 jason.nelson@okhouse.gov @jasonnelsonok
Stone, Shane 405.557.7397 shane.stone@okhouse.gov
Rogers, Michael 405.557.7362 michael.rogers@okhouse.gov @rogersmichael21

Representative Coody is the committee chair. We definitely need to call her. Representative Rogers – the author of the insurance bill – is the vice-chair. He’s clearly voting for the bill, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to hear from his constituents again.

That leaves nine other committee members. We can’t take anything for granted. As Rob Miller pointed out last year around this time, the real push for vouchers is coming from outside the state. There’s no grass roots movement to do this for the children. This bill, and its Senate counterpart, carry the language of ALEC-prepared bills.

Last year, when Nelson’s bill died in committee, one Wisconsin lobbyist nearly lost his mind over it. He called it a failure of the leadership in the House. He called for people to lose committee chair assignments over it.

Again, this is some guy from Wisconsin telling our House leadership what to do.

Speaking of leadership, House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Speaker Pro Tem also have the right to show up and vote. If this turns into an 8 to 7 split, they could both enter the committee room and break the tie.

That’s why we need to know that all nine of the representatives in black (a) plan to show up for the vote, and (b) plan to vote no. When you speak to them, be respectful. Remember that it’s their job to serve their constituents, not interlopers with a cause. If you’re a parent or teacher, talk about your school. Talk about what makes the school you know and love a special place to learn. If you don’t know what to say about ESAs, you can look at this fact sheet that Moore Public Schools has put together or this one from CCOSA and its partner organizations.

You can even scroll back to the top and mention some of the things that I’ve written. I don’t want to put the words in your mouth, but I want to give you the information so that you can say it your own way.

Mainly, we need to contact the nine names not in red. I’ll also be contacting Hickman and Denney’s offices. We’ve done it before. We’ll have to do it again this session. You might as well put those numbers in your cell phone contacts.

#sorrynotsorry

February 13, 2016 5 comments

Yesterday, at the end of a long week, I caught wind of a post on the Middle Ground News site critical of some of the content on this blog, as well as Rob Miller’s View From the Edge and Dallas Koehn’s Blue Cereal Education. Apparently, we’re having our hands slapped for being potty mouths. To refresh your memory, it all started a week ago at this time, when the Oklahoman plaintively wailed a collective you guys at all of us for saying what we actually think.

I probably kicked it up a notch mid-week responding to a Journal Record column by OCPA fellow Andrew Spiropolous, critical of his perpetual rip of public education. Here’s part of what I wrote:

The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

Since you’ve probably never heard of Middle Ground News, you should probably know that they’re another tentacle in the parasitic hydra that is OCPA. So is the 1889 Institute, which is why the Oklahoman keeps giving them space on the opinion page. Even the Choice Remarks blog is really just OCPA vice-president Brandon Dutcher. And if you’ll scroll down the blog and see their content, it’s just a roll call of every negative article they can find about a public school.

Collectively, these individuals and groups will do whatever it takes to foment enmity towards public education. They are the mouthpieces of the far, far, far right. When I tell people that letting the infrastructure of your state’s core services crumble around you is not a conservative value, it’s in response to people such as this, and the key elected leaders that they control.

In all their fury, Middle Ground took particular exception to what I wrote last weekend:

Cobb often demands greater funding from the state as a matter of legislative appropriation; in this post he demands a blank check while using his position as a public School administrator to insist on political activism by private citizens.

“It can’t just be educators beating down the doors of our elected leaders. We need parents and community members saying that enough is enough! And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, ‘How much is enough?’ I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close. I don’t have a number.

I’m not asking for a blank check. I’m asking for adequate funding. I’m also preemptively saying that none of us really know what that number is because it’s never been approached in this state. And yes, I do call for more of the people who are frustrated to be outspoken. Why should it just be my rowdy blogger friends and me? Would I say that I insist? No. It’s neither a condition of employment nor friendship. I’ll still respect you if you keep your nose down and try to avoid the politics. We all have our path to take. Besides, not everybody likes having a bullseye on them. Of course, there was more:

“I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.”
Cobb continued his rant to berate the legislature and governor alluding to a highly vulgar obscenity much like fellow #OKLAed blogger Koehn as shown above.

“Don’t say you support education. You had a chance when times were good, from 2011-2015. You missed it. And now, when things are tough? You’re all voucher this, A-F that. Well A-F that is right!”

It is true that Superintendent Cobb, Assistant Superintendent Miller, Mr. Koehn and many others attach disclaimers and notes insisting on a separation between their blog life and their professional life. However, a simple statement proclaiming oneself to be professionally divorced from their own public actions does not make it so.

Yes, I alluded to an obscenity. It’s a joke that many of us have been making online for two years, dating back to a discussion of t-shirt designs prior to the 2014 education rally at the Capitol.

I’m sorry you’re upset.

joey-im-sorry-o

I’m “sorry.”

Actually, I’m not. Be upset. Feign offense. I’m good with either.

Whoever wrote this piece also insinuates that we should be fired for what we’ve written, and compares our language to people who’ve used racist speech on their social media accounts. That’s absurd. We’ve voiced our opinions about bad policy and policy-makers who don’t seem to care about Oklahoma’s children. I can’t speak for my friends, but I have no intention of stopping.

One last excerpt:

Bloggers such as Koehn, Miller, Cobb and others within the #OKLAed community have derived a modicum of renown for their position in the classroom, principal’s office or administration building. Subsequently, they have converted that notoriety into a measure of online celebrity. However, that celebrity is irrevocably linked to their professional position within the school.

After I revealed my identity last year, my daughter called me a temporary, minor, local, online celebrity. That’s a nicer way of saying what Middle Ground wrote, I guess. I don’t know how many people regularly visit their compendium of websites and social media accounts, but I know my numbers. I count the Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and page views. I don’t know how OCPA defines modicum, but I do know that they tout their free-market principles.

Let me just say then, that if ideas are a free-market commodity, those of people such as Rob, Dallas, me, and the rest of our rebel alliance, are in demand. Until that’s no longer the case, we’ll continue with the supply.

And if you’re still asking yourself, hey, exactly what middle does this right-wing fringe group represent, allow Stealers Wheel to answer that in the video below:

Standards of Bloviation

February 11, 2016 1 comment

The last thing I read before I went to bed last night was Andrew Spiropolous’s column in the Journal Record criticizing the newly-written, waiting-to-be-adopted Oklahoma Academic Standards. That was a mistake. I already don’t get enough sleep. Here’s the start:

So it turns out, despite the hullabaloo, that the task force charged with writing superior English and math academic standards has submitted a proposal that, poking below the surface, isn’t that different than the Common Core version the legislators ordered it to reject.

Many of us predicted this ironic turn of events after the Legislature, running in fear from the grass-roots activists opposing Common Core, noisily disposed of the hated standards. Our suspicions were raised when education leaders issued an urgent call upon the Legislature to swiftly approve the new proposal. They were confirmed when the leaders coupled their pleas with affecting tales from local administrators and teachers lamenting how the uncertainty made doing their jobs impossible.

Actually, that task force was a group of teachers and experts in their fields. Actually, the standards are quite different than the Common Core. And actually, every day that the Legislature drags its feet on approving is an unnecessary delay for districts to start working towards implementation.

Hullabaloo or not, these are good standards.

I often like what I read in the Journal Record. Unfortunately, it is often behind a paywall. Then, when I’m thinking I might want to subscribe, I read the free content, such as this, that they release into the wild. After that, I lose interest.

It doesn’t surprise me that Spiropolous is crying Common Core. Maybe if he yells it three times, Beetlejuice (or someone resembling him) will appear to spend day after precious day roaming the Capitol, begging for people to listen.

Beetlejuice-gif.gif

The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.

It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.

They deserve better than this.

We’re trying to teach our students. He’s misrepresenting the job we do. Even at the end, when he tries to sound magnanimous, he continues to insult Oklahoma’s educators.

So what should we do now? I don’t think rejecting this proposal and making our education officials start over will lead to a significantly improved product. The truth is that our state’s education establishment, from the state superintendent of education on down, is not committed to writing and implementing world-class standards that will distinguish us from other states.

I’ll take their word that they want to do better than we have in the past, but there is nothing about these people that inspires one to believe they seek to engage in bold, creative reform.

We should give up on the idea that the state education establishment will force excellence on local schools. Instead, we must encourage districts, schools and families to mount their own efforts to foster excellence. There is reason to believe, for example, that the new Tulsa superintendent of education, Deborah Gist, will draw on her experience as a successful reformer to help turn around her city’s schools.

It’s one thing to attack an elected official, as he does State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and call her part of the problem. It’s another fight altogether to insult the teachers who gave countless hours for this effort. He’s merely one of the anti-public school cheerleaders still mad that his horse lost her re-election bid in 2014.

I’m part of the education establishment, and I’m damn proud of it. I’m a teacher who has become an administrator. People like Spiropolous may spit this term out with venom, but we should wear it with pride. After all, we work every day to teach nearly 700,000 students in this state. Meanwhile, there are people around us hoping we fail so they can point and laugh.

Now it’s my turn to make a few assumptions. I doubt Spiropolous has read the new standards. I doubt he’s read the Common Core. I doubt he’s talked to any of the Math or English/Language Arts specialists who developed the standards. I doubt he’s asked a single parent or educator what they think of the standards or the erratic behavior of our elected leaders regarding them. I doubt he knows the price of textbooks or the smell of over-crowded classrooms. I doubt he understands the collaboration and development necessary to fully implement a new subject-area framework.

If all you know about education in Oklahoma is what you can learn from OCPA, the Oklahoman’s editorial page, and certain obstructionist legislators (and maybe a few constituent activists who wear tin-foil hats and have nothing better to do), you probably should just stop talking. You’ll only look foolish and insult good people.

Legislative nonsense: midweek edition

February 9, 2016 8 comments

In case you missed it this morning, my two things for Tuesday were simple.

  1. I don’t think the governor’s plan to raise teacher salaries makes sense or is plausible.
  2. I hope I’m wrong.

When I expect the worst, I always hope I’m wrong. You can have hope and be a realist at the same time, after all.

“It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin, he thought.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

On the other hand, tomorrow, a House subcommittee plans to hear HB 3154, which would force school districts to divert health insurance costs to salary. We would call it a pay raise.

It’s not.

Several people have already heeded the alert from CCOSA and other groups to call the subcommittee members and insist they kill the bill. Here’s the short version of what the bill would do:

What it would do:

  • Require districts to use money now set aside for employee health insurance to give teacher raises.
  • Permanently cap (at FY 17 levels) the amount of money districts receive to pay for employee health benefits.
  • In effect, the state will shift its obligation to fund health insurance to local communities because districts will eventually be forced to use local money to pay increasing employee health insurance costs and to pay for teacher/support employee raises.

Teacher pay wouldn’t increase, but in future years, the burden of health insurance will, thus lowering a teacher’s effective rate of pay.

Here’s a list of the subcommittee members. Call and email them, please. Tweet at them, if you’d like. Some in this group are genuine friends of education.

Representative Phone Email Address Twitter
Cannaday, Ed 405.557.7375 ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov  
Coody, Ann 405.557.7398 anncoody@okhouse.gov  
Dunnington, Jason 405.557.7396 jason.dunnington@okhouse.gov @jdunnington
Henke, Katie (VC) 405.557.7361 katie.henke@okhouse.gov @KatieHenke
Kern, Sally 405.557.7348 sallykern@okhouse.gov @SallyKern
Martin, Scott (C) 405.557.7329 scott.martin@okhouse.gov @scottcmartin
Peterson, Pam 405.557.7341 pampeterson@okhouse.gov  
Rogers, Michael 405.557.7362 michael.rogers@okhouse.gov @rogersmichael21
Thomsen, Todd 405.557.7336 todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov @ToddThomsen
Virgin, Emily 405.557.7323 emily.virgin@okhouse.gov @RepEmilyVirgin

Additionally, I want to share with you a correspondence between a real live Oklahoma educator and a real live Oklahoma legislator. I will edit for space:

Question:

Good afternoon Representative Rogers, My name is Jen Masterson and I am a Speech/Pathologist at Claremore Public Schools. I work in Claremore but I live in Broken Arrow so I will be emailing the Claremore representatives as well. I greatly appreciate the efforts in the House to raise teacher pay. This is a topic that has gone undiscussed for far too long in our state. However, with the current budget crisis, myself and many of my colleagues are not concerned about our salaries at this moment.

We are concerned about colleagues and support staff who have been and will be laid off due to mid-year adjustments in our district. I work at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore and, along with being a Speech/Pathologist, I serve as the Special Education Department Chair for our building. I have had to make some tough decisions about who on our support staff (paraprofessionals) will be returning next year and who will not. An increase in my salary would be appreciated; however, it comes at the expense of my colleagues and our students and I am not ok with that.

My specific concerns with HB 3154 include the following: If national teacher pay comparisons already include salaries and benefits, how will moving health insurance over to teacher salaries raise our state’s ranking for teacher pay? What will happen to the thousands of support employees currently receiving health care coverage when the money used to pay for their insurance is instead given to teachers as a pay raise? Who will pay for the health insurance of educators if the state decides to no longer cover this expense?

 

Response:

Thank you for email and input on my House Bill 3154. This bill has drawn some critics, and most do not understand what I am trying to accomplish. Here are the facts for you to consider when reviewing my bill. First, the current house bill 3154 is not going to be heard tomorrow. Second, it will have a committee substitute to change the language to a more clear understanding of the bill. The whole intent is to put us in a better position long term and get us away from a long-term liability that is unsustainable. The bill is also set up to give the local school district the flexibility to make the decisions on the local level that is best for their district. The misconception is this was written to give the teachers a pay raise. It was written to address the long-term liability that is draining our appropriations to common education. Here are the facts:

FBA (Flex Benefits Allowance)

1) Flex benefits in FY 16 – $416 million

2) Estimated FY 17 FBA $446 million ($30 million increase)

3) FBA has increased an average of 6.6 percent over the last 10 years.

4) Since 2002 (last 14 years) the legislature has increased appropriations for common education by 22%, during that same time Flex Benefits have risen 92.4 %.

5) Why is this a problem?

a) Currently FBA is around 20% of the appropriated dollars that goes to Common Education.

b) As FBA rises then per pupil decreases.

c) If we currently continue to do what we are doing then in 14 years FBA will be 30% of the appropriated dollars that goes to education, which will drive down even lower our per pupil funding.

d) Here is what FBA looks like for the next 15 years:

i) FY 2020 $537 Million

ii) FY 2025 $739 Million

iii) FY 2030 $1.0 Billion

6) If we do nothing and continue on this trend, the legislature would have to appropriate an additional $30 million per year to common education just to keep our per pupil from dropping from its current level. This would not allow the legislature the ability to increase per pupil funding.

7) What would that look like? Let’s use the same years FY 20, FY 25, and FY 30.

(1) By year 2020 the legislature would have appropriated an additional $120 million to Common Education ($30 million per year for 4 years).

(2) By year 2025 the legislature would have appropriated $240 million.

(3) By year 2030 the legislature would have appropriated $420 million. And our per pupil funding would have actually decreased significantly, because as the FBA ball gets bigger the 6.6 % gets bigger so from 2029-2030 a 6.6% increase would be $66 million.

If we are serious about making tough decisions that put us in a better position in the future to give teacher pay raises, increase per pupil funding, and give the kids of Oklahoma the best education available, than this is a conversation that has to be had.

Representative Michael Rogers

Oklahoma House of Representatives

District 98

I’ve seen a few people post that response to Facebook now, so he must be sending it out to all questions he has received. This is the only exchange I’ve received showing both sides of the conversation, though. And I agree with everything Jen said above. If we’re raising teacher salaries by robbing our own insurance, or deeply hurting our support employees, then we’re extremely foolish.

I don’t know where Rep. Rogers gets his 2020, 2025, and 2030 projections, but I’m trying to keep teachers employed in 2016 and get some hired for 2017. If the state can’t afford those health insurance increases, what makes him think teachers can?

This bill does nothing to raise teacher pay or help with health costs. It does nothing to raise per pupil spending. It does nothing to address our increasing student enrollment. It does nothing to curb the teaching shortage.

In short, this bill does nothing useful.

Please call, email, and tweet. Kill this thing.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Two things: Call me a (civil) naysayer

February 9, 2016 6 comments

As you probably know, last week during her State of the State address, Governor Fallin fixed the state’s budget, provided $178 million in teacher raises (with only $105 million in additional funding for schools), eliminated wasteful tax credits, annexed all of the state’s K-8 school districts, provided vouchers for upper-middle class families to attend private schools that don’t need to be burdened by academic and fiscal accountability, and probably secured the Thunder’s first world championship. It was the best of times.

To all of our surprise, some questioned her methodology. Something about why didn’t you think any of this was important during your first five years when the state’s economy was doing so well that it was the cornerstone of your re-election campaign? Or something like that. House Minority Leader Scott Inman probably said it better (as reported in the Tulsa World):

Inman, D-Del City, said tax increases would require a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, which is unlikely to happen.

“I don’t think it (a pay raise proposal) is false hope, because I think the teachers of Oklahoma are smart enough to look right through this veiled political attempt to win votes in an election year,” Inman said during his weekly press availability at the Capitol.

The state’s budget problems are the result of a dramatic drop in energy prices, tax cuts and other factors.

When oil was selling at a much higher price and teachers were lobbying for help at Capitol rallies, the GOP-controlled Legislature did not offer a pay raise but instead cut education budgets, Inman said.

“As soon as they lose two Republican seats to Democrats in the House and Senate, they realize that people, regardless of party affiliation, are now frustrated with their fiscal mismanagement of the public schools,” Inman said.

“The election is 10 months away, and now they have all ‘come to Jesus’ on the issue, and they want to at least throw that out there as a potential so they can at least go home this election cycle and say, ‘I know the pay raise didn’t happen, but we tried.’

So, Rep. Inman, are you saying that this is just politics? What an opportunity for opportunists! You know that you’re in the minority, right?

State Senator David Holt, who was out campaigning for Marco Rubio in New Hampshire yesterday (his day job is in session, right?), didn’t like Inman’s comments at all. Over the weekend, he took to Facebook to blast the Democrat’s doubt.

The most cynical thing politicians too often do is pray for our city/state/nation to fail because they think failure would benefit their political party. It’s hard to blame Americans who are sick of these games. Yes, these challenges are hard, which is why we all need to work together to get things done for our state!

That’s the most cynical thing politicians do? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen worse.

I don’t think Inman was praying for anything to fail. I simply think he was using his skill of observation and recalling recent history.

Again, I must be wrong because the governor wasn’t happy that people don’t see the unicorns and rainbows evident in her plan. She told Fox 25 in Oklahoma City that it’ll work, pretty much just because.

“For those naysayers who say you can’t do it, show me your plan,” Fallin said. “My job as Governor is to lead and to put proposals out there. I’m always happy to receive everybody else’s plans. Sometimes people don’t have a plan, they just want to be naysayers. I put out an honest, workable plan for how we can give teacher pay raises—how we can fix structural problems in our budget.”

That’s a long lead-in, but let me go ahead and get to my two things.

  1. History tells us that the governor and the Legislature won’t find a way to give teacher raises. They haven’t even tried the last five years. Math tells us it’s not possible. We have a $900 million budget shortfall, if we trust the current calculations coming out of the Office of Management and Enterprise Service (OMES). Meanwhile, a barrel of oil is selling for around $30 and a gallon of gas for under $1.20
    strange things afoot at the circle K

    Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

    When a barrel of oil was over $100 and a gallon of gas was around $3.00, restoring state aid to schools to 2008 levels was either not a priority or not possible. Tax cuts were possible. Tax credits were possible. Funding education wasn’t. It’s not that I doubt the governor’s sincerity, or that of the 149 good men and women serving in the Legislature. It’s that I have a reasonably good short-term memory. I won’t believe you mean what you say until you prove you do.

  2. I hope I’m wrong.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Challenge

February 6, 2016 1 comment

Jason James issued this blogger challenge to me, so why not. I have about five other blogs in my head right now in addition to all the work stuff I need to be doing, but I like these. They bring us together as a blogging and #oklaed community.

What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

One? Just acclimating to any new job is a big deal, but moving to a new district as a first-time superintendent is an over-arching challenge with layers of challenges beneath it.

I’m going to say that finding balance has been hard. I’m expected to be active in all facets of the community. I want to be in schools and getting to know teachers and students as much as I can. I want to be at events – not just to be visible, but because I really enjoy immersing myself in the culture of our various schools. I also need to learn the parts of my job that are unfamiliar to me. I spent seven years over curriculum in Moore. I have a dissertation in school finance (but probably more things I don’t know in that world than things I do). I’m trying to find the sweet spot in our bonding capabilities so that we can move on our next round of projects. I’m still teaching C&I at Southern Nazarene (because  teaching feeds my soul). I’ve even continued blogging – more now, since my frustration with the state is mounting again (though it’s directed at different offices). And then there’s a personal life. I’d like one of those. I seem to remember enjoying that at some point. It’ll come together at some point, though. This is year one. It gets better, right?

This is where other superintendents chime in with all the reassuring comments.

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.

I’m tempted to highlight my knockerball prowess. Or maybe appearing on Flashpoint. As fun as those were, I have to say that mine are more social media related.

First is the night I co-moderated an #oklaed chat with three Mid-Del students. They were insightful and witty, and they’ve been in and out of our chats ever since. My predecessor, Dr. Pam Deering put together my student advisory group, In the Mix. She left a lot of things headed in the right direction for me this summer. This may be the best one.

Second would be the #GiveItBackOK campaign that I had a part in starting through social media. It wasn’t my idea alone, but I have been fortunate to be able to give interviews and support it. Several districts’ foundations have set up donations campaigns for it. Our own foundation went through a leadership transition around that time, but donations keep coming in with the hashtag announced. While this doesn’t restore the hole in our state funding, and it doesn’t help us give teachers the much-needed raises they deserve, it helps us support our most creative, motivated, and innovative teachers with the projects they want to do for their students. Sometimes I forget the power of social media and need a reminder like this.

What are THREE things that you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

First, I want to figure out as many cuts as possible to make that don’t impact the number of teaching positions we have next year. We know we will have to make cuts, but I don’t have to like it. I’ll go kicking and screaming into the process, and we’ll get through it. It’s going to impact teaching and learning, though, no matter how we slice it.

Second, I want to help find candidates to run for the Legislature so there won’t be so many uncontested races this time around. Remember, in 2014, only 49 of 126 seats that were up for election even had to be on the ballot. It’s like we’re taking Democracy for granted.

Third, I want to find ways to unburden our teachers and principals. Our job as central office people should be to shoulder the mandates that our Legislature gives us. Maybe we can help schools understand that teaching is the best test prep – way better than designated (or pre-packaged) test prep. The sooner we can get back to just letting teachers teach, the better.

Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

Obviously, I’m a stubborn mule sometimes. I just can’t take those greener pastures. Mainly, I just love kids. Still, I look at my desk sometimes and can’t see anything that helps me remember why I majored in English and thrived in this profession. So I go out and find it. Allow me to elaborate.

  1. Kids
    IMG_3087 (1)
  2. Teachers
    MD6
  3. #oklaedCBXEy-fUUAAnwMu
  4. Words

darkandstormy_5013

My response to the #oneword challenge last month was purpose. Educating children is my purpose. Helping the people who spend every day with kids is my purpose. It’s who I am, plain and simple.

Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

I’m going to give a cop-out answer here. Rather than challenging current bloggers, I’m going to challenge groups of people who need to see what happens when they use their words. It’s powerful and transformative. It changes me more than I change anyone else.

  1. Any of my current and former SNU students. I’m not saying you’ll get bonus points for this, but what do you think I’ve been having you do by writing class reflections with hashtags like #onecoolthing all semester?
  2. Any of my co-workers in Mid-Del, especially those in leadership positions. Remember who your boss is. Remember that I don’t have to always be right or have your agreement. Speak your mind. Put it in writing. We are a community of diverse, intellectual thinkers.
  3. Joy Hofmeister. Ok, she’s not a group of people, but I’d love to hear what she thinks – not on policy, we hear that all the time. I just think she’s at her best in moments like these when we get to hear her riff.
  4. First year superintendents. I don’t know about the rest of the people in the first-year superintendents’ program, but I find plenty of time to catch up on emails and work on my blog during these sessions. We have another one coming up on the 24th. Have something out by then.
  5. Any legislator who vehemently claims to support public education. I probably don’t have to explain why.

On the Turning Away

February 6, 2016 2 comments

Fridays are typically fun times for catching up on Twitter. Take yesterday, for example. While waiting for an appointment, I came across this exchange between Tyler Bridges and Brent Bushey (and eventually Scott Haselwood and me):

On the Turning Away isn’t my favorite Pink Floyd song; it’s my favorite song that Pink Floyd released during my senior year of high school, though. And the lyrics remind me of how our state leaders have impacted public education in Oklahoma during the last several years.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away

Since 2008, Oklahoma has cut state funding for public education by more than any other state. My god, I don’t know how many times we have to repeat this. All I know is that we will soon get to update our bar charts. As our state treasurer reports, our  revenue situation is just getting worse.

GRC fuuuuuddddggggeeee.png

Oil and gas production is down. This leads to jobs being cut. This leads to people not being able to shop. This leads to another declaration of revenue failure in the coming months.

Whatever your school district has told you they’ve been cut in funds this year by the state, prepare for it to get worse. Much worse.

I’m angry. Yes, I get that oil producing countries in far-off parts of the world have created the market glut that has impacted our economy.

crude-oil-price-history-chart-2016-02-06-macrotrends.png

What I don’t get is where the influx of money was just a few years ago. Right now, when we’re hurting, oil is trading for $30.89 a barrel. In June 2014 – merely 20 months ago – it was at $105.22. In April 2011, it was at $115.76.

Did our state leaders restore funding for education and other core state services during that time? Of course not. They cut taxes on corporations and the rich. The middle class really hasn’t felt that. Again, how many times do we need to repeat that before people understand it?

More Pink Floyd:

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

As a superintendent who recently conducted a district climate survey (with 400 responses and counting), I can tell you that I hear the calls for smaller class sizes and larger salaries. These are things I want to see happen. When our district faces cuts of millions of dollars next year, though I don’t see that it’s possible. That’s why we need more patron involvement.

It can’t just be educators beating down the doors of our elected leaders. We need parents and community members saying that enough is enough! And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, “How much is enough?” I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close. I don’t have a number.

Maybe enough is giving our schools funds to restore the class size limitations enacted over 25 years ago that the state suspended during the recession. Maybe enough is getting Oklahoma’s teachers paid something resembling something. Maybe enough is funding textbooks, technology, and buildings adequately so that districts don’t have to deepen the debt burden to their communities through bond elections – that is, the districts with any sizeable bonding capacity. Maybe enough is listening to the students, parents, and teachers who decry failed accountability measures such as ACE, RSA, TLE, and A-F, and the tens of millions of dollars we pour into preserving them each year.

I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.

Let me skip to the end of the song:

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

Who are the weak and the weary? It’s our students, most of whom qualify for lunch subsidies. It’s their parents, many of whom work multiple jobs just to elevate their household income from the free lunch range to the reduced-price range. It’s our teachers, who feel the lack of funding and respect from the state as intensely as anyone. It’s our support staff, who are often left out of the conversation when we talk about raises. It’s our building principals, who have less time to run their schools because of senseless mandates. And it’s our central offices, who – when we’re working at our best – try to bear the burdens of all of the rules and moving targets thrown at us by the federal and state government, so that the impact on schools is minimal.

What is the coldness? I’d have to say that this describes the words of the Legislature and Governor. Don’t say you support education. You had a chance when times were good, from 2011-2015. You missed it. And now, when things are tough? You’re all voucher this, A-F that. Well A-F that is right!

Look, I know that the Oklahoman wants us to keep the conversation civil. I also can’t forget that the most read post (by miles and miles) on my blog was a guest column written by a pissed off parent. Civil is good. Logical is good too. It doesn’t always change the world. Here’s from the paper this morning, though:

There will plenty of debate this legislative session over education funding, school choice and other issues. Here’s a call for voices on both sides to keep the rhetorical low blows to a minimum. Our concern stems from some of the things written by bloggers at #OklaEd, a site that allows educators to use Twitter to “share ideas, resources and inspiration.” One English teacher attached a graphic to his anti-education reform post that said, “Admitting you’re an a–hole is the first step.” Writing about Education Savings Accounts, an administrator at Sand Springs said, “If you are a parent who wants to use the Bible as your child’s Biology text, ESA’s are for you.” Passionate defense of education and educators in Oklahoma is one thing. But such uncivil discourse does little to help the cause.

First, it cracks me up that they refer to #oklaed as a site. It’s a hashtag. On the Twitters. I shouldn’t be too harsh, though. My own teens often tell me I’m Internetting wrong. Maybe it’s a site if you most recently checked your email from your Earthlink account that you installed on your Windows 98 computer with the disk that you picked up at Wal Mart. Or something like that.

Second, admitting you’re an a-hole is a step. It’s probably not the most constructive place to start a policy discussion, though. Maybe a better way to say it is that if you’ve consistently supported policies to over-regulate public schools in Oklahoma while draining them of funding and blaming all the regulation on the feds and then shown yourself unwilling to loosen those regulations once the feds told us we could, and if you constantly fight to send tax dollars to private schools that will have none of the fiscal or academic accountability as public schools…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I was explaining why we shouldn’t call people a-holes. Sorry, I’ll have to come back to that another time. I kind of got off track.

Third, we must be getting to them. It makes me think of two movie scene. First is from The Princess Bride:

“What did this do to you? Tell me, and remember, this is for posterity. Be honest. How do you feel?”

The most civil thing we can do is to be honest. It’s for posterity. We’ve said please. We’ll keep saying please. There is also a time to look people in the eyes and say, “You’ve failed us.” We can’t turn away from that.

The other scene comes from The Shawshank Redemption (of course it does).

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies”

Maybe this is why we stick with education. We know that our kids need us. We know that our colleagues depend on us. Maybe we’re just gluttons. All I know if that I’ll be civil and angry, to the extent that I can do both. And that I’ll take no part in the turning away. After all, it’s not enough just to stand and stare.

Two Things: #SOTS and Groundhog Day

February 2, 2016 Comments off

Happy Groundhog Day!Don't Drive Angry

Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin gave her State of the State speech to the Oklahoma Legislature. Among other things, she made her education agenda perfectly clear. I’ll address that below in my Tuesday Two Things post. Overall, I found it fitting that Fallin included inher remarks Yogi Berra’s quote, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

First, I have to say that I was impressed by one particular part of the speech. She proposed sensible sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders. Oklahoma has overcrowded prisons; this is a long-standing truth. What is also true is the sociology behind these sentences. These lengthy sentences impact minorities and the poor disproportionately. They permanently remove people from the mainstream of society, often before they’re independent adults. I’m all for being tough on dealers and violent criminals. Let’s just not overly penalize people for the mistakes they make when they’re young – especially when the crime is more or less self-abuse.

Here were her suggestions:

  • First, let’s allow district attorneys to have the discretion to file any first drug offense as a misdemeanor.
  • Next, we lower the mandatory sentence from two to 10 years in prison, to zero to five years in prison.
  • For second felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from two years to life, to zero to 10 years.
  • And for third felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from six years to life with no probation to zero to 15 years.
  • For property crimes, let’s raise the value of a felony crime from $500 to $1,000. The $500 benchmark has been in place since 2002, and it needs to be raised. A teen who steals someone’s smartphone today could be branded for life as a felon because smartphones cost more than $500; twenty years ago, most cell phones cost less than $100.

I don’t know if the Legislature will move on this proposal or how much money it will save if they do. I just know that this makes sense in terms of human potential. Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide for a seamless segue to Fallin’s comments on education.

  1. Things I liked:
  • Fallin proposed $178 million in new money for a permanent $3,000 raise for teachers. If that happens, Oklahoma teacher pay would rise all the way to 44th in the country. It’s not enough to make our salaries regionally competitive, but it’s at least something. As always, something is better than nothing.

  1. Things I didn’t like:
  • The 3% funding cut to education prior to the infusion of $178 million in new money. So we’re supposed to go ahead with the cuts we’re trying to absorb and then reward everybody who survives with raises? They’ll need it. Things are going to be tougher on our remaining teacher, for sure. Districts will still have to cut teaching positions to balance budgets.
  • Her push for school consolidation. I know she’s only talking about the K-8 districts, but honestly, we don’t really save money through her scheme. It’s just a distraction.
  • The flexibility to use district’s building funds for salary. This is great for the districts with high assessed property valuations, but for many districts, there just isn’t a lot of “there” there.
  • Her love of A-F Report Cards and the RSA law. These are two failed reforms. Ask teachers and parents what they think of them. Better yet, ask kids.
  • As for her “100 percent support” of vouchers, they’re my line in the sand. You can’t say you support them (especially with zero accountability) and also say you support public education. This is all just the ALEC playbook. It shows no original thought. It has nothing to do with Oklahoma values, whatever that really means.

That’s all for now. I’ll spend some more time processing/writing later in the week or over the weekend. In the meantime, here are a few links for you, if you want to read more:

And because today is Groundhog Day, I thought you’d enjoy this:

Challenge Accepted: State of the State Preview

January 31, 2016 1 comment

In advance of tomorrow’s State of the State address to be given by Governor Fallin, some of my rebel friends in the blogosphere have wondered what surprises await us. We know she’s going to propose a pay raise for teachers, but we also know the state faces at least a $900 million revenue shortfall. Tyler Bridges has suggested that some of us take a crack at predicting some of the high points from the address, as it will relate to education.

Oh there are so many ways I could go with this. As I write this, the 2010 movie Alice in Wonderland is on TV as background noise. I considered going conceptually through the looking glass, so to speak, and getting all mimsy borogoves with this post, but I’m just not feeling very frumious at the moment.

I also thought of writing it from the perspective of wondering what theoretical Governor Joe Dorman’s 2nd inaugural address would sound like…

and we will build upon the gains we made last year, continuing to restore public education budgets until they exceed 2008 levels and we can pay our teachers regionally competitive salaries…

And maybe a bit of …

just as last year we removed the expense and wasted time of the End of Instruction exams, this year we are going to eliminate all state testing that isn’t federally mandated…

Theoretically, of course, I especially liked this part…

…vouchers, are you kidding me with this?

But alas, even though the majority of Oklahomans who send their children to public school also live in households below the threshold to qualify for free or reduced prices lunches, we continue to elect leaders – including a governor – who insist on cutting taxes that favor corporations and people with executive salaries. We vote very badly, and against our own interests in this state. It’s a phenomenon I’ll never completely understand.

Anyway, back to the challenge. I think the place for me to start is with a certain point of emphasis from Fallin’s 2014 SOTS address:

Just as it’s our responsibility to help maintain a motivated and skilled workforce in state government, it’s also our responsibility to maintain and preserve state buildings and assets.

In the case of the state Capitol, we are failing in that goal.

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.

We must begin repairing the People’s House now.

As the façade crumbles and the basement fills, we see the impact of decades of neglect – of the mentality that this problem can be fixed later. We can make many parallel statements about the condition of public education in Oklahoma.

I don’t pretend to know what the governor will say about education this year, but I think the parallel still exists. We mostly differ, though, on what causes things to stink so much.

I’m a school superintendent. I’m trying to find more than a million dollars in cuts for the current school year, and I can only guess how many millions I’ll have to cut for next year. We have outdated textbooks and technology. We have … well, I’ll let my friend Melonie Hau, the Duncan Public Schools superintendent, explain the pain that so many of us feel right now:

Hau said Duncan has managed to absorb cuts dating back at least to 2008 by reducing payroll through attrition and by making tough decisions to cut some jobs completely, like an assistant superintendent’s post and an assistant principal’s position, and to add to responsibilities of counselors and others.

The district also has cut some programs that were expensive and didn’t affect large numbers of students. Home economics is one, for example, that the district used to have but no longer does. Driver’s education, too, has veered off the list of curriculum choices offered to students.

Other expenses have been trimmed by putting off purchases of new textbooks, delaying purchases of technology and turning more to free sources of classroom materials offered through the Internet. Additionally, the district employs fewer people now than it did a few years ago to take care of day-to-day upkeep of school buildings or to fix things when they break.

We’re cutting what we can cut. I wouldn’t say that we’re cutting waste, though. Sometimes, I think educators are our own worst enemy. We absorb fiscal and policy abuse from the state and find ways to make things work. We still have school. Teachers fund their own classrooms. We try to make the impact on students and learning as small as possible.

We’re past that now. There’s nothing on the cutting table in my district that won’t impact student learning. Yes, we’ll still provide ACE Remediation and summer school to support the Reading Sufficiency Act. We’ll be cutting some of the support we have for those programs though because we have to find the money somewhere. Since the State Board of Education gave us that flexibility this week, we’re going to use what we can.

The article about Duncan Public Schools continues, and Hau makes a strong point:

The Duncan district’s share of state budget cuts last year amounted to about $1.2 million. Another $380,000 has been cut so far this school year and administrators across the state have been told to plan for another 3 percent cut before spring. Hau said the state’s budget mess will extend into next year as well. In Duncan, the share of anticipated cuts may amount to another $1 million.

Students and teachers have already been affected, she said, adding that it irritates her to hear people say that schools ought to be run more like businesses, where managers might reduce supply because of a decline in demand. Oklahomans shouldn’t be asked to “streamline” their children’s education.

The demand for public education isn’t declining. In fact, as state funding for public education continues to shrink, student enrollment continues to grow.

statewide-enrollment_crop

With this in mind, how can we possibly brace for additional cuts. I heard State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister say yesterday – as I heard her say a couple of weeks ago – that we just shouldn’t accept this.

I still haven’t really answered Tyler’s challenge. I haven’t predicted what the governor will say tomorrow. My best guess it will resemble what I read on the editorial page of the Oklahoman today. The writers cite legislative pushes for school consolidation, caps on administrative spending, and vouchers. Remember that Oklahoma not only ranks 49th in teacher pay; we also rank 49th in total spending for PK-12 education.

Not one of these proposals will change our state rank in either measure. Should we consider consolidation? Of course – everything has to be on the table. The potential for cost savings will be inflated, though. Reducing the number of superintendents without reducing the number of school sites really won’t save much money.

Some of these issues are distractions. Others, such as the voucher conversation, are just completely insulting. If our state leaders will do anything to avoid talking about how they’ve abdicated their responsibility to properly fund education, then we need new people.

I don’t know what the governor will say tomorrow. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter. Yes, I always tell people to use their words, but actions matter more. I care about what happens after the SOTS address. I care about funding and policy. I care about the 14,600 students in Mid-Del Schools. Moreso, as a father, I care about one student in particular in the Norman Public Schools.

Say anything. Just do something useful for the kids. As for me, when I visit the Capitol, I’ll make sure I still don’t touch the walls. I’ll try to avoid the Kool-Aid too.

Two things: Finding things in plain sight

January 26, 2016 4 comments

Sunday night, State Senator Kyle Loveless made the media rounds suggesting a report card for school district expenditures.

As Fox 25 in Oklahoma City reported:

State Senator Kyle Loveless has a new goal, to create a transparent spending system throughout Oklahoma’s school system. He says the information is out there, but it’s hard to find and he wants to make it easy for parents and tax payers by creating a fiscal report card.

I don’t want to debate the merit of his plan right now. Honestly, it just sounds like a distraction from someone who doesn’t want to talk about the fact that the state of Oklahoma has made deeper cuts to K-12 education than any other state in the country. Instead, I’ll give you two places, where the aforementioned financial data hides in plain sight.

  1. If you want to find out all kinds of information about schools and school districts, just hop on over to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (OEQA), formerly the Office of Accountability. Click on the county of the school district you want to research. Then click on the name of the district. Let’s use Mid-Del Public Schools as an example.MD EQA 1 MD EQA 2

    What you get is a two page report card with demographic, expenditure, and student achievement information. The downside is that some of the information is a little behind. Here we are in 2016, and the newest figures on here are from the 2013-14 school year. Still, you can get a general idea of how districts spend their money, if that’s a thing you want to know. Let me zoom in closer.
    MD EQA 3As you can see, during this school year, Mid-Del spent 54.6% of all expenditures on instruction and another 4.3% on instructional support. That’s a total of 58.9%. The state averages were 52.7% and 3.8%, totaling 56.5%.

    Mid-Del spent less than the state average (by percentage) on district administration, but more on site administration. Overall, the district spent about the average for the state. What does any of this mean? Whatever you as the person reading the information want it to mean. The point is that the information is there. It has been since 1997 – in plain sight.

  2. It hasn’t been around as long, and maybe it’s not as easy to find, but the Oklahoma State Department of Education has a site that breaks down expenditures into even greater detail. It is the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) site. Here you can pick a district and review their data. Let’s pick on mine again.MD OCAS 1 MD OCAS 2

    These reports are for the 2014-15 school year. You can click on the links and see details as minor as the fact that we spent $899.90 on overtime costs in Child Nutrition for the school year. You can even download everything into a massive spreadsheet.

    There are a number of different reports in PDF files as well. And if you want, you can even look at the data by school site. It’s all right there. It may not have one of those fancy pie charts that Loveless wants us to use; instead, it has all the information we could want to answer our questions. If you’re really curious, that should be what you’re looking for.


Regardless of where you find your information on how a district near you spends its money, there is one thing you need to remember. The main thing we do in schools – the reason we have schools in the first place – is for teaching and learning. Every penny we spend – whether it’s on teachers, textbooks, and technology, or it’s on utilities, buses, and lunches – supports instruction. Every superintendent worth a damn knows this. Every school patron has a right to know it. That’s why the information is already out there.

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A Plan to Plan to Plan

January 25, 2016 2 comments

This week, State Senator David Holt announced that teachers in Oklahoma deserve a $10,000 raise.

In related news, puppies are adorable.puppies

I don’t want to sound unappreciative. Of course teachers in Oklahoma deserve at least that much. It’s been a long time coming. The problem is, of course, that raises take money. And that money has to come from somewhere. This being Holt’s sixth year in the Legislature, I started to wonder what he’s been doing so far to lay the tracks for such an outstanding proposal. So I checked his official Senate bio:

Having introduced an income tax cut bill every session, David has also worked to advance the conversation about how tax cuts can grow Oklahoma’s economy. David has also been a leader in fighting for taxpayers to have more control over their tax dollars, including efforts to bring more transparency to the Legislature and to reform laws that place government unions over taxpayers. David has also fought for better public schools, having authored legislation to give parents the ability to turn around a failing school and to expand public school options for families in the inner cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. David has also been a leader in efforts to increase voter participation, in light of severely declining turnout in Oklahoma.

Not to sound like a downer here, but it’s hard to raise teacher salaries while cutting state revenue. No matter how much Holt and those like him want to pretend differently, a major portion of our current budget deficit is a direct result of tax cuts. Continuing to pursue them has neither stimulated the economy nor provided additional funding for all the things state government is supposed to support.

Holt also touts his own efforts to label schools as failures and turn them over to parents. He has a record as being a no excuses legislator when it comes to school performance. Meanwhile, I have a record as being a no excuses blogger and administrator when it comes to discussing the performance of our state leaders.

They’ve failed to fund public education properly for years. They’ve created a projected $900 million budget hole for next year (which will probably be worse). They want to blame OPEC. Too bad. We’re just judging you by your outcomes. And if we don’t like them, hopefully we’ll instigate our own takeover and hand the reins of budgeting and public policy over to people who we trust more.

I try to be hopeful, often in the face of every piece of evidence telling me not to be. Sometimes, though, you just can’t choose how to feel. Still, I have been following the press surrounding Holt’s proposal, including this interview with Oklahoma Watch. Here is how Nate Robson framed it:

A Republican senator said he had a “moral obligation” to propose a complicated, six-part plan to give Oklahoma teachers a $10,000 pay raise without a tax increase, despite the state facing a $900 million budget shortfall.

The $400 million proposal, released Thursday by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, instead would seek funding from overhauling tax breaks, by consolidating the number of school districts and by diverting a portion of future budget growth to education.

I agree that this is a “moral obligation.” I also agree that it’s a complicated proposal. I just don’t agree that it’s a plan. Parts of it are a plan to plan. Others seem more like a plan to plan to plan. To explain further, we will need to look at each of the six pieces of legislation that Holt has proposed.

SJR 57: Constitutional amendment; requiring consideration of tax reform; prohibiting granting of tax credits under certain conditions.

The text of the measure basically reads as an ultimatum to end tax credits. It would also require the recovered revenue to go to teacher salaries.

This measure enacts a new Section 2.1 of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It requires the Legislature to consider significant reform of tax credits, rebates, exemptions and deductions. If such significant reform is not enacted prior to January 1, 2018, no credit against any state tax shall be granted in calendar years 2018 and 2019. Significant reform would be determined to have been met if changes to the laws relating to tax credits, rebates, exemptions and deductions result in an increase of $200 million in the amount available for appropriation by the Legislature for fiscal year 2019, as compared to the amount for fiscal year 2017. The State Board of Equalization would make this determination. If significant tax reform was enacted, the Legislature would be required to appropriate at least $200 million in additional funds to be used to increase teacher salaries. This section would expire and be repealed on July 1, 2030.

The funny part about this is that the challenge to getting OU President David Boren’s  penny sales tax came from conservatives who claimed to be concerned against logrolling – the practice of creating a ballot question that contains more than one topic, as this one clearly does. It’s a good thing the state Supreme Court ruled that Boren’s plan is in fact constitutional. Otherwise, Holt’s proposal would have no chance.

The problem I see is that he wants the voters of the state to command future legislators to find the credits that can be reformed. He’s setting a deadline and saying find $200 million to cut, or nobody gets a tax credit. This would have to be completed by the end of the 2017 legislative session (or an ensuing special session) to go anywhere. Holt isn’t saying he has an idea where those reforms can be found; he’s just saying he’s certain they’re there and that we had better find them or else. It’s a plan to plan.

SB 1238: Teacher pay; providing for an increase in teacher compensation.

This is a classic if A and B, then C kind of proposition.

For the 2018-2019 school year, each full-time certified teacher shall receive a pay increase equivalent to a Five Thousand Dollar ($5,000.00) increase in the previous school year’s compensation, exclusive of any one-time stipend or overtime payments.

SECTION 2. The provisions of this act shall not become effective as law unless Enrolled Senate Joint Resolution No. 57 of the 2nd Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature becomes effective as law.

If voters approve Holt’s initial state question, and the Legislature finds $200 million to cut in tax credits, then all teachers get a $5,000 raise.

In this scenario, A is a longshot. And B – picture nearly 150 legislators trying to hash out which credits get cut – is a longer shot. First, they’d have to navigate through all the lobbyists swarming the Capitol. If those two things happen, surely nothing can get in the way of teachers getting raises, right?

Not even the current $900 million shortfall we’re facing?

We’re simply moving money from pile to pile. Maybe a better way to say it is that we’re simply moving deficits around to appear flush.

Shell Game

Before we start promising future allocations to be appropriated off-the-top (a practice about which I heard several legislators moaning last Wednesday), first we have to figure out how to pay our current bills. If the state has any chance at not cutting education funding further this year, the Legislature will have to reform tax credits now.

SB 1256: Teacher compensation; creating the Securing Teacher Compensation Fund; providing for apportionment of revenue.  

This bill creates a new fund of off-the-top revenue to be distributed exclusively for teacher raises. It’s called the Securing Teacher Compensation Fund. It counts on future revenue growth, of which the first $200 million would be exclusively and permanently be reserved for increasing teacher salaries.

That sounds great, except for a few problems. One is that student enrollment is increasing. We are going to need more teachers. Another is that our support employees work 40 hour weeks, in many cases year-round, and make way less than our teachers. We’ve shifted the cost of textbooks and technology to our bond funds (those of us with any bonding capacity). We’ve moved utilities and maintenance into the building fund. And we still can’t afford to properly staff our buildings.

Our budgets are being held together by threads, and teacher salaries are just one of the problems. It’s a huge one; these are the people who spend every day with our students. It’s the problem we need to address first. If Holt’s proposal were to come to full fruition, though, we’d just be getting started.

SB 1278: Teacher pay; directing the State Board of Education to implement certain salary increases upon certain apportionment.

This is where Holt takes that magical $200 million and turns it into $5,000 raises again. If he passes all these bills, he can say he supported public education, even if we don’t see a penny.

Sidebar: I will give Holt credit for one thing. There’s zero chance these bills have the ALEC or OCPA seals of approval.

Another problem with this pair of bills is that we have to see growth in state revenue – as we continue to cut taxes. Remember, Holt will keep authoring bills to cut taxes. He believes it’s the right thing to do. I respect that. It’s just no way to fund the raises he promises on the backs of unicorns and rainbows.

Maybe that’s too harsh. Here’s how Holt’s press release describes SB 1278’s hopes and dreams:

We know that the economy will improve sometime in the future, and we know that state tax revenues will rise as well. Rather than an oral commitment, this makes it lawfully required that future revenue growth goes first to teacher pay raises. The current shortfall actually presents an opportunity to do something we might have otherwise found impossible. Two years ago, if you had suggested that the state find $200 million in existing spending and redirect it to teacher pay raises, it wouldn’t have happened because no one wants to rob Peter to pay Paul. But this year, we have no choice but to take money from Peter because we don’t have it. So, the hard part will already be accomplished. When revenue growth returns, it will no longer be spoken for. Let’s turn today’s pain into a future opportunity to increase teacher pay.

It’s a Doerflinger-esque statement. We have an opportunity. Someday my prince will come. Or something like that. The economy can’t suck forever, and when it finally recovers from what we’ve done to it OPEC, all the growth will go to public education. We mean it this time.

SJR 58: Constitutional amendment; creating the School Modernization and Renew Teaching Commission

Now we’re going to compound the good deeds we’re doing by consolidating school districts:

This measure adds a new section of law to the State Constitution. It adds Section 9 to Article 13. It creates a commission to propose a new school district map that would contain only 200 school districts. It provides for appointments to the commission. It requires the commission to submit its proposal to the Legislature by a certain date. It establishes requirements that the proposal must meet. It provides a process for how the proposal is to be considered by both branches of the Legislature. It provides for consideration of the proposal by the Governor. It states that this section of the Constitution shall expire on a certain date.

There’s this pervasive myth that we’re burning money by having so many school districts in Oklahoma. Each one needs management. What we fail to discuss too often is that many of our small, rural districts function with one administrator only.

Holt wants a state question that will force consolidation to an arbitrarily chosen number of school districts – 200. I don’t know how he arrived at that number. In fact, nobody knows how he arrived at most of the details in his bills. As he states in his interview with Oklahoma Watch:

I didn’t need to talk to education folks because there is no education policy in here. This needed expertise in politics, which I have.

I didn’t think it was imperative to work with a bunch of people because this is a complicated plan. I didn’t want people saying it couldn’t be done or saying we should wait to do this later. Instead, I wanted to unveil a plan now and see if anyone else can come up with something better.

Leadership is not waiting to have a consensus. Good leadership is coming up with a bold plan and then seeing if you can come to a consensus.

Actually, that’s the opposite of good leadership, Senator Holt. Consensus is something that involves the opinions of people who do the work. You want to close school districts, but you don’t think your ideas have anything to do with education policy? You’re wrong. Simply wrong.

I know you say schools won’t close – just districts. What you fail to realize is that you really can’t save money without closing them. You’re being bold and pandering to your metropolitan voters, casting the problem of school funding as an effect of having too many rural districts. What you’re not doing is putting yourself into a position in which you’ll have to make the decisions about which districts close.

Look, I’m a product of large, suburban schools. Until 2002, that was all I had known, as a student or a professional. Then I spent two years in Medford as a secondary principal. What you’re proposing would save little while costing communities more than you can understand.

SJR 59: Constitutional amendment; requiring State Treasurer to certify certain savings amount; providing for use

This is a third state question (for a guy who frequently calls for a state constitutional convention to sort out how convoluted it is, he sure proposes a lot of constitutional amendments) that would shift all savings from consolidation into more teacher raises.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that we consolidate to exactly 200 districts and 300 superintendents lose their jobs. At best, that saves about $30 million. At best. Again, some of these superintendents are also building principals and teach classes. In many small, rural districts, the superintendent does much more than run the district.

I know $30 million sounds like a lot. In the grand scheme of the state budget, though, it’s not. That’s not even another $1,000 to teachers, or to other costs.

The fact is that what Oklahoma spends per pupil is well below the regional and national average. It’s a numerator and denominator thing. If the amount we spend doesn’t change, and the number of students doesn’t change, then per pupil spending doesn’t change.


 

Overall, Holt’s proposal is built on wishes. I categorically reject the last two bills because I don’t think school district consolidation is the financial windfall some want it to be. At best, it’s a political distraction pitting city folk against country folk. When our state leaders are unwilling to roll back a .25% tax cut that costs the General Revenue Fund between $120 and $140 million this year, consolidation should be political non-starter.

The two bills in the middle are tied to future revenue growth. I’d love to think it could happen, but it’s not something on which to build a plan. Again, if we keep cutting taxes, the chances for revenue growth just grow slimmer and slimmer.

As for the first two bills, I say why wait? Reform tax credits and off-the-top spending in 2016. What’s the problem with that? Courage is what you do now, not what you plan to plan to do in the future. Someone who would seem to agree is state Representative Jason Dunnington.

Dunnington1   Dunnington2

As Dunnington wrote on Facebook last night:

Many folks in HD88 and members of the education community have asked my opinion of recent proposals to raise teachers salaries without raising taxes. First, let me say I am thankful that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are beginning to see what the business community and Democrats have been saying for years. Without a renewed investment in Oklahoma education we will not produce the quality workforce needed for growth and prosperity.

To be blunt, when Republicans have 71 of 101 votes in the House of Representatives, 39 of 48 in the State Senate, and every state wide elected office, if you want to raise teacher pay then raise it. With a supermajority Republicans have all the votes needed to do it now. To propose future raises based off finding new efficiencies in government, or repealing available tax credits, deductions, rebates or exemptions would make sense if we didn’t need those to cover our current billion dollar shortfall. The fact is, Oklahoma doesn’t have enough revenue to cover our existing obligations let alone increase investment in our most basic functions of government. If raising teacher salaries is really a priority, even a moral obligation, then new revenue must be a part of the conversation or recent proposals will be nothing more than lip service.

I don’t know if Dunnington’s comments are a direct response to Holt’s proposal, but I’ll treat them as such. The Republicans control the entire Legislature. They have every statewide office. If they think they can cut taxes, reform tax credits, and raise teacher salaries, they should do it right now. It’s an election year, after all. It’s an opportunity!

The truth is that there is no silver bullet to fixing the state economy, the revenue streams that fund public services, or the problems resulting from a systematic de-funding of public schools over the last eight years. If school consolidation were that plan, I’d bite my teeth and support it. It’s not.

I appreciate that Holt at least had an idea – a complicated idea – and put it forward. Maybe some of this will happen, someday. I have more than 1,000 teachers working for me, though, and they’re tired of waiting for someday.

What can you do for us now, when you hold all the cards? That’s the question. Quit planning. Start doing.

Two Things: Perspectives on 0.25%

January 19, 2016 Comments off

1. As the Tulsa World reports this morning, voices of reason are starting to emerge in Oklahoma’s Legislature:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Mazzei said Monday that Oklahoma’s “financial management options” should include suspension of the 0.25 percent reduction in the state income-tax rate that went into effect Jan. 1.

“Given the financial stress the state faces, we should consider a number of financial management options, one of which is a delay in the reduction from 5.25 to 5 percent in the top tax rate,” said Mazzei, R-Tulsa.

Mazzei last week filed Senate Bill 1073, which voids the reduction approved by the state Equalization Board in December 2014 and specifies such a reduction cannot occur in a fiscal year in which a revenue failure has been declared.

SB 1073 also raises the requirements for triggering a rate cut from 5 percent to 4.85 percent.

As those of us who agree with Mazzei keep saying, the tax cut is irresponsible at this time. I’ve heard personally from other legislators who get it.

2. Why wouldn’t you fix part of your problem while you can? Maybe because the Oklahoman says so:

Critics argue the money left in citizens’ hands through tax cuts would be better spent on government. They say increased funding for things such as schools, roads and social services makes a state more attractive to businesses than a low tax rate.

If so, Connecticut should be booming. Instead, since 2010 Connecticut has experienced almost no growth in state gross domestic product.

No doubt, some proponents of higher tax rates will note GE is relocating to Boston. So the company is exiting one high-tax state for another nationally lampooned as “Taxachusetts.” Yet the Tax Foundation ranks Massachusetts’ business climate 25th best in the nation, while Connecticut’s was 44th. In comparison, Oklahoma ranked 33rd.

Clearly, if it’s good for big business, it’s good for the state, right? Just ask all those homeowners in Edmond who are dealing with cracks in their walls. Or maybe ask the drinking water aficionados from Flint, Michigan.

It serves the Oklahoman‘s narrative, though, to frame this as the left wanting to hijack your hard-earned income. Like a Geico commercial, that’s what they do.

I actually agree with the closing paragraph of the editorial, though:

No one should argue that tax rates are the only factor in business location decisions. But it’s a fool’s errand to pretend they’re irrelevant.

It’s true. They also consider the quality of the schools. Schools cost money. That requires some taxation. You can’t have it both ways.

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

Appreciating Lost Talent

January 18, 2016 Comments off

The Eagles were my first favorite band. It wasn’t my choice. Well, maybe it was just a little. I remember that when I was eight years old, my brother and I had two records: the greatest hits compilations of the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band.

steve miller gheagles gh cover

First of all, the Eagles cover was much cooler. Although the horse’s head on the Steve Miller Band cover appears to be flaming, the eagle head appears as if it’s going to hunt you down and eat you, even if you’re on a getaway horse that appears to be on fire.

The Eagles album had better songs too. Don’t get me wrong; I love Jet Airliner and The Joker, but the best song on the album may have been Fly Like an Eagle. That’s right: an Eagle. It all comes full circle.

I’ll even admit to having seen the Steve Miller Band in concert three times. I only saw the Eagles once. All were great shows (but not Tom Petty or U2 good). The Eagles broke up when I was 12 and reunited when I was 24. I just didn’t have as many opportunities.

As a kid of single-digit age, I didn’t have much say in my likes and dislikes. By the time I was in middle school the band may not have been a thing anymore, but I wore out two copies of their live double album tape.

I now own it on CD and have it loaded on my iPhone. It still has its days as my only playlist as I make the rounds.

That said, the Eagles didn’t remain my favorite band. I bought and enjoyed the solo work of the the band members, especially Joe Walsh. I went through phases with other bands being my favorite: Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and – I’m a little embarrassed to admit this – Styx. Don’t judge me. I was 12.

By the time I was in high school, however, I owned every Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record. That was my group. That was the singer and music that spoke to me. I still loved the Eagles and so many other artists. I was learning about Motown and early rappers like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And I had yet to really go back and explore the greats from before my time, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

But the Eagles, and that first greatest hits album, will always be the first set of songs I knew by heart.

If you’ve followed my blog any amount of time at all, you know I love music. You know I love all kinds of it and for so many reasons. Mostly, you know that words matter to me.

My favorite Eagles song of all time, and one of my 10 favorite songs ever, was Saturday Night. It’s not popular on the scale of Hotel California or Desperado. It just has a phrase I’ve always loved.

What a tangled web we weave
Go ’round with circumstance
Someone show me how to tell the dancer
From the dance

It’s one of their early songs, and it didn’t make it onto the album cover with the deranged eagle skull, but it’s definitely my favorite 70s soft rock song featuring a mandolin solo.

From the Eagles, and later from Don Henley, and eventually from every other song I loved (not counting Safety Dance), I learned to appreciate words. My favorite songs may be ones to which I can headbang while driving; more likely, though, is that they have words that do something for me. Santa Monica by Everclear. Invisible Sun by the Police. Pretty much everything Stevie Wonder has written. Great music, but more profound language.

Tonight, when I learned that Glenn Frey, one of the founders of the Eagles, had died, I felt a significant sense of loss. I don’t usually react much to celebrity deaths. It’s not like I knew them. It’s not like I won’t have access to their words and works. In the last week, however, we’ve lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman (not a musician, but a brilliant actor and huge to my kids as Professor Snape).

Tonight, after I heard the news, I started posting Eagles songs on Facebook. I found that most of my favorites were actually Glenn Frey or Randy Meisner songs. Still, Glenn Frey was there, and he had a phenomenal mustache.glenn frey

Music stays with you. I don’t know how you would survives without having it feed your soul. To quote Stevie Wonder:

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it

The Eagles were my first favorite band. I can still name most of their songs in one note. I still have that first album I owned hanging on my wall at home, along with several of my other favorites. photo

I know this is supposed to be an education blog, and that this is one of those posts that will get dozens of page views instead of thousands. I don’t care. I write what matters to me.

Honestly, the Eagles probably have nothing to do with why I am an educator. They may have something to do with why I write like my brain is on fire, though.

Rest in Peace, Glenn Frey. And thanks for the tunes.

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

On Coyotes and Road Runners

January 16, 2016 2 comments

Pardon me for reminiscing, but when I was young, Saturday mornings were full of cartoons to warp my mind and curve my spine. I couldn’t get enough of Scooby Doo or the Superfriends.

Superfriends.png

I watched hours of the Jetsons and the Pink Panther. Hong Kong Phooey was another favorite of mine, especially after I was older and realized that his character was voiced by Scatman Crothers, the caretaker from The Shining.

My favorite part of Saturday mornings, however, was the hour of Looney Tunes reruns. Schedules changed from year to year. I seem to remember at one point, it was even a 90 minute block. Talk about feeding my indolence and pursuing it passively!

I even loved the opening. It was a catchy song – maybe my first experience with an earworm.

Overture, curtain lights

This is it, the night of nights

No more rehearsing and nursing a part

We know every part by heart…

Later, when I was in my 20s, I learned that Jerry Seinfeld would launch into the opening theme song at the mere mention of the word Overture.

As with Seinfeld, all my knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

A great cartoon is one that entertains children and has humor that adults are more likely to appreciate. It’s good clean fun, until somebody gets hurt.

That brings me to the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Apparently, animation director Chuck Jones had nine written rules for their episodes.

road runner rules.jpg

After seeing these circulate on Facebook last night, I saw something familiar. Is this a metaphor for the state budgeting process? If so, who is the Road Runner, and who is the Coyote? Let’s look at the rules and decide.

Rule 1: The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going, “beep-beep!”

Not that #oklaed is the only stakeholder impacted by those who develop the budget, but let’s just say in the last few years, we’ve been saying a lot of “beep-beep!” Occasionally, it even progresses to “bleep-bleep!” If we accept that the Coyote represents certain legislators (and perhaps a former state superintendent), I guess we’ve actually done some harm.

Rule 2: No outside force can harm the Coyote – only his own ineptitude or the failure of the ACME products.

If we accept the metaphor, and we accept that the Coyote is inept, what we’re saying is that those who’ve made our budget were perhaps certain their plans would work. They believed that if they cut taxes enough, state revenue would continue increasing.

By the way, income tax cuts seem to be about as effective as a slew of ACME products.

As the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows, our leaders have meticulously cut state revenue to this point. While the price of a barrel of oil is less than half what we would consider healthy for our state’s economy, that is not the only reason we have a massive budget hole to fill.

Beginning with the Great Recession that reached Oklahoma in 2009, the state has experienced a continuing budget crisis. Even after the economy recovered from a severe national recession, Oklahoma’s funding for core services remains well below pre-recession levels. Many state agencies still operate with one-quarter to one-third less state support compared to fiscal year 2009. Overall, this year’s state appropriated budget is $896 million, or 11.4 percent, below that of 2009 once adjusted for inflation.

This is why we keep saying that the budget hole was both predictable and preventable.

Rule 3: The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” – George Santayana)

Who knew that the foundation of the conflict between these two was rooted so deeply in early 20th century philosophy?! Sadly, those of us who have been paying attention for years know this all too well. Follow me here for a minute and rest assured, you won’t be tested over dates.

  • 1990 – The Oklahoma Legislature, spearheaded by Republican Governor Henry Bellmon, enacts House Bill 1017, a landmark education reform measure that increases and protects funding for public education.
  • 1991 – Oklahoma voters defeated State Question 639 which would have repealed HB 1017.
  • 1992 – Oklahoma voters passed State Question 640, which established limits for how tax increases could be enacted.

Under SQ 640, a revenue bill can only become law if: (1) it is approved by a 3/4th vote of both legislative chambers and is signed by the Governor; or (2) it is referred by the legislature to a vote of the people at the next general election and receives majority approval.

Since passage of SQ 640 in 1992, Oklahoma voters have approved only one state question to raise taxes: SQ 713, which increased the tobacco tax in 2004. SQ 723, which would have increased motor vehicle fuel taxes, was defeated in 2005.

This is truly the era of origin for the problem at hand now. Properly funding public education and other basic functions of government is expensive. When education supporters get loud and have an impact, forces that oppose us rise up and convince voters that all tax cuts are a good thing.

Because of SQ 640, the Oklahoma Legislature couldn’t raise taxes if they wanted to. They wouldn’t get 75% support in both houses. They wouldn’t get a signature from the governor. Just this week, we’ve heard the governor and her staff double down on the idea that the most recent tax cuts are a good thing – in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Rule 4: No dialogue ever, except “beep-beep!”

They say nothing of consequence. In response, #oklaed and other people who use facts respond in the only way we know how. It’s not exactly dialogue.

Rule 5: The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.

For all the crippling cuts and horrible policy decisions that have impacted public schools in recent years, we’ve done our jobs. We’ve stayed on the road. Occasionally, we stop and let out a “beep-beep!” but we are busy doing what we need to do for our students. Drop an anvil, and we’ll keep moving. Paint a picture of a road on the side of a desert rock, and we’ll turn it into a freaking road.

tunnel road.gif

And then the Coyote will crash into it. It’s what Coyotes do.

Rule 6: All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters – the Southwest American desert.

For our purposes, the natural environment of the Coyote is closed-door boardrooms with billionaires. For the Road Runner, it’s thrift sales and fundraisers.

Rule 7: All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the ACME Corporation.

Our state’s budget is definitely driven by corporations. That’s how SQ 766 passed, costing communities millions that would have stood to benefit schools and municipal services.

Another interpretation of the metaphor here is that the ACME Corporation stands for the state purchasing contract. That also explains why our computers don’t always work as they should.

Rule 8: Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.

This explains adherents to trickle-down economics.

They like to pretend it’s helping, but in the end, they just look foolish.

Rule 9:

ncis_gibbs_rule_9_baby_hat.jpg

Wait, that’s from a different list.

Rule 9: The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

Oh, how I wish this part were true. I don’t know that our leaders who make the budget are harmed by their failures. Instead, they’re defensive. Some legislators are even sending constituents surveys such as this one from House District 53.

District 53.jpg

I don’t believe the representative here wants true input. For the first question, there’s a third choice: stop cutting taxes when we already have a revenue failure. Question seven creates  a great straw man. However, I would expect someone as seasoned as Rep. McBride to know that the law already places limits on administrative expenditures.  Question eight is a voucher question. Question ten is another false choice.

When you receive something like this, keep in mind your opinion doesn’t matter. The Coyote already has his mind made up. He’s going to do whatever the ACME Corporation tells him to do.

At this point, unfortunately, we know every part by heart.

 

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