With All Due Respect, Vol. 2
In March, I wrote the first installment of what apparently will turn into a series, based on the rhetorical premise that you can say anything you want – as long as you preface it with the phrase, with all due respect – and you have complete immunity from criticism. Since this verbal construct owes itself to Ricky Bobby, and today is the Talladega 500, I figure it’s time for part two. Besides, if Rob Miller can go back to the well with Really!?! then I can hit the repeat button with this particular phrase.
Today’s source of inspiration comes in the form of a column written for The Journal Record by Oklahoma City University law professor, Andrew C. Spiropoulos. He wants us to know that there really is no teacher shortage:
Give the politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks that shill for the education establishment extra credit for their success in spreading and milking the myth that we have a teacher shortage in Oklahoma. They could teach a master class on how to deceive with numbers. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, however, they are pulling off this con all over the country.
That’s the first paragraph from Spiropoulos, who is also the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. As a man of letters and easily the most effective writer affiliated with OCPA , I expect better. Maybe I shouldn’t.
Let’s break down the language he uses to call educators collectively a bunch of liars.
- First, he lumps together politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks. This disreputable group of cretins audaciously influences public discourse, for certain. What is less clear is which of these three groups he considers his people. He’s at least a policy wonk. All the OCPA – a non-profit and allegedly non-partisan organization – does is spew policy talking points. To my knowledge, they’ve never had one that supports public education. When they do discuss schools, it is usually some form of argument about how districts actually get too much. Many of our state’s politicians are closely aligned with OCPA and regularly parrot these talking points. If you’ve heard a state representative ask How much is enough? once, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times.
- Next he uses the verb shill. This is a word chosen to make the reader cringe at the actions of special interest groups – you know, the people who’ve dedicated their careers to educating children. In my mind, someone who shills is a person with mercenary loyalties. Think of Peyton Manning in…every commercial ever. Just keep humming to the tune of Nationwide is on your side. Here are some examples:
- I like class size really large.
- Teachers make too stinking much.
- Why do buses smell like cheese?
- OCPA ___ ___ ___! (Treat this one as a Mad Lib)
- He then completes the sentence with the prepositional phrase for the education establishment. I don’t care if it’s the Oklahoman, any number of OCPA’s fellas, or the third-place finisher in last June’s state superintendent primary saying it, I never tire of hearing that phrase. Who exactly are the dastardly EE? Is it the OEA, PTA, CCOSA, OSSBA, and any number of other organizations representing actual teachers, parents, administrators and school board members? Tell me again why these people are the bad guys. Is it because they spend every school day with Oklahoma’s children and actually care about what becomes of them? No, that’s not it. Yes, these groups each have a lobbying arm and collectively comprise a lobbying force. Did you know that in 2014, Oklahoma officials received nearly $200,000 in gifts from lobbyists? Here’s a snapshot of how that breaks down. For the first half of the year, there were more than $157,000 in lobbying gifts. You can look for yourself, but few of those came from entities you would normally associate with the education establishment.
|Oklahoma State School Boards Association||$649.41|
|Professional Oklahoma Educators||$103.58|
That’s it. We always hear that teachers don’t vote very well. Apparently the establishment doesn’t lobby very well either. Nothing from OEA or CCOSA during that time (when the legislature was in session) In comparison, here are the lobbying expenses of a few other groups from the same time period.
|AEP/Public Service Company of Oklahoma||$18,548.29|
|Apex Wind Energy||$987.05|
|Beer Distributors of Oklahoma||$870.25|
|Farmers Insurance Group||$10,709.15|
|Greater Oklahoma City Chamber||$668.08|
|Huddleston Investments, Inc.||$12,367.13|
|OCPA Impact, Inc.||$783.87|
|Poultry Federation of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma||$1,208.60|
|The State Chamber||$3,047.00|
|The George Kaiser Family Foundation||$827.20|
|Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce||$1,433.09|
Face it. In terms of lobbying, education is being outspent by poultry and beer – not to mention the distinguished OCPA of which Spriopoulos is a distinguished fellow. Throw all the shade you want, but I don’t see the education establishment buying all these breakfasts and dinners for lawmakers.
- Spiropoulos also gives the unholy lot of us bonus points for our success in spreading and milking the myth about the teacher shortage. In return, I give him bonus points for alliteration. Nicely done, good sir! As for the myth itself, I guess those kindergarten and high school physics jobs really didn’t go unfilled. The empty applicant folders were just a figment of our imaginations…or bad math.
- He then explains that we deceive with numbers and that we are pulling off this con all over the country. I can’t speak for the entire Rebel Alliance, but our numbers are real. And not use a tired explanation, but this has never happened to us before. We’re not used to having all these positions we can’t fill. As one rural superintendent told me in November, we’re hiring people we wouldn’t even have interviewed ten years ago.
The rest of the column meanders into predictable drivel. Spiropoulos explains that 800 vacancies out of 40,000 positions really isn’t that bad. In the sense that it’s a low percentage, I guess that makes sense. In the sense that we had to combine classes or not offer advanced courses, though, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s one thing for schools and districts to create these conditions intentionally, but that’s not what has happened here. Rather the legislature has created a work environment that people with choices are avoiding. Yes, there are certified teachers choosing other career paths (or not to work at all). In that sense, there’s actually a surplus of teachers. It doesn’t do our students any good if they’re not applying for jobs.
Looking up at the last 1,000 words, I realize I’ve been as guilty of loaded language and selective information as Spiropoulos was before. Let me be more clear, then.
During the current school year, Oklahoma school districts have hired a record number of teachers on emergency certificates. We have also had a record number of positions go unfilled. Because of the lack of incentives for doing so, fewer teachers than ever are earning advanced degrees. Fewer teachers are completing teacher prep programs at Oklahoma colleges and universities than ever before. A high number of those who are continue to leave the state. Many of those who stay and teach leave the profession quickly because they don’t want their worth (along with their students) to be judged by tests. They don’t want their entire existence reduced to testing. Many teachers retire the instant they can because the profession has changed so much. And teachers haven’t had a pay raise in seven years.
For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:
For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:Christie Paradise – A Teacher Shortage or Not a Teacher Shortage: That is the Question…Apparently
Tyler Bridges – The Teacher Shortage Is …