Yesterday morning, The Atlantic published an article online titled, Can Schools Be Fixed? Normally, I cringe at articles with titles such as these, mainly because I cringe at the premise that public education is a broken system. Then again, maybe it is.
As a state and as a nation, we are deep down a rabbit hole of expensive reforms that haven’t done a bit of good. For example, the state of Oklahoma has spent millions of dollars with companies such as Battelle for Kids, which manages the convoluted roster verification process in Oklahoma.
By the way, BFK is technically a non-profit, albeit one with $25 million in annual revenue. GuideStar lists the mission of BFK thusly:
BATTELLE FOR KIDS IS A NATIONAL, NOT – FOR – PROFIT ORGANIZATION THAT PROVIDES STRATEGIC COUNSEL AND INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS FOR TODAY’S COMPLEX, EDUCATIONAL – IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGES OUR MISSION – DRIVEN TEAM OF EDUCATION, TECHNOLOGY, COMMUNICATIONS AND BUSINESS PROFESSIONALS SPECIALIZES IN CREATING STRATEGIES THAT ADVANCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN CAPITAL, THE USE OF STRATEGIC MEASURES, AND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF EFFECTIVE PRACTICES IN SCHOOLS.
If that doesn’t make you want to teach, what does?!
What we’ve spent on lousy ideas is a sunk cost. We can’t get that money back. Eliminating processes such as these, which only hurt the effort to develop and maintain human capital quality teachers, should be a quick priority in 2016, now that those pesky feds have told us we can.
But I digress…
The Atlantic article gave different “scholars of, experts on, and advocates for K-12 education” a chance to give one reason for despair and one reason for hope. My favorites were Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch. Here’s what Ravitch wrote:
Diane Ravitch, historian of American education and author of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
Reason for despair: In my field, public education is under unprecedented attack by a bipartisan coalition that calls themselves “reformers.” It includes the Obama administration, the Republican leadership, the Gates Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, hedge-fund managers, ALEC, and rightwing governors. They seek alternatives to democratically controlled public schools, such as privately managed charters, for-profit charter schools, virtual schools, and, in some states, vouchers for religious schools. The reformers’ excessive reliance on standardized testing as both the measure and goal of schooling has corrupted education. Because of the reformers’ attacks on teachers, experienced teachers are retiring early, and the number entering teaching has dropped sharply.
Reason for hope: The reasons for hope are two-fold: first, the public doesn’t want to abandon its community public schools. No district or state has ever voted to privatize its schools. Second, every so-called “reform” has failed to promote better education or equal opportunity for the neediest children. Neither charters nor vouchers consistently get better results for children, unless they exclude the weakest students. Measuring teachers by student test scores has been a costly failure. The great majority of the public admires their public schools and their teachers and wants them to be better, more equitably funded, not eliminated. If democracy works, these misguided “reforms” will be consigned to the ashcan of history.
This is why I have hope, the absence of which is hopelessness. Even though I was an English major in college, I’m not so much of an existentialist that I feel hopeless. There are still things we can do to improve education in this country in general, and Oklahoma in general. We are making strides in policy, but we have miles to go before we sleep.
After reading the Atlantic piece, Rob Miller issued the following challenge to his fellow Oklahoma bloggers:
Limiting myself to one reason for despair and one for hope, as the article’s contributors have done, is a tough task. It’s like asking someone to sum up the movie Clue in under a minute.
Despair: Oklahoma is dealing with at least a $900 million shortfall for the 2016-17 school year. This comes on the heels of cuts in state aid for the remaining six months of the current school year. These figures just add to the $900 million that Oklahoma school districts have lost in state aid since the 2008-09 school year.
All this, and state leaders are calling it an opportunity. Seriously.
You know the drill. More students. Unfunded mandates. Biggest cuts to schools in the country.
We’ve been beating the drum for years. Until now, no one who has the power to reverse the trend has been listening.
As Oklahoma school districts enter 2016, many face the prospect of losing three percent of their state aid, or at least the portion that goes through the formula. For large districts, this could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For some, it could be millions.
The state leaders who created this crisis with tax cuts for the wealthy and tax credits for the energy sector blame the state deficit on OPEC. Sure, that’s part of the equation. It’s not the whole story, though.
My despair comes as someone who has to deal with the funding crisis head on. We cut positions after the 2002-03 shortfall. Many of those haven’t been added back. We cut positions after the 2009-10 shortfall. Again, we haven’t added all of those positions back.
This story is true throughout Oklahoma. Someone at the state level will need to act with courage to keep this problem from worsening.
Hope: To be fair, I can name two state leaders who seem to understand the folly of continuing to do what we’ve been doing for years: State Treasurer Ken Miller, and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
First, this from Miller (as published in the Oklahoman):
Miller argues that conservatives in the Legislature ought to stop trying to eliminate the state income tax, and instead work to revamp a tax structure that is currently premised on an economy that no longer exists. “The ideal tax structure,” he wrote, “would broadly apply low rates to generate a stable and diversified revenue stream that does not unfairly burden property owners, discourage consumption or reward idleness and retains the profit motive that drives entrepreneurship.”
Meantime in the near term, he says any additional tax cuts should be revenue neutral — with lawmakers getting rid of $1 of spending or credits for each dollar cut in taxes.
Given the significant fiscal challenges, tackling a new approach to budgeting will likely have to wait until economic conditions improve. But he said it has to happen at some point, and he’s right. Oklahoma cannot continue to rely so heavily on one-time funds, even if some of those accounts are made up of fee revenue that replenishes annually.
Miller sums it up well in remarks worth remembering: “Eventually, policymakers must start down a path toward long-term sustainability, rather than cobble together more short-term fixes that leave the same problems for future legislatures — until the one-time revenue well runs dry.”
Diversified…what’s that? Basically, Miller seems to be suggesting that our state needs to figure out how to fund public services using a variety of continuing revenue streams. The question is which members of the Legislature have the courage to do it.
Meanwhile, Jones has taken to social media online media to make a similar case.
In an interview with NONDOC, Jones makes what reasonable people would call constructive suggestions.
In February, the governor ordered a freeze on hiring and giving raises. For the last couple of years, our office has been focused on conserving as much as possible to help make it through these tough times — reducing staff and cutting spending. We recently became aware that the very agency responsible for overseeing the governor’s order had given literally millions in raises based on a study.
If we are going to solve the tough problems facing this state, we need to have a comprehensive plan that is fair to all state employees and agencies. Giving themselves raises of 20 percent to 60 percent while telling others to cut back does little (to) build confidence. Solving our financial problems is going to require sacrifice by all.
There are some serious problems with how our state creates a budget. Last year, a small group put it together at the last minute and gave the House and Senate about 24 hours to vote on it. They used one-time funds to hold education dollars flat. They did nothing to halt tax cuts or tax credits that continue to cripple the budget.
Wait, this is supposed to be the part where we have hope.
Does it make you smile a little bit to know that we have 30 term-limited legislators? Some have been what I would consider friends to education. Some have merely said they were. I’ll be honest. I’m happy to see some of these people go, but I’ll be even happier if we have some strong challenges to some of the incumbents who will seek re-election in 2016.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, during the 2014 election cycle, only 49 of 126 seats in the Legislature that were up for election had contests that went to November. In other words, 77 people were basically elected by acclimation. That’s a heck of a lot of unopposed seats.
THIS. IS. THE. OPPORTUNITY.
If we want to make a difference in 2016, we need to make sure more people hear Jones and Miller. They’re the ones making sense.
If we want to make a difference in 2016, we need to make sure more people – more strong candidates – run against incumbents, who simply aren’t helping the future of this state.
Look, I know the power of #oklaed. We can get the votes. Just a few weeks ago, the people who really care about our state’s children and the people who teach them voted in full force to earn several of us some national blogging awards. Collectively, we had two wins and four second-place finishes in the Edublog awards.
The category for which I won, Best Administrator Blog, kind of surprised me. Especially surprising was that Rob Miller’s View From the Edge came in second. (I don’t know about the rest of you, but I voted for Rob.)
I appreciate the support, and I’m honored to win, but that’s not the important thing to consider here. Two Oklahoma blogs came in first and second. There must have been a heck of a lot of us voting. There must have been a lot of our parents and friends voting too. We won over the likes of George Couros, who is an internationally-renowned writer and speaker.
Do Rob and I really have the two best administrator blogs in the country? Probably not. We just have amazing readers who are passionate about public education in this state.
Now let’s channel that same kind of passion towards making real change.
For one, we need to write more, as Blue Cereal Education is doing. We also need to hold our elected leaders accountable. Those 30 term-limited legislators scare me as much as anything. Some are going to try to make a splash and position themselves for a run at statewide office in 2018.
We need to find the candidates to run against legislators who simply don’t support public education. And we need to vote.
We have the passion. We have the awards.
Now we have the numbers.
Happy New Year.
Make 2016 an #oklaed statement year.
In Part I of my year-end review, I covered some of the changes from January to June of this year. We were all warm and fuzzy because we had a new state superintendent and she liked us and listened to us and invited us to hang out at her office and all that good stuff. More than that, she was in the same fights we were, but – and this was the real departure from the previous four years – she was on our side. We didn’t win all of the fights, but some that seemed to go away on their own actually disappeared because of political finesse. That’s still a win in my book.
Part II had less focus. I blame me changing jobs and having less time to write. Still, in the last month or so, I seem to have found a groove. Over the last six months, we have gone everywhere from the collective apathy around the state over A-F Report Cards to the return of voucher propaganda around the state. We also learned, sadly, that we’re broker than broke. We’re MC Hammer broke. We’re not Greece, but we’re not exactly Monaco either. And it’s not that people in this state aren’t making money either. Let’s just say that if somehow, all of Oklahoma had been responsible for all of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and its billionty dollar opening weekend, our state leaders would have found a way to keep from generating any state revenue from it.
Now, to the top five posts for the year:
- I am okeducationtruths – For all the people who supported the blog when I was writing anonymously, I had no idea that the number of readers and followers would grow so much once I removed the mask.
I couldn’t have done what I did for the first 29 months of the blog without support from so many friends and colleagues who didn’t even know they were contributing. As more blogs have emerged during the last few years, we’ve collectively built something really special here. Our blogging presence, the success of our EdCamps, and our Sunday night #oklaed chats are gaining national recognition. While our writing has a pretty limited focus, mostly to pushing back against bad education policy in this state, our story parallels so many others. We are both a cautionary tale and a success story.
- Save AP – I didn’t write much on this post. Mainly, I included a few lines of discussion from legislators who were questioning whether or not it was ok to have Advanced Placement classes in Oklahoma at all since they resembled Common Core, with the critical thinking and all. The main issue was the scheduled course redesign of AP US History, which Southmoore High School Teacher David Burton covered thoroughly. More specifically, a few legislators were afraid that we were teaching students bad things about the country.
Here is a page from a presentation made by College Board Vice President Trevor Packer at a conference I attended in February.
Of the five points shown on this particular page discussing World War II, four are clear statements about the strengths of our nation. Only one – mention of the internment of Japanese Americans – is negative. And I don’t see anything wrong with including that. The framework leaves it to the teacher’s discretion which battles, treaties, events, and individuals to emphasize during the course. Most of it will be positive. We studied Japanese internment camps when I was in school, and we were deeply disturbed by it – most of us to the point that we’d never want to see that happen again.
There was nothing to see here. Sometimes, I guess birds just flap their wings to hear the sound of the wind.
There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- 182 Emergencies and Counting! – Well, now we’re up to 977 for the current school year.
As I’ve said previously, some teachers start with emergency certification and become great educators. Unfortunately, many – lacking teacher preparation courses and hours logged as student teachers under veteran teachers – succumb to how difficult the job is and last a short period of time. Some leave within days, and then we’re back where we started.
- Shortage of Teachers, Shortage of Pay – This was my first post of the year, and it was even more popular in March than it was in January. In fact, this post has had a decent number of page views during each month of the year. This is the conversation we can’t quit having. There’s a teacher shortage. Teachers haven’t had an increase in pay in years. There’s no change in sight to this cycle.
Keep in mind, as you look at the chart, that this includes all compensation – salary, insurance, and retirement. This does not include administrator salaries in the averages. Every time I use the chart, I get comments along the line of I’ve taught for 20 years and I still don’t make $44,000. And you are correct. But if you add the benefits together, this is the cost to your district of employing you. Or something like that.
We also know that with a $1,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would still be in 49th place. With a $5,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would move up to 36th place. At least we would if everyone else were standing still.
Sigh. We’re the ones still standing still.
At least we still have Mississippi and South Dakota below us.
- Guest Post on the Teacher Shortage from a POed Parent – It’s no coincidence that the three most popular posts on okeducationtruths from this year have to do with the teacher shortage. At this point, we’re all frustrated about where we are now and worried about the future. By we, I mean educators, parents, and even legislators. That’s right, the majority of our elected officials are worried about this too.
Dan Vincent, the post’s author, was very clear about why – other than just money – people aren’t flocking to the profession:
Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.
I always say that the teacher shortage comes down to two things: money and respect. Some legislators really do understand that teacher pay is too low. Unfortunately, several of those think that there are solutions other than the state coughing up more money to put into the formula. Combined with the group that just doesn’t get the magnitude of the problem at all, we’re just not getting anywhere.
Roll all of that together with an alphabet soup of reforms that have been copied after Florida and thrown at schools, and it just keeps getting harder to keep good people around.
Maybe now that more parents are catching on, legislators will listen more too. If not, let’s get some new ones.
So those were my five most popular posts of the year. What follows are five more – they weren’t as popular, but they meant a lot to me. Mostly, they remind me why, in spite of the issues we face, I’m glad I chose this career.
Throughout the spring and summer, many Oklahoma bloggers responded to various blogger challenges. I love these, mainly because it’s like an extended thought version of one of our Sunday night chats. In many cases, it helps me see that there’s some substance beyond the 140 character universe to which we often limit ourselves.
This challenge stemmed from Iowa’s Scott McLeod, who writes at Dangerously ! Irrelevant. If you click to his link, you’ll see ideas from across the country. This is a question we need to ask ourselves frequently.
This was a response to another blogger challenge.
When I was in the classroom, my favorite thing to do was to challenge people to like things that wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to them. This was true with poetry. Teaching sophomore English, I could have just jumped in with Wordsworth or Teasdale or some other ancient that English majors love. No, I started with Free Fallin’. Because I could.
Maybe it’s because she’s a middle child. Maybe it’s because Austin is a fun place. Maybe it’s because she could. In any case, my daughter left her comfort zone in August and started college at the University of Texas. Yes, even though her mother and I have four degrees between us from the University of Oklahoma, she headed south. So far, it’s been a good choice for her. And we have more reason to go to Austin and eat at my favorite breakfast place (it’s really more of a lean-to than a structure, per se).
This was the second part of my response to the blogger challenge, Why Teach? Given the teacher shortage, I think the second question, why teach here? is equally important. I want teachers to want to be where I am.
Using Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and a ten minute video that gives a pretty good explanation of motivation, I distilled my goals for the people around me into these three words.
If teachers, principals, and even crazy central office people had more of this, they’d have a lot more satisfaction.
So would our students – and this is the kind of district I want Mid-Del to be.
I stressed pretty hard over this one. As a first-year superintendent, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say to 180 people I’d never met before and who were really curious about what they were getting into. What I do when I’m uncomfortable is blog, so I treated the moment as I do so many of the other significant milestones in my life now.
If you’ve heard me speak, you know there’s a pretty big gap between what I intend to say and what actually comes out of my mouth. I’m more comfortable walking to the front of a stage or moving throughout a room winging it than I am standing behind a lectern. I want people to know where my passions lie.
So if what I wrote here was any good, I can’t say that it’s what I delivered the next morning. We’ll call it close.
Oh, and since it’s Christmas Eve, here’s some Annie Lennox and Al Green:
Do you remember a few days ago when I posted The Next Cut is the Deepest? Well, it’s here. And it’s real. And it’s spectacular.
Do you also remember how I posted the meme of Ralphie from A Christmas Story – the one where he drops the lugnuts?
We may need to kick it up a notch.
State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger just announced that all state agencies will receive a three percent cut to their state aid for the current fiscal year. That doesn’t mean that future state aid checks to districts will be cut by three percent. That means districts – unless the SDE has some triggers in place to mitigate the impact of this cut to schools – will have a three percent cut that is retroactive to July 1. Immediately, Superintendent Hofmeister issued a response:
Superintendent Hofmeister comments on education funding cut due to state revenue failure
OKLAHOMA CITY (Dec. 23, 2015) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister made the following remarks today after the Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced state agencies will receive a 3-percent cut for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016 as the result of a state revenue failure. That amounts to a $46.7 million reduction in funding for preK-12 public education between January and June of 2016.
“Now that we know the extent of the cut for the remainder of the fiscal year, school districts will soon be able to plan accordingly. The reduced funding was inevitable in the wake of the revenue failure, but I know that the Oklahoma State Department of Education and district leaders statewide are committed to lessening the impact on students as much as possible.
“School districts will not be affected equally. Some districts rely on state aid for upwards of 90 percent of their budget. Others, particularly those in western Oklahoma, will feel very little impact from this cut. Within the next two weeks, districts across the state will receive a mid-year adjustment that reflects the revised figures.
“It is unrealistic to suggest there will not be some adverse effect on students, but Oklahoma educators will do what needs to be done to protect classroom instruction.”
She’s correct. There will be adverse effects on students. There’s no way around that. As a superintendent, my mind is already spinning. So much for a break, right?
Just yesterday, we were looking at our recently released mid-year adjustments. Can you believe I was actually happy that my district only had a 0.27% reduction? Still, that’s $111,000 and change, but given the projections, I was ready to make some small immediate cuts.
Tonight, I looked up the mid-year adjustments posted yesterday and added a couple of columns at the end of the OSDE spreadsheet. The first shows how much three percent would cost districts based on the mid-year adjustment figures. The second shows the combined impact of mid-year adjustments and the revenue failure – if it actually results in three percent cuts in state aid. Overall, eight districts are set to lose more than a million dollars in funding right now.
|District||Mid-year Adjustment||Revenue Failure at Three Percent||MYA plus Revenue Failure|
|TULSA||$ (1,918,675)||$ (2,757,041)||$ (4,675,716)|
|OKLAHOMA CITY||$ (1,286,610)||$ (3,211,787)||$ (4,498,397)|
|MOORE||$ (584,397)||$ (1,857,802)||$ (2,442,199)|
|EDMOND||$ (1,347,901)||$ (949,502)||$ (2,297,403)|
|PRYOR||$ (1,948,714)||$ (47,832)||$ (1,996,546)|
|ARDMORE||$ (1,343,274)||$ (198,540)||$ (1,541,814)|
|MID-DEL||$ (111,425)||$ (1,233,121)||$ (1,344,546)|
|LAWTON||$ 537,886||$ (1,566,827)||$ (1,028,941)|
Of these eight districts, Lawton was actually set to get an increase mid-year. Now – again, this is if the SDE has no way to cushion the blow – they have to find a way to absorb more than a million in cuts during the next six months.
As the Oklahoma Policy Institute points out, not all agencies are hit with the same percentage of cuts exactly. The three percent applies only to legislatively-appropriated funds. As with many agencies, the OSDE gets some funds off-the-top before the Legislature begins the appropriations process.
This year, of total state appropriations of $7.138 billion, just over three-quarters – 76.4 percent – came from current year General Revenue. The remaining $24.6 percent, or $1.681 billion, came from other funds, including the HB 1017(Education Reform) Fund, Constitutional Reserve Fund, the Cash Flow Reserve Fund, the State Transportation Fund, agency revolving funds and numerous other sources. In some case, the funding sources for specific agencies are set out in statutes; in others, the Legislature simply decides each session on the mix of funding streams.
Another $46.8 million lost in state aid? Someone’s going to have to adjust that bar chart showing how we lead the nation in cuts to education since 2008.
Announcing that the bottom had fallen out this week, Doerflinger described the revenue failure as an opportunity. Here’s where that comes in.
Looking at other funds available to us, I could quickly come up with about $440,000 in savings for my district in direct costs. That would be about a third of the deficit we are facing for the current school year. The problem is that they are funds that we can’t move into our general fund.
- Professional Development (PD)
- Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA)
- Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE)
Right now, we have the perfect opportunity. We desperately need money. We know the ACE program doesn’t work. We know that RSA is a paperwork morass that does more harm than good to children. And while I appreciate good professional development as much as anyone, something tells me that right now, our teachers would love to have some of that taken off their plates. We just can’t afford nice things.
Call a special session for the first week in January. End ACE and RSA. Allow districts to move those balances to the general fund. It doesn’t plug the whole hole, but it’s something. And right now, I’ll take something.
Come on. Opportunity awaits.
Yesterday, I shot down memory lane through the first part of 2015, when everything was unicorns and rainbows, and we were going to save public education with one new elected official and a whole lot of blogging and phone calls.
It was, as my Boston friends say, wicked awesome. Well, January through June were. The blog post was self-indulgent, but then again, on some level, isn’t all blogging?
Anyhoo…on to the second half of the year…
July: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point
The quote above pretty much sums up the EdCamp experience at the OSDE summer conference. It was the largest EdCamp in the history of the universe, including the countries that Steve Harvey got wrong Saturday night.
It was the perfect lead-in to EngageOK, Superintendent Hofmeister’s re-branded summer conference. It was nice to spend a few days with teachers and administrators from other districts, OSDE staff, and many other people interested in driving education in Oklahoma forward. It was even nicer to do so without the constant insults we were used to enduring from the previous office-holder.
More than anything, this week showed all of us the power of collegiality. None of us have to be the one person with the brilliant idea. We work together. We build from each other’s thoughts. We improve each other’s ideas and become unstoppable.
Then at the end of the month, we started to see the incredible number of emergency certifications being granted by the state. In case you missed it, in July, the State Board of Education handed out 182 emergency teaching certificates. These are people who didn’t go through a teacher preparation program or qualify for alternative certification.
Keep in mind that the state offers nine pathways to certification before you have to look at emergency certification. This is truly a last ditch effort. At the same time, our job as leaders is to support these teachers as well as we can. We don’t care how you came to be a teacher. We just want to help you be good at it.
Unfortunately, this group is less likely than any of the others to stay beyond a full year. In fact, many don’t even make it through the first year. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we are now close to hitting 1,000 emergency certifications for the school year – and it’s only December.
One other notable thing happened in July, but it was personal. For the second time this year, I stepped way outside my comfort zone. First was when I revealed my identity on the blog in January. This time, I left a job I absolutely loved in Moore as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction to become superintendent for Mid-Del Public Schools. After five months, I feel I’ve traded one love for another. I’ve never worked this hard in my life, but I also feel closer to teachers and students than I have in years. It’s not one of the easiest gigs, but I feel as if I was made for it. I just hope that feeling remains mutual.
Besides, it’s fun.
August: “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Well, crap. I just re-read the post I wrote before sending my daughter out-of-state to college. In spite of the low traffic it received, a close friend told me it’s the best thing I ever wrote. I guess if we’re doing this right, we save our best for our kids.
She’s back from the first semester now, and more…what’s the word? Aware? Maybe that’s it. Her worldview is changing. She’s part who we raised her to be and part what her passions drive her to be. It’s a pretty good mix. Excuse me for a minute. I’m going to pause and listen to Vienna again.
“…take the phone off the hook…” Good one, Billy Joel! What is this, the 70s?
On the #oklaed front, this was the month our kids came back to school. As a state, we’re up 50,000 students since 2008. Funding hasn’t kept pace. Teacher salaries haven’t moved in that time. The mandates have kept coming.
Superintendent Hofmeister made a big splash this month, announcing that she would spend $1.5 million of the OSDE’s allocation to pay for all juniors to take the ACT. Naturally, she met opposition from the usual suspects.
Joy’s press release listed several great reasons why this is a good thing. It included support from Deb Gist and Rob Neu:
The superintendents of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts said this program is great news for their respective students.
“I applaud this effort by state Superintendent Hofmeister and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Offering the ACT for free to all juniors in Oklahoma will provide invaluable information on individual students and districts; this information is crucial as we retool our curriculum standards to meet the needs of all students,” said Rob Neu, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“It’s also a benefit to families who want their children to have a successful future after high school; families shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford to take the ACT, this pilot program will lift that financial burden and allow students to focus on this very important achievement test.”
“We are grateful to the state of Oklahoma for providing the ACT exam to our 11th graders through this pilot program,” said Superintendent Deborah A. Gist of Tulsa Public Schools. “Experiencing the ACT is an important opportunity for all students, and this pilot will increase equity, as it will be available to all high school juniors this school year. We welcome the opportunity to use a highly-regarded and widely-used measure of college and career readiness to provide all kids with access to a better future.”
For the record, the superintendent of the 10th largest district agrees.
September: “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” – Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
It’s funny. I’ve been blogging for close to four years, and it still seems that my guest posts are more popular than the things I write. I knew that UCO professor Dan Vincent had put something strong together when he sent me an email that started with, I’m a public school parent, and I’m pissed off. My first thought was, Stand in line, buddy. So I posted it on my blog, and within days, it was the most popular post ever on okeducationtruths – by nearly 10,000 page views.
Apparently, eight months into what was supposed to be our education perestroika, we still had a little angst. Dan wrote:
We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.
We also know that we’re fighting the same fights, day after day, month after month, year after year. Three months later, I still agree with Dan’s seven proposals to solve the teacher shortage problem:
- First and foremost, do your part tofix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
- Stop the High Stakes Testing(found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
- Seriouslyrework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
- Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a prettygood summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
- Publiclysupport teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
- Develop a workable plan toincrease teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
- EitherUNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.
These are all important steps towards solving the teacher shortage. And no matter what Speaker Hickman says, it’s a real thing.
October: “Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless.” – Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
October was pretty uneventful. Nothing really happened. Well, the OSDE released the fourth edition of the A-F Report Cards, but as I said before, nothing happened. Really, nothing. Apparently, I was busy. I didn’t even mention them on the blog. I did, however, along with a group of hundreds of other superintendents co-sign a letter calling the accountability measures useless.
More importantly, I loved Superintendent Hofmeister’s statement about the release:
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has indicated she has no confidence in the validity or reliability of the report cards in their current framework. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) determines the grades using a formula that had been mandated by a 2013 state law. The OSDE supports strong accountability for education, but problems with the A-F Report Cards have seriously undermined the system’s credibility. Even the U.S. Department of Education has criticized the report cards and required modifications as a condition for receiving the No Child Left Behind waiver.
We will probably have the A-F Report Cards, in their current format for one more year. Huge changes are on the horizion. That is, unless someone blocks huge changes, and what we get is merely window dressing.
November: “Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Halloween, we were all discussing pennies. Specifically, we were discussing OU President David Boren’s proposal for a statewide penny sales tax to fund education. I never came out and said I loved the idea, but I haven’t seen a better one.
Here’s the problem: education funding (through the formula) is down cumulatively about $900 million over the past eight years. Now, the state faces an overall shortfall for 2016 that is at least that big.
Oklahoma school districts face a cut to per-pupil funding, beginning in January, and lasting through the rest of this fiscal year. The 2016-17 school year budget will be even worse. These are two things we just know.
So why not discuss a penny sales tax? If you don’t like the idea, come up with a better one. Or don’t vote for it.
Of course, first, penny sales tax proponents have to clear the legal hurdle of what should be ruled a frivolous legal challenge to reach the ballot at all:
Then again, one of the OCPA’s side ventures has filed suit – against the reigning State Teacher of the Year, among others – claiming the Boren plan violates the Oklahoma Constitution. In short, they claim the initiative constitutes a “textbook example of logrolling.” By logrolling, the plaintiffs mean that the proposal violates the state’s single issue rule. The fact of the matter is that the proposal is for one thing – a penny sales tax, and what should be done with the proceeds of that penny. The plaintiffs know this. Then again, as I said, they have a long, long history of trying to block all things that would benefit public education.
The State Supreme Court heard the challenge in December. Hopefully, a ruling will come soon. Oklahomans should have the right to vote either for or against this.
December: “How did you go bankrupt?” … “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
It’s December. It’s the end of the year. We still have a budget crisis, and now, our leaders, elected an otherwise, have put their own spin on it.
Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger called the billion dollar shortfall an “opportunity.”
Those who crafted the state budget in May left out one key ingredient: reality. And it has come back to haunt us.
The biggest splash of the month, though, came from my former boss, and a few old friends in Moore.
They state simply and clearly the problems we really face. Teachers want what’s best for their students, but they also want what’s best for themselves and their families. They shouldn’t have to choose.
In Part III, I’ll look back at top posts from the year, and a few of my favorites that didn’t really get the clicks on WordPress. In Part IV, I’ll talk about 2016.
Barring something unusual happening in the next few days, I’m going to finish the year with a series of all-over-the-place posts. I’ll talk about the blogging awards, this blog’s five most popular posts from 2015, five posts that meant more to me than the popular ones, and where I think we’re headed in 2016.
I wrapped up 2014 with a song from my own iPod for each month of the year. Those of you reading back when I was still writing anonymously should’ve been able to narrow from those selections that I’m a 40-something suburbanite. This year, I’ve added plenty of new music to my collection, and I’ve used some of it on the blogs too. I’m not going to use music to thread this one together, though. I’ll stick with what I know best – words, from some of my favorite authors.
January: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
This was a pretty eventful month. Janet Barresi left office, hiring and firing people up until her last day. Joy Hofmeister was sworn in as state superintendent, and suddenly, #oklaed had everything we had ever wanted, right?
No, It’s not that easy. It never is. While I have no reason to believe that Hofmeister’s attempts at providing relief to students, parents, and educators from the mistakes of the previous four years have been blocked at the governor’s office, there have been several instances of the Legislature closing the door on meaningful change for no other reason than spite. Still, from day one, the culture at the Oklahoma State Department of Education has been different. It has been better. Joy has invited – and utilized – the input of actual practicing educators in her decision-making process.
As I wrote at the time:
I can’t promise you that next week all your public education dreams will come true. It won’t happen in a month or a year, either. It’ll take some time – and I assume that I won’t get everything I want out of the Hofmeister administration. Neither will you. Honestly, Joy Hofmeister probably won’t get everything she wants out of her time in office either. That’s not how this works.
And that has shown to be pretty accurate. The OSDE has experienced wins and losses. They’ve taken positions close to the ones that I would have taken. They’ve also done things that made me bite my tongue. Well, maybe not entirely. I’ve been pretty vocal about the policy differences I have with them. Unlike a year ago at this time however, I can talk to them, and they’ll listen. It’s refreshing.
One other big change in January was that I quit writing anonymously. Rob Miller had announced a few days earlier that I would reveal okeducationtruths’s identity after a Sunday night chat. Up until I hit the submit button, I was making edits. I was sweating bullets. I didn’t know if this would be a good thing for me or not. Until that point, the blog had been about ideas more than me as a person.
The anticipation leading up to the reveal was a blast too.
Up to that point, I think fewer than ten people knew who was writing this blog. There were probably others who knew but had the good taste to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Since January, I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about writing anonymously – mainly whether it was the right decision. With some of the stories I’ve heard from OSDE staff since then, I’m going to say that it was a good call.
February: “There is no limit to desire but desire’s needs.” – John Gardner, Grendel
Joy kept the early surge of momentum going with two actions geared towards supporting writing instruction. First, she killed the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing. Then she graciously recorded a message for students at Moore West Junior High in advance of a writing showcase they were having. Here’s what I thought then:
It doesn’t take a perceptive person to understand that I love writing. It’s why I majored in English in college. It’s why I became a teacher. Fundamentally, I believe that writing well opens doors for people. In desperate times, it can be the thing that feeds the soul.
As an administrator in Moore at the time, I can’t express enough how much this message meant to our students and our teachers.
Meanwhile, a fringe group of legislators was busy trying to convince us that Advanced Placement US History was a witch and that we should burn it. This became one of the most discussed topics on my blog, and then it went away. It’ll come back in February, though, so be ready, and know two things: (1) we can’t let this go anywhere; (2) it’s a convenient distraction from the burning house our Legislature has left us with financially.
Oh, and #oklaed fought against vouchers, yet again. The bill went nowhere in 2015, but it will be back in force come February. This time, the pushers behind it are in their last legislative session before they face term limits. They will pull out all the stops to get the bill passed.
This is why it’s worth taking the time to review 2015. Some of what we have seen will reappear.
March: “I don’t think you fully understand the public, my friend; in this country, when something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way.” – Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
March began with EdCamp OKC, which had been postponed from the last week in February because of snow.
This was my first EdCamp – and my first of three in 2015. I’m already signed up for two in the first three months of 2016. That’s how much I love these. There’s no agenda. Professional development forms organically. If a session doesn’t suit you, you’re free to walk on to another one. Social media helps drive the engine. Oh, and I can’t state this clearly enough:
THERE. ARE. NO. POWERPOINTS.
This was also the first time I had a chance to be in the same room with such #oklaed advocates as Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, Tyler Bridges, Kevin Hime, Jason James, and Joy Hofmeister at the same time, discussing our efforts at raising awareness towards a common goal: improving education. That’s why we get together and discuss strategy for communicating with parents and the public. That’s why we try to work with our legislators.
Speaking of which, March was the month when we most actively pursued replacing the meaningless End-of-Instruction exams with the ACT. To refresh your memory, right now, students have to pass four of seven EOIs (or their alternate exams) to graduate. Many students pass the first four by the end of their junior year. Many have alternate scores in place that keep them from having to take the tests at all. No colleges look at the scores. In other words, they’re a colossal waste of time. Meanwhile, most Oklahoma high school graduates have taken the ACT at some point.
This will come up again in 2016, this time with the blessing of the feds. It makes too much sense to do this. Let’s not let the moment pass again.
April: “I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face.” – Langston Hughes, The Early Simple Stories
In April, Joy showed us what the phrase sense of urgency really meant. When online tests started showing students their score levels on the first day of testing, she had her staff working with the testing company around the clock to find a solution. Maybe this wasn’t the biggest problem in the world, but since we knew she had said she didn’t want students defined by a test score, the fact that she acted so quickly was a huge illustration of her character.
We also celebrated a time 25 years ago when urgency was nigh (or maybe it was Bellmon). April marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of HB 1017, which overhauled our state’s education system, providing us with standards, accountability, and funding. Unlike the reform onslaught of 2011, these measures were student-centered and came with cash to support them.
May: “We’d all do well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle
The Oklahoma legislative session ends each may, usually with much rejoicing.
This year, the big news was that in spite of facing a $600 million shortfall, the state managed to cobble together a budget that held education funding flat. Using that precedent, and knowing that we face a shortfall twice this size, we should expect what? An increase maybe?
In truth, the budget was an illusion. The revenue projections included in it were never realistic. I suspect that many of those who presented the budget to the full Legislature for approval knew that.
In any case, last week, Superintendent Hofmeister asked for an increase in funding, just as she should have:
Despite a dramatic revenue shortfall projected for the upcoming fiscal year, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said it was her duty to advocate for Oklahoma students and teachers by asking for $60 million to fund a teacher pay increase in fiscal year 2017.
“It is my job to advocate for the needs of the school children of Oklahoma and what they need more than anything is a teacher in every classroom,” she said Tuesday following her agency’s budget hearing in the Senate. “That means solving the teacher shortage and there is no other way to solve that but to include in that a regionally competitive compensation plan. I’ve asked for that plan to begin.”
The teacher shortage is worsening. This modest increase would help, but it’s just one of many steps our leaders need to take.
June: “It’s easier to bleed than sweat.” – Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
For administrators, June is the month in which we are furiously planning for the year ahead, completing myriad statistical reports for various agencies, and reviewing spreadsheets of student testing data for any kind of coding errors. We don’t have to keep an eye towards Oklahoma City for policy changes or budget discussions. We are closing out one school year while preparing to begin another.
In 2015, June began with the announcement that the writing test would not count towards the A-F Report Cards for the second year in a row. Math and English/Language Arts standards writing committees were in full force. And some of us were contemplating career moves. Just your standard summer slide, right? This lull in visible activity made room for those who will oppose just about anything anyone does to concoct some of the most hysterical conspiracy theories ever.
And that’s where I’ll leave off for the first half of the year.
In April, when I blogged about a lesson I taught using my favorite song, Free Fallin’, I had no idea I was describing what was to happen to the state budget. We should have seen it coming; tax cuts galore; a state budget cobbled together in secrecy and approved by legislators who had about 24 hours to view it; funds and estimates that were never anything better than an illusion. Yeah, this was our fate the whole time.
By definition, any object in motion, only affected by the force of gravity, is in a free fall. I think we’re just about there. And it’s a self-inflicted nightmare.
Tonight, I want to thank Keaton Fox with Fox 25 in Oklahoma City for covering a press conference of state leaders. Since there’s nothing on either House Speaker Jeff Hickman’s page or Senator Clark Jolley’s page on the Legislature website, I’ll use Fox’s news story as a de facto transcript of their statements. As necessary, I’ll also pull from William Savage’s coverage on NonDoc, as he hits a few different points from the press conference.
Here are the basic facts:
- Oklahoma faces at least a $157 million shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year (July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016).
- Official estimates by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) place the shortfall for the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017) at $900.8 million.
- Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger expects those numbers to get worse.
This is grim news, unless you choose to spin it differently:
“The fact that we find ourselves in this position is providing us with a tremendous opportunity,” Doerflinger pitched to a crowd of reporters. “I’ve been talking for years about the structural problems the state faces. Now, we find ourselves in a very challenging situation. Panicking about the situation is not productive. We need to use this as an opportunity to do the things we otherwise might not have the will to do.” [NonDoc]
It’s a tremendous opportunity?
That’s one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life.
“We need to cut at least $157 million dollars across the board,” said finance secretary Preston Doerflinger. “We’ll probably cut a little more than $157 million to give an extra cushion and somewhat soften next year’s reductions.”
For the next fiscal year, estimates are projected at $900 million, but that will likely worsen Doerflinger said.
“Frankly, I see the situation worsening by the time [the legislature] is back in February,” he said. “I think the hole could get bigger this year and next year.”
Doerflinger says though the situation is bad, it’s not as bad as 2009, when cuts to agencies were close to 7%. This year, agencies are looking at another 2-4%, though he cautioned the problem was fluid and could worsen.
“Make no mistake, the vast majority of the challenge we face ahead of us started at the OPEC building in Saudi Arabia, not at this building,” Doerflinger said. [OKCFOX]
To paraphrase Shakespeare, I think the Secretary doth protest too much. OPEC has artificially deflated the price of oil. Every time I pass OnCue and see the price of gas lower than my weight, I flinch. It’s not all OPEC, though. Doerflinger and State Treasurer Ken Miller said as much:
While Doerflinger and other state leaders blame oil and gas, they also point to budget fixes in previous years, including last year, where one-time funds were used to shore up cuts. Doerflinger, along with state treasurer Ken Miller, both say that these methods don’t work, and say they’ve warned state leaders against them.
“Outside of government, it is well accepted that nonrecurring revenues should not be used for ongoing expenditures and that recurring revenue streams should not be cut when current costs exceed them,” Miller wrote in his monthly commentary. “Yet under the capitol dome, that has become standard operating procedure and changes shouldn’t be expected next session given the expected severity of the shortfall.” [OKCFOX]
My favorite phrase here is outside of government. School districts, which are government entities, get this. We project budgets out for several years. In a year that appears to leave a healthy carryover in the budget, we know sometimes that we are seeing an illusion. We don’t increase recurring costs based on a one year surge. It has to look sustainable.
Here’s what really ticked me off tonight, though:
[School districts] have more money to spend than they ever have,” Hickman said, when asked about school funding.
“When you look at all sources of their funding… it’s over $8 billion, if you take out retirement, it’s just under $8 billion,” [Speaker Jeff] Hickman said.
Hickman acknowledged the state’s teacher shortage, saying every state is suffering with the problem except Pennsylvania, along with teacher pay problems, but tempered it with total spending concerns.
“Our concern is if we’re spending more money than we ever have, why is that not getting into teacher salaries?” Hickman said. “In large part, those dollars haven’t gotten to where they needed to go.”
Hickman says the big problem is health insurance costs that eat up step raises and increased to teacher pay. Hickman says the state pays $420 million in health costs for education employees alone, with an additional $30 million expected the coming year.
He says if the health costs hadn’t gone up, you could give each teacher a $10,000 pay raise.
None of that is true. None of it. The cost of health insurance for teachers has increased by about $1,600 per year in that time – not $10,000. They’re also not spending more money on education than ever before.
Let’s look at the numbers again. Oklahoma has cut funding by nearly 25% since 2008. Next highest is Alabama, and it’s not even close. Speaker Hickman can try to explain his way out of this, but nobody who truly supports public education should buy it. It’s complete garbage.
Here’s another way of looking at it. During the 1999-2000 school year, over 57 percent of school district funding came from the state. During the 2013-14 school year (most recent year with data), that was down to 48 percent. The state has abdicated its responsibility, and in a huge way.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Districts get state aid based on a formula that involves weighted average daily membership (WADM). Every student enrolled counts for at least 1.0 weights. Some categories of students get extra weights (such as gifted, special education, economically disadvantaged). Below is the state aid for WADM for the last several years (all that are available online). Where exactly is the increase?
*Based on November calculations – the final amount will be considerably lower.
We are spending less per pupil. When you calculate the increase in the cost of living over time, the cuts are worse.
Now, imagine another billion dollars on top of that.
Senator Clark Jolley only echoes Hickman’s claims:
“On average, no question, every school district in Oklahoma has more money than it’s ever had,” Jolley said. “Their argument is that they also have more students than they’ve ever had. Ironically, the chart that shows that Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to spending does not include… a lot of dollars that are directly flowing to education. And that report is flawed and is not comparing apples to apples.”
Statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics, however, that compares all school districts equally, shows Oklahoma’s per-pupil spending is ranked 48th in the nation.
Jolley said at a national conference with other budget leaders, many others had the perception that they were 48th in the nation, suggesting that many states are low in spending, depending on the formula. [OKCFOX]
Jolley blames the methodology. He doesn’t think the policies he’s pushed during the last 10 years have anything to do with it. The idea that districts have more money than ever before is simply wrong. It’s a lie. I can’t even figure out what makes people like Hickman and Jolley think it’s ok to repeat. Sure, blame the districts. We funded raises; those mean districts and Obamacare kept them from you.
We still get less money than we did eight years ago. We have 50,000 more students. Don’t ever forget that.
“As we get more of our supply on the market, then the price should go back up,” Hickman said, pointing to a 70 percent drop in oil prices in the past year. The price even dropped Thursday, finishing at $34.95 for a barrel of crude.
Jolley noted a different sort of oil-price paradox during the press conference.
“We’re one war in the Middle East away from high gas prices and high oil prices,” he said.[NONDOC]
So, there’s that. Jolley has a solution. More war.
Keep in mind Jolley and Hickman are both term-limited. Who knows what office they’ll run for next?
Friends, we need to remember all of this. According to the people running our Legislature, it’s the fault of the districts that teachers can’t have raises. According to them, the tax cuts are still working.
We know better. We know that when the 2016-17 school year opens, there will be more students and fewer teachers in our schools. We know that districts will have made all kinds of distasteful cuts. We know all of this, and our Legislature does too. Some of them just like to pretend differently.
We’re in a free fall, approaching terminal velocity. It’s time to make it stop.
This press release from 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Joe Dorman, pretty much sums up how I feel about the deep budget abyss and the reasons it exists:
[Oklahoma City, OK, December 16, 2015] Joe Dorman, 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor, former State Representative of House District 65, and current Chair of Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District Democrats released the following statement today in response to news of Oklahoma’s revenue failure:
“The news received regarding the massive budget shortfall was tragic. The governor and legislature have gone so crazy with tax giveaways that they are jeopardizing Oklahoma’s future just to cater to a few huge corporate special interest campaign supporters.“The required cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, along with the estimated $900.8 million fewer dollars the state will have to appropriate next year should be no surprise to anyone. This follows the $611 million reduction last year and the $188 million shortfall from the prior year. This crisis ties in with the implemented tax cuts which reduced collections even further.“We should not forget there is another income tax cut on the books which will set essential services back even more once signs of improvement are seen. Action needs to be taken this session to restore the fiscal responsibility we have not seen in recent years from our elected officials.“Our state desperately needs new, strong, smart leadership and needs it soon. Oklahomans will have the chance to correct that course in 2016 and 2018.”