Home > Uncategorized > 2015 Year in Review (Part II)

2015 Year in Review (Part II)

December 22, 2015

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a prettygood summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
  5. Publiclysupport teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Meanwhile, we’re still fighting the voucher battle. And Congress and the President have finally replaced NCLB with ESSA, which actually is an opportunity – if our Legislature will seize upon that.

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.

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  1. December 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm
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