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2015 Edu-blogger awards

December 8, 2015 Comments off

This is trite, but let me say it’s an honor to be nominated – in two categories. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the finalists for the 2015 Edublogger awards have been named. And yes, this is a real thing.

Overall, Oklahoma blogs have been named as finalists in several categories. In addition to my nominations, here are some others for whom you could vote:

I made several nominations myself, and I see that some of the blogs (or posts) I submitted didn’t make it through to the finals. What’s even cooler is that there are blogs on here I have never read before. You know what that means….

New words!

One thing I have loved about blogging since I started in 2012 is that I find myself getting connected with other writers from within Oklahoma and from around the country.

For example, in the category of “Most Influential Blog Post,” I nominated an Oklahoma friend (#totalhomer), who wasn’t named a finalist. However, my current favorite national writer (Peter Greene, author of Curmudgication) was named a finalist for his post, Stop Defending Music. I use this post in my graduate Curriculum and Instruction class each semester.

One thing to remember as you look at the Oklahoma entrants (and maybe peruse a few other blogs to expand your knowledge base) is that every blog began somewhere. Even Diane Ravitch was a new blogger once. In 2012 (the same year I started), she came in fifth in the category of new blogs, garnering a whopping 111 votes.Ravitch in Fifth

Currently, her blog has over 24,000,000 page views. For comparison’s sake, I’m approaching 600,000 all-time views.

My point in writing about this is not to encourage you to go vote for me. It’s actually to encourage you to begin writing. Start your own blog. Whether you want to advocate for the profession, showcase your classroom, or discuss innovation, just get started. You don’t have to post every day. You don’t have to keep a consistent schedule even.

This is the Internet. We’ll be here, whenever you decide to return. And so will your words.

Go Vote!

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The Other Shortage

December 6, 2015 1 comment

Other than fringe think tanks and editorialists who selectively interpret facts, Oklahomans universally understand that we have a teacher shortage. School districts have contracted  positions and increased class sizes. The State Board of Education has granted nearly 1,000 emergency certifications. Principals all over the state can tell stories of having just one applicant for key teaching positions. At times, the folder is completely empty. That’s to be expected when the starting salary for a position that we all claim to value is mired in the low 30s.

We have another shortage in Oklahoma, though. There’s another job that people who may not know better see as part-time work and with a salary mired in the 30s. Not enough people are signing up to run for the Legislature.

During the 2014 election cycle, all 101 House seats and 25 of 48 Senate seats were up for grabs. On the House side, 50 of those seats were decided without a single vote being cast. Another 15 seats were decided in the primary. That means that only 36 races made it to November.

In the Senate, eight seats were unopposed, and four were decided in the primary. That means that 13  races made it to November.

So out of 126 seats that were up for election in 2014, only 49 were contested in November. We don’t just have a teacher shortage.

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

One thing the state was supposed to get by imposing 12-year term limits in the Legislature was frequent turnover. While this goal has been achieved in part, the fact remains that for most legislators, the toughest race is the first one. After that, there’s a better chance than not that after filing and perhaps a cursory primary race, that an incumbent won’t have to do anything between summer and fall.

The point of me saying this is not to bash those who run and serve in the Legislature. Nor is it to argue that our elected leaders are scant of money and respect, the way our teachers are. No, my point is that this job must not appeal to that many people either.

I think I understand why few people run. I never want to put my own name on a ballot. I have known candidates I respect who are consistent 80 percent of the time, and then they speak to certain groups, and their message changes. Maybe they don’t flip-flop on positions, but they soften or harden their stance, based on the size, tenacity, and influence of the group.

Candidates have to fund raise, which involves a lot of plastic chicken dinners (followed by Taco Bueno on the way home). It also involves a lot of conversations with people who have a singular agenda (such as those of us right now solely focused on the teacher shortage).

Candidates have their words twisted and their skeletons explored. There is plenty of opportunity for both to be taken out of context and provide for embarrassing (and often unnecessary) apologies.

More than these things, though, running for the Legislature is economically unfeasible for many who would probably serve their districts and the state well. I know a number of teachers and principals who would be good legislators. They’d have to give up their careers, though. That’s true for many who would consider running.

The primary duties of our representatives and senators fall between February and May. However, as with most teachers, most legislators work year-round to study issues they may want to bring into legislation at a later date. They spend time with constituent groups, including those of us concerned with education.

That leaves a small group of people who can really run for the legislature. First is people who don’t currently have careers. They could be straight out of college, retired, or perhaps just individuals who never entered the workforce in a full-time capacity. Second is people who are independently wealthy. Third would be business owners who are comfortable stepping away from day-to-day operations of their enterprise for weeks at a time.

We also need to remember that most who come from these three groups (or anyone else not captured by that description) don’t inherently have a teacher’s perspective on public policy. As Claudia Swisher pointed out last night, they may have a relative who used to be a teacher or something similar, but that’s not the same thing. Nothing replaces having those years with students.

What we need to remember is that most who serve in the Legislature do so with a significant measure of sacrifice. They’re not getting rich while serving, at least not from what the state pays them. If you have to give up your career to serve, and you’re currently making more than $38,000 a year, you’re probably not very motivated to run.

On our end, as voters, as educators and parents, we need to be beating the bushes to find candidates who get it. Some of my favorite legislators ran unopposed in 2014. Call it my reckless love for the democratic process, but I want those representatives and senators to draw opponents too. We need to find people who really support public education. Remember, they all say they do, but their votes count. So do their other actions. Some good ideas die in committee before any votes are cast.

It’s one thing to say you support testing reform, but if you have the power to kill a bill that would eliminate the travesty that is the state writing test before the House can vote on it, I don’t believe you.

It’s one thing to say you want teachers to have raises, but if you refuse to discuss either rolling back corporate tax credits or the proposal for a one-cent sales tax, I don’t believe you.

It’s one thing to show up at public schools for photo opportunities, but if you’re leading the charge to funnel public school dollars to private schools*, and you don’t want the recipients to have any of the accountability the rest of us do, you’re no friend of public education.

With Congress taking requirements of a quantitative teacher evaluation tool out of the renewal of the ESEA (now ESSA), if you refuse to budge on that half of TLE, you can’t say you’ve been listening to us either.

My point is that if we have more candidates – if more races are contested all the way to the end – then the candidates will have to listen to us. It’s not enough to have the right vote on one or two key issues. Every legislator is either helping to curb the teacher shortage or making it worse – whether actively or passively.

Our elected leaders deserve our thanks and respect for choosing to serve us. We deserve their attention and understanding. Don’t settle for less.


*Update – The previous version of this post stated that certain legislators want to funnel public school dollars to private schools and homeschool families. The current version of HB 609, which was held over from the 2015 Legislative session, does not include ESAs for homeschooling. This is an important distinction. While that doesn’t mean the bill won’t be amended, it is my understanding that many in the homeschool lobby would prefer to be left out of the bill altogether.

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Breaking the Silence

December 3, 2015 2 comments

You have to watch this video. It’s only 12 minutes long. It’s a group of Moore Public Schools teachers talking about the struggles of students and of teachers. It finishes with each discussing why they stay.

If you receive my blog by email, click on the link and open the video. It’s that good.

As you probably know, before coming to Mid-Del in August, I spent seven years working with these people. They’re my friends. The teacher who opens the video, Ray Robinson, was my roommate during a conference in the DC area in 2013. He’s an interesting guy with a hell of a backstory. He loves his school. He practically lives up there during the summer, off the clock, for free.

That’s what teachers do.

What breaks my heart is the student teacher who loves the district but has done the math, and has decided to leave the state. That’s a real story too.

Teachers working second jobs. Real.

Teachers leaving the profession in tears because they want to support their families better. Real.

Teachers staying, even though they qualify for government assistance. Real. Trust me. I’ve been there too. Unlike this teacher, we took the help. That’s when I decided to leave the classroom.

The people in this video all work in Moore. They could just as easily work in Mid-Del, Mustang, Medford, or Muskogee, where I’ve also worked. They could even work in districts that don’t start with an M. These are the stories of teachers in Idabel and Woodward; Sand Springs and Duncan; Tulsa and Oklahoma City. These are rural, suburban, and urban school teachers. Moore just happens to be the one telling the story right now.

Speaking of my friends from Moore, Dr. Jason Perez today published an article on Hot Chalk talking about the importance of teachers advocating for the profession; their students; themselves. For those of you who aren’t aware, Jason was a principal for many years before becoming the Executive Director for TLE at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

I’m proud of my friends in Moore.

Thank you for sharing your struggle.

Thank you for using your words.

Use your words

As for the rest of us, we need to make sure our legislators see this video. We need to make sure the governor sees it. As Dr. Romines says at the end, we really don’t care if it’s the one-cent sales tax or something else, fund education. Now. Quit making excuses.

Money and respect. That’s all it will take to fix education. Maybe it sounds trite, but our children deserve better. So do the people who spend every day with them.

Break the silence. Speak up. Tell your story. And share until you can’t share anymore.

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