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Five years to a modicum of renown

April 24, 2017 1 comment

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today marks five years that I’ve been writing this blog. To commemorate the accomplishment my endurance, I thought I’d make a list of the top five things that have improved for Oklahoma schools during this time.

5 gif

Then I decided not to; I’m not sure I could list five.

Funding has fallen to the point that school districts are decreasing the number of days of attendance. We still have A-F Report Cards, though we hope they will be kinder and gentler (and less tied to poverty) when we have new tests. We still have our annual fight with voucher supporters who call us names and block us from public venues. And we still have legislators thick-skinned enough to run for election but so thin-skinned* that they can’t bear to hear of our frustration. Worse yet, we’ve continued to send many of them back to the Capitol so they can try to replace real science with a Folger’s substitute.

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What has changed is that more people are sharing their experiences directly with policy makers. Teachers, parents, and students all have given their voices to the cause. What has this budget cut meant? How has that policy change impacted school climate?

Thanks to all of us, the people we elect have better understanding of the struggle than ever before. The result is that our state leaders now tweet pictures doing what educators have been doing for decades – catching up on work on a Sunday evening.

I don’t doubt that their work is hard. After five years, though, I’m too tired to hope for a better plan outcome right now. So instead of the post I had intended to write, here are some stats on my blog that probably interest only me.

796,846 total page views
10,970 views in one day
2,658 comments

Total stats

That’s an average of about 13,000 page views per month. As the bar chart above shows, some months have much higher traffic than others. Here’s a better illustration.

month by month stats.png

In June of 2014, the blog had over 68,000 page views. Something about a dentist and a primary election may have helped there. Hard to say.

I also enjoy responding to the comments I receive – the ones I allow to post anyway. Believe it or not, I have deleted a few nasty attacks from time to time. Let’s face it – not all of the people who follow and read this blog are fans, of me or of public education.

5897 Twitter followers
4265 Facebook likes
606 email recipients
115 WordPress followers

Twitter Blog Count
FB Blog Count

Followers

In spite of the modicum of renown my friends at the OCPA say I’ve earned as a blogger, I can’t tell you that what I write moves the needle. I don’t wake up and see how much better it is. I’ve made great friends in advocacy. I frequently discuss ideas with other writers, many of whom have better blogs and more readers.

I’ve learned some pleasant (and unpleasant) things about myself. I’ve even advanced in my career during this time. Because of that, I’m more focused day-to-day on what I can do for the students in Mid-Del than for the students in Oklahoma. I have to be.

And I still need a constructive hobby that isn’t directly tied to my career.records in the rectangle.gif

I don’t know where we go from here. Maybe our leaders really will find a way to help schools. Never say never, right?

For those of you who stop by and read, I can’t thank you enough. For those of you who fight the fight, I hope you’ll keep going. The job is never done.


*Not you. Definitely not you. I’m obviously referring to somebody else.

Last Dance for #oklaed?

April 20, 2017 1 comment

While we wait to see what will happen with state revenue and funding levels for public education, I’m going to take a little family break tonight and see my all-time favorite band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who begin their 40th anniversary tour tonight in Oklahoma City. In their honor, I thought it would be good to use a few classic songs to speculate on where we’ll end up in the next five weeks.

Breakdown (1976) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

It’s alright if you love me
It’s alright if you don’t
I ain’t afraid of you running away, honey
I get the feeling you won’t
There is no sense in pretending
Your eyes give you away
Something inside you is feeling like I do
We said all there is to say

Many of our teachers feel that this is the message Oklahoma has been sending them for years. Rather than continuing to pretend, they’re running away. It’s tragic.

You Wreck Me (1994) Wildflowers

Tonight we ride, right or wrong
Tonight we sail, on a radio song
Rescue me, should I go down
If I stay too long in trouble town
Oh, yeah, you wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes you do

I hope they open the show with this one, not that I’d be disappointed with any other choice I imagine. It’s a song about relationships that you just can’t break, even when they’re unhealthy. People  who re-elect the same politicians who created Oklahoma’s massive budget deficit in the first place would be a good example of this.

Free Fallin’ (1989) Full Moon Fever

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

Sometimes when I listen to politicians, I feel like this must be their impression of teachers. Look at that list of things the good girl loves. I don’t know how he left off sweet tea.

When a US Senator tells a teacher not to worry about her pay because she’ll get her reward in heaven, I know I’m right to feel that way. I know that teachers should be demure an compliant and not worry about raising their kids on WIC and Sooner Care. Those will soon be gone anyway, right?

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981 – with Stevie Nicks) Bella Donna

Baby you could never look me in the eye
Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words
Stop draggin’ my,
Stop draggin’ my,
Stop draggin’ my heart around

Oh, they’ll look us in the eye and say whatever we want to hear. Still, they’re dragging us around.

Don’t Do Me Like That (1979) Damn the Torpedoes

Someone’s gonna tell you lies
Cut you down to size
Don’t do me like that
Don’t do me like that

The check is in the mail. My dog ate it. We were able to provide flat funding for education…

I Need to Know (1978) You’re Gonna Get It!

I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)
If you think you’re gonna leave
Then you better say so
I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)
Because I don’t know how long
I can hold on
And if your makin’ me wait
If you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know (i need to know)
I need to know (i need to know)

These lyrics capture how every superintendent and principal in the state feel about their teachers right now. Those in districts close to other states especially feel it. We also need to know what funding looks like. We’re trying to keep the people we want to keep so other districts don’t grab them while leaving enough slack in the budget for a wide range of scenarios. Actually, that’s better for the next song…

The Waiting (1981) Hard Promises

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

We get another signal from the Legislature. We lose another teacher or principal. We think we might be able to bring back some of the things we cut last year. We can’t be certain. In a little more than a month, the government we’ve chosen will tell us where we stand.

So much can change in that month.

Funk #49 (1970) James Gang Rides Again

Jumpin’ up, fallin’ down
Don’t misunderstand me
You don’t think that I know your plan
What you try’n’-a hand me?

Since Joe Walsh is the opening act tonight, I thought I’d throw in one of his best songs. Plus it gives me a chance to remind teachers to take heart in that better plan that opponents of SQ 779 had in their pocket all along. Right? Right?

Walk Away (1971) Thirds

Ok, I couldn’t limit myself to one song by James Gang.

Takin’ my time, choosin’ my lines
Tryin’ to decide what to do
Looks like my stop, don’t wanna get off
Got myself hung up on you
Seems to me you don’t wanna talk about it
Seems to me you just turn your pretty head and walk away

In spite of the fact that I believe the Capitol has more people wanting to help public schools than hurt them, I struggle to get past the few who repeat nonsense. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve heard one legislator say that school districts have enough carryover to fund raises right now. Others believe that there is no teacher shortage. In short, we have people pretending to serve the public with no interest in facts. I try to hope. I really do.

Won’t Back Down (1989) Full Moon Fever

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey I will stand my ground
(I won’t back down)

Tom Petty describes this as his most personal song. Almost 20 years after Full Moon Fever, Johnny Cash recorded it and made it even more haunting.

With this song, I want to remind our Legislature that they can’t take the easy way out. I’ve heard several say that budget plans include some “51” and some “75” ideas. The first are revenue sources that they can authorize with a simple majority in each chamber. In total, these will just nibble around the edges of the state’s fundamental problems. The second group, which would be legitimate tax increases, will be harder to pass.

I hope the leaders supporting ideas from both columns stand their ground.

Heading for the Light (1988) Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Been close to the edge, hanging by my fingernails
I’ve rolled and I’ve tumbled through the roses and the thorns
And I couldn’t see the sign that warned me
I’m heading for the light

In 1988, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison formed a supergroup and recorded an amazing album. This song has a distinct George Harrison sound, but I’m including it anyway. Besides, most of the Wilburys performed on Full Moon Fever.

The Last DJ (2002) 

Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much,
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change
There goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey?
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
There goes the last DJ

I think of this song every time I read a post on Blue Cereal Education or Curmudgication. Or every time someone reminds me to be nice to the people who may or may not help public education. Or every time think tank people call me a bully. 

The people you can silence probably aren’t worth hearing anyway.

Something Good Coming (2010) Mojo

I know so well the look on your face
And there’s somethin’ lucky about this place
There’s somethin’ good comin’
Just over the hill
Somethin’ good comin’
I know it will

At this point, I guess we just have to believe or not believe. Something good will come, or it won’t. Maybe we’ll get there this time. Maybe things will improve. Maybe.

For me, tonight, I’m going to live something I say to people: Find what feeds your soul and pursue it fiercely.

tp 40.png

Oh no, not again!

April 12, 2017 2 comments

Here we go again. Today, just as has happened the last few months, school superintendents received our latest notice that our state aid checks would be short.

Based on available funds, the State Aid formula payment for the month of April will be paid at the accumulative amount of 79 percent instead of the scheduled 81 percent of the current adjusted allocation. Revenue collections for the April State Aid payment are approximately $36.3 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled 81 percent payment. The accumulative percentage of 79 percent includes the total amount short for this fiscal year updated for cash received through April.  The cash flow shortage of $36.3 million for the April payment supersedes the $18.9 million for the March payment.

The April payment, available to districts on Thursday, April 13, is based on funds collected as of April 11, 2017.  To calculate your payment, use the most current adjusted allocation times accumulated percentage minus paid to date to equal the amount of payment.  The amount of funds collected as of April 11, 2017, is presented below.

  • Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017) Adjusted for Revenue Shortfall has collected 72.13 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $657,802,801
  • Common Education Technology Fund has collected 77.35 percent of the Appropriated $41,168,478
  • FY17 Mineral Leasing Fund has collected 52.57 percent of the Appropriated $3,610,000
  • General Revenue Adjusted Revenue Failure has collected 82.05 percent of the Adjusted Appropriated $1,027,324,288.95
  • FY17 OK Lottery Fund has collected 85.08 percent of the Appropriated $23,397,757

Your Notice of Payment report can be found under Payment Notices in Single Sign On at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.  For your convenience, a report showing the 81 percent compared to the 79 percent is located under Important Notices on the State Aid Web page at http://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid.

We will be closely monitoring each month’s cash and make adjustments as needed.  If you have questions, please contact State Aid.

We’ve become accustomed to mid-year cuts. It’s a sad but true fact. They still hurt. Every month is a new stomach punch.

In Mid-Del alone, our share of the shortfall is $813,200. That’s about 18 teaching positions. In other words, when we presented our board a budget last summer based on the funding promised by the state, we were at least $813,200 long on the revenue side. With two more months to go in the fiscal year, it’ll easily pass a million.

Last summer, we projected that we would end the year with a stable fund balance (carry over), and we’ve worked throughout the year to save money where we can. Maybe the $5 million we cut from the budget last year wasn’t enough. Apparently we should have done more.

Maybe our class sizes aren’t big enough yet. Maybe we should cut some bus routes. Maybe there are too many sports. Maybe the four-day week should get a closer look by those of us who aren’t there yet.

If we keep enduring cuts, there are no good choices. We either make Terrible Decision A, or we make Terrible Decision B. No amount of shaming by legislators or state officials will change that.

I get it. Oklahoma is broke. We’re broker than broke. Every state agency is enduring cuts. I’m glad to see more of them speaking out about what those losses mean too. And I know many great lawmakers ready and willing to help us, if the right coalition comes together. No Republican can afford, politically, to carry the flag for tax increases alone. That’s just reality.

Unfortunately, we have a variety of legislators representing Oklahomans at the Capitol. Some, conveniently, choose not to believe in things like the teacher shortage, budget collapses, or even science. I can’t tell you that all the legislators wanting to help public education will be enough. It’s going to take pressure on those who really don’t value what we do.

We need to explain to some, still, why having a budget carryover is not a way to fund teacher raises. We need to share our stories about class sizes we’ve increased and programs we’ve cut. We need to do it boldly. This isn’t the time to mince words.

Do we accept this as the new normal, Craig? Not only no, but hell no. Our kids and teachers deserve better than to have a bunch of passive leaders who roll over at this. The companies that allegedly won’t come to Oklahoma because of all the four day weeks are probably smart enough to be scared off by the state’s scant per pupil funding as well.

We are in a man-made fiscal crisis. If we didn’t vote, or if we voted for the people who continue to cut off revenue streams for basic state services, we are to blame.

Oh, and one other thing, in case you’ve missed it. While we weren’t watching, the state has spent the entire Rainy Day Fund.

In fact, officials admitted earlier this month that the state’s constitutional reserve — known as the Rainy Day Fund — has been emptied in order to pay bills and meet payroll.

Doerflinger repeated earlier assurances that enough revenue will come in during the final three months of the fiscal year to replace the borrowed money, but said the situation still calls for new revenue sources.

“The fact we have had to borrow from these funds shows just how serious the state’s revenue problem is,” he said.

Doerflinger would not rule out the possibility of a second round of spending cuts before the end of the budget year on June 30.

March receipts totaled $352.1 million, or 9 percent below the official estimate and 10.7 percent below actual collections for the same month a year ago.

Year-to-date, general revenue collections are 2.8 percent below the estimate and 6.2 percent, or $231.3 million, below the prior year.

 

bull durham self-awareness

Whether depleting the Rainy Day Fund without legislative approval is legal or not really isn’t for me to decide. I’m not a lawyer, but I know when something sounds sketchy.

What this means is that our state budget hole is closer to $1.3 billion. That framework for teacher raises is meaningless unless the state fills that hole. All the rhetoric in the world means nothing if our elected officials can’t agree on where to find new revenue.

As the image below shows, our legislators and governor passed a budget last May that hasn’t been met by reality. That’s three in a row. It’s trend behavior.

revenue shortfall

Conveniently, no cuts from the budget happened until after the November elections. Go figure.

We’ve cut the fat. We’re cutting limbs. There isn’t much left.

 

Happy Humpday (and enjoy today’s testing errata)!

April 5, 2017 Comments off

It’s April, so let’s all stop what we’re doing and test some kids! That’s why we’re here five days a week, right? Well, five-ish.

I know I should be less flippant about standardize testing, but if I were, how would you recognize me? As a state, we spend millions on tests that give us very little in the way of useful information months after the fact. At least the process is a well-oiled machine, right?

You’d think that. Unfortunately, Measured Progress, our testing company has twice this week had to email us and say my bad! On Monday, it was fifth grade math.

grade-5-math-errata-notice_original.jpg

Certainly our students wouldn’t be confused at having different answer choices in their testing books as they do on their answer sheets, right? F and A are quite closely linked (in a single summative kind of way).

It’s a typo. These things happen. At least they don’t cause us to invalidate tests though.

Today’s problem was a different story.

errata6-10_original (1).jpg

Because of the length of some tests, we give them in two separate sessions. So we should have different directions for each session. The lack of clarity caused some confusion and created test invalidation in some schools. I don’t know how many schools were affected. I was just told some. One was in Mid-Del, and the students affected will have to start the test over.

mistakes were made.jpg

It’s fine, though. Measured Progress is going to make it up to the kids with pizza.

And no, I’m not making that up.

While I make light of testing, I can tell you that our teachers and principals take the process very seriously. They’re rule followers. They don’t want to mess up and jeopardize their careers. They don’t want to frustrate their students. That’s why I try to test monitor in our schools when I can.

Mistakes are inevitable. They’re still frustrating.

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