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Why Trauma-Informed?

September 9, 2018 2 comments

In 2008, after my grandmother passed away, I was putting the contents of her dresser into a plastic bucket so that the movers could pack and move everything out of her room at her retirement community. I didn’t have much time, but I stopped and looked at many of the things she had kept. Old pictures of my mom and her brother. A birth certificate from one of her siblings who died in childhood. Veterans benefits notices. Booklets of Green Stamps.

And for some reason, my first grade report card.

At the end of the school year, my teacher commented that I had become angry and disagreeable during the fourth quarter. That makes sense to me. That’s about when my parents split up.

Please understand, I’m not looking for sympathy. Or empathy. What was hard for me at age six has turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I was probably in my 20s before I really got that, but objectively, it couldn’t have worked out better. In short, I got to experience a step father who loved and appreciated my brother and me probably more than he really had to. And I loved him dearly up to his death five years ago.

And okeducationmom has never let me down.

My parents divorced in 1977. We lived in a small town. Certainly everyone knew about it, but that doesn’t mean they could relate to it. With 40 years of hindsight, it’s easy to see that I would have benefited from having a teacher who got it. I don’t mean that I needed a teacher who understood what I was going through; rather I could have used a teacher who at least understood that I was going through something. Clearly I was lashing out irrationally.

I probably didn’t do that again until about 2012, when I started blogging.

I wouldn’t have really framed it this way then, of course, but I was suffering, as a six-year-old, from trauma. This was the defining event of my childhood. Parents divorcing is that event for many of our students in Oklahoma. For others, it’s abject poverty. Or living in a home with someone suffering from addiction. Or losing a parent or sibling. Or a parent being incarcerated. Or a debilitating illness – whether you can see it from the outside or not.

We must accept this reality, and understand that we, as educators, are incapable of understanding all of the different traumas that our students experience. Fortunately, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and many school districts in Oklahoma (including Mid-Del) have started focusing on this.

In May, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced that this would be a point of emphasis for her and her staff:

It Starts Here: Trauma-Informed Instruction will be held at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and feature experts in childhood trauma and healing. In partnership with state agencies, tribal nations and nonprofits that serve children and families, the OSDE’s in-depth event will target educators who are often the first to encounter trauma in individual children.

“A recent National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that Oklahoma’s youngest, most vulnerable children suffer more trauma than those in any other state in the nation, and additional trauma rankings among our children of all ages are alarmingly high,” Hofmeister said.

“We must come together to understand the complex issues surrounding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in order to serve the hundreds of thousands of affected children in our classrooms and provide a path forward that is infused with resilience and hope. When we think of the importance of giving all Oklahoma children access to a high-quality education, there may be no more critical work than to ensure a foundation of safety and caring. We cannot allow these frightening statistics to remain unchecked.”

In our district, we’ve given a ten-question ACE quiz to our administrators and the teachers at many of our schools. It’s a good activity because participants can (if they choose to) share their score without discussing any specific trauma if they choose not to.

My score was a six. I’ve shared with you one reason why, and that’s all you get. It’s my story. It’s my childhood. And that’s the one part of it that I’m comfortable sharing.

Someone else’s score of a six might be different than mine. Another person’s three might have given them more trauma in childhood. Or maybe someone’s score of one. The point isn’t the number. The point is the child.

As educators, most of us can’t relate to the experience of a child who has an incarcerated parent. What we can do, however, is get to know that child and learn what that child needs from us. It’s not enough for us to teach reading, math, science, history, music, or anything else. Recognizing that we have students who need more than curriculum is the point of developing trauma-informed schools.

It’s not to stereotype different traumas and generalize their results on kids. It’s not so that we can manage our expectations.

Trauma doesn’t change the fact that a student’s starting point is not the sole determinant in who he or she becomes as an adult.

Here’s more from the OSDE press release:

Research indicates that the impact of childhood trauma can be mitigated through trauma-informed educational instruction practices that focus on relationship-building, resilience, hope and positive interactions. Addressing students experiencing trauma is part of Oklahoma Edge, the OSDE’s 8-year strategic plan for strengthening public education in the state.

In Oklahoma, nearly half of school-aged children have an ACE score of 3 or higher, which is strongly associated with negative long-term health outcomes including disproportionate rates of divorce, depression and violence.

“Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma children are academically at risk and on a path to shorter, more difficult lives as a result of childhood trauma,” said Hofmeister. “Seeing our teachers stand up for kids is not news, but at the It Starts Here summit, we will equip them with the tools specific to childhood trauma that will enable them to be even fiercer champions of their students.”

Maybe this means having more counseling supports in place for children. Maybe it indicates a need for mentors or better mental health services. For years, we’ve known that there are students in our schools who lack positive adult interactions outside of our buildings.

We also have known for years that there are some amazing single parents, foster parents, and grandparents out there raising children.

That doesn’t mean that the trauma ceases to exist, though.

As with any good movement in education, I fear that this will turn into a collection of buzzwords and generalizations. I hope to God it doesn’t, though. We need to understand our kids, even the ones with experiences that we can’t relate to.

I’m thankful that the OSDE and Superintendent Hofmeister are taking a visible lead in this important work. I’m thankful for those in our district adding to the effort.

I will continue to learn everything I can about childhood trauma. More importantly, I will continue to learn how I can help the students I serve.

 

 

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Four reasons to give Joy four more years

August 26, 2018 Comments off

I ran into our state superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, yesterday morning at the Oklahoma State School Boards Association conference. She was on her way into the exhibit hall, talking to people she recognizes, being approached by people she doesn’t. She graciously talked to everyone who would stop, including me. We talked about the upcoming election, a few policy points, and where to find the coffee. I asked my friend Kenny Ward to take this picture so I could share it on Twitter and remind people to vote.IMG_4652

When Superintendent Hofmeister goes to a meeting or walks around a conference, she doesn’t keep an entourage with her. She was just walking solo through the conference space. You won’t find too many statewide elected officials who can say that. At more times than I can count during the last four years, I’ve been able to just approach her and start a conversation about whatever the policy topic du jour happens to be.

She’s been this way since she began her campaign four years ago. Now that I think about it, she’s been this way since Governor Fallin appointed her to the State Board of Education in 2012. From her first board meeting, Joy began asking questions. Quickly it was obvious that she wasn’t a good fit for the education policies of either Fallin, or Janet Barresi, who was then state superintendent.

In case you’ve forgotten, 2011 through 2015 were dark years for public schools in Oklahoma. I don’t want to get into a greatest hits flashback from former legislators, or the governor or Joy’s predecessor, so I won’t. I will say, though, that in my 26 years as a public educator, I have never heard such insulting discourse towards our profession and the people in it as I did during that time.

Joy, the candidate, was this real person who would sit down on the ground at schools and talk with elementary school students. Joy, the state superintendent, is the same real person. I’ve seen it in my own schools. Even when there’s an event with a decent amount of staging, she still stops and talks to students. She talks to them, from age four to 18, like they’re people.

She slew the beast four years ago, and she’s great with kids. Those reasons alone aren’t enough to give her four more years, though. Since taking that picture yesterday, I’ve been thinking of ways to articulate a few of the reasons I want to see the momentum continue. Here are four:

She listens to actual students and educators.

Under Superintendent Hofmeister, the SDE has utilized several constituency groups as sounding boards. Among these are teacher and student groups. Two of the last three years, I’ve had students from my own Superintendent’s Advisory Board also serve on hers. They tell me that she genuinely engages with them. Our teachers say the same thing.

She also meets monthly with a group of superintendents. Since this is the one I attend, I’ll try to characterize how those meetings typically go.

Usually, about 30-40 of us are able to make it to the meetings. If you can’t be there, you have the option to call in (and from experience, I can say you should probably mute your phone). The group represents all corners of the state, and it includes a representative sample of urban, suburban, and rural districts. We cover major initiatives, legislative updates, federal policy, funding issues, and a range of other topics.

During these meetings, Joy will tell us what she thinks and ask us what we think. If we’re not in alignment, she considers our reasons. I’ve seen her change her mind. I’ve seen her hold to an unpopular opinion that turned out to be wise. Most importantly, I’ve seen her welcome back each month the people who disagree with her. I’ve even been that superintendent a few times.

I’m not asking for any elected official to agree with me all the time. I just appreciate the ones who consider a wide range of opinions. She passes this test.

She successfully navigated the process to replace Common Core.

Just before the primary election four years ago, the Legislature tossed out the Common Core State Standards. Predictably, Joy’s predecessor handled the news poorly. What that meant for Joy, upon taking office, was shepherding a new process for developing math and reading standards. She had to do this under intense scrutiny and what essentially amounted to a campaign of state legislators.

Oklahoma educators wrote the new math and reading standards. My colleagues from Moore, where I previously worked, and Mid-Del, where I work now, were among them. Those individuals, along with the curriculum specialists at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), had to fight fringe groups who really want nothing more than to end public education.

Again, this was a contrast to the previous administration, in which I was asked to serve on a number of working groups in which my opinions were never considered. Joy’s team not only let the educators they recruited write the standards; they fought to ensure that this work meant something.

She fought to eliminate End-of-Instruction tests and Value Added Measurement.

One of the biggest changes in the last few years is that the state eliminated End of Instruction tests for high school students. Instead of students with IEPs having to beg to graduate before the State Board, we’re back to trusting each public high school to decide who graduates.

People never cared about these tests, except for the fear that came along with them. High school students care about the high-stakes tests they self-select to take: ACT, SAT, and AP. We’re back to focusing on those, which is good for kids.

Another failure of the onslaught of education reforms of 2011 was the idea that you can (a) measure teacher effectiveness with test scores, and (b) construct other objective measures for teachers not in tested grades or subjects. Look, if you really could, I’d be all for it. I’m a father of three, and I always wanted more than word of mouth to tell me who the best teachers were. Unfortunately, that’s as likely as having a pet unicorn.

At about the same time as the Legislature was formally adopting new reading and math standards, it was eliminating the mandate for Value Added Measurements. No teacher ever had to have VAM added to his/her evaluation. We can thank Joy, along with key legislators, for that.

She stands with us.

Whether it’s our ongoing battle for reforms to the Reading Sufficiency Act or continuously raising awareness about the teacher shortage, Joy has our backs. She relentlessly communicates our needs. She has the ear of legislators, and she works well with members of both parties.

During the teacher walkout, she marched with teachers. She has the same mindset I do: kids first, teachers next, and everybody else after that. We all play critical parts in educating kids, but we have to understand that teachers are the rock stars, and that the rest of us are just roadies for the band.

Joy gets that.

She fights for funding. She fights for respect for our profession. I sincerely hope she gets four more years to do this.

Vote Tuesday.

Class of 2018: What comes next?

May 26, 2018 Comments off

Taking a break from taking a break from blogging to share my graduation speech from this week:

Teachers, principals, family, and friends, it’s good to see all of you. Without your support, it’s hard to imagine all of these graduates being here today with all they’ve accomplished. This graduating class will have an immediate impact on the future. They will cross the country in the next few months as college students, members of the military, and in pursuit of lofty career goals.

Tonight, we celebrate your accomplishments. We look forward seeing where you go. And we anticipate you coming back having built upon the foundation you’ve received over the last thirteen years.

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In his comedy, As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote that, “Time travels at different speeds for different people. I can tell you who time strolls for, who it trots for, who it gallops for, and who it stops cold for.”

As I look at this auspicious graduating class, I see a bunch of people who are galloping along with time. You’re eager to get to whatever it is that comes next. I completely understand. Your families and teachers have been telling you your whole life that we’re preparing you for the real world.

If you have a chance to see a theatrical performance a little more modern than Shakespeare, I can’t recommend the Broadway musical Hamilton highly enough. In terms of innovation, content, and memorability, it’s one of the most accomplished pieces of art ever.

Central to the conflict of the story is the contrast Lin-Manuel Miranda draws between two historical figures: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

In the opening song, Hamilton introduces himself, among other ways, by saying, “there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you wait.” He’s starved for experiences that will improve his opportunities and influence. He’s impatient. Later, at a critical moment in the early years of our Republic, Hamilton understands that the only way he can reach his goals is to find a way into “the room where it happens.”

On the other hand, Burr, who has similar aspirations in life, takes a far different approach. Prior to the Revolution, he advises Hamilton to “Talk less…smile more…don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”

Essentially, Hamilton sees what he wants and figures out what it takes to get it. He pursues his passions relentlessly. Burr knows what he wants, and he waits for it.

In truth, specific moments in life call for different mindsets. There are times that you know what you want, but you have to be patient. There are times that you know what you think, but you don’t want to offend anybody. Talk less, smile more.

Then there is a time to make sure that your voice is heard – to be in the room where it happens. If your goals include changing the world for the better, then you have no reason to delay getting in that room. Register to vote. Campaign. Show up for every election. Raise funds for a non-profit organization. Volunteer with organizations that solely focus on helping people. Devote your life to making people better every single day.

Some valuable things in life take a significant amount of time to achieve. Sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the goal itself. As you graduate today, two things are still true.

First is that high school has helped build you into who you are. Whether it was an endless streak of personal victories, a string of non-stop frustrations, or some combination of the two, the events of the last four years have left a mark on you.

The second truth is that your future is yet to be written. High school impacts where you are today, but this is only a starting point. Whatever you expect to become, or whatever others expect you to be, you’re the one who needs to be in control. There are a million things you haven’t done, but just you wait. Just you wait.

The next few months, the next year, the next decade – they’re all going to fly by in a blur. Rush towards the things that matter. Just don’t forget to soak in the unique moments you have with the people you meet.

Congratulations, and good luck, Class of 2018!

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Welcome to the walkout, from okeducationmom

April 2, 2018 Comments off

A couple of years ago, I turned the blog over to my mom, who proceeded to get more page views than I usually do when I post something. As we reminisce about HB 1017 and prepare to meet at the Capitol, I thought this would be a great time to give her the keys to the blog again.


Hello, Friends,

This week is nostalgic for me. As children, educators, support personnel, state employees and all who believe in public education and love Oklahoma, we are saying our farewells to David Boren who will soon be leaving the University of Oklahoma. We will also be sending our very best wishes to the Oklahoma legislature; we desperately want our leaders to succeed in passing legislation that will properly fund the core services of our great state.

When I marched for the passage of HB 1017 in 1990, I was hopeful and then grateful that Governor Henry Bellmon and a bipartisan group of legislators found a way to move public education forward. The future looked very hopeful. We had so much pride in our state. While our funding mechanism was getting back on track in Oklahoma, Senator Boren was making us proud in Washington D.C. There was a great deal of trust ​and hope for our future.

Bellmon

Governor Bellmon signing HB 1017 into law in 1990

My son, Rick Cobb, was a student at OU, and he was paying attention. He was working on his degree in English, writing columns for the OU Daily, and supporting my efforts to be a part of the change that Oklahoma desperately needed. He also interned the summer after his junior year for Senator Boren.

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This 1991 photo hasn’t aged well.

Are you beginning to see why I am feeling nostalgic? As I watch President Boren prepare to depart my beloved university, I am looking for the next phase of progress for Oklahoma. The legislature has finally broken the 75% threshold that can produce new revenue streams for our core services. It took decades for this progress to be achieved. Sadly, it only took a little over one hour to reduce this same progress the next day.

I believe that most of us are looking for assurance that more commitment is coming from the legislature and governor next week. Most of us know that not every piece of the puzzle will emerge, but more needs to happen. Trust​ is an essential part of the solution! We need to know that solutions will not be taken away in the blink of an eye. Any funding removed needs to be replaced in an equitable way.

I have been so impressed with some members in both parties for their efforts to find compromise and equity in searching for revenue streams. It is no easy task, but it has to happen. As someone who has always felt the responsibility to do my part, I want to say, “good luck” to one and all. Good luck, Governor Fallin, members of the legislature, and citizens of Oklahoma, as you deliberate the fate of our state. Our children need us to be wise and brave. Our children need a bright future.

And thank you, Governor/Senator/President Boren for your service to our state and country. You have lived your life in service to others. We must all endeavor to do the same.

 

Countdown: One Day

April 1, 2018 Comments off

This week, the Legislature passed a series of bills that raised taxes, increased the state education budget by 19 percent, and modified the state salary schedule to provide significant raises for teachers. They also passed legislation to mandate raises for support staff and restore some of our operational costs. Finally, Thursday, they amended the original package to remove one of the sources of revenue: A hotel/motel tax. The governor then signed most of these bills.

Between the passage of the education package in the senate Wednesday night and the repeal of the hotel/motel tax Thursday afternoon, I had already polled my district. Including teachers, support staff, and administrators, the survey had 969 responses. Of those, 93% still wanted to walkout on Monday, with 83% wanting to stay out multiple days. As a superintendent, I appreciate the clarity. Making the decision to be out of school Monday was easy. I can’t imagine what might happen Monday at the Capitol that would make the 83% change their minds, but I’m a real never say never kind of guy.

Never tell me the odds.gif

This walkout, if you ask many teachers, is long overdue. Ten years of budget cuts, unfunded mandates, and stagnant salaries have taken a toll on the profession. I don’t think anybody expected the Legislature to fix a decade of neglect in one sweeping motion. Faith isn’t restored that easily.

I happen to think they made good progress. They passed a tax increase for the first time in 28 years and raised salaries significantly. Still, there are good reasons for thinking this isn’t enough.

  1. While an average increase of about $6,100 in salaries will improve Oklahoma’s place in regional and national rankings, we also know that those are moving targets. Other states don’t wait ten years to raise salaries.
  2. In 1992, Oklahomans passed State Question 640, which requires that the Legislature reach a 75% majority in each chamber in order to pass a tax increase. A tax cut, on the other hand, only takes 50%. We saw this dynamic play out perfectly in about 24 hours this week. This is no way to fund core state services.
  3. I saw reports last week that the Democrats think funding for this package is about $150 million short and that Republicans think (after repealing the hotel/motel tax) that it’s about $20 million short. It’s very possible that one group is overstating the gap and that another group is understating the gap. It’s politics. And it’s the dynamic that concerns me more than the gap itself. The Legislature builds a budget based on estimates. They could estimate high on one revenue stream and then low on another. The immediate gamesmanship that followed a brief period of bipartisanship is a threat to any future progress.
  4. Support employees received raises as well, but far less than what they deserve. These are the lowest-paid employees in our schools. They feed our kids, drive our buses, run our offices, and repair our buildings. When we can’t find enough teachers, they help us manage large classes. The Legislature really needs to revisit this piece of the puzzle.
  5. Retired teachers deserve cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). My mom, who was a special education teacher for 29 years, retired in 2001 and hasn’t had a COLA in a decade either. Meanwhile, her HealthChoice premiums continue to increase. She sees less of her retirement every year. (FYI – I’ll run a guest blog from her in the morning.)
  6. This week’s budget restored $50 million (outside of the raises) to the overall funding of public schools. While that’s a start in the right direction, let me explain why that doesn’t go very far.
    1. Of the $50 million, textbooks get $33 million. To put this number in context, that was the amount allocated to textbooks in 2008, the year I became Director of Curriculum in Moore. Since then, school enrollment has increased by 60,000, and the cost of textbooks has significantly increased.
    2. That leaves about $17 million restored to the formula to put back into classrooms. By our estimates in Mid-Del, our portion of this amount would be enough to bring back about seven of the 60+ teaching positions (100 positions overall) that we cut two years ago. It helps. It really does – but not enough to make significant dents in class sizes throughout our district or the state.
  7. Future Legislatures could roll back some or all of this progress. They could also add to it. We have no way of knowing, but that’s how government works. I would say that overall, the 56th Oklahoma Legislature has been the most education-friendly body of lawmakers we’ve had in a decade. The group that took office in 2017 included the biggest group of new members since the state adopted term limits. The best way to ensure that the momentum continues – once the walkout ends – is to vote for candidates who will continue chipping away at policies that threaten the stability of our state’s budget.

By the way, when you go to the Capitol tomorrow, you should understand that #oklaed has allies in both parties. Look for the ones who consistently engage with educators, even especially when avoiding them would be easier.

Marcus McEntire

That’s Marcus McEntire from Duncan – one of the freshman legislators who takes the time to listen to his constituents. At this historic moment, we have a chance to help our legislators understand that we’re not just talking about teacher raises.

One thing I plan to do this week is to ask the House members I know to hear SB 1086, which passed in the Senate on March 15th with a 30-9 vote (with nine senators not voting). According to the fiscal impact statement provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, this measure could provide an additional $120 million in revenue as early as the 2020 fiscal year. They did not estimate how it would impact the budget they’re planning right now, but there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma, wrote this for the Oklahoman:

The capital gains tax deduction primarily serves as a tax loophole for the wealthiest individuals in the state. Based on Oklahoma Tax Commission data, 17,274 taxpayers claimed the deduction in 2014. Of these, 824 had a federal adjusted gross income of $1 million or more. This group claimed 64 percent of the total capital gains tax deduction. Individuals with a federal adjusted income of $50,000 or less claimed only 2.4 percent of the total deduction.

As a member of the Incentive Evaluation Commission, I voted to eliminate the capital gains tax deduction. We simply have no evidence that the program provides a positive net benefit to the state. Only 10 other states treat capital gains tax deduction is a similar manner as Oklahoma does. Of these, only five allow real property to qualify for the deduction. PFM could find no examples of state-level evaluations of capital gains tax deductions.

I’m thankful for the progress we’ve seen this session. I hope it continues. We should never be satisfied that we’ve done enough to help school districts recruit and retain teachers or to fully fund what happens in the classroom.

Don’t just go to the Capitol tomorrow. Go inside. Find your representative and senator. Make a new friend.

See you there.

Countdown: 8 Days

March 25, 2018 Comments off

Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Tomorrow, all across Oklahoma, we will have school. Buses will drive through neighborhoods and collect children. Cafeterias will prepare and serve breakfasts and lunches. Teachers will teach. Nurses will treat scrapes. Secretaries will answer parents’ questions.

Hopefully, a week from tomorrow, the same thing will happen.

I copied the tweet at the top of this post because I like literature. For that matter, I also like history. Oh, and I like patterns. Events that repeat themselves, even in unfamiliar iterations, string together all of human existence.

Grapes of Wrath

It’s pretty easy to see why the quote works as a proxy for the current condition of public schools in Oklahoma. Many of the young people we educate in our public schools and train to become teachers in our universities know that leaving the state to start a teaching career makes much more sense than staying here. Over 35 years, if teachers in Texas make $20,000 more than teachers in Oklahoma…well, do the math.

When I started writing this, I googled the quote at the top for accuracy. Once I verified it, the first article in my search caught my attention. It was a 1990 New York Times piece titled, “Why Steinbeck’s Okies Speak to Us Today.” I clicked on it, expecting to find an article about the last mass teacher walkout, which was also in 1990.

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Instead, the article is a riveting analysis of the novel. Here’s an excerpt:

The true lesson of the times, he now suggested, was the importance of community – not community defined in traditional, geographical terms; not the community of a neighborhood, or a town, or a region; but a community of the human spirit, for which the only real model was the family.

Obviously, this post – just like every conversation I’ve had with anyone over the last couple of weeks – is about the threat promise of teachers walking off the job April 2nd if the Legislature doesn’t find a way to fund raises for teachers and support staff, along with operational costs. It’s a simple request with a nine-digit price tag – a HIGH nine-digit price tag.

The need requires little explanation at this point. Just in case you need a refresher, though, watch this Moore High School student tell us what we need to hear:

I’m losing count of the articulate, passionate Facebook posts I’ve seen from teachers about this current situation – not to mention posts from politicians expressing frustration over the lack of movement in the Legislature.

I’ve seen several plans, but no bills. We’ll know something is happening when we see bills. After the failure of two separate revenue plans in the two extraordinary sessions the governor has called, I don’t think we’ll see a bill until the House leadership thinks they have the votes to pass it.

From what I’ve been told, the Legislature has three days to avoid the teacher walkout. Someone needs to author a bill. It needs to pass the House and then the Senate. That’s the short version; everything our government does is always a little more complicated than that.

With that, I’ll close with another quote from the book:

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

We’re a week away, stronger, resolved, and hopefully relentless.

Countdown: 14 Days

March 19, 2018 2 comments

After a months-long blogging hiatus, I wrote a little piece last night about the looming work-stoppage. I gave it a simplistic title, Countdown: 15 Days. The nomenclature is catchy, I see.

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Please understand, friends, that this doesn’t mean I’ll be writing a daily post until this is over.

Tonight, I don’t want to focus on the money. That’s important, but it’s only a part of the conversation. I want to go back about exactly six years.

The State Board of Education was to hold an open meeting to hear public comments on the proposed rules for the first round of A-F Report Cards. The date was Monday, March 19, 2012.

I wasn’t there, but then again, neither was the State Board of Education. Counsel for the State Board of Education was there in their place. Fortunately, Claudia Swisher wrote about the day in one of her first blog posts:

The Board Room was packed. Lisa Enders, the General Council, chaired the meeting. No Board members were present, but Enders assured us the Board will get the video and all the written responses before their next meeting…NEXT week.

This was typical of how educators were treated during the administration of the previous state superintendent. Somebody would make a perfunctory effort to gather input from stakeholders, even some actual educators. Then, from what I have gathered, that input was shoved into a file cabinet, lit aflame, and hurtled from the top of Mt. Scott.

This isn’t smart people. We’re pretty much in a perpetual burn ban. It would be better to hide those good ideas and meaningful concerns in a warehouse, ala Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders Warehouse

Claudia went on to note concerns expressed by legislators, community leaders, educators, and parents. While all of those concerns were ignored, this moment was the impetus for several years of effective – if often disorganized – activism in the #oklaed community.

Inspired by Claudia’s writing, I started blogging. So did Rob Miller, and countless other pro-public education advocates. Over the next few years, we had moments. We had victories. Some were in the legislative process. Some were at the ballot box.

Policy-wise, we still have to deal with some reforms that don’t make sense to educators and that keep us from truly focusing on children. I shudder to think of all the state testing pep rallies that will have to be rescheduled because of the work-stoppage.

Still, other than with funding, we’re in a better place than we were in 2012. I’ll point to two specific moments that mattered. For both, I’ll point to blog posts I wrote in 2014 and then explain how they’re relevant now.

In May 2014, the biggest battle we were facing was to let parents have a say in whether or not their third graders would be retained because of one test on a single day. The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World chimed in on it frequently. Here’s what happened:

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 2625, adding parents to the retention/promotion committees. Fallin vetoed it. The House and Senate took about three seconds to override her veto. They didn’t even debate it.

This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2.

Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before.

The state superintendent also called the veto override “a pathetic and outrageous step back.” We’ll get to her in a minute.

Passing this bill took courage from quite a few legislators – none more than Rep. Katie Henke. It also took relentless contact from educators and parents who wanted to see the bill passed. This was the first time (in my career) that we have seen the impact we can have when the pro-public education voices of Oklahoma unite.

A month later, we sweetened the pot, when voters relegated the state superintendent to a third-place finish in her own primary. Here’s my closing thought from the night that happened.

It started when we just couldn’t contain ourselves. Our murmurs grew into an eruption. We would not be silenced. We demanded respect.

I would say that was the highlight, so far, of how we can use our collective voices to change the narrative. Sure, there were some legislative seats flipped in 2016, but nothing that has come close to these two moments.

My question to you is what are you willing to do to make sure we’re not ignored this time? Are you willing to call, email, and text your legislators? Are you willing to point out that a plan to plan really isn’t a plan? Are you willing to storm the Capitol, relentlessly, from April 2 onward, and indefinitely?

There are some in the Legislature, as well as many in the cheap seats who doubt your resolve. Policies come and go. We don’t have to fight corporate interests to lobby for sensible change in that arena. Money is a different beast altogether.

As far as I can tell, two things are still true:

  1. Oklahoma’s educators will do anything for their students.
  2. We can all band together when we need to.

I hope I’m right.

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