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All the Battle

March 22, 2015 3 comments

I hope you’ve all had a good Spring Break. I’ve spent most of it catching up on work, reading, doing a few chores, and sporadically paying attention to education issues. As we get set for the fourth quarter of the school year and the second half of the legislative session, I’ve also been looking for something to tie together the task we in the #oklaed community have ahead of us.

In times like these, I often turn to quotes from songs or from movies. With the major league baseball season beginning in about two weeks, I thought about pulling down a Crash Davis monologue from Bull Durham. On the other hand, although I agree with his views on pretty much everything, especially the designated hitter and opening presents Christmas morning, it’s not really an appropriate rant for an education blog. Instead, I’m going to use one of the shortest speeches ever from a Kevin Costner movie. This clip is only six seconds long.

http://www.hark.com/clips/gsbznfbfrh-lets-think-about-what-is-all-the-battle

In the Untouchables, as Elliot Ness takes his men north of the border to interrupt Al Capone’s liquor supply line, a Canadian Mountie implores Ness to remember that the element of surprise is “half the battle.” Ness responds:

The surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle, losing is half the battle. Let’s think about what is all the battle.

We sometimes fall into the half-the-battle line of thinking in our own conversations. I’ve heard school leaders say that when it comes to effective instruction, relationships are half the battle. Relationships are certainly the most critical element in effective classroom management and instruction, but it is one of at least a dozen elements that contribute to someone being a good teacher. Passion for your content area is critical as well. So is school culture. Collaboration matters too. As does having adequate instructional resources. You get the idea.

A similar thought holds true when it comes to our focus on education policy. Most of us can’t carry the flag into battle for or against every piece of legislation that affects public schools in this state, so we focus on the ones that matter the most to us. Maybe we think, stopping vouchers would be half the battle, or reducing testing would be half the battle. Admittedly, in the limited time I’ve had to write in 2015, I’ve focused on only four things: teacher pay, APUSH, replacing the EOIs with the ACT (SB 707), and Clark Jolley’s voucher extravaganza (SB 609). I’ve tweeted about other issues, but I have to pick my fights. In the process, if I’m lucky, I’m focused on half the battle.

Our friendly Oklahoma Legislature, on the other hand, has time to focus on all the battle. In addition to the above issues, they* also want to restrict how teachers who choose to belong to OEA or AFT have their dues drawn. One legislator explained his vote against this bill saying those supporting it just wanted to poke the union in the eye. Among those who voted for this bill on the House floor are several legislators who usually earn the praises of the #oklaed community. The reason we must praise the ones who support us in tough times is that we need to have their attention when they do things like this too. Ultimately, if this passes the Senate and earns the governor’s signature, I imagine the various local bargaining units will still manage to collect dues from teachers.

They also want to increase the number of third graders having to prove their worth to a committee to include those scoring Limited Knowledge (rather than just Unsatisfactory) on the third-grade reading test. Never mind that the Speaker Hickman refused to hear Katie Henke’s bill in the House that would have made the promotion committee (including a parent) a permanent part of the RSA process. No, they’re just going with the convoluted senate version instead. It keeps the committee in place for another four years, but it will nearly triple the number of students for whom a committee needs to meet.

Again, while any of us focus on the part of the battle we can personally handle, the Legislature continues fighting all of it.

As an aside, you may also be wondering, why does it have to be a battle? That is an excellent question. I don’t get it either. You’d think the people responsible for not providing any funding for teacher raises during the last eight years would at least care enough to support the people who actually work with students. They give lip service to it, but lip service doesn’t solve the teacher shortage. It doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t show that our elected leaders respect teachers.

Meanwhile, the policy attacks continue. Last year, the voucher battle wasn’t even close. This year it was. While we focused our blogs and phone calls tirelessly on that, legislators ran other bills to chip away at the remaining strengths of public education – all while saying they have a $611 million hole and no way to fill it.

Yes, it’s promising that we have a state superintendent who is willing to sound the alarm and let the world know that the teacher shortage will only widen if we don’t get more funding. We also have a governor who hasn’t said a word.

The battle is not unique to Oklahoma. Nor does it just impact the teachers. Parents who speak out against corporate reform and high-stakes testing also face marginalization. Meanwhile, even within his own party, Jeb Bush is no longer seen as the expert on education. Florida is fighting back, as are the states that have adopted Florida’s model.

We had our own little revolt against this anti-education machine last June. It went well. Since then, we haven’t exactly been complacent. The attacks just keep coming. Parents and educators uniting to fight back must be half the battle, right?

It’s a start. All the battle is about money and respect. Simply put, that’s all we’ll be asking for on March 30th.

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*When I say they, obviously I don’t mean all. Since support varies from bill to bill, though, it’s hard so give any legislator a pass at this point.

Calling a Crock a Crock

March 9, 2014 Comments off

Yesterday, in a paragraph at the end of a column of short editorials, the Oklahoman once again took a cheap shot at the Education Rally scheduled for March 31 at the Oklahoma Capitol:

Snow and ice meant two more days out of school this week for thousands of Oklahoma students, who now await word as to when those days will be made up. There is one date that won’t be used by many districts – Monday, March 31. That’s when administrators and teachers plan to head to Oklahoma City to rally state lawmakers for more spending on education. “We are absolutely not backing out” of the rally, said a spokesman for Tulsa Public Schools, because “it’s clear that we have to do something to get more attention for this issue.” What a crock. Common education funding is always a front-burner issue for lawmakers, even if administrators don’t agree with the size of the check that gets written each year. The rally will be a huge waste of time, particularly for students who should be in class learning something that day.

First of all, state law requires that schools provide 180 days or 1080 hours of instruction. All districts in the state will provide that, whether they hold class March 31 or not. Second, the contention that “education funding is always a front-burner issue or lawmakers,” is the real crock. Last year, if you’ll recall, the Legislature spent more money overall than ever before. In spite of this, common education funding is still well below the 2008 level. Most importantly, the rally will not be a waste of time.

As Scott Haselwood pointed out yesterday, activism resulted in the passage of reforms and a major funding increase in 1990. And as many have mentioned on Twitter, schools waste an enormous amount of time on tasks that are completely useless – things ranging from Roster Verification to A-F Report Cards to field testing item tryouts to Common Core transition plans to the Good Cause Exemptions. The Corporate Education Reform movement and its minions at the SDE and in the Legislature continue to find ways to waste the time of schools and families.

Enough is enough. We know our voices have power. Our presence has even more. I’ve fielded questions about the timing of the rally. Why not have the rally over Spring Break? Last time we tried to find an audience over Spring Break, we ended up speaking to tape recorders. Why not wait until school is out? The legislature only meets from February through May. By the time school is out, the budget will already be set.

Sure, there are legislators who delete their emails without reading them (and don’t realize that the sender gets a message to that effect). There are more who listen, even when the viewpoint is diametrically opposed to their own.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen what happens when parents and educators call the legislature. The voucher bill went away for now, and both chambers are debating the future of the Common Core. We’ve also seen momentum towards some good-sense adjustments to the Reading Sufficiency Act. If the rally has at least as many parents as educators, if the dialogue is constructive rather than bombastic, and if the weather cooperates, March 31 should be a tremendous use of our time.

In the meantime, we’ll keep defending what we’re doing – even if we have to have a Rally for the Rally™!

RallyFlyer - Copy

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